(I feel like eating grilled skewers(串焼き, kushiyaki) in the outdoors.)
Maomao(猫猫, Mao Mao in Chinese) sighed, looking up at the cloudy sky.
A stunningly beautiful world surrounded her, the best of what she’s ever seen, and she was also in the muddy dregs that teemed with poisonous gas.
(Has it already been three months? I wonder if Dad is eating well.)
She came across three villagers when she went out to look for medicinal herbs in the forest the other day. The kidnappers, their names had been Ichi, Ni, and San.
Hunters of women for the imperial court, they were on an utterly formidable and extremely annoying search for marriage partners, otherwise known as marriage hunting.
Well, you do get paid, and it isn’t a bad place to work since you can return to town after two years of service. But that was for those who came here on their own will.
It was annoying for Maomao who had lived as a pharmacist.
Whether the kidnappers were capturing young girls to sell to eunuchs for alcohol expenses, or they were substituting them for their own daughters, Maomao couldn’t care less. No matter the reason, it didn’t change the fact that she got caught up in it.
If it weren’t for this, she would have wanted nothing to do with the inner palace for as long as she lived.
Palace ladies, adorned with cloying make-up, perfume and beautiful clothes, had superficial smiles plastered on their lips.
The pharmacist had thought thus when she came here. That there was nothing more poisonous than a woman’s smile.
And that there was no difference between the royal court where the courtiers reside and the pleasure district in the castle town.
She gathered up the laundry basket that had been left by her feet, and headed inside the building. A contrast to outside, the dreary courtyard had a stone pond, where servants, that were neither male nor female, were washing a large amount of laundry.
The inner palace is forbidden to men. Only the most exalted person of the country and his blood relatives can enter, as well as former men who lost their precious thing. Of course, the ones here were the latter.
Maomao found it twisted, but it was done because it made sense.
She set down the basket, and looked at the row of baskets in the neighbouring building. They were clean clothes that had been dried in the sun.
She looked at the wooden tags on the handles. They were numbered and painted with pictures of plants.
There were some among the palace ladies who cannot read, as some had been carried off by kidnappers. While they had been taught the absolute minimum etiquette before they were taken to the imperial court, words were difficult. It would be better if the literacy rate of country girls were over half.
You can say that it was the evil of the oversized inner palace—the numbers have increased but the quality is bad.
Although it couldn’t possibly compare to the flower garden of the late emperor, the consorts and palace ladies combined numbered two thousand people, and once you add in the eunuchs, it made three thousand.
Maomao was among the lowest of maidservants. She wasn’t even given a duty. That was reasonable for girls that didn’t have any backing, kidnapped to make up the numbers. Well, she still might have had to chance to be a low ranking concubine if she had a voluptuous body like peony flowers and skin as bright as the full moon. Maomao only had a healthy skin covered in freckles and limbs like withered twigs.
(Let’s finish work quickly.)
Once she found the basket with the plum flower tag, numbered with “One-Seven”, she quickened her pace. She wanted to return to her room before the heavily downcast sky burst into tears.
The owner of the basket of laundry was a low ranking consort. The quality of the furniture in her private room was gorgeous compared to other lower consorts but it was too gaudy. She envisioned that the owner of the room was a merchant’s daughter or something. Once you obtain a ranking, you are entitled to a personal maidservant, but low ranking consorts are allowed two at most. Thus, maidservants who don’t serve a master like Maomao go about carrying laundry.
The low ranking consort was allowed a private room in the inner palace, but it was located on the outskirts, rarely catching the emperor’s eyes. Nonetheless, if you are ordered to serve him at night, you can move rooms. Those who get visited twice had the meaning of promotion.
On the other hand, consorts, who pass the suitable age without giving him the itch, will have their rankings lowered, limited to those from families with no substantial power. At worst, they can get bestowed to another. Whether that was unfortunate also depended on the partner, but palace ladies seem to be most terrified about getting bestowed to a eunuch.
Maomao knocked on the door lightly.
“Set it down over there.”
Answering the door bluntly, was a personal maid.
A consort with a sickly-sweet smell was swirling a wine cup inside.
She had been praised for her beautiful face before she entered the palace, but alas, she was a frog in the well. She was overpowered by all the brilliant flowers, taken down a peg, and hadn’t left her room lately.
(No one will come to see you if you stay in your room.)
Maomao took the laundry basket from the room next door and returned to the washing area.
She still had a lot of work to do.
It wasn’t that she came here on her own accord, but she planned to work for her pay.
Diligent by nature, that was the former pharmacist Maomao.
If she worked unquestioningly, she’ll get out sooner or later.
There was no way she was going to be picked.
Unfortunately, it can be said that Maomao’s thoughts were overly optimistic.
No one knows what’s going to happen; that’s life.
For a seventeen-year-old girl, she had farsighted thinking, but she still had one thing she couldn’t hold back.
Curiosity. Thirst for knowledge.
As well as, just a tiny bit, a sense of justice.
A couple of days later, Maomao will expose the truth of a certain mystery.
The serial deaths of the babies born in the inner palace.
Known as the curse of the concubine of the previous generation, to Maomao, it wasn’t a mystery or anything.
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 in Chinese) 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.