The crisp sounds of birds chirping broke the silence in the mountain ravine. The first ray of warm sunlight peeked into the mouth of the cave. Zhu Junyang, who had been sleeping on the ground with the bodyguards outside of the cave, stood up and loosened his stiff and somewhat sore limbs. From time to time, he unconsciously looked towards a certain cave inside.
All of the caves were currently silent without any movement. Other than the sounds of the bodyguards walking around, the rest of the cave system was completely quiet. Before long, the maids and senior servants from the mountain villa had gotten up, washed up simply, and started to cook breakfast for the bodyguards and other servants.
Zhu Junyang stretched his neck a bit. How come there was no sound of movement in the Yu Family’s cave? When would that lazy lass, Yu Xiaocao, finally stop sleeping in? He had only arrived at this place last evening. After eating dinner with his mother and catching up, Yu Xiaocao had already gone inside her family’s cave to start dreaming by the time he came out. The cave housed his future father and mother-in-law, so he couldn’t just walk in to bug their daughter under their noses. He could only resist the temptation within his heart and stroll around the outer cave system for a long time before he went to sleep.
Finally, there were some sounds of movement in the middle cave. The first person to come out was a graceful young maiden who was wearing a simple set of cotton clothing. Her hair had been combed into two hair buns. Happiness crawled onto Zhu Junyang’s face and he stepped forward. However, once he got a closer look at the girl’s face, he revealed a disappointed expression and said, “Ah, good morning, Xiaolian!”
Yu Xiaolian had noticed the disappointed look on the prince’s face and covered her mouth to surreptitiously smile. Then she spoke to the royal prince, who was craning his neck so far that he almost entered the cave, “Younger Sister will probably be sleeping for another hour before she gets up. Yesterday night she told me to tell you that if you woke up early, you could go to the small creek and catch some small white fish to bring back. That way, she could make some fish soup today. This is the ceramic pot that’s already been baited, so you can use it…”
Zhu Junyang looked a bit helpless, “That lass always knows how to order me around. How can I be forced to do such crude labor?” Despite his complaints, he still took the ceramic pot that was offered to him. The little lass wasn’t going to get up for another hour. It was better to take a walk in the ravine a bit instead of staying here doing nothing. Getting some fresh air in the morning would be nice.
He jumped into the valley and traveled to the bank of the creek. After taking off his shoes and stepping into the water, he looked at the white fish swimming in the water and idly thought, ‘Why would I need to use bait to catch these fish? With my skills, how would I not be able to catch these fish easily?’
However, when he started to try without the bait, he immediately discovered that he had overestimated himself. The small white fish were nimble and were even more slippery than loaches. They darted back and forth between the rocks. Sometimes they would brush by his fingertips while other times they would swim around his feet as if they were teasing him.
After trying for quite a bit of time, his body was covered with sweat and he didn’t end up catching many. Now humbled, he could only place the ceramic pot inside the creek and wait. Suddenly, a weird phenomenon occurred. Those little white fish seemed to have been supernaturally drawn towards the ceramic pot and even lined up to go in. It was as if they were all squeezing in to do a pilgrimage to see a saint.
He unconsciously frowned. Every time he was near Yu Xiaocao, he always felt like the little lass had some sort of secret. This secret allowed her to go beyond the natural and do things that were considered impossible in this world. He was worried that, in the future, her mysterious power would cause trouble for her.
However, with him around to protect her, other than the emperor or his imperial grandfather, no one else would be able to harm the little lass before going through him first. He would be her shield and help her protect her secret and keep her safe. With him around, there was no one who could harm his little lass. After thinking it through, Zhu Junyang gradually stopped frowning as his mood improved. His little lass only needed to do whatever she wanted to do. Seeing her act naturally all the time was what he liked about her.
By the time he brought back the ceramic pot full of fish and entered the entrance of the cave, Yu Xiaocao had already started cooking on the crude stovetop. She glanced at Zhu Junyang, who had scuttled by, and didn’t even raise her head as she said, “Prepare the small white fish right now. I’ll need to use them in a moment.”
