Chapter 308 - Child Traffickers

In the blink of an eye, Little New Year was about to arrive. In the north, there was a custom of eating dumplings during the Little New Year. The meaning behind this custom was to see off the Kitchen God. In ancient times, there was a saying, ‘eat dumplings when parting, and eat noodles when meeting’. 

In the early morning of Little New Year, Old Yu led everyone in the family to offer sacrifices to the Kitchen God. Madam Liu skillfully boiled stove candy, which was sweets made from malt and millet. The large milky white lumps of candy were placed on a square plate in front of the statue of the Kitchen God. Other items on the table included fresh water, beans, fodder… She still needed to put up festive couplets for the Kitchen God. 

When eaten, the freshly made stove candy was crispy and fragrant. It was the children’s favorite snack. Every year, the wealthier families would make more stove candy for the children to consume. 

Yu Xiaocao wasn’t very good at making traditional stove candy. After she boiled the white sugar into syrup, she would either add in fried sesame or peanuts to make it into sesame and peanut candy. This way, they would have some extra snacks for the New Year. When Madam Liu found out, she laughed and scolded her as a ‘wasteful girl’! In this era, it was already considered quite good if an ordinary family had enough to eat, where would they have the extra money to buy white sugar to make sesame and peanut candy? 

In the evening, the Yu Family made two types of dumplings, meat and vegetable. The meat dumplings were stuffed with wild pork and scallions. The streaky wild boar meat, which had a good ratio of fatty and lean meat, was diced up, and then mixed with chopped onion to make ground meat. There was more meat than vegetables, and it was delicious to eat. 

The vegetarian dumplings are stuffed with garlic chives, glass noodles, and eggs. The glass noodles would be soaked in hot water to be softened, then it would be chopped into fine pieces and air-dried in the sun. After that, it would be fried in oil and combined with scrambled eggs and chopped garlic chives. If she were to add the refined oil residue, the dumpling would taste even more delicious. Yu Xiaocao liked to secretly eat a few mouthfuls of stuffing while she made the dumplings. The flavor was extremely tasty. 

The whole family sat in a circle around the kang table, eating their favorite meat or vegetarian dumplings happily. The cheerful atmosphere made Yu Xiaocao sigh at the beauty of a family reunion. 

In her previous life, her parents had left the world early, leaving behind three half-grown children. Their first few New Year without their parents were bleak and miserable. Fortunately, her younger siblings already had their own small families before she left, so she was a little less concerned and attached to her previous life. 

Yu Xiaocao’s expression became a little absent-minded. It seemed like her previous life was becoming more distant, as if it was nothing but a very long dream that was full of hardship… 

“Cao’er, what are you thinking about? The vegetarian dumpling you like to eat will be all snatched up by the little guys if you don’t eat it quickly!” Yu Hai saw his daughter staring blankly at the corner of the kang table with a lonely expression on her face, which seemed out of place in the lively atmosphere. So, he quickly put a few pieces of dumplings on her plate, softly interrupting her train of thought. 

In the north, people usually celebrated the Little New Year with meat dumplings. However, since Xiaocao liked to eat vegetable dumplings, they also made a plate of dumplings stuffed with chives and eggs. Maybe it was because this type of dumpling was new and fresh to them, but Liu Yaner, Yu Xiaolian, and Little Shitou all tried a piece of the vegetarian dumpling, and soon half the plate of dumplings was gone. Little New Year was about having a lively reunion, so the two families decided to celebrate it together. 

The chives and eggs dumplings were stir-fried with lard, and there were a lot of eggs stuffed in the dumplings. Xiaocao also added the fragrant refining oil, so it was no mystery as to why the children liked it. 

When he saw his father picking up the delicious and fragrant vegetable dumplings one by one with his chopsticks and putting them into his second sister’s bowl, Little Shitou protested, “Father, you’re being partial to Second Sister! If you give all the vegetarian dumplings to Second Sister, what should we eat?” 

