The stars are right. I am back! Happy Lunar New Year!
That said, vocabulary changes have been made. They are as follow:
Prostitution quarter > Pleasure district (red-light district doesn’t sound quaint enough); Prostitute > Courtesan; Court Lady > Palace Lady; Imperial Court lady > Court lady; Four Consorts > Four Madames; Medical Officer > Court Physician
There are more, but those are all I can remember at the moment.
Without further ado,
the next arc. Expect lots of Jinshi bullying scenes ;D
Volume 4: Town 1
Mornings in the pleasure district are slow.
The caged birds that had chirped up until dawn, upon the guests leaving, strip off their masks of civility.
In the short time until the sun rises, they sleep like their strings are cut.
Maomao came out of her dilapidated shack yawning. She could see steam trailing out from the Rokushoukan before her eyes. The manservants must be working hard preparing the morning baths.
The cold air stung her skin. The air she breathed out was white. The sun was slow to rise – it was still cold with just a padded blanket.
It was when it became quiet after the new year celebrations, one month after she left the inner palace.
As her dad had entered court as a court physician, Maomao was once again back in the pleasure district.
A child was still sound asleep inside the dilapidated shack. He will be noisy once he wakes up so let’s have him sleep a little while longer.
The name of the child is Chou’u. He is a survivor of the Shi Clan, but Maomao was stuck with bringing him up for a certain reason.
He is a shitty brat with a good upbringing, but she wanted to appreciate his high adaptability. He had the guts to sleep through the draughty shack to the point of snoring.
(That saying, gran called me.)
While she was at it, she’ll go get some hot water. You can’t not take a bath in such coldness.
Maomao shivered as she went to stand before the well. She dropped the bucket in and drew up some water.
While grimacing from the icy water, she washed her face and woke up.
When she went to the Rokushoukan, the courtesans who had finished bathing were getting their hair dried by the kamuro.
“Oh, you’re early today.”
It was Meimei with wet hair who had called out to her. The courtesans went to bathe starting from the higher classes.
“Meimei-neechan, do ya know where Gran is?”
“Gran would be talking to the brothel owner over there.”
The madam manages the Rokushoukan, but the owner is another person. He comes about once every month and discusses with the crone about the this and that of the brothel. He is a middle-aged man, someone the crone had known since he was small, so he cannot stand up against her.
Rumours were that he is the son of the previous owner and the crone, but the truth is, no one knows.
It seems he also runs a normal respectable business aside from managing the brothel, so he looks like a very normal good person at a glance.
In truth, his personality makes people worry if he can cross over with the times. He is a sucker to the extent that the management of this brothel will become a worry after the madam passes.
“I betcha he’s come to propose some strange idea or something again.”
“Who knows? We’ll see.”
It was the moment Meimei spread her hands.
“Ya fool! The hell did ya do!”
The madam’s voice burst out from the inside of the building.
Maomao and Meimei exchanged glances.
“It seems to be the case.”
The two looked at each other, wondering what he did this time.
A little while later, the crone came out from inside. A middle-aged man with gentle eyes followed after her. Everyone in the Rokushoukan called him Okan-san(お館さん, the same kan as in the Rokushoukan. A polite way of calling him something like Mr Establishment.). If they don’t call him such, they will probably forget that he is the owner of this establishment.
Seeing how Okan-san was rubbing the crown of his head, he must have taken a fist.
“Oh, Maomao, you’re here?”
“Didn’t Gran call me?”
“So I did.”
(You senile, hag?)
She had meant to say it in her mind, but the next moment a fist sank into the crown of Maomao’s head.
Okan-san looked at Maomao with eyes of pity. When she got a sense of déjà vu of the quack doctor from the inner palace, Maomao thought, after all this time, that it must be because he looked like this old man.
She got suspicious at times that the crone is like an ayakashi, being able to read people’s minds.
“For now, seeing how it is, ya must want to take a bath? Why don’t ya come in for breakfast as well? Bring that sonny with you too.”
“You’re quite generous.”
“Even I have times like this occasionally.”
Saying that, the crone briskly headed for the kitchen.
Okan-san said “Well, then,” and departed in haste. Normally he would have the spare time for breakfast, Maomao thought as she lowered her head and sent him off.