“Me?” Zhu Junyang pointed incredulously at his nose and his voice had an undertone of obvious surprise. “I know how to use swords, staves and how to kill enemies...I just don’t know how to clean fish to eat…”
“If you don’t know how, you can always learn! Quickly go! I need to use them soon!” Yu Xiaocao didn’t even raise her eyes as if ordering around a royal prince was something that came naturally to her.
The servants from the prince’s residence had already gotten used to this. They continued to do their tasks and not a single one came forward to help their master get out of this predicament. Princess Consort Jing stood at the entrance of her own cave and watched with obvious interest as her youngest son held the ceramic pot in his hands with a look of bewilderment on his face. She covered her mouth to hide the smirk on her face.
In the end, Madam Liu graciously took over. She rolled her eyes at her daughter and then took the ceramic pot from Royal Prince Yang’s hands. She then pointed at his wet pant legs and said, “Your Highness, go change into some dry clothes. I’ll take over the task of cleaning and preparing these fish for you.”
Zhu Junyang smiled at her gratefully. The smile seemed to be even more brilliant than the rays of the rising sun and it blinded Madam Liu for a second. She could only think, ‘The royal prince is too handsome. In fact, he’s even more pretty than Xiaocao by a few fractions. Is this type of person really reliable?’
In actuality, if Madam Liu had the choice, she absolutely would not choose a husband like Royal Prince Yang for her daughter. They were a farmer’s family so what they were looking for was someone who was steady and reliable for their daughter. The best would be to find someone who was around the same social level as them. That way, if their daughter got bullied in the future, they, as her parents, would be able to support her and negotiate. The royal prince was exceptionally handsome and also had an illustrious background. In the future, if he had a change of heart, all they could do for their daughter was to cry and lament with her.
“Oh…” Madam Liu let out a heavy sigh and a worried frown crossed her face.
Zhu Junyang thought that his future mother-in-law disdained him for not being able to clean and prepare fish, so he hurriedly said, “Auntie, in the future just call me Junyang ah. Always addressing me as ‘Your Highness’ is a bit too formal. If you have other things to do...you can teach me how to prepare the fish. I learn things very quickly.”
Madam Liu shook her head and the frown didn’t dissipate from her face, “Your High...your hands aren’t the type of hands used to prepare fish, right? Quickly go change into a dry set of clothing ah. The temperature in these caves are colder in the morning and night, so you shouldn’t get chilled.”
When Zhu Junyang saw that his future mother-in-law was concerned about him and that he didn’t need to prepare the fish, he obediently followed her suggestion and went back to his own cave dwelling to change clothes. Princess Consort Jing gleefully commented, “Oh ho! Whose son is so obedient now? Usually no one ever listens to my words. Sigh...what’s the point in raising sons ah? It only benefits other people in the long run!”
“Lady Mother!” In the past two years, her youngest son didn’t have any of his violent spells anymore and it seemed like the demon in his heart had been suppressed. Because of that, Princess Consort Jing was able to set down one of her big worries and be more cheerful. Every day she seemed to like to pick on her youngest son, and Zhu Junyang had no choice but to go along with it.
Princess Consort Jing pretended to use the handkerchief in her hands to dab at the non-existent tears in her eyes as she curled her lip, “Okay ah! You haven’t even married your wife yet you already think that I, your mother, is being too irksome. Sigh...life is too cruel ah. I spent twenty years raising my sons and I’ve gotten nothing in return ah!”
Zhu Junyang helplessly went around his mother and entered the cave to change his clothes. He was too busy to pay any attention to her fake laments and woes. He couldn’t give her attention at this point. Otherwise, she would latch on and not let go. The only strategy he could do was to ignore her and let her talk it out.
