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Zhao Su picked an early morning to go up the mountain with a bamboo basket on his back. He had been going up and down this road over the last two months, so much so that he was already familiar with it. Along the road if he saw some common medicinal herbs he would casually pick it up and throw it into his bamboo basket. When he got home he would then group similar plants together and deliver them to the pharmacy.
At this time, he made a lot of effort to train his body, in the evening there wasn’t much to do, especially with the weak flame from the candle he definitely couldn’t read a book. Zhao Su went to sleep at haishi and got up at maoshi. First, he would do a circuit of Taichi, then eat breakfast and finally go up the mountain. Life was very regulated, and his health was gradually getting better, even though it was still weak it no longer resembled the frightening state of when he first arrived in this body. Plus, Zhao Su clearly had a different aura from the inside out. His old ragged clothing had also been washed very cleanly, so his appearance was greatly improved.
Zhao Su had never studied medicine, but having seen these plants so often he started to recognise most of them. The county of Changle was not far from the sea and the climate was warm and moist. Fortunately, during this season, a large number of plants bloomed such as False Starwort and Green Chiretta. You could stumble upon them just by taking three or four steps forward. This was also thanks to the fact that at this time nature had not yet been destroyed by man, even the aroma of the grass and trees seemed stronger to his nose.
Since the last time he told Lady Chen his idea about going up the mountain to collect medicinal herbs and reselling them for a budget price, he immediately put his plan into action.
Commerce during the Ming Dynasty developed very rapidly, in terms of the supplies for medicines, medicinal markets and long-standing apothecaries were beginning to pop up but the purchasing channel of goods was not yet fixed. So people like Zhao Su who were picking and plucking loose medicinal herbs and then selling them to the pharmacies was still an acceptable practice.. It was only that the price was of course lower for him than for the medicinal suppliers that they were used to working with. Even like this, he still made enough to pleasantly surprise his mother.
This way for a month, when there was a lot, he could get more than one tael, if there was a little, he could still get four hundred to five hundred wen. Before coming here, Zhao Su hadn’t understood the concept of a tael of silver, but now he could fully understand the hardships of the ancient people.
During the sixth year of Jiajing, the government stipulated that one tael of silver was worth seven hundred wen, this was equivalent to one month of a commoner’s expenses. Although, amongst the people this would occasionally fluctuate not strictly at this conversion rate. But for someone like Zhao Su, if he could get around one tael per month, this was already not bad.
Nowadays, even if it is not a big fish, he could at least occasionally buy some meat and minced beef to go home without causing too much of a burden for them. Plus, Zhao Su also paid attention to nutrition, so now the mother and son were looking much better than before and Zhao Su hadn’t fallen ill since.
Walking and stopping, sometimes stopping to get some water and rest, Zhao Su’s footsteps were neither faster nor slow, and a shichen trip wasn’t too tiring, he was just waiting to fill up his bamboo basket with medicinal herbs before turning around and heading down the mountain in the direction of town.
Zhao Su had heard that this shopkeeper had a bad leg, and it was easily agitated by the weather so when he went up the mountain he would pay attention and try to find Japanese knotweed and Spatholobus suberectus Dunn, these two herbs and pluck a few extra which he secretly gifted to the old shopkeeper. This kind of to and fro – naturally leads to the development of a good relationship between the two.
He was very clear that during this time there wasn’t any duty to be courteous to others but if you didn’t try, others wouldn’t either so even to the young shop assistant, he was also always warm and gentle making people feel comfortable and feel a warmth from the bottom of their hearts.
On this day, he went to Hui Chun Tang as usual but when he arrived he didn’t see the old shopkeeper, instead there was a young person that he hadn’t met before, who was standing behind the counter reading the accounts book. The other shop assistants were by his side.
“Lee-ge, is the old shopkeeper not about?”
Hearing Zhao Su’s voice, all the others lifted their heads. That young person looked him up and down and then looked towards the shop assistant next to him.
Shop assistant Lee smiled and said “Shopkeeper Yang, we will usually buy some loose medicinal herbs from independent sellers, he’s here to sell some.”
Hearing this the young person frowned, from his face Zhao Su could tell that he was fussy, after a short period of time, he turned towards the shop assistant and said “From now on, we will only buy from Fuzhou medicinal market for our medicine, we won’t take any random pieces.”
This was said a little quietly to himself, Zhao Su didn’t hear it clearly but he could make it out approximately from his facial expressions.
