Prominent consorts also held tea parties.
Consort Gyokuyou also performed this job almost every day. She would hold it at the Jade Palace, and at other times, be invited to another consort’s place.
(A super important way sound each other out.)
Maomao wasn’t very fond of tea parties.
They would chat about the latest clothing fads and cosmetics.
Probing each other as they conversed about trifling things, no doubt, the microcosm of the inner palace spreads from here.
(And they look so gentle too. Truly consorts.)
Chatting with Consort Gyokuyou, was a middle-ranking consort from the west.
Though Maomao didn’t know the specifics, it seemed that Consort Gyokuyou was from an important family no matter her future relationship with them.
It was common for many of the other consorts to impulsively let their feelings show when they chat with the cheerful Consort Gyokuyou.
Writing up a note on that, was one of Consort Gyokuyou’s jobs.
(Even though she stayed up till very late last night. Could it be that she can’t sleep?)
The emperor would visit the Favoured Consort, Gyokuyou’s place every three days. It was to see his daughter who had started to walk with help, but well, it goes without saying that wasn’t the only reason for his visits.
He would ask about various lively topics to not make light of the consort’s afternoon job too.
At the end of the tea party, Maomao received a huge amount of teacakes from Infa. She wasn’t that she won’t eat them, but there were just too much. So, she forwarded the teacakes to Shaoran as usual.
Shaoran, who occasionally spoke with a lisp, talked to her about rumours, keeping her up to date as usual.
It was about the maidservant who had committed suicide. Her relation to poisoning incident, and, for some reason, about the Pure Consort.
“Well, age is just a number for the Four Madames,” Shaoran said.
Consort Gyokuyou was nineteen. Consort Rifa was twenty-three. Consort Riishu was fourteen.
Consort Ah Duo(阿多, Ah Duo), the Pure Consort, was thirty-five. One year older than the emperor.
Consort Ah Duo may still able to give birth, but based on the inner palace system, she would have no choice but to be turned away from bedroom activities due to her age(お褥すべり, lit. slip from the cushion).
In other words, it was impossible for her to become the empress dowager hereafter.
It seems that the talks of her stepping down for a new high-ranking consort had come up.
It was something that had come up quite a while ago. She had been a consort since the time the emperor was the crown prince and had been the mother of a male infant once, so she had a considerably strong start.
(Was she the mother of the male infant who had died previously?)
At this rate, would Consort Rifa end up the same way, having fallen pregnant with the emperor’s child too?
Not just that. It can’t be declared that Consort Gyokuyou will always continue to receive his favour.
After all, beautiful flowers too will someday become withered.
There was no meaning for the flowers of the inner palace to be truly tied together.
Although she had gotten accustomed to it, she thought that the inner palace was truly beneath the muddy dregs.
Maomao brushed off the crumbs of the mooncake she ate and looked up to the heavy clouds that covered the sky.
The disposition of today’s tea party companion had changed a little.
The companion was Consort Riishu, a member of the Four Madames just like Consort Gyokuyou.
It was rare to have a tea party with a consort with the same rank, especially so for high ranking consorts.
The youthful Consort Riishu looked nervous. She had brought along four maids with her.
That food taster was also there.
It seems that she didn’t receive punishment, as far as Maomao’s worry was concerned.
As it was cold outside, the tea party was taken inside.
The eunuchs were used to prepare a couch for the maids in the parlour.
There was a roundtable inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The curtains were exchanged with a new embroidered one.
Honestly, they didn’t pay this much attention when the emperor visited, but it would be women who would stand on guard against the same gender.
The make-up was also imbued with fighting spirit. Maomao’s usual freckle make-up was cleared off. The corners of her eyes were lined with red for intimidation.
Maybe it was wisdom from age; Consort Gyokuyou was talking constantly and Consort Riishu did nothing else save nod timidly.
The maids who were waiting behind wasn’t looking at their own master. Rather, they glanced around the room as if they were curious about the furniture in the Jade Palace.
