In an inn.
Having finally dealt with Qu Manying, Huang Rang took Xie Hongchen’s jade pendant and left the city.
She had left the city, but she wasn’t going to send any messages.
After all, what connection did she have with the prestigious Xi family?
Although she wandered around Kanyue City with the intention of finding Di Yiqiu, they had just separated, and now she was going back to his place. It seemed a bit hasty.
Huang Rang was not an ignorant young girl. Being moved by such emotions was probably too embarrassing.
She strolled leisurely and passed by a small piece of farmland, where her attention was drawn to the bean sprouts growing there.
The farmland was narrow, seemingly no more than two plots in size, yet it was where she had cultivated the bean sprouts herself.
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She followed these pieces of farmland and gradually walked into a village.
In the village, many plots of land were planted with the seeds she had cultivated.
“Miss? It’s getting dark. Why don’t you go back home?” Huang Rang was so engrossed that she suddenly heard a voice from behind.
She turned around abruptly and only then noticed an old woman standing behind her.
The old woman had no malicious intent; otherwise, with Huang Rang’s keen senses as a sword cultivator, she wouldn’t have been caught off guard.
Smiling, Huang Rang replied, “Ah, grandma, I was just visiting some friends and must have taken the wrong path. Now it’s dark, and I can’t tell the direction.”
“Oh dear! You young girl, how careless!” The old woman’s concern for her was evident. “Then you can’t go any further. It’s getting dark, and there are fewer people around. You don’t want to encounter any bad people.”
After a moment’s thought, the old woman said, “Come inside first, dear. I’ll make you a hot soup.”
Huang Rang wanted to inquire about the good seeds, so she didn’t refuse and followed the old woman into the house.
It was an ordinary earthen house with hoes and baskets placed inside. Despite the various items, it was neatly arranged.
The old woman, whose hair was turning white, went into the kitchen, lit the stove, and then took out an egg. Huang Rang noticed the marks of smoke on the kitchen walls. The house seemed to have been around for quite some time.
Huang Rang asked, “Grandma, don’t you have any family?”
“They’re all gone. The years have been hard. Both my sons couldn’t make it through the tough times a few years ago. Later, my old man got sick, and we didn’t have enough money for treatment. Now, I’m the only one left, an old widow.”
Her mention of her family was brief, and even her sadness seemed quite shallow.
Huang Rang frowned and asked, “I remember that the court distributes good seeds every year. How come it’s like this?”
The old woman got the fire going, let out a long sigh, and said, “The court does distribute good seeds, but those top-quality seeds are given to the big households for collective planting. How could we, with small families and little land, get any? In the past, we could only buy regular seeds.”
As she spoke, she started making the noodle soup for Huang Rang. “These regular seeds rely on the weather for survival. If there’s a natural disaster, the harvest will be lost, but we still have to pay taxes on the land without any reduction.”
Huang Rang frowned and said, “When I came here earlier, I saw many fields outside with good-quality bean sprouts planted.”
She mentioned this, and the old woman became happy. The wrinkles on her face smoothed out as she said, “Things have been much better in recent years. It’s all thanks to the Bodhisattva, Miss Huang Rang.”
“Ah?” Huang Rang was stunned.
The old woman served the noodle soup and placed a boiled egg beside it, saying, “Those breeders are unwilling to sell good seeds to individuals like us. We can’t afford the high prices, so where would we get such good seeds? Ten years ago, Miss Huang Rang sent us these seeds, saying they were free for us to plant. In this village, no one has starved to death in the past ten years.”
She scooped out the noodles, sprinkled some green onions on top, and said, “Our old man really had bad luck. He never lived to see good times in his whole life.”
As the old woman kept talking, Huang Rang’s heart was filled with mixed emotions.
It was true that renowned breeders wouldn’t allow their good seeds to be sold to individuals.
Even when Huang Rang was in charge of the Huang family, her contracts for good seeds had explicit provisions.
Small landowners couldn’t afford the fertilizers required for test planting, nor could they manage and take care of the seeds properly. There was no guarantee that these seeds would yield the same harvest as in the test planting.
In the case of reduced yields or mutations, it would be a significant blow to the breeder’s reputation.
Moreover, if the prices for good seeds were cheap and sold to individuals, how could the breeders maintain their value and status?
Therefore, there was an unwritten rule that almost everyone followed: only breeders of low status would sell their good seeds at low prices to individuals.
So, when the court made bulk purchases each year, the contracts would specify this.
The most renowned breeders, such as Master Xi, would only allow their seeds to be used on more than a thousand acres of land.
Even Huang Rang’s seeds could only be planted on over a hundred acres.
This was a mark of a breeder’s status.
Everyone followed these rules.