Zhao Su smiled at that person, put down his bamboo basket and turned to the others and said: “Lee-ge, come take a look, today, I saw some plums on my way, so I also picked up a few, it’s for you to give to your baby as a little snack. Zhang-ge, didn’t you say that your sister-in-law just gave birth a month ago, today I picked some extra False Starwort…”
Everyone went over, greeting him and making small talk. They helped him to unload the bamboo basket whilst separating and classifying according to the herbal ingredients. Compared to the attitude of the young person just before, the people were much warmer towards him.
The young person’s face blackened, and he slowly strolled over whilst looking over the contents of the bamboo basket with a frown: “This kind of low quality ingredients will damage the reputation of Hui Chun Tang, no wonder when shopkeeper Chen was here, this branch’s business was so poor.”
Shopkeeper Chen was the former shopkeeper there, he was soft-tempered and good with people, so much that he was liked by everyone. Because he was an older gentleman, he decided to retire and go back to his hometown. The person replacing him was exactly the young man standing before Zhao Su. His name was Yang Ming, with him he had brought the shaoye of the Shen family who managed Hui Chun Tang, so even though nobody liked him, they didn’t dare to speak out against him.
But Yang Ming didn’t give up. He bent over and picked through the medicinal herbs in the bamboo basket. “This is too old, this one was picked too early. These people don’t even have a basic understanding of medicine. If you buy from them, you’re just throwing out money. And if the ingredients are not good and damage the reputation of Hui Chun Tang, will you be the one to take responsibility?”
Shop assistant Lee didn’t say anything and simply mumbled quietly under his breath, he didn’t dare to speak up for Zhao Su anymore.
Yang Ming didn’t want to intentionally use Zhao Su as an example of his authority but it was just bad luck that Zhao Su had come today of all days when it was Yang Ming’s first day in charge.
Zhao Su was calm and he thought that he had let him say his piece, thus, he said lightly: “Shopkeeper Yang, normally speaking, if you don’t accept loose medicinal herbs as a rule then I shouldn’t come here to disturb you, however, yesterday, I came at the same time and I was never informed of this, so please accept my apologies. Today, I have already arrived here to deliver the herbs, and I imagine that there are a few people who are like me who aren’t aware of this rule and will be coming along shortly to offer their products. If you don’t accept, I’m afraid that this could also be detrimental to the reputation of your esteemed apothecary.”
Shopkeeper Yang was slightly stunned, it was hard to imagine that this unremarkable young boy standing before him would be able to speak up like this. Yang Ming couldn’t stop himself from looking over at the youth a few times. Gritting his teeth and smiling coldly he said: “Are you trying to threaten me?”
This Yang Ming was narrow-minded and not particularly pleasant in character. With him as the shopkeeper, it would be very difficult to continue selling medicinal herbs to Hui Chun Tang. Changle wasn’t big, besides Hui Chun Tang, all that was left were very small apothecaries so it would be impossible to sell all these herbs daily.
Zhao Su sighed quietly to himself, prepared for the worst and responded with a calm face as before.
Yang Ming was so angry that his eyeballs were bulging: “Kick him out now! You might have a sharp tongue but I can see that you’re just a poor bastard, even after eight lifetimes you’ll still be living a poor bastard life!”
The other shop assistants who were watching from the sidelines froze and only reacted when they heard his words. Shop assistant Lee looked at Yang Ming and awkwardly walked over towards Zhao Su.
Not waiting for him to continue, Zhao Su said “Sorry for causing you trouble I will be leaving now.”
The person who spoke was standing by the door, he looked around 25-26 years old, he was wearing a scarf and dark clothing, with two hands clasped together. Zhao Su didn’t know how long he had been standing there and how much he had heard. Behind him stood his young pageboy.
Yang Ming was completely startled, and he couldn’t even speak properly “ shao shaoye!”
Shen Lexing didn’t even look at Yang Ming, his eyes were fixed on Zhao Su, he smiled brightly, cupping his hands together in a salute: “May I ask for your distinguished name?”
The two people’s status couldn’t be further from each other. This courteousness towards Zhao Su was unusual, Yang Ming was in shock and didn’t know if his own previous despicable manner was witnessed by Shen Lexing.
Zhao Su replied “My surname is Zhao, name is Su.”
His body was skinny and small but his manner was like that of an adult, Shen Lexing couldn’t help himself laugh. “xiao xiong-di, this store will take all the herbs you have here, we’ll pay market value. Does that work for you?”
