Jinshi raced out the clinic and headed for the Garnet Palace where Consort Rouran resided.
The other palace ladies were shocked that Shenryu bit her tongue, but they went to treat her one way or another. At least, they were more reliable than that thin moustached court physician.
None of them seemed to know why Shenryu bit her tongue. It was likely she had no accomplice in the clinic. And even if there were, there was another matter that took precedence right now.
The palace had transformed into a gorgeous building overflowing with an exotic ambience. There were no traces of the minimalistic appearance left from last year.
Jinshi knocked on the door a little forcefully.
In little time, a maid opened the door for him.
Jinshi let out a small breath and focused on maintaining his usual smile. The maid bowed shyly and let him in.
They traversed the corridor that was set up with garish mother-of-pearl crafts and made way for the parlour as usual. The mistress of this palace was already waiting. She was lying on the coach just like usual, listlessly polishing her nails.
Jinshi squinted. There were six maids standing in wait around her. Somehow, their tending of Consort Rouran was spirited.
All of them were wearing showy outfits. They were wearing the traditional dress worn in the island country of the east. The many-layered outfits were brilliant to the eye.
Though not to the extent of Consort Rouran’s, the maids also wore several layers, blurring the shape of their body figures. Also, they wore make-up that lifted the corner of their eyes and exposed the contours of their faces. It was strange.
Why were they dressed up this garishly? Jinshi wanted to tilt his head. He understood that this tackiness must make the emperor wince.
No, Jinshi blinked. Didn’t Maomao mention it before? About the maid called Shisui. And wasn’t that maid Consort Rouran playing around in a disguise?
When Jinshi heard that the first time, he thought that was in no way possible.
The Consort Rouran Jinshi knew was Shishou’s daughter. A high ranked consort that he understood more than enough.
Consort Rouran hid her lips behind her fan and whispered into the ears of a maid. He was amazed at her considerably modest way of conversing, but it wasn’t anything like that.
Supposedly, if Maomao couldn’t recognise Consort Rouran as the maid called Shishui, then Jinshi wouldn’t either.
Speaking of what—.
Jinshi didn’t sit on the seat the maid prepared and headed straight for Consort Rouran.
“What is it? Even if it’s Jinshi-sama, isn’t it rude?”
One of the maids said, the corner of her eyes raised. What was her name? Jinshi pretty much had the names and birthplaces, of the kind of maids and how many of them in each and every one of the palaces, in his head. However, the maids of the Garnet Palace wore different outfits and make-up each time, and puzzlingly, their figures were very similar.
And so, though he remembered their names, he can’t match them with their faces.
Jinshi reached out, threaded his fingers through the fan Consort Rouran was holding, and flung it away.
“Wh-what are you doing!?”
One of the maids shouted.
Consort Rouran turned her back to Jinshi in fright. The maids stood around her to cover up for her. This behaviour looked like they were thinking of their master, but it wasn’t the case.
Jinshi gave a look to the accompanying eunuchs. The eunuchs held down the maids and dragged them off Consort Rouran.
Jinshi gripped Consort Rouran’s shoulder a little forcefully. He wrenched her face towards him.
Her face was garishly made-up, but her cheeks were dyed scarlet.
“I was pretty sure, that Consort Rouran had seven maids looking after her.”
Jinshi asked for verification.
The girl, pampered as Shishou’s daughter, had entered court with more than fifty attendants with her.
Jinshi, holding Consort Rouran’s face, smeared off the make-up from the corner of her eyes with his finger. Revealing plump eyes with hooded double eyelids.
“Sourin(双凛, Shuang Lin). No, is it Renpuu(漣風, Lian Feng)? Your name.”
Jinshi smiled to not express anger towards that face. However, the face of the maid who was disguised as Consort Rouran changed from red to ghastly pale. She trembled.
One of the maids tried to cut in again to deceive him, but Jinshi gave her a look. She jerked back in surprise, freezing.
“Where did the real one go?”
Was this all planned from the start? Having a large number of attendants entering the inner palace, choosing maids that look similar to her, and wearing eccentric outfits each time so no one will know when someone changes places with her?
Was this her intention from the start?
Then, what about where did the real one go?
“Where did she go?”
