More than a hundred villagers of Dongshan Village followed behind a gray wolf and quietly entered a cave. If someone made any noise, the big gray wolf that was about the height of a person would stare fixedly at that person with his emerald green eyes until that person quieted down. As a result, the more than one hundred people, including the children in their arms, all silently moved forward in the quiet, dark cave.
Soon, a ray of light came from the top of the cave and a large cave appeared in front of everyone. The cave was very big and should be able to accommodate more than three hundred people like Xiaocao said. The best thing was that it wasn’t dark in the cave thanks to the glow from the top of the cave, which was like a bright lamp.
It was very dry inside the cave, and there were a lot of dry branches and stones. Xiaocao stopped and announced that they would settle down here. Each family could select a place to settle down, put down their luggage, and do some simple cleaning.
They were safe for now, so the children, who were carried by the adults, were full of curiosity regarding the cave. After knowing that there was no danger in the cave, several of the older children began to explore the cave. The younger children frolicked around their families. Since there was a lot of echo in the cave, the children’s laughter rippling through the cave made it oddly noisy.
Princess Consort Jing furrowed her brows slightly and felt a slight headache. She preferred a quiet environment, so it was too noisy for her to stay in a cave with more than a hundred people of varying ages. However, she knew that it was a peculiar period and she shouldn’t be too picky. Thus, she just sighed and endured it.
Yu Xiaocao dodged an infant who had just learned to walk and came up to Princess Consort Jing’s side. She said, “Your Highness, there’s a lot of connected caves here. I’ll go with Older Sister Meixiang to select one that’s suitable for you to stay in. Later, you can move over.”
When Princess Consort Jing heard this, she revealed a smile and nodded, “Alright, you and Meixiang should be careful. Bring Little White and Big Gray along with you. Come back earlier!”
Yu Xiaocao glanced at Big Gray, who was drinking water with his head lowered, and gently touched his butt with her feet. Big Gray moved his bottom slightly to the side and looked up at her with a somewhat impatient expression as if she had interrupted him from enjoying the mystic-stone water.
“Big Gray, are you full? If you are, then take us to find a cave where we can live. It’s best to have around four or five caves that we can live in. It doesn’t need to be too big. It’s big enough if it can accommodate ten or so people!” Yu Xiaocao didn’t care whether Big Gray could understand her. The cave was very big with a lot of connecting caves, like a maze. How was she supposed to find habitable areas by herself?
Meixiang chuckled and said, “Miss Yu, can he really understand you?”
“You mustn’t underestimate an animal’s ability, especially one with intelligence! Big Gray isn’t a normal wolf, so he should be able to understand me, right?” Yu Xiaocao also felt somewhat uncertain as she spoke.
Big Gray pushed away Little Black who was trying to take his mystic-stone water and swiftly finished licking the bowl of mystic-stone water. He licked his mouth and walked towards a small opening in the cave. Seeing that Xiaocao and Meixiang didn’t follow him, he turned his head to look at them, as if he was rushing them.
Xiaocao understood and pulled Meixiang to follow along. The opening was as tall as a person’s height and two people were able to walk side by side. After walking about fifty meters, it suddenly brightened up. This part of the cave was semi-closed, and the top of the cave was semi-circular, like it was covered by a lid.
One side of the ‘lid’ was opened, and several slightly slanted trees covered the gap. Among them, there was a wild peach tree with many fruits hanging on it. Many of them were ripe for picking. From the opening, she could see the view of the valley. At this time, it was already dusk. The orange sunlight shot into the cave, and made it appear warm and bright.
On the walls of the cave, there were a row of openings like doors. Xiaocao looked inside and saw that they were small caves that were probably dug by humans. The walls were all neat and tidy, and there were also some stone beds and stone chairs left behind. Each of the small caves looked like a room that was around seventy to eighty square meters. It was dry and refreshing inside, and people could move in after doing some simple cleaning.
Meixiang was very surprised as she looked at each ‘room’ and asked, “People must have lived here before. I wonder who dug these caves. We wouldn’t have taken over some hermits’ homes, right?”
Yu Xiaocao looked at the thick dusk on the ground, and then shook her head, saying, “Even if someone had lived here, it must have been a long time ago. ‘Ancestors plant the tree and the descendants enjoy the cool under the tree.’ Well, it’s to our benefit. There are eight ‘rooms’ here, which should be enough for us to live in! Older Meixiang, please tidy up here while I go get the princess consort.”
When Yu Xiaocao came back with the princess consort and her family, Meixiang had already cleaned up one of the bigger caves. At this time, she was wiping the stone bed in the cave with a wet handkerchief!
“Eh? Older Sister Meixiang, where did you get the water?” Yu Xiaocao asked in slight surprise.
With a smile on her face, Meixiang pointed at a stone trough near the gap. The spring water flowed out of the mountain wall and gathered in the stone trough. The excessive water flowed out to the outside of the wall.
“This is really such a good location. With this stone trough, it will be so much easier for us to get water.” As mentioned, if there wasn’t a source of water here, they would have to fetch water from the valley under the tall cliff or walk back to the other cave and go out to find a water source. It would be very inconvenient!
