Chapter 116 - The Prince

There was a burgundy colored horse tied not too far from Little Gray. At this time, it was no longer interested in the fine fodder beans within its own trough. It craned its neck and tried to eat the coarse hay in front of the little donkey. But its range of activity was restricted by the reins. The feelings of not being able to eat something that it wanted to eat made it feel very grumpy. It could help but kick backwards as it raised its head and neighed ceaselessly.   

As soon as its owner came out of pickled vegetables shop, he swiftly strode forward upon hearing the furious cry of his beloved horse. Seeing the scene, the handsome youth laughed and scolded, “Red Cloud, you’re seriously acting so shamelessly! Why aren’t you eating the fine fodder beans but coveting others hay instead? You’re really such a disgrace to be fighting for food with a little donkey!!”

The burgundy horse seemed to have understood its owner’s words and made several long augmentative sounds as it struggled hard to break free from its reins. The youth loosened the reins, and the little red horse immediately rushed towards the little donkey. It strongly pushed Little Gray aside and devoured the remaining fodder. It even neighed fiercely at Little Gray with dissatisfaction, as if it was blaming Little Gray for not leaving more hay for him!

Little Gray had a mild temperament and didn’t make a scene despite being robbed of its food. It only stared at the burgundy horse with its big, gentle eyes. The burgundy horse seemed somewhat embarrassed and stopped making a fuss. It turned around, with its butt facing Little Gray, and chewed the hay in its mouth several times as if it was savoring the delicious taste of the fodder.

“This beast, you’re seriously shameless! If you like hay, then I’ll tell the horsekeeper to prepare some for you when we get home!” The youth gently touched Little Gray’s polished and smooth hair. He patted it and said, “Sorry about that, buddy! Old man, give my bag of fodder beans to the donkey’s owner as compensation later!”

The old man, who was in charge of taking care of the horses and livestock, also smiled merrily and promised.

The youth led his beloved horse, who was still reluctant to leave, out of the food market, and rushed all the way to the capital.

His mother was worried about his younger brother, who had gone on an oceangoing voyage recently. So, her appetite hadn’t been very good. They had changed several cooks, but there still wasn’t any improvement to her appetite. Madam Wu, whose husband served in Tanggu Town, told them that there were several types of tasty and refreshing pickled vegetables in Tanggu Town’s food market. After his mother tried the tasty crispy pickled radish that Madam Wu sent over, she ate one more bowl of congee than before.

After all, Madam Wu didn’t bring a lot of pickled vegetables back to the capital. It was only enough for his mother to eat for two days. After finishing the pickled vegetables, his mother returned to the state of not having any appetite. As a dutiful son, he couldn’t bear to see his mother get any thinner, so he took advantage of his break and rushed to Tanggu Town. After asking around, he finally found his mother’s favorite crispy pickled radish!

In order to ensure that this trip was not in vain, he even packed all the different kinds of pickled vegetables available in the shop! If his close friends found out that he, the dignified son of Prince Jing, had traveled busily between the capital and the small town of Tanggu within a day for the sake of a few crude pickled vegetables, they would definitely laugh their heads off. However, for the sake of his mother, he didn’t mind letting them laugh a bit!

Today, they had arrived just in time for the five major markets. Small businesses, vegetable vendors, peddlers… They were all gathered in this food market. As soon as Yu Xiaocao took out the fresh, green vegetables, they were surrounded by a group of people.

“Hey! There are actually fresh greens for sale during this time of the year! Look at this bok choy, it’s so tender that water could come out of it! It looks so appetizing!! This big brother, how much is this bok choy?” The person who asked was a well-off matron, who wore a fine cotton jacket and silver hairpin in her hair. She looked as if she came from a family with good living conditions.

On the way to town, the father-daughter pair had already decided on the price for the vegetables. Yu Hai chuckled and said, “The bok choy is twenty copper coins per catty and the spinach cost fifteen coins a catty. It’s eighteen copper coins for the leaf lettuce, while the romaine lettuce cost twenty-five coins. Older sister, take a look. Which one do you want?”