Yu Hai glared at the grinning little fellow and said, “Don’t you like to eat pork dumplings? Don’t create a ruckus without any purpose. There are so many pork dumplings!” 

However, Yu Xiaocao picked up a piece of dumpling stuffed with chives from her own bowl and placed it in her younger brother’s bowl and said, “Father, the wild pork dumplings are delicious too. I also like to eat them! It’s more lively when everyone eats dumplings together!” 

Little Shitou covered his small bowl and smiled mischievously, “Second Sister, I was just teasing our father! How can vegetable dumplings be more delicious than pork dumplings? Only Second Sister’s taste buds are different from everyone else! We’re just trying out the vegetable dumplings, the rest is for you!” 

Yu Xiaocao reached out and pinched his chubby cheeks, and said, “Do you think that your second sister is a rice bucket? There are dozens of dumplings left, and if I eat them all, my stomach will explode! Hurry up and eat. Help me eat some!” 

Yu Xiaocao divided the vegetarian dumplings in her bowl between the two families. After she shared them, she still had around a dozen remaining, which was just enough for her to eat! 

Little Shitou was sitting on the side with his hands covering his face as he protested, “Second Sister, I’m no longer a child, so stop pinching my face! I will be taking the county-level exam next year!” 

“Not to mention the county-level exam, even if you are the top scorer in the imperial exam, you’re still my younger brother! I pinch you because I like you. Who told you to be the youngest one in our family?” Yu Xiaocao pinched his small face again. 

Little Shitou shielded his face with his hands, snuggled up beside Madam Liu, and pouted. In a loud voice, he said, “Mother, you should give birth to a little brother. That way, Second Sister will only pinch our little brother, and not me!” 

Madam Liu flushed red in embarrassment when she heard her son’s word, and gently patted him twice on his back. However, her man laughed mischievously beside her, and thus received an eye roll from her. 

After Little New Year, it will soon be the New Year. The weather had been bright and sunny the past few days. The market in town was bustling with people, who dragged their children to town to buy goods for the New Year. The Yu Family’s carriage was now equipped with a shed. The twin sisters, Yu Xiaocao and Yu Xiaolian, Liu Yaner, Little Shitou, and Liu Fangping were sitting inside while chattering happily. 

Yu Hang and Liu Junping considered themselves to be older, so they sat outside chatting with Yu Hai, who was driving the cart, and Liu Hu. Besides Madam Liu and Yu Caifeng, who stayed at home to clean and make preparations for the New Year, everyone else came out to buy goods. 

Yu Family’s horse carriage and donkey cart were both parked outside of the town gates. For just a small fee, they could park there for the entire day and the staff would also help feed the animals. But they must bring their own fodder for their animals, otherwise they would have to pay additional money. The Yu Family’s horse and donkey wouldn’t eat fodders from other places, and only ate the fodder that had mystic-stone water added to it. 

When the children jumped out of the carriage, Yu Hai and Liu Hu looked at the kids, who all had different heights, and felt a headache coming. When they entered the town gate and saw the bustling crowd, their head ached even more! 

Yu Hai turned towards his oldest son and Liu Junping, and said, “Your task is to carefully watch after your younger siblings. There are a lot of people here for the New Year, so child traffickers will take advantage of the chaos to kidnap children. Never let your guard down or be careless!” 

Yu Hang and Liu Junping nodded their heads solemnly. Little Shitou, who was holding Little Black’s leash, confidently gestured at Little Black and said, “If we encounter a child trafficker, then I’ll make Little Black bite his butt!” 

Little Fangping took over the rope tied to Little White from Xiaocao, he jumped and said, “There’s also Little White! Little Black will bite one butt cheek and Little White will bite the other butt cheek! They’ll bite the bad guys until they cry!” 

