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It was really by chance that Maomao slipped out the Jade Palace, not sleeping, in the middle of the night.
The Pure Consort will be leaving the inner palace tomorrow.
For some reason, she went outside and was walking about aimlessly. Though it wasn’t cold to the point of freezing, it was already winter, so she went out wearing two padded layers.
As usual, the inner palace seemed to be brimming with love that was quite unhealthy, so she had to take care to not mistakenly peek in the thickets and concealed places.
Suddenly, she saw the half-moon in the sky and recalled Princess Fuyou. She decided to take the opportunity to ascend the outer wall. She wanted to fancy that she had moon viewing wine since she was already doing it, but she gave up as there wasn’t any at the Jade Palace. She was in the mood for some viper wine – it’s been a while.
She wedged her foot on the section of the brick that protruded at the corner of the outer wall, and skilfully clambered up. As her skirt might hook onto something, she had to pay extra care to it.
Anyhow, as far as the smoke goes, the moon and stars lit up the capital, so of course, high places are pleasant. The bright lights she could see in the distance should be the pleasure district. It was appropriate that it was called the night district. No doubt the chat between the flower and the bees were starting.
With no plans to do anything, she sat over the edge of the wall and decided to look at the sky while swinging her legs.
“Oh, someone got here before me?”
Maomao heard a voice that was neither high or low.
She turned around. A gallant young man wearing trousers was standing there.
No, she had thought it was a young man, but it was Consort Ah Duo. Her hair flowed down her back with a single bun. A large gourd hung down from her shoulders.
“Well, it’s free,” she said.
“That’s fine. Wanna join me for a cup?” Consort Ah Duo displayed sake cups, and Maomao couldn’t find a reason to decline.
She was going to refuse as she normally would with Consort Gyokuyou, but it wouldn’t be uncouth to keep her company for her final evening drink in the inner palace.
Both hands bearing the sake cup, Maomao received the unrefined sake.
It tasted sweet but had low alcoholic content.
With no plans to chat, she savoured the sake slowly. Consort Ah Duo drank heartily from the gourd.
“I’m like a man, right?” the consort asked.
“You look like one when you behave like that,” Maomao said.
“Haha, you’re an honest person.” Consort Ah Duo raised one knee and placed her chin on it. Maomao recognised her fine nose bridge and the long eyelashes that lined her eyes from somewhere. She thought the consort resembled someone, but her mind wasn’t clear.
“Because I lost my son with these hands, I was always the emperor’s friend. No, we might have returned to being friends,” the consort said.
Being beside him as a friend, not behaving as a consort.
As a childhood friend who had been together with him since they were babies.
She never considered that he would choose her as his consort.
She was so sure that she was chosen just to be his instructor as his first partner.
She was an ornamental consort for ten-odd years due to sympathy.
She should have just handed it over earlier.
Why was she clinging onto it?
Consort Ah Duo continued her monologue.
She continued as if Maomao, who was right there, wasn’t there and there was no one else around.
The consort who will be gone tomorrow.
Whatever rumours that would come out of the inner palace was already unrelated to her.
Maomao just kept silent and listened.
Consort Ah Duo stopped her words. She got up, upending the gourd and the contents spilt down into the moat outside the wall.
Seeing the sake that was being poured as if it was a farewell gift, Maomao recalled the maidservant who had committed suicide the other day.
“It must have been cold in the water,” Consort Ah Duo said.
“I guess so,” Maomao replied.
“I wonder if it hurt.”
“I guess so”
“She was a fool.”
“…that might be true.”
“Everyone is a fool.”
“That might be true.”
Maomao somehow understood.
That maidservant really did commit suicide.
And that Consort Ah Duo did know about it.
The everyone that she was talking about, probably also included Fonmin.
There were people who will expend their life for Consort Ah Duo, regardless of her will.
(It’s really a waste.)
She possessed the character and qualifications of one who stands above the people, and yet.
Would the government be better if she was beside the emperor, not as a consort but a different figure?
As she thought of such absurd things, Maomao gazed at the white moon.
There were many onlookers gathered at the main gate.
The former consort who had lived in the inner palace for an extremely long time was wearing large sleeves and a skirt, different to last night, that really didn’t really fit her.
Some of the palace ladies around her were biting their handkerchiefs.
No doubt the consort that looked like a gallant young man was an object of admiration for the young palace ladies.
Jinshi stood in front of Consort Ah Duo, accepting something. It was the coronet that was proof of the Pure Consort. This, soon enough, will be passed on to another woman.
(It would be better if they swapped clothes.)
Features that were like a celestial maiden, and features that were like a gallant young man. Though the two looked completely different, she strangely felt that they resembled each other.
It seems that person who she thought resembled Consort Ah Duo last night was Jinshi.
If Consort Ah Duo was in Jinshi’s position, what would happen?
It was a completely absurd thought.
Consort Ah Duo’s behaviour wasn’t like a miserable woman who was driven out of the inner palace at all.
She had the majestic bearing of one who looked accomplished, having pridefully fulfilled her job.
Suddenly, inevitable speculation sprang into her mind.
Why was she that dignified?
She didn’t accomplish the consort’s duty.
‘I lost my son with my own hands.’
She recalled Consort Ah Duo’s words from yesterday.
(Lost? Not dead?)
From the way she grasped it, it could be also taken as he was still alive.
The reason Consort Ah Duo didn’t give birth was that it had overlapped with the empress dowager’s childbirth. The imperial brother and the consort’s child had the relation of uncle and nephew. Furthermore, having been born at roughly the same time, wouldn’t they resemble each other like twins?
(What if they were switched?)
When Consort Ah Duo was giving birth, she must have known deeply. Of which one of the two babies who will be raised carefully from now on.
That the one with the greater protection would be empress dowager’s, not Consort Ah Duo’s, the daughter of the wet nurse.
The Consort Ah Duo, who had a difficult recovery after childbirth, probably couldn’t make a judgement on what was right.
However, if her own son will be saved by swapping – that was Consort Ah Duo’s desire.
If this was exposed in the future.
If it was after the real imperial brother died.
Her dad wasn’t just banished, he also received physical punishment. Because he didn’t realise that they were swapped.
Even about the imperial brother having in a small position.
Even the reason the manly Consort Ah Duo continued to remain in the inner palace.
(This is truly absurd.)
Maomao shook her head.
It was a stupid fantasy. Even the three girls of the Jade Palace wouldn’t make a leap in thoughts to this point.
(I can’t stand to keep looking any longer.)
Just as Maomao was going to return to the Jade Palace, someone brushed past in a hurry in front of her.
A girl with young charming looks. It was Consort Riishu.
She ran towards the main gate, making no signs of noticing Maomao.
That food taster woman was behind her, out of breath as she followed.
And behind them, not even running, were the rest of the maids who looked like they couldn’t be bothered.
(They are just the same. Except for one person.)
Maomao wasn’t going to do anything. There was no way she could live in this garden of women if she couldn’t manage her own followers herself.
Only that, at least, she wasn’t alone now.
That much should be better.
Consort Riishu, when she came before Consort Ah Duo, robotically stuck out her left arm and left leg at the same time. She tripped on the hem of her skirt and fell face first onto the ground.
At the Consort Riishu who looked as though she was about to cry at the sounds of the laughter around her, Consort Ah Duo wiped her face with a towel.
On the face of the gallant consort who was like a young man, there was the face of a mother.
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.