Everyone assembled in the dining room was lost for words.
It is often that everyone is divided into several times and ate together in the Rokushoukan. Maomao had figured that she was allowed to mix with this time’s group.
“This is the worst.”
Pairin-neechan sitting next to her said as she screwed her face. She is known as one of the three flowers that bloom in the Rokushoukan, but if her patrons ever see this face of hers, they will be guaranteed to be disillusioned.
She was making that kind of face.
As for Maomao, it would be the moment she finds mosquito larvae hatching in a puddle, that kind of face.
There was twenty people’s worth of bowls filled with congee, soup, and small bowls on the table, as well as three imposingly large platters set up with equal distance between them.
It is standard in the Rokushoukan to have one rice, one soup, and usually one side dish. The small bowl had namasu today. And additionally, as there were the large platters, two side dishes would normally be considered a very extravagant breakfast.
The certain thing in the large plates had a black lustre. The thing that is normally treated as a harmful insect that lays waste to crops, is being served on the table as a side dish.
It is locust.
“Gran, this is?”
“Shut up and eat. It’s a souvenir from Okan-san.”
She figured out why the madam was angry,
Okan-san had work aside from managing the brothel. Officially, he lives respectfully under the sun as the owner of a large store. However, she can’t say that his business method is good.
“There’s poor crop this year. It seems he got thrown into people’s mercy.”
The crone said in irritation as she drizzled black vinegar on her congee.
Okan-san deals with grain in his business. Produce is collected in the form of tax from the farmers in this country, moreover, the country buys up a fixed portion. The ones that distribute the rest is Okan-san’s business.
“Even so, what was he doing buying this at his business partner’s asking price. It’s something that won’t sell well even at the best of times. And there’s so much this year.”
On the platters were crispily fried locust simmered in sauce and sugar.
“It’ll be waste if ya buy too much and can’t preserve it. If ya hafta go as far as to use sugar, ya might as well just chuck it out.”
Sugar is a high-class item. Even if you simmer it in plenty of sugar, as if there would be anyone who would eat simmered insects.
As expected, there was a large amount left unsold, and thus it is being served on the dining table of the Rokushoukan.
It seems Okan-san even tried self-consumption, but he also had his own circumstances. He had a wife who wasn’t feeling pleased about his business.
In any case, if there was his wife getting angry at him, he must have preferred the madam’s fist.
Maomao scratched the back of her head. She was used to eating strange things, but she didn’t want to start on this huge pile of insects. Even eating two or three, she wanted to put her hands together.
The courtesans, as they hated strange things more than Maomao, scrunched up their faces and none of them started either.
“Hurry up and eat! It’s the side dish you guys have been yapping about. Eat five per person.”
As the madam spoke in irritation, the very first pair of chopsticks went for the large plate.
It was an unexpected person who ate it first.
Unfazed, he crunched on the insect with an ominous look.
“This, is not tasty at all. It’s kinda hollow.”
It was Chou’u who was eating as he gave his honest opinion.
She was sure that, with his young master upbringing, he would be opposed to putting this sort of thing in his mouth, but it didn’t seem to be the case.
Did he lose that mien because he lost his memories? Or has he eaten this before? Or could it be the adaptability of a child?
“You can eat well, don’t you.”
Pairin said, inserting herself between Maomao.
“It’s not delicious but it’s not like it’s inedible. It’s just extremely hollow.”
If she was not mistaken, the locust innards are removed before it is cooked, so it being hollow is a given. So it’s something like this, Maomao thought as she half-heartedly picked up a locust.
It really is hollow. Rather than the hollow texture when she had eaten it before, it felt more like that there were no insides. Even though it was simmered in soy sauce, that feeling must be because there is only the texture of the exoskeleton in her mouth.
Not that it has meat, she felt that it was more that it didn’t have any in the first place.
“Hey hey, why don’t you have me eat for you? You can trade me one mooncake.”
She seized Chou’u’s head, who was offering a negotiation with Pairin, and pressed down firmly. “Ow, owowowow,” Chou’u groaned.
Maomao picked up a locust with her chopsticks and studied it intently.
It was her usual bad habit.
Once she gets interested in it, that would be all she thinks about.
“Oh yeah, I was thinking of getting ya to go shopping.”
