Zhu Junfan sat on his throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony, amusedly watching his younger cousin, who was usually quiet seemingly become another person as he spoke animatedly of Yu Xiaocao. Hearing his last sentence, he rolled his eyes at Zhu Junyang, exasperatedly saying, “Do we even need you to remind us?”
Then, he continued to ask, “According to you, I should actually reward the ten-year-old little girl from the Yu Family instead of Yu Hai?”
However, Zhu Junyang shook his head and said, “The Yu Family successfully grew corn, that's a contribution and should also be rewarded. However, Yu Xiaocao’s contribution is the greatest, so, by right, the reward should be on her name!”
“Your Majesty, this official disagrees! A woman’s virtue is in having no talent; how could a little girl become an official such as us?” Imperial Censor Yang voiced out his opposition first.
Official Zhang, the Minister of Transmission, had always been good at guessing the emperor’s intentions. Since his ascendance to the throne, the emperor had been consistently trying to raise the ranks of women, and his determination could be seen clearly from his awarding of the master of embroidery, Jiang Siniang.
Imperial Censor Yang was too pedantic and didn't know how to be more flexible, so even though he was more qualified than all the first-rank officials, he was still dawdling in second-rank. Zhang Zijian felt that he was younger and more capable than the old fellow, and he knew that the emperor really needed a loyal subject that could convey his intentions. Thus, he decided to test his luck!
“Official Yang! His Majesty and the emperor emeritus always value a person by their abilities. His Majesty once said, ‘Do not restrict the talented’. Now, the drought in the north is still an ongoing problem and the areas by the sea also suffered from a locust plague. Food is the basis to calm the people—the important factor for maintaining peace in the kingdom! And Yu Xiaocao so happens to have such a talent! Talented agriculturalists are hard to find, so what is wrong with making exceptions?” After receiving the emperor’s praising gaze, Official Zhang became more and more confident in his speech.
Imperial Censor Yang lifted his chin and said with a frown, “The success in growing corn didn’t spawn from only the efforts of that little girl! If her father were to be rewarded, she will also rise in ranks from a mere farmer girl to the daughter of an official, which will also be equivalent to her being rewarded. Why must we let a girl become an official and let her unsettle the court!”
“These words are not right, Official Yang! According to you, the contributions of children should be credited to the father, so doesn't that mean that in the future, if Deputy Yang made a contribution, he need not be rewarded? Instead, all the credit should go to you, so you can rise in ranks and get wealthy?”
Imperial Censor Yang’s son was the current Deputy Minister of the Household, a fifth-rank official. This Deputy Yang had the ability, and wasn't as stubbornly pedantic as his father, so originally, he would’ve been able to reach magnificent heights in his career. However, in most dynasties, there were very few fathers and sons who were both of equal, high rank. With Imperial Censor Yang oppressing him, he had always been short of opportunities to rise through the ranks.
Hearing Official Zhang’s words, Deputy Yang looked at his father with a gaze filled with dissatisfaction. His father was old and had already reached the peak of his career in the court, so it was extremely difficult for him to progress further in his career. However, Imperial Censor Yang enjoyed his high rank and dreamed of the moment when he would be promoted to a first-rank official, whereas Deputy Yang who was already more than forty years old was still a fifth-rank official because his father was oppressing him. If his father could retire earlier, he would definitely be able to achieve his father’s dream of becoming a first-rank official before he, himself, retired. Such a big dream—they are indeed a father and son duo!
It is common in court to have both father and son as court officials. All the sons directed their discontented glares towards Imperial Censor Yang.
For a moment, Imperial Censor Yang felt like there were knives at his back. He was not so callous as he hurriedly explained, “Your Majesty, this official did not mean it that way, it is Official Zhang who misinterpreted my intentions! This official simply thinks that women should not be appointed as court officials as they would unsettle the court!”
