Chapter 431 - Seen Through

‘Why didn’t you say so earlier?!’ Yu Xiaocao rolled her eyes in her heart and once again commanded the eunuch, who was standing far away, to bring over a pot of clear water. She took off the multi-colored stone from her wrist and let it soak in the water for a short period of time before she finally placed the Yixing clay teapot [1] on the small clay stove. 

“Is that stone of yours clean or not? Will I get a stomach ache from drinking water from it?” Zhu Junfan was making a fuss over nothing. He watched Xiaocao’s movements and naturally assumed that putting the multi-colored stone in the water was necessary to release spiritual energy in it.

Before Xiaocao could open her mouth to retort, a golden light flew out of the multi-colored stone. It shaped itself into a small golden kitten about the size of a person’s palm and stood on the table. The little divine stone tended to prefer to take this kitten shape versus the fat and chubby baby shape.

“Stupid humans! This divine stone’s bathing water has always had good effects on your bodies. How could you possibly end up with diarrhea? If you don’t want to drink it, there are plenty of people who would rather drink it instead and will line up to do so!” The golden kitten lazily stretched forward and its mouth opened and closed. Only Xiaocao and Zhu Junfan could hear it speaking.

Zhu Junfan looked at the Yixing clay teapot that was warming up on the clay stove and had an expression on his face that was full of disgust, as if he had just stepped into dog poo, “What? You say that is your bathwater? Isn’t that a bit too disgusting ah? How long has it been since you last bathed?”

“Do you think I, this divine stone, am like you dirty humans? That unsanitary ah? This divine stone bathes every day and sometimes I bathe several times in one day!” The little divine stone naturally liked water and often ran to nearby sources of water or wells to soak in. It currently had a good control over its spiritual energy and wouldn’t leak any out inadvertently. Without its master’s command, it wouldn’t let any energy out. 

However, Zhu Junfan understood this explanation in a different manner. In his mind, Xiaocao had the little divine stone create mystic-stone water every day in order to keep the crops growing well. This tiny little rock was probably working very hard in order to make enough mystic-stone water. It looked like the little divine stone wasn’t omnipotent. Since the multi-colored stone’s abilities were nowhere near what he thought it was, he naturally lost the desire to keep this treasure all to himself.

As he was lost in his thoughts, the water in the teapot was finally heated to a boil. After waiting for the water to cool down, the process of brewing tea started. Before the tea could be tasted, a delicate and alluring fragrance spread into the air. The tea leaves used were the highest quality oolong, Da Hong Pao. It was said that the leaves for this tea were picked off an ancient tea plant that was over a thousand years old and grew on a high cliff. After undergoing a complicated process to stir fry and oxidize these tea leaves, they only got around two catties of finished tea leaves per year.

Da Hong Pao that had been brewed a second time seemed to have a more mellow and rich flavor, and its aroma became a bit more elegant. Zhu Junfan had long forgotten the fact that the water being used for this tea was technically the bathing water of the little divine stone. He gently sniffed at the fragrance of the tea and then delicately tasted a sip. It had a pure flavor that seemed to tell the person to keep drinking without stopping.

“Mmm! This is the right taste!” After he finished this cup of tea, Zhu Junfan personally poured himself a second cup. Tea that was brewed from the third wash of leaves seemed to have an even more full and round flavor than the second. 

The emperor seemed to be engrossed in drinking tea and had apparently forgotten that Xiaocao was still on the side, waiting for his command. Xiaocao finally opened her mouth after she saw that he finished his third cup of tea, “Your Imperial Majesty, your purpose in summoning this official wasn’t for the sole sake of brewing this pot of tea, right?”

“Of course it’s not!” He drank another cup before he finally reluctantly set down the porcelain cup and said, “I’ve already read the reports that Junyang sent up! Were you the one who asked him to send them up?”

“Hee hee, I only saw that the Imperial Plantations has some hills nearby that are completely vacant. I thought that it was a waste of resources and wanted to do something good! That being said, if the fruits grown on these mountains are good, would I not give you a portion?” Yu Xiaocao cajoled with a sickly flattering smile on her face. 

