Now then, I wonder what will happen, Maomao thought as she wiped her face with a towel.
The face powder was gross. The rouge hardly came off, and she really needed to go wash her hair that had clumped up from the perfume oil properly afterwards. She had glued hair trimmings around her eyes – a technique used by courtesans with thin lashes – but she was worried it won’t come off.
The skirt she wore was longer than usual, and she had worn heavy shoes underneath to fake her height. She probably didn’t need it though.
The lot at the Crystal Palace hadn’t noticed it at all.
Though Maomao was sulking about it, she took off the false bottom shoes.
She also changed out of her outfit. Some sputum got caught on her clothes when she was nursing the severely sick person a while ago. She was relieved there wasn’t blood in it. The infectiousness might be low, but she considered what could happen if she walked around with it, and thus prepared for a change of clothes. With it prepared at the Crystal Palace, the maid attire was pretty much lacking in function, but there was nothing she could do about it.
She really wanted to take a bath, but it couldn’t be done now so she relented.
When she tidied up, Maomao headed to the room where everyone was waiting for her.
Everyone was gathered in the parlour of the Crystal Palace, their expressions clouded with anxiety. Their gorgeous faces were all well-suited to the various fixtures of the room, but when Maomao entered with her make-up off, she couldn’t help feeling she was somehow beyond her station.
There was Consort Rifa, Jinshi, Gaoshun, as well as a woman with a lithe beauty. The other maids had withdrawn from the room at Consort Rifa’s behest. The quack doctor seemed to be among that group as well, but since he had other business, he took priority over that.
Consort Rifa’s head maid was a woman called Shin. Consort Rifa’s cousin, and as a person who also had a noble lineage, she was a proud beauty who stood out even in the inner palace. Perhaps due to their relation, she somehow resembled Consort Rifa in looks.
She was the head maid. But considering her social status, she was in a position where it wouldn’t be strange for her to be middle-ranked consort either.
(I wonder if she’s challenging as a head maid.)
The ones vying for the emperor’s favour weren’t all consorts. Sometimes even a maidservant can win the emperor’s favour and become the empress dowager. It wasn’t something absent in history.
If that was the case, wouldn’t gathering beautiful flowers in one place make them stand out more?
The maid who serves the high-rank consort becomes a mistress. That moment, the maid would immediately be appointed a rank so that her social status is appropriate to become a consort.
(What is it like for the people in question?)
Maomao didn’t know anything concerning Consort Rifa’s family. Just that complex emotions would be revolving around the people in question. If they could overcome that and cover it with deep trust, the world will be at peace.
(Consort Gyokuyou is blessed.)
The head maid Honnyan wasn’t a capable person who was sent in as help. She was only working as a maid for Consort Gyokuyou. Due to that, she passed her marriageable age. It would be nice if Consort Gyokuyou would mediate a good family for her to marry into one day, though.
Even the other maids. They all have certainly lovely features, but they wouldn’t even consider something outrageous like obtaining the emperor’s favour.
On the flip side, speaking of Consort Rifa’s maid here—.
“What is this supposed to mean?”
Jinshi slapped the table, his eyes narrowed. There were several varieties of perfume oil and spices on it.
These were the things that were found a while ago in the storage room with the sick person. They wouldn’t stand out as individual pieces, but when several types get mixed, the smell of stuffy.
The rest of the perfume was wafting around the head maid called Shin.
Even though the smell of the perfume wasn’t on the head maid at all before.
With the stink of perfume being not there as the reason, she must have confiscated something else she bought with the other maids. Even if it wasn’t the case, she might have properly kept it hidden away.
Shin closed her eyes, saying nothing.
(Is she keeping quiet?)
Her crime, at the same time as concealing the perfume and spice that had been banned, was on how she attempted to use those products to make something.
She shouldn’t be charged with the crime of quarantining the maidservant in the shed.
Moving her from the common room to prevent infection was an appropriate measure. The inner palace only has a single court physician; it would be hopeless in the first place to have him look after the maidservant.
(It became the place for the eunuch with too much free time to drink tea though.)
Even if she was taken to the medical clinic, it doesn’t mean that they could be entrusted with the maidservant. There were also those who hate getting medical treatment from women.
However, it was troubling if a person dies because of that reason, but it couldn’t be helped.
Just that, the lives of maidservants are insignificant.
