The Spring Garden Party was held in the midst of spring peonies.
Though it was held a little earlier in the year, it became like this for the continued appearance of those who couldn’t bear with the chill each time. It was difficult to change custom so it could be earlier.
At the park, a red carpet was laid out and long tables and chairs were set up.
The orchestra, as they waited eagerly, were tending to their instruments.
Palace ladies harried with the preparation, checking if everything was perfect. Young military officers watched in enjoyment as they stroked their still thin beards.
At the back where the curtains were drawn, someone was making a racket.
There was a gaunt short maid carrying a large vase.
Multicoloured roses, that were slightly early in season, were arranged there.
“You truly made it?” Jinshi gazed at the flower buds that have yet to bloom. Colours red, yellow, white, pink, blue, and far from it, even black, purple and green was arranged there. She said she would make blue roses, but who would have thought that they could become this gorgeous?
How is this even possible? Jinshi blinked rapidly.
“As expected, it was hard. They haven’t bloomed,” Maomao said regrettably from the bottom of her heart.
Rather than a response to Jinshi, she said it out of disappointment that she couldn’t do what she had thought. Jinshi understood that the girl had that kind of personality. He understood but it was somewhat irritating.
It really was irritating.
“Nah, it’s good enough.” Jinshi picked up a stalk of rose. A drop of water slid down from the stem. “Hm?”
Jinshi had a somewhat uncomfortable feeling but returned the rose to the vase. It doesn’t matter what happens now.
At any rate, even though she said blue roses, they were arranged rather vibrantly.
Jinshi left the girl, who looked like she was going to collapse from overwork, to the maids of the Jade Palace, and went to adorn the seat of honour with the vase.
The still-budding flowers seemed good enough to steal the attention away from the gorgeous peony flowers.
Everyone surrounding him at a distance was astonished.
The high officials who had scoffed, saying that was impossible, raised an uproar.
Jinshi was a eunuch who stood high in the emperor’s favour. Though this appearance had its hardship even when he says it himself, he understood that it took the breath away from most people. Even so, it wasn’t that he had no enemies.
It wasn’t just officials who were so free of aspirations to enjoy butting in on the stripling of a eunuch.
Jinshi, maintaining his celestial maiden’s smile, straightened his back as he smiled bewitchingly, and headed towards the platform. He was aiming for the seat where the emperor with the beautiful beard was surrounded by his beautiful consorts.
The looks that were gathered onto Jinshi hid all sorts of expectation. Lust was still okay; he had many uses for that. Jealousy; that too was okay, it was easy to handle. No matter what emotions there are, he had many ways to deal with it if he understood that they were thinking.
The most troubling was-
Jinshi looked at the official who was waiting to the left of the emperor. Plump cheeks, eyes whose thoughts couldn’t be discerned.
You could say that this was who he was bad at dealing with.
This man ought to recognise him as a mere stripling of a eunuch.
A motionless stare that seemed to be staring into the abyss.
That incomprehensible vague smile.
This was Shishou(子昌, Zi Chang), the father of Rouran, a consort who was currently in the inner palace. He had gained the favour of the previous emperor, no, that person’s mother, the Empress. Even now, the emperor still can’t stand on equal ground with him.
In a bad way.
Jinshi didn’t erase his smile nevertheless….
He couldn’t have erased it.
Shishou’s gaze shifted over to the left, that is, he met the eyes of the man who was sitting to the right of the emperor.
The fox-eyed man with the monocle was chewing on a chicken wing, not reading the atmosphere of the occasion. Nonetheless, as if the person in question was planning to hide it, he hid his nibbling behind his sleeves and hid his chewing again.
Currently, the most troublesome person was this guy, Rakan.
It was fine if it was just that, but Rakan was staring at the head of the high official who was standing next to him, and, whatever was he thinking, gently plucked off their coronet.
For some reason, a clump of black hair came along under the coronet. Rakan looked dramatically surprised. Around three high officials who faced them on the opposite side were able to see the bald top of the official’s head. They lost it.
