Maomao was ushered into what seemed like a storehouse. The one who let her out of the basket hadn’t been Rouran. It was a tall woman.
“You are….” Maomao looked at the person before her.
It was a tall woman devoid of makeup. Maomao had seen her many times in the imperial court.
The real Shisui. No, would it be better to call her Suirei to not get them mixed up?
She figured out the reason why she got a sense of déjà vu the first time she met Rouran.
It must be because they were sisters with the same father. The air from their height and facial features were similar.
“We’ll have you stay here for now. There are various inconveniences, but I believe it is prudent that you don’t run away,” Suirei said, opening the window.
Outside the window with iron grids, was a land of pure white snow. Maomao clutched the furs she had put on, cold from the sight of this.
“As you just saw, the mistress here has a violent temper. It’s best that you don’t get discovered, and even if you escape, you won’t even know where to go. I will properly bring you your meals, so I suggest you stay put.”
That roundabout way of speaking is annoying, Maomao thought.
It was certainly true that she absolutely wanted to avoid meeting the lady from before, and were she to go outside, it was a land of pure white snow out there. It’ll be a punch in the gut to have her freeze to death after immediately getting into an accident.
While thinking that it was futile with only what she heard, Maomao looked at Suirei. “So, the part where you kidnap me, is there a meaning to it?”
She didn’t think she would get a reply. Just that, strangely, she couldn’t stand it to have it cast off to the side.
“You are a person who is surprisingly useful. At least, more than you think.”
Suirei’s choice of words can be taken either way.
The woman was going to leave. Maomao called her to a stop.
“What is it?”
To Suirei who looked like she had nothing more to say, Maomao had one more thing she couldn’t set aside for her. “What about the toilet?”
“It’s connected to that door. There’s no problem since you don’t need to go outside.”
“I understand.” Maomao lightly dipped her head and half-jogged over to the toilet.
She didn’t know how long she held it in.
She didn’t have the free time to be shy. It was quite a serious matter.
Like Suirei had said, she brought in her meals every time for her. Though slightly cold, the simple meals weren’t bad. It’s just that there were a lot of dried food; somewhat close to portable food.
The room, now used for storage, must have been a guest room before. It had a bed too, so she wasn’t that uncomfortable. The connected toilet must have also been a remnant of it.
Maomao sat cross-legged on the bed. Her propping her chin on her standing elbows was bad manners, but there was no one here to reprimand her.
(Well then, what should I do?)
If she doesn’t run away, she would be stabbed by nails – Maomao wasn’t the type to listen meekly. However, she was also against exposing herself to danger.
The rashes on her body haven’t healed completely and her physical strength had also fallen. If she were to go outside clumsily, death was imminent.
Maomao glanced out the window.
It was a full expanse of pure white snowy landscape.
(I must be way north of the capital.)
The Shi Clan’s territory is in the north. It was correct to think that, but how far was it from the capital?
Even if she considered the speed of the horse carriage and the travel time, she figured that it wouldn’t work with this snow.
(Thinking of that,)
Maomao glided her fingers across the bedsheet. She dimly recalled the map of the entire country she had memorised.
The northern half of the capital came to mind as a semi-circle. No matter how fast the horse was, it didn’t appear likely that it would be further than six hundred ri (200km) from the capital. Within this range, places with snow in this period must be on high ground only.
(I’m pretty sure there’s a mountain.)
There should be a mountain range in the north. That place shouldn’t be a site that is politically important. She had a feeling that it was something Jinshi had muttered while looking at the map.
(I should’ve studied properly if it’s like this.)
In the exam she took to become a court lady, she had a feeling that there were geography questions. There’s no way she was going to remember since she had slept whenever she cracked open the reference book.
What to do? She looked outside again.
She couldn’t see clearly with the falling snow, but were those walls she could see in the distance? No, rather than walls, those were closer to castle walls. She could only see one side, but it probably circled the building.
(A castle, and it’s like a fort.)
If you were to speak of forts, it would have to be used for the military, but if the mistress of this place was Rouran’s mother, then it must be different.
There were certainly army garrisons in various places around the country, but was there one this close?
If this kind of thing was built in a place unknown to the overseer of the country, it would be inevitable to see it as treason.
(Also, it’s in a place not that far from the capital.)
Was it really correct to think that Shishou was trying to overthrow the country?
