Maomao was stuck with being carefully nursed the moment she returned to the Jade Palace.
She was forced, dumbfoundedly, into a change of clothes, and was thrown into a vacant bedroom with a high-class futon laid out, not the narrow room she usually used.
The futon was made from high-class cotton, a world of difference to the usual bed that was just piled with straw matting.
“My body doesn’t feel strange, and I already drank the antidote.” Truthfully speaking, the antidote was meaningless. It was that sort of poison.
“What are you saying? The cabinet minister who ate it was super terrible afterwards. There’s no way that he was fine just because he vomited.” Infa worriedly placed the damp cloth on her forehead.
(What a truly foolish cabinet minister.)
He should have vomited out properly as an initial treatment.
Even if she was curious, she couldn’t leave here now, so she decided to close her eyes as there was nothing else she could do.
It was a pointlessly long day.
She woke up before noon, having accumulated quite a bit of tiredness.
For a maid, this was bad.
After she woke up and changed, she decided to look for Honnyan.
She returned to her own room to look for the face powder she always used. Though it’s a face powder, it wasn’t the pure white thing that everyone used. Rather, it was what she always used to make her freckles.
She applied the powder in front of the polished copper mirror, patting the areas around the tattoo with her fingertips. She particularly coated the top of her nostrils densely.
(I should be going bare-faced at this point.)
It was troublesome having to explain it over and over again.
On the contrary, she wondered if she should just hide the freckles, but that, in its own way, was embarrassing. It probably left an impression of a girl falling in love for the first time that she became prettier – somehow that misunderstanding would be mortifying for her.
She ate one mooncake from the remaining snacks as she was hungry.
Honnyan was looking after the imperial princess at Consort Gyokuyou’s place.
She couldn’t take her eyes off the energetic imperial princess and had her hands full of it, like having to remove the bed-sheet so that it won’t be pulled off, or holding the chair used for walking practice for the princess.
“I sincerely apologise about oversleeping.” Maomao bowed deeply.
“It would have been fine if you took a rest today.” Consort Gyokuyou smacked her cheeks with a troubled expression and tilted her head.
“That cannot do. Please instruct me if there is anything.” She said something like that, but in actual fact, seeing how she normally went about doing her own things, so it would be fine whether there was anything or not.
“Freckles…” Consort Gyokuyou brought up a topic she really didn’t want her to mention.
“I’m not comfortable with it, so can we leave it like this?” Maomao asked.
“You have a point.” She backed down surprisingly easily.
Maomao faced the consort with a dubious face.
“Everyone came close asking who in the world that maid was. It was dreadful,” the consort said.
“I sincerely apologise.”
“That face is convenient because it’s not recognisable at a glance.”
Maomao had planned to go about peacefully, but it didn’t seem to be the case.
Exactly what went wrong?
“Also, Gaoshun has been here since this morning. He seemed so free he didn’t know what to do, so he’s outside weeding for me.”
As expected of the diligent man, though she was pretty sure that he was a significantly high official. Surely, there was no doubt that he powerfully seizing the hearts of the other maids.
“May I use the living room?” Maomao asked.
“Go ahead. We’ll get him at once.” Consort Gyokuyou took the imperial princess from Honnyan.
Honnyan left the room to call Gaoshun.
It would have been faster if she went herself, but Consort Gyokuyou stayed her hand. And so, she moved to the living room.
“This is from Jinshi-sama,” Gaoshun hurriedly greeted her as soon as he arrived and placed the cloth bundle on the table.
She opened the silver bowl. The soup that was served was inside.
Originally, it wasn’t for Maomao. It was supposed to be Consort Gyokuyou’s food.
She refused yesterday, but in the end, they politely bought it over for her. As they had been persistent about it, in another meaning she had been ordered to investigate the case.
“Please don’t eat it,” Gaoshun said.
“I won’t eat it,” she assured him.
(Silver tarnishes severely, after all)
Gaoshun probably didn’t know the other reason why she wasn’t eating it.
He looked at her doubtfully.
Maomao held the bowl, taking care to not touch it directly, and squinted at it.
Not the contents of the bowl, but the bowl itself.
“Did you hold this with your bare hands?” she asked.
“No. I only mixed the potentially poisoned contents with a spoon.” He was against touching poisonous things. To not touch it, he wrapped it up with a cloth.
Hearing that, Maomao’s lips curved. “I see. Please wait a second.”
Maomao left the living room and went to the kitchen.
With a rustle, she took out something.
Next, she went to the bedroom she slept in just then.
She bowed her head at the high-class mattress and unravelled the seams of the cloth. She returned to the living room with its contents.
What she bought in were white powder and soft-looking cotton.
Maomao rolled the cotton into a ball and added the powder.
She patted the silver container down with it.
Gaoshun tilted his head, peering close. “Well.”
Traces of powder remained on the bowl.
“These are touch marks of human hands,” Maomao said.
Fingers break out in oil easily and so leave marks on metals on contact.
It was much more so for severely tarnishable silver utensils.
There was a time, in the past, where her dad stained the bowls that Maomao wasn’t allowed to touch as a prevention against her pranks.
Using that as a reference, it went surprisingly well when she tried out on a whim. The finer the powder, the more clearly you can see the marks.
“You must wipe it with a cloth before you use silver utensils. It’s pointless if there’s tarnish on it.”
There were several fingerprints on the bowl.
She could make many guesses on how it was held based on just the finger sizes and location.
(As I thought, even the markings can be read out.)
“The one who held the bowl…” She realised she made the mistake of starting to speak.
That didn’t escape Gaoshun. “Did something happen?”
There was no reason to keep a poor secret.
It couldn’t be helped that yesterday’s trick became pointless.
“It should be four people in total, who touched this bowl.” She pointed at the white prints, not touching it with her finger. “As your fingers don’t touch the bowl when you polish it, it would be the one who served the soup, the one who set the table, and the Virtuous Consort’s food taster plus one other person.”
Gaoshun raised his fearless face to look at Maomao. “Why did the food taster do that?”
If possible, she wanted to go through with it peacefully.
That was dependent on the looks of this stoic man.
“It’s simple.” Maomao set down the container. A bitter expression ran across her face. “Bullying.”
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.