Breakfast was on the simpler side. They each had some thick white rice congee, griddled flatbread and a bowl of fragrant fish soup. The smell of food lingered in the caves whenever they ate and took a long time to dissipate. Today, the Yu Family, Liu Family, and Princess Consort Jing and her son all sat together in a corner outside their caves to partake in the meal. They found a few rocks that were mostly flat to act as their table. Other than Princess Consort Jing, who was sitting on a cushion, everyone else sat on the ground as they ate the food with gusto.
“Father, we don’t have much grain leftover from what we brought. If we scrimp and save, we should be able to last until tomorrow morning.” Yu Xiaocao drank the fish soup as she frowned with a worried look on her face.
Yu Hai sighed and said, “I don’t know how long these Wokou pirates will stay until they leave...how about, tomorrow I’ll go walk around the mountain a bit and see if I can hunt down a larger animal or something…”
Zhu Junyang scowled and said, “How about I take Zheng Yun and the others to go into Dongshan Village and snatch some grain back. While we are there, we can also kill a few pirates and allow me to vent my temper on them!”
When he found out that the pirates were attacking, he sped all the way over to Dongshan Village on horseback. The rage in his heart hadn’t gone away. If he wasn’t worried about his lady mother’s and Xiaocao’s safety, he would have already charged into Dongshan Village and started slaughtering the pirates by the dozens to relieve his fury.
Princess Consort Jing remarked out of concern, “There are quite a number of Wokou pirates, at least a hundred to two hundred! We don’t have many people on our side, so we can’t act rashly. Meixiang, how much grain do we have leftover now? Let’s go with Yu Hai’s suggestion and hunt some game down to add to our food stores to hopefully stretch it out for a few more days. When the residence’s private army comes, then we can beat those pirates into a pulp.”
When Imperial Prince Jing was younger, he had traveled throughout the country with the emperor emeritus to the battlefields, so he was also considered a martial prince. Thus, all of his sons had also learned martial arts since they were young and they were quite interested in it. Naturally, this all influenced Princess Consort Jing so she would also occasionally reveal a more warlike side of her.
Although Zhu Junyang really wanted to slaughter the Wokou pirates willy nilly but he couldn’t bear to disobey his lady mother and cause her to be worried. He stamped down on the outrage inside his heart. After finishing breakfast, Zhu Junyang and a few other bodyguards left the cave system and went deeper in the West Mountain with Yu Hai as their guide.
Some of the villagers, when fleeing for their lives, had lost all of their luggage, so these two days passed like a year for them. Madam Zhang and Yu Dashan were two of those people. At first, they had brought too much stuff along with them and had almost fallen into the hands of the pirates, so they had thrown their belongings away to run. Other than the money that Madam Zhang hid on her body, the two of them had nothing else other than the clothes on their backs. During the crazy run, they had also lost Madam Li somewhere in the chaos. Even now she had not met up with the other villagers.
Originally, some villagers thought that these two looked quite pitiful and would give out some food for them to eat. However, after two days had passed, none of the villagers had much food left as all of them had packed lightly. They couldn’t even feed their own family members anymore so how could they give out food to feed these two?
Luckily, the bodyguards from the prince’s residence had told them that there were no wild beasts in the valley and that some wild vegetables and fruits could be found. As long as they worked hard, they should be able to fill their bellies. When the news traveled throughout the villagers, it brought hope to all of them. Thus, the tranquil and peaceful environment in the ravine was quickly broken by the villagers. All of the flowers in the valley had been trampled flat by the hungry villagers who didn’t know any better as they scrounged for food.
The group that had gone out to hunt today was quite lucky. They had come across a family of four wild boars. The adult wild boars had thick skins and most ordinary arrows couldn’t penetrate their hides. However, the bodyguards from the residence were all skilled. By surrounding the animals with their superior numbers, they very quickly took down the family of wild pigs. The two adult boars weighed around four hundred to five hundred catties in total. The two juvenile ones were about half grown, so they also provided about a hundred catties of meat too.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s Thoughts: Can’t believe Madam Li is missing.