He did such a cruel thing.
Even though it was a nicely made wig.
At that childish action, there were those who smiled wryly, those who were shocked, those who were trying their utmost not to burst into laughter.
It wasn’t just Jinshi whose expression cracked.
However, Jinshi couldn’t afford to burst into laughter there. He somehow endured when he felt his expression was cracking and knelt on the red carpet.
He held up the multicoloured roses towards the emperor, who nodded in satisfaction while stroking his beard.
Jinshi stepped down from the back, holding back a big sigh.
Rakan, while dramatically peeking into the rose vase, picked up raisins this time.
Why does this guy can’t help being rude? Jinshi couldn’t help thinking.
“You mustn’t go to the Crystal Palace again.”
A fair distance away from the banquet, Infa was letting Maomao rest on her lap.
Infa had stayed with Maomao the entire time out of concern.
Consort Gyokuyou, who was almost sure of her pregnancy, postponed this time’s banquet. Officially, she handed over her seat for the Pure Consort, for Consort Rouran’s debut.
There was the reason why Maomao got so skinny to the point of worrying Infa.
Apparently, Maomao can’t help getting over-worked whenever she went to Crystal Palace.
For a little over this month, Maomao visited the Crystal Palace again.
She paid no heed to the maids of the Crystal Palace who were, as usual, treating her like they were looking at a monster.
Nevertheless, Maomao needed to come here to make the blue roses. The arrangement was handled by Jinshi whom she asked for his consent.
The place left when Jinshi had requested for beforehand, the sauna of the Crystal Palace.
It was something constructed at top speed for Maomao previously to cure Consort Rifa.
Consort Rifa, as usual, was a noble lady, but she was told the consort immediately gave her permission. Since she knew that there was a place that was splendidly generous, she checked it out.
Maomao thought it was bad to use it as is, so…
“This is the emperor’s favourite book,” she said and handed over the book she had newly ordered from the brothel the other day. It was because the emperor had asked for something different.
When Consort Rifa realised its contents, she returned to her room, her steps graceful.
Maomao, with an icy gaze, remembered the maids who were speaking furtively as they saw off that person’s back.
As if anyone would believe that she would bribe a noble lady with sort of thing.
Even though she acquired the good humour of the owner of the building, she constructed a hut in the garden for the steam from the steamy bathroom to flow in. A strange structure with large windows that were even in the ceiling. It used money like water, but since Jinshi paid it out of his own pocket, she paid no mind. At any rate, just how high was his salary?
Rose pots were transported there. It wasn’t just one or two. Several tens, no, over hundreds were brought in.
Within the air that was warmed up by steam, she cultivated roses. She took them out as much as possible on clear days so they could get sunlight.
On days cold like frost was still falling, she put water on heated stones and kept the hut continuously warm throughout the night.
To speak of what Maomao was doing, she wanted to throw the roses off-kilter. Flowers bloom together with the season, but occasionally for some reason, they would bloom off-season.
In short, Maomao wanted to encourage off-season flowering.
And so, she prepared a large quantity, not considering that all the pots had flower buds. Even the variety of flowers, she selected those that would bloom as early as possible and made sure the varieties were scattered.
The period short to a little over a month, she didn’t have proof of achievement, but how glad was she when she saw the flowers budding?
Above all, more than adding colour to flowers, getting the flowers to bud was much more difficult.
Jinshi had sent in several eunuchs for her, but delicate things like temperature regulation were up to Maomao to perform. All the roses could be killed off with a mistake, and it’ll be curtains then.
Sometimes, the maids of the Crystal Palace would loiter around, whether it be out of plain curiosity or morbid curiosity. Because it was disheartening, she made sure to look towards other things.
While thinking as to what to do, she was struck with an idea when she looked at her fingers.
She painted rouge on her nails and rubbed it carefully with a cloth.
Manicures were common at the pleasure district, but it wasn’t seen much at the inner palace. It would get in the way of work, but the maids who normally didn’t do much work in the first place got into it with great interest.
