The imperial court was seeking to purchase drought-resistant seeds. This was known to all prominent breeding families. Nowadays, most of the breeding families, led by the Xi family, were originally from the countryside. Families like the Huangs, in reality, were not considered respectable.
During the early years of the Chengyuan era beyond the dream, the Celestial Court had found the Huang family because they had been diligently managing their family’s business, and the Huangs had gradually gained fame for their quality seeds. However, the Huang family of today is quite different from the past.
Ignoring the fact that Huang Shu had been attacked by bandits and suffered an indescribable injury, he was originally a pleasure-seeking individual. He tightly controlled his children, preventing them from making any progress. Even if they managed to breed excellent seeds, he would still reap the rewards. Consequently, the others were not very enthusiastic.
Instead of putting in the effort to cultivate quality seeds, it was better to wait for him to depart from this world and inherit more of the family’s wealth!
That’s why the current Huang family was not even on the imperial court’s radar. Naturally, the Celestial Court didn’t bother visiting Huang Shu in Xiancha Town.
However, recently, the Celestial Court, which had been seeking seeds everywhere, suddenly became inactive. Therefore, all the prominent breeding families inevitably became more watchful of Di Yiqiu.
Although these drought-resistant seeds were difficult to obtain, it was still a lucrative business deal. Once the deal was sealed, the imperial court would undoubtedly pay handsomely, and the common people would spread the word. Many breeding experts coveted such opportunities.
But it was clear that Old Master Xi was determined to have the imperial court eradicate Third Dream. Other breeders wouldn’t dare take on this business.
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It was a silent game, with breeding families using public pressure on the imperial court.
Their intent was to force the Celestial Court to compromise.
But even under immense pressure, Di Yiqiu remained steadfast.
Huang Rang held great admiration for this man. The Emperor had summoned him several times, and countless officials had offered their advice. He faced tremendous pressure, but he never rushed.
One morning, Huang Rang carefully prepared a meal and brought it over.
Di Yiqiu was sitting in his study, just finishing discussing today’s official business with two deputy chiefs and four assistant deputy chiefs.
Huang Rang had chosen her timing well.
She placed the food on a small table nearby, and Di Yiqiu no longer resisted.
Huang Rang’s cooking suited his taste.
Compared to the cooks in the Celestial Court, this was a real delight.
He picked up his chopsticks, and Huang Rang served some side dishes. Her eyes sparkled as she said, “I just made these; try them while they’re fresh.”
Di Yiqiu picked up a meatball and dipped it into the side dish.
Huang Rang looked at him expectantly as he put it in his mouth.
“Not bad,” Di Yiqiu reluctantly commented, but immediately reached for another one. These meatballs were filled with lamb and finely chopped lotus root, making them crispy, tender, and delicious.
After eating two, he finally looked up and asked, “Have you eaten?”
Huang Rang, surprised, said, “Oh, you finally care about me! It’s been ten years, and this is the first time I’ve heard you ask like this. Hmph.”
Di Yiqiu couldn’t help but feel a little guilty about her words. In truth, Huang Rang had always been kind to him over the past ten years. He said, “If you haven’t eaten, sit down and eat. Less talk.”
So, Huang Rang moved a chair closer and sat opposite him, and they began to eat together. She had made plenty of meatballs, enough for both of them.
Di Yiqiu noticed that he didn’t mind eating with her. He asked, “Did Senior Third Dream give you the mother seeds?”
Huang Rang replied casually, “Oh, yes, he did. I’ve already planted them. Didn’t we agree to meet in April? Why are they pressuring you again?”
She asked casually, and Di Yiqiu replied, “Pressure is not a problem, but this matter is of great importance. I can’t take it lightly. I just have a few more questions.”
Huang Rang nodded repeatedly, and Di Yiqiu looked at her.
Today, she didn’t dress as elaborately as she did on the day of their outing. She wore a simple, narrow-sleeved dress and had tied her long hair into a casual bun, securing it with a plain hairpin, despite it being made of gold.
Although the hairpin was made of gold, it was very plain and lacked any other decorations.
Among the women of the prominent families, Huang Rang’s attire was quite modest. Di Yiqiu carefully recalled and realized that Huang Rang seemed to have very few pieces of jewelry.
He asked, “You’re the niece of the master of the sect; doesn’t he provide you with jewelry?”