“Oh! Your vegetables aren’t cheap. It’s almost as expensive as pork! The common folks won’t be able to afford it!!” The matron’s chubby face was crumpled up and she seemed very dissatisfied with the price.

With a smile on her face, Yu Xiaocao sweetly replied, “Auntie, as the saying goes, the rarer something is, the greater its value! As you know, the heavy snowstorms this winter had been disastrous. There were also two more snowfalls in spring! What vegetables wouldn’t freeze to death in that situation? So it’s quite difficult for us to grow these vegetables!”   

Although the onlookers were curious about how these fresh and juicy vegetables survived the early spring snowstorm, no one asked because they knew that only a fool would reveal their own secret money-making method. However, most of the people who came to the market were villagers from the surrounding villages. There were very few people who could afford vegetables that were about the same price as meat.

The fat woman genuinely felt that the vegetables were expensive, but she still had the money to eat them once or twice. Moreover, her pregnant daughter in-law would vomit whenever she ate and craved for some green vegetables. She also knew that none of the vegetable seeds had been planted yet at this time of the season, so there was no way she could find leafy greens.

She had come out with the intention of trying out her luck to see if she might find them. If she couldn’t find any, she was going to buy some garlic and grow garlic sprouts, which could also be considered a greenery. But she hadn’t expected to be so lucky and find vegetables. Moreover, it seemed like they had all the different types of spring vegetables.

Although it was expensive, for the sake of her unborn eldest grandson, she gritted her teeth—buy!

Under the envious gazes of the crowd, the fat matron put on a proud smile and pointed at the bok choy, spinach, and romaine lettuce with her chubby finger. As if she was afraid that others couldn’t hear her, she raised her voice and said, “Little girl, this, this, and this. Give me half a catty of each! If it’s good, Auntie will come back to buy some more tomorrow!”

“Okay!” Yu Xiaocao swiftly weighed the vegetables that the woman wanted. She lifted them up high as she handed them to her and said, “Auntie, it’s a total of exactly thirty copper coins!”

“Thirty copper coins ah! That’s enough to buy a catty of pork! In the previous years, that small portion of greens would be the same price as one and a half catties of pork. Who would be willing to eat that!”

“That’s right, that’s right! I originally wanted to buy some for my family to taste, but I didn’t expect it to be that expensive! Forget it, I’ll just bear with it! We just need to wait one or two more months and there should be vegetables for sale at that time!”

“They’re selling them to the rich people! Thirty copper coins is enough to buy around ten catties of coarse grain! It was really cold this winter, so the price for grain has skyrocketed. It was already very fortunate that we didn’t die of starvation. We don’t have the spare money to eat such expensive food.”

…… 

There were a lot of onlookers, but very few bought anything. An hour had already passed, but Yu Hai and his daughter didn’t get another customer besides the fat matron.

“Cao’er, did we set the price a little too high? It’s also noon. If we can’t sell them, the vegetables are about to wilt. At that time, it would be difficult to sell them for a good price!” Yu Hai felt slightly worried as he looked at the vegetables in the basket.

His youngest daughter had put in a lot of painstaking effort to grow these vegetables. She watered and weeded it every day by herself without needing other people’s help. The temperature was low in early spring, so she covered the vegetable gardens with straw thatches in order to prevent them from dying from the cold. In the morning at dawn, she would lift the thatches up again. Every day, she wouldn’t miss either of these two steps.

In front of and behind the house, there would be vegetables planted in all the open spaces, which added up to about four or five mu [1]. Cao’er and the other children never said they were tired. They were so sensible that his heart ached for them.

His youngest daughter, in particular, personally took care of making braised food and planting crops. This little girl, whose height only reached up to his waist, had even more things to worry about than him, her father. Ay! If he had worked harder as the head of the family, they wouldn’t have to let a nine year old girl shoulder the burdens of the family at such a young age. 

