Under her master’s guidance, Gu Ye was able to skin the tiger bones. She dried them after rinsing. Whenever she needed them, she could just knock a piece off. The sage apothecary used this opportunity to give his disciple a lesson.
“There are many ways to process the tiger bones. The most common products include tiger balm, vinegar tiger bones, sand-frying tiger bones, to list a few. For the tiger balm, you can just add sesame oil and roast it on fire. For the vinegar tiger bones, place the tiger bones in sand and fry it until golden-yellow, and then dip it in vinegar and wait for it to absorb. For the sand-fry tiger bones, you would place it in the sand and stir-fry it until it’s a soft yellow. Then soak it in vinegar and dry it over a stove after fishing it up…”
“Is there a difference in terms of medicinal effect?” Gu Ye pressed.
The sage apothecary looked at her and then nodded. “Of course. The tiger balm is best for treating tibia pain. The vinegar tiger bones are remarkable in treating muscle pain. The sand-frying tiger bones are usually for…”
One was immersed in teaching while the other was focused on learning. Gu Ming was sweeping the snow in the courtyard and he made sure to sweep quietly, afraid of distracting them.
The snow stopped quickly. In the next few days, it was surprisingly sunny. Three days later, the remaining snow had melted. Qingshan Village’s families all started to purchase items for the Lunar New Year even though there was still nearly two months before the date.
Gu Li’er knocked on Gu Ye’s house on the first night. “Little Yezi, my mother wants me to ask you if you’re going to town to purchase items tomorrow. If you’re going, we can go together.”
“Sister Li, isn’t it still early from the New Years? Why are we in a hurry?” Gu Ye was confused.
Gu Li’er blew a warm breath on her hands and then removed her shoes, getting in bed. She smiled and said, “Now that it’s winter, it’s going to snow more often. Sometimes, the snow can last for half a month. Many families in the village learned it the hard way, so we need to purchase items in advance taking advantage of the good weather. Otherwise, we might not even have any food during the New Years.”
“Oh, I get it! Alright. I’ve had two baskets of concocted medicinal ingredients stored. I’ll go to town with you tomorrow and exchange the baskets for silver taels, so then I can purchase items for the New Years.” Gu Ming had been keeping a close eye on her lately, so she couldn’t go to the mountains. She had been quite idle, so she wouldn’t miss this chance to get in on the action.
Gu Li’er said, “Ok, let’s meet at the village entrance tomorrow around 5am. Rest soon tonight. Otherwise, you may not wake up in time tomorrow.”
Gu Ye entered the sage apothecary’s room after Gu Li’er left. She told him, “Master, I’m going to town tomorrow. Are you coming along?”
“I’m an old man. Walking fifty kilometers of mountain road will kill me! I’m not going.” The sage apothecary was actually just afraid of being recognized and attracting unwanted trouble.
“Fine. I’ll bring you your favorite pastries.” The sage apothecary ended up eating half of the pastries that Master Ding had bought. It was then that Gu Ye realized her master enjoyed sweets just like her.
The sage apothecary looked at her in disdain. “The pastries in town aren’t good. Now, the pastries from the capital’s Wuwei Bakery are actually delicious pastries. If the opportunity arises, I’ll treat you out. I promise you the taste will be unforgettable.”
There was a sparkling glow in Gu Ye’s eyes when food was mentioned. The capital must be a flourishing place. The restaurants there must have lots of delicious food. It seems like she needed to earn more money and settle in the capital soon, so that she could taste all the delicious food there.
The Gu siblings got out of bed before the day even turned bright the second day. Gu Ye made lots of scallion pancakes as snacks on their journey to town. It was two days’ worth of walking from the village to the town.
Her master didn’t know how to cook, so Gu Ye had to ask Aunt Zhang. Hunter Zhang’s wife helped cook the meals for the sage apothecary. Before leaving, she reminded her master to add firewood on the kang and to stay warm at night, feeling worried.
Watching his disciple nagging him, the sage apothecary was touched but found it laughable at the same time. “Ok, I know! I’m already seventy. You think I can’t take care of myself? Leave already. Don’t let others wait for you!”
The Gu siblings each carried a basket full of concocted medicinal ingredients. They were rather short compared to the others, so it seemed like the baskets grew legs looking from behind.
At the village entrance, the Ninth Uncle, Ninth Aunt, and Sister Li were waiting. There were dozens of villagers there too. Wu Danggui and his partner as well as Gu Qiao and his partner were also there.
The Gu siblings greeted everyone, including Gu Qiao. However, Gu Ye ignored Wu Danggui and Nee Liu. She was amiable to people with kind intentions, but she’d remember who bullied her and find a chance for revenge.
“ Big brother.” Gu Qiao carried Xiao Zhuang. He rubbed his bleary eyes. Seeing the basket behind Gu Ming, he revealed a flattering smile. “Mother said the items in your basket could be sold for a lot of money. Big brother, I want sugar cakes as well as tasty pancakes. I want meat too…”
Gu Ming’s gaze swept over Nee Liu. He smiled at Xiao Zhuang and said, “Have Seventh Uncle and Seventh Aunt buy you sugar cakes if you want. You’re his only son. He’d do anything for you.”