Huang Rang was momentarily stunned, and it took her a while to come back to her senses. She laughed and said, “My uncle pays the annual tuition for the Breeding Institute for me. Do you know how expensive it is in a year? My aunt gives me some pocket money, but I spend it elsewhere.”
Di Yiqiu had been staring at the hairpin on her head, and Huang Rang noticed his gaze. She reached up and touched the gold hairpin.
She didn’t hide anything and said truthfully, “This? This was just for show. If I didn’t even have a gold hairpin, others would say my aunt and uncle were stingy.”
“Your… pocket money, where do you spend it?” Di Yiqiiu asked.
“This, um…” Huang Rang forced a smile and casually replied, “I’m assisting Third Dream without compensation. Well, even though the quality seeds are reasonably priced, the mother seeds are provided for free. Add in the cost of land rent and labor, and there’s hardly any profit to speak of. I often end up losing money, so of course, I’m quite poor!”
Di Yiqiu nodded and said, “You’re not the person I thought you were. I misunderstood you before.”
He spoke candidly, and Huang Rang was quite surprised. “You…” She leaned closer, looking inquisitive. “Are you apologizing to me?”
“Hmph!” The chief continued eating and didn’t pay her any more attention.
Huang Rang didn’t dwell on it either. When he finished his meal, she collected the dishes and left on her own.
On that day, at the Vermilion Bird Bureau:
Assistant Chief Zhu Xiang saw the Chief secretly sketching a diagram and then discreetly melting gold on his own.
She wanted to offer help, but the chief immediately declined her assistance with firm words.
Zhu Xiang couldn’t contain her curiosity and took a secret peek at the sketch.
To her surprise, it was a gold Buyao.
Zhu Xiang was quite puzzled.
That evening, Huang Rang prepared dinner again and brought it over.
However, there was no one in the study.
Huang Rang placed the food container down and was about to leave when she suddenly noticed a snow-white silk cloth spread on the desk. On it lay a beautifully crafted gold Buyao!
The craftsmanship of the Buyao was exquisite, with splendid tassels that shimmered in the candlelight, making it incredibly beautiful.
This, this, this!
Huang Rang approached, hesitated several times with her hand reaching out before pulling it back, and finally muttered, “This is really testing my patience!”
After contemplating for a while, she eventually picked up the rattle and placed it by her temple.
Suddenly, a thought raced through her mind like a startled deer: “Is this a gift for me?” Huang Rang looked left and right, determined that it was indeed for her. Otherwise, it would be too awkward.
She hesitated for a while, but suddenly, footsteps could be heard outside the door.
Di Yiqiu entered from outside.
Huang Rang quickly placed the Buyao back where it was, and Di Yiqiu glanced at her, then at the Buyao, and asked, “Don’t you like it?”
“I do like it,” Huang Rang honestly replied.
The Chief casually asked, “Then why don’t you take it?”
“Take it?” Huang Rang, with a bold face, said, “I was just about to take it when you came back!”
With that, she grabbed the Buyao and ran off like a flash.
The chief sat at the small table, opened the food container, and took out his dinner. After eating a few bites, he turned to look at the empty snow-white silk cloth on the desk. For some reason, he smiled.
Huang Rang, holding the Buyao, ran back to her quarters.
She flopped onto her bed, rolled around, and then pressed the Buyao against her face. The gold was slightly cool, but her cheeks turned red.
By late March, Huang Rang had successfully cultivated high-quality seeds that could be sown by the common people using the mother seeds from Liangmi.
For Huang Rang, this was a simple task. She was already well-versed in Liangmi‘s seeds.
The news spread like wildfire.
“Third Dream has successfully cultivated drought-resistant, quality seeds for the imperial court.”
The entire breeding community gasped in astonishment and fell into silence.
Everyone knew that if Liangmi‘s seeds succeeded and truly helped the common people survive the severe drought, it would mean that Mr. Third Dream’s reputation might rival that of Old Master Xi.
Liangmi couldn’t succeed!
This was practically a consensus among all breeders.
So, some people secretly spread rumors, claiming that Mr. Third Dream had no legitimate sect and that the money the imperial court gave him for the quality seeds was embezzled.
For farmers, seeds were not just money; they represented their livelihood for the entire year.
No farmer dared to take such a gamble.