Even though Maomao had – to the point of death – incited that monocle. Does it mean that it didn’t go through to that man?
Maomao swallowed the saliva that had filled her mouth.
That moment, she heard shrill voices coming down from the corridor.
What? Maomao went down from the bed and stuck her ear against the door facing the corridor.
“Young master, you can’t play here!”
“Ehhh, it should be fine—. We haven’t explored here yet.”
The shrill voice seems to belong to a young boy. It seems he was pulled to a stop by his nursemaid.
(Are there children here too?)
“What are you doing— There’ll be no snacks for you left—”
“I get it okay, you can’t just eat my food.”
Furthermore, she could hear other shrill voices a fair distance away. There should be five to six of them at least.
Maomao, knowing that there are children, leaned against the wall and sighed tremendously.
No matter how much of a stronghold the castle was, it was clear that it was used for a siege.
The current emperor is a relatively benevolent sovereign. However, he still has a line you cannot cross. The palace lady who was the perpetrator of the attempted assassination of a high ranked consort previously was sentenced to hanging. Her kin was exposed to physical punishment.
To preserve the authority of the emperor, he cannot avoid these sorts of measures too.
What would happen if they were to raise a tumult of this scale?
Familial extermination. Everyone won’t be allowed to live, right? It didn’t matter whether there were children or babies or not.
Did they bring their children here with that resolution?
Maomao sighed again. She hugged her legs and rested her chin on her knee.
She sensed something out of place in her chest area. She touched her collar.
(That reminds me.)
She took out a piece of paper from her collar. It was what Rouran had left in Maomao’s breast pocket.
Maomao opened it and tilted her head.
There was a trumpet-shaped flower pressed into the high-quality paper. Flowers pressed in during the making of paper, was something that seemed to be liked by a portion of the elite.
It looked like morning glory(朝顔, asagao. Ipomoea nil.), but it was way larger in size and the colours were pale.
“Devil’s trumpet(曼荼羅華, mandarake, mandala flower. Datura metel.)?”
It’s a plant used as an ingredient for anaesthetic, but its poison is potent; something you must handle with care. When you ingest it, your mouth dries and you get dizzy. Depending on the case, it seems you can see hallucinations, but she has never reached that point.
What does she want to say? Maomao thought as she returned it to her breast pocket.
Which reminds her, there was something strange the girl had said before kidnapping her.
It was about bell crickets, but Maomao was completely ignorant of it. But, was there something she wanted to tell Maomao from that? Was that why she brought her to such a place?
She had absolutely no idea.
There was no point in thinking when she doesn’t know. Maomao decided to change her thinking.
She looked at the things that were accumulated in the room.
There were many kinds of tableware. They were handled roughly, but they were all first-class items. She picked up one of the things wrapped in a thin cloth from the inside of the wooden box. It was a lacquered bowl inlaid with mother of pearl.
She tried fishing around for something she could use, but there wasn’t anything of the sort. They were all lacquered ware.
(Is lacquer a speciality of these parts?)
Even the casually placed table used lacquer extravagantly. The polish was beautiful. However, the ones who had a reaction from lacquer once wouldn’t want to touch it. There’s no chance of a reaction if the lacquer is dried, but if they touch fresh lacquer they will turn into what Maomao looked like now.
Thinking that it was just used as a storeroom, she found tools and bowls that were still in the process of being made.
Were there craftsmen here too?
It was a given that seamstresses and blacksmiths would be hired in a large fortress. There might also be various craftsmen here for the same reason.
There were various other tools, but there was nothing that could be useful at present.
She understood that it was likely that this place must be used to put various things that are in preparation to be moved around.
Well then, she was in a stalemate. There was nothing she could do even if she were to do something. So, for now, she laid down on the bed and pulled up the covers.
(Let’s ask if there’s brazier afterwards.)
She decided to sleep as she shivered. Even if a brazier was not allowed, she would like another layer of clothes.
If it was anyone else, they might retort “Do you even understand your circumstance?” Even she was shocked at her bold personality.
But it’s Maomao, so it couldn’t be helped.
While being kidnapped and confined, Maomao was, as Maomao is.
When he entered the inner palace, the atmosphere was different.
Jinshi, leading Gaoshun and several eunuchs, headed to the Jade Palace.
Consort Gyokuyou’s condition had been strange since a few days ago. He got a message that she went into labour this morning.
