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The next day, Jinshi and the others rode horses to the falconry grounds.
Jinshi begrudgingly wore a mask, and assumed the name “Kousen.”
It wasn’t that she didn’t understand the point of his mask. It was an annoyance in itself to have a man with a beauty like Jinshi’s loitering around. Here wasn’t the inner palace – it was full of people who didn’t know he is a eunuch.
Last night, there was a commotion in Jinshi’s guest room. Though she said it was Jinshi’s room, Basen was sleeping there. She heard Basen screaming.
To speak of what it was, he was surrounded by women who had snuck in from somewhere and saw a very envious, no, he saw hell. It was possible that to say that, in a way, after drinking that aperitif, he had tried his best to maintain his self-control.
There was a motive for serving up such a dinner. A lot of maidens in this estate wanted to become the lovers of high officials.
What could possibly happen if Jinshi walked about barefaced? It seems shutting up the windows excessively was also to not let people see his face.
(If so, I can understand why he has the mask.)
But, what about the alias?
Even if she thought about these sort of things, Maomao didn’t have anything to say about interfering either. Palace ladies who can read the atmosphere should just keep silent collectively.
And so, Maomao was going after the group who were going to falconry via horse-drawn carriage. The carriage transported the servants of the estate and was packed with lots of food preparation tools like pots and kindling.
They must be intending to prepare the caught game on the grounds.
In around a quarter-dual-hour of shaking in the carriage while giving a sidelong glance at the sorghum fields, she could see the forests and the grassy plains.
The servants were experienced. They promptly prepared an open fire in front of the forest. As it appears that there is a water source in the forest, a number of the servants carried pots and went to collect water.
Maomao thought about helping out with something, but the companions of the officials around her were doing nothing. They were chatting in the tent that had been pitched up by servants who had arrived earlier.
(It’s more acceptable to do nothing.)
It was often the case that pretext is attached to helping an inferior.
Even the servants would prefer it that way.
Maomao looked at the sky. She saw a single black speck in the blue sky. It was soaring.
While she looked at it repeat its round several times, Maomao’s eyes shifted to the forest.
(A forest, huh.)
It’s a pretty good forest, Maomao thought.
There were various types of trees growing. She had a good feeling that medicinal herbs and mushrooms would happen to grow in this kind of place.
(I suppose I’m not allowed to go in.)
She was sorely tempted. Maomao glanced at her surroundings.
No one around her would notice, but oh well.
And just like that, the sun had crossed the meridian when she realised it.
There was the savoury aroma of cooking meat.
She was being treated to a cup of wine inside the tent. The cooked meat was distributed by the women. There were around ten officials seated at the table where there were other side dishes prepared.
Although it was a tent, there was a path for the wind flow, and buckets filled with water were left at their feet. There were also servants bearing large fans. She could see the effort to make the sweltering summer hunt comfortable.
The servants diligently carried the food over.
Since just the game procured from falconry wasn’t sufficient, they also cooked other meats. First off, meat is different from fish; it wasn’t something you can say is delicious when it is freshly caught.
Maomao was waiting behind Gaoshun. She gazed at the party scene in a daze. Gaoshun was also provided with a seat.
Aside from the time he was in the room, Gaoshun is hardly with Jinshi, huh, she thought. Instead, it was Basen who did various things, and Maomao followed Gaoshun as a matter of course.
On the line-up of seats, sitting on the seat of honour, was a strange man.
His face was hidden behind a mask. He didn’t touch the food at all. TNot even the wine.
Basen was anxiously watching from the back.
(It’s rough that he has to wear it here as well, huh.)
Maomao watched like it was someone else’s problem. The women who were distributing the wine looked at Jinshi, the Prince of the Mask, from time to time.
He is the highest guest of honour among them, no matter how suspicious a mask he tried to wear. It was much more stable to become the mistress of a high official than to marry up. Looks like it’s a gathering of this kind of determined women.
It wasn’t just women who were involved. The plump man sitting beside Jinshi was whispering to him. It was an intimate way to speak to someone, but was it her imagination that she could hear a little bit of impoliteness?
Jinshi could only tremble slightly at that.
(Is that the man called Shishou?)
She may have heard the name before, but she didn’t know his face. It shouldn’t be wrong to think that it was the case from the position of his seat.
(I wonder what they’re talking about.)
Shishou stopped talking and moved his face away from Jinshi.
Jinshi’s hands continued to tremble.
Basen’s complexion got worse.
(Did he say something?)
No, Maomao whispered to Gaoshun.
He looks strange.
However, Gaoshun shook his head lightly, and just told her to standby.
Under the guise of a bathroom break, Jinshi stood up from his seat.
Gaoshun pulled Maomao’s sleeves.
“It’s about time you switch over.”
Maomao nodded and called for another attendant who was outside the tent. She then went after Jinshi who was walking with an unsteady gait.
And, before that.
“May I have this?”
Maomao took a sake bottle that contained water, asking the servant who had prepared the meals.
The busy-seeming servant left without looking around much. Maomao added some seasoning to the bottle with a spoon.
She went into the forest with that in hand.
Even though she entered a little while later, she found a figure in the forest.
The staggering person was leaning against a tree.
Jinshi-sama, Maomao was going to say, but she held her mouth. Why was he using an alias here? What name should I call him, she thought as she rushed over.
