After a moment of affection, Fang Zizhen and his wife started talking about their goddaughter, Yu Xiaocao.
“Chuxue, what do you think about our daughter?” Fang Zizhen intimately called his wife’s name and asked with slight unease.
Lady Fang, who was resting on her husband’s sturdy arm, smiled and said, “You have good eyes. She’s a lovely and interesting girl.”
Fang Zizhen finally felt relieved in his heart. He had a silly smile on his face as he proudly said, “Of course, how can there be anything wrong with our daughter? I was thinking, after I complete my assignment here, we should take our daughter back to the capital and raise her to become a noble young lady. Then, we can find a son-in-law to marry into our family and they can give birth to a cute and clever grandson. I have already come up with a name, which is Fang Wulue —to possess both civil and military skills. My, Fang Zizhen’s, grandson will definitely be a general in the future…”
Lady Fang tried her best to not laugh out loud. She rolled her eyes at him and said, “Well, it seems like you have it all planned out already. You have even thought of our grandson’s name ah! But, have you considered the fact that our daughter, Cao’er, isn’t someone who would allow others to control her? The little lass is a very independent person who makes her own decisions! Based on what I have seen during these past two days, Xiaocao makes most of the decisions in the Yu Family! I’m afraid that she won’t accept the path that you arranged for her!”
Fang Zizhen suddenly looked like a deflated balloon as he sighed and said, “You’re right! When I first took her in as our daughter, I have already thought about taking her back to the capital to accompany you, but I was firmly rejected by her. No matter how good Dongshan Village is, there’s no way that it can be better than the capital, right? She doesn’t want to be a noble young lady in the capital, but instead prefers to stay in this remote and barren place to be an ordinary, little peasant girl!”
Lady Fang laughed and said, “This is exactly what’s so special about our daughter. She is not shaken by poverty, nor is she corrupted by wealth and honors. With her own intelligence and hands, she has made a life for herself. Even I, her godmother, really admire her. Who knows, maybe our daughter will become the second successful career woman of our Great Ming Dynasty ah!”
Listening to his wife’s high praise for Xiaocao, Fang Zizhen felt even happier than when he had won in a battle. He began endlessly praising his daughter again.
Lady Fang quietly listened to her husband talk like he was Old Wang selling melons—praising his own products. Hearing him praise their daughter to the skies, a gentle smile appeared at the corners of her mouth. She suddenly remembered the invitation on the table and whispered, “Mingzhe, Princess Consort Jing invited me to go over for a chat. Do you think it’s alright for me to bring Xiaocao along?”
“Princess Consort Jing? Isn’t she in the capital?” Fang Zizhen sat up with slight surprise as he looked at his wife’s beautiful face and asked.
Lady Fang summarized to her husband about meeting Princess Consort Jing’s entourage, who were traveling incognito, on the road, and thus they decided to travel to Tanggu Town together. Fang Zizhen nodded slightly and said, “I reckon Prince Jing was afraid that Princess Jing would become ill from staying at home all day, so he told his second son to take her out to relax! After all, Princess Consort Jing’s most beloved youngest son had set out on a voyage. So, she must be very worried about him!”
Lady Fang pulled on the blanket and watched as her husband lay down again, and then said, “That’s right! The young royal prince has been gone for half a year. If it was me, I would also be too worried to eat and sleep properly…”
Seeing his wife’s downcast gaze, Fang Zizhen knew that she had thought about her own situation of being childless again. He patted her shoulder gently, took her into his embrace, and said in a gentle voice, “It’s getting late. Let’s sleep…”
The night passed by quietly. Xiaocao’s biological clock prompted her to wake up early.
“Young Miss, this servant will help you put on your clothes.” Seeing the movement on the bed in the inner room, Zhenzhu hastily came over to pull open the bed curtains and smiled happily at Miss Xiaocao, who was dazedly sitting on the bed with the quilt in her arms. Lady Fang was afraid that her daughter wouldn’t be used to staying at an unfamiliar place, so she sent her handmaid over to wait upon her. It was apparent that her madam attached great importance to Miss Xiaocao!
