“I was so sure I would be going back to the Inner Palace again.”
The clothes Maomao wore were simple, but instead of linen, they were made from cotton. She understood that the treatment was even better than she expected from the time she wore linen when she was an Inner Palace maidservant.
“No, it’s not that easy to return when you have already been dismissed once.”
It was Gaoshun – gallant like a military officer yet more devoted than any other – who was guiding her around the Imperial Court. He was clad in his usual simple official attire, teaching Maomao the names of the buildings and their duty stations. Considering the vastness of the Imperial Court, fingers and toes won’t be enough to count all these buildings. Maomao honestly couldn’t be bothered to remember things that were outside her interests, so she was examining the garden plants as she pretended to listen and nod.
(The Inner Palace really has more things you can use as ingredients than what you have here.)
In the past, Ruomen, her dad, had planted useful herbs when he was living in the Inner Palace. In spite of it being an enclosed space, he grew countless numbers of medicinal herbs.
While Gaoshun was in the middle of explaining the buildings one by one, Maomao noticed a prickling feeling from the back of her neck. Court ladies, obliquely from behind, only their gazes moving, were staring at Maomao’s group. No, they were certainly only looking at Maomao. Those looks were inexplicably repulsive. It was like an intuition shared between fellow men, something that only fellow women would understand. Like how men will use physical attacks on their rivals, it is common for women to use psychological attacks.
Maomao, sticking out her tongue for a fleeting moment, followed after Gaoshun who was walking towards the next duty station.
Maomao’s job was no different to an Inner Palace maidservant. It was to the extent of her cleaning her assigned areas and sometimes doing odd jobs when asked of her. Originally, she was supposed to a court lady whose work was more like a civil official, but Maomao didn’t have the qualification. She failed that exam.
Jinshi and Gaoshun were both surprised. They thought Maomao would pass easily. Certainly, the contents of the exam required effort as is. Even so, Maomao could write and had the basic minimum of training for poetry and erhu due to her being raised in the red-light district. The exam wasn’t as hard as the Civil Examination. Jinshi had confidence that Maomao who had good memory wouldn’t fail.
(I’m sorry. For failing.)
Maomao wiped the window frames until they were squeaky clean. It was Maomao’s principle to work diligently.
Although, studying was another thing. Honestly, she was below average in memorising things she was not interested in. The knowledge of pharmacy was still relevant, but what can you do with learning history? Even if she memorised things like law, it was something that will someday change, so it wasn’t worth her time to memorise. So, no matter how much ability she had, things she won’t ever use were pointless to know. It was regrettable, but Maomao just couldn’t put in any effort for those studies. It was obvious that she would fail.
(It’s unexpectedly dirty.)
Well, there would be places you can’t reach if it’s that wide, Maomao thought. Though, she didn’t discard the thought that it could be a skimped job instead. The court ladies of the Imperial Court come to this place with qualifications. It was a big difference to the mish-mash of palace ladies of the Inner Palace. They had pedigree and education; they have self-respect from that alone. They probably think that things like playing maidservant just cannot be. They won’t sweep up even if dust piles up, for instance.
(Well, it’s not their job.)
The court ladies were like secretaries. Certainly, this doesn’t include sweeping. It wasn’t required of them. Even though it was like this, it’s not like it was fine if they didn’t do it at all. As government-owned slaves were abolished since the time of the previous emperor, the odd jobs were done by their own people.
And so, many high officials employ maidservants to clean for them. Maomao was currently under Jinshi’s direct supervision for that same reason.
(Well then, what shall I do next?)
Maomao’s cleaning area was Jinshi’s office. It was a wide room, but minimalistic, devoid of extravagance. The owner of the place seemed to have a busy position; he rarely returns to his office. This made it easy for Maomao to clean, but if there were issues.
“Who the hell do you think you are?
When she realised it, she was involved with court ladies she wasn’t acquainted with. The court ladies were all bigger than Maomao; there was even one among them who was a head taller.
(Good food and good upbringing huh.)
Maomao inadvertently ended up staring at the court lady’s chest due to her height. From her physique, she might be mixed with foreign blood. From the fact that her fair skin was beautiful, it was something she wanted to see once in her life.