Jinshi was also thrust before the pieces of evidence and charged her the crime that she was accused of based on that.
However, the head maid called Shin simply stood there, making an oblivious face. She had a noble lineage from the start. The eunuch called Jinshi might only have the position where he could just phrase a complaint no matter what he wanted to say.
And the mysterious one was Consort Rifa.
Her brows were lowered. She was just looking at her head maid. Her face was an expression of sorrow.
Shin looked directly at the eunuch who was inquiring her without lowering her head.
(Hoho, she’s playing it quite well.)
The usual palace lady would end up staggering just by being cross-examined by Jinshi. It seems he cannot use his ayakashi-like ability with this palace lady either.
“I don’t know anything. Certainly, it was I who said to move the maidservant there. Apart from that, after suddenly turning up and asking to meet Rifa-sama, isn’t her actions of looking through the shed more of an issue? ”
She said it succinctly. It was certainly true that they can not prove that the things in the shed were Shin’s.
Being the place with a sick person, the only contact everyone had to the shed only amounted to carrying her meals there, but conversely, it was a place where it wouldn’t be strange if anyone entered.
“In that case, it would be better if we asked the maidservant who was in that place.”
“How far can we trust the words of a maidservant who was mindless from fever?”
“You knew that she was feverish huh.”
Maomao said without a moment of delay.
Shin’s demeanour changed instantly.
“How gracious of you. To go out of your way to see a lowly maidservant’s condition.”
Maomao added brazenly.
“In that case, it wouldn’t be strange to have the smell of perfume oil remain of your body.”
Maomao picked out a small bottle from the table.
(No, I’m obtruding too much if I do any more than this.)
She thought, but her body moved. She couldn’t help it out of aggravation.
Over her own position and all that, she was annoyed.
“You smell just like this perfume oil. Despite you saying that this bottle was carefully placed inside the baggage. It is a smell that is so strong that it seeps out? Just in case, can you allow me to check?”
Maomao was going to grab onto Shin’s sleeves, but Shin pushed her away. That moment, nails gouged across Maomao’s cheeks. They were long nails.
Amidst the commotion around her, Maomao rubbed the gash with her thumb. There wasn’t a lot of blood. Only a thin layer of skin was taken off.
“My apologies. Someone of my position shouldn’t have touched you. Shall we get someone else to examine you instead?”
She said it casually as all of the gazes in the room gathered onto Shin.
Shin, whose lips were twisted into a jagged shape, whose eyes were bloodshot. The unpleasant smell of sweat hung in the air. Her pupils were dilated.
People sweat when they are nervous. The glistening sweat was different from the perspiration from strenuous activity. The sweat was disgusting, the smell intense.
Eyes were the same. Though not as easily understood as a cat’s, the pupils of human eyes also change. Consort Gyokuyou with her pale eyes was more easily understood than others because of that, so when she held tea parties with other consorts, there were many times where she smiled with her pale eyes closed.
(One more effort.)
It was what Maomao had prepared one step in advance.
“For this part, can you leave it to me?”
She heard a voice that was prideful but not arrogant.
Consort Rifa who was sitting on the couch stood up. As she fingered her long skirt, she approached Maomao, no, Shin.
The outfit that Consort Rifa was wearing looked very similar to the design that Consort Gyokuyou was wearing recently. It wasn’t a problem, considering that it was purchased when the caravans came.
“What will be this person’s charge?”
Shin said. Her eyes were filled with various emotions, but for some reason, there were no signs of a questioning in her gaze.
“For argument’s sake, if she was making an abortion drug, it is the same as killing the emperor’s children.”
As if she would understand by just saying that, Jinshi closed his eyes.
“Is that so. Does that apply to any consort?”
“It is the same for high-rank consorts and low-rank consorts.”
Consort Rifa covered her eyes, and looked at Shin,
‘Rifa’ and ‘Shin’. They were names of a set(The meaning of their names are pear flower and apricot).
Maomao suddenly thought.
She didn’t think that this head maid called Shin was dumb. Just that there were millions of people in this world who are foolish even when they are smart.
Most of these were actions controlled by emotions.
Maomao thought about Shin and one other person.
And then, the one who put out the conclusion was Consort Rifa.
“Even if the target was just myself?”
“Consort! That is!”
Jinshi leaned forward.
Gaoshun also widened his eyes.
