(I always thought he was a leisurely person.)
It seems that Jinshi – that much of a nobleman? – wasn’t leisurely. He’s more on the busy side actually, Maomao thought. His work wasn’t just on the Inner Palace as she initially believed, he did other things too.
Maomao was tasked with odd-jobs in Jinshi’s office throughout the morning, and then odd jobs in Jinshi’s private room in the afternoon while he was in the Imperial Court. Though it was called his private room, the size of it can be considered a building – she could clearly see the garden, where the extravagance was focused, from the display window. There was one more maidservant beside Maomao, a woman past her fifties. She had initially tilted her head at the lack of young women and young men, but when she thought deeply about it, it was impossible to employ those who were only there for the money. Rather, were he to employ young people, they might space out instead of work with the employer being such a looker.
Jinshi was focused on the documents with a moody expression. Maomao was in the corner of the room gathering up scrapped papers. The fine quality papers have become rubbish, worthless to look at with absurd plans written on them. No matter what kind of absurd bills there are, the scrapped papers cannot be recycled. They must be burnt.
(You can earn some pocket money if you sell them though.)
It was her work despite her bad thoughts, so she went to burn it as instructed. It was where the military training grounds and the treasury was, which was at the corner of the vast Imperial Court, coming out of Jinshi’s office. The papers will be burned in the rubbish incinerator that was there.
(The military huh.)
She honestly didn’t want to go there, but she had to. When she pushed herself to do it, understanding it was her job, something was draped over her shoulders.
“Please wear this since it’s cold outside. It’s for maidservant use.” Gaoshun said.
It was the diligent and attentive Gaoshun who draped a padded garment on Maomao. Light snow was falling outside, and she could hear the cold wintry wind. She had forgotten about it since she was in the warm room with lots of braziers, but not even a month had passed in the year. It was the coldest season of the year.
“Thank you very much,” Maomao said.
She was truly grateful. She was undeserving of what the eunuch did for her. Even though it was for maidservant use, even if it was made of crude materials, there was a substantial difference between wearing and not wearing it. As she passed her arms through the sleeves of the unbleached cotton, Jinshi was staring at her. No, not staring, glaring.
(I wonder what’s eating at him?)
Maomao tilted her head, but it seems that he was glaring at Gaoshun instead of Maomao. Gaoshun’s shoulders twitched, as if he noticed the gaze.
“…This is from Jinshi-sama. I was only passing it over to you,” Gaoshun said.
For some reason, Gaoshun was making gestures as he said it. For some reason, it sounded like he was making excuses.
(Is this what you mean by don’t take liberties?)
Gaoshun has it hard too.
“Is that so?” she said.
Maomao said her thanks to Jinshi just in case and headed to the incinerator with the basket of wastepaper.
(Dad, you should have planted them here too.)
The Inner Palace had lots of medicinal herbs planted by Ruomen, her dad. He is a carefree, worldly-wise person, but he considerably changed the vegetation of the Inner Palace as he pleased.
The Imperial Court was several times vaster than the Inner Palace, but it didn’t have many medicinal herbs that could be used as ingredients. The only things she could find were dandelion and mugwort – plants that could be found anywhere. She also found some red spider lily. She liked eating its bulbs soaked in water. Only just that if she couldn’t skilfully remove the poison in the bulbs, she would immediately get a stomach ache.
(I guess that’s all there is.)
It was difficult to find them in the winter season, but still, her expectation was light. She secretly thought about even planting seeds this time.
As she was walking to the rubbish incinerator, she found a figure she recognised.
It was the young military officer with a fearless face. Yes, it was Rihaku. From the colour of his belt, it seems he got promoted.
He was talking about something to people who look like his subordinates nearby.
(He’s working hard.)
Apparently, he goes to the Rokushoukan every holiday and drinks tea with a kamuro companion. Of course, his favourite is Pairin-neechan, but calling for her will require a commoner’s half year of annual income.
Even so, she’s considerably inexpensive for a top-class courtesan, but that reason was raised by a minor point. That courtesan was a premium, her value would decrease if she has a lot of secret eating.
That pitiful man, having tasted heavenly nectar, would go to catch a glimpse of the face of the flower on a high peak(An unobtainable goal. Something out of reach.), even from the gap of the curtains.
She heard that, even with his promotion, he was working hard to get closer to the flower. A truly diligent honeybee.
As if her eyes of pity reached him, Rihaku came running towards Maomao with his arms swinging. He certainly is a large-breed dog. Instead of a tail, his hair that was fell out from the cloth was a tassel, swinging left and right.
