Volume 3, Chapter 16: Insect Lover

Maomao was overjoyed.
Really overjoyed.

There was Honnyan in an imposing stance and a narrow-eyed Infa right behind her.

“You really mean that I can use this?”

Maomao peeked at Honnyan’s expression.

“Yes. Go reflect.”

Hmph, Honnyan scoffed, and Maomao’s eyes teared up a little in response. She grabbed hold of Honnyan’s hand delicately and-

“Thank you very much.”

She said her thanks, bowing her head deeply.

“Eh?”

“Wai-, Maomao!?”

While Honnyan and Infa were caught in bewilderment, Maomao triumphantly rushed inside the storage shed.

From today onwards, this will be Maomao’s room.

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“Isn’t that just really mean, Infa?”

Guien said as she poured tea. This quiet maid gave out tea and snacks to Infa.

“I don’t think so. Maomao was in the wrong.”

Infa pouted as she sipped her tea. Today’s tea was a fermented tea that was ordered from the West. It had a sweet aroma.

“I mean, no matter how many times I told her, she didn’t stop. Maomao was in the wrong. She was gathering bugs again.”

Infa glared at Maomao with narrowed eyes.

Maomao tilted her head in surprise.
As it was actually troubling to have her collapse, Maomao had stopped gathering lizard tails.

“What is that supposed to mean? Never before have I done such a thing.”

Maomao regard Infa with a look of utter mystification.

“I mean, I heard the story of a high-rank consort’s palace lady who was catching bugs while laughing in the garden.”

“….”

Guien’s eyes also shifted into a stare.

What is this about? This is a misunderstanding.

“I don’t do such things.”

Maomao said resolutely.

“If I did something, it is when I’m gathering herbs, not bugs.”

“So you claim that you laugh.”

The shocked faces of Infa and Guien.
The two people, who seemed to have finally grasped Maomao’s nature recently, stared at Maomao.

(Mmm.)

These were the faces of no trust.
There isn’t. Just because Maomao laughs when she finds medicinal herbs, doesn’t mean that she would laugh when she finds bugs. Just in case, it was common sense even for Maomao. She pretty much knows what will happen if she caught bugs and raised them. This season was summer. What kind of a disaster would it become?

Maomao knitted her brows tightly and made a fist.
This was a grave situation.

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“Hweehhh? Weird reshent fings?”

Shaoran mumbled as she ate a peach steamed bun.

Maomao nodded as she held out the hydrangea tea in the bamboo pipe. As usual, they were at the back of the washing area, chatting as they ate. They were taking an autonomous break, not slacking off.

“Something like a peculiar palace ladyin recent times?”

“A peculiar palace lady hmm. Like what for example?”

Her mouth full of beverage, Shaoran asked.

“For example, a palace lady who laughs while searching for something in the thicket.”

Shaoran stared at Maomao. She stared at her as she gulped down her tea.

“Aside from me.”

Maomao added the remark. Shaoran closed her eyes and groaned.
Why was that, she felt that she was getting awful treatment?

“That sort of weird palace lady, I wonder if she does exist. Ah!”

“You happen to know something?”

Shaoran jumped down from the barrel and went towards the palace ladies who were chatting around the well.
Maomao followed her.

“Hey hey, recently, didn’t you say that there was a weird palace lady?”

Shaoran asked the trio of palace ladies. They seemed to be acquaintances, they greeted Shaoran. But when Maomao neared, they made a guarded expression.
The curious palace lady who talked to Maomao was only Shaoran, so that should be it.

“There is if you say there is.”

“Hey.”

She thought it was a somewhat biting way of speaking.

“Ehhh, who was it, who? Tell me—“

Shaoran, who wasn’t shy, asked as she persistently poked then. However, the three palace ladies exchanged glances and hesitated on speaking.

They were probably minding Maomao’s presence. Maomao’s clothes were different from the other palace ladies. Her clothes were still simple and easy to move in, but it was different from the clothes the other palace ladies wore that were supplied to them by the inner palace. Palace ladies who follow consort higher than those with rooms were provided clothes from their consorts.

