Two days after she brought up the aforementioned matter to Honnyan, an old man with a figure like an old woman showed up at the Inner Palace.
She was surprised that his movements that were quicker than she had expected.
Her dad, who was led in by Gaoshun, greeted every person in the Jade Palace and then headed off to the medical office. It seems that he will be at the quack doctor’s place for a short while.
She had wondered what would happen if the quack got dismissed, but for the time being, that worry was unfounded.
Infa and the others showed up before Maomao who was organising the baggage.
“Really restless too, aren’t you?”
So saying that, they came to help her clean the room. Guien was amazed at the medicinal herbs that kept coming out no matter how much she packed them, and Airan almost shrieked at the dried lizard tail.
“Since it’s work.”
She said it was work, but was it really the case? Maomao couldn’t help thinking.
If she did the work properly, Jinshi would surely award her with an unusual medicinal herb as a reward, or perhaps, a foreign medical book.
But Maomao wavered at the something that was different to that.
(…Ah, what a pain.)
She didn’t want to do such a thing, but she’ll end up hating herself if that was what she did.
As she sighed while cramming the compounding tools into the wrapping cloth, Infa looked at Maomao as if she recalled something.
“That reminds me, Maomao’s father? He is, right? That person?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
She decided to go with that since they look similar. It’s a pain to explain it in detail so she gave the abridged version.
“He’s kinda, completely different to what I imagined. How do I say this, he’s normal? Something like that?”
“…what were you imagining?”
“Well, speaking of what, you know.”
Like they were agreeing with Infa’s words, Guien and Airan also faced each other and nodded.
It was nothing short of a mystery on just what they were imagining.
After leaving the inner palace and walking in the imperial court after a long time, she felt that the atmosphere was somewhat different. The inner palace was restrictive. She hardly felt the outside air. It only amounted to the occasional wind that leaked in through the gaps in the walls.
Maybe it was the strained atmosphere, or maybe it was that if you suspect something, everything will look suspicious, she had no idea. Just that within the few months, something must have changed.
“….the atmosphere is somewhat different.”
Maomao said to Gaoshun in a roundabout way. Gaoshun had come to pick up Maomao. Her luggage left to the manservant who was waiting outside, Maomao headed for Jinshi’s room.
“There will soon be a conference with a foreign country.”
After he said it frankly, Gaoshun walked briskly. The man who would normally slow down, taking Maomao’s pace into consideration, was walking unusually fast.
Maomao hurried after Gaoshun.
Maomao didn’t understand government affairs. Even if she was there listening, she would only understand half of it.
After reaching Jinshi’s building, Maomao decided to talk to Gaoshun after properly timing the moment the owner of this place wasn’t around.
Maomao understood that it would become bothersome if Jinshi knew what she was attempting to do from here on.
A couple of days after the preparations, Maomao waited upon Jinshi together with Suiren. Staring fixedly, the beautiful master seemed like he’s worn out for a different reason to before.
Jinshi usually exuded a disgusting smile. Often before Maomao, he displayed a look of sullenness, but before others, especially in the inner palace, he hardly showed that expression. His outward appearance was good if you were to say it, but it looked like he was wearing a mask.
During the time he’s wearing a mask, everyone must be effortlessly fooled by that inhuman beauty. With the reason being that he possessed an unusual beautiful face, the numbers of those who noticed that crack was limited.
And the few places where he doesn’t hide the cracks and display it, would have to be just his own room here.
As soon as he entered the living room after coming back from work, Jinshi slumped down on the couch, completely exhausted. As Suiren has said it, Maomao passed the honeyed fruit juice to Jinshi.
Jinshi sculled down half of that, then scanned the document that Gaoshun had brought over.
Maomao glanced at it. It appeared to be a document on a conference with a foreign country this time. If it’s the significance of customs, even Maomao knew about it at least.
While thinking that it was not good to steal looks, Maomao’s eyes shifted to the place she was concerned about.
“What is there?”
Perhaps he noticed Maomao staring, Jinshi asked her.
“The location of the conference, isn’t in the capital, right?”
She saw the place name – it was the name of a town that was situated along the national border in the northwest. Considering the distance from the capital, it would have to be a long trip. She didn’t know who was attending, but they may not return in several months.