But no one ever thought about what would happen to those individuals who couldn’t afford good seeds.
Since the yields of good seeds were high, the government increased taxes on them. But for those who couldn’t buy good seeds, they still had to pay the special tax for good seed cultivation using regular seeds.
Even if there were surplus good seeds from the government’s purchases each year, they wouldn’t be distributed because of the contractual agreements.
The stabilized good seeds, which secured the prosperity of the country, were nothing but a distant dream for the common people at the bottom.
The old woman placed the noodle soup on the table and wiped her hands on her apron, saying, “Good girl, come and eat the noodles. Looking at your attire, you must be from a wealthy family. Plain food might not suit your taste, but it’s already late, so please bear with it.”
Huang Rang sat at the table and unintentionally saw a piece of red paper on the wall with her name written on it. In front of her name were offerings of candles and fruits.
“What is this?” Huang Rang pointed to the offering table.
The old woman said quickly, “Ah, that’s the Longevity Tablet. Many households in the village have one. Miss Huang Rang is believed to be a reincarnated Bodhisattva, and we ordinary folks may never get to see her in person in our lifetimes. So we set up this Longevity Tablet for her, offering incense and fruits every day, hoping for her blessings.”
While Huang Rang ate the noodles, a sour and bitter feeling stuck in her throat. Though she was born into a humble background, the Huang family was still a well-off Earth spirit family, earning a considerable income.
She had never experienced such hardships, let alone the helplessness of ordinary people.
There was no such thing as a Bodhisattva descending into the mortal realm. Like all breeders, she strictly prohibited her good seeds from falling into the hands of individuals. The Huang family even had dedicated servants inspecting for this.
Even the good seeds appearing here were not truly free.
Huang Rang took a few bites of the noodles and suddenly asked, “Granny, have you heard of He Xijin?”
“He who?” The old woman looked confused. She hadn’t heard of him.
Huang Rang asked again, “What about Wu Zichou and Zhang Shuju?”
“Who are these people?” The old woman pondered for a while and said, “I’m an old woman and rarely leave the village. I only know the village chief and the local protector. I don’t know anyone else.”
Huang Rang silently finished the bowl of noodle soup, which was made from wheat she had personally cultivated. She knew.
But these wheat seeds were actually cultivated with the silver sent every month by He Xijin, Wu Zichou, and Zhang Shuju.
Huang Rang herself didn’t contribute anything.
Could there really be people who don’t seek fame and fortune and who willingly spend their own money to help the needy?
Huang Rang didn’t believe it; she had never seen such people before.
Ignoring the old woman’s attempts to persuade her, Huang Rang still left the village alone. She took out the account book and, undeterred by the darkness, went to find the marked fields.
Qu Manying kept meticulous records, marking the precise locations of even the tiniest seeds in the land contracts.
It wasn’t difficult for Huang Rang to find what she was looking for.
With her martial cultivation, she traveled through the night, even using the transmission talisman Xie Hongchen had given her to check the account book everywhere.
However, all the individual landowners strictly followed the records in the account book, carefully tending to these good seeds.
This year’s batch of seeds was all accounted for, with no omissions.
Huang Rang sat by the edge of a field until daybreak, the lush green leaves seeming to play with her. She brushed the leaves aside and saw a small stone shed set up by the villagers.
In the past, villagers used to offer prayers to the mountain gods and land spirits in such sheds. But now, there was only one simple inscription: “Huang Rang.”
The incense was not fully burned, and the fruits were still dewy.
Not only did He Xijin and the others distribute the good seeds to individual landowners as stated, but they also did it entirely in Huang Rang’s name.
To the point that no one knew the true origin of these good seeds.
Kanyue City, the inn.
It was already late at night, and Qu Manying sat on the edge of the bed, saying, “Today, I finally met Ah Rang and even held her little hand. Oh, her little hand is so tender… But she also practices swordsmanship. How come her hands are not calloused?”
He Xijin brought her footwashing water and said slowly, “Yu, Yu, Yuhu Immortal, Immortal Sect… Has, has…”
While he spoke, he rolled up his sleeves and started washing Qu Manying’s feet.
Qu Manying neither rushed him nor interrupted, allowing He Xijin to finish, “Has pills, pills, that can protect, protect, protect the hands.”
“Uh-huh!” Qu Manying nodded. “It seems to be effective. I’ll buy some later.”
He Xijin said, “Sure, sure.”
Qu Manying thought for a moment and said, “That child is so beautiful, resembling Xi Yin when she was young. Today, I held her hand, and my mind went blank. I don’t know if I said anything wrong. Oh, it’s a pity our Dun’er is so foolish; he’s not worthy of her.”
As she said this, she became sullen. “You know, these are all children. Xi Yin passed away early. How come her daughter is like a phoenix among people, and my children are like pigs among pigs?”
