I want to go back, I want to go back, the pleasure district she repeatedly mentioned wasn’t that far away.
The size was one of the inner palace, no different from one town, but it was completely surrounded by the royal capital.
The pleasure district was opposite the imperial court. If you cross the high wall and deep moat, it was within walking distance.
(Even though it’s a luxury to go by carriage)
Rihaku, the big man sitting beside her, was humming as he held the horse’s reins.
He had taken her words as truth and passed over the wooden slips.
So he could meet the courtesans he yearned for – was it that sort of thing?
Those you call courtesans should not be all counted as the same.
If there were those who sold their bodies, there were those who sold their art.
Only those called favourites get a lot of customers. Their value increases because of that.
Just drinking a cup of tea with them will cost silvers. The price is even more unreasonable for sleeping and the like.
This type of revered existences become a type of idol and are admired by the townspeople.
There are even those among the town girls who admire that and knock on the gates of the red-light district. Even though those that become that are few in between.
The Rokushoukan was well-established even within the royal capital’s pleasure district. It holds a selection of middle to the highest-class courtesans.
The ones who Maomao call Older Sisters were among the top-class.
She could see the nostalgic scenery from the noisily rocking carriage.
The fragrant aroma from the shop of the kushiyaki(Grilled meat and vegetable skewers. A call back to the first line of the first chapter) she had wanted to eat spread across the street. Willow trees swayed along the waterway. The rising voices of firewood vendors.
When they passed through the magnificent gate, a world covered in rich colours spread out.
It was still daytime. There were few people walking about, but courtesans with free time waved their hands over the handrails on the second floor.
The horse carriage stopped in front of a roukaku with a large conspicuous gate.
Maomao rushed over to the old woman standing by the entrance the moment she lightly descended from the horse carriage.
“It’s been a while, Gran.” She said to the skinny woman who was biting on a pipe. A long time ago, she had been a courtesan said to have tears of pearl. Nowadays, she became wizened like a dead tree – her tears had dried up completely. She also refused her redeeming and continued to work even after her term of service ended. Now, she became a madam who everyone was afraid of. Time was cruel.
“What is this? It has been a while. You foolish girl,” the crone said.
The crone punched a fist through the pit of her stomach.
It was mysterious that Maomao thought that even the taste of her mouth souring from the regurgitation of gastric juices was nostalgic.
How many times in the past did she vomit back out excessive poison like this?
Rihaku, who was a good person at heart, stroked Maomao’s back while not understanding what was going on.
His face said, “The hell is this hag?”
Maomao covered the polluted ground with dirt using her toes.
Rihaku, who was next to her, looked at her in concern.
“Hmm, is this the honoured guest?” The crone appraised Rihaku with her eyes.
The carriage was entrusted to the shop’s manservant.
“Good physique. Looks are also handsome. Doesn’t he look like the promotion stock that people are talking about?” the crone said.
“Gran, what are you trying by saying that in front of the person?” Maomao said.
The madam feigned ignorance and called for a kamuro(Young girls who acted as assistants to courtesans. They grow up to become courtesans themselves) who was sweeping before the gate. “Call for Pairin. She is grinding tea today(Turning tea into powder, like how you would prepare matcha powder. It means she has no guests today).”
“Pairin….” Rihaku swallowed audibly.
That was the courtesan whose name was known as a talented dancer.
For the sake of Rihaku’s honour, it should be said that this wasn’t a simple lust for a simple courtesan, but rather, thoughts of longing.
It was an honour for him, even if it’s just sitting together for tea, to meet the idol from above the clouds with his own eyes.
(Pairin huh, it might possibly be possible.)
“Rihaku-sama.” Maomao nudged the large man who was engrossed in his thoughts. “Do you have confidence in your biceps?”
“I train my body but I’m not too sure?” he said.
“Is that so. Please do well,” she said.
The large man, his head tilted, left following the little girl.
Maomao was grateful that he brought her along up to this point. Of course, she meant to give back something suitable in return.
That dream of one night would become the memory of a lifetime.
“Maomao,” the owner of the hoarse voice made a terrifying smile. “You disappeared without contact for ten months.”
“It can’t be helped. I was working at the inner palace,” she said.
The general explanation was written on the wooden slip.
“Although I’ll reject at a glance, I’ll look after him just this time.”
“I know already.” Maomao took out a bag from her bosom.
It was half of the wages she earned from the inner palace up until now.
“This much, wouldn’t be enough,” the crone said.
“Of course not, I didn’t think you would call out Pairin-neechan(Neechan (older sister) because it was how it was labelled a couple of chapters back. She is actually referred to as 小姐, a Chinese title for Miss).”
She had brought enough money expecting a night of blissful dream with a high-class courtesan for him.
Even Rihaku would be satisfied with just a glance of the Three Princesses.
“Wouldn’t that just barely be insufficient for a seat for tea?” she said.
“Fool. With that physical strength, there’s no way Pairin would do nothing.”
(I knew it.)
Though it can be said that the top-class courtesans don’t sell their body, it doesn’t mean that they won’t fall in love.
“That would be what they call an act of god….” Maomao said.
“Don’t be silly. I’ll put it properly on your tab.” The crone replied.
“I said I can’t pay for it.”
(Even if I add in the rest it won’t be enough. No matter how I think.)
Maomao was deep in thought.
No matter she looked at it, it was a commitment.
“What are you saying? At worse you can just use your body to pay for it. You’ll just be transferred from the emperor to a brothel – it won’t be any different. There are dilettantes who are fond of even defective goods like you.”
For these couple of years, the crone has been excessively recommending Maomao to become a courtesan. She, who had devoted her entire life to the pleasure district, had never thought that prostitution was a career of misfortune.
“I still have one year left to my term of service though,” Maomao said.
“In that case, steadily send forth the honoured guests. Not old geezers, but those we can moderately exploit for a long time like the one just then.”
(Umm. As I thought, he’s being exploited.)
The greedy hag only thinks about money.
The idea of selling her body was already passed, so she must moderately send in sacrifices hereafter.
(Could a eunuch even be a customer?)
Though Jinshi’s face rose to her head, that was no good.
The courtesans might become serious and break the store, so that idea was rejected.
Nonetheless, she would feel bad if it were Gaoshun or the quack doctor. It would be hard to get the madam to exploit them.
It was truly inconvenient to not have a rendezvous point.
“Maomao, the geezer should be home right now, so hurry up and go,” the crone said.
“Ahh, I will.”
Even if she thought deeply, she had no solution at present.
Maomao escaped through the side road of the Rokushoukan.
The pleasure district suddenly became desolate the moment she came out from one street.
Rows of shacks, beggars collecting coins with chipped bowls, there were also streetwalkers with syphilis scars.
One of the dilapidated shacks was Maomao’s home.
In the narrow house which only had two rooms of dirt floor, there was a person hunched over using the mortar.
Carved with deep wrinkles, soft features, a man who like an old woman.
“I’m back, Dad,” Maomao said.
“Hey, you’re late.”
He greeted her normally and stumbled off to prepare tea as if nothing happened.
She accepted the tea that had been prepared in a worn teacup.
She told him bits and pieces of everything that had happened until now, and her dad only replied with sounds of listening.
After she had porridge, which had an enormously increased portion of medicinal herbs and potatoes, for dinner, she decided to sleep. She will take a bath from the hot water she will receive from the Rokushoukan tomorrow.
She curled up in a simple bed that was just a straw mat laid out on the dirt floor.
Her dad piled clothes on her and grounded the mortar tirelessly like a stove fire.
“The inner palace huh. It must be fate.” The words her father muttered faded away amid her sleepiness.