(Ohh, not good not good.)
While she saw thinking about slightly rude things, she angered the court ladies.
In summary, these court ladies were angry wondering why Maomao was working under Jinshi’s direct supervision. No matter what they say, she was an employee so she can’t anything. Even if she honestly told them, they wouldn’t agree to it.
Supposing that Maomao had a barbarian princess exoticness like Consort Gyokuyou and a voluptuous body like Consort Rifa and sexiness like Pairin-neechan, no one would have any complaints – there shouldn’t be a reason to have any complaints. However, Maomao was like an overly skinny seedy chicken that was covered in freckles. It couldn’t be helped that she was an eyesore to be working beside the beautiful eunuch; they thought if there was a chance they could do it in place of her.
(Umm, what should I do?)
Maomao wasn’t that articulate of a person; there were many times she wasn’t able to express herself well. But staying silent will only get to their anger.
“So, are you guys saying that you’re jealous of me?”
Straight to the point. Those words were enough to anger them. I knew it was the wrong thing to say. A slap across her cheeks left a mark. That hurt. She rubbed her cheeks.
I want to avoid getting lynched by the five court ladies around me, Maomao considered. Even if it was female strength, pain was pain.
There’s nothing I could so, so let’s just give one excuse, Maomao thought.
“Don’t tell me you think I’m getting special treatment? That sort of thing is impossible. There’s no way an ugly woman like me would be a companion to that sort of gentlemen who looks like a celestial maiden, right?”
The fully angered court ladies’ faces twitched at the words Maomao spun with her head lowered.
This might work. Maomao continued.
“Is the nobleman you supposed such a gross eater? Did you think that he would be the type to want to purposely want to eat chicken bones with its meat shaved off and dropped to the floor, even though there are abalone and pork before him? Well, if that’s the case, wouldn’t that make him a maniac?”
Maybe it was because she purposely emphasised the maniac part. The court ladies’ bodies were even trembling with a start.
“I don’t know myself, but is that person with that degree of a heavenly smile and beauty that sort of maniac?”
“There’s no way!”
The court ladies started to raise a fuss. But, one person among them still faced her with doubt.
“In that case, why did he employ you?” the relatively composed court lady said.
It was the court lady with that splendid chest, uh, splendid physique. Come to think of it, she noticed that only this court lady had calmed down some time before. It seemed like she was following the other court ladies who retreated half-a-step; she looked like she was questioning her circumstances.
(Well, if I can’t deceive them.)
Maomao raised her left hand and pulled up her sleeves. She stripped off the bleached cotton that bandaged her wrists to her elbows. Since it honestly wasn’t something to be shown to other people, she only showed it to them an instant, but the court ladies’ stiffened expression indicated that they saw enough.
(It’s soggy because I was experimenting with burn medicines recently.)
It must be an extremely disgusting thing for the young ladies with good upbringing to see.
“The beautiful gentleman who is like a celestial maiden is a celestial maiden down to his heart. He provided someone like me a job to pay for my own keep.”
Maomao said as she rebandaged her arm.
The court ladies, having lost interest, left. There was only one person who glanced at Maomao, but she returned to her post soon after.
(It’s finally over.)
Maomao, neck joints creaking, took up the dust cloth again. As she was going to move to the next place and resume cleaning, she discovered a beautiful eunuch was standing with his head pressed against the wall.
“What are you doing, Jinshi-sama?”
“…nothing. That aside, are you always involved? Like that.”
“It’s fine. There is less trouble than palace ladies. By the way, what’s with that pose?”
She thought it’s a pose that a beautiful nobleman really shouldn’t do. Indeed, Gaoshun, who was waiting at the back, was clutching his head.
“Well then, I’ll be heading off to my next cleaning area.”
As Maomao was leaving with a pail in hand, Jinshi muttered to himself in his beautiful voice, “Maniac….”
(I don’t think I really said something bad.)
Even if Jinshi saw the entire exchange from just then, it wasn’t that she did anything wrong. Maomao worked hard on her cleaning.
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.