Qi Qi had reminded him about the precious Thousand Grain Gold in his backyard.
The more precious something was, the more fragile it was. Plants like that require constant care. Thinking back at the little seedlings and the number of days he had been cooped up in his house, Shao Xuan heaved a sigh. There was no hope.
When Qi Qi saw his response, she suspected that the Elder had probably forgotten about the Thousand Grain Gold and did not even do anything about it. If he were someone else, she would’ve probably hit and scolded them. However, this was the tribe’s Elder, the position below the shamaness and the chief and the owner of the Thousand Grain Gold. Of course she dared not scold him.
No matter how angry she was, all Qi Qi could do was take a deep breath and suppress all her feelings. Then again, the crops she planted had failed so she was in no position to chide him either.
It was a pity. This little Elder was too young to sense the importance of the Thousand Grain Gold. Qi Qi lamented to herself.
“Let’s go check it out.” Shao Xuan tidied up the pieces of leaves he had been using to take notes then went to the backyard.
In the past, when Duo Kang heard Shao Xuan was planting something precious, he had brought people over to build a fence with cloth wrapped around the plot of land. This was to prevent naughty children from kicking rocks inside. That was why every person who passed by could not see the inside. The more curious people did not dare look into his house either, the position of the Elder was an intimidating one.
He had not had much hope but when he opened the back door and looked into the yard, he saw many fresh green seedlings swaying in the breeze.
The last time he checked, only half of them germinated. Right now, there were more than eighty of them. Thirty more had germinated since the last time he checked.
They were not tall, only a little taller than his ankle. Although they grew very slowly and did not look too sprightly, at least they were alive.
“What…” Qi Qi was so shocked she did not know what to do.
Hurrying forward, Qi Qi looked at the ground. No one had watered them nor given them fertiliser. The ground was even cracked in some parts.
“Elder, how...how did you plant them?” she asked.
“Same as what you all did. You watched me too. After they germinated, I watered them a little but I haven’t used any of the fertiliser.” Shao Xuan pointed at a tank of fertiliser, embarrassed. It contained all the fertiliser Qi Qi had given him.
Qi Qi had told him to put the fertiliser when the seedlings had grown to a certain size but in the midst of all his work, he had forgotten. With the cloud patterns taking up so much of his attention, he had long forgotten about them.
Qi Qi did not think he was lying either. She had wanted to talk to Shao Xuan about the plans a few times but every time she arrived, she saw the door closed tightly. That was why she never disturbed him. This time, she had to knock because it was an emergency.
After looking at the seedlings, she said with guilt, “Elder, we have let you down!”
“Why? Did something happen to yours?” asked Shao Xuan.
Her face reddened, not knowing what to say. It wasn’t just ‘something’, they were all starting to wilt when they were growing fine some time ago!
Qi Qi brought Shao Xuan to all the plots of land from the top to the bottom of the hill. It was the same throughout.
“They were all growing well initially and everyone was so happy. But slowly, they all wilted…” Qi Qi told him about the situation.
Shao Xuan did not know why. Qi Qi and the rest had taken such good care of them, they were so healthy when they germinated. Why did they wilt?
Were they over-watering it?
Qi Qi and the rest had prepared fertilisers for it and watched the plants every day. There were so many people too. When they heard Shao Xuan say that he found it at a place with dryer soil, they decreased the watering frequency and only watered according to need.
Was it not adapting to the environment here?
They were all germinating and growing leaves in the beginning, only wilting later. One by one, they died- Qi Qi and the rest were heartbroken. A few of the older farmers hadn’t slept in days, brainstorming ideas and carrying out rescue plans. However, the situation did not improve and out of the ten plots, only about twenty were left. While they were a lot taller than Shao Xuan’s seedlings, they looked weathered and unhealthy.
Shao Xuan could not explain it.
“Then…. Elder, what do we do now?” Qi Qi asked carefully. She was worried Shao Xuan would get upset. They had even promised him to do their best and now, they had disappointed him.