Zhu Junfan didn’t seem to need to think much about this as he simply nodded his head, “This world doesn’t have enough variety of fruits and they don’t taste very good either. The apples sent from Yantai prefecture are not as large nor as delicious as the Fuji apples from my previous life. The pears here have coarse meat and not enough juice. They’re also not sweet enough. The grapes here are more sour than sweet...and the watermelons. Although they are sweet, there is something wrong with the melon flesh. Only the ones that you grow are similar to the ones in our previous lives. They are large, the flesh is red, and the flavor is juicy and sweet! This means that you are quite good at cultivating and planting fruits! Alright, all of the hills near the Imperial Plantation are yours to use to plant fruit trees. However, all of the fruit for the palace must be provided for free by you in the future!”

“For the fruit for the palace, does that exclude the regular eunuchs and palace maidservants ah?” Yu Xiaocao frowned and started to haggle over the conditions.

Zhu Junfan pointed a finger at her and said in amusement and exasperation, “If all of the hills near the Imperial Plantation are planted with fruit trees, you’d have more than enough fruit to supply the whole capital let alone the palace alone. Just how stingy are you? You’re not even willing to lose even this little bit?”

“If you add up all of the eunuchs and palace maids together, there must be at least a few hundred if not a thousand. If I had to provide fruit for every single person in the palace, just how much would it be ah? I’m only doing a small business and can’t handle giving out that much for free!” Yu Xiaocao’s frugalness was being pushed to the extreme.

“Alright then! Then you’ll only provide enough fruit to supply the masters and the higher ranked eunuchs and maids then. Altogether, that’s not more than thirty to forty people. Is that alright then? You won’t be losing out, right?” Zhu Junfan agreed irritably.

He suddenly thought of something else and brought the topic up, “As for using a greenhouse to grow vegetables, if you use glass to construct these facilities, then it would cost too much to expand it, so you can’t do it on a large scale. A few years ago, when I was figuring out how to manufacture rubber tires, I also came up with a method to make some thick plastic membrane. However, the strength, flexibility, and transparency of this plastic is only so-so. At that time, it wasn’t considered an urgent item and making it also pollutes the surroundings, so I didn't pursue it further. If you plan on growing vegetables on a large scale in greenhouses, I can send down an imperial decree to have some people in the Ministry of Works to work overtime and help you come up with more. Does that work?”

Yu Xiaocao was pleased beyond expectation. She nodded her head as if she was pounding garlic with it and breathlessly said, “If there’s plastic membrane available, that would be even better! We’re just at the start of summer, so it’s not something that needs to be done in a hurry. How about...you first have the people at the Ministry of Works experiment a bit and see if they can increase the transparency a bit on the plastic membrane?”

“Done! Doesn’t that take only a word from me? Don’t look down upon these ancient people. Sometimes I can get a lot of results by only giving them an idea here or there. It appears that there are geniuses in every era!”

Zhu Junfan had often sighed over this in admiration. Since he had an engineering background from his past life, he regarded these inventors and workers who had talent in these areas with importance. Thus, the Ministry of Works had also gradually enlarged throughout his reign and recruited people of talent. 

“Hee hee! If we are able to build large greenhouses out of this, then I will take care of all of the vegetables for the palace for free!” Yu Xiaocao patted her chest and happily gave this promise.

Zhu Junfan glared at her and rebuked, “You’re only going to provide the palace with vegetables for free? That’s giving you too many advantages! I’m giving you two hundred mu at the Imperial Plantations so you can grow vegetables in greenhouses. We should be splitting the income 40-60. I get 40 percent while you get 60 percent!”

Yu Xiaocao was just about to protest when he swiftly interrupted her, “Don’t cry at me yet. I’m going to give you a brief calculation! The farmlands, plastic membrane, and workers are all given to you for free by the court. You’re only providing the expertise, so how can it be that you’re the only one who gets all of the profits ah?”

Yu Xiaocao calmed herself down to think a bit. He was right. Other than the knowledge of growing vegetables in greenhouses and the mystic-stone water, there wasn’t much else she could provide to this endeavor. However, the fact that she had to give away forty percent of the income made her feel a bit unhappy. She grumbled sourly, “The farmlands were already under your ownership and the workers were already there. You’re only providing the plastic membranes yet you want to get forty percent of the income. Isn’t that a bit too much ah?”