Just before when the two people were arguing, he was standing on the sidelines looking over the herbs that Zhao Su had brought. In fact, he noticed that the herbs were practically the same quality of those that were sold at the medicinal market. Some of the medicines only made use of the leaves and he had noticed that this young man had even been attentive enough to clear off the branches beforehand.
It was clear from looking at Zhao Su that he was from a lowly background so he could have been greedy here. Shen Lexing was even more impressed with this young man.
“Xiandi is certainly well-spoken for his age, could I ask who your teacher is?” He changed the form of address again.
At thirteen years of age in the Ming Dynasty, this couldn’t be counted as young, but this body had long been malnourished so people would often misunderstand.
“Zhao Su said “My family is poor, I haven’t begun to learn to read and write yet.”
Seeing that he clearly didn’t want to say more, Shen Lexing decided to not ask any further.
He smiled and said “Xiandi doesn’t need to worry, from now on, this shop will continue to accept your herbs. This time, we add an additional one hundred wen to the total as a way of making amends, Hui Chun Tang is known across Fujian and Zhejiang for our benevolence and excellence so of course we would never do anything to damage our reputation. The shopkeeper was rude today, thank you for Xiandi’s guidance, please accept our apologies.”
Zhao Su saw his sincerity, nodded his head to say thank you, and exchanged a few more pleasantries, then hurriedly left.
Seeing the shadow of his back, the young pageboy who hadn’t uttered a word couldn’t hold back any longer and said: “Shaoye, this person doesn’t look as old as me, plus, he’s wearing rags and hasn’t even studied before, what made you be so courteous to him?”
“Your master has seen so many people, would I be bad at judging a person’s character?” Shen Lexing pulled his sleeves and turned around to enter the pharmacy without even looking at the deathly pale Yang Ming who had been standing there the whole time.
The young pageboy smiled and said: “This servant is uneducated.”
“His behavior and manners are outstanding, but he doesn’t seem to come from a literary family. Perhaps he has a famous teacher, if so he is bound to have success one day. Simply one hundred wen to buy a personal favour, why not? I can’t imagine a small county like Changle could have young children that are so clever, especially compared to our Hui Chun Tang shopkeeper…..” he didn’t say anymore and groaned to himself.
Yang Ming looked dejected, he knew that he hadn’t even warmed up his position here, it was very likely that he’d be unable to keep it.
Everyday after returning from the apothecaries, when he was passing by the Zhao Clan school, Zhao Su would stand outside for a while and listen for a bit before returning home. Everyday was like this, whether it was rain or shine, it became a habit of his.
But today was slightly different, the incident at the apothecary had wasted quite a bit of his time today. By the time he arrived at the school doors, the teacher was already explaining Mencius’ benevolent principles.
Regarding Zhao Xifeng’s indiscretions, almost everyone in the Zhao family knew, but Lady Wu’s family was powerful, and Lady Chen was just a helpless servant girl. Who was more important here was evident. As long as things didn’t get out of hand, the elders would also turn a blind eye.
This is also the reason that Zhao Su and his mother were cast out to live in another house. Zhao Su has long known that no one would stand up for them, so from the beginning to the end did not think to go to them for help.
A while ago he bought a full set of the Four books and Five Classics, during the day he’d secretly go to listen to lectures, and then after go back to memorize the books at night, over time, the interpretation of the books became easier, but he was still very far from being able to participate in the Imperial Examinations.
As we all know, the Ming Dynasty Imperial Examinations used the “eight-legged” essay, an essay divided into eight parts such as Opening, Amplification, Preliminary exposition and the other aspects that make up the eight parts. The content of the essay must be written in accordance with these eight parts, strictly following the format and word count, these conditions must be strictly followed, but with only this wasn’t enough.
Whether it was the County exam or the Provincial exam, there were more than tens of thousands of participants. Your essay needed to be meticulous and error-free but it must also be able to catch the attention of the reader amongst the thousands of other essays. This took a certain technical expertise to achieve.
So the road ahead for Zhao Su was still very long and arduous. He must seize time to accumulate his knowledge. He had even planned on calling on an old experienced elder for guidance. Of course, he needed to save up enough funds to pay for a private tutor or all this would have been time wasted.
He was hiding in the shaded spot at the wall listening attentively, when someone asked coldly from inside: “Who’s that sneaking around outside?!”