Chapter 47 - Punishment

Xiaocao felt her heart warm with gratitude. Even though she had told such a ridiculous story, her father, who clearly loved her, decided to believe her completely and continued to show concern for her. It was something that made her feel happy and grateful. 

In the eyes of Yu Hai, his precious daughter was as pure as water from a hidden spring deep in the mountains. Prior to her head injury, she had never stepped out of the house and spent most of her days recuperating on the bed. How would she learn how to deceive people?  

Furthermore, how would an eight year old child know about the Black and White Impermanence deities who escorted the dead, the judge of the dead, King Yama, and what the Palace of Hell looked like? Would she be able to describe these things so clearly had she not experienced them herself? He couldn’t help but tighten his grip on his little girl’s hand. His daughter hadn’t had an easy life and almost had a brush with death. He silently made a decision in order to not waste her second chance at life...  

“Father, we’ve reached the carpentry shop!” Yu Xiaocao noticed that her father was so lost in his thoughts that he almost passed the woodworking store, so she couldn’t help but pull on his hand to remind him. 

Yu Hai pulled his mind away from his train of thoughts, saw a man with his hands in his sleeves standing next to entrance, and went up to him and said, “Sir, would you mind bringing Yu Hang out? I’m one of his family members and I’m here to give him a padded cotton coat.” 

This man was clearly more polite than the one from last time. He looked at the father-daughter pair and only replied with a hint of impatience, “Wait here, a couple of the apprentices are currently being punished, the shopkeeper may not necessarily let anyone out!” 

As the man walked towards the back hall, he mumbled quietly to himself, “They don’t look like people who can’t afford to raise their children, so why did they harden their hearts and send their kid to this tiger’s den?” 

After her body was rejuvenated by the mystic-stone water, Yu Xiaocao’s natural senses were sharper compared to the average person’s. She could faintly hear the fellow’s grumblings and it reminded her of the bruises she saw on her older brother's face the last time she visited him. Uneasy, she said, “Father, can we bring older brother back? I feel like learning carpentry from here is not as good as him going off with you to learn how to hunt and fish!” 

Yu Hai often came into town and had also heard rumors of the carpentry shopkeeper’s poor temper. Apparently, whenever the man got drunk, he would use his fists on his associates and apprentices. Yu Hai frowned and then sighed softly, “Let’s decide after we finish celebrating the New Year. Because we had to borrow money to let you see the doctor today, your grandmother will definitely take advantage of this and throw a few temper tantrums. If we brought your brother back without asking for her opinion, no one in the family would be able to enjoy the festivities this year!” 

The father and daughter pair stood out in the cold for quite a while before they saw Yu Hang running out of the side door. It had been almost two months since Yu Xiaocao last saw her brother. She gazed at him from head to toe sorrowfully. Although she couldn't detect any new wounds on him, the color of his face was poor and his whole body had become painfully thin.

She asked with a voice full of worry, “Older brother, you’ve become so thin. Does your master not give you any food to eat?”  Yu Hang placed his hands in his sleeves and did his best to keep a smile on his face. He shook his head gently and replied, “I just grew a bit. Nothing I eat seems to stick on me. Don’t worry, little sister! The amount of food I get here is about the same as what I get at home!”

It was the same amount as home, when they were still being rationed and couldn’t eat their fill, but now he also had more work to do. However, Yu Hang had a sensible personality and wouldn’t voice these inner thoughts in front of his family in order to keep them from worrying. 

Yu Hai gently smoothed his son’s brittle and yellowing hair. The child had indeed become thinner. In fact, his son’s appearance was not much different compared to the time when his grandmother was restricting their rations as his two cheeks were still sunken. His daughter wasn’t wrong, he really needed to bring his son back home as soon as possible.

Yu Xiaocao used a lot of effort to blink back the tears in her eyes and fished out a few meat buns from her pocket. She stuffed them into her older brother’s hands and said, “Older brother, these meat bums had just come out of the steamer, you should eat them now while they’re still hot!”