This false information made some people doubt the situation and hesitate to plant the seeds.
But those who had received Mr. Third Dream’s favor had been working tirelessly to clarify the situation.
These impoverished farmers and smallholders suddenly united as a force. They loudly declared that Mr. Third Dream indeed possessed great talent, and his quality seeds were worth trusting.
Thus, despite facing immense pressure, the imperial court eventually distributed the Liangmi seeds.
In the first year of trial planting, as there was no drought, the imperial court demanded that each household leave half of their farmland uncultivated to grow Liangmi.
There were some troublemakers among them, but the situation had the attention of both the court and the common people. Despite the unfounded rumors, they did not escalate into major issues.
During this period, Di Yiqiu was exceptionally busy.
He often traveled between the fields, persuading farmers who were still hesitant or unwilling to plant.
However, due to the watchful eyes of prominent breeding families, these people did not dare to compromise.
After all, Mr. Third Dream had never shown his face, and he had no established sect. In case of failure, the people who participated in this planting would offend the prominent breeding families completely.
If the prominent breeding families collectively boycotted them, the imperial court would be helpless.
Therefore, despite the imperial court’s endless efforts, only half of the intended Liangmi seeds were planted.
Another three months passed, and the first season of Liangmi matured.
The yield was high, but it sparked another wave of criticism.
This stuff is terribly unappetizing.
Unless you’re used to eating sweets and swallowing vegetables whole, most people find them difficult to consume.
After working hard in the fields, the people were naturally angry with their disappointing harvest. This situation amplified the discontent among those who already harbored grudges against Mr. Third Dream.
For a moment, Mr. Third Dream seemed to have become a swindler, and everyone wanted to criticize him.
Di Yiqiu had no choice; he couldn’t silence the people.
Seeing public anger boiling over, he had no choice but to go to Huang Rang’s quarters.
For the first time in many years, Di Yiqiu actively sought out Huang Rang.
After passing through the gate, Di Yiqiu saw a vast expanse of trial fields.
Each student of the Breeding Institute had their own trial field, marked with their student plaque. The chief examined them one by one but did not find Huang Rang.
At this moment, an official responsible for guarding the trial fields approached and, upon seeing the Chief, quickly greeted him, “Chief.”
Di Yiqiu responded with a grunt and asked, “Are all the students’ trial fields located here?”
“Yes, Chief, that’s correct,” the official replied, avoiding eye contact.
Di Yiqiu clasped his hands behind his back, contemplated for a while, and said, “It seems like someone is missing.”
“Missing… someone missing?” The official was puzzled. “Chief, are you saying…”
Di Yiqiu frowned and continued, “Wasn’t Sect Master He’s niece also studying here all along? Why don’t I see her trial field?”
Upon hearing this question, the official began sweating on his forehead and stammered, “Chief, her trial field… there is one, but initially, the Institute’s authorities allocated it to another location.”
“Oh?” Hearing this, the chief became interested. He asked, “Where is it? Take me there.”
The official didn’t understand why, after more than a decade, the chief suddenly showed interest in this matter. Trembling, he led Di Yiqiu to the designated area.
Di Yiqiu scrutinized the sandy patch beside the steps and indeed found a student plaque with Huang Rang’s name on it.
Even without being a breeder, it was evident that this piece of land was nothing more than wasteland. It was located right beside the steps, with constant foot traffic. How could anything grow here?
The official hurriedly explained, “Chief, Sect Master He’s niece never came to the trial fields. She planted a few grasses here and left them to grow for more than a decade. Just look at these wild plants. Nobody tended to them. You can see how they’ve turned out.”
“That’s not untrue,” the chief remarked, staring at the sandy patch.
The official continued, “So, the institute didn’t allocate a different place for her. Please understand, Chief, that these trial fields are precious. If they are wasted like this, who wouldn’t feel distressed?”
This old salted fish!
He had spoken up for her without knowing the truth.
The chief coldly snorted and ordered, “Remove the grass and take down the plaque. Since she’s unwilling to come, there’s no need to keep it for her.”
“Yes!” The official quickly complied.
On that day, the grass in the sandy patch was completely cleared away.
The Chief couldn’t find this salted fish, Huang Rang, and decided it wasn’t worth the effort to keep looking.