With the one line from Consort Rifa, it was Maomao who understood.
She had thought it was strange the whole time.
The resources Consort Rifa had as a consort were sufficient. And yet, she had always thought that the other woman couldn’t find decent maids.
It wasn’t the case.
It was the maids of the Crystal Palace who gathered up these type of people, and the one who gathered them was Shin here.
Previously, during the incident with the poisonous face powder, a single maid who was forced to resign. However, what about the other ones who were there? They continued working carefreely.
And then, speaking of Consort Rifa in response to this head maid…
“Shin, even once, you never treated me as a “consort’. You must be thinking that I wasn’t suitable as the empress dowager.”
Maomao understood what Consort Rifa was saying. Shin never called her “Consort” even once.
“You and I, we never understood who will become the consort till the end.”
Consort Rifa’s voice was sad.
Consort Rifa had feelings towards Shin. However, what about Shin? The woman was biting her lips, facing Consort Rifa was a look of hatred.
“…what eyes from above are you speaking as?”
A voice of scorn leaked out from the lips of the head maid.
“That part of you, I hated from a long time ago. I was better at studying than you. Even on a whole lot of other things, I surpassed you, and yet why was everyone around us-”
(The size of the chest though.)
Maomao was ashamed of herself for thinking that. Even though Shin was pretty big herself.
“Because you were the clan head’s daughter? I was lower than you? There’s no way. It was I who was raised to become the empress dowager since forever.”
Shin bared her wolf-like fangs. Maomao thought it wouldn’t be strange if she sprang upon the consort at any time now, and promptly headed to the front of Consort Rifa, but Gaoshun and Jinshi had already entered the space.
“Can I take that as a confession?”
In response to Jinshi’s question, Shin picked up the bottle of perfume oil on the table and threw it towards Consort Rifa. Gaoshun swept his hand, the small bottle smashed onto the floor.
“You should wither in the flower garden as a barren woman.”
Gaoshun grabbed the hands of Shin who sounded like she was laying down a curse and pinned her back.
“Unhand me, you likes of a eunuch! Such filth!”
Shin struggled but she couldn’t win against a man though he was a eunuch.
Filthy language steadily rushed out from her noble lips.
(It exists huh, these type of people.)
Maomao stood in front of Shin, who took a breather after finishing her spiel, and smirked.
“What the hell do you want!”
“No, it’s nothing. It just seems like that Shin-sama yearns for the emperor very much.”
“No s***! What are you spewing!”
“No, I can surely see that you love the position of the empress dowager. Unlike Consort Rifa.”
Maomao once again smiled with her teeth. Shin’s mouth gaped open in shock.
What Consort Rifa had, that Shin did not.
That much was clear.
“Shin, so you thought this way.”
Consort Rifa said, in a dignified poise despite her trembling eyes.
And then, she stood before Shin, raised her hand high overhead, and slapped Shin’s cheeks.
(Oh my, she’s that angry.)
Maomao thought in such a way, and Consort Rifa then said something outside her expectation.
“Jinshi-dono, I’m dismissing this head maid. She spat out abusive words towards her master. To the point of me raising my hand.”
Jinshi gaped his mouth in surprise.
“Consort, that is….”
“A palm isn’t enough, is it.”
Consort Rifa seized the collar of Shin, who was distracted from her cheeks being slapped, and used a fist this time.
Jinshi and Gaoshun went to stop her in a panic. Only Maomao involuntarily burst out laughing.
Consort Rifa wasn’t the same consort from long ago. She wasn’t the fickle woman who held onto her own wasted thread of life.
“I dismiss this one. And also, hereafter with no exception, I want to ban her from entering the inner palace.”
Consort Rifa declared with dignity.
Shin was distracted from being beaten up.
This woman should know how kind she was. She shouldn’t resent her in return.
(No, it doesn’t matter either way.)
It didn’t matter how noble a lineage she had, a woman who was expelled from the inner palace due to a scandal had no way of giving retribution to a consort.
Maomao thought that was still a generous measure, but this kind of treatment for a prideful woman, being how humiliated she would be, she considered just that.
Shin was lead out of the room by Gaoshun just like that.
There were observers gathered outside the room, wondering what’s going on, but when Maomao glared at them, they scattered like spiderlings.
(Will it be fine, this palace?)
Maomao though that, and then saw large fingers before her eyes.
