Though it contained the word ‘festival(祭)‘, Maomao understood that it wasn’t something interesting. It also depended on what was being worshipped, but she was told that this ritual(祭祀, saishi, literally worshipping festival. Religious service.) was prohibited to women. When it came to worshipping female sages and goddesses, this was a common custom.
(T/N: I had TL’d 祭祀 as ‘religious festival’ last chapter but figured it doesn’t convey the same meaning despite it going along with what Maomao was trying to say.)
“Please change into this outfit.”
Gaoshun had gotten her an outfit worn by pages. He probably would rather that she wore adult clothes, but Maomao won’t fit in those with her size. Food tasting took the type and amount of poison into consideration, so food tasters were usually the same gender. It couldn’t be helped. There was also the forethought that this outfit would be preferable, seeing how this ritual was prohibited to women.
Maomao was arranged to be the food taster for the imperial brother.
Gaoshun must have persuaded well. It really is convenient, Maomao thought.
Maomao’s physique was flat from the start, so she didn’t have to trouble herself with binding her chest. With her hair tied up in a bun on the crown of her head, she didn’t look out of place when she wore a hood. When she looked into the mirror, she found herself so fitting that she spontaneously broke out in a dry smile.
When Jinshi came in and saw her, he was lost for words at how perfectly it suited her.
She didn’t want to be lumped together with Jinshi who stood out no matter what he wore.
Speaking of Jinshi, apparently, he will be attending in the ritual. He told Maomao to wait in the antechamber. Rituals were performed in one of the several rituals grounds in the imperial court. For the most part, the locations of the regularly performed rituals were decided by matching with the seasonal directions. It can also be decided by divination, but Maomao had no idea what the criteria was, so she didn’t care about it.
During the period she waited in the antechamber, she actually had nothing to do.
As a bit of purification before the festival, there was no food and drink, and even if there were, Maomao wasn’t permitted to eat before the food tasting.
There was nothing she could do in particular. She could only ruminate deeply on what will happen from here on.
When it was the time the ritual ended, it was Gaoshun’s son, Basen, who came to pick up Maomao. With his usual uncourteous expression, he jerked his head, gesturing at her to come along.
Abiding, Maomao moved.
The location of the banquet was near the ritual grounds. Unlike the Garden Party, she was grateful that it wasn’t held in open air. In the long and narrow hall that was about one in(引, yin, ~33.33m.) in length, there were two rows of long tables lined up. As a rite that thanked the final blessings before the passing of Winter, the cuisines would have to be certainly extravagant.
She could see a seat with a hanging curtain in the innermost spot. That must be where the imperial brother will be sitting.
(I heard the younger brother is eccentric.)
You should show your face during the banquet at least, that was Maomao’s true intention. Well, that’s the end of the matter if he was said to fear strangers. He should make a good try going out to the banquet at least.
He is the imperial brother rumoured to have sustained misfortunate treatment, but Maomao didn’t get that feeling. She hadn’t even seen the person in question properly, but as far as Maomao knowing the emperor she had seen, she couldn’t see him treating his brother like that. No, she considered that this brother would be protected excessively, rather.
Suddenly, she recalled about what happened last year, about Former Consort Ah Duo.
She couldn’t forget the face the woman displayed when she left the inner palace. The face of a prideful empress dowager.
(Let’s stop turning over weird speculations.)
Maomao was ashamed about her suspicion of the popular saying from before. It didn’t matter whether that was true or not. The things that are known now are fact, was something said in society.
She slowly made her way to the front seat with her head bowed. “Be good here,” Basen whispered into her ears, then went on standby next to the front-most seat.
Like so, Basen was on standby on the opposite side, like he was standing between the imperial brother’s seat.
As officials came in and sat down one after another, Jinshi didn’t show up.
Oh dear, she thought when the tanuki-like man, Shishou, sat right next to Maomao. He glanced at Maomao, but it didn’t look like he paid any heed to her.
Looks like Maomao in male clothes didn’t stand out at all.
The seats filled rapidly. Only the seat diagonally across Maomao was empty. The one who sauntered over and sat there, was a middle-aged man who wore monocles.
When the middle-aged man looked around shakily, his sharp eyes found Maomao. His slender eyes widened as is, and he grinned.
He rocked his body in glee, looking like he couldn’t calm down. Shishou, who was sitting right across from him, watched with a dubious gaze. That man’s suspicious behaviour wasn’t something that started now, but just from seeing the surroundings, he really was a person of concern.
Needless to say, Maomao ignored him.
(Don’t come, don’t come over.)
As if her wish was granted, there was sudden sound from the inside. Seeing Basen slowly lowering his head, the imperial brother must have shown up inside the curtain.
Everyone followed suit, getting up from their seats and bowed. Regarding the crown prince, sitting and waiting would seem rude as well, but wouldn’t this be an affable banquet comparative to face, Maomao thought.
There was likely a door at the back. He could enter from there without anyone seeing him.
Maomao thought she was more on the side of disliking people as well, but as far as she could tell, his seemed considerably severe.
(If it’s like this, the emperor should also endeavour in making children too.)
To think that this is the crown prince, the future is too uneasy. As far as Maomao knew, the imperial brother has yet to have a person to call a consort. Even though he was already at the age where it wouldn’t be strange for him to endeavour in making children.
However, in a certain meaning, with that much of an introverted personality, quite unlike the current emperor, this younger brother would have to be a person where you wouldn’t think to go outside. What that meant was, it might be good that there wasn’t bloodshed.
