Chapter 57 - Disaster

With great difficulty, they managed to ‘endure’ it until the beginning of spring. Once spring began, it finally stopped snowing. The sun that had been gone for around two months had finally showed itself. The snow covering the mountains melted slowly. However, the occasional short burst of wind from the sea was still piercing cold. On top of the mudflat and the reef surrounding the shore, a fisherman appeared in the middle of the cold wind, shivering in the cold but he persisted on gathering seafood at the sea. 

‘Summer night, winter white’ is an authentic line of verse from what people who gather seafood say. Due to the influence of the receding tide and the change in temperature, the best time to gather seafood was during the summer nights and winter mornings. During the winter, the temperature was the most suitable for gathering oysters. The oysters were very fat in this season, and they would be able to harvest a lot. They just needed to gather oysters once, and they would be able to eat oysters for many days.

To the villagers of Dongshan Village, who had just experienced a food shortage because of winter, this was a favor from the sea. The abundance of oysters from the sea was no different than sending charcoal in snowy weather. People who came to gather seafood at the sea each brought their own wicker basket or a small bamboo basket. The basket would either be hung over the neck or straddled over the arm. They held a small shovel in their hand as they searched for their ‘prey’ on the reef. There were even villagers who, despite the frigid cold seawater, would enter the shallow water with their fishing net and try to catch fish. It was a bustling sight to behold.

“Xiaocao, your boots look very warm. Are they waterproof?” Zhou Shanhu, who had invited the Yu sisters to gather seafood at the mudflat, enviously looked at Xiaocao’s deerskin boots. Although she didn’t recognize what material the boots were made of, she knew that it wasn’t something a regular family would be able to afford.

Yu Xiaocao saw that everyone was wearing tattered and old cotton shoes. Some people were even afraid that their only pair of shoes would become wet from the sea, so they wore only straw sandals with their bare feet. The chilly air from the cold spring season combined with the ice-cold seawater froze their little feet. Their feet would become red and some would even have frostbite.

She was a little embarrassed by this as she shrank her feet back. In a small voice, she said, “Years ago, my father killed a deer and sold it to a restaurant in town. My body wasn’t good at that time. My father took less money for the deerskin and asked the restaurant owner to use some of the deerskin to make boots. So, when I came out to gather seafood today, my father insisted that I wear them...” 

Zhou Linglong secretly tugged at her little sister’s clothes. She smiled at Xiaocao and said, “Years ago, your serious illness almost frightened Auntie Liu to death. You should wear warmer clothing otherwise your family members would worry. Shanhu, don’t stare at other people’s feet. Once father comes home, we can ask him to buy you a pair of boots too.”  

Zhou Linglong and her little sister were the daughters of Madam Liu’s best friend, Auntie Fang. Auntie Fang’s husband, Zhou Danian, started off as a peddler and their family raised dozens of chickens. So, their family’s financial situation was considered to be quite outstanding within Dongshan Village.  

Zhou Shanhu was only one year older than Xiaocao, but she was a very sensible child, “Older sister, I was only looking at her shoes. Boots are very expensive. Moreover, the cotton shoes at home are already quite warm and a pair of boots can buy so much food!” 

“They are catching fish over there, let’s go and have a look!” Yu Xiaocao didn’t want to talk anymore regarding the boots, so she changed the topic of their conversation.   

When she walked closer, she realized it was actually her Third Uncle, Yu Jiang, and the expert fisherman of Dongshan Village, Uncle Shuanzhu, who were catching fish. They were enduring the bone-chilling cold water as they pulled the fishing net to catch fish. Someone else was responsible for pulling a part of the fishing net on the shore while Yu Jiang and Shuanzhu took turns holding the other end of the fishing net as they slowly walked into the water. After the water line reached their chest, they would walk in a semi-circular arc as they went back to shore. The rest of the people would take over the net as they worked together to pull it to the shore. 