After breakfast, the madam finally remembered why she had summoned Maomao.
It was to go shopping at the market that is set up in the central road of the town.
The courtesans cannot leave the brothel and the manservants were not smart.
The market has a lot of unusual goods, but there aren’t few of those fellows that rip people off. As they don’t set up shop, they should sell with cheap prices, but there aren’t few bad guys that don’t put up signboards. You need a good sense of judgement to buy good items.
“I want ya to go buy incense. The usual one.”
It is the incense that burns with the usual faint aroma at the entrance of the Rokushoukan. Since it’s a consumable, she would want it as cheap as possible, but something of poor quality was out of the question.
“’Kay. And the reward?”
When Maomao put out her hand, it was slapped away.
“Two person’s worth of morning baths and breakfast. Ain’t that first-class?”
Stingy hag, Maomao thought.
“Heeyyy, freckles. Buy that.”
Maomao ignored Chou’u who was pulling her sleeve and pointing to the open-air toy store. She honestly wanted to go alone, but she had no choice but to bring this shitty brat along as he threw a tantrum, rolling on the ground, saying that he wanted to follow.
Maomao took Chou’u’s hand, and walked while dragging him along.
The market is set up daily on the large stretch of road in the centre of the capital.
Amid the coming and going of horse-drawn carriages, beyond there is the place where the people of the heavens resided.
Seeing it like this, she ended up wondering whether the time she worked at that place was a dream or something. However, Chou’u next to her signified that she had been in the imperial court and thus had also been involved in that incident.
The uprising of the Shi Clan. It seems it more or less also had an effect on the market.
A lot of the special products from the northern regions are types of grain and wooden goods, but she felt that there were less of these products than usual in the shops. Instead, the dried fruit and textile shops common from the southern and western regions caught her eye.
And then, Maomao made an unpleasant face when she came across a certain thing.
They were selling simmered insects.
“That, is absolutely bad. Would anyone buy this?”
Chou’u had said it in front of a shop, so Maomao clamped his mouth shut and dragged him away. Honestly, the food cart shopkeeper’s eyes were scary.
Maomao finally released Chou’u in a place a fair distance away.
“What was that? Isn’t it true that it’s bad?”
Maomao looked at Chou’u coldly. That’s why I really hate children, she thought deeply.
“Insects with that hollow shape is bad. This year’s produce is already no good.”
“…just then, what did you say?”
Maomao blinked incessantly.
“Ah, that it’s absolutely bad?”
“No, not that. What you said after.”
“That this year’s produce is already no good?”
(What was that?)
Maomao stared at Chou’u.
“How did you know that?”
“Ummm, what was that again—“
Chou’u roughly scratched his head with his right hand. His left hand is slightly cramped, so it hung limply by his side.
Chou’u had died once, having drunk the resurrection drug, and somehow came back to life afterwards. Because of that, his body is still numb, and he had lost most of his memories.
“I can’t remember well. It’s just, I feel that I heard that when insects become hollow, there’ll be crop failure.”
Ummm, Chou’u clutched his head.
He might recall something if I shake his head, Maomao thought, but she can’t treat him anymore slovenly as he is pretty much in her custody.
However, if what Chou’u said is true, then there will be quite a serious issue, Maomao thought.
“Perhaps, I might be able to remember.”
Maomao replied, and Chou’u looked towards the food cart. The toy shop was over there.
“If you buy something, I might be able to remember.”
For now, she wrenched his mouth wide open.
T/N: so I promised myself that I’ll take it easy this time, thus two chapters per week starting next week (this week I’ll release a chapter on Sat too). Tues and Thur. It sounds less, but it’s still an average of ~5000 English words a week. Ain’t that first class, as the madam would say ;D
I might increase the number if the chapters get a bit shorter, but for now, let’s take it easy…
This arc has twenty-seven chapters. The atmosphere of the rest of the story is a little different to the previous arcs, so I’d like to consider this as the next part (i.e. if this was an anime, this would be season 2).
Also, a question on how to translate the name of a new character that comes in later (chapter 10). Mind it’s not actually her name, but rather what other people are calling her. She’s albino and is treated like a fairy/goddess. Please vote, thanks <3 EDIT: Voting over. Thanks all!