Maomao’s adoptive father, Ruomen, had been giving her constant attendance, but it seems she couldn’t give birth easily.
The consort’s childbirth wasn’t made public, but everyone must have realised from the atmosphere of the Jade Palace. There were palace ladies coming to inquire now and again.
The moment they noticed Jinshi, they hurried back to work, faces flushed.
Jinshi was greeted by a slightly worn out looking Honnyan, and went inside. There were a large tub and a kettle placed on the brazier in the corridor, so it was ready for whenever she gives birth.
Jinshi asked, as calm as he could.
The maid’s expression simply clouded over. It was the old man who came out of the room who explained to him.
“Currently the contractions have lessened. We are still not clear when she will give birth.”
“And her condition?”
“The consort is currently not exhausted. She is resting.”
Currently. Does that mean that they don’t know what was to come?
There was another man wearing court physician robes in the corridor. He had a thin moustache. Originally the man worked as the court physician in the inner palace, but he was treated unkindly by the palace ladies like he was a nuisance. His shoulders were drooped, though when Ruomen whispered something into his ears, he triumphantly left the palace.
Jinshi looked at Ruomen with a dubious expression, and the old man, who read the atmosphere, politely informed him.
“Since I can’t look over my adopted child, would it be fine if I send him on a small errand?”
“There’s no problem.”
He was told that Maomao had been resting in the clinic that was in the inner palace since then. Her entire body had broken out in rashes and she was bedridden for a couple of days, but how was she now?
He was told that the man called Ruomen was, as his name suggested, a member of the Ra Clan. He had once committed a blunder in the inner palace and received physical punishment, so he walked with one leg dragging.
What kind of blunder was it? He didn’t investigate in that much detail, but that man didn’t look like that kind of person. Just that, when he heard that he incurred the empress’ wrath, he had a general idea, so he didn’t investigate it deeply.
When he told the emperor about the incident, just in case, he didn’t really get any opposition.
Rather, was it his imagination that the emperor looked pleased about it?
Anyway, there was no doubt that this personage was many times more reliable compared to the court physician from before.
He came to see the situation, but since it wasn’t good position-wise for him to see the consort in labour, he waited in the parlour. One of the usually noisy maids brought tea over to him, but her eyes were slightly dulled.
Perhaps, the mere presence of Jinshi must have increased their workload.
Feeling very uncomfortable and not knowing when Consort Gyokuyou would give birth, he looked outside just as when the court physician from before trudged back with his shoulders drooping.
The court physician went to Ruomen like a child who had failed his errand.
Jinshi, since there was nothing much he could do, inclined his ear to the conversation.
According to the conversation, it seems he was turned away from the clinic.
As an informal place, where medicine wasn’t originally allowed to be used at all, it seems they weren’t really favourable towards court physicians.
“How strange. I can go in normally when I went.”
“Is it because I’m bad?”
The court physician muttered, his thin moustache more dejected.
Hmm, Jinshi stood up from his seat.
“In that case, how about I go?”
At Jinshi’s proposal, the court physician’s moustache stood up with a twang. Ruomen tilted his head.
“Would that be alright?”
“Yeah. I naturally have a responsibility as well if it turns out like this.”
Just the moment he was concerned.
There was nothing for Jinshi to do even if he was here, and if there was anything, Gaoshun would deal with it skilfully for him.
And so, Jinshi decided to head for the clinic.
When Jinshi led the moustached court physician and two eunuchs to the clinic, a middle-aged palace lady came to greet them.
“I want to see a girl called Maomao.”
Jinshi said. The palace lady knitted her brows like she was troubled.
“That girl, she’s in a slightly poor state of health so she doesn’t want to see anyone.”
It was a somewhat roundabout way of speaking.
Jinshi raised his brows in surprise.
“Then, how is the girl right now?”
She made a dim expression about that too.
“…actually, I’m not looking after her. It is left to a palace lady called Shenryu. The girl seems to be shy, so she doesn’t want to face us either.”
He heard something that made him want to tilt his head for some reason.
It was certainly true that Maomao had a side where she dislikes people, but she didn’t seem to be that sensitive.
If she has that side of her, he wanted to see.
And so, Jinshi walked inside the clinic. The middle-aged court lady looked like she wanted to say something, but she couldn’t oppose Jinshi so she could only be flustered.
“…the innermost room on the left.”
He opened the door on the left side at the end of the corridor that smelled of alcohol. There were only two beds in the simple white room.
