Chapter 281 - Concern

Zhu Junyang came back fatigued from the experimental plot of a field on the outskirts of the capital. He dusted off the dirt on his body and took out a moon-white daily robe from his wardrobe. Head Steward Liu requested to enter the room from outside, and, when he got permission, he hurriedly entered.

“Master, I’ve heard that Tanggu Town is in the disaster area of the locust plague. After the locusts went through, there wasn’t any grass or crops left...” Head Steward Liu reported while carefully watching his master’s reaction. 

Zhu Junyang stopped getting dressed; his face had become serious and his forehead was wrinkled. Head Steward Liu suddenly felt that there was a pressure spreading from the top of his head, and a suffocating oppressiveness was aimed at him. He bowed lower and buried his head as deep as he could. 

“In other words, Dongshan Village’s ten mu of corn that’s about to be harvested is going to yield nothing?” Zhu Junyang’s first thoughts were not of whether the corn seeds would be able to be recovered but whether if the girl with big eyes would cry broken heartedly in despair at this serious blow. 

When they were in Tanggu Town, Head Steward Liu and his master were busy running between Tanggu Town and Dongshan Village. His master had great expectations and hopes for that corn, and he had watched the corn seedlings grow with his own eyes as it sprouted, grew taller, and matured...Miss Yu had said that the corn would be ready in the next few days and she would cook some for the master to try. Who would have thought that such a big disaster would happen once the master came back to the capital. It seemed like Miss Yu's promise wouldn’t be fulfilled this year. 

"Master, what happened to the corn is quite a pity but it's already happened. Don't be upset about it! Aren't there still some seeds in the storehouse? Just plant them again next year!" Head Steward Liu couldn’t help but open his mouth to comfort his master after he saw that the prince was silent for a long time.

Zhu Junyang slowly put on his clothes. Head Steward hurriedly went forward to help his master fasten his belt and tidied up his clothes for him. Zhu Junyang continued to be silent for a long time before he finally said, "Dongshan Village is in the disaster zone. What's the current price of food?"

Head Steward Liu was glad he had asked this question when he was inquiring about the situation. He hurriedly answered, "It's said that when it first started, with the exception of the Zhou Family whose grain prices increased by not even five copper coins per catty, the other prices increased by ten copper coins per catty. Currently, it has already risen by one hundred copper coins and a limit had been placed on quantity bought. The price of white rice and noodles are even more outrageous. One or two silver taels can only buy two catties... The reserves of grains in many of the grain shops aren't able to keep up. It's estimated that in the near future, the price will rise exponentially... "  

"In order to grow corn and watermelon in the Yu Family’s fields, not one mu of grain was planted in the spring. They all depended on buying grain to eat! That lass only cares about money, how would she be willing to spend that much money to buy grain? There are so many people in their family; have they run out of food yet?" Zhu Junyang said to himself in a low voice. 

Thinking of the thin figure with skinny arms and legs, Zhu Junyang’s frown became more prominent. The next time he went to Dongshan Village, would he see a famine refugee who was as thin as a stick?

“Head Steward Liu, transport two carts of grain from the estate to the Yu Family of Dongshan Village first. Just tell them that I’m going over in a few days and that they don’t need to worry or feel guilty about the corn. No one can stop a disaster. Tell the county magistrate of Tanggu Town to maintain order in Tanggu Town and the surrounding villages. The imperial court will issue disaster relief as soon as possible. Speaking of the food supply, the people just need to try to hold on. The food for disaster relief will arrive soon. In addition, let Fang Xun start the fleet to go south and purchase food immediately. As for money, use my private savings first!” Famine was often accompanied by riots, and the Yu family were considered rich by people in Dongshan Village. If there was chaos then they would be the first ones to suffer! 

Head Steward Liu hesitantly looked at his master. The imperial court hadn’t said anything, yet the master ordered the fleet to go purchase food supplies from the south. Wouldn’t that arise suspicions from the top that he was trying to buy the hearts of the people? 

Zhu Junyang took one glance at Head Steward Liu and knew what he was worried about. He waved his hand at him and said, “Go ahead and follow my orders. I’ll go into the palace!” 

In the imperial study, Jianwen Emperor called all the ministers to discuss the matter of disaster relief. After several years of recuperation and development, although there were minor disasters every year, Jiangnan, as the Ming Dynasty’s bread basket, had good weather and the national treasury was full. This locust disaster occurred mostly in the coastal areas, with a wide area and serious repercussions. It also happened right before the spring harvest, making it impossible for people to take precautions! 

The head eunuch came quietly to Jianwen Emperor’s side and whispered in his ear, “Emperor, Royal Prince Yang requests for an audience!”  

Zhu Junfan waved his hand and said, “Let him in!” 

“This subject would like to go to Tanggu Town for disaster relief, I hope Your Imperial Majesty can approve this!” Zhu Junyang’s face was cold, but his eyes, although cold, showed deep concern. 

“Ah, Junyang! The corn in Dongshan Village can be harvested in about half a month, right? It’s better for you to go there and see for yourself how much corn the Yu Family have collected. Pass on my decree, just say that even if corn isn’t harvested, their family still has a meritorious service.” Zhu Junfan lamented.

The worries in Zhu Junyang's eyes receded a bit and he continued on to ask, "This subject also would like to ask to send the fleet to support the disaster relief!"  

