My hands drifted along the wood as I worked, taking in the form. There was, as always, something so profoundly relaxing about sitting down and working with my hands. Or, at least with some things it was. Mechanics had never been my forte, but woodworking? It was one of the things I had been good at, in another life. A bit of an old-fashioned thing, to be sure, like knitting, but it helped pass the time and let everything wash away.
It was a little odd, for things to suddenly be so quiet. I had gotten used to Tigu doing something strange, shouting and boasting. But they hadn’t been gone for so long that I was missing them yet. I just hoped that going to the tournament would be something they enjoyed, rather than something that they would regret.
I knocked twice on the wood under my fingers. No jinxing my friends, please, whatever fates are out there.
The two days after my friends had left had been filled mostly with the most boring part of farming. Bookkeeping. I had actually planted earlier this year than last year, by a full month. That was combined with the topography of my property. The hills were a bit smaller around here, they didn’t block the sun as much as they did in Hong Yaowu, or most places around Verdant Hill.
Which meant that the plants grew just slightly faster too. Farming wasn’t something that was exact. “The Harvest” could happen in a rather large time frame, and this year, it just happened to be a lot earlier than last year. Harvesting just at the end of summer, rather than so close to the mid-autumn festival. It was something to think on for next year, at least. Should I delay planting by a little? It would spread out the work a bit more at the beginning of the season, but that meant that I might not be entirely free to head over to Hong Yaowu to help out, as I was planning.
But maybe this time for harvest was better. There was a bit less rain this time of year too, and the rice was still drying. Thankfully, at least, because it still needed to be husked and polished, a task that pops had said he would help with, and it should be when everybody was back from the tournament, with all hands on deck.
Because I had done the math.
I had done the math and it was still a little mind-boggling and intimidating. The oldest form of wealth was the amount of crops you had. When I came here, I had the idea that it would be a relatively poor life. Enough money and resources for some comforts, but nothing grand.
Instead, I was rich in the oldest sense. Going by last year’s yields...
- Two thousand six hundred and fifty six.
Two thousand six hundred and fifty six forty-kilogram bags of rice.
Give or take a few.
That was on par with the other places’ full-on industrial farming operation yields.
It was a strange, abstract thing, trying to visualise the stacks of rice bales… but I gave it my best shot.
Which is also why I was working on this project.
I took a step back, to examine my handiwork. I patted my old cart affectionately, as I gazed upon my new behemoth. It was a good tool, and still had plenty of years left in it. I was actually kind of attached to it. This cart had been with me since Pale Moon Lake City, and had served faithfully, even with all the abuse. It would have broken a long time ago without Qi.
Qi reinforced axles. Solid branch construction on the wheel spokes. Smooth, hand-sanded finish. A painted maple-leaf and wheat/rice symbol of Meimei’s on the back. Our symbol.
And it was just the first one. Because even with this giant cart, I’d still have to make at least seven trips to get out all the rice I wanted to sell.
Taking a deep breath I nodded. My work here was done for today.
I had an important appointment.
Rising, I walked past the little saplings, poking up from the peach pits Washy gave us. They were growing out of the small courtyard, next to the trees Xiulan had given us for a wedding present. The little saplings were protected by some wire mesh, just in case.
When I got to the living room, I rapped twice on the windowsill, and Meimei perked up from where she was writing out a truly vast shopping list. Both Noodle the snake and Peppa the pig were working with her.
“Ready, Meimei?” I asked her, and she nodded happily, glancing at the two attending to her. Peppa snorted indulgently, and Noodle closed his eye, letting out a hiss of good-natured amusement.
I collected the hamper, and the blanket, and held out my arm as my wife approached. She took it with a smile, and we set off across the property. Big D inclined his head to us on our way out, before turning back to whatever he was talking about with Babe and Yin
Our boar and dragon were chilling in the river. A sinuous trail with his head on a rock, and the small hill that rose out of the center of the deeper part, covered in water plants and frogs.
Meimei let go of my arm, and with a hop, alighted on the small hill in the river. Her limbs windmilled for a moment before she caught herself, spinning around to grin at me.
I looked up at her, as Chunky’s head breached the river, reeds and water plants hanging off his tusks. He chuffed happily, chewing on some of the water reeds and covered in mud from rooting along the bottom.
A single leap took me after her, and then we hopped to the other side of the river.
From there it was a short trek to the top of our toboggan hill, under one of the trees. It had a nice bough on it that looked like a good place for a swing, or a treehouse. I set out the blanket and took out our lunch. Tomatoes, some sandwiches, and some tea.
“It's coming along well. I’ll need to do some more research on prices, but we’ll definitely have enough to purchase whatever we need. I never knew that glass required so much stuff,” she mused, as she took a big bite of a raw tomato slice. She let out a little sound of contentment. “These things are addictive, I swear.”
I smiled and took my own slice, already having had the seeds removed. I needed them for next year. While tomatoes were technically perennials, they would definitely die if they were left out all winter.
“I’ll be sure to get the boss-man something nice,” I confirmed. “And you’re sure you don’t want to come?”