There wasn’t much harvest to be had in this one fishing net. Besides a few fish that were worth approximately a tael each, there were only a few palm-sized fish that were stuck on the lines of the net. Once the two men got to shore, their wives gave them boiling hot ginger soup. They also wrapped themselves in thick layers of cotton-padded clothing and drank a few mouthfuls of ginger soup before they entered the sea to pull the net again. 

“I know a place where the reef is hidden. Let’s go there and look. But when we go there, we have to be careful.” This was the first spring tide since the beginning of spring. There were too many people who came to gather seafood today. Some people came all the way from town with their tools to try their luck. There were more people on the reef gathering seafood than available seafood. The children had searched for seafood for half a day, but they didn’t harvest much.

Yu Xiaolian knew the place that her sister was talking about. Last year, when they were gathering seafood there, they had even saved a person. The children chatted and laughed as they walked towards the steep cliffs. Sure enough, there was a lot of seafood. 

“An oyster’s shell is very sharp. Sometimes, with just slight contact with the skin, the skin would be scratched by it. You must be careful when you gather oysters. Xiaocao, you and Shitou don’t have much strength so why don’t you two gather other seafood products?” Zhou Linglong was a young lady now; she knew how to take care of the younger children.

They lowered their heads and pried open oyster shells. In a short while, their baskets and tiny buckets were all full. Zhou Shanhu happily said, “We harvested a lot today. If we can harvest this much every day, then we won’t have to worry about making ends meet or starving during springtime!” 

“My father said that the reef would only be revealed when the tide recedes a lot. Every month, there will only be low tides twice. So how can we come every day? Besides, aren’t you afraid of vomiting after eating seafood every day?” Yu Xiaolian was also very happy. She pondered what kind of delicious dishes her little sister would make with these oysters. 

After experiencing a shortage of food and vegetables in the winter, Yu Xiaocao used different ways to prepare meals, saving food yet still making it delicious. Everyone in the family praised her cooking. She can turn ordinary radishes and white cabbage into different dishes. So, she definitely would be able to make something delicious using the oysters. Xiaolian was full of expectations towards Xiaocao’s cooking. 

Yu Xiaocao thought of how her business with Third Young Master Zhou would improve after the beginning of spring, so she turned to Sister Linglong and said, “I heard that the Zhou Family from the town intends to build a workshop on the dock. They would be accepting large amounts of oysters. In the future, when you are free, you can go gather and pry open oysters and sell it to them. You will be able to earn some money to buy needles and thread.” 

When Zhou Linglong heard that, her eyes immediately brightened. She asked, “Is this news reliable? Usually, people who accept seafood aren’t very willing to accept oysters. They would continuously lower the price of the oysters. Due to this, the villagers don’t really like to gather oysters. I hope that the price that the Zhou Family’s workshop will not set a very low price for the oysters.”  

Xiaocao and Shitou’s basket was also full from gathering other kinds of seafood. Xiaocao was very satisfied with today’s harvest. Besides small seafood like goose barnacles, mussels, and water-snails, she has also gathered a dozen sea urchins. She was ready to make a stew from the sea urchin. It would be delicious and nourishing. To her surprise, she actually managed to gather a sea cucumber today. ‘Four Seafood Treasures’ was a type of exotic delicacy that required abalone, sea cucumber, shark fin, and fish maw. Sea cucumbers were definitely a good find.  

The three siblings walked with the Zhou sisters on the soft sandy shore. They laughed and chatted as they went in the direction of Dongshan Village. 

They hadn’t even entered the village when they saw Auntie Shuanzhu hurriedly rushing toward the seashore. When she saw Xiaocao and her siblings, she accelerated her speed more, rushing towards them. She said, “Xiaolian, Xiaocao, something happened to your father. You have to quickly return home!” 

“My father? What happened to him?” Yu Xiaocao’s grip on her basket tightened. Her heart was thrown in chaos. 

The family was struggling through winter. In the past few days, the snow in the forest mountain had finally began to melt. Madam Zhang urged Yu Hai to hunt in the mountains. Early this morning, Yu Hai invited Hunter Zhao to hunt. Everyone said that the beginning of spring wasn’t a good time to hunt. This is because when wild animals enter the breeding season, they were especially violent. Could it be...  

