Mercury is passed down as a wonder drug of immortality due to its curious properties.
You make mercury by cooling down the vapour you get from heating up its ingredient – a vermillion rock that can be used as a pigment and as a drug.
From the fact that it becomes flowing silver after becoming gas, the rock that gives the impression of crimson blood is said to be believed by the ancients to contain eternal life.
Though it is said the ancients, there are not few people nowadays who also believe in that mystery.
There are ignorant people who, when they are shown the mysterious change of state, would fall into believing in it utterly. There are many cases where traders handling the drug will make its recipe a secret. If that can be a source of profit, that would have to be quite natural.
Even Maomao, if she hadn’t been taught by her dad, would drink the mercury in the name of experimentation.
From the fact that the Lady Pai in question had suppressed the knowledge, she knew that some people will try to do it.
At least, Maomao understood that the maiden had wanted to throw the capital into confusion. Wealthy merchants have died from consuming poison, but it was likely that they were copying Lady Pai by ingesting mercury. The toxicity of mercury changes depending on its state. If she displayed herself drinking it before their eyes like that, they would think that they would be no harm to themselves if they drank it too.
(Did she want to stir up trouble in society?)
Those kinds of people also exist. However, there are many fanciful jerks who get enjoyment from the sight of panicking people. If there are fellows who cut at people just because they just wanted to do so, there are also people who give poisoned buns to beggars under the pretence of charity.
However, the other party was bad. Given how she had purposely tried to pretend and circulate that she is a fairy to wealthy merchants and high officials. And as a result, there were fatalities.
(What was her aim? And besides-)
Alchemy (錬丹術, transmute cinnabar), no, from the flow of events, it was closer to western alchemy (錬金術, transmute gold). Maomao was also curious about that. Since the maiden also had a show where she used eastern paper, it would be the end of it if she just said the maiden hails from a nomadic race, but-
That alchemy was a western thing. She had a thought regarding that.
Though Maomao was bothered by it, it wasn’t her job to think about it. The settlement of the Shi Clan, the counter-measure of the locust plague – Jinshi must be busy with various things, but it would be correct to leave this sort of thing to him.
However, it would be the loss of the interest and the principal if he died from overwork.
She had no idea if he is the actual younger brother or whatever, but the emperor was also working him considerably hard. It can’t be helped if that was his duty, but it was as if…
(As if he’s grooming a successor…)
And she abandoned the thought right here.
Currently, the crown prince is the imperial prince that Consort, no, Empress Gyokuyou had given birth to. And above all, Consort Rifa had also given birth to a male infant.
The emperor is only halfway in his thirties, a great man who is still healthy. If there are no issues until the crown prince grows up, they would be going strong.
Let’s not think about tumultuous matters. Considering even sweeping the floor as a change of mood, she opened the door of the pharmacy.
When she did so, she saw a drab old man tottering around. It was a plump old man that she recognised.
The old man waved his hands exaggeratedly when he noticed Maomao. There was a large cloth bundle on his back, and he was carrying a basket in his hands. “Lassssss.”
The one waving his hands exaggeratedly was the quack doctor who should be in the inner palace.
(Why is he here?)
As she held onto that question, Maomao opened the entrance to the pharmacy.
“Goodness gracious, I thought that I had made a mistake with the address I heard from Ruomen-san,” the quack sighed deeply and wiped away his sweat. It seems, due to his fat, he heats up quickly when he runs a little even in winter.
Maomao handed out the tea that she purposely cooled down, and the quack downed it in one gulp.
“By the way, why here? …Ah, don’t worry about it,” he said.
How pitiful, has he finally been dismissed? He certainly isn’t a bad person, but since wage theft is also a good part for it, it couldn’t be helped, right?
It would also be difficult for a former eunuch to get a new job, but when she thought of being kind for as much as she could–
“Lass, aren’t you mistaken about something?” The quack stared at her with narrowed eyes.
“No, don’t worry about it. Please say that kind of matter without being ashamed,” she said.
As they argued back and forth like that, there was a swoosh of movement.
What was that? she thought, just as the basket the quack doctor was carrying moved. And then—.
There was a high pitched cry.
“…is that a cat?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s a cat,” he replied.
“Why this again?”
The quack took out the cat from the basket. It was a young calico cat. Its peach-coloured paw pads were raised up in a celebratory gesture as if to show Maomao. “I can’t raise it in the inner palace.”
“So you got chased out due to something like this.”
“No, I told you it’s not that.” The quack doctor puckered his lips and shook his head. The calico cat, as if lured by that, kicked its hind legs.
The quack doctor returned the cat to the basket and gave it a small fish snack. “About that, I was allowed to return to my hometown after a long time.”
“Hohoh, are you finally sent back to your village?” she asked.
“Lass, are you saying this on purpose?”
Well then, the talk won’t proceed with this, so she decided to keep silent for now.
As Ruomen had returned to the imperial court, it seems the quack doctor was given a short break. Ruomen didn’t work in the inner palace, but she was told there was an arrangement for him to stay in the inner palace for as long as the quack wasn’t around. Of course, the rules being there must be court physicians in the medical office, meant that the quack had no breaks for a long time as the inner palace didn’t have other physicians.
At the uncouthness here, it was Maomao’s kindness that she didn’t add, “Weren’t you always playing around?”
Well then, about that is up with this cat-.
“This one, you know, is the moment I got out of the imperial court,” the quack said.
She was told that he met children who told him to “Please take the cat.” From their appearances, they seemed to be good kids, an older sister and a young brother, but it looked like they were secretly keeping the kitten without their parents knowing.