“Didn’t I tell you that you don’t need to buy me food to eat? If Grandmother found out you were buying random things, she would definitely be angry at our branch!” Yu Hang stared at the white and puffy meat bun that gave off a delicious aroma. He couldn’t help but swallow back the saliva that pooled in his mouth. How long had it been since he last ate something made of white flour? 

The rolls in the carpentry shop were all made of the lowest quality, roughest type of grain there was. The bread stuck to one’s throat and they were only given a piece the size of a child’s fist to eat. As for the soup, other than a few pieces of broken cabbage, it was mostly water. Not even a single drop of oil could be found in the broth. And they never had any vegetables to eat! 

The shop originally accepted around a total of seven to eight apprentices, but about half of them left due to hunger. The rest would have quit long ago had their birth families not been too poor to raise them. Just a moment ago, he had been cruelly punished along with two other apprentices who were slightly older than him. The three of them had been sentenced to kneel on the snow covered ground and had to hold a basin full of ice cold water in their arms. Yu Hang’s eyes dimmed at that recent memory. 

“These steamed rolls were gifted to us by Zhenxiu Restaurant’s Head Chef Wang, so we didn’t spend any money. Hurry up and eat them, they won’t taste good when they’re cold.” Yu Xiaocao explained persuasively. She suddenly noticed that the hand that her older brother used to hold the bun was trembling incessantly. She couldn’t help but ask impatiently, “Older brother, what’s wrong with your hand?” 

Yu Hang evasively replied, “We didn’t finish all of our tasks so the shop manager punished us. It’s not a big deal, I’ll be fine after I rest a bit. Father, little sister, did you eat already?”  

“We already ate. Xiaosha, is the work in the store exhausting? Just endure for a few more days. When I get back I’ll negotiate with your grandmother and after we finish celebrating the new year, we’ll bring you back home.” Hearing that his obedient and hardworking son had been punished solidified Yu Hai’s desire to bring him back home.

Yu Hang could no longer hold back. He took out a steaming hot meat bun and bit off a large mouthful. The boy almost burst into tears after tasting the combination of the soft and tender bread with the rich and fragrant ground meat. 

After hearing what his father said, he hesitated for a moment before he shook his head, “Father, Grandmother will not agree. It doesn’t matter how much work any of us children do, it doesn’t mean anything in her eyes. She will not allow me to go home to ‘live an easy life’! Furthermore, if we want to break the apprenticeship contract, we need to pay the shop manager money. Father, do you really think Grandmother will take out money for anyone other than our Younger Uncle?” 

This past half year of being a carpentry apprentice had been nothing but a nightmare for Yu Hang. Not only could he not eat his fill and get enough sleep, but he was also punished for every little thing, and the penalties changed on a whim. It exhausted him physically and mentally. In fact, had his father and little sister not come to visit him, it was likely he would not have been able to endure holding that water basin for much longer.

If he couldn’t hold out, then he could only end up becoming soaked by the icy, cold water. As an apprentice who came from a poor family, he was considered fortunate to even have one piece of warm clothing. Had it become wet, he didn’t have any other clothing to swap. Without something to keep him warm in this type of freezing weather, wasn’t that asking for his life? 

That was why he didn’t reject the offer to bring him back home. Even though he was normally very sensible, he only voiced his worries regarding the plan.  

Yu Hai’s resolve solidified and he patted his son’s bony and sharp shoulder. The rims of his eyes were reddened as he said, “Don’t worry about it! Father can resolve the money issue. Hang in there for a little longer… take this string of cash and keep it safe. Whenever you’re hungry, you can buy some steamed buns and meat buns to fill your stomach. After the New Years celebrations, Father will come and visit you again.” 

Yu Xiaocao looked at the string of copper coins and her attitude towards her father changed for the better. It appeared that her father’s filial piety wasn’t to the point where he was without reason now.

