For around two days after that, they helped Nenjen with his work.
His work was quite close to the answer Maomao had been looking for.
She drove the hoe into the soil. After turning up the moist earth, aside from earthworms, ants and beetles, she found long thin clumps. A closer look determined them to be a cluster of thin eggs.
The chickens pecking at the earthworms attacked the egg cluster.
(Locust eggs, huh.)
As much as she wanted to calculate how much was in one tan (反, tenth of a hectare), she didn’t have that time. When Maomao found some eggs the chickens missed, she picked it up and stored it in a jar.
(Would this be a lot?)
It became a mass that would drive an insect hater crazy. Maomao’s jar was still on the empty side. Even Maomao who was used to locust bodies didn’t like looking at it.
The expert farmer Rahan’s older brother’s hoe holding posture was different and Basen’s ridiculous strength was impressive. The amount of dirt they dug up was different.
(It’s a relief that Basen’s doing it properly.)
She thought he would refuse on the grounds that it wasn’t the work of a warrior, but apparently it was fortunate that Jinshi was quite concerned with locusts. He helped out meekly.
Thanks to that, the farmers and guards that came with them also joined in. It seems they will be done with digging today.
Furthermore, Chue, who had joined in imperceptibly, was bobbing up and down near the two young men, gathering locust eggs. Two children were sticking close to her back. They were the siblings who ate the roasted potatoes. It seems like they were thinking that if they helped out, they would get potatoes again.
“Maomao-san, Maomao-san, I have a lot, do you want to see?”
“Chue-san, Chue-san, I don’t want to see. I’ll be happy to look at praying mantis egg cases though.”
Praying mantis eggs is a medicine called mantis cradle(桑螵蛸). It’s quite valuable since you can’t get a hold of a lot.
“This egg is about to hatch. Something small is coming out.”
“Since it’s nearly spring.”
One lifecycle for the locust takes around three months. Each time they would lay a hundred eggs. It had been written in the encyclopaedia from the Shi clan’s fortress. Insects born in spring will lay eggs in summer.
They didn’t breed all year round. Hatching this season would be eggs laid in autumn. It is often said that autumn ploughing is for uncovering eggs that had been hidden underground to feed birds and small animals.
(Did Rahan mention it before?)
Was it the mice multiplying problem* he talked about?
(*T/N: 鼠算, a Japanese maths problem. Also known as geometric progression in modern maths)
A pair of mice would give birth to twelve offspring, making fourteen in total. Among these fourteen, six female offspring and the mother would then give birth to another fourteen each.
Of course, this method of calculation was simply theory. Mice wouldn’t have all offspring survive to adulthood.
However, if locusts multiply in the same way mice do, it is imperative they lower their numbers in the initial stages.
(Each cluster of locust eggs has a hundred. Ten makes a thousand. Hundred makes ten thousand.)
By dealing with it now, they could decrease the number of locusts by several folds.
It seems, to a certain extent, locusts lay their eggs in moist soil.
(Does that mean that this region is the perfect spawning grounds, being close to a stream and abundant with grass for eating too?)
The fields were purposely grown here to guide the locusts.
Considering how there are villages made like this in Isei Province, how many are currently functional?
With the jar of locust eggs in hand, she approached Nenjen.
“After we burn these, we’re done,” he said.
“That’s a relief.”
“Yeah. I fell behind last year, so a lot of locusts got away.”
If memory serves, a farmer from this village had also said that last year the insect damage had been severe.
“Was the harvest yield considerably small then?” Maomao asked.
Nenjen nodded. “We didn’t have any in reserve for ourselves. If we have had to pay tax, we would’ve starved. We didn’t have extra money to purchase daily necessities from merchants, so we had to sell livestock.”
“But you said the territory lord provided you with an exemption from tax, not to mention aid.”
“I guess so. He’s actually a good territory lord.” Again, Nenjen looked like he was spitting.
“Is there something you can’t stand? You look like you have something against it.”
Maomao decided to ask him directly.