The maid who was disguised as Consort Rouran merely trembled. She made no sign of speaking.
Jinshi tightened his grip.
“Where did she go?”
The third time he asked, the maid who had tried to barge in before pushed herself in. She hugged the fake consort as though she was protecting her, then she looked at Jinshi, her brows lowered.
“My apologies. This child really doesn’t know.”
He hadn’t noticed it since everyone was wearing similar outfits, but this maid seemed to be several years older than the fake Rouran.
“Please forgive us.”
Saying that, the maid awkwardly looked at the fake consort’s legs.
Her long skirt was wet. Water dripped from her legs to her toes.
Jinshi released his hold on the fake consort’s chin. The fake consort’s eyes were wide. Her pupils were dilated. She gasped for breath, trembling.
There were stark traces of Jinshi’s hand left on her pale neck and jaws.
The act of having the daughters of high officials enter the inner palace was actually advantageous for the emperor as well.
For the high officials, if their daughter falls pregnant, their grandchild can assume the status of the son of heaven too. However, on the other hand, there is a disadvantage.
This is not restricted to all parents, but there must be those among them who see their daughters as the apple of their eyes. The birdcage called the inner place is a place that treats the daughters that hold such value as prisoners.
For Shishou, aside from his child that was borne by a concubine, Shisui, there was only the child of his main wife, Rouran.
Even considering how he forced her into the inner palace, it appears that he loves her greatly.
This daughter, was in the position of a high ranked consort.
While worrying about this, Rouran must also maintain the minimum criterion.
To no longer require the title of ‘Consort’ attached to her, she violated that criterion.
“She said that she’s not coming back.”
The maid from before said solemnly. The woman, Rouran’s head maid, answered Jinshi’s question on behalf of the fake consort. The fake consort, unable to breathe properly, was in the state where she cannot speak at all. With the reason that she resembled Rouran the most, she substituted for the consort, but it seems that she didn’t know much about the circumstances.
She must have thought she was told to act as her substitute for Rouran’s whims as usual.
Jinshi clenched his fist.
That was no good. He realised that the way he did it was a mistake for the eunuch Jinshi who possesses a tender smile. However, to the extent of taking a different method in that place, Jinshi’s feelings were not calm.
Not coming back. Should he take that as her breaking out of the inner palace?
Breaking out from the inner palace was a serious crime that meant capital punishment at times. And if she was a high ranked consort, the crime was all the more heavy.
It was like a runaway prostitute, the pharmacist girl had said before. Going to the pleasure quarter together when the next emperor was born was, as a matter of fact, just like that girl. Jinshi gave a bitter smile.
That girl is still missing too.
He guessed that it was likely that she had left the inner palace together with Rouran.
In Maomao’s case, considering her personality, there was the possibility of her following on her own accord. However, the girl’s physical strength was weakened with her strong reaction against buckwheat. The possibility of her being taken away without her consent was higher.
Just, for what reason?
And how did she go outside?
The question remains.
Even though he cross-examined the head maid, he could only tilt his head. There was also the option of torture, but that is pointless too, Jinshi thought.
The head maid’s eyes were not lying.
The maids of the Garnet Palace, maidservants, eunuchs, all the people related to Consort Rouran were all shut up in one place. The auditorium where that inner palace lesson was held was just the right size.
Just in case, using eunuchs, they straightforwardly worked through the palace ladies in the inner palace one by one, but they haven’t yet found a palace lady who was like Rouran at present.
He wasn’t in the condition to witness Consort Gyokuyou’s childbirth at all. Although the back of his hair was being pulled(後ろ髪ひかれる, painfully reluctant. Explanation: like how you can’t easily move forward when the hair on the back of your hair is being tugged, you can’t easily let go of the regret/reluctance left in your heart and move on.), he decided to leave it to Gaoshun.
Jinshi clutched his head in his office.
Perhaps they were in the state of emergency, Basen was with Jinshi.
He didn’t have the free time to sell oil(油を売る, to dawdle. Explanation: From the Edo period, hair oil peddlers gossip with female customers as they sell their wares. Passing time while neglecting your work.) in such a place. He was brimming with the impatience to rush out and look for Rouran even now.
However, there was too little information. And even if he were to rush out now, it would only amount to finding a needle in the sands of the desert.
