Volume 1, Chapter 6: Food Taster

Palace ladies with rooms get better treatment – it was more so for the maids of the Emperor’s Favoured Consort.

Maomao’s rank had risen from the bottom of the pyramid structure to somewhere in the middle. According to what she was told, her wages had also increased exponentially, but twenty percent of that wage goes to her family, or rather, the merchants who sold her.

She was provided a narrow room, not the worker’s room she had up until recently.
Her sleeping quarters had upgraded from a straw woven mat and a sheet to a bed. The room was wide enough to fit two beds. She was happy that she no longer had to avoid stepping on her roommates when she woke up in the morning.
There was another reason she was happy, but that was something she will know later.

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The Jade Palace, where Consort Gyokuyou resided, had four other maids aside from Maomao. As the imperial princess was beginning to eat baby food, there hadn’t been a need to employ a new wet nurse.
Compared to Consort Rifa who had more than ten people with her, it was quite a small number.

Seeing as Maomao had suddenly moved up the ranks from being the lowest class maidservant to a co-worker, she saw looks of disapproval from the maids, but there wasn’t any of the harassment she had honestly been expecting.
Rather, what she saw had been looks of sympathy.

(Why is that?)

She soon knew the reason.

 

 

Before her eyes was imperial court dishes made with lots of medicinal herbs.
One after another, Consort Gyokuyou’s head maid, Honnyan(紅娘, Hong Niang), placed small plates with portions of the side dishes before Maomao.

Consort Gyokuyou looked on apologetically but made no sign of stopping it.
The remaining three maids looked at her piteously.

A food taster.

Everyone became nervous because of the incident with the crown prince.
It was because of the circulating rumours about the imperial princess’ illness and where the poison had been slipped in. No doubt the maids, not knowing where the poison came from, were fearful.

From that, it wasn’t strange that they would send in maids with a specialty in poison tasting as disposable pieces.

It wasn’t just Consort Gyokuyou. It also included the Imperial Princess’s food and the Emperor’s nourishment dishes when he visits.

It appears that poison had been served twice when Consort Gyokuyou’s pregnancy was known. One had been light; the other had paralysed the limbs and damaged the nerves.

The maids, who had been nervously acting as food tasters up until now, were honestly grateful towards her.

Maomao frowned as she looked at the plates. They were made from clay.

(If you’re worried about poisons, using silver is a given.)

Maomao picked up the garnish of the namasu (, kuai. Vinegar pickled raw fish and vegetables. A dish introduced from China to Japan during the Nara era.) with a pair of chopsticks and looked at it carefully.
She sniffed it.
She placed it on her tongue, made sure that there was no numbing sensation, and swallowed it slowly.

(I’m honestly not suited to be a food taster.)

It should be immediate onset poison. There was no meaning to entrust the food tasting to Maomao if it was a delayed onset poison.
Maomao, who had made herself gradually accustomed to poisons as an experiment, had perhaps become resistant to a large amount of poisons.
This wasn’t the job of a pharmacist. It was for the sake of fulfilling Maomao’s intellectual desire.
In a different place and era, she would surely be called a ‘Mad Scientist’.
Even her dad, who taught her the skills of a doctor, had been stunned about it.

When there were no changes to Maomao’s body and she affirmed that there was no poison with her own knowledge, Consort Gyokuyou finally started to eat.

Next up was the flavourless baby food.

 

 

“I believe it would be better to replace the plates to those made of silver.” Without putting any feeling to it, Maomao told that to her Boss, Honnyan.

She had been summoned to Honnyan’s room to report on today’s actions. It was a spacious room lacking in gorgeous ornaments, which bespoke of her practical personality.

The beautiful black-haired head maid who was reaching her thirties sighed. “It’s really just as Jinshi-sama said.”

Honnyan confessed with an amazed face that they didn’t use silver tableware on purpose.
Because Jinshi had instructed them so.

It was likely that he was also the one who had ordered Maomao to be a food taster.

Maomao listened to Honnyan with a cold expression, fighting back her bad mood.

“I don’t know why you hid your knowledge and skills on poison and medicine. Even if you just said you could write, you would have been paid more,” Honnyan said.

“It’s because I lived as imitation of a pharmacist. Even though I have been kidnapped and taken away, when I think that the kidnappers are still receiving a fair share of money, I get seriously pissed.” Maomao let out a few rough words in her heightened emotions. But the head maid didn’t blame her.

“So even if your wages decrease, you are saying like hell am I giving money for those guys’ alcohol expenses.” It seemed that the smart maid had deduced Maomao’s intentions.

“As much as you like, if you are incompetent, you will be replaced after two years of service.” Honnyan sympathised, while it was something she didn’t need to understand.

She picked up the jug from the table and handed it to Maomao.

“What is…” Just as Maomao was about to ask, a pain ran through her wrist. In shock, she dropped the jug onto the bed. Large cracks ran across the pottery.

“Oh my, this is quite expensive. You won’t be able to pay it back with the amount you earn as a maid. The money that is sent to your family won’t be enough either. Rather, you will have to be billed.”

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The expressionless Maomao, understanding what Honnyan said, let out a cynical smile. “My apologies. Deduct that from the pay that is sent home every month. If that is not enough, please take what I have on hand as well.”

“Yes. I’ll send the formalities to the Palace Official Chief. Well then.”

Honnyan picked up the fallen jug and placed it on the table. She then took out a wooden slip(木簡, mokkan. A long strip of wood used to write a single line of vertical text, used before there was paper.) from the drawer. Her brush glided smoothly. “This is the statement for the additional funds you get from food tasting. View this as insurance. If there are any points you are curious about, please ask.”

The amount of money was roughly the same as what Maomao currently earned. With just the portion that has been taken away as commision gone, it meant that Maomao has profited.

(She is good with deals(Literally: she’s good at using sweets).)

Maomao left the room with her head bowed deeply.

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