He Xijin had diligently supported her for over a decade, and she didn’t even bother to visit her trial field. Hmph, she was truly a salted fish, too lazy even to turn over.
However, that night, everyone began to notice something unusual.
After over a decade without any mosquitoes at the Celestial Court, strange “buzzing” sounds suddenly filled the air!
The night duty officer slapped his hand and found, to his surprise, that he had killed a half-fed mosquito!
What on earth was happening?!
In the study room, the chief, who was reviewing official documents, encountered the same problem!
Because there hadn’t been mosquitoes for over a decade, everyone had grown accustomed to sleeping with the windows open, even during the hottest summer nights. There were no mosquito repellents in the rooms, either.
But tonight, it seemed as if all the mosquitoes had made a pact to converge in one place.
A “gift” from heaven, this caused great discomfort to everyone!
Around midnight, no one could stand it any longer, so they all grabbed fans and fled from their rooms.
The Celestial Court had many flowers, trees, and crops due to the Breeding Institute. In the past, they had been bothered by mosquitoes, but at that time, everyone had been prepared with mosquito-repelling incense or medicinal herbs, which were somewhat effective.
However, after over a decade without mosquitoes, suddenly they swarmed back in force, making it impossible for anyone to sleep.
Both the officials and the students, regardless of rank, gathered together, sitting in a circle, annoyed and frustrated, unable to figure out the reason.
After enjoying peace for over a decade, how could mosquitoes suddenly return to plague them?
In the study room, the chief gazed at the mosquitoes he had swatted on his hand, lost in thought.
The next day, when Huang Rang came with breakfast, she still had a disgruntled expression.
The Chief had some suspicions in his mind, but he asked nonchalantly, “What happened?”
Huang Rang slammed the food container onto the table with a thud and angrily said, “Which’s bastard with too much time on their hands that dug up my trial field?!”
The chief lowered his head and silently opened the food container, trying to maintain his composure. “You haven’t been to your trial field for a long time, have you?”
“Just because I didn’t go doesn’t mean someone can mess with it!” Huang Rang’s face contorted with rage. “That wretched official in charge of guarding the fields won’t say a word! If I find out who did this, I’ll chop off their hands!”
*Ahem!* The Chief Director cleared his throat lightly, looking stern, and said, “Indeed, it’s hateful. But in your trial field… weren’t there just weeds?”
“Weeds?” Huang Rang gritted her teeth. “If it weren’t for the weeds planted by this lady, could they have slept so peacefully for all these years? These are well-fed gluttons! Every single one of them has a filthy heart! Don’t they know that for a breeder, disturbing the field is like killing their own parents?!”
…Well, this official really didn’t know…
The chief wiped the fine sweat from his forehead and said, “I-it’s indeed excessive!”
“Wait a minute…” Huang Rang suddenly realized something. She stared at the Chief, elongating her tone as if she were a vengeful spirit, and asked, “How did you know that there were… weeds… in my trial field?”
The Chief, appearing innocent, said, “I’ve only heard… heard about it…”
As he finished speaking, he took advantage of Huang Rang’s momentary distraction and climbed to his feet, then made a run for it!
For the first time in her life, Huang Rang had the urge to gnaw on him!
“Di… Yi… Qiu!” She grabbed a bamboo pole leaning against the window and chased after him. “Today, I’m going to skin you alive!”
At the Celestial Court, everyone watched as their chief was pursued and beaten by a woman. They felt like he was trapped with no way out, like hunted dogs!
The chief couldn’t possibly use protective talismans against her, and unsurprisingly, he was eventually knocked down by a flying pole thrown by Huang Rang.
Huang Rang’s eyes were bloodshot, like an enraged lioness. She straddled Di Yiqiu and grabbed his collar, contorting his face. “You bastard, how dare you dig up my trial field?!” She angrily threw a couple of punches, landing a pair of panda eyes on the Chief.
(T/N: Buyao is traditional Chinese jewelry of Han nationality. It was later introduced eastward to Japan and had a profound impact on the local jewelry culture. Most of them are made of gold, bent into shapes such as dragons and phoenixes, and decorated with pearls and jade. From the Six Dynasties onwards, the patterns became more and more complex, or they formed birds, animals, flowers, branches, etc., which were sparkling and shining, mixed with hairpins, and were fastened to the hair. The materials were mainly gold, silver, jade, agate, etc.)