(I want to eat open air kushiyaki(串焼き, grilled skewered meat).)
Maomao(猫猫, cat cat) sighed as she gazed up at the downcast sky.
The world around her was the most beautiful out of anywhere she has been in. And yet she was also within the muddied dregs squirming with miasma.
(So it’s already been three months, huh. I wonder if Dad is eating properly.)
It was not long ago when she got kidnapped by villagers with the names of Ichi(壱, one), Ni(弐, two), and San(参, three) the time she went out to look for medicinal herbs in the forest.
It had been for a truly formidable and extremely bothersome marriage hunt – in short, a marriage capture. They had been hunters of women for the imperial court.
Well, she was getting paid, and if she worked for two years, she might be able to return to town. The place itself wasn’t bad to work in, but that really depended on the person.
For Maomao who lived as a pharmacist, it was an annoyance.
Whether the kidnappers were capturing young maidens and selling them off to eunuchs for their alcohol expenses, or that these maidens were being sold as substitutes for their own daughters – Maomao didn’t care. Whatever the reason, it didn’t change the fact that she got roped into this.
If it wasn’t for this, she won’t ever want to have anything to do with the inner palace(後宮, otherwise known as the emperor’s harem in Imperial China, as well as the place they live in, which is closed off to the outside world).
The smiles on the palace ladies, who wore beautiful clothes, makeup and cloying perfume, were superficial.
It was what the pharmacist thought when she came here – that there was no poison as terrifying as a woman’s smile.
That there was no difference between the court, where the court officials lived, and the pleasure district beneath the palace either.
She lifted the laundry basket left by her feet into her arms and headed inside the building. Unlike the exterior, the tasteless courtyard had a stone paved pool, where servants who were neither male nor female were washing a large amount of laundry.
The inner palace is forbidden to men. The only ones who could enter are the country’s most noble one, his blood relatives, and the men who had lost their most important thing. Of course, the ones working here were the latter.
While it’s twisted, it must have been done because there is a reason for it, Maomao supposed.
When she set down the basket, she looked at the rows of baskets in the nearby building. Those weren’t dirty laundry, just washing laid out for the sun.
She looked at the wooden tag that was attached to the handle. It had a drawing of a plant and a number on it.
Among the palace ladies, there are also those who couldn’t read – as it included those who got kidnapped too. Before they are brought into the imperial court, they are taught the minimum etiquette, but it’s difficult when it came to literacy. It would better if the literacy rate of countryside girls are over fifty percent.
You can say it is the evil practice of the inner palace that has become too large – although the numbers in the place have increased, their quality is poor.
While it cannot possibly compare to the previous emperor’s flower garden, the current one is a large family consisting of two thousand consorts and palace ladies, and three thousand eunuchs altogether.
Of those numbers, Maomao is among the lowest of maidservants. She didn’t even receive a government post. She especially lacked any backing – that’s a given for a girl who has been kidnapped and forced to make up the numbers. Well, if only she had a body that is plump like tree peony and skin that is white like the full moon, then she might have had the chance to serve a low-ranking consort, but Maomao only had healthy skin covered in freckles and limbs that are like withered branches.
(Let’s get this job over and done with.)
After Maomao located the basket with the tag that had been painted with plum flowers and ‘One-Seven’, she quickened her pace. She wanted to return to her room before the deep overcast sky started to weep.
The owner of the basket of laundry is a low-ranking consort. Compared to others with the same ranking, the quality of the furniture in her private room is gorgeous but overly extravagant. One way or other, it gave in to the expectation that the owner of the room is the daughter of a wealthy merchant. It is possible for those with a ranking to have a maid – low-ranking consorts are allowed two at most. That’s why maidservants like Maomao who didn’t serve a master carry laundry like so.
Low-ranking consorts are permitted a personal room within the inner palace, but since those are located at the edge of the palace grounds, they rarely catch the emperor’s eyes. Even so, if a consort is ordered to attend to his bedside even once, she can move rooms. A second time chosen holds the meaning of a promotion.
On the other hand, consorts who pass the suitable age without moving his forefinger – limited to those whose families have no substantial political power – would have their ranks lowered. At worst, they could end up bestowed. Whether that is unfortunate depended on the person – it seems for the palace ladies, it is most terrifying for them to be bestowed to a eunuch.
Maomao lightly knocked on the door.
“Leave that over there.”
Only allowed on Creativenovels.com
Replying bluntly was the maid who opened the door.
There was a consort with a wafting saccharine scent waving a wine cup about inside.
Before entering the inner palace, she was praised to have a beautiful figure. She was, after all, like a frog in a well. After she got overpowered by the other gorgeous flowers and got her pride crushed, she hadn’t tried to leave her room lately.
(No one will come for you if you just stay inside.)
Maomao accepted the laundry from the room next door and returned to the washing area.
There was still a lot of work left.
It wasn’t that she liked it. She planned to work for her pay.
Diligent by nature, that was the former pharmacist Maomao.
She could eventually leave if she worked obediently.
By no means would she be chosen as a mistress. That would be impossible.
It is regrettable that it can be said that Maomao’s thoughts had been too optimistic.
No one knows what will happen. That’s life.
For a seventeen-year-old maiden, she possessed farsighted thinking.
Even so, she had something that she couldn’t restrain.
Her curiosity and thirst for knowledge.
And, her little sense of justice.
In a couple of days, Maomao will be exposed to a certain strange truth.
The serial deaths of the infants born from the inner palace.
For Maomao, the thing called the Previous Concubine’s Curse wasn’t bizarre or anything at all.
As you probably all know, Kusuriya no Hitorigoto is a Japanese novel that is based on Ancient China. Hence, you will probably also realise that the names are all Japanese transliterations of Chinese words.
Note: though it really is a mix between the actual Chinese reading transliterated as best as possible into the Japanese sound system, or the Japanese Chinese reading (on’yomi) of the kanji. There’s no clear pattern; the same Chinese-character used can have a different pronunciation between different characters in the story – Case in point: Ruomen and Rakan → Ruo (Luo) and Ra are both 『羅』.
I intend to keep them as the Japanese transliteration (how the author had written the pronunciation in furigana) to go in line with it being a Japanese novel (and because it’s easier to deal with the issues mentioned above), but for people who are curious what the names are in Chinese (romanised into English), the list is here.
Also, I’m on a mission to fix up the translations of this novel, since I’ve been told many times that the quality is not up to par, if you encounter any chapters/sections that you find difficult to understand/follow, let me know in the comments below that chapter or let me know directly by email ([email protected]) or discord (AuriCa#7564). Thanks very much.