Shao Xuan was not willing to stop his work on the cloud patterns either. He had finally gotten some ideas and now he didn’t feel like putting them down. Compared to the Thousand Grain Gold, he cared more about the cloud patterns. The more he understood, the more he felt like they contained a huge secret left behind by the Xia people.
After much thought, he said, “What about this. Please help me care for the seedlings in my backyard too.”
“Huh?” Qi Qi looked up in shock. Not only did he not scold her, he even gave them more seedlings to care for! How could she agree to this?
However, she was still very curious about why his seedlings were doing well. She wondered if they were only living because they hadn’t reached the same height as the ones they planted or due to other reasons.
“But… but what if they…” Qi Qi tugged at the muddy clothes she was wearing with conflicted emotions.
“Don’t worry. If they all die, I still won’t blame you all. They’re supposed to be difficult to grow anyway. If we can’t plant them, I’ll just cook the rest of the grains and we’ll eat them. It’s fine,” said Shao Xuan/
Qi Qi’s face tightened. Such precious grains and he wants to… eat them?
After his decision, under her suggestion, he put a small door on the fence. She said they would probably check on the seedlings up to a few times a day. To avoid disturbing him, they would use that door. She promised they would settle everything and Shao Xuan would not need to care about anything.
On that day, Saho Xuan placed a door for their convenience on the fence. No one else would dare enter, he didn’t even need to tie it.
When he closed the door, his eyes swept across the backyard. He felt like something was missing. When he walked into his house, he suddenly stopped.
Shao Xuan looked down at his feet. There was a weed at his backdoor. He had only noticed it when his foot brushed over it.
When he turned to look around the yard, he thought about the day the seeds germinated. That day, there were all kinds of wild weeds growing. Due to the cloud pattern, he had procrastinated de-weeding the place. Then, he’d left it till today. It had been twenty days, he hadn’t even left the house for a hunt.
It had been twenty warm days. The weeds that grew all year round should have been very happy in his yard. However, all he saw were several small blades on the ground, just protruding from the soil. Especially the places with Thousand Grain Gold-- the weeds in that area had disappeared.
He found an empty leaf and wrote this discovery down for further observation.
When he stepped into the house, he continued with his research on the cloud patterns. Right now, he had already solved the general meaning of one cloud. Although he had only solved two, and there was a stack of patterns left, it was still progressing. Soon, Shao Xuan would be able to solve the cloud patterns on the Ding cauldron.
Other than going out to hunt, he spent the rest of the time studying the clouds. As for the seedlings, he only checked every once in a while when he rested. When he returned from a hunt, he talked to Qi Qi about them.
On the ten plots of land, there were only two surviving plants. Those were the ones that were slowest to grow. It looked as if they weren’t going to make it. As for the eighty seedlings in his backyard, under Qi Qi’s care, they grew faster.
They were all almost the same height as the previous seedlings now. This was where the other seedlings stopped growing. As they watched the seedlings, Qi Qi and the rest were worried.
Qi Qi even sent people over to talk to the Taihe people just to care for his plants. They had to be humble and learn something useful from Taihe too. If they could keep these alive, at least they had done something for Shao Xuan.
Unfortunately, the Taihe people weren’t doing well either. While their seedlings survived a little longer, once they reached a certain height, they wilted too. The Taihe people were just about to send people over to Flaming Horn.
They had loosened the soil, applied fertiliser… Everything was done, plus the seedlings were so healthy. How could they die so suddenly?
It was a precious princess after all, such a high-maintenance plant! It was very fussy indeed.
The Taihe tribe’s plants grew very quickly under their care but they all still died in the end. That was why when they heard about Shao Xuan’s plants, they paid daily visits to his yard to check.
They watched as the seedlings in his backyard grew faster under the care of both the Flaming Horn and Taihe farmers. It was going to meet the ‘roadblock’ soon. Qi Qi and the rest were growing increasingly worried, always anxious and couldn’t sleep at night.
On the other side, Shao Xuan had been studying the cloud patterns so he did not sense their anxiety at all.