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“This subject has a cream that can promote the blood circulation of the body. If Your Majesty doesn’t mind, this subject will have a servant go and fetch it at once.” To have such self-discipline at the age of seven, Yu Xiaocao admired yet felt her heart ache for the child.
The empress was well aware of her prowess in medicine. Her smile widened as she nodded, “Even if you didn’t mention it, I would still shamelessly ask you for some medicinal remedy for my son. Those mediocre doctors in the Imperial Hospital…ahem, the imperial physicians are sometimes too careful with their prescriptions, so the effects are slower…”
“Imperial Mother, Imperial Mother!” A clear and bright childish voice sounded from outside the palace hall, glee prominent in his tone, “I heard that Older Sister Yu has entered the palace! Is it true?”
Hearing this, the empress grinned and said to Xiaocao, “I’ve just praised him for his steadiness, and immediately, he comes and slaps me in the face.”
‘Face slapping’ was a phrase that the emperor had brought up to her in private. She had even specially asked the meaning behind it, and now she was putting it to practice.
“He is still a child, so it’s in his nature. Besides, it’s good that he’s lively! His Highness sometimes handles matters even more maturely than this subject, and he only shows such a lively side in front of you, Your Majesty.” Yu Xiaocao did not have much resistance towards little children, so once she heard the eldest prince’s voice, a smile crept up her face without her even realizing it.
Seeing this, the empress’s gaze was filled with even more sincerity. As long as you treat others sincerely, it would eventually return in the form of a true friendship.
“Older Sister Yu, it really is you! I thought Little Zhuozi, that servant, was lying to me!” Zhu Hanwen’s affectionate attitude and address of Xiaocao made her feel somewhat uneasy.
She hurriedly stood up and bowed towards the eldest prince, “Your Highness, you mustn’t address this subject as such, I can’t accept this!”
The empress pulled Xiaocao to sit beside her, saying, “You ah, you’ve been ‘wrongly’ taught by your godmother. What can you not accept? You’ve saved his life twice and you’re also older than him by a few years, so what’s wrong with him calling you ‘older sister’? I still remember that when Wen’er was still small, his imperial father had asked him if he wished for me to give him a little brother or sister. Do you know what his answer was?”
“Imperial Mother!” Zhu Hanwen was unhappy now. His imperial mother once again was finding enjoyment out of his embarrassing incidents.
Seeing the eldest prince’s exasperated and flustered reaction, Xiaocao asked with slight curiosity, “How did His Highness answer?”
The empress disregarded her son’s various attempts to obstruct her and said, stifling a laugh, “He said that he wished I could give him an elder sister because the older sisters of other families always leave a portion of the good food for their younger brothers, and they would also embroider a nice pouch for their younger brothers. Older sisters are so gentle and considerate, so he wanted such an older sister.”
“Imperial Mother…” Zhu Hanwen was full of resignation as he made a long face. His whole demeanor screamed that he was an unhappy little baby. Older Sister Xiaocao was his ‘idol’, but his imperial mother was ‘tarnishing’ his good name in front of her! It was too embarrassing! He couldn’t face the world anymore!
“Sometimes, the words spoken by a child can be really surprising. When my little brother was small, he also said a lot of funny things. I remember that there was a time when he plucked a fat caterpillar back from the vegetable farm. My hair was nearly standing on end when I saw the caterpillar wriggling on his palm! But seeing him excitedly toying with the caterpillar, I didn’t have the heart to tell him to throw it away, and only said, ‘Sh*tou, the caterpillar’s mother will be anxious if she doesn’t find it!’ Do you know what he did afterward?” Seeing the eldest prince enjoying her story, Yu Xiaocao couldn’t help but leave him in suspense.
Zhu Hanwan promptly responded, “Your little brother immediately released the caterpillar?”
Yu Xiaocao pretended to breathe a long sigh, “Ah, he took off toward the vegetable farm again. I thought he was only going to release the caterpillar, who could’ve expected that within moments, when he returned, there would be a larger caterpillar on his palm! He even gleefully said to me, ‘Older sister, look, I’ve brought the caterpillar’s mother here!’”
Both the empress and the prince were so amused they could not stop laughing. Yu Xiaocao continued to talk about a few of her little brother’s embarrassing stories when he was younger, not expecting that the eldest prince would, because of this, become very interested in this young county official who was only older than himself by a few years. Many years later, the eldest prince who had already ascended the throne to become the emperor, would often use these stories to tease his trusted aide, Little Sh*tou, who was then already a first-ranked official.
Once she finished having lunch with the mother and son, Yingchun, who had gone back to retrieve the cream, had also returned. Little Zhuozi brought his master to the side hall and helped Zhu Hanwen to apply the cream. He did not know whether it was just a psychological effect, or if it was really the cream that had wondrous healing properties, but after applying the cream, Zhu Hanwen felt the burn in his arms suddenly replaced with a cooling sensation.
Later in the afternoon, when he went to practice mounted archery, the sore ache in his arms was completely gone. He even performed outstandingly well during practice, earning him praises from his mounted archery teacher. As such, the little fellow idolized Xiaocao even more, and kept bringing her up every day until even the empress felt a little jealous of her.
Even though her rank as an official did not change, Yu Xiaocao had been awarded the title of a feudal princess because she had saved the eldest prince. She was also rewarded with a lot of good things, which had mostly come from the empress’s own private storage—the value of the items was evident.