“Seems that the other country doesn’t wish to come all the way here either.”
Rather, considering how they had proceeded all the way here, it would be more of a compromise.
However, what Maomao was concerned about, was the location of the town that was holding the meeting.
The western side was the national border with the foreign country. The northern side was pretty much a self-governing territory, but a different ethnic group lived there since olden times. Although it wasn’t taken as a country, it was the nature of the locality where both sides – west and north – were vigilant.
“Honestly, it’s not a place that you can be excited about.”
“I guess so. I’m not at ease.”
Even the different ethnic group were people, but things like the culture that were passed on there were different. When her dad studied abroad in the West, he said he also had that feeling.
The language was different, and mutual understanding was also difficult. It becomes even more difficult when you bring in various components like food, clothes, lifestyle, and religious belief.
“There’s also that, but they have a custom where they eat strange things.”
With a strangely weary expression, he drank up the rest of the fruit juice.
“It seems insects are normally served in meals.”
Jinshi sighed deeply.
It’s because of that you’re naïve, Maomao thought. Maomao, who had eaten both snakes and frogs, hadn’t not eaten insects before. In particular, the northern parts treat insects as an important source of nutrients.
Even if it was not normally eaten in the years where there were locust plague, they would have to eat even crickets too so it cannot be helped. The northwestern parts were spread out as a grain-producing region, so if locust plague occurred, it cannot be overlooked.
A calamity caused by insects. In bad years there were also those who die from starvation. As this could go as far as to also change the ruler of the country sometimes, it was one of the serious disasters. It was also said the insect was written with the emperor for that reason(The word for locust 蝗 is written with insect 虫 and emperor 皇.).
Maomao recalled one other thing.
(Bad insects carry calamity.)
The final words the young girl had said when she was still Shisui.
What does insect mean? What is the calamity?
Maomao had only considered diseases. However, if what she said was about this:
(There will be locust plague from here on?)
No, no matter how much she knew about insects, was that something she knew? Otherwise, if she knew, how much of a benefit would that be?
That can’t be, Maomao shook her head and considering something else.
(If we speak about insects,)
There was a technique that forces insects to eat each other and uses the survivors as a curse. It’s called witchcraft(巫蠱, fuko. More specifically, dark magic/curse that involves poison derived from venom.), but Maomao didn’t believe in things like curses.
It is likely that due to poisonous creatures eating each other that will accumulate poison. Creating a stronger poison and serving that up to the other person. The curse was something like this.
(I want to try it once.)
While thinking about such insolent things, she looked at the map that was attached to the document. Suddenly, she recalled the words of the peddler who was a guest of the pleasure district a long time ago.
Was it the story of the different ethnic tribe that lived in the northern parts?
“What is it?”
Jinshi asked Maomao who was staring intently at the map.
“No, the tribe that lives in this place, do they hunt?”
The plains of the northern sides that spread out to fields and pastures extended out to the forest.
“The citizens of this country do not. Though, I have heard that the foreign tribe hunt mainly for provisions.”
“…I have heard that there are many tribes that worship insects.”
“I am not sure about that. Though, I have heard about coating insect poison on arrows and using that in hunts and battles.”
Using poison in hunting can be found anywhere. However, the arrow poison that was generally used here was wolfsbane. The south also harvested poison from frogs.
The part where they specifically use insects was the key point.
(What if the insects that carry calamity meant this?)
If they intervene with that hereafter while in discussions with the foreign country, the country may fall into an unfavourable situation, if not ruin.
Therefore this was a discussion that affected the face of the country.
If it’s like that, if imprudent, they cannot get away with the small skirmish that they had up until now and a conflict will break out. And then, from that war, the ones who would look more important would be—.
The majority of the woodlands that spread out in the northern parts was shouldered by Consort Rouran’s clan, that is, the Shi Clan. The emperor would have no choice but to rely on their strength.
No, then that doesn’t make sense.
How did Consort Rouran know about it beforehand? If the Shi Clan knew about it and left it alone, for what reason? Even if that was to demand gratitude from the emperor, wouldn’t that be indirect and a bother?
No, that was wrong.
That wasn’t their goal.