“Oh, are ya a consort’s attendant or what today?” Rihaku, who didn’t know about Maomao’s dismissal, asked her about that.
“No. I have gone from working at the Inner Palace to be a certain personage’s personal maid.” It was a pain to talk about the dismissal, so she told him the abridged version.
“Personal maid? Who’s the one with that kind of taste?” Rihaku asked.
“Indeed, he has strange tastes, right,” Maomao agreed.
Though what Rihaku said for her was extremely rude, well, it was a normal response. Doing as he likes, having a girl that was like a dead tree with a face full of spots live in as a personal maid. She really didn’t intend to keep the freckle make-up now, but she had no choice but to obey what her master said. For some reason, Jinshi still had Maomao maintain her freckled face.
(Just what does he want to do, that man.)
“That sayin’, I heard a high official redeemed a courtesan from ya place recently,” Rihaku said.
“Something like that.”
(It can’t be helped even if he thinks of it that way.)
When the employment contract was settled and she went to the Imperial Court, her enthusiastic older sisters polished up her whole body, made her wear her best clothes, done up her hair and lavishly applied make-up on her. She probably looked nothing like a newcomer maidservant then.
She remembered that her dad was looking at her like he was sending off a calf for some reason.
It was strange for a courtesan to enter the Imperial Court, but since Jinshi stood out even more, she was awfully uncomfortable with the attention. She had immediately changed out of her clothes, but a number of people had seen it.
(At any rate.)
Even though the actual person was right in front of him, this man was chatting on without noticing at all. As expected of the mongrel.
“By the way, you look like you’re in the middle of something, but is that alright?” she asked.
“Ah, I’m just ’bout done with it,” Rihaku said.
His subordinates came closer. The military officers, having a low salary and a drought of women, looked happy to see that there was a court lady around, but when they saw Maomao, they made a blatant look of dejection. Seriously, if the boss is like the boss, the subordinate is like the subordinate.
“I’ve absolutely no idea what the cause is. Well, not like it’s unusual in this season,” Rihaku said.
She supposed with his words that there was a small fire last night. That he investigated the cause of that.
Maomao remembered her interest on something or other, and approached the warehouse of the small fire disturbance.
“Oi, don’t get too close,” Rihaku warned.
“I know.” As she replied Rihaku in that manner, Maomao carefully surveyed the perimeter of the building.
There were several strange points if this was a small fire.
If this really was a small fire, then why was it left to a high official the level of Rihaku? Wouldn’t a government official of an even lower position be sufficient?
Also, unusually for a small fire, there was debris from the building scattered about. Wouldn’t that rather make it an explosion? Were there any injured people?
(It looks like there is a suspicion of terrorism?)
It was a generally peaceful era but that didn’t mean that everyone didn’t have feelings of discontent. Foreign races occasionally come attacking, and famine and drought certainly exist. Particularly, due to the yearly palace lady hunts from the era of the previous emperor, the lack of wives in the rural community have also become a serious issue. Additionally, there was also the abolition of slavery. There were also merchants whose trades have ended because of that. There shouldn’t be few people who were bitter about that now. It had only been five years since the previous emperor had left the world of the living. There were many who still has the memory of the previous rule.
“Oi, what are ya doing? Din’t I tell ya to keep away,” Rihaku said.
“Ah, something piqued my interest.” Maomao looked through the broken window. There were burnt goods stacked up inside. From the tubers that had tumbled to the floor, she guessed it was a food warehouse. It was truly wasteful that the tubers had gone past the well-cooked stage to cinders.
The other thing that fell is, Maomao picked up a rod-like thing that had fallen to the ground.
(Ivory carving? Is it a pipe?)
“Don’t loiter as ya please,” Rihaku urged.
Maomao ignored Rihaku, crossing her arms. Something connected in her mind.
“Will ya hear what I have to say?” he asked.
“I can hear you,” she replied.
She can hear, but she was not hearing. She thought nothing of it, but that was actually a terrible character.
Maomao moved away from the warehouse and headed towards the opposite side. It appeared that the untouched goods were stacked here.
“Can I have that?” Maomao pointed to the unused wooden box. It was probably something designed to hold fruits or something – it was reliably made.
“I don’t see why not? What are ya gonna do with that?”
“I’ll explain later. I’ll take this too.” Maomao located a board that could be used as a box lid. “Do you have a hammer and a saw? I’ll need nails too.”
“What are ya doing?”
“A little experiment.”
“Experiment?” Though Rihaku tilted his head, he cooperated, seeing as though he was more curious. What is this, though he looked dissatisfied with this court lady, the boss looked like he judged that he was outclassed in this thing, and prepared for her. Maomao made a board right in the middle of the opening of the empty box and nailed that on as a lid.