Inside, he approached the bed that had a bump like there was a person sleeping there.
No answer. No movement of surprise.
Jinshi put his hand on the covers.
And he tugged it with all his might. Under it was a rolled-up futon that was shaped like a person.
“…the lass, did she run away?”
The court physician inadvertently muttered the most probable answer. Because he was close to Maomao, he knew her actions very well.
However, Jinshi thought it wasn’t possible this time.
He saw something under the bed.
He crouched down and picked it up. It was a gorgeous feather of a foreign bird. Jinshi had seen this before.
“What are you doing?”
He heard a middle-aged woman’s voice behind him.
The middle-aged court lady said. Is this court lady Shenryu? Jinshi looked.
“The girl who should be here, why is she not here?”
Shenryu tilted her head at Jinshi’s question.
“That girl must have gone off somewhere again. She should be resting.”
The court physician nodded, moustache swinging, as if he agreed.
“Is that so?”
Jinshi slowly approached the court lady. He stared into her black eyes.
“It’s great that she is healthy. Will she be back soon?”
The court lady blinked once. Then her lips curved into an arc.
“I think she will return eventually. I don’t know when. She seems to have a whimsical personality.”
She blinked again and glanced out the window.
“I see, seems like I have inconvenienced you greatly.”
Jinshi said that and took Shenryu’s hand. He noticed her pulse had sped up a notch.
He intently watched Shenryu’s response. When he glanced back, the middle-aged court lady and the court physician’s faces were deep red and bashful.
The eunuchs that came along also looked uncomfortable.
Even so, Jinshi gave a smile and whispered into Shenryu’s ear.
“So, where did you get acquainted with Consort Rouran?”
Shenryu’s pupils dilated in an instant. And her pulse pounded.
The inner palace was covered with lies.
Jinshi had some knowledge of seeing through that.
It was similar to the method he used to chase up Maomao in the beginning.
It wasn’t a monstrous talent like Rakan who can see through his opponent’s ability by just looking. What Jinshi can do was only the discrimination between truth and lies by observing the other person.
He didn’t have an outstanding gift. Nevertheless, with his ability alone, he can handle his work easily.
Shenryu looked at Jinshi with wide eyes.
“…I remembered my old memories.”
Shenryu regarded Jinshi with a bewildered expression.
“He called my name with a tender voice and gave me foreign sweets.”
Large tears flowed from Shenryu’s eyes.
“It seems everyone has forgotten that gentleman’s looks when he was young. I heard that he was a mere shadow of his former self in his final years. Hey, don’t you think he resembles him when you look at him properly? That voice and features, that bearing that is like candy, hey.”
Shenryu addressed the middle-aged court lady.
The middle-aged court lady, whose face was scarlet until just then, paled instantly at those words. “Eek,” she stepped back, looking at Jinshi like she saw something terrifying.
She acted like she remembered something that was the object of fear.
Wondering what was up, Jinshi reached out. However, the court lady covered her face and cowered.
“That gentlemen, won’t he ever set us free?”
It was that moment. Blood flowed out from Shenryu’s mouth.
She inserted her tongue between her front teeth and tried to bite it off.
Jinshi thrust his hand into Shenryu’s mouth. He tore his sleeve and wedged it into her mouth.
He thought he heard a loud sound behind him. It seems the moustached court physician had fallen over in panic. The waiting eunuchs approached Jinshi, wondering what to do, and bound Shenryu’s limbs so that she doesn’t struggle.
As the middle-aged palace lady had shrieked, panicking, other palace ladies appeared to see what was up. They were taken back by the unexpected disaster.
“Oi. She bit her tongue. Is there anyone who can treat her!”
A eunuch shouted on behalf of Jinshi.
The other palace ladies who showed up pacified the panicking palace lady.
Only the court physician moved about in confusion with his moustache swinging about.
Jinshi passed Shenryu over to the palace lady who volunteered to treat her.
And Shenryu, whose mouth was stuffed with cloth, stared back at Jinshi with her black eyes.
Like she was asking, why won’t you set us free—.
T/N: Each chapter will be a cliffhanger from now on, so this will be fun~
It’s interesting how Shenryu was originally described to have green eyes (v3ch13), only for it to be black here. Continuity error? Or does her eye colour change with mood?
Because she joined the dark side? No, it’s totally contact lenses….