Only the food taster stood behind the consort in a way that she was facing Maomao. Before, she had looked at Maomao, who had threatened her, imploringly.
(This is somehow…)
She would prefer that these maids and the maids from the Crystal Palace would stop treating her like a monster.
(They look like very normal maids at a glance.)
Maomao had previously reported to Gaoshun that they bullied their consort. It would be slightly troubling if she was mistaken, but it would be a happy thing.
Maomao, comparing them with the select few Jade Palace maids with a peek, thought their movements were slow, but they did their job. Well, since today’s tea party host was Consort Gyokuyou, their work itself was scarce.
Airan brought in a ceramic jar and hot water.
“You like sweet things, right? Since it’s cold today, I thought maybe we could have this,” Consort Gyokuyou said.
“I like sweet things,” Consort Riishu replied.
The content of the jar was citrus peel boiled in honey. It warms the body and soothes the throat.
Even though she just said she liked sweet things, Consort Riishu paled.
The food taster, who was looking at the honey that was being poured into the bowl, also seemed like she wanted to say something.
(Is honey also no good?)
The maids waiting at the back were saying nothing.
They were just looking at Consort Riishu with amazed faces. As if to say, ‘stop being picky’.
Maomao let out a small breath and whispered into Consort Gyokuyou’s ear.
Consort Gyokuyou, widened her eyes with an ‘oh my’, and called for Airan. “I’m sorry,” she said. “This looks like it needs a little more time to pickle. We took out the wrong thing. Can you drink ginger soup?”
“Yes. That’s fine,” Consort Riishu said.
Her complexion somewhat returned to normal. It seemed changing the tea was the correct answer.
And so, Maomao’s guess, unfortunately, turned out to be true as well.
Though it was for an instant, she met the gaze of the maid who faced her with a look of boredom.
Appearing in the evening was the usual beautiful eunuch. Following along at the back of the celestial maiden’s smile was Gaoshun. Recently, she thought the wrinkles on his brows have increased, but perhaps it increased no matter what worries he had.
“You had the tea party with Consort Riishu, didn’t you?” Jinshi asked.
“Indeed. It was fun,” Maomao said.
This eunuch seemed to rotate around to the Four Madames at fixed intervals. Maybe he had the position of one who supervises the inner palace.
Today’s tea party gathering was somehow strange, but it seemed that this guy was involved with it.
Before she got caught in something troublesome, Maomao was going to withdraw from the room, but of course, she was stopped.
“Shall we talk?” Jinshi asked.
“The talk is already over,” she said.
Even if the celestial maiden’s gaze was looking at her, Maomao could only lower her gaze at the floor. She was sure she was making the eyes of a dead fish.
“Ufufu, you’re quite good friends,” Consort Gyokuyou laughed.
“Gyokuyou-sama, it’s good to massage around your eyes when you have eyestrain.”
Because Consort Gyokuyou was laughing so merrily, she unintentionally replied with sarcasm.
Not good. Not good.
She should restrict the rude remarks to Jinshi.
“Did you hear that the perpetrator of the poisoning incident the other day was the maid who committed suicide?” Jinshi asked.
Maomao nodded. From his tone, he was talking to her, not Consort Gyokuyou.
Consort Gyokuyou looked like she noticed something and left the room herself.
Remaining in the room was just Maomao, Jinshi, and Gaoshun.
“Did the perpetrator really commit suicide?” Maomao asked.
“The one who decided that wasn’t me,” Jinshi replied.
The power of an influential person can change lies into truth.
They didn’t know who it was who laid down the decision, but Jinshi should have some considerable influence to do that.
“I’m like a maidservant at best, but could there be a reason to poison the Virtuous Consort’s dish?” she asked.
“I don’t know myself.” Jinshi smiled. He could use people aptly using that alluring smile.
Unfortunately, it was ineffective on Maomao. Even if he did such a thing, he should know that she can’t refuse if he ordered her.
“Will you come to assist me at the Garnet Palace from tomorrow?”
Even if he phrased it as a question, what does it become?
Maomao could only reply with “By your will”.
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.