“You’re surprisingly skilled.” Rihaku, who came forward to peer at her work, was like a dog who found a ball to play with.
“I have a poor upbringing. I have to make whatever I don’t have.” She took out something from the goods that were nearby the completely burnt warehouse and put it into the wooden box.
“Excuse me, is there kindling?” Maomao said, and one of the subordinates went to get a smouldering straw rope. During that time, Maomao went to draw some water from the well. Rihaku, not understanding what was happening, sat on top of the wooden box, watching them with his chin on his hands.
“Thank you very much.” Maomao accepted the kindling and lowered her head at Rihaku’s subordinate. The subordinate said something, and as if he was interested in what she might be doing, went to sit down some distance away, watching Maomao.
Maomao, holding onto the kindling, went to stand before the wooden box with the lid. But Rihaku was next to her for some reason. “Rihaku-sama. It’s dangerous so can you stand further away?” she said.
“What’s dangerous? The lass is doing something. As if it’s dangerous to me the military officer.”
As he was sticking his chest out considerably largely, she sighed as there was nothing she could do about it. This type would only understand through practical experience.
“I understand. It’s dangerous so please be extra careful. Please run away at once.” Giving the doubting Rihaku a sidelong glance, Maomao pulled the sleeve of the subordinate who was close by, guiding him to come here. She told him to look from the back of the warehouse.
Even if he comes back, when she threw the kindling into the wooden box from before, he ran away while covering his head.
Flames exploded out from the box, it violently burst into flames.
“Woooooooahhh!” Rihaku narrowly avoided the roaring pillar of fire. It was good he avoided it, but the fire had spread to his swinging hair tassel. Maomao splashed the bucket of water she prepared beforehand on Rihaku, who was panicking with his hair caught on fire. The stench of burning hair and smoke remaining, the fire was gone.
“Even though I told you to please run away.” Do you understand what it means when I say this is dangerous? Maomao looked at Rihaku.
The subordinate hurriedly draped a pelt on Rihaku, whose nose was dripping. His eyes look like he wanted to say something but couldn’t talk back.
“Can you please relay to the warehouseman to please stop smoking in the warehouse?” Maomao informed them about the probable reason for the fire. It may be speculation, but this was the truth.
“Ahh. I will,” Rihaku replied with a look of relief. His face was ghastly pale. No matter how much he trained his body, he should hurry and warm up or he might end up catching a cold. Even though it would be better if he hurried up and returned to his room to warm up, Rihaku stared at Maomao.
“What made this happen?” The face that floated a question mark asked Maomao how the explosion occurred. Rihaku’s subordinates were all making the same face.
Maomao took out the remainders of what she put inside the box from just then. White powder came out from the jute bag, rode the wind with a rustle and dispersed. “Flour burns easily. Wheat and buckwheat can catch fire when it’s floating in the air.”
That is what exploded. That was all it was. It was something anyone would understand if they knew about it. It was only because Rihaku didn’t know about it.
“Ya know much about that, huh,” Rihaku remarked.
“Yes, I did it often,” she said.
“Did it often?” Rihaku and his subordinates exchanged glances, completely lost. That is true, it was something they would never be related to, jobs like those where they would be covered in flour in a single cramped room. Maomao was careful since she blew up a rented room at the Rokushoukan.
“Please be careful you don’t catch a cold. If you catch it, the medicine from a man called Ruomen from the pleasure district is very effective.” She didn’t forget her business activities either. He might go buy some while he was on his way to visit Pairin. As her dad didn’t have the heart of a merchant, Maomao had to do this much, otherwise, there is the possibility of him missing his meals.
(It ate up a lot more time than I thought.)
Maomao carried the basket of wastepaper and headed to the rubbish incinerator. Since it was nearby, she thought to quickly hand it over to the manservant and then go back.
(Ah, I took it with me.)
Maomao noticed that the pipe shard she picked up from before was in her collar. Though it was slightly burnt, it was a relatively first-class thing. It was too fine for a warehouseman to have.
(Could this have been something important, I wonder.)
It could be returned to what it used to be if the carved section was cleaned and a new mouthpiece was affixed. Since she heard that though there were wounded people, no one died, she was sure its owner was getting treated for their injuries. Though it might be the detestable thing that became the cause of the fire, it could become money if it is sold. Even if they are dismissed for being the cause of the fire, no doubt they would receive it if it can become money.
Maomao put the ivory carving that sullied by soot into her bosom for the time being. I have to work this evening, she thought as she handed the wastepaper over to the manservant.
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.