The young ladies of the capital could only look on with envy and discuss the matter sourly behind closed doors while they would still flatter her when they were outside. After all, she was currently favored by the emperor and managed the supply of the entire capital’s vegetables and fruits through fall and winter. They were not as blind as Assistant Minister Li’s daughter who had brought tragedy upon her own family.
This fall, thousands of mu of experimental corn plantation produced a great yield that was slightly more than last year’s. However, this was only the yield of the experimental plantation. The farmers who had planted corn at the start of spring had kept the seeds, but their corn yield during fall was lesser than the experimental plantation by three to four hundred catties per mu. Although each mu had yielded more than a thousand catties of produce, it was still nearly one fifth less than the yield during spring.
Yu Xiaocao, who had received the statistics, started to worry. The seeds that had been immersed in the spiritual energy of the little divine stone would definitely produce high yields, but as she had expected, following each generation, the spiritual energy contained within the seeds would diminish more and more, and as a result, the yield of corn would also follow suit and decrease.
If she couldn’t overcome such a phenomenon, when the little divine stone accumulated enough merit and returned to its original world, would everything return to its original point? To her, it was of absolute importance that she cultivated seeds that could truly produce high yields.
The little divine stone, who could understand her thoughts, rolled its eyes, feeling that her worry was for naught. Once its powers were completely recovered, it would be a simple thing for it to make a few types of high yielding crops. It might even be able to steal the new species that the Goddess of Spirits had bred—that was the true high-yielding, healthy crop that could prolong a person’s life so that every person could live beyond a hundred years! The people of this world were so easily surprised because they weren’t exposed to more things!
Since the winter wheat had been sowed into the ground, the vegetables in the greenhouse were once again planted in a flurry. Besides the Imperial Plantation, the farmsteads under Zhu Junyang, Imperial Prince Jing, and Imperial Prince Sa’s name around the area had all been turned into greenhouses to plant vegetables and fruits under Xiaocao’s instructions. Of course, they, as her elders, would not take advantage of Xiaocao, so they would still give her twenty percent of the profits of each greenhouse.
As there were more greenhouses this year, not only did they manage to supply the whole capital with fruits and vegetables without limitation, the nearby counties and prefectural cities also came to the capital to buy them regardless of the length of their journey. Perhaps it was because the temperature was low during fall, so the greenhouse vegetables were able to last almost two times as long as the vegetables on other seasons, and no one was afraid that the vegetables they bought would spoil if they could not finish them.
All the managers of the Imperial Plantation, regardless if they were in charge of the experimental plantation, the orchard or the greenhouses, had slowly begun to mature in their ways of dealing with their responsibilities. Although the experimental plantation this year had spread among quite a lot of farmsteads around the capital, the court officials of the Ministry of Revenue, who were stationed at the Imperial Plantations, and the stewards at the Imperial Plantation had all been able to carry out their responsibilities and had managed the experimental plantation well. As for Yu Xiaocao, the agricultural official who had been promoted to a feudal princess, she only needed to trouble the little divine stone to emit its spiritual energy to the seeds, or make an occasional visit to the farmsteads to check up on them.
With the experience and success of last year, the vegetable farmers who had filled their coffers put in even more effort for the greenhouse fruits and vegetables. Even though there were two more farmsteads of greenhouses this year, they didn’t let Xiaocao worry too much. Thus, she still passed her days leisurely.
Once they entered the last month of the year, the farmers began to hide at home, so Xiaocao also let herself off on a winter holiday after asking for her direct supervisor, the empress’s permission. She packed her bags and headed back to her village under the envious gazes of her colleagues from the Ministry of Revenue. She had decided to pass this spring at Dongshan Village. Xiaocao, who had not been reunited with her family for a long time now, missed her parents and fellow villagers dearly.
When they passed-by the prefectural city, Yu Xiaocao made a detour into her family’s braised food store and pickled food shop with her two maidservants, Yingchun and Wutong.
Most of the maidservants under her could already assume important responsibilities. Yingtao, who was managing the pharmaceutical workshop in the capital that had expanded to twice its size, was now the head manager that the pharmacies nearby tried to curry favor with.
Yangliu’s pastry shop had already opened branches in the east, south and north of the city. It even introduced beautiful gift boxes that were now the most popular choice for souvenirs in the whole of the capital. The end of the year was the busiest time for them, so Yangliu could not even make time to send her mistress off when she came back.
Manager Hechun’s ‘Blossoming Beauty’, the beauty spa, was filled to the brim nearly every day. The customers were required to make appointments to do skincare treatments, and their supply of skincare products and cosmetics could never fulfill the demand. She had planned a huge end-of-the-year sale, and added batch after batch of silver and gold membership cards, to the point where her hands had gone weak from dealing with money.
Xichun frequently stayed at the farmsteads. She helped her manage the orchards, flower farms and greenhouses. Besides that, she even received Xiaocao’s teachings and built a fruit wine distillery at the foot of the hill. For now, the fruit wine did not have much of a variety, and mainly consisted of grape wine and pomegranate wine, with a small volume of others like apple wine, plum wine and jujube wine. The orchard on the hill of the Imperial Plantation had expanded to more than ten times its original size this year, and along with that, they also started planting other varieties like mulberries, raspberries and tangerines. She believed that in the following year, the variety of fruits and the fruit wine distillery’s fruit wine would definitely increase!
Additionally, as the volume of fruit wine was not enough this year, she did not sell them commercially. She sold most of it to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and either sold or gave the rest to the people that she was closer to. Now, when the emperor rewarded his officials, those old officials did not want gold or silver nor various precious silks and cloths, they only hoped to be rewarded with a bottle of fruit wine for them to strengthen their constitution.
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