It was a beautiful day today. The skies were clear and there wasn’t even the slightest bit of wind. Yu Xiaocao pretended to be weak and had Little Shitou support her to the middle of the courtyard to get some sun. When one was acting in a play, one needed to go on for the entire set, ah!
The rays of the winter sun on her body felt as warm and comforting as a mother’s loving hand gently stroking her face. Yu Xiaocao was so comfortable that she almost fell asleep. Even the sight of Madam Li peeking through the window didn’t annoy her much.
As the sun started to set in the west, Yu Hai and Xiaolian came back. Judging from the incandescent smile on Xiaolian’s face, the spoils of the day were good.
Yu Hai picked up his youngest daughter and transferred her from the somewhat chilly courtyard back to the room. After checking the temperature on the kang bed, he went to add some more firewood to the fire pit beneath the bed. He smiled as he watched his two daughters, who resembled each other more and more with each passing day, as they whispered in each other’s ears. He said, “You two sisters can continue to talk, Father is going to go up the mountain to chop some more firewood and come back. The older and experienced villagers have all said that this year will be a harsh winter. Being prepared with extra firewood will surely pay off.”
“Father, I’ll go with you!” Little Shitou had been feeling stuffy after being stuck at home for most of the day. He brought along his little attendant—the little roe deer named Tiny—and eagerly scampered behind his father.
Xiaolian waited until her father had left the home before she looked all around the courtyard and carefully closed the door. Only then did she take off her shoes and went up on the kang bed right next to Xiaocao. She fished out a five tael ingot from her chest pocket and quickly shoved it into her younger sister’s hands and quietly said, “Quickly hide the money and don’t let Grandmother and Eldest Aunt see! We really caught a lot of game today. In addition to the game from yesterday, we sold them all for five taels! However, when Zhenxiu Restaurant was paying the bill, they didn’t give the money to Father and instead gave it to me. Don’t you think that’s odd?”
What was weird about that? In the past, Xiaocao always took the money when she was doing business with Zhenxiu Restaurant. Last time she even handled the prize of fifty taels. So why would it be any different with the smaller sum of five taels?
Xiaocao put away the money in a very natural manner and replied casually, “Xiaolian, is it worth it to be so happy over these couple taels?”
“What do you mean by a ‘couple taels’? Before today, the most money that had ever crossed my hands was about ten copper coins. These are the silvery taels, ah! A whole silver ingot worth five taels!!” Xiaolian realized that the volume of her voice had been on the louder side and hurriedly clasped her hands over her mouth as she looked through the window.
“Eldest Aunt is so annoying. She’s trying to eavesdrop on us again! I don’t know if she overheard what I said earlier. If Grandmother found out, her top would definitely blow!” Xiaolian had seen Madam Li with a broom coming closer and closer to the west room as she swept the floor. Seeing that the window was open, Madam Li tried to backtrack and went towards the direction of the chicken coop.
Yu Xiaocao spoke as if she didn’t care, “If she heard, then she heard. What can she do? We owe Eldest Granduncle at least a few taels of money! I’m also sick right now and will probably need to buy more medicine later. I need to carefully take care of my body so I won’t end up with a chronic illness! How much can this little bit of money do?”
She deliberately raised her voice for the last few sentences she spoke, as if she was talking to Madam Li who was in the middle of the courtyard.
Madam Li waited until the window to the west room closed and only then did she get up and spit towards the west room and said. “Bah! She’s a bad investment that thinks of herself as a treasure. A few taels is more than enough to marry a wife. But now, all of it is going to feed that medicine guzzling pot in the second branch. She’s seriously a bottomless pit. When she was born she should have been thrown to the south slope since raising her is just a calamity!”
The south slopes were at the south side of the West Mountains and were a mound full of random trash and rubble. Whenever a child in the nearby villages died prematurely or had a violent death and couldn’t be interred in the family’s ancestral tombs, he or she would always be buried there.
Madam Li naturally didn’t dare to loudly voice her complaints behind another person’s back. Thus, the two sisters in the west room didn’t hear her. Xiaolian was currently in the midst of excitedly telling her story of what happened when she met the young boss of Zhenxiu Restaurant.
