As there was still a short time before the Garden Party began, Consort Gyokuyou and her maids went to pass the time at the gazebo in the garden.
Rainbow carp splashed in the lake, and the few remaining autumn leaves dyed in red scattered through the air.
“All this was thanks to you,” Consort Gyokuyou told Maomao.
Though there was enough sunlight, the winds were cold and harsh. Normally, they would be shivering in the cold, but because of the underwear with the pocket warmers, no one suffered to that extent.
Even Imperial Princess Rinrii, whom everyone had been worried about, was curled up into a ball inside the basket. There were heated stones just like what they had been using in the basket with her.
“As you can get low-temperature burns, when you remove the Imperial Princess’ heated stone(hand warmers) occasionally, please wrap it with a cloth when you replace it. Also, please take note of any stinging in the mouth if you eat too much of the candy.” Maomao said.
Maomao put the replacement heated stone inside the handbasket. The imperial princess’ diapers and change of clothes were also inside. The brazier to warm the heated stones was already requested and brought in by a eunuch.
“I understand. That said,” the consort leaked out an impish giggle. The other maids were also smiling wryly. “You are my maid after all,” she pointed at the jade necklace.
“That is certainly true.” Maomao decided to capture the moment of those words.
Gaoshun gazed at his master who was inquiring about the Virtuous Consort’s mood.
Jinshi, who possessed the nectar of the heavens and a celestial maiden’s smile, was more bewitching that the Virtuous Consort, who was admired as a beauty despite her young age.
The consort was clad in luxurious and gorgeous clothing and her hair was adorned with a silver kanzashi, and yet she was overshadowed before his ordinary plain official robes with some embroidery.
Having come this far, he was a disagreeable existence, but seeing how the overshadowed consort herself was entranced, her eyes glazed, it didn’t seem to be an issue.
What a sinful human.
After visiting the three consorts, they headed towards Consort Gyokuyou’s place next.
They found them at the gazebo in the direction of the lake.
Though Jinshi had equal contact with the Four Madames, nothing could be done lately about Consort Gyokuyou’s strong backing. Well, as far as she was called the Emperor’s Favoured Consort, it shouldn’t be viewed as a problem, but it was clear that there were other reasons to it too.
He bowed to the consort. Praised her well-fitting red outfit.
Certainly, she was fittingly beautiful. The Barbarian Princess’ mysteriousness and her natural fascinating elegance was saturated in the air about her as well.
It was likely that, regarding the brilliance inside the inner palace, the person who could be favourably compared to Jinshi is Consort Gyokuyou.
While it may be true, it wasn’t that the court ladies around him were not beautiful. It’s just that each one of them paled in comparison to his personal charm.
The amazing part of Jinshi was that he could say that precisely.
Everyone had parts of themselves they want others to admire. That was aptly reached.
Jinshi does not lie.
It’s just that he doesn’t speak the truth.
He feigned serenity, but the left corner of his lips was slightly quirked. As his attendant, who served him for many years, he understood. It was an expression a child would make in front of a toy. How troubling.
While pretending to look at the imperial princess’ face, he approached the short maid.
Standing there with expressionlessly, looking down somewhere while making an excessively disrespectful face, was an unfamiliar maid.
“Pleasant day to you, Jinshi-sama.” Maomao was careful to not let her ‘Here again, you leisurely scoundrel?’ expression come out. As Gaoshun was watching, she wanted to be gentle for as much as she could.
“Are you wearing make-up?” Jinshi asked.
“No, I’m not.” She wasn’t wearing any make-up aside from the rouge on her lips and the corner of her eyes. There were still some light spots around her nose, but she didn’t mind it.
“Your freckles are erased,” Jinshi said.
“Indeed, because I erased them,” Maomao said.
What remained was the tattoo she gave herself by stabbing herself with a needle a long time ago. She didn’t stab deeply, so the pale dye should disappear within a year.
“You erased it with make-up, didn’t you?” he pressed.
“I erased it when I removed the make-up.”
(Ahh, I should’ve just said ‘yeah sure’ at the right time…)
Maomao belatedly noticed that she made a mistake in her reply.
“What you said is strange. There’s a contradiction,” he said.
“No. There is no such thing,” she said.
Make-up isn’t just used to beautify. There were also cases where middle-aged women specifically used make-up to make themselves look unattractive.
The product made of dried clay and mixed with dye, Maomao applied around her nose every day. She skilfully obscured the tattooed freckles by turning them into spots. What she did was by no means intentional; it was that no one noticed it.
A woman with freckles and spots, with a face that didn’t particularly stand out.
That was why she was called an ugly woman.
To put it another way, if she didn’t have the freckles and spots, her face would just be said as uncharacteristic – in other words, an average, plain face.
With even a little bit of rouge, she can change the atmosphere. The ordinary-looking Maomao can look completely different.
Jinshi clutched his head at Maomao’s explanation, as if he somehow couldn’t understand her. “Why would you do that kind of make-up? Is there any meaning to it?”
“Yes. It is so I won’t be taken into the back alleys.”
The pleasure district – being what it is – had those who hungered for women. Most of those guys don’t have money, are violent, and mental illnesses were common among them.
Of course, she would want to excuse herself from that.
The flabbergasted Jinshi, for some reason, timidly asked her. “Have you ever been taken?”
“They tried.” So he could understand what she said, she glared at him with narrowed eyes. “Instead I have been kidnapped by human traffickers.”
It was better for women sold to the inner palace to be attractive. That time, she forgot her make-up when she went out to harvest the medicinal herbs. It had been for the dyes of her fading tattoo.
“I’m sorry. The management wasn’t thorough,” he said.
“It’s fine. There isn’t much distinction between selling someone as kidnappers and selling someone to reduce the number of mouths to feed. It’s all the same,” she told him.
The former was criminal, the latter was legal. Even a kidnapper couldn’t be punished if the person they bought didn’t know that distinction.
Right now, the reason to her using this sort of make-up in the inner palace was the same as her hiding her ability to write. Although it now no longer mattered, her sudden make-up-less face was only just a matter of not knowing the timing.
“Ahh. I’m sorry.”
(He’s unusually meek.)
As he was looking up, he stuck quickly something on her head.
“That hurts,” she said.
“Does it? Have this.” He wasn’t smiling his usual saccharine smile. His face was also mixed with embarrassment and gloominess.
When she felt her head, she felt something cold and metallic in her hair even though she wasn’t wearing anything.
“Well then, I’ll see you at the assembly place.” Jinshi turned his back and left the gazebo just like that.
Stuck in her hair was a man’s silver kanzashi.
“Ahh, how nice,” Infa said.
Maomao thought to give it to Infa who looked like she really wanted it, but the other two had the same expressions so she had no choice but to draw in her hands.
Honnyan made a wry smile.
“Aw, you broke the promise so quickly.” Consort Gyokuyou looked peevish. She took the kanzashi from Maomao’s hand and neatly fastened it in her tied-up hair. “It looks like you’re not just my maid now.”
For good or evil, Maomao was especially estranged from the talk of the upper echelons of the Imperial Court.
She didn’t know the significance it represented.