“A message from Consort Gyokuyou?” Fonmin asked.
“That’s right. She told me to personally deliver it,” Maomao said.
“Ah Duo-sama is out for a tea party though.”
The plump head maid, Fonmin, looked at Maomao, troubled.
Maomao opened the letterbox she presented. Inside, instead of a document, was a small bottle and one red trumpet-shaped flower. A familiar sweet scent came from the bottle.
As for what that was, it seemed Fonmin knew as well. Her shoulders gave a twitch.
“There is something I want to talk to Fonmin-sama about,” Maomao said.
“I understand.” Fonmin stiffly invited her into the Garnet Palace.
The makeup of Fonmin’s room was roughly the same as Honnyan’s room, but for some reason, her belongings were compacted to the corner of the room. It was like she was done with packing.
(I knew it.)
They faced each other in the room she was invited into with the round table between them. There was a blended tea that warmed the body, and hard bread accompanied it as teacakes. Fruits boiled in honey hung overhead.
“Just what’s happening? The spring cleaning was already good enough.” Though Maomao’s tone was gentle, she said it searchingly.
“That’s right. When will you be made to move?” She glanced at the baggage left in the corner of the room.
“Your judgement is good,” Fonmin said.
The spring cleaning was the cover-up.
Together with the new year greeting, in order to receive the new Four Madame, Consort Ah Duo must leave this palace.
A consort who cannot give birth is unneeded at the inner palace.
It was the same even for a consort who was married for a long time. Consort Ah Duo didn’t have a strong backing.
Being milk siblings with the emperor – a relation deeper than actual blood ties – had probably maintained her position up until now.
At least, if the male infant was still alive, Consort Ah Duo would have stuck out her chest largely(To boast about it).
(Probably, Consort Ah Duo is….)
The gallant figure that was like a young man. That wasn’t a feminine aura.
It was as if, the woman had become something close to a eunuch.
She hated talking about speculation.
But, if she had conviction, she could only speak out.
“Consort Ah Duo can’t give birth anymore,” Maomao said.
“….” Fonmin’s silence was an affirmation. Her expression quickly stiffened.
“Something happened during childbirth.”
“That is unrelated to this.” The middle-aged head maid narrowed her eyes.
That wasn’t the helpful, gentle woman. Hostility burned in her eyes.
“It is related to this. The one who was at the place of childbirth, was my foster father(dad),” Maomao said.
Fonmin stood up and expressionlessly looked at Maomao who had informed her the truth.
The inner palace was always shorthanded on court physicians. The quack doctor was doing as much as he could in his current position to continue to stay.
It was unnecessary to expressly become a eunuch while holding the special position of a court physician. This was what happened to her clumsy dad; he was probably gently pressured to become one.
“Wasn’t the unfortunate thing being that it overlapped with the birth of the emperor’s younger brother? Because of where the scales tipped, Consort Ah Duo’s child-birthing was postponed,” Maomao said.
At the end of a difficult birth, the child was born with no issues, but Consort Ah Duo’s womb was lost.
And then, the child too passed away young.
Although in the same way as the previous poisonous face powder incident, it was questioned whether Consort Ah Duo made her child pass away due to that.
“Does Fonmin-sama feel responsible for that? At that time, the one who assisted on behalf of the Consort Ah Duo who was weak after childbirth should be you.”
“You know anything. You’re just the daughter of the quack who couldn’t even help Ah Duo-sama.”
“I guess so.”
The unavoidable words weren’t to clear up the medical treatment. It was her dad’s words.
Resigned to be slandered as a quack, he was that type of person.
“I was sure that quack prohibited the use of face powder that contained white lead. Because of that, the intelligent you did not let the babies die,” Fonmin said.
Maomao opened the small bottle that was in the letter box. The viscous honey sparkled. Maomao put the red flower that was in it in her mouth.
It tasted like sweet honey. She held the flower, twirled it around with her finger.
“A lot of flowers have poison. Like Aconite and Renge Azalea. There is poison in their honey,” Maomao said.
“I know,” the head maid said.
“I thought so.”
It wasn’t strange for her to have that knowledge if her family were beekeepers.
She wouldn’t give poison that would cause poisoning symptoms to adults to a baby.
“But you didn’t know that mixed in honey is still an effective poison for babies.”
It wasn’t speculation. It was conviction.
Although rare, there was that sort of poison. It was only effective to babies with weak constitutions.
“It was fine even when you tasted for poison. You never thought that the medicine you gave to nourish the baby would completely backfire on you.”
And so, Consort Ah Duo’s child ceased to breathe.
The cause of death was viewed as a mystery.
At the time, her father who used to be the court physician, Ruomen, was banished from the inner palace due to his frequent mistakes, together with the treatment at the time of childbirth. As a physical punishment, the bone of one of his knees was extracted.
“You didn’t want her to know. Consort Ah Duo.”
That she herself was the cause who killed her master’s only child.