And because of that, they had a rough idea of whether she was with a consort or not. There was an unspeakable wall.

(I made a mistake.)

I should’ve just watched from afar, Maomao regretted. As there were  palace ladies who held antagonism towards the palace ladies of consorts, there were also those who hold their tongue from the worry of spreading rumours to inferiors.
Simple palace ladies like Shaoran were unusual.

So what can she do?
Even if she were to fish around for snacks, she had given them all away to Shaoran just then. Is there anything else I can use in exchange? Maomao searched her pockets.

(Oh!?)

That’s it, Maomao took out a certain thing.

“Depending on the details you give me, I’ll give you this.”

She took out the silky cloth that was nice to feel. There was the faint scent of incense left on it. It was meant to be used as a towel, but since the material was good, it can be used as whatever.

It was the towel that Jinshi gave her the other day. After this she was heading to the medical office, she had considered selling it to the quack doctor. She didn’t want to think about the quack doctor feeling inclined towards males, but since it was the beautiful eunuch’s item, she had thought that he would more or less shell out money for it.

“What is, this?”

“It’s like silk. It’s not suited for its use though.”

Maomao said, and one of the palace ladies staggered over to take a sniff.

“That scent. Don’t tell me!?”

Maomao faced that palace lady with subdued eyes, but only her lips drew an arc.

“I’ll leave it to your imagination.”

In the face of revealing Jinshi’s name, Maomao thought she would become shady on the contrary. If she let them sniff it like this, she figured that she let them imagine it however they like.

The palace lady with the good sense of smell was muttering, “This is, don’t tell me, no, that gentleman’s…” Maomao didn’t know exactly who the palace lady was imagining, but it should be good that it looked like she was going to snap at it. Seeing that, the other two palace ladies also came closer to sniff the towel.

Maomao folded up the towel and looked at the palace ladies.

“Excuse me, may I ask you some questions?”

Maomao said to the deferential palace ladies.

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According to what the palace ladies had said, the person was found close to the forest of the south side.
Maomao headed to the place that they mentioned.

(It really isn’t convenient.)

Maomao sat down under the shade of a tree. Since it was summer, there were a lot of grating insect sounds. Cicada sounds she still forgave, but she had beaten several mosquitos that had whined unpleasantly next to her ears to death.

(I should have come with mosquito repelling smoke.)

She had burned mugwort and the fresh pine leaves to use as an insect repellent. Since there was Imperial Princess Rinrii who was still young, she couldn’t miss on the insect repellent counterplan at the Jade Palace.

The area close to the forest didn’t seem to be cleaned much, various plants grew here and there. Aside from pampas grass, she saw red flowers growing en masse.

Maomao approached the red flowers.

(Was it in such a place?)

Those were white-powder flowers(Mirabilis jalapa. From last chapter.). The trumpet-shaped flowers opened up their buds when evening approached.
Maomao picked one up and crushed the petals. Red juice stained her fingers. When she was young, that was what she usually played with.

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And then, she also remembered the prostitutes coming to gather the seeds.

You’ll find white powder inside the seeds when you crush them. It doesn’t mean that the prostitute used these as face powder.

Maomao still had a certain uncomfortable feeling. The incident that occurred at the Crystal Palace the other day. Where Consort Rifa’s head maid, Shin, was trying to make an abortion drug.

She recalled that.

Shin, at first, wasn’t wearing perfume or anything. As there were components in the perfume that held the danger of miscarriage, if she bragged that she was a capable person suitable to be a consort herself, it wouldn’t be strange for her to avoid wearing that on her body.
In reality, Shin should be considering surpassing Consort Rifa. If Consort Rifa was unable to beget a child, her family would also consider a different person as consort.

That, as far as Shin was wearing the smell of the perfume, the reason she tried to make an abortion drug was—.