After all this time, would they have a reason to demand gratitude from the emperor?
More than that, they wouldn’t think of trying to reach for something bigger?
Even if Maomao reached as far as that idea, she wanted to shake her head.
Absurd. As far as that idea goes, were the officials of this society fools? They have plenty of wealth and renown. The ones would think about climbing higher were those who go beyond living fast and plunge towards their own deaths.
But, the other party was the clan, the high official who came along while thinking of the previous era. Somehow or other, that idea that was beyond her means may also exist.
(Ah, so troublesome.)
What to do if they did that? On top of the pointless bloodshed, they will only just meet with familial extermination. Or because there was the cause of victory that they plotted for it?
Was it for this reason that Consort Rouran wanted to tell Maomao?
In order to stop her foolish relatives.
“When is this?”
Maomao inadvertently spoke. This would be the conference with the foreign country.
“It’s a short time after the new year. The turn of the year should be busy.”
There was no time.
Maomao slightly knitted her eyebrows and looked at Gaoshun who was also knitting his eyebrows similarly.
Gaoshun, as if he timed it, passed a new document to Jinshi.
“Jinshi-sama, what should we do about this?”
He had passed over yet another event program. Jinshi blatantly grimaced.
Maomao also peered at it, and end up making an unpleasant expression at the contents. It appeared to be a religious festival that was performed periodically, but the issue was the banquet that was held after that. Seeing that face, she wanted to droop her shoulders.
It was a gathering of elites. Although the emperor wasn’t attending, the one who was holding the religious festival seemed to be the Imperial Brother. There were several names that even Maomao knew.
Consort Rouran’s father, Shishou, and the monocle man made her tired by just recalling him for some reason, Rakan.
By just seeing that, the other fellows who were attending must also be elite faces.
Maomao subconsciously nearly stiffened her face, but she noticed that Gaoshun was staring at her.
It was a chance that she won’t get again.
Maomao stood before Jinshi and stared at his face.
Maomao gave a small sigh.
Gaoshun must have shown Jinshi’s schedule before Maomao for this reason. As though he was saying that this was a chance she won’t get again.
Thus, Maomao must not miss this. She didn’t know when the next chance will come around.
“May I take up the food taster post for this banquet?”
She had intended to say it very naturally.
However, Jinshi faced Maomao with eyes of scepticism.
So to let her expression show outwardly, Maomao looked at Jinshi with a stiffly cooled gaze. This gaze could only look like the eyes where she was gazing at a hairy caterpillar. The gaze of Suiren who had noticed it was considerably terrifying, but she could not pay heed to it now.
“You, won’t attend the gathering where the tactician is around by choice.”
Mhm, it was exactly that.
He should have just disregarded that sort of thing.
“Jinshi-sama, the dinner that Suiren-sama prepared is getting cold.”
“Your personality is one where you won’t lie but you won’t speak the truth, right?”
Maomao glanced at Gaoshun.
Gaoshun made a slightly troubled expression again, but he was one step ahead.
“Jinshi-sama, Shaomao being Shaomao seem to be thinking about Jinshi-sama.”
As Jinshi made a slightly dubious expression, he looked intermittently between Maomao and Gaoshun.
“For more or less, even if it is a person she can’t deal with, she had said it thinking of Jinshi-sama’s sake.”
(It’s wrong though.)
It might be that concerning the result, but it wasn’t for his sake. But it’s a bother so she’ll stop talking back each time for it.
“Even if she didn’t say to win over Rakan-sama, isn’t she thinking about wanting to become the enemy of an enemy?”
The things Gaoshun said, wasn’t substantially wrong. She won’t need to correct him.
In saying so, a somewhat hot gaze was directed towards Maomao.
“Is that true?”
Jinshi was, more than usual, looking at Maomao with a face that had increased sensuality. His eyes were slightly wet, the entirety of his face looked feverish.
Maomao neither shook her head nor did she nod. She only cast her eyes down.
Though Jinshi stood up from the couch with a clank, a steamy scrumptious aroma came closer.
Though Jinshi charged towards Maomao’s face, Suiren held out the congee with a smile.
“The meal is getting cold, so please eat.”
The words of the middle-aged maid were, as usual, incontestable.
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