“Your father was bitten by a bear. His entire body is covered in blood. One of his legs was almost bitten till it was gone… You should quickly go home and have a look!” Thinking of the condition Yu Hai was in, Shuanzhu’s wife couldn’t help but shiver.  

As soon as Shitou heard that, he immediately cried out and burst into tears. He threw his basket down and ran back home. Yu Xiaocao and her sister tried to suppress their panic-stricken hearts as they left their basket full of seafood and rushed back home side-by-side. 

The Zhou sisters picked up the Yu sibling’s baskets with their free hand. They carried the baskets as they hurriedly walked in the direction of the Yu Family’s house.  

Shuanzhu’s wife followed along with the Yu siblings. She couldn’t help but comfort the children, “Don’t worry. Your third uncle and Uncle Shuanzhu already borrowed the donkey cart from the neighboring village. They went to the town to get a doctor. Maybe your father’s injury isn’t as serious as it looks!” 

Yu Xiaocao suppressed the fear and sorrow in her heart. Her steps were getting bigger and bigger as she ran. In the past six months, Yu Hai’s doting and tolerance were still vivid in her mind. Although their days were bitter, her parent’s love and affection gave her the courage to continue to live in this strange world. 

Although Yu Hai had a lot of filial piety and wasn’t very good with conversations, he unconsciously became Xiaocao’s backbone. He was also the pillar of the second branch. She really couldn’t imagine how the second branch would fare in the Yu Family once her father was gone.  

Father, you mustn’t let anything happen to you! Wait for me to save you! Yu Xiaocao was firmly holding her only life-saving straw in her hand——the multicolored stone. Since it was capable of using its remaining magical power to bring her soul from a different world to this world and allowing her to reincarnate, then it must have a method to save her father. 

[Master don’t worry! If your father still has one breath left, this Divine Stone can pull him back from the gates of hell!] The little divine stone appears to detect her indecisive state of mind, so it put away its usual air of arrogance and haughtiness. It was full of self-confidence as it promised her that it’ll save her father.  

Due to the great snow, the mountain was sealed. During the entire winter, the little divine stone didn’t get a chance to soak in the spring water from the mountains. However, it sensed that the snow also contained spiritual energy. The spiritual energy within the snow was not any less than the energy in the spring water. Every day, the divine stone would make Xiaocao collect the snow from the bamboo leaves and melt it for it to bathe. After nurturing its spirit for half a year, it stored enough spiritual energy to save a dying person. 

With the little divine stone’s promise, Xiaocao’s restless heart finally calmed down. Xiaocao prayed to the deities for a blessing. She prayed that her father would hang on until she returned home! 

The road home seemed very slow and long. As a result from fiercely running, Xiaocao’s chest felt as if it’s about to burst. She opened her mouth and tried to take in big breaths of air. However, in other people’s eyes, it seemed as if she was unable to breathe. 

Yu Xiaolian sobbed, “Little sister, go slower. Something already happened to father. I don’t want anything to happen to you. I will go home first to take a look; you can slowly walk……” 

“No…hu hu...no need! I…It’s because I usually don’t exercise…hu hu hu…so I’m like this! Don’t worry…I know my body best…hu hu…” Yu Xiaocao gasped for breath. Her two legs felt like they weighed as much as lead. Yet she didn’t have any intention of stopping to rest. 

With great difficulty, she finally arrived in front of her own family’s door. She used up the remainder of her strength to push open the heavy door. Their courtyard was crowded with villagers who came over to help. When they saw Yu Xiaocao and her siblings, they acted on their own initiative and made room for them to enter. 

“Father!” Yu Xiaocao rushed through the door of the west room. She pushed aside Eldest Aunt’s plump body and threw herself at the side of the kang bed. 

There wasn’t a trace of blood on Yu Hai’s pale face. His tattered cotton jacket was stained with blood that had hardened into small patches. Only a few strips of bandages remained on his right trouser leg which exposed his badly mangled right leg.

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Myst's Thoughts

Yu Hai  

Translator: Vi