Lanxiang quickly got a basin from another servant and started cleaning the cave with Meixiang. They covered the stone bed with a brocade quilt, and used the stone tables, which were carved out of the walls, as storage space. Princess Consort Jing’s belongings were neatly placed on the tables. Xiaocao placed the luminous pearl in the highest part of the cave. The entire room lit up as if they had just installed a lightbulb in the room.
As for the remaining caves, the Yu Family, Xiaocao’s oldest aunt’s family, and Eldest Granduncle’s family each lived in one cave. The maidservants and senior servants divided the rest of the four caves. The manservants and imperial bodyguards could only sleep in a corner of the ‘living room’.
It was getting late, and in order to escape, no one had time to eat lunch. Everyone was so hungry that their chests were sticking to their backs. There was quite a lot of food brought over from Prince Jing’s mountain manor, and there was a complete set of condiments such as oil, salt, and soy sauce. Xiaocao’s family and her relatives had brought enough food to last them for three to five days, moreover, they also had Little Black and Little White catching pheasants and wild hares back.
They simply cleaned up their own cave. The stone bed inside was very big like a large kang bed, and it was big enough for ten or so people to sleep on. Old Yu slept in the innermost spot, and next to him were Yu Hai and Madam Liu. Xiaocao and Xiaolian slept at the outermost part of the bed. For families with poor living conditions, it was common for the entire family to crowd together on one big kang bed during the winter in order to save firewood.
After putting their things down on the stone bed, Xiaocao took Xiaolian out to the gap outside of the cave. They set up a simple stove with stones, washed the rice, and started cooking. She looked to the side and saw the servants of the Prince Jing’s Household busily working. They had three stoves, on which they cooked three pots of rice. There were thirty to forty people from the Prince Jing’s Household, including the servants and imperial bodyguards. They ate a lot of food and everyone was hungry now, so it wouldn’t be enough if they cooked too little!
Yu Caifeng came over with a bag of rice. She squatted down beside Xiaocao and helped her light a fire. She thought for a moment and said, “Why don’t our families cook together? That way, we can save up on some firewood!”
Yu Xiaocao nodded. She thought about it and said, “Oldest Paternal Aunt, can you go over to Eldest Granduncle’s place and ask if they want to eat together? Our families are eating together, so if we don’t ask them, I’m afraid that Eldest Granduncle’s family might think that we’re not treating them as relatives…”
Yu Caifeng smiled and said, “Xiaocao is still the most thoughtful one. Okay! I’ll go ask Eldest Aunt to see what they plan on doing.”
A moment later, she came back and shook her head with a smile. She said to Xiaocao, “Eldest Uncle said that they brought dried rations, so they’re not cooking tonight. They also said that they will eat separately since they have a lot of people in the family.”
In the middle of their conversation, a figure passed through the opening of the cave. Xiaocao looked carefully and saw that it was Commander Zheng and his subordinates. Each person carried a bundle of firewood on their backs. It turned out that the bodyguards of the Prince Jing’s Household thought that it was too troublesome to walk around the cave, so they tied a rope on the stone and tree sticking out of the gap. It was only ten or so meters tall, which wasn’t too difficult to climb for people who practiced martial arts like them.
Commander Zheng left three big bundles of firewood for Xiaocao, which was enough for them to cook three or four meals. Yu Xiaocao returned the favor by giving them a pheasant that Little Black caught. It wasn’t enough for all of them to eat, but at least they had some meat among all the vegetable dishes, right?
Xiacoao skinned the wild hare that she kept, and then stewed it together with potatoes. She gave both Princess Consort Jing and Eldest Granduncle a bowl each. While the rice was cooking, she added the sausages and smoked meat that they didn’t finish in the winter, which was delicious even without vegetables. In addition, Xiaocao also cooked a pot of laver soup.
The members of the Yu Family and the Liu Family all held a big bowl of cured meat rice with potatoes stewed hare. It might be due to hunger, but everyone ate with great relish. Even the youngest Little Fangping finished more than half a bowl of rice and a spoonful of hare meat.
Seeing the little guy eat with relish, Madam Liu suddenly put down her chopsticks and heavily sighed. Yu Caifeng saw this and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“When I see Little Fangping, I will think about our Little Shitou. I don’t know if he’s safe in town, and there’s also our Yu Hang. Xiaocao said that the Wokou pirates have also reached the docks. Xiaosha wouldn’t have encountered them, right…” The more she thought about this, the more Madam Liu felt as if there was a large rock pressing on her heart.
Yu Caifeng comforted her, “Don’t worry too much. Little Shitou is in town, which is quite a distance from the sea. Even if the pirates went there, aren’t the local authorities there? They will definitely ensure their safety! As for Xiaosha, there is even less for you to worry about. Xiaocao’s godfather is a great general who has experienced numerous battles. His subordinates are also very skilled. There’s no way that they can’t protect him.”
Hearing her words, Madam Liu felt that she was right and her heart slightly relaxed. But she couldn’t continue eating after eating half a bowl of rice. ‘To raise a child until they were a hundred years old and be worried about them until they were ninety-nine.’ Parents would always be worried about their children.Previous Chapter Next Chapter