Xiaocao was about to politely decline her, but when she saw Zhenzhu holding a set of clothing with complicated patterns that was made of a gorgeous fabric, she couldn’t help but frown, “I need to go to the watermelon shop later, so won’t it be inconvenient for me to wear this?”
Zhenzhu quickly explained with a smile, “Madam said that she will take you to visit a distinguished guest later, so you will need to dress more formally. These are all clothes personally made by our madam. If you continue to refuse, our madam will be very sad.”
Yu Xiaocao didn’t say anything else. With the help of Zhenzhu, she put on the dress that represented the feelings of a loving mother. Hanfu  seemed to be the most popular attire in the Great Ming Dynasty. The dress that Xiaocao wore was a lavender chest-strapped dress with cloud and butterfly patterns. It was paired with a light-yellow shawl jacket on the outside and tied with a band on the chest. The soft colors and fine gauze texture, paired with Xiaocao’s fair and delicate face, did somewhat give off the feeling of a noble young lady. With her skillful hands, Zhenzhu styled Xiaocao’s hair into lovely twin buns and adorned it with a plum blossom golden-wired hairpin with pearl inlays, which showed a sense of nobility within its simplicity.
A hint of happiness flashed over Xiaocao’s heart as she stared at the adorable and slightly playful-looking noble young miss through the hazy bronze mirror. Everyone had a love for beauty, and Xiaocao was no exception.
When the well-dressed Xiaocao appeared in front of Fang Zizhen and his wife, there was a trace of surprise within their eyes. This was exactly how they imagined their daughter would look like ah! Lady Fang held Xiaocao in her arms and couldn’t stop looking at her. They were staring so much that Xiaocao started feeling embarrassed.
After eating breakfast, Lady Fang took her daughter to the county magistrate’s wife’s seaside residence, where Princess Consort Jing currently stayed. Xia Furong didn’t want to miss any of the chances to meet Second Young Master Zhu, so she also wanted to go with them. However, she was rejected by Lady Fang with the reason that she was still sick.
Xia Furong felt even more wronged in her heart: In the past, her aunt would take her along whenever she was visiting someone. Now, she had been robbed of this opportunity by a wretch of a peasant family. How could she not feel hatred?
The county magistrate’s wife’s seaside residence was located between Tanggu Town and the docks. Fang Zizhen rode on his horse and escorted his wife and daughter. He felt incomparably contented in his heart and the smile on his face never faded. It wasn’t until Lady Fang and Xiaocao was invited inside the estate by the servants that he reluctantly left for the harbor.
Right now, with freshly prepared tea and snacks, Princess Consort Jing was enjoying the scenery in the garden. At this time, Meixiang had an excited expression on her face as she hurriedly sprinted over while holding her muslin dress.
“Acting so flustered. Where are your manners?” Lanxiang, who was slightly older than her, quickly chided her in a soft voice.
Meixiang grinned at her, and then said to the princess consort with a slightly trembling voice, “Your Highness, the young royal prince… the young prince… he…” She ran over so fast that she was gasping for her breath as she spoke.
As soon as she heard news about her youngest son, Princess Consort Jing, who was originally half-reclining on the chaise lounge, immediately sat up and asked with a nervous expression, “Yang’er… What happened to Yang’er?”
Meixiang took in a deep breath and finally managed to catch her breath. The big smile on her face eased Princess Consort Jing’s anxious and tense feelings.
“Princess Consort, the young royal prince has sent a letter!” Meixiang’s voice was full of joy.
“Yang’er sent a letter? Quick, quick! Bring it over!!” Princess Consort Jing impatiently urged. Meixiang hastily walked over and nearly tripped on her skirt. Before she had even stopped, Princess Consort Jing had already grabbed the letter in her hands.
The letter was sent from Quan Prefecture to the capital, and then delivered here at top speed. Seeing the familiar handwriting, Princess Consort Jing’s eyes welled up with tears. She blinked away the tears in her eyes and read the contents of the letter avidly.
