The crown prince’s passing was known when the black bands were delivered during dinner.
Signifying mourning, it was to be worn for seven days.
The meals at those times, which hardly had meat even at the best of times, had none at all, so there were those who frequently pursed their lips.
A lowly maidservant had two meals a day, consisting of a cereal and a soup. Once in a while as a treat, there would be one vegetable dish. The portion sizes were enough for the overly skinny Maomao, but there were many times she thought it was lacking.
There were obvious things when the maids were all lumped together.
If there were those who were born as peasants, there would be town girls too. Though their numbers were few, there were also the daughters of officials. Although with officials as their parents, they should be treated somewhat better, even so, when it came to why they were working here, there was also the question of how the person was raised. Those who could not read or write have no way of becoming consorts with rooms.
A consort is an occupation.
(So it was all meaningless in the end?)
Maomao knew the cause of the crown prince’s illness.
Consort Rifa and her maids had used the white face powder lavishly. It was a high-class item that cannot be obtained by commoners.
It was also used by the brothel’s high-class courtesans. Courtesans who earn a farmer’s lifetime of silver in a single night also use it. If there were those who buy it themselves, there were also those who received it as a gift.
The courtesans ruined their body by applying this white powder copiously onto their face and neck. Several had died from it.
Even though her dad had told them to “Stop it”, they continued with it.
Maomao had also seen many of these courtesans die from weight loss and weakness by her dad’s side.
By trying to have both life and beauty, in the end, they lost both.
That was why she broke off a short branch, wrote a simple message, and left it at the two consorts’ places. Well, she didn’t think that they would believe the warning from a lowly maidservant who had no writing materials.
When the mourning broke, the time when the black bands could no longer be seen, she heard a rumour about Consort Gyokuyou. Apparently, with the crown prince lost, the grieving emperor was affectionate to the surviving imperial princess.
She heard nothing about him going to Consort Rifa who had lost their child.
Maomao gulped down the soup that had small bits of fish in it and headed to her work station where she was to tidy up the tableware.
“A summoning, you say?”
Maomao who was carrying a laundry basket was called to a stop by a eunuch.
It was about going to the Palace Official Chief’s room in the central area.
Palace officials are one of the three divisions in the inner palace – a low ranking palace lady, so to speak. The other two are Inner Officials, the consorts with rooms, and the Eunuchs, who are equivalent to a department of attendants of the inner palace.
(What do they want?)
The eunuch also spoke to the maidservants around her. Looks like it wasn’t just her.
It must be that they don’t have enough people.
Maomao left the basket in front of the room and followed the eunuch.
The Palace Official Chief’s building was close to the main gate, which was one of the four gates that connect the inner palace to the outside. The emperor will surely come through this gate when he visits the inner palace.
She may have been summoned, but it wasn’t really a comfortable place. It was too pretentious.
While it somewhat paled in comparison to the building of the Inner Palace Chief next door, the structure was more extravagant than the buildings of the middle-ranking consorts. Each handrail was carved, and lifelike dragons entwined around each of the red pillars.
When she was urged inside, she saw that the room only had a single large desk. It was tasteless beyond expectations. Not counting Maomao’s group, there were about ten maidservants gathered inside. Their expressions ranged from uneasiness and anticipation to excitement.
“Yes, up to here. All of you can return now.”
It was cut off weirdly for some reason. Only Maomao had entered the room. The rest of the maidservants quizzically left.
Even though the room was still spacious enough to fit more people.
As Maomao tilted her head, she noticed that the gazes of all the palace ladies around her were fixed to a single point.
There was a woman sitting inconspicuously in the corner of the room, where a eunuch worked for her. A senior woman was standing a little far off. She remembered that the middle-aged woman was the Palace Official Chief, but that aside, who was the important looking woman?
Shoulders were wide for a woman. Simple robes. Hair gathered in cloth, with the rest down.
He was looking at the palace ladies with the tender smile of a celestial maiden. The Palace Official Chief was turning red.
So that’s why. She understood why everyone was blushing.
Maomao thought that this man must be the beautiful eunuch from the rumours.
He was just as beautiful as a painting of a celestial maiden with silky hair, slender features, almond eyes, and willowy brows.
(Such a waste.)
She thought of such words without blushing. As he lost his most important thing, he cannot make children. If that man had children, they would be excellent specimens no matter what.
However, if he has such an otherworldly face, the emperor could also ensnare him. While she was thinking of such disrespectful things, the man stood up elegantly.
Facing the desk, he picked up a brush and elegantly wrote something with a flourish.
With a saccharine grin, the man displayed his note.
‘The girl with the freckles. You’re staying overtime.’
That was a summary of what was written.
Perhaps he noticed that Maomao hadn’t moved.
He was smiling with his entire face.
The man put away his writing and clapped twice. “We are done for today. You can return to your rooms.”
The maidservants left the room reluctantly while in doubt. They couldn’t understand the meaning of that note from before.
Maomao noticed that the maidservants who left the room were all short and had faces with freckles that stood out. However, the ones who made no reaction to the writing probably couldn’t read it.
It wasn’t the note that singled out Maomao.
She was going to leave with the rest of the maidservants, when a firm hand landed on her shoulders.
She timidly looked back. There was the smile of a celestial maiden that was so dazzling it blinded her.
“You can’t do that. You’re working overtime,” he said.
Needless to say, she couldn’t refuse.