Yu Xiaocao didn’t know that her father had thought about so much within his heart in such a short time, but she still confidently said, “Don’t worry, Father! There’s a lot of rich people in Tanggu Town!! At this time, people might not even be able to buy our vegetables even if they have money!”

Her eyes swept across the crowd and saw a middle-aged man, who looked like a steward. She shouted loudly, “Hey, Uncle, do you want to buy some fresh vegetables? We’re the only one who sells them in the whole market!”

This man with a goatee was the steward for the second richest household in town after the Zhou Family—the Yao Household. Old Master Yao’s sixtieth birthday banquet was in two days, which happened to be at the time when the new crops weren’t ripe yet. It was easy to prepare the meat dishes, but the vegetable dishes were a more tricky matter to handle.

As a result of the blizzard this winter, Old Master Yao didn’t plan a big banquet and only invited a few close friends and family, who were all wealthy and respectable people. Thus, they could just serve radishes and cabbages, which were simple and humble, to these honorable guests.

The steward was so stressed out by the planning of the banquet dishes that several strands of his hair had turned white. When faced with the approaching date of the birthday banquet, he not only mobilized the servants under him, but he also personally went out to find a solution. He had browsed through most of the food market, but he still couldn’t find a solution to the problem. The steward scratched his head in distress!

As the saying goes: ‘Heaven never seals off all the exits.’ He hadn’t expected that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel, and a heavenly voice sounded in his ears.  

The steward followed the voice and looked over to see baskets of verdant vegetables. They looked so fresh that he couldn’t even take his eyes off of them. The steward’s eyes brimmed with tears of joy—he was saved!

He immediately rushed towards Yu Hai and his daughter’s stall. Without asking for the price, he pointed at the bamboo basket and said eagerly, “I want all of these…”

“Oh, isn’t this Miss Yu!” A familiar voice interrupted Steward Yao’s words.

Yu Xiaocao looked over and saw that it was the apprentice of Head Chef Wang of Zhenxiu Restaurant. He was the worker in charge of collecting and purchasing ingredients, Qian Xiaoduo!

“Miss Yu, it’s been a long time since I have seen you deliver game to our restaurant. My teacher has been talking about you for days!” Qian Xiaoduo was surprised to see the baskets of green vegetables.

Even for a wealthy family like their boss’s, it wasn’t easy to be able to have several different vegetable dishes on the table during this season. They had to spend a large sum of money to build a greenhouse in order to grow the vegetables. How did the Yu Family grow fresh vegetables at this time?

“There were some things going on at home… We might not be able to send game to your restaurant anymore in the future. But Uncle Zhao and Brother Han are both skilled hunters. They will surely send enough game to your restaurant.”

In the past month or so, numerous things had been happening one after another in their family. First her father had gotten injured. Then, they separated from the main family and had to repair their new residence. After that, they worked on selling braised food at the docks. In addition, her older brother met with a mishap… After thinking about this, she realized that it really had been a long time since she visited Zhenxiu Restaurant.   

“Miss Yu, you’re selling vegetables?!” Every family had their own problems, so Qian Xiaoduo didn’t ask about it anymore. He looked at the baskets of greens and said, “Seriously, what should I say about you! If you have such rare green vegetables, why didn’t you send them to Zhenxiu Restaurant? Our restaurant will take all the vegetables you have. There’s no need to set up a stall! Let’s go, let’s go! Take them all to our restaurant…”


[1] 1 mu (亩) = ~0.16474 acres = ~666.7 square meters

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Myst's Thoughts

The grand opening of Xiaocao's new business  

It's also Mid-Autumn Festival (9/13) aka mooncake time! Have you guys tried it before? What's your favorite flavor or the flavor you would want to try? I usually just eat the classic lotus paste with double yolk. 🥮

Translator: Myst