Chapter 245 - Imperial Merchants

The villagers nearby automatically imagined what happened afterward. The gazes directed at Madam Zhang all regarded her as shameless.  

How could Madam Zhang listen to others talk about her youngest son? "Aaoo-" She rushed at Madam Mao. 

Madam Mao was much younger than Madam Zhang. She was quite agile, so how could she be caught by Madam Zhang? Madam Mao flexibly dodged Madam Zhang’s claws while still brutally talking, “What? Did I get it right and you’re angry with embarrassment? All of our deeds are seen by the Heavens! In the future, you should quit doing those despicable acts. Whoops! You’re old and should take it easy. Don’t strain your back and blame me for pushing you! Everyone is watching, right? I didn’t touch a single hair on her, if she falls or bumps into something, it has nothing to do with me! …Since I can’t afford to provoke her anymore, can’t I hide? I’m leaving…”

Madam Mao took great strides and left like a gust of wind. After all, Madam Zhang was old. Although she had tried to scratch the other woman, she didn't even manage to touch Madam Mao's clothes and even tired herself out. How could the panting Madam Zhang catch up with the young Madam Mao? She could only stare at her departing back!  

Madam Zhang saw Yu Xiaocao, who was standing at one side, and felt that the longer she looked at her, the more Yu Xiaocao looked like an eyesore. Madam Zhang angrily said, "Hurry up and go. Are you standing here to see a joke?"

Yu Xiaocao’s goal had been achieved. “Grandmother, since you don’t like me, I won’t stay here and obstruct your view. Uncles and Aunties, is there anything heavy that I can take with me?” She said with a smile. 

Upon hearing her words, they all shook their heads and said, “No, there’s no need! Lady Fang is waiting for you to take care of her, how about you go first!” The villagers all saw such an obedient and clever child, how could Madam Zhang dislike her so much?  

“Yes, yes! We didn’t bring much stuff with us, we can carry it!”

“Your pony is already carrying so many things. If it doesn’t grow under the pressure, won’t you feel sorry?” This was someone that had a closer relationship with Xiaocao, so the person cracked a joke.  

Xiaocao bid the villagers farewell with a smile and mounted the little red pony that was standing still. The little red pony seemed to be impatient. As soon as Xiaocao sat down, the animal trotted forward without any urging. 'This pony is strong!' was what it seemed to be telling the villagers.

When she caught up with Madam Mao, Xiaocao said a few words with her before heading toward the town without stopping. When she was about one kilometer from Tanggu Town, she came across Third Young Master Zhou, who was galloping at full speed.

In the past year, Third Young Master Zhou's position in the Zhou Family had risen. The old patriarch of the Zhou Family had been training him to become the next head of the household. Third Young Master Zhou had become even busier. Not only did he have to check on the businesses of his subordinates, but he also had to learn how to manage the family’s business. The Zhou Family were Imperial Merchants, who were in charge of buying materials for the Royal Court. Naturally, he couldn't be given the cold shoulder. Yu Xiaocao hadn't seen Third Young Master Zhou for many days already. 

"Third Young Master, where are you going in such a hurry?" After the road from Tanggu Town to Dongshan Village was completed, other than the Second Young Master and the steward of Prince Jing's Estate, there weren't many people who could ride a horse or carriage. Yu Xiaocao and the Third Young Master Zhou had recognized each other from a distance. 

Third Young Master Zhou fixed his hair that had been blown by the wind and sulkily replied, "This road leads straight to Dongshan Village, where else do you think I can go?" 

"Oh! The busy Third Young Master is gracing our Dongshan Village with his presence!" Yu Xiaocao continued to tease.

Zhou Zixu rolled his eyes and said, "Can't you say something nice? I haven't seen you in so long, yet you still like to exchange barbed words with me!" 

Yu Xiaocao smiled and said, “Ok, let’s speak seriously? What do you need me for? Let’s talk as we go!” 

Zhou Zixu looked at her with a smile and said, “Why are you so confident that I’m looking for you? Can’t I be looking for Uncle Yu?” 

After saying those words, he turned his horse so he was beside Xiaocao's maroon red pony. The little red pony under Xiaocao was upset that Zhou Zixi's big black horse was so much taller than itself. Unlike its usual temperament, it turned its head to bite the big black horse. 

Zhou Zixu, upon seeing this, hurriedly pulled on the reins of his beloved horse to take him over a few steps, not letting the little one succeed. “Yo! It’s true what kind of owner will raise what kind of horse. This little guy actually dared to provoke my Black Cloud. It’s got some nerves!”

Yu Xiaocao gently stroked the little red pony's mane, pacifying the animal. "Who told your black giant to show off its big head in front of Little Red. Only a fool would not resist after being bullied!"

Zhou Zixu laughed and pointed at her with his index finger. "You! Always with the misdirection! There's nothing wrong with Black Cloud being tall! It’s Tiny that’s green with envy! For being so small, it sure has a big temper! ——It must be the result of your teachings!"

Yu Xiaocao rolled her eyes at him and said, “Tiny is at home! Last time I don't know who it was that had ideas for our little roe deer. Hmph!” 

After Zhou Zixu became busy, he was afraid that his mother would be lonely. Thus, he made plans for the little roe deer in Xiaocao’s home. He wanted the silly interesting little fellow to accompany his mother so she wouldn’t be lonely.

Who knew that before Xiaocao could even open her mouth to refuse, the little roe deer ran off into the forests of the West Mountains until Zhou Zixu left. Afterward, every time he went to the Yu Family home, the little roe deer would either pee on his feet, rub dyed grass into his new clothes or stay away so far that he couldn’t even get a glimpse of him… Zhou Zixu joked that Tiny was someone that remembered grudges, he can’t be provoked just like his master! 