However, they had been discovered by the servants, and it seems they had to abandon the kitten in a faraway place as is. If that’s the case, he was told that they were looking for a pet owner who can take care of it properly.
So that’s how it was. Everyone who serves in the imperial court must be wealthy to a certain degree. And furthermore, as they avoided the hard-to-please civil officials and the stern military officials, they must think that it was a blessing when a nonchalant old man with a loach moustache came by.
The quack is a softy inside and outside.
“Those kids were bad, but since it’s impossible for me to take her into the inner palace, I thought of bringing her home. Since my younger sister likes cats.” The quack doctor seemed happy at the expectations that he will be returning home after ten-odd years. If she remembered properly, the quack doctor’s home makes paper and also send the goods to the imperial court. It might be good to have a lookout so mice don’t chew on the paper.
“Is that so?” she said.
However, the journey seems long. It was when she thought, I wonder if the cat can stay docile?
The lid of the basket slid to the side, and the cat leapt out.
“Ahh. maomao(毛毛, Mao Mao [using no caps to differentiate between our heroine])!”
“What’s with that name!” she retorted.
“No, that’s what the children named it,” the quack said.
The cat with an immensely unpleasant name slipped through the gap of the pharmacy door and ran for the entrance of the Rokushoukan.
Maomao and the quack doctor hastily put on their shoes and chased after the cat.
It went through the slovenly women who had taken their morning baths, passed between the legs of the manservant who was tidying up the cushions in the room. Its destination was the dining hall.
“Mm?” Chou’u was gulping down food on the table.
The mute little girl, Zuurin, was slurping congee next to him.
“What’s this guy?” As he chewed on his chopsticks, Chou’u peered at the calico cat. Zuurin blinked at the cat with round eyes.
The cat plopped its forelegs on Chou’u’s foot.
“Could it be this?” Chou’u picked up his fish with his chopsticks. It was a blueback fish that was only just roasted under charcoal fire, but it tasted salty even without added flavouring.
“Nya!” The cat knocked down Chou’u’s fish.
The fish fell tragically onto the dirt floor. The cat gobbled it up.
“maomao. You can’t do that.” The quack doctor turned up out of breath.
“What is with this cat! Who are you, old man?”
And…. he said.
“maomao or whatever, what is with that name?” Chou’u smirked as he looked at Maomao. Zuurin also laughed silently.
Maomao got sullen and caught the calico cat for now. The cat was holding onto the fish in its mouth, showing no sign of letting go.
Though Chou’u looked at the fish in disappointment, he looked at the cat in amusement. “Ohh!” his eyes shone every time he prodded at its squishy flushed peach-coloured paw pads.
As for Maomao, she quickly gave it back to the quack doctor and wanted to have him deliver it to his home. However, there must be some reason that the quack doctor had come here.
For now, she decided to leave it to the kids, directing them to not let the cat escape. Just in case, she called for a manservant, so they won’t do bad things like that.
They returned to the pharmacy, and when she asked what was the main topic of the conversation, the quack doctor started to speak as he fidgeted with his moustache. “So you know that my family makes paper.”
“Actually, I’m going back this time because there’s something a little concerning that’s happening there.”
Previously, the quack’s sister had sent a letter saying that the quality of paper got worse. That should have already been settled, but could a new issue have presented itself?
“What does it say in the letter?” Maomao asked.
“No, she told me that she wanted me to return home personally,” the quack said.
Hmhm. I see, Maomao nodded.
“And so, I want lass to come along with me for a bit…”
No doubt the quack had written grandiosely in his reply to his sister before. This minister, he’s a wimp, but he has the tendency to show his good points as is.
In other words, he seems he had no confidence in whether he can produce his reply promisingly after hearing the story.
“….” She was sorry for the quack doctor, but Maomao didn’t have that much sense of duty. As far as breaking on the job, she had no reason to follow him.
Seeing the Maomao’s indifferent attitude, the quack clung to her as his eyes teared up. “La-lass, for mercy’s sake. It’s not that far. It won’t take more than half a day by carriage from here.”
Nonetheless, she would have to close the pharmacy for three days at least. Besides, with spring coming, she wanted to till the fields.
And above all, there is another person that won’t allow with that reason.
“Oh my, that would be troubling.”
Showing up as if she had arranged it beforehand, leaning against the wall, was the dried goods, er, the madam.
“This child, pretty much, works as the pharmacy here. Since we have nothing like a doctor here, it would be the worse case if she’s impudently nowhere to be found,” the crone said as she gnawed on a cuttlefish she took out from somewhere.
“Don’t say that.” Even the quack doctor would want to preserve the dignity of an older brother.
“Even if you say that, huh.” The crone’s eyes flickered away as she said that.
Maomao realised the madam’s intention. She was probably listening intently to their conversation from before. And furthermore, she must have seen that Maomao had been recently obtaining fine quality medicine wrapping paper free of charge.
“Gran, that reminds me, didn’t you say that you wanted to replace the wallpaper recently?” Maomao said.
“Oh yah, I feel that it was something like that.” The crone unnaturally turned away as she gnawed on the cuttlefish.
“Also, didn’t you say that there you don’t have good paper even to send letters regularly?”
“Was it something like that?”
Saying that, Maomao and the madam glanced at the quack doctor.
“Our paper is the highest quality. It can be wallpaper, letters or anything else,” the quack doctor said, clenching his fist.
“Just send only what you like.” As the madam turned away with those words, Maomao didn’t overlook her grin.
She really is a miserly hag.
T/N: Best character is finally here! Cat!Maomao used to be an LN-only character that got introduced back in vol2 of the LN :3
I know the kitty is female, but I’m going with the ‘it’ pronoun so we don’t her confused with human!Maomao.