The shitty brat is undoubtedly a shitty brat.
Maomao really thought.
(He might be able to remember something.)
Chou’u was moving a brush gleefully while nursing a lump on his head. Unexpectantly, what this shitty brat had wanted wasn’t toys, but rather, stationery.
As paper had been surprisingly expensive, the brush was what Maomao had given him. Perhaps with him originally from a good place, he could tell apart the high-quality goods from the low-quality ones in the paper store. After saying this is no good, and that is no good either, he had settled on wanting the best and most expensive item in the store.
Of course, Maomao wouldn’t allow such luxury, so he picked the one that was usable, no matter how inferior the quality was, and bought that.
Paper is expensive as a consumable, but its price isn’t unaffordable. Every time she would think that it would go cheaper if it is circulated more.
She looked at Chou’u who was carrying the bundle of papers gleefully, and decided to excuse him from a fist for now.
As soon as they returned to the Rokushoukan, without preamble, Chou’u was drawing something enthusiastically. As for Maomao, she was busy with the order of abortion drug and cold medicine. Chou’u asked the courtesans who were grinding tea and the kamuro who were close to his age to not commit any mischief today and secluded himself inside the pharmacy.
It was when she was back after leaving to deliver the ordered medicine to another brothel.
(What is it?)
There was a crowd at the entrance. There were courtesans and kamuro gathered there – even manservants, surprisingly enough.
As she wondered what was up, she strained her eyes. And right in the middle of it all was the cheeky brat.
What did you do? Maomao hurried over to Chou’u. She broke through the crowd to stand before the shitty brat. And there, on the white paper was dancing elegant lines.
“What is it, Freckles? Wait in line.”
“What are you doing?”
Chou’u was drawing. He had the paper set on a flat board as a makeshift table. A courtesan was sitting demurely on a chair in front of him.
“What, you say. I’m drawing pictures.”
He drew, gliding the brush forward. And there was a beauty that was the courtesan before his eyes with a little colour.
“Okayy, I’m done.”
Chou’u placed the brush flat across the ink pot and fluttered the paper. The model courtesan’s demure expression transformed into a smile. “Oh my,” she said as she took out her wallet from her bosom.
“Thanks for your patronage—“
He received not coins but five beautiful notes of money and put it in his breast pocket. That amount is too much for a brat’s pocket money.
A manservant sat on the chair. Could he be messing about without keeping watch? He’s going to be punished if the madam finds him.
“Ah, sorry big bro. I’m out of paper. I’ll go buy some more in a bit, so we’ll do this tomorrow.”
“What— I’ve been waiting forever you know!”
“I’m sorry. I’ll start with the men first tomorrow alright.”
He was quite used to it.
After saying that, he scampered away, heading back towards the paper store again.
She was pretty sure that he bought ten sheets. Does that mean that he’s already out of that?
It seems that it was only the three people here that he drew portraits for. To think that he got funds from just that.
(To think he had such a special skill.)
Maomao roughly scratched the back of her head as she studied the portrait.
“Ya’ll! What are ya doing!”
When they heard the hoarse screeching of the crone, all the faces, which had been amicable until now, paled.
“Hurry up and set up shop, the guests are going to leave.”
Since it was the crone who said it while waving about a bamboo cane, the courtesans, kamuro, and manservants all scattered away like spiderlings.
Just as Maomao was also going to hurry back to her place, her shoulder was firmly gripped by a boney hand.
“What is it, gran?”
“It’s not what is it. That brat. No matter how much child-rearing expenses you get, you can’t just spoil him.”
“Ain’t it gran who’s wangling the money?”
For some reason, the crone is the one who is keeping the money she received. To a certain extent, Chou’u doing as he pleased in the Rokushoukan is related to that part. However, although he is a child, men cannot reside in the brothel and he can’t be stuffed into the row houses where the manservants resided, so in the end, he went to live in Maomao’s dilapidated shack.
“I don’t get the rental fee for the space.”
She hadn’t intended to say it out loud, but mysteriously, the crone’s fist fell upon Maomao’s head.
“Come on, ya have to pack up that brush and ink pot.”
“If ya don’t shut up and do it, it’ll be locust broth for ya today.”
Maomao reluctantly started to pack up the inkpot as she clutched her head.
Come evening, Maomao looked at the dissatisfied expression of Chou’u who had returned to the shack.
Could Chou’u have borrowed a brush from somewhere? He was carrying a bundle of papers that had been scribbled on.
“Freckles, where did the brush go?”
“I’m not giving it anymore to the guy who doesn’t tidy up after himself.”
She turned her back on him in a huff and added firewood to the kitchen range. Maomao was wearing a blanket. The moment the sun set, it suddenly got cold.
“Don’t be stingy.”
“Assign the stingy to the madam.”
Maomao stirred the clay pot. She scooped at the congee and tasted it. It was a little bland so she added some salt.
“Gran said that she’ll be collecting a rental fee.”
“I get it. I’ll go somewhere else next time.”
Hearing his words, Maomao knitted her brows. She plunged the ladle into the clay pot, set that on the woven mat, and stood before Chou’u was making himself at home. She bent forward and stared at Chou’u.
“Even if you don’t pay the rental fee, it must be only in the surroundings of the Rokushoukan. You can’t go to places far from the manservants. Also, you can’t go buy paper alone.”
“Isn’t that sorta thing up to me?”
Chou’u turned his face away in a huff and Maomao seized his head. She forced him to face her.
“If you want to be a lump of meat, then, by all means, do whatever you want.”
“Lump of meat?”
She glared. The words “lump of meat” weren’t a joke. The Rokushoukan may be a peaceful, but here is the pleasure district. A place where the face and reverse side of the capital are, by nature, jumbled together.
Maomao furtively gestured to the window of the shack. She pointed from the gap of the badly fitted door.
“You’ll be involved with that kind.”
From the gap, there was an isolated light in the