Maomao unconsciously retreated half a step.
“What are you doing? All of a sudden.”
The owner of the fingers was Jinshi.
“…the wound, treat it.”
Jinshi made a sulky expression and held out a towel to Maomao.
Maomao finally recalled that her cheek had been scratched.
(The wound isn’t that serious.)
The towel that Jinshi handed to her was a first-class item that was imbued with incense.
Maomao squinted. It was wasteful to get blood on it. So she wiped her face with her own towel she had put in her bosom. Normally, she should give it back, but since Jinshi was stingy, it was fine for her to think that he gave it to her. Who can I sell this to later, Maomao wondered.
(For now, has it been resolved?)
Though Maomao thought that, she looked by the window of the room.
The consort with a beauty that was like a large rose was gazing out the window.
It goes without saying who was there.
“Can I ask one thing?”
“What is it?”
Jinshi said as he walked along the corridor of the Crystal Palace. The direction of his gaze was the storage room where the maidservant was locked up in.
“You knew where the sick person was immediately since you were at the Crystal Palace many times. It wouldn’t be strange, with you having visited many times, and yet you came here specifically in a disguise.”
That’s right. Donning that outfit was also a consideration to stand out so she could break Maomao’s face at the Crystal Palace. She would be basked in attention either way as the palace lady who was following the court physician, but she would be judged more with her own face.
The maidservants of the Crystal Palace were tight-lipped. She understood that the higher maids probably forbid them to speak.
“I found it immediately.”
Maomao had already decided on the kind of place. She figured it was a place that was slightly distanced from the maidservants’ sleeping quarters, otherwise, it would be in an inconspicuous place.
She gave consideration from the time she was there, unwell maidservants changed their beds to not pass the disease. That exclusive place was also inside the court.
(To think it was the storage shed.)
She had a strange feeling from the smell that was emanating from Shin, but she didn’t think it would be something like that.
It was by chance that she found that.
Maomao pointed towards where the flowers were growing. They were white-powder flowers(白粉花, Mirabilis Jalapa. Four o’ clock flower is one of its names in English. In Japanese, it is called the face-powder/white-powder flower because of the white powder that is found in its black coloured berries that can be used as face powder). As if it was planted not too long ago, the colour of the soil there was different. For a gardener’s job, it was poorly positioned. It was right next to the storage shed.
It had black coloured berries, and inside of those were a white powder that becomes face powder.
“It seems that in Fengshui, green things are good for health. I had heard that it is good to put it together with white.”
The blooming flowers were all white. Though the name was white-powder flower, the flowers were mostly red. She noticed that white flowers were specifically chosen from the stock and planted.
Certainly, it wasn’t in the Crystal Palace in the beginning. It must be blooming somewhere in the inner palace.
She didn’t know who planted them. Just that, they did that with the sick person in mind. There are people like that. Considering that, Maomao felt somehow relieved.
(At any rate, white-powder flower is-)
Maomao thought it was ironic when she considered the things that were found with the sick person.
She sighed tremendously, but she noticed someone’s gaze then.
Suddenly, when she looked back, there was someone looking this way with their body half-hidden behind the pillar.
Jinshi looked at Maomao who had halted.
The person who was hiding behind a pillar was slowly swaying and making a face like she was affected by someone.
“Jinshi-sama, please go on ahead.”
“You are a hindrance.”
Maomao said starkly, and Jinshi made a somehow sullen expression. For that, Gaoshun, who had returned, will talk to him for her in a way that will pacify even a cow.
It truly is nice to be able to read the atmosphere, Maomao put her hands together in thanks to Gaoshun.
“What is it?”
Maomao looked at the girl who was hidden behind the pillar. She looked older than Maomao, but she was somehow cowering. Whether that, was in response to Maomao, or she did that to other people as well, she didn’t know.
“Ah, um. About the person who was over there.”
There were fresh white flowers in the girl’s hand. Green and white, distinct colours. She spoke clumsily and she cowered, but her nature wasn’t bad.
“No longer here. She will be leaving the inner palace, but she can get treatment in an environment that is better than here.”
“…so she’s leaving.”
The maidservant covered her face, but on the hand, it would seem that she was relieved.
The girl rubbed her face like she was hiding her moist eyes. She bowed her head at Maomao and returned to her work post.
Small white flower petals fell in the wake of the girl’s leaving.
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.