When Royal Prince Yang arrived at Dongshan village after travelling from the capital in the snow, this was the sight that greeted him: a big, silvery gray wolf pulling a small sled sliding across the snowy ground, and a little figure wearing a red cloak rode on the sled; the fluffy brim of the cloak being blown back by the wind.
Behind the sled, two little dots of black and white chased after it with difficulty. They occasionally howled once in awhile. When they met with a deeper pile of snow, the two little pups would disappear for a split second and emerge from the other side of the pile, continuing their chase of the sled.
The cheeks of the little girl on the sled were red, and her laughter was more delightful than the chime of silver bells. She looked like a fairy in the forest, so dazzling, so eye-catching…
“Second Sister, let me ride for a while, please let me ride for a while!” Little Shitou ran over excitedly while waving his hands as he saw the sled turn and head in his direction.
Yu Xiaocao let Big Gray stop and jumped off of the sled so that her little brother could get on. She took off her cloak and wanted to place it on him, but Little Shitou crinkled his nose at the red cloak and said, “Older sister, I have rabbit fur hat and neck scarf, I don't need to wear a cloak!”
This cloak was precious and was brought back from the capital by Xiaocao’s godfather, Fang Zizhen. It was rumored to have been personally made by Jiang Siniang herself. But such a bright color was only suitable for little girls to wear, and Little Shitou thought himself a little man, so he was determined to resist all things girly.
“If you don't wear it, I won't let Big Gray pull you!” Yu Xiaocao threatened. In the end, her threat worked, and Little Shitou reluctantly wore the cloak, pouting unhappily as he sat on the sled.
Big Gray, seeing that the person behind it had changed, did not even bother to spend so much energy as it slowly walked on the snowy ground. Despite Little Shitou’s attempts to rush it, it persisted in its unhurried steps.
In spite of that, Liu Fangping still watched from the side in envy. He followed behind the sled for a few steps, whispering his pleas to his Brother Shitou to also let him ride on it, even if it was just a little while! Then, he would have the right to brag in front of all the other children in the village: You’ve all seen dogs and horses pulling sleds, but have you ever seen a wolf pulling a sled? He had not only seen it, he had also rode on it!
At this time, Yu Xiaocao had already noticed the tall figure standing in the snow, holding the reins of his horse. He wore a purple robe with gold embroidery, and at his waist, an indigo cloth embroidered with animal designs was tied. His long hair, that resembled flowing water, was tied up using the same colored cloth, and his slightly raised phoenix eyes seemed stained by the snow. With the white snow as his background, the tall figure standing gracefully beside the black stallion seemed as though he was the only focus in the world.
In her deer skin boots, Yu Xiaocao ran two steps towards the young prince before she sank into the snow and lost her balance, falling face-first onto the snowy ground.
Zhu Junyang's face changed. Letting go of the reins, he immediately sprinted over to the struggling Xiaocao's side and picked her up from the snow.
"Pfft——" Zhu Junyang heartlessly laughed. The little girl's entire head and face was covered in snow, making it seem as though she had grown a white beard around her lips and made her look extremely hilarious.
Yu Xiaocao struggled in his grasp until her feet touched the ground. She used her sleeve to brush off the snow on her head and rolled her eyes at the young prince, exasperatedly saying, "Young royal prince, you didn't brave the snow and travel all the way from the capital over just so you can watch me embarrass myself, did you?"
Zhu Junyang reached out to help her brush off some snowflakes from the top of her head, smiling, "Of course not! Nevertheless, I'm still happy to receive such a big bow upon our first meeting."
Yu Xiaocao knocked his hand away, huffing, "So tell me, what matter of importance has brought your esteemed elderly  grand presence to Dongshan Village?"
"Am I that old? I'm only just 17 years old this year, still very well in my prime…" Zhu Junyang touched his own cheek—it was still quite elastic!
Yu Xiaocao rolled her eyes at him, saying, "You're older than me by a whole seven years, yet you still say you're not old? When I'm twenty-something years old, you would already be thirty-something years old; and when I'm thirty years old and a blooming flower, you'd be forty years old and the scraps of tofu. So, aren't you old?"
Zhu Junyang raised his eyebrow, "I've heard the emperor say 'a man in his thirties is a blooming flower, a woman in her thirties is the scraps of tofu'? Did you remember incorrectly?"
Yu Xiaocao jumped up, saying, "That's not true! If women took care of themselves, they'd look 20 years old even if they were 30! On the other hand, men who put lesser importance in self-care, especially those like you who are always traveling all year round and are exposed to the sun and wind, age even more easily! If you're not the scraps of tofu, what are you?"
Zhu Junyang stubbornly lifted his head and said, “Tasteless girl! I’m one of the most eligible bachelors in the capital; so many ladies from prestigious families try to attract my attention but I ignore all of them. Even if I were 40 years old, I’d still be a golden bachelor!”
He also heard the phrase ‘golden bachelor’—meaning a rich, attractive and single man—from his cousin. Zhu Junyang distastefully looked at the young girl in front of him that seemed like a mung bean sprout. When this girl turned 16 and became eligible for marriage, he would only be 23 years old and in his prime, how could he be scraps of tofu?
Yu Xiaocao sized him up disbelievingly, frowning, “Young royal prince, you wouldn’t be so bored as to come all the way over to Dongshan Village just to boast about how well you’ve been living in the capital, right?”