Consort Rifa was wearing a loose outfit. Just like Consort Gyokuyou, something that didn’t constrict the abdomen.
And, was it Maomao’s imagination that she had a feeling that her cheeks were rounder than before?

It doesn’t mean at all that only Consort Gyokuyou received the emperor’s favour. That possibility was good enough, but Maomao didn’t say anything.
Even if she said something there, Maomao wasn’t in the position to help Consort Rifa.

The reason she had an uncomfortable feeling was concerning the ingredients that were used in that storage shed. Perfumes and etc, it was full of items that anyone bought from the caravans if they had money.
She understood that.

Maomao cannot stand mysteries.

The reason the prostitutes gathered the seeds of the white-powder flower, was to make the drug to abort the child in their abdomen. In addition, you can also boil things like winter cherry and tree peony, rose balsam, garden peony and mercury to abort.
Mercury aside, it appears to be likely that the other flowers were ingredients that could be obtained in the inner palace.

The drink that Shin decocted didn’t contain any of them.

Even though this way seems much simpler.

And so, Maomao had an anxiety inside her.
That someone must have expressly taught Shin poison.
And, that this person must still be in the inner palace.

She had fleetingly mentioned it to Jinshi as a hint, but he would investigate because it was his issue. However, it was a problem that obstinate former head maid had confessed it easily though.

As she was thinking about that, the sunlight had weakened considerably. The sun hid in the shadow of the forest, the shadows lengthened.
Suddenly, all at once, the chirps of the noisy cicadas subsided.

Ring.

She heard the faint sound of a bell.

And, she heard rustling sounds along with that sound.

Maomao faced the direction the sound came from, she turned her gaze. She saw something large crawling within the pampas grass.
There, jumping like a frog, both hands raised up, the person started to laugh loudly.

“I caught you—“

She heard a shrill voice. An innocent voice that retained its innocence like Shaoran, but the owner of the voice was tall. However, the face that was lit with a smile of delight, was younger than her height suggested.

It was a face she had seen before.
Her clothes were the special attire that was provided from consorts.

With a face that was delighted from the bottom of her heart, the girl put her fisted hands into the bamboo insect cage.

Ring.

Again, the sound of a bell.

She noticed that she heard it from the direction of that girl.

Maomao remembered.
The palace lady who turned up at the medical office the other day. The girl who came to get medicine.

That time, she didn’t really say anything, Seeing her now, her impression is surprising different huh, Maomao thought.

(At any rate.)

The girl darted around the thicket like a frog, catching insects while laughing.

(To think I was confused with someone like that.)

How unthinkable, Maomao though.
Even Maomao was a little more normal, she thought.

Turns out, since Consort Rouran was also eccentric, the palace lady who serves her was also eccentric.

Maomao was satisfied with verifying just that and was going to leave this place in haste.

She was going to leave, but.

Ring. She heard the bell-like sound close to her ear. Oh no, she tilted her head and felt her head. An insect that Maomao has never seen before had perched there.
It seems that the source of the bell-like sound was this.

It was fine if it was just that but.

Suddenly the shadow of a person hung over before Maomao.

“Insect—”

Along with the shrill voice, Maomao was crushed by that shadow of that person.


T/N: The title of the chapter (虫愛づる) comes from The Insect-loving Princess (虫愛づる姫君), which is a 12th-century Late-Heian period Japanese short story from an anthology. It was about an eccentric princess who was more interested in gross insects like caterpillars (instead of butterflies and flowers like a normal young lady would prefer) than beautifying and presenting herself as a decent lady of those times. She looks and acts child-like this way. She doesn’t have a modest personality, is argumentative, and often charges at people with logic. She is totally defying social convention.

(There’s also a next part which is about this playboy bishie who hears about this girl and goes to see her. He sends her a Waka poem, and she replies to him in kanji (Heian women are usually taught to only write in hiragana), he finds her interesting, and romance begins to ensue… and the story ends here. No continuation ._.)


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