“Younger sister, you wouldn’t believe just how funny that scene was. That young master from the Zhou Family grabbed me as soon as he met me and called me ‘Xiaocao’. He even said that he had a business venture that he wanted to find out if I was interested in. At that time, I was so shocked that I couldn’t react. I was just thinking of pretending to be you when our father just sincerely told him the truth and sold me out! When the Third Young Master found out I was your twin, his whole face exuded shock and amazement and he could only say ‘alike, too alike!’. You wouldn't believe just how hilarious his expression looked at the time!”
Yu Xiaocao waited until her sister chattered to her fill and then said, “Xiaolian, Third Young Master Zhou said he had some business venture that he wanted to talk to me about? Did he say what type of business?”
“Nope, he didn’t say! I reckon that when he found out I wasn’t you that he thought it would be a waste of time to tell me. Oh right, younger sister! Did they really learn how to make Zhenxiu Restaurant’s special oyster sauce themed dishes from you? Father told me that the King of Hell accidentally took you there on accident and gave it to you as compensation. What did he mean by that? Tell me everything!”
Yu Xiaocao had long known that her made up story would someday be transmitted to her close family members. Therefore, she made sure to polish her fabrication about meeting the King of Hell. She told Xiaolian what happened as if she was recalling an old story. In addition, she repeatedly cautioned Xiaolian to not let anyone outside of their family know to avoid having her become a freak in other people’s eyes.
Xiaolian pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows, “Do you remember when you first got injured and just woke up and couldn’t remember much? Our good Eldest Aunt had told everyone in the village that part of your soul had been captured by a demon. Since part of your soul was gone, you couldn't remember the past. She even said that people with partial souls attracted demons the most. Most of the village girls got scared by her so they all stay far away from me…”
Outside the door, Madam Liu trembled incessantly from rage: ‘What a good Madam Li! She always spread malicious rumors about the second branch but this time she spread such a horrible story. If this was truly transmitted to every household, how could my second daughter get married in the future? My poor daughter had even been dragged to the underworld! How scared and helpless she must have felt!’
Then she heard Yu Xiaocao in the room scornfully reply, “Eldest Aunt’s wagging tongue must have been previously slapped by the bottoms of an old pair of shoes! Is she not afraid of having it pulled out in hell? Xiaolian, don’t listen to her! The reason why I can’t remember anything from the past is because I tried a sip of Granny Meng’s soup  out of curiosity!”
“Younger sister, is the King of Hell scary? Doesn’t he have four eyes and two mouths?” Since Xiaolian was only an eight year old child, it was natural she would curious about new and novel things.
Xiaocao pinched her cheek as Xiaolain scooted closer and laughed, “The King of Hell is just the god in charge of the nether world. He looks pretty much like us humans but is just a little more imposing. The Palace of Hell is a grand and magnificent building. However, it is dim inside and has a gloomy and frightening atmosphere. The truly scary thing is the 18 levels of hell . I only saw up to the third level and didn’t dare to look further down...however, there is no need to be afraid, those areas are only for punishing evil people.”
“Mm, mm!” Xiaolian nodded furiously but muttered silently in her heart, ‘Eldest Aunt and Brother Heizai are always bullying mother and us. In the future, they are definitely getting punished in hell.’
Seeing that Xiaolian believed her without a doubt, Yu Xiaocao’s eyes shifted and she continued, “In the Palace of Hell, I also saw the God of Fortune too! He was wearing a bright scarlet red robe and there was a lucky red hat on his head. His face always had a cheerful smile on it, and he was always playing go with the King of Hell. When he heard I had been taken by mistake, he smiled, rubbed my head and said he was going to compensate me...suddenly there were some weird thoughts that appeared in my head. Those ideas were probably stuffed into me by the God of Fortune?”
Xiaolian suddenly squeaked ‘ah’ and then quietly said, “Younger sister, you had never been inside the kitchen before, and you had very seldom seen an oyster. Since you unexpectedly were able to make oyster sauce, don’t you think that was something the God of Fortune taught you? Then...aren’t you the God of Fortune’s disciple now?”
Xiaocao merely smiled but didn’t bother to reply. From Xiaolian’s perspective, it meant that her younger sister tacitly agreed with her conjecture.