A while later, the noon bell rang. Together with that, Basen stood up and looked inside the curtain.
Everyone worked hard, Basen relayed the haughty words that sounded like that. Enjoy the banquet, accompanying those words, music from the corner of the room could be heard.
Between the tables that were placed left and right, actors appeared and began the play. There was a beautiful woman among them, but from the broadness of their shoulders, it had to be an oyama(女形, A male actor who plays female roles in Kabuki.).
As everyone watched the play, the pages brought in the aperitif. The cup was first passed to Basen, who passed it over to the imperial brother on the other side of the curtain. After everyone was passed the wine, she received a small sake cup from Basen.
She sniffed the wine. There was the aroma of alcohol and fruit. It was a mixture of shaojiu(燒酒, A clear, distilled Chinese spirit. Made from grains. Also known as baijiu (白酒). Generally 52% ABV.) and fruit juice.
She had heard from Gaoshun the variety of dishes that will be served at the banquet beforehand.
Gaoshun was sitting a fair distance away.
Jinshi was nowhere to be seen.
Maomao knitted her brows, but she could only focus on her current job.
Bringing the cup to her lips, she drank some to taste. A light, non-peculiar taste spread in her mouth.
(It’s extremely delicious.)
Maomao drank it down, savouring the taste, and slowly closed her eyes.
She tasted the food more slowly than usual.
When the cup was emptied, she passed it back to the page and rinsed her mouth.
Perhaps having confirmed that, the person behind the curtain made a sound of rustling clothes. After affirming an audible swallow, Basen raised his hand slightly.
Perhaps seeing that, the officials around them picked up the wine all at once.
Only Rakan pretended to drink, and quickly placed it on the table, but it wasn’t something she cared about.
The appetiser was brought over, and Maomao tasted the food once again. She chewed more than usual, performing it slowly.
It was a regretful taste that she could only have a few bites. While thinking, the leftovers are fine so would I be able to eat it later, she raised her lips, that might be impossible.
The soup came next. The moment she scooped it with the soup spoon, her whole body felt uncomfortable.
She was driven by the need to scratch her entire body. If no one was watching, she would be digging her nails in with all her might. There was the sound of the spoon hitting the bowl.
Her breathing also got rough. It was hard to breathe; she was somewhat dizzy.
She couldn’t hold it in. She pushed the bowl into the hands of the page who was close by.
She looked at her hands; red rashes had erupted. Since the page was looking at Maomao with a strange expression, she touched her face and felt bumps. The rashes must have broken out over her face too.
(Aah, oh boy.)
Maomao’s vision spun.
When she thought that the ceiling lurched, everything faded to black.
The food taster page had collapsed and yet the ones who first reacted were two people.
The first was the person behind the curtain. Gaoshun could see their big movements even from his seat. Basen who was there immediately pushed his way through and held down the person inside.
The other person who reacted was the monocle personnel.
On the face of that man who usually smiled frivolously, his composure was gone.
Slender eyes wide, he tried to approach the food taster page.
Because Basen had to hold that person down as well, Gaoshun couldn’t help but think that he made him do a disadvantageous duty.
A court physician was summoned right away, and the page whose face was inflamed red retired from the banquet site.
Gaoshun could only watch. There was nothing he could do with his position.
It was that moment there was the sound of glass shattering.
Rakan, the man who was being held down by several officials – Basen and others – had crushed the glass cup that was on the table. Crimson fluid dripped from his left hand.
There was no other person in this place who had that official rank beside Rakan, but it didn’t seem it reached his ears.
Raken extended his bloody left hand, and those eyes that had a touch of madness faced the person on the other end.
At the end of his finger, was Shishou.
“What are you planning?”
Rakan said only that, and then went on to point at different officials one after another.
Gaoshun memorised the people Rakan pointed at. The people who were pointed at darted their eyes about. And then, they looked around like they were exchanging looks.
Amid the restlessness, only Shishou looked back at Rakan nonchalantly.
It’s troublesome to be allies with the man called Rakan. However, you must never have him as an enemy.
That man was mad, but the rest of him was supplemented by talent.
The Ra Clan. This man, who was born from the family that produced madmen and geniuses, was said to be the exact embodiment of it. He possessed eyes that were odd for a human; he got it by just looking with his talent. Because of that, he turned out a great number of outstanding officials.
As though that man succeeded in getting the genuineness of art.
At the same time, you can also say it like this:
That he could correctly guess the genuineness of people.
For the people who do suspicious things, he could also be said to be a pain in the neck. In the past, it seems that there were those who neglected that and tried to make Rakan disappear, but seeing how he has survived, he must have been suspicious and thwarted them before that.
Above all, as his adopted son managed the finance of the country, he was even nastier.
Unfortunately, considering Rakan’s personality, if no one makes the first move, he won’t make a move. He only had his interest in board games and gossip, and a small number of people.
Army work, even battles as an example, was no more than a game for this man.
And if someone puts the jewel that man treasured into danger….
It goes without saying.
As blood continued to flow, Rakan smiled.
He smiled like a beast, fangs bared.
All the people who were at the location, were frozen, watching Rakan’s smile.
Only Shishou looked back at Rakan in silence.
Was it because he was surprised by Rakan’s actions? No one at the location was aware of it.
Gaoshun and Basen noticing that the person behind the curtain was already gone, was something a little while later.