Therefore, Jinshi could only pace around aimlessly in his office.
Amid that, Basen glanced at Jinshi. It seems there was a guest in front of the office. He must want to tell him to stop looking so shameful.
Nothing he could do. He sat down in his chair and feigned serenity.
The person who entered was a short man with fox eyes. Rahan.
“Did you discover something?”
Rahan, with the cost of repairs of the inner palace wall destroyed by his uncle and adoptive father, Rakan, as a collateral, was undertaking work from Jinshi.
He was quite the miser. Along with having Jinshi take on half of the cost of repairs, he had the ability to get a thirty percent discount on the quote with a negotiation with the wall repairers.
Rahan squinted, his eyes somewhat like a nasty someone, and spread out a map on the table.
“This is from around these fifteen years. It’s gradual, but there is certainly an area where the circulation of stone, lumber, metal and etc has increased.”
Rakan pointed to the north of the capital. Crossing the plains, it was on the ridge of the mountain range.
That area didn’t have a large city worth speaking about. And if there were, there was only a fortress that was used as an army garrison from the era of the previous emperor. Additionally, he remembered it was a place that was abandoned to decrease maintenance costs. It wasn’t a place where enemies would invade, and he heard that dealing with the fallen snow and so on in winter since it was on high-ground was dreadful.
“Did you know about it? The area nearby used to prosper as a health resort in the past. It is now, being distanced from the trade route, a depopulated area known for the secret hot springs though.”
“And what about it?”
Basen, who was slightly quick-tempered, interrupted Rahan who spoke in a roundabout manner.
“I’m saying there’s a sulfur spring. The quality and quantity are inferior compared the southern volcanic range, but I wonder if they can take the amount throughout the year.”
Hearing sulfur, Jinshi’s ears pricked up. It was a typical raw material for gunpowder.
The abandoned fortress. Stone. Lumber. Metal. And sulfur.
And speaking of the further north, it was close to Shishou’s territory. Even considering where the territories of the officials who were pointed out by Rakan were situated, it wasn’t that bad of a location.
It was more suspicious.
“How was it? Should I prepare more reliable numbers?”
Jinshi could only sigh. The response was more than he had expected. Instantly, Basen held the map and sent out a lower official as a messenger.
It seems that this small man can see some shape from the numbers, but it must be like that. The members of the ‘Ra’ family were truly terrifying.
“While you’re at it, can you investigate whether there is a secret passage in the inner palace?”
He inadvertently spoke of it.
“The inner palace? If I remember correctly, the largest construction work was the expansion from forty years ago. The current outer wall should have also be built then, so if there is a possibility of there being one made, it would have to be there?”
He knew that Shishou instigated the empress and enlarged the inner palace like it is now. Perchance, the possibility of him participating in the construction was also high.
However, if it was forty years ago, it was quite old. There’s no way he would have thought to have his own daughter use that to escape forty years later.
“If we look at the materials in those days, the contractors who were used then will know. The possibility of them being used several times is high, so shall we pick out the ones that make suspicious numbers?”
“…I’ll leave it to you.”
Saying that, he took out the other half of the invoice for the cost of repairs of the what Rakan destroyed. Jinshi was to pay for half. The other half should have been in Rakan’s possession though.
“…I get it.”
Jinshi, hanging his head, promised to pay for the entire sum. The sight of Suiren condemning him with an indescribable smile, saying “Oh my my”, and the wrinkles on Gaoshun’s brow being even deeper afterwards came to his mind vividly.
It was dreadful to have Rakan as an enemy. But I don’t want to have his adopted son as an enemy either, Jinshi thought.
While having that much ability, it was a mystery why he holds an abacus as an insignificant official. He found himself asking that question.
“If you have that much ability, can’t you promote to a higher rank?”
At those words, Rahan flashed him a smile while shaking his head.
“In that case, I wouldn’t be able to correct the distorted flow of money then, would I?”
Numbers are beautiful because there’s no obscurity.
He once again felt that this man was Maomao’s cousin.
It seems he has a peculiar aesthetic.
T/N: Chapter title: Hole – Missing person, faults, hidden passage, hole in a certain someone’s pocket…
And that’s it for Jinshi’s POV. We’re going back to Maomao next.