“Then...wouldn’t the God of Fortune give us some wealth? Little Sister, when we’re rich in the future, we can eat steamed white flour rolls and buy meat buns and dumplings everyday!” Xiaolian somewhat exaggeratedly swallowed some saliva and revealed a cute expression on her face.
Madam Liu pushed the door open sadly and hugged the two sisters in her arms. She sighed and said, “Mother doesn’t want to get rich. My only wish is Cao’er stays healthy and the rest of you are able to grow up peacefully. That would make me the most happy!”
“Mother, did you hear everything?” Yu Xiaocao felt somewhat dispirited. She didn’t intend to have her kind hearted and loving mother to be worried.
“Silly child. In the future, don’t hide everything within your heart and let Mother know instead. Although your mother doesn’t have many abilities, I will sacrifice my life in order to protect you and your siblings!”
Madam Liu could clearly sense that her youngest daughter was afraid that she would worry, so she didn’t tell her the things that happened in the past. Her eyes couldn’t help but brim with tears. Her most delicate little daughter would always think of her even when she had fallen sick. As her mother, didn’t that mean she wasn’t qualified enough? That wouldn’t do, she needed to become more strong and become a mother that her children could depend on!
Alright! The three main members of her family had all accepted her somewhat absurd, made-up story. The most important aspect was that she was still young in age, and her descriptions of the underworld and scenes were extremely detailed and precise. The picture she painted was such that it’d be impossible for others not to believe her.
Naturally, Madam Liu also warned her children repeatedly out of fear that the two of them wouldn’t know the severity of the consequences should the story leak. If it did, it would cause a whole lot of trouble for her two daughters.
Time passed and before they knew it, another two days had passed. In those two days, Yu Xiaocao, who had been restricted from going outside, worried endlessly about the business venture that Third Young Master Zhou mentioned. If she was able to do business with the Zhou Family, who were imperial merchants, then her money woes would be mostly settled. Even though she couldn’t guarantee one hundred percent that she wouldn’t lose money, she at least had about eighty percent confidence that she’d earn and not lose.
The uncomfortable feeling within her heart persisted, as if she had a tiny kitten inside her, scratching incessantly. Luckily, Third Young Master Zhou didn’t let her wait for too long. On the third day, he arrived at her home.
The splendidly dressed young master cut a stylish figure as he rode a tall horse. Behind him was a dignified attendant who had a noble air about him. Despite that, the around fifty year old man obviously followed and deferred to the young master completely. The delegation entered the village swiftly and caused the frozen village of Dongshan to explode in curiosity.
“Who are they?”
“How would I know? They’re not looking for me.”
“Looking for you? From the way you appear, you wouldn’t even be fit to take the night soil out for these people!”
“The young master looks quite handsome, ah! It’s definitely good to be a rich person. Just look at the material of his clothes, the amount he spent on the cloth alone would be enough to feed us for an entire year!”
“He definitely is from a high ranking family in town! Look at what his attendant is wearing, it’s even more dignified and elegant than what Moneybags Wang wears. I just don’t know whether these people coming to Dongshan Village is a good or bad thing.”
“Which family was he looking for? Yu Hai’s family? For the past few days, Yu Hai has been going to town every day to sell game. Did he offend some noble lord?”
“Don’t make false conjectures, you should know how easygoing Dahai is. How could he possibly cause trouble willy-nilly? Judging from the expression on the young master’s face, it doesn’t look like he’s here to settle scores. Stop letting your imagination run wild. Once they leave, just go ask around to find out, right?”
 Granny Meng’s soup (孟婆汤) - It is believed that before one reincarnates, they would have to drink a bowl of soup to permanently erase all their previous memories; Grandma Meng is an immortal in the underworld who is responsible for serving the soup to the souls who are ready to reincarnate to ensure that they don't remember any of their previous lives and their time in hell; also known as the Water of Oblivion or Five Flavored Tea of Forgetfulness
 18 levels of hell (十八层地狱) - It is believed that sinners will be sentenced to receive punishment in the 18 levels of hell but the punishment received may be different depending on the crime committed; there's a different type torture in each levelPrevious Chapter Next Chapter