For the sake of the citizens of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Junfan didn't refuse. With a stroke of his brush, he threw an imperial edict at Zhu Junyang and said, "Agreed, Royal Prince Yang will be appointed as the Minister of Disaster Relief and will be responsible for the national treasury's millions of relief fund. Seeing this edict is the same as seeing us in person. No one can delay the disaster relief for any reason, otherwise, immediate decapitation!"

"This subject receives the decree!" Zhu Junyang bravely walked out of the imperial study holding the bright yellow imperial edict.

All the ministers looked at Royal Prince Yang's quickly disappearing figure. It seemed a bit more elegant. They all inwardly sighed, 'The younger generation will surpass the older generation.’ Those that were jealous, who really hated how much the emperor favored Royal Prince Yang, hoped that he would screw up the disaster relief.

In the imperial court, the tides were changing and the young seventeen year old Royal Prince Yang had become the emperor's favorite. It had only been half a year since he came back from overseas, and he had already been entrusted with an important task! It seemed that they should focus on making connections him! Soon people began to earnestly pull to make a connection with Royal Prince Yang.

Royal Prince Yang was cold and indifferent to everyone? That didn’t matter, wasn't his father Imperial Prince Jing? As long as they could make friends with Prince Jing's estate, then nothing can go wrong! Royal Prince Yang was going to immediately leave the capital to deal with the disaster relief, and they wouldn't be able to find his shadow? That was a small matter, hadn’t Princess Consort Jing already returned to the capital? Their wives connections were still very useful! 

At this time, the royal prince didn't know or want to know about any of these events. He transferred a batch of grain from his estate and personally led a team of imperial bodyguards to escort the food to Tanggu Town. 

After receiving the imperial edict, the fleet left for Jiangnan under the command and leadership of Fang Xun on the same day to purchase food for disaster relief. Fang Xun had followed Royal Prince Yang to the western hemisphere. This journey not only opened his eyes to the world, but it also promoted his rank. He was promoted from a strong cavalry guard of the fifth rank to a commander of the fourth rank, rising two ranks at once. Although he encountered many risks at sea, Fang Xun also had a taste of receiving wealth and many by benefits by following Royal Prince Yang.

As soon as he heard Royal Prince Yang was in charge of the disaster relief and that he was appointed to purchase the food for the disaster relief by the recommendations of the prince, he felt deeply moved and naturally gave a hundred and twenty percent of his effort to carry out his appointed mission. He was ready to live up to Royal Prince Yang's trust and recommendation by making some achievements!

Royal Prince Yang escorted two carts of grain. On the way to Tanggu Town, he met many refugees. Fortunately, the wagons containing the grain were disguised as vehicles containing coal and were protected by strong bodyguards. Thus, they avoided unnecessary complications.

 In order to avoid a delay, the prince ordered them to pass the prefectural city and go straight to Tanggu Town. Three days later, the wagons transporting the grains didn't enter the town and turned onto the official road to Dongshan Village.

When the party arrived at Dongshan Village, they arrived just in time for dinner. Looking from afar, he could see smoke curling up from the kitchen chimneys. Zhu Junyang saw that the situations in Dongshan Village were better than that of the other villages they passed along the way, since they were still able to cook. Thinking that the villagers must've saved some money from selling seafood and, along with the ocean, they should still be able to find food, his heavy heart suddenly became lighter.

Due to the locust disaster, Rongxuan Academy had a holiday break. Little Shitou, who was bored at home, took Liu Fangping with him to go up the mountain to catch locusts or down to the sea to pick seafood. He also took the time to review the tasks assigned by the teacher, so his days were busy and full of life. 

"Brother Shitou! A group of official soldiers seems to be heading toward our home! " Liu Fangping shouted after seeing the party dressed as bodyguards when he was looking up from having caught a locust and put it in a cloth bag.

Little Shitou straightened, squinted at the group, and worriedly said, "It seems that the Young Royal Prince is walking at the front. I don't know if we will get punished for harvesting the corn early. "

"But, if we didn't harvest them in advance then they would've been all eaten by locusts! We hurriedly harvested so much corn, so we should be rewarded!" Liu Fangping hurriedly followed up, thinking of the scene of them harvesting day and night for two days. During that time, he had also done his best to do a part. Although he couldn’t do any large tasks, he still made himself useful by doing small errands.  

Little Shitou wasn’t in the mood to catch locusts anymore. "Let's head home and have a look!" He said to Little Fangping as he took the bags.

The official soldiers led by Zhu Junyang had come to the Yu Family's house under the curious and timid looks of the villagers. In the shack outside of the Yu Family’s house gates, the purchase of marine products was still going on. There was a long line in front of the shed. Yu Hang and Yu Jiang were busy weighing and settling accounts. 

When he saw that official soldiers had stopped in front of his family's door, Yu Hang looked up and stopped working. He went up with his uncle to greet them. 

Zhu Junyang got off the horse's back and threw the reins to the manservant beside him. He nodded to them and said, "No need for the ceremony." He raised his feet and walked toward the inner courtyard without any welcome.

Those who were selling seafood were mostly the people of Dongshan Village. When the locust disaster came, each family had suffered some losses. Fortunately, they only stopped work on the wharf for two days before recovering to normal. A part of the younger labor force went to the docks to find work. More and more villagers were now leading their families to dig for sandworms and pick oysters. This meant that they at least had some income every day. The price of grain had risen again and their savings were dwindling. Every villager had to plan for the future. 

There were so many people who came from other villages to sell seafood to the Yu Family. Seeing the formation being led by Prince Yang, they all asked in a low voice, "Who is this? He looks more imposing than the rich young masters in town..."

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Myst's Thoughts

Translator: Elaine