When noon came around, Maomao alternated with Honnyan to wait behind Consort Gyokuyou.
Hearing Infa’s advice, the three kanzashi she received were all slipped to her sash for the time being. Since what Consort Gyokuyou had given her was a necklace, wearing one kanzashi should have been fine. But that would make a difference in merit to the kanzashi she didn’t wear.
It was quite a spectacle to view the banquet once again from the seats of honour.
Military officials lined the west side, and civil officials lined the east. Sitting at about one-fifth from the middle of the long table, was Gaoshun on a seat on the military official side. Though she realised that he was more of a big-shot that she had thought, she was surprised the eunuch was able to line up there without feeling out of place.
The large man from before was also sitting there. He was closer to the lower seats than Gaoshun, but he might be more successful considering his age.
In contrast, Jinshi was nowhere to be seen. Seeing as he sparkled to that degree, he should be someone she would find easily though.
As there was no need to find him, she decided to devote herself to her main job.
The wine came first thing before the meal. They were slowly poured from glass containers into silver cups.
She shook the cup slowly, checking to see if there were cloudiness in the places she touched.
It would blacken if there was arsenic poison.
She sniffed the cup while she slowly turned it and held the contents in her mouth. Though she knew there was no poison, if a food taster didn’t swallow, the food tasting wouldn’t be recognised. She moistened her throat with a gulp, then rinsed her mouth with fresh water.
It turns out that people were observing her.
The other food tasters had yet to drink from their cups.
After they confirmed that nothing happened to Maomao, they timidly raised their cups to their lips.
(Well, that’s normal.)
Everyone is afraid of death.
If there was anyone who tried first, it was safest to watch to make sure before they do it themselves.
(If you have to use poison at the banquet, it would have to be fast acting.)
Among those people, the one who would deliberately ingest poison would be only Maomao. In this world, there isn’t such a rare type of person.
(If you must, fugu(The pufferfish. Its innards contain lethal amount of the paralysing neurotoxin tetrodotoxine, especially in its liver, ovaries, eyes and skin) would be good. The guts would nicely dissolve into the soup.)
That numbing feeling on the tip of the tongue was irresistible. To get that feeling, Maomao didn’t know how many times she repeatedly pumped her stomach and vomited. As she thought about that, she locked eyes with a maid who was bringing in the appetisers. The corner of her lips raised. It seems she was grinning evilly. It seems she was completely charmed by it.
Maomao returned to her usual expressionless face.
The appetiser she received was a dish that occasionally came out as supper, being the emperor’s favourite food.
It looks like the meal was cooked from the inner palace side. The usual thing.
As the other food tasters were staring at Maomao, she hurriedly picked it up with her chopsticks.
It was a fish and vegetable namasu(A raw fish dish slightly pickled in rice vinegar for a couple of hours).
Though he was lusty old man, the food taster had to say that his eating habits were unexpectantly aimed towards health.
(The setting is wrong.)
It wasn’t the usual ingredients.
It couldn’t be that they made a mistake with the recipe of the emperor’s favourite food.
If that was the case, this here had to be something made for a different consort.
The inner palace’s Meal Duty were capable at their job. Even if they used the same menu, they cooked the emperor’s and the consort’s meals separately.
When Consort Gyokuyou was nursing, they prepared a menu for continuous milk production.
The food tasting ended. Seeing everyone in the middle of eating the appetiser, she decided it really was just a mistake in setting.
Consort Riishu, the one who couldn’t read the atmosphere, was paled faced.
(Is this something she hates?)
With the emperor’s favourite food before her, there was no way the consort could leave it.
So she endured and was eating it.
When Maomao looked behind the consort, her food taster maid had closed her eyes, lips trembling. Maomao saw and understood the faint arc those lips drew.
(I saw something unpleasant.)
Returning her gaze, Maomao received the next dish.
It would be good if this was a normal banquet.
Rihaku felt he was unable to fit in with high-class nobles who look down from the palace circles.
How is this fun, he thought, to have a banquet outside in the cold and wind?
No, it would be fine if it was just a banquet. Just like the olden days, enjoying alcohol and meat with mutual companions in a peach garden would be certainly fun.
However, when there are nobles together, there is always poison in hand.
The cuisines – no matter what high-class ingredients, what secret techniques employed – its deliciousness would be halved by the time the food tasting is over.
It wasn’t that he was blaming the food tasters. But seeing their frightened, pale faces as they slowly eat from their spoon every single time, that was what kills his appetite.
Today as well, he thought they are taking an awfully long time for the same pointless thing.
However, it was somehow a little different.
Usually, it was a given that all the food tasters would look at each other as they take their turns holding the spoon.
Today, however, there was a recklessly enthusiastic food taster.
The Noble Consort’s food taster, a short maid with not even one kanzashi seen on her, swirled a silver cup before drinking from it.
After she slowly swallowed it, she rinsed her mouth as if it was nothing.
Thinking back, he was sure he had seen her from somewhere and had given her a kanzashi not so long ago. She was neat but wasn’t much of a looker. The type that to be quite hidden among the beautiful palace ladies of the inner palace.
However, she was a girl, who was expressionless in some respects, with piercing eyes that captivated others.
For such an unfriendly girl, she was surprisingly expressive.
While thinking she was expressionless, she suddenly grinned for some reason, and when he was thinking about that, her face returned to what was before, and this time she was making a sullen face.
And yet, she was tasting for poison as if it was natural. She was so strange.
He wondered what sort of face she would make next. It was the perfect time waster.
The soup was presented. The girl put her spoon in it. She peered at it, slowly placed on the tip of her tongue.
He thought that the girl’s eyes widened for an instant, and she suddenly smiled as though she was melting in intoxication.
Her cheeks were flushed, eyes on the verge of watering. Her lips drew an arc, and from her slightly parted lips, he saw white teeth and a captivating tongue.
This was why women are terrifying.
Those lips that licked up that drop, was like a ripe fruit smile of a high-class courtesan.
The cooking must be indescribably delicious.
To make an ordinary girl make such a fascinating act, was it something inside it, or was it the skills of the imperial court’s cooks?
The time he was gulping down saliva, an unbelievable act came from the girl.
She took a hand towel from her bosom and spat out what she just ate.
“It’s, poison.” The maid, who was expressionless again, stated her task matter and disappeared behind the curtain.
The end of the banquet was announced amid the commotion.