Meimei nodded, her eyes gleaming. “Father is coming around again. We’re going to be adding to the archives, the most any Hong has done in over a hundred years, if the records are right!” The genuine joy and excitement in her voice, that she was actually getting to contribute to the scrolls she had once read obsessively, was rather cute. She gets animated when she’s excited.
She was already off, talking about how the Lowly Spiritual Herbs seemed to accelerate the effects of other medicines, or at least the young shoots did. The older ones seemed to increase potency.
I listened as we ate, but it was rather clear I would need to do a lot more reading on how the human body worked. I tried my best to offer advice.
But eventually, we lapsed into silence. At some point, she had climbed into my lap. She stared out over the property.
“You’re going to be going, soon?”
“Yeah. That crystal is starting to look a bit sketchier, so we’ll have to go see if it can be fixed soon. I’ll see if I can dry out some of the rice with Qi, and head out after checking in with the Magistrate,” I said.
“If you do end up going and checking the tournament out while you’re down there, give everyone my love,” she stated.
Ha. I had been considering it.
“So go and have a nice trip down to Pale Moon Lake City. Your Lady Wife shall hold the home while you’re gone,” she said primly and haughtily, looking up and giving me a cheeky grin.
I laughed. “Well, would my Lady Wife do me the honour of concluding the day by catching frogs with me?” I asked.
Meimei broke down into giggles, and stood, hiking up her skirt.
We got muddy. We got wet. We got into a splashing war, as we chased down the little croaking beasts.
Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.
And I totally won, by the way. My frog was bigger, and I had the recording crystal picture to prove it.
It started out as a lovely day. His wife had woken him up with a rather more complex piece than he was used to. Her serenade had filled the hall, her fingers working with a dexterity that was still improving day by day.
Then he was brought a letter from his son, from Pale Moon Lake City. He and his wife had a wonderful time together, as he read the words of their dutiful son aloud. He spoke on his education, and his adventures in the capital. His wife rolled her eyes at his dreamy recounting of some noble girl.
“Takes after his father,” his Lady jabbed good-naturedly.
It was a simple, mundane letter, but it was good to hear from him again. Hopefully, they would see him again soon before he received his first position. Likely with one of The Lord Magistrate’s friends. Things had already been arranged, just in case. But his son would likely try to gain his own merits, and that was the pride of a father.
He was quite energetic, as he did his sword forms that day. The blade always felt awkward and heavy in his hand, but the guards always looked on in admiration. Not that they knew much about sword play either. They worked with spears and bows, but the sword was part of the image, so he diligently practised with it. He would never be good, but it was expected he could at least give a show of knowing what he was doing.
It also helped keep his body in good condition. If he wasn’t careful, he would get fat, and that was certainly not part of his image. So he ran a few laps, for if he ever did have to run away. His stamina was quite good, if he did say so himself.
He cleansed his body afterwards, a perk of being the Magistrate being all the water he didn’t have to gather, like he used to and the servants brought him and his wife a fine meal.
The next task was organising the men for the time of the harvest. Another year’s end was only a few months.
It was then when things took a slight downturn. The Cultivator arrived, with an absolute monstrosity of a cart. An entire team of oxes would be required to pull it, such was its size. It was a fortress on wheels!
The man was all smiles, as he politely requested an audience, and brought to the magistrate several bales of rice.
The Lord Magistrate stared at what was before him. He picked up a grain. He rolled it in between his fingers. He used the viewing glass to look at it minutely. There was a slight pearlescence. It looked under the scope of the viewing glass like a gemstone, polished to a sheen, and reflecting some of the light.
The sight was astounding. The slight sweet scent, even dried like this was mouthwatering.
He carefully put the grain down, his face a mask of calm. It was nearly twice the size of the grain from last year, though slightly shorter and wider.
“I must apologise, but Verdant Hill can not afford rice of this quality,” he finally said to the Cultivator.
Rou Jin frowned. “Well, that's inconvenient. It's really that much better?”
The Lord Magistrate nodded. “Though the prices for this sort of thing are fixed… we still just don’t have the money.”
Jin nodded, scratching his chin.
“Well, if it's that much more, then I won’t burden you with it. Pale Moon Lake, or the Azure Jade Trading Company it is, then,” Rou Jin said with a shrug. “Thanks for checking it out for me.”
His smile was one that was quite genuine.
“Thank you again, for everything. Especially the tomatoes. Hopefully I’ve repaid you enough. And Meimei sends her love, Lady Wu.” The Lord Magistrate’s wife smiled and waved at the man.
“Have a good day, my dear,” she said with a soft smile. The Cultivator nodded, and exited the room.
Leaving behind eight bags of Gold Grade rice. As well as an assortment of fruits and vegetables, and more Seven Fragrance Jewel herbs.
The Lord Magistrate slumped in his seat, and pinched his nose.
This was almost as bad as the reports from The Gutter of a Chicken Demon going around taking down sheep rustlers.
How absolutely reasonable, and unreasonable at the same time.
There was a rustling, as his wife got out a peach. Its aroma was heady, filling the room with a seductive scent.
She held the juicy, glistening, tempting fruit of a demon out to him.
He grabbed it, and took a bite.
It was very tasty.