She purposely gave them a quick look at her hands, and the maids went to their rooms to look for their own rouge.
(This is convenient.)
Thinking something slightly bad, she also recommended it to Consort Rifa.
There are trends in the inner palace. And the trend leaders are usually the consorts who received favour.
Even maidservants too, if they become the emperor’s mistress, they could be summoned as a consort. In that case, it wouldn’t be strange for people to copy the woman that the emperor was interested in.
Currently, it would be probably Consort Rouran who would be chosen as the most fashionable in the inner palace, but there’s no way that she could become the starter of a trend with her changing that much frequently.
When she returned to the Jade Palace for food tasting, she showed Consort Gyokuyou and the maids the manicure. Though Honnyan said it was inefficient, everyone else was very interested in it.
(If only there are rose-balsam(鳳仙花, Housen-flower. Impatiens balsamina) and wood-sorrel(片喰, Katabami. Oxalis corniculata).)
Rose Balsam, which was also called Nail Red(tsumabeni), and Wood-sorrel, which was also called Catfeet(nekoashi), are crushed and mixed together and painted on nails. Wood-sorrel accentuated the red colouring of Rose Balsam.
When manicures were the trend for the palace ladies of the inner palace, the buddings of the roses swelled out, and every one of them revealed white flower petals.
All the roses that Maomao chose were white.
“Just what was that?” Jinshi asked when he came back after the roses were debuted. His brows were furrowed.
Gaoshun, who was waiting at the back, was also looking with great interest.
As Jinshi’s group told Infa that it was already fine, she went back. Officially, Maomao was Consort Gyokuyou’s attendant maid but she was still employed by Jinshi.
“I just dyed it,” Maomao said.
“Dyed? No such thing. There was nothing on the petals,” Jinshi said, feeling the petals with his fingers.
“It’s not on the outside. I dyed it from the inside.” Maomao pulled out one stalk of rose.
And put her fingers on the cut end. There was blue liquid on the stem of the blue rose.
White roses left in coloured water.
That was all it was.
The colouring in the water was absorbed through the stem, dying the white petals.
That was why any colour was not an issue since the roses would absorb the water.
Just that, because the colour of the leaves become stained dark, when the flowers are arranged in the vase, all the flowers aside from the white ones are picked out.
The roses look like they were all arranged in the same vase, but each of their stems was wrapped in cotton soaked in colour and fixed by oiled paper. There weren’t taken off until they were just about to be presented.
It was quite simple.
With the method as is, there might be those guys who would come with accusations on something or other. To deal with that, she disclosed the secret of the trick to the emperor who visited the Jade Palace last night. It seems that anyone would be happy to be the first one to be taught the secret, they would listen to the explanation in high spirits no matter what they say.
It appears that Jinshi withdrew before hearing the emperor’s talk.
“In other words, the blue roses that were seen before was because there was a leisurely person who got the roses to soak up blue water day after day,” Maomao said while looking in the direction of the rose garden.
“Why is it that sort of thing again?”
“Who knows. Perhaps they could have wanted a means to woo women?” Maomao said coldly, taking out a long and narrow paulownia box from her bosom. It looked like the caterpillar grass box but its contents were different. It was something she took the opportunity to fetch when the treasured book was brought over.
“How unusual.” Jinshi peered in. “Did you try to paint your nails?”
“Yes. It doesn’t suit me though.” On her hands that were rough from medicines, poisons, and washing, the nail on her left pinkie was strangely crooked. Even if she painted it red, the crookedness wouldn’t change.
Such as it is, it was on the side where it became more decent.
Since he was staring with interest, she ended up facing him again with the usual eyes like she was looking at fish that was floating on the surface of the water.
Maomao shook her head. If she minded this much, she’ll be worn out for what happens after.
She still had work left to do. “Gaoshun-sama. About the thing I requested from you.”
“Yes, I did it is as you said,” Gaoshun replied.
“Thank you very much.”
He had set the stage for her.
The rest was just to scare the hell out of that nasty guy.