“I want you to buy it! My mother said that you and that cheap woman are both ungrateful people! You won’t spend your money on your father, yet you use it to raise an old fart…” Xiao Zhuang mimicked Nee Liu’s arrogance and haughtiness, his mouth full of insults.
Gu Qiao’s face flushed as he met the villagers’ disdainful gazes. He hurriedly covered his son’s mouth and yelled at Nee Liu. “Look at you! Look what you’ve taught our son. I’m going to teach you a lesson when we go home later!”
The past days have been miserable for Gu Qiao. Whenever Nee Liu did something he didn’t like, Gu Qiao would hit her. She was afraid of his beating, so she shrunk back when she heard his words and stayed mute.
“Like mother like son! Be careful. What goes around will come around. Everyone will become old one day. I wonder if you guys will be ‘old farts’ one day.” Gu Ye said with a cold expression and looked sternly and icily at Nee Liu.
What could a child know? The adults must’ve taught him. Nee Liu had been restless these days. She must’ve insulted them behind their backs frequently.
Gu Qiao’s heart felt heavy upon hearing the words. He had offended his old son. There was no turning back. He couldn’t let his younger son be ruined in the hands of a woman. He decided that he’d teach his younger son once they returned from the town.
The group set off while the sky was still hazy outside. Gu Mo watched as the basket would always touch her lower leg when she was walking, so he said, “Little Ye’er, give me your basket. You can carry mine.” His basket only contained a few empty sacks.
Gu Ye shook her head and rejected the offer. “It's fine. Ninth Uncle, I can carry it.”
An elder within the village also intervened, “The journey there takes an entire two days. You’re bound to run out of energy. How about this? We’ll each carry a basket for you. You guys are still young. Don’t hurt yourself.”
These villagers had helped out the Gu Family when they were constructing their home. They had a pretty good impression on the generous and frank Gu Xiao, so they were all willing to help.
The siblings didn’t reject the villagers’ enthusiasm. They gratefully divided the sack of medicinal ingredients in the baskets into two sacks, and placed them in separate baskets. That way, it made it much easier when they traveled.
Just like this, the siblings followed the group and spent the day walking on the mountain roads. They barely reached the tall walls and courtyard before dark.
The wall in this courtyard was at least two meters tall. There was a thatched hut with five rooms inside. Besides this, the shed was vulnerable to the wind. Whether it be adults or children, they each had to pay one-fifth of a tael to stay the night. There was a huge kang within the hut. If they wanted to sleep inside, they needed to pay another tael. Children under five could sleep inside for free.
A tael was the same as a day’s worth of meal money for ordinary families. Despite the wintertime, there weren’t many willing to sleep inside the room.
The villagers from Qingshan Mountain hugged their clothes tightly and squeezed in a corner of the shed. They planned on getting by the night like this. Gu mo and his partner didn’t want their daughter to freeze outside, so they paid ten copper coins to the proprietor, disregarding their daughter’s protest.
“Mother, you and Sister Li should go inside. I can squeeze in with Ninth Uncle and Ninth Aunt.” Gu Ming watched as his sister countered twenty copper coins. He stopped her, feeling sorry. Ten copper coins was enough to buy five pancakes and half a pound of meat.
Gu Ye wore a stern look and said unhappily, “I won’t go in if you don’t! We can just save ten copper coins and buy more food!”
His sister had just recovered a bit. Gu Ming didn’t want her to suffer with him either. He would never forgive himself if she froze in the cold. He tried to persuade her, but his sister was stubborn and refused to rest inside by herself.
“Are you guys coming in or not? If not, I’m closing the door for the night.” The owner yawned and said to the siblings.
The Ninth Aunt advised Gu Ming, “Gu Ming, just go inside with your sister. Your Ninth Uncle and I are worried that the girls are just inside alone. You can take care of them. If you don’t want to spend that much money, I can pay half.”
Gu Ming obviously wouldn’t let the Ninth Uncle and Ninth Aunt pay for her. He hurried out of the shed.
The moment the siblings paid and were about to enter the room, a voice stopped them. “Ming’er…”
Gu Ming looked over to meet Gu Qiao’s embarrassed gaze. He stuttered, “Your brother is young, so he doesn’t need to pay. Can you look after him for me?”
The entire way here, villagers that weren’t related to them by blood all offered to help the siblings. However, their father did nothing for them. Despite him carrying his youngest son, he could still ask about their well-being. Even though he knew Gu Ming had given up on him, he still felt heartbroken. He had no idea how to make a request without feeling embarrassed now.
But Xiao Zhuang was Gu Ming’s brother after all. He couldn’t really reject the request. He quietly held the little boy’s chubby hands and walked inside.