Zhu Junfan was a bit annoyed at this bunch of old officials that often took advantage of their seniority, and his expression showed his displeasure as he said, “Beloved Official Yang, you have crossed the line! How much trouble can a mere seventh-rank official under the Ministry of Revenue cause? Or is it that beloved Official Yang thinks that we are incapable rulers like King Zhou of Shang and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang?”
“This official doesn't dare!” Alarmed, Imperial Censor Yang trembled and hurriedly dropped on his knees, lowering his entire body to the ground.
Official Zhang also kneeled, saying, “Please cease your anger, Your Majesty! This official thinks that Imperial Censor Yang is old and muddleheaded. He takes advantage of his seniority and misinterprets Your Majesty’s intentions. He is no longer suitable for the position of the censor, who inspects the impeachment of officials, discerns wrongdoing, monitors the various departments, and acts as the ‘eyes and ears' of the emperor.”
Hearing this, Imperial Censor Yang felt stifled and found it difficult to breathe. He outstretched his hand, shakily pointing at Official Zhang. Official Zhang gave the others a look that said, ‘See, Imperial Censor Yang is indeed old!’
The emperor pretended to scold, “Minister Zhang, your words are not right! It is all because of the contributions of the senior officials that the Great Ming Dynasty was able to stabilize after mere decades. Without the old general following the emperor emeritus to fight battles, there would not be the Great Ming Dynasty today; and without the hard work and cooperation of the civil officials, we would not have the prosperous Great Ming Dynasty today!”
Official Zhang realized that he had been too eager, so he quickly laid prone on the ground and pleaded guilty, “Your Majesty is wise! This official has been narrow-minded! I have only been discussing the facts, and did not mean to disrespect the senior officials. Please make a wise judgement!”
The emperor sighed heavily, “Beloved Official Zhang, in court, every word that you speak must be thought through thoroughly. Since this is your first offense, your punishment will be the deduction of half a year’s salary!”
The deduction of half a year’s salary was akin to an itch to Official Zhang, so even though he was punished, he was still secretly gleeful. It seemed that his actions had pleased the emperor!
As expected, the emperor turned his gaze to Imperial Censor Yang, who was clutching his chest and panting heavily, and asked with concern, “Does the imperial physician need to be summoned, beloved Official Yang?”
Imperial Censor Yang panted heavily a few more times, shaking his head, “My utmost gratitude for Your Majesty’s concern, but this official is fine.”
The emperor continued to express his concern, “Beloved Official Yang, your health should be the utmost priority. You should rest your body first in order for you to better contribute to the court! We will grant you a month’s leave of convalescence from court, meanwhile the Vice Imperial Censor will take over your tasks. Are there any more issues to discuss, fellow beloved officials?”
“Your Majesty, this official…”
“Court is dismissed!” Su Ran’s voice coincidentally covered over Imperial Censor Yang’s words.
All the officials sighed and shook their heads, looking pitifully at Imperial Censor Yang. Some of them gladly watched the show, while others smiled gleefully at his misery.
At the back of the formation, Deputy Yang felt his cheeks burning. Walking over with his head lowered, he helped up his father, who had gone limp, and whispered, “Father, the emperor’s intention to award the little girl from Yu Family is so clear, why must you displease the emperor over such a small character?”
Imperial Censor Yang still could not believe that he had been suspended from his duties. He mumbled, “I've always been loyal, albeit straightforward, what did I do wrong? Why did His Majesty want me to take a sick leave? I’m not sick, I need to find the emperor…”
“Father, stop creating trouble!! If you keep on making a ruckus, it'll be difficult to keep your futou  on your head!!” Why did he have such an unreliable father? Deputy Yang’s brows furrowed deeply as he increased the strength in his grip, partly supporting and partly dragging his father out the palace doors.
However, the dispute over awarding the Yu Family was left unsettled after having gone through this commotion caused by Imperial Censor Yang. Far away in the fishing village, Yu Xiaocao, who spent the winter staying at home, had no idea she had even been in the center of a dispute in court.