“Older brother, this coat was sent by Third Young Master Zhou and it’s quite thick. Remember to wear it when you go back.” Yu Xiaocao had noticed that her brother’s hands were covered with pus-filled lesions from frostbite and also had cracks in the skin filled with blood. A ten year old child had hands that looked like someone much older. The sight made her feel bad. Next time she definitely needed to make some frostbite ointment for her older brother with some extra mystic-stone water. That combination should fix his hands up!

After seeing Yu Hang eat three meat stuffed buns in a row, Yu Hai warned him to stop, “Don’t eat anymore, you can end up bloated. Drink some hot water when you get back and leave the rest of the food for tomorrow. It’s getting late, your little sister and I need to head back. Take care of yourself.”

Yu Hang carefully wrapped up the remaining steamed meat buns and inserted the packet of food into the package containing his coat. He was reluctant to say farewell to his father and little sister. If only Father could convince his grandmother to bring him back earlier. Otherwise, he would likely end up like Little Mu and be on the verge of death before his family would get notified to bring him back.

Silence reigned as the father and daughter pair traveled on. When they passed by the Tongren Medicine Hall, Yu Hai insisted on having his daughter being checked by Doctor Sun.

[Haha! Spiritual energy is everywhere, I can absorb more spiritual energy now!] The little divine stone ‘whooshed’ towards the cabinet full of precious medicinal herbs and sat on top like a gecko who had found a resting place and refused to let go. In any case, no one else could see it other than its master, so it didn’t really matter what its appearance was.

Doctor Sun still had an impression of the father daughter pair. He stroked his long beard while asking the little girl, “Where are you feeling unwell?”

“I feel fine..” Before Xiaocao could finish replying, her father interrupted her.

“Doctor Sun, my daughter fainted this morning. Please take a look at her and check to see if this is a recurrence of her old illness.” In the past, Xiaocao often became sick at the slightest touch, and those experiences had left a deep impression in Yu Hai’s heart. There were a few times when Doctor You couldn’t do anything for her and only Doctor Sun was able to save his daughter’s life.

Yu Xiaocao knew she couldn’t fool the highly skilled Doctor Sun and hurriedly said, “Father, earlier I was only scared a bit by Grandmother. I already said that I’ve long recovered from my old illness, why do you still not believe me?”

Doctor Sun carefully took her pulse and inspected Xiaocao’s complexion. He smiled slightly and said, “Don’t be concerned, this little girl’s chronic condition has definitely been healed. A little extra care should be given in the future. The child shouldn’t be frightened as sometimes being overly scared can cause another big problem to occur.”

“Thank you doctor. Please prescribe some medication to stabilize her condition...”

“Doctor Sun already said that I’m fine. What’s the point of prescribing medication?” Yu Xiaocao really did not want to drink bitter medication. 

“Every medication has a side effect. This little girl has a good head on her shoulders and does not need to take any more medication.” Doctor Sun’s words were like a beam of light in darkness and he was able to cut off Yu Hai’s stubborn persistence. The old man then smiled profoundly at Xiaocao.

Yu Xiaocao smiled in embarrassment. This Doctor Sun was quite an interesting old fellow. Suddenly, she remembered her own mother’s grave condition. She described her mother’s symptoms and pulse condition at the onset of the recent attack with great detail to Doctor Sun. 

“Little girl, you have some medical knowledge?” Doctor Sun revealed a flabbergasted expression.

Yu Xiaocao chuckled and said, “It’s really not much. I only spend some time with Doctor You, our village doctor, for a few days and picked a couple things up. It’s not true medicinal skills, and I don’t dare to show my poor skills in front of you.”

Doctor Sun smiled and didn’t respond further. He pondered for a short period of time and then explained, “From what you described to me about her pulse condition, I can tell that this is an old illness. If it continues to go on without getting treated, she’ll end up having chronic lung disease. First, have her drink the medications I’ll prescribe her. After a few days of that, it’s best that she comes in person to be evaluated.”

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Translator: Sanguine