Zhu Junyang nodded his head, saying, “I am indeed that bored! Didn’t you ask when your family’s reward would come last time? I came to inform you earlier: the longer good wine is aged, the more fragrant it will be, so wait patiently because a huge surprise is awaiting you!”
After dismissing court that day, the emperor specially called him into the imperial study to say that the little girl of the Yu Family was still too young. Even though there has been a case in history whereby a 9-year-old became a prime minister, her gender was still a problem among the old, stubborn officials in court. They had to take things slowly, step by step.
What he meant was that they will let the Yu Family help the court cultivate corn in Tanggu Town next year. More land around the capital would also be cleared for plantation, and they would invite the little girl to be the instructor and help grow corn and potatoes. If there were great harvest next year, then corn could slowly be introduced to the civilians so that they could fill their stomachs and appreciate the court’s effort. Then, naturally, the award would come.
If the little girl really had talent in agriculture and was able to produce high-yielding wheat grains and rice, then it would be considered a great contribution! At that time, she would qualify to be an official with an even higher rank than seventh-rank!
Hearing the young royal prince’s words, Yu Xiaocao asked a little excitedly, “What surprise? Is it uncountable treasures?”
“Uninsightful! Is that all you desire?” Zhu Junyang looked at her in disdain, “Don’t you want your family to change from their farmer status to the status of a court official’s family?”
Yu Xiaocao got even more excited, carefully lowering her voice as she said, “It couldn’t be that...the emperor will award us the position of a small official?”
“Of course, and it will be a seventh-rank official at the very least!” Although Zhu Junyang did not think highly of seventh-ranked officials, a mosquito still had meat despite its tiny size. This status was more than enough for them to do whatever they wished in Dongshan Village.
However, Yu Xiaocao was quite satisfied with it, and laughed unceasingly like a cat that stole and ate an entire fish. Seventh-rank official, wasn’t that the same rank as a county magistrate? Not to mention, she had godfather and the young prince supporting her family, so in the future, even the county magistrate would have to be courteous to them!
Again, Zhu Junyang revealed to the the little girl about the emperor's wish to cultivate more corn in the following year, "I've already sent people to see if there is any fertile land near town on sale. Next year, Tanggu Town will have to produce at least 100 mu of corn."
"What? 100 mu?? We only have 10 or so members in my family and most of them are children, do you wish to make us die of exhaustion?" Yu Xiaocao sternly opposed.
Naturally, Zhu Junyang had already thought of this problem, so he said, "What are you worried about? The start of spring is exactly the time when people will lack food and require a new source of income. You don’t think so many villages around Tanggu Town are able to earn a living from digging spoon worms like Dongshan Village, do you? There are still very few families that have excess money, so at that time, there will definitely be a bunch of people who are looking to earn money through hard labour. Then, you will just have to hire more people to work in the plantation! I give you my word that you will be reimbursed for the money you spend on hiring workers."
Yu Xiaocao blinked her big eyes, her long eyelashes flickering as she smiled slyly, "Then…will the court still purchase the corn at a high price?"
Zhe Junyang knocked her on the head and said, "You materialistic little girl! When have I ever mistreated you? Enough said, I came all the way over to bring you good news, but you're just letting me stand here in the snow, drinking the wind?"
Yu Xiaocao mumbled, "What good news? Such an unsure matter and he asks to be rewarded? He definitely has his sights set on my family's grasshopper sauce!"
Zhu Junyang was extremely fond of Yu Family's grasshopper sauce. Regardless of whether it was fried or fermented, he loved it all! Sometimes, he didn't even eat the stir-fried vegetables—he just ate pancakes dipped in the sauce, and he finished seven or eight pancakes in one go. Yu Hai could only manage to eat three of the Yu Family’s steamed pancakes before he couldn't eat anymore. The young prince's stomach didn't seem big, so where did all the pancakes go?
Zhu Junyang knocked her head again, smiling, "I not only have my sight set on the grasshopper sauce, but I also want your potato feast! The imperial cooks in the palace are all quacks, even if they followed your recipe, the taste of the potatoes that they cook are only just so-so, it's not even half as good as your dish, Xiaocao!"
Yu Xiaocao had an expression full of delight but still grumbled, "Young Royal Prince, are you taking me as your cook? When you think of food, you come to my house to eat! In the future, bring your own ingredients, I'm afraid that my entire family's food will be finished off by you, the big appetite king."
"What? Is there not enough grain to eat? I'll arrange for two carts to come over from a reasonably priced grain shop tomorrow!" Zhu Junyang had never been miserly towards the Yu Family.
Yu Xiacao shook her head, "There's still a lot of grain! Probably enough to last us until next year's harvest in fall without any problems. Rest assured that I definitely won't be courteous with you if there isn't enough grain!"
After that, she turned towards Little Shitou and Little Fangping and shouted, "The weather's cold, so don't play for too long and come home earlier!" To which the two little fellows agreed to from afar.
After having lunch with the Yu Family, Zhu Junyang left for home with his guards. Now that it was nearing the year end and both the Prince Jing and Princess Consort Jing were in the capital, it was a given that he would have to go home to celebrate the new year with his parents.
 Xiaocao is addressing him in polite terms that one would use for one's elders. Hence Zhu Junyang joking about being old in the next sentence.Previous Chapter Next Chapter