At this moment, she was trying to convince her father to help her make a small sled, so that the next time it snowed, she could let Big Gray pull her as she enjoyed the thrill of sledding on snow.
Ever since Big Gray became known as Royal Prince Yang’s pet and took up residence in the Yu Family’s house, Yu Xiaocao had continuously used the mystic-stone water and wild boar meat stored in the cellar to feed it. Big Gray looked like a ball of silvery fur from afar as it now had a thick layer of fur covering its entire body, and it rippled with energy when it ran because its whole body was composed of well-developed muscles.
Big Gray was more sentient than all the other animals at home, til the point that it could almost understand all of human speech. It was also more sensitive towards the good and bad intentions of other people, and the entire Yu Family were glad to have it guarding them.
“Big Gray, come, try and see if it's suitable!” Yu Xiaocao excitedly waved to Big Gray once the sled was made. Big Gray who was lying on the snowy ground lazily glanced over, seemingly unwilling to bother with Yu Xiaocao.
Yu Xiaocao threatened it with a stern face, “Big Gray, if you don't listen to me, you won't get dinner!”
Although Big Gray wasn’t very interested in frozen boar meat, if it went against this little girl’s wishes, it was very probable that it wouldn't get any of that delicious water to drink for the whole of tomorrow. Ay… Big Gray slowly picked itself up, shaking its fur. Only then, with graceful steps, did it move towards Yu Xiaocao.
Yu Xiaocao fixed the sled on Big Gray and found it to be just perfect. Her father’s skill really wasn't only for show!
“Try walking a couple steps!” Yu Xiaocao had always been jealous that Eldest Granduncle reared a few big dogs in his house. Back then, when there were no horse carriages or donkey carts in the village, they always relied on those dogs to pull the sled to town on snowy days. When she got ‘sick’ that winter before they divided from the family, she was brought to town on a sled. Unfortunately, she was wrapped into a ball at the time, so she could not see the outside at all, and could not experience the joy of the dogs pulling the sled.
Big Gray lazily moved two steps forward, and the sled behind it slid forward on the ground slowly. Little Black and Little White, the two little wolf cubs thought it was some kind of fun game, so they followed behind their father in an effort to hinder it. They bit the rope of the sled, jumping forward with all the might of their four short legs. When Big Gray pulled the sled forward, they would tug it backward, but how could the strength of the two little fellows be compared to Big Gray’s? Naturally, they were dragged forward.
Yu Xiaocao, who was both annoyed and amused, picked up the two fellows and placed them on the sled. There was only a thin layer of snow in the courtyard, and Big Gray pulled the sled, slowly making its way to the door of the courtyard. The two little fellows sat on the sled, excitedly moving about. They wanted to jump down from the sled, but they were also reluctant to give up the feeling of riding on the sled.
Little Black readied itself and jumped when the opportunity arose, but in the end, it fell haphazardly off the sled. In its unsteady state, it turned in circles twice on the spot. Then, realizing that the sled was getting further and further, it began moving its short legs to chase up to it.
Little White, on the other hand, calmly sat on the sled and let its father pull it towards the outside of the courtyard.
It only snowed lightly, so the temperature outside wasn't too cold. A group of children was having a snowball fight nearby and stopped immediately to stare when they noticed the gray wolf reared by the Yu Family come out.
The entirety of Dongshan Village knew that the Yu Family was helping the royal prince to rear a wolf, and this wolf had supposedly been tamed and wasn't aggressive at all towards the Yu Family members. Nevertheless, the villagers still warned their own children to stay away from the wolf, or else beware that they will be eaten!
But looking at this mighty gray wolf act like a dog and pull a little sled, moreover, with a cute little white dog sitting on top of the sled, that scene was just too cute!
 futou (襆头) – also known as black gauze hat (乌纱帽) is the headwear worn by Ming Dynasty officialsPrevious Chapter Next Chapter