Outside the door, He Dun was about to greet his parents. He raised his hand to knock on the door when he heard this.
“Mother…” He Dun pushed the door open, looking helpless.
“You still have the nerve to come in!” Qu Manying saw him and got angry. “Has Ah Rang returned?”
He Dun said, “Not yet.”
Qu Manying had to say, “Ah, today I suddenly called myself her aunt. I don’t know if the child will be offended. Her mother passed away early, and she must have suffered a lot growing up in Huang’s family. From her attitude towards the Xi family, it seems she’s not interested in marrying into our family.”
He Xijin comforted his wife, saying, “No, no, no need to worry. She, she, she… she’s a good, good, good girl.”
Qu Manying replied, “You have no idea what’s on a girl’s mind.” She turned to her son, He Dun, and instructed, “You go outside and wait. If she comes back, come and inform me. After thinking it over, I still need to explain things to her again. I don’t want her to have any misunderstandings.”
He Dun agreed and was about to leave when Huang Rang was already standing at the door.
Huang Rang originally wanted to talk to Qu Manying about the matter of good seeds, but upon seeing the situation inside the house, she hesitated, not knowing whether to enter or leave.
On the other hand, He Xijin calmly continued massaging his wife’s feet, seemingly unconcerned.
“Ah, Ah Rang!” Qu Manying saw her coming and jumped up happily without even wiping her feet, running to the door. “Good girl, you’ve finally come back. Did you see the Xi family members?”
Huang Rang didn’t know what to say upon seeing her.
If it was just acting, she was very adept at it. But when it came to sincerity, especially facing such an enthusiastic aunt, she didn’t know how to respond. She could only speak truthfully: “I didn’t go. I don’t want to see the Xi family members.”
“That’s fine.” Qu Manying said, “Then come over and talk with me.”
She held Huang Rang’s hand and was about to lead her outside. He Xijin fetched their shoes, saying, “Shoes, shoes.”
Qu Manying quickly held onto He Xijin’s arm with one hand and put on her shoes with the other, saying, “Let’s go; we’ll have tea in the backyard. Oh, today, your uncle brought some sugar-roasted millet; we’ll bring it along.”
As she spoke, she indeed picked up the oiled paper bag on the table, and inside was a bag of sugar-roasted millet.
Today was the final round of testing for the new disciples, which would directly determine their rankings. He Xijin was certainly very busy. Yet, on his way back, he still brought back a bag of sugar-roasted millet for his wife.
In Huang Rang’s eyes, the love between this couple—whether it was in the past between Huang Shu and Xi Yin or now between her and Xie Hongchen—all the warmth combined probably couldn’t match this bag of sugar-roasted millet.
Qu Manying held her hand and said, “Ah Rang, let’s go to the backyard and eat millet.”
“But the family members are all there, and there’s probably a lot to talk about. I won’t disturb you.” Huang Rang didn’t really want to go; she still wasn’t accustomed to such enthusiasm.
He Xijin nodded to Huang Rang and said, “New, new, new disciple’s ranking… Uh…” Huang Rang started to look around for Zhang Shuju and Wu Zichou, but unfortunately, the two of them couldn’t follow He Xijin to his bedroom. Qu Manying covered her mouth and chuckled. Finally, He Xijin managed to finish his sentence.
He told Huang Rang that the ranking for the new disciples was out, and Huang Rang was ranked first.
Huang Rang thanked him, and He Xijin continued, “It’s… it’s… it’s rare to… see you; you can… chat.”
You’re doing this on purpose! Huang Rang immediately turned to Qu Manying and said, “Aunt, I want to go to the backyard to eat millet with you.”
Qu Manying burst into laughter and led Huang Rang away.
Huang Rang glanced back and saw that He Xijin hadn’t followed them. Only then did she feel relieved.
Qu Manying was even happier and said, “This man, it’s a good thing he has a speech impediment; otherwise, oh, he’d be such a chatterbox.”
She mentioned his condition without any ill will, a kind of teasing that had never appeared in Huang Rang’s growing environment. Her smile was more genuine.
“You don’t know, in the past, when he came to propose to me, my father originally refused. But later, it was just too difficult to talk to him; he wouldn’t stop talking. My father was so annoyed by him that he had no choice but to agree to the marriage… “Qu Manying vividly recalled the past.
Thinking of He Xijin pulling her father away and stammering to propose, Huang Rang couldn’t help but laugh. “Master He is indeed a unique individual. If Aunt argued with him, what would happen?”
Qu Manying waved her hand and said, “No arguing, no arguing. We never argue. He hasn’t even finished speaking, and I’m already not mad anymore.”
The two of them laughed together, bursting into laughter.