Although Little Black and Little White weren’t big in size, they were purebred wolves, so they had an impressive and majestic aura around them. Their appearance gave off the feeling that they shouldn’t be trifled with. However, the two wolves had completely opposite personalities. Little Black was simple, honest, a little foolish, and cute. He had a good temper and could play with anyone. Little White had a proud and cold temper, and would look at everyone besides Xiaocao with disdain. 

At this moment, when Little White saw that its reins were now in Liu Fangping’s hands, it began biting at the other end of the rope with its teeth, pulling it back with force. Taking advantage of the fact that Liu Fangping hadn't noticed, he pulled the rope over to Xiaocao’s side. It used its front legs to cling onto her pants and pushed the rope into her hands. Then he glared at Liu Fangping disdainfully. 

“Follow me closely and don’t fall behind!” After Yu Hai repeatedly warned the children, he then led the large group into the crowd. 

Liu Junping held his younger sister, Liu Yaner, with one hand, and with his other hand, he held his younger brother, Liu Fangping, who had his head turned as he tried to appease Little White. Yu Hang followed his example as he dragged Little Shitou with one hand and pulled Yu Xiaolian along with his other hand. He had Xiaolian pull Xiaocao along. With a majestic wolf cub escorting them on both sides, the four siblings became an eye-catching sight on the street.

The seven siblings and cousins were dressed simply, but they were very clean and tidy. There were no patches on their clothes and their appearances were above average. The siblings from the Yu Family were better looking. Yu Hang was nearly 1.7 meters tall, with thick brows and big eyes. His skin was a healthy wheat color. 

Xiaolian and Xiaocao were twin sisters. At first glance, they appear very similar, but with a closer inspection, it was very easy to tell them apart. Xiaocao’s skin was like a peeled egg; it was fair with a rosy glow and no blemishes at all. Xiaolian’s complexion was slightly darker because of the long-term exposure to the wind and sun on the dock. Xiaocao’s eyes were big and bright, as if she was able to see through a person’s inner heart. Xiaolian’s eyes weren’t small, but her face was slightly rounder, so her eyes weren’t as prominent as Xiaocao’s. In general, the two sisters’ appearance were very good. They were a beautiful pair of sisters. 

Little Shitou was a young boy with a handsome and refined appearance. His eyes were always smiling, and he had a tall, straight nose. It could be said that his facial features were the best among the four siblings. 

At the beginning, the children obediently followed behind Yu Hai and Liu Hu, who were shopping for New Year goods in front of them. However, they were later attracted by the various snacks and toys on the street and gradually spread out. Fortunately, Liu Yaner and her brother had Liu Junping looking after them, and Yu Hang followed closely behind his siblings. 

“Eldest Brother, there are monkeys performing tricks in the front! Let’s go check it out!” Before Yu Hang could respond, Little Shitou had already shook off his brother’s hands and walked into the crowd with Little Black. 

Yu Xiaocao was also interested in the monkeys performing tricks, so she followed behind her older brother and squeezed into the crowd watching the performance. Inside the circle, there was a duo of monkey trainers, who appeared to be a pair of grandfather and grandchild. A young girl struck on a gong to attract people, while an old man with white hair commanded the monkey dressed in clothes to do somersaults, walk on a tightrope, climb a pole, and to open a box while wearing a mask… Every now and then, the audience would burst into applause. 

When the performance came to an end, the young girl held the gong to collect money. Those who were unwilling to give money gradually dispersed, while those who didn’t mind giving one or two copper coins, threw one or two copper coins into the gong. Yu Xiaocao looked at the young emaciated girl and thought that it wasn’t easy being a performing artist, so she tossed two copper coins in. 

At this time, a cry suddenly came from the scattered crowd, “Where’s my child? Has anyone seen my child? Gouwa——Gouwa——” 

“Oh dear——” An old man beside Yu Xiaocao sighed deeply and said, “Her child must’ve been kidnapped by child traffickers! Every time people come to town to shop for the New Year, they would abduct a few children. These adults are also too much, don’t they know how to look after their child when they go out…”

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Myst's Thoughts

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Translator: Vi