In Zhu Junyang’s letter, he wrote about his life on the ship and some interesting happenings at the sea. He emphasized that he had hunted a shark by himself and made the fins into dried shark fins, which he had sent back to his mother along with the letter.
After reading up to here, Meixiang and Lanxiang both jested the young royal prince was so filial that he didn’t even forget to bring some good things back for the princess consort. Feeling very happy, Princess Consort Jing ordered, “At noon, make a soup with the shark fin that my son personally caught. It will definitely be thousands of times better than the ones on the market.” The two handmaids agreed one after another.
Zhu Junyang also said, “By the time Mother receives this letter, this child should have almost arrived at the southern seas . I heard that the local customs and practices are quite different from the Central Plains. There’s no winter there, so one wouldn’t be able to see snow. The people there have dark skin, high foreheads and broad noses. So, they look slightly different than the people of the Central Plains . ***Some people may be uncomfortable with the next sentence, so please skip to the next paragraph if it might offend you.*** I heard that, on the other side of the boundless sea, there is a race of people who have glistening black skin and looks like a chimpanzee. If there’s a chance, this child really wants to go take a look and personally draw some portraits for Mother to see.”
And lastly, he said, “With parents around, one shouldn’t travel faraway. Please forgive this child for being unfilial and unable to stay with you and Father. Mother, in the Great Ming Dynasty, there are still many people who are dressed in rags and have little food to eat. The emperor said that there is an easily grown and high-yielding crop in the West—corn—that can be eaten as a staple food. This time, my task is to bring back the corn seeds and try to plant them. I believe that the introduction and cultivation of corn will certainly benefit the common folks. At that time, there won’t be famine in the Great Ming Dynasty anymore, and everyone will be able to live a prosperous and contented life…”
Princess Consort Jing started weeping as she read the letter, “It has been nearly half a year, yet he had just reached the southern seas. Moreover, he also wants to go to the West… When will my Yang’er come back ah?!”
Lanxiang quickly comforted her, “Princess Consort, don’t be like this. Young Royal Prince wrote this letter back because he wants you to rest assured. If he knew that his letter has caused you to be sad, with how filial the young prince is, he will surely blame himself. Think about it, the young prince has already reached the southern seas, so it definitely won’t be long before he reaches the West. Perhaps, within a few months, the young royal prince will appear in front of you and give you a surprise!”
Princess Consort Jing gently wiped the tears from the corner of her eyes with her handkerchief, nodded, and said, “Yes, my son will definitely come back as soon as possible. After finding corn, no matter what, I won’t let him travel so far anymore. I miss him so much!”
“Your Highness, the wife of Zhaoyong General has arrived with her daughter.” The senior servant, who was in charge of the outer courtyard, hurriedly came over to report.
Princess Consort Jing finally remembered that she had invited Lady Fang over, so she hastily said, “Quickly bring her in.”
The gifts that Lady Fang and Xiaocao brought over weren’t rare and precious goods, but instead, they had brought over a gift box set of Zhenxiu Restaurant’s limited roasted chicken and osmanthus duck. This was Yu Xiaocao’s idea.
In Xiaocao’s opinion, what valuable goods had the princess consort not seen before? When sending a gift, it was better to choose the right one rather than the expensive one. Last time, when they ate together, the princess consort seemed to have a special liking for the osmanthus duck. So there definitely wouldn’t be anything wrong with gifting this! Besides, not everyone could purchase Zhenxiu Restaurant’s gift box set. The gift box was beautifully designed, so it was quite presentable as a gift.
Sure enough, when Princess Consort Jing received the gift, she was extremely pleased and said that she was very lucky to be able to eat good food today. Upon knowing that it was chosen by Xiaocao, Princess Consort Jing highly commended the little girl.
 Wulue from the name Fang Wulue (房武略) is taken from the phrase wen tao wu lue (文韬武略), which describes people who have both civil and military skills
 Hanfu (汉服) - traditional clothing of the Han Chinese, which is the predominant ethnic group of China
 southern seas - refers to Southeast Asia
 Central Plains (中原) - middle and lower regions of the Yellow RiverPrevious Chapter Next Chapter