“Without the plastic membrane technology, you would have to use greenhouses constructed entirely out of glass. That would increase the amount of capital you have to put in, so how many vegetables can you grow? Thus, what kind of income would you have then? Have you calculated all of this out? Right now I’m allotting two hundred mu from the plantations to you. This is still the first year. If this is successful, then we can expand even larger. Just think, in one year, how much can you make by using the plastic film over glass? Just what makes more sense money-wise?”

That being said, although this forty percent of the income was going into his private purse, he had spent a lot of money ever since he ascended the throne. The money he personally spent was to help the country recover and the economy to stabilize. For the first two years, his income from taxes and such was not enough to cover all of the country’s expenditures. Only after two years of hard work of expanding business opportunities did the pressure gradually abate. The giant mountain of money he had made when he had gone out on his sea journey had gradually shrunk in order to subsidize the imperial treasury. If he didn’t rebuild his coffers, in the future, his descendants would only have an empty shell to inherit! 

Yu Xiaocao had already calculated everything out in her mind. If she could only use glass to construct these greenhouses, she couldn’t even harvest a hundred thousand catties of vegetables in one year. Even at a good price, that was only a few thousand taels in income. Now, if she switched to using plastic film to construct these giant greenhouses, then she absolutely could harvest around a few hundred thousand catties of vegetables from these two hundred mu in one year. It would be stupid of her to not take this opportunity to make more money ah! Consequently, Yu Xiaocao readily agreed to the emperor’s request.

Before she left, Zhu Junfan also had her go to the Imperial Kitchens and have her use the multi-colored stone to alter the well water in the kitchens. The last time the little lass went to the kitchens, the food had tasted much better for a little bit after she left. Originally, he thought that the imperial chefs had improved their skills under the little lass’s instructions. However, after that period of time passed, the food that the imperial chefs made went back to their old flavor and were not as good as when the lass was there.

Now, he finally understood the reason for the difference. It wasn’t because the imperial chefs had poor skills. Instead, it was all due to the fact that the water quality was different. Similar to that pot of tea earlier, the little lass must have secretly put the stone in the well water to alter it, which changed the water quality and ultimately changed the way the food tasted.

Since she was at the Imperial Kitchens anyway, Yu Xiaocao once again started to cook there. This time, she made two desserts that she was good at. One was honey cakes while the other was flaky egg tarts. Both were desserts that little children loved to eat. When she was in the imperial gardens, she had encountered the young imperial prince and promised him that, if she had the opportunity, she would make something especially for him. Now, she was about to stay good to her word!

While she was personally teaching the imperial chefs how to make these two types of pastries, the emperor’s trusted little eunuch had secretly put the multi-colored stone into the well. When she was about to leave, he made sure to give it back to her. In actuality, even if she forgot to retrieve the multi-colored stone, it wouldn’t be an issue. The little divine stone would automatically take its stone body back to her.

Yu Xiaocao only left the Imperial Palace after she finished eating lunch. The imperial chefs who worked in the kitchens naturally had to be pretty talented to work there. With that added onto the altered water, the food they made was naturally better than before. Yu Xiaocao happily ate a sumptuous and delicious meal in the palace before she left.

Even the masters of the palace were very satisfied with this meal and made sure to send down a lot of rewards afterwards. It was said that the little imperial prince and princess were extremely ecstatic over the deserts today. They especially liked the egg tarts and didn’t seem to want to stop eating them. They even sent down an eunuch down to state that they wanted to eat this pastry tomorrow as well. 

The young imperial prince even made a bet with the empress whether the pastries today were made by Yu Xiaocao herself. After they investigated, he joyfully took his imperial mother’s forfeit and even implored his mother to call Yu Xiaocao into the Imperial Palace more often in the future. The reason was quite obvious...


[1] Yixing clay teapot - Teapot made of Yixing clay (called purple sand), best used for brewing more oxidized teas. A famous characteristic of Yixing teapots are their ability to absorb trace amounts of brewed tea flavors and minerals into the teapot with each brewing. Over time, these accumulate to give each Yixing teapot its own unique interior coating that flavors and colors future brewings.

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Myst's Thoughts

food pic

Sanguine’s Thoughts: Mmm, I love honey cakes and egg tarts too, especially when they’re fresh out of the oven...

Translator: Sanguine