“…. it’s you?”
She heard a hoarse voice from behind the mask.
“Please take this off.”
Maomao was going to strip off the mask, but Jinshi frantically held it down.
“It’s not you can’t. If it’s here, there’s no one.”
“No, someone might come.”
(Ahh, such a pain!)
Maomao lifted the staggering man’s arm over her shoulders and pulled.
“If you’re that worried about people looking, we’ll just have to go to a place where they can’t see you.”
They headed deeper into the forest. The forest became slightly elevated like a hill. She saw a cliff – there was a beautiful waterfall. I can collect water from here, Maomao judged and dipped the towel in the river.
(Will it be okay if it’s there?)
Close to the cliff, there was a cave that seemed to be right in a blind spot. They went in that and Maomao used the dangling ivy as a curtain.
There was an old tree growing on the side, with parasol-like things on the trunk.
Let’s gather some back afterwards, Maomao thought. It was a mushroom that was firm like tree bark; it is used as ingredients for medicine.
There were lots of old pot shards fallen in the cave. It appears that it was used as a storehouse of the water drawing place, but it didn’t seem to have been used in a long time.
“It should be fine if it’s here.”
Maomao piled up the tattered woven mats that were there and spread out a different dry towel on top. She slowly laid down Jinshi on that.
He took off the mask, revealing a beautiful face that was bright red.
“Please drink this.”
Maomao carried the bottle she brought over to Jinshi’s lips. She got him to sip from it slowly, then passed it over to his hands.
“After this, excuse me.”
Maomao loosened Jinshi’s sash, stripping off his outer garment. Jinshi was bewildered, but he didn’t have to energy to resist. She wiped down his naked torso with the towel she had soaked some time ago. She inserted the towel under his armpit to dampen all his skin.
“Not just palace ladies, you even strip off men’s clothes?”
“It’s not like I stripped you because I wanted to.”
At what Jinshi had said while in a daze, Maomao returned a pout.
Even if she stripped off the clothes of the rascal, it wasn’t interesting.
Jinshi’s body had a trace of fever. Having been wiped down, he should be more or less better.
He still looked bad, but she felt that his complexion had become marginally better after drinking water. Maomao propped Jinshi’s head onto her lap so it would be easy for him to drink from the bottle.
“Tastes kinda weird, this.”
Jinshi said as he sipped from the bottle.
“It’s that kind of thing. Since it’s a mixture of sauce paste and sugar. I couldn’t find salt, so it’s a substitute. A mixture of these things seems to be good for increasing hydration.”
Maomao said as she fanned some wind over to Jinshi’s face with the mask.
“On such a nice day like this, you’ll be brought down by the sun by wearing such a thing.”
“…not like there was anything I could do about it.”
“It is tough, to have a face that is so wastefully lovely.”
Maomao said in amazement.
In response to that, Jinshi stared at Maomao.
(Not good. Did I anger him?)
She had unintentionally said it in a sarcastic tone. Maomao awkwardly glanced at Jinshi. He didn’t seem angry.
Relieved, Maomao took the towel she wedged under Jinshi’s armpits. She was going to slowly put down Jinshi’s head and stand up.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to soak the towel again.”
“You don’t have to.”
Even if you say that, Maomao thought. Jinshi’s body temperature was still high; she wanted to cool him down a little more.
But, Jinshi didn’t let go of her.
“There’s something I want to talk about.”
Jinshi said, his voice cracked yet earnest. The eyes staring at Maomao were like polished obsidian.
Maomao spontaneously shifted her gaze like she was reacting against it. Her eyes suddenly went to the old tree outside the cave.
“For that intention, I brought you along this time.”
An earnest, but slightly bewildered voice.
Amidst that, Maomao felt her own pulse starting to race. Her heart thumped noisily, sending blood, heating up her entire body.
“Jinshi-sama, please release me.”
Maomao squinted and said to Jinshi. She wasn’t looking at his eyes, she was just looking outside.
“Please release me!”
Maomao shook off Jinshi; she tried to leave the cave. She stretched out her right hand and tried to grasp the thing that was beyond her.
However, her left hand was grasped and she was forcefully tugged back, breaking her stance. She spun around, and just as she was going to slam onto the floor, her face was pressed into a sweaty chest.
What could he be doing, Maomao thought.
She looked beyond her outstretched hand. In about three shaku(尺, Japanese Foot. About 30cm.), she could see an old plum tree. Something protruded there, growing at its roots.
The parasol shape was growing only on the tree trunk. It looked like the bracket fungus but was a little different. The surface was glossy like it was painted with candy. It wasn’t rough like bracket fungus.
The drumming of her heart got rapidly louder.
The mushroom recorded in books as a miracle drug from time immemorial. Right over there, was the mushroom that was named Lingzhi, or the Ten Thousand Year Mushroom.
And yet, her outstretched hand couldn’t reach for it.
Instead, she was tightly embraced by Jinshi, and then—.
And then, her remaining hand grasped onto something that was somewhat squishy(ぐにゅん (gu nyun). A better way of describing it is, uh… completely limp. Yeah).
T/N: :O Is this the fabled development? I’m totally evil that I will take a week’s break now. Back next Saturday >:D
…wrong mushroom, Maomao.
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.