“It’s not my words as a former bandit, but they try to get whatever they can get. I think those guys are also like locusts, wanting everything. If you don’t want to starve, you should grow crops to avoid that. And yet, they don’t do that properly, and if they get a bad harvest, they even get money. What would you do, if you get more from doing that over clumsily and earnestly farming?”
“Is that why? The reason they don’t take care of the fields.”
“Yeah. It was the same for last year’s insects. They were dumbfounded looking at my locust-eaten fields. The village chief only thought up sob stories to get sympathy from the territory lord. I thought I was an idiot to be the only one who was ripping off and killing the locusts that were clinging onto the leaves.”
Did his fear of the locust plague in the past change him? He didn’t look like a former bandit who had devoted his life to bad deeds.
(No, that’s not right.)
Nenjen probably had an earnest personality from the start. It was because he was born as a bandit that he picked up the bow and killed people as he was told to.
Morals are not something you are born with.
“And seeing the atmosphere of the village now, it seems like they got quite a bit of money.”
“That’s right. It hasn’t changed, these decades. Even with a bad harvest, the territory lord would lend a hand. He’s a good lord to the people.”
(A good territory lord, huh.)
Where did the support money come from? Funds raised from trade? Was the western capital prospering so much that there was no problem with handing money around to farming villages?
“If there’s money coming in, I think it would be better to build a canal,” Maomao said.
Lowering the labour required to carry water alone will allow you to do work on something else. You can even clear a new field.
”The Rikuson person also said the same thing, you know,” Nenjen remarked.
“Is that so?” she said.
When she returned to the western capital, she needed to check how Rikuson knew about the existence of the former serf.
“By the way, sorry that you’re helping out with my work, but do you have some other business with this village?”
“Business….” Maomao rested her chin on the handle of the hoe and closed her eyes.
“Ah!” Maomao looked around. She approached Rahan’s older brother who wasn’t just digging but starting to make ridges on the soil. “There’s nothing growing here.”
(His expression is saying crap, it’s a habit.)
He denied it, but he was completely at home with being a farmer.
“By the way, are you not spreading the potatoes? I thought you brought seed potatoes for that reason, though,” she said.
“…about that.” Apparently, Rahan’s older brother had thought about it. “Are the people here motivated to work in the field? Do you think they’ll grow it decently if they get potatoes? The new crops don’t use traditional fields and I don’t think they have the willpower to cultivate new land.”
“True.” Maomao also agreed.
“That’s why I meant to meet the person who grew the only decent field.”
“Is that how it was?”
“But that geezer is probably out of the question.”
The last former serf of this village. Aside from his own field, he had to do the autumn ploughing in the name of a ritual. Normally, it was supposed to be work that’s done at the end of autumn, but seeing how it continues into spring, there had to be a shortage in labour.
“Can’t we leave a helper?” She looked at the other farmers.
“…the people here with us are here just because I’m here. It’s no good to thoughtlessly leave them on unfamiliar land, right?”
It appears they were people brought from Kaou Province.
Strangely, Rahan’s older brother was showing his older brotherly side. He would probably be a good firstborn son if he were born in a normal family.
“It’s a relief that dad isn’t here. He said he’ll figure out the merit of potatoes and wouldn’t know what to do.”
“Pardon me, but I find it hard to imagine Rahan’s father having such a proactive side.”
He was a nonchalant old man whose aura resembled Ruomen.
“The merit of potatoes, as in?”
“Like the beauty of the flowers, the shape of the leaves and the elegance of the vines, he said.”
“What about the deliciousness of the potatoes at leas… potatoes…” Maomao looked at the two kids sticking close behind Chue. Setting down the hoe, she approached them. “Hey. Do you want to eat the potatoes from that time?”
“I want to!”
“I want to, I want to!”
The siblings’ eyes sparkled.
“It’s the first time I ate something sweet-tasting. It was sweet like raisins.”
“Raisins?” Maomao asked.
“Sweet-tasting things are valuable here. They don’t have honey and sugar is also high class.” Chue rested her head over the large jar and twirled.
“…I wonder if we can use this?” Maomao smiled and went back to Rahan’s older brother.