“That’s why you thought to make Consort Riishu disappear.”
Consort Riishu had become emotionally attached to Consort Ah Duo, who was the older daughter in law, during the era of the previous emperor.
Consort Ah Duo was affectionate to Consort Riishu.
A young girl who was far from home, and a woman who couldn’t have children. It created a type of co-dependency.
However, suddenly, one day, Consort Riishu was rejected by Consort Ah Duo. No matter how many times she came to see her, she was chased out by Fonmin.
And so, just like this, the previous emperor died, and Consort Riishu retired into religion.
“Consort Riishuu told you that there was poison in the honey, right?”
If Consort Riishu continued visit, she might talk about that.
The inquisitive Consort Ah Duo might notice something from those words.
Fonmin just wanted to avoid that.
The girl who retired to religion, and never thought she would meet a second time, appeared back in the inner palace again.
This time as the same high-ranking consort.
This time with the position to drive off Consort Ah Duo.
And yet, that shameless young girl came to meet Consort Ah Duo as if to seek a mother.
A young girl who couldn’t read the atmosphere, who was ignorant of the ways of the world.
That’s why she thought to make her disappear.
The gentle, helpful head maid wasn’t there. Instead, a woman faced her with a chilling stare. “What do you want?”
“I don’t need that kind of thing.” Maomao felt a tingling sensation on the back of her neck.
On the shelf behind Fonmin was the knife she had used to cut the bread before.
She only needed to stretch her arms out to reach for it.
“Anything is fine,” the head maid said.
“Doesn’t Fonmin-sama yourself know that type of thing is pointless?”
What she investigated from the book a few days ago would have been reported Jinshi.
Maomao probably couldn’t hide secrets from that eunuch who oversees the inner palace. Like the time with Princess Fuyou, she didn’t think she can deceive him.
She should not deceive him.
Jinshi will catch Fonmin if he heard Maomao’s talk.
And then, capital punishment will be unavoidable.
The truth from sixteen years ago will come to light.
That’s why, even if Maomao disappeared here, it will be the same.
Sooner or later, it would be exposed.
The smart head maid should understand that.
What Maomao can do, was only one thing.
Not to hope for a reduction in penalty, nor to speak of dealing with Consort Ah Duo.
Only to decide which one out of the two possible motives.
To just continue hiding that motive from Consort Ah Duo.
“The result will not change. So, if that’s alright with you.”
Please accept my proposal, Maomao said.
Maomao returned to her room in the Jade Palace and collapsed into her hard bed.
Her clothes were sticky with sweat. The clinging scent of the perspiration from the tension was strong, quite stinky. She wanted to take a bath.
At least she could change. She took off her outer garment. The area around her chest to her belly was wrapped in cloth. It was fixed with oiled paper that was layered repeatedly over it.
“It’s good that this wasn’t necessary.”
(It would have hurt if I got stabbed.)
Maomao peeled off the oiled paper and put on a fresh change of clothes.
“And so, Fonmin surrendered,” the blunt maid spoke emotionlessly.
Jinshi had his elbows on the table. He ignored Gaoshun who only faced him when there was something he wanted to say. He wanted to say that his manners were bad.
“Do you know anything?” he asked her.
“What kind of thing?” she said.
“It seemed like you randomly got Gaoshun to gather up books though.”
“Indeed. It became useless in the end.”
She indifferently brushed him off as if she was treating him like a fool.
As usual, she faced him as though she was looking at filthy mud. It was much more refreshing once you look past the rudeness.
“The motive is as you said. It was to maintain the Four Madames seat.”
“Is that so.” She looked at him with absolutely no interest at all.
“It’s unfortunate, but it was determined that Consort Ah Duo will step down from being a high-rank consort. She will leave the inner palace and will now live in the Southern Villa.”
“Is that because of this incident?” Maomao asked in return.
It seemed the cat finally expressed interest in the gold.
“Nah, it was decided from the start. The emperor’s decision,” he said.
Was she being enclosed in the villa without returning home because she was the love of many years?
It was unusual for Maomao to ask something out of interest. He got unintentionally elated.
When he initiated a step closer toward her, for some reason, she put herself on guard and retreated half a step.
I told you so, Gaoshun gave him a look of amazement.
Was she still holding a grudge on the trivial prank from the other day?
Jinshi was quite bothered that he was being guarded against. He sat back down on the chair.
The short palace lady dipped her head. Though she was going to leave, her footsteps suddenly halted.
There was a decoration with a branch of a red trumpet-shaped flower.
“Honnyan decorated just then,” he said.
“I see. It’s blooming offseason.” Maomao, taking the flower, held onto the stem and put it in her mouth.
Jinshi tilted his head. He slowly inched close and copied Maomao.
“It’s poisonous though,” she said.
He spat it out and covered his mouth. Gaoshun came forward with a pitcher of water.
“You won’t die so it’s fine.” The odd girl, who was licking her lips, gave a faint sweet smile.