When she mentioned the embarrassments of the past, Zhou Zixu rubbed his nose somewhat unnaturally. Remembering what he came for, he hurriedly said, “A while ago, Grandfather and I were busy with the selection of the new imperial merchants. With the trust of the emperor, we managed to keep our previous timber supply business despite strong competition. However, the emperor emeritus has ordered our Zhenxiu Restaurant to be responsible for the purchase of braised flavoring and dried seafood for the imperial kitchen.” 

"That's a good thing! Congratulations on your success, Third Young Master Zhou. You got the rights to purchase two materials with just one try. The Zhou Family imperial merchants' position will be very firm!" Yu Xiaocao knew that the profit of the imperial merchants was very sizable and that competition was very fierce.

The current head of the household, which was the first branch of the Zhou Family, was the nominal uncle of Third Young Master Zhou. However, he was actually his biological father and only had average abilities in business. The Zhou Family currently had the old patriarch managing everything, so they were still able to keep their standing. But the old patriarch was getting older with every passing year, so how long could he hang on for? This was also the reason why the old patriarch was rushing to teach Third Young Master Zhou everything. 

Fortunately, Zhou Zixu showed extraordinary business abilities while he was still young. This time, he was able to get the internal supply of braised flavoring and dried seafood. All of this occurred because Zhenxiu Restaurant had made its place in the capital. Everyone knew about the osmanthus duck and roasted chicken from Zhenxiu Restaurant. Even the emperor emeritus often left the palace to have a meal and he would also pack some to take back. It was said that he was taking it back to give some to his precious grandson——the current emperor——as a reward.

Last summer, Yu Xiaocao also occasionally went into the ocean to get some top-grade abalone, sea cucumber, etc. All of this seafood was sold to Third Young Master Zhou. Third Young Master Zhou got the best value out of the gourmet seafood by putting them on a seafood feast auction at the Zhenxiu Restaurant in the capital.

Alright! Even the emperor was notified, who then privately visited Zhenxiu Restaurant. He then met the gluttonous emperor emeritus and the two of them dominated the seafood feast auction. Actually, it was the emperor emeritus who revealed his identity, and thus, the competitors naturally gave up without taking any actions. Although the seafood feast auction didn't get to the price that Zhou Zixu wanted, the goal had been achieved.

All the officials, rich businessmen, and the children of the aristocratic families present crowded Zhenxiu Restaurant. The emperor emeritus didn't enjoy the seafood feast alone; he invited the officials above the third rank present to share the feast. Most of the seafood in Zhenxiu Restaurant was delivered on ice. However, the best grade of seafood was freshly caught seafood that was still alive.

Everyone knew that transporting live seafood was extremely difficult. During transportation, normally seafood will die or turn smelly. However, these abalone and sea cucumbers were given mystic-stone water and, as such, they had a strong vitality. When they arrived in the capital, they were still alive and jumping around. Naturally, their taste would also be better than those transported by ice or dried. As soon as that glutton, the emperor emeritus, ate some, he noticed the difference. Therefore, the Zhou Family easily became an imperial merchant family who were given a second good to monopolize. 

It was very simple to supply the braised flavoring. Head Chef Wang, who was transferred to the capital's Zhenxiu Restaurant, was personally able to make some and send it to the palace. However, seafood was not easy to supply. Although the emperor emeritus was gracious and only asked them to supply dried seafood, most of the high-grade abalones and sea cucumbers lived in the deep sea. Even the most experienced fisherman could only get it by chance. Would ordinary abalones and cucumbers be able to enter the eyes of the emperor emeritus? If they gave lower quality products, would the Zhou Family still have a way to live? Without any other options, Third Young Master Zhou could only go to Dongshan Village to get reinforcements.

After hearing Third Young Master Zhou's reason for visiting, Yu Xiaocao frowned for a moment. "The high-grade abalone and sea cucumber, as you have said, can only be found by chance...Is there a fixed supply amount that the palace has requested?"

"The emperor emperitus also knows that high-grade seafood is hard to get and requested only half a catty a month. Ordinary seafood requires five catties..." Third Young Master Zhou said with a gloomy face.

The four seafood treasures were all separate categories of seafood. Due to the difficulty in hunting them, they were all very expensive. The price given by the palace was fair. With the Zhou Family's connections, it wasn't hard to get ordinary seafood. However, obtaining high-grade seafood, especially abalone and sea cucumber, was causing the Zhou Family a bit of trouble.

Yu Xiaocao quickly calculated in her head. It took two to three catties of fresh seafood to make one catty of dried seafood. Since the palace requested half a catty a month, then, in one year, they would need to give six catties of dried seafood. Converting it back to live abalones and sea cucumbers, that would be eighteen catties at most. Eighteen catties of high-grade abalone and sea cucumber, to other people, would be as hard to get as ascending to the heavens. For Xiaocao, on the other hand, who had a cheat, it could be easily done in a few days.

“The emperor emeritus also said that live abalones and sea cucumbers should be provided at least once a month in the summer. They have to be high-grade!” Third Young Master Zhou cried without tears. The emperor emeritus must wanted to force the Zhou Family to die! It was no wonder that those other imperial merchants, who used to supply seafood to the court, looked at the Zhou Family as if they were waiting to see a joke. Third Young Master Zhou only knew how hard it was to get high-grade seafood when his grandfather told him when he got back.

In the past, the Yu Family had sent top-notch seafood to him every few days or so. He had thought abalones and sea cucumbers were easy to get. Sob sob sob, he was so wrong. What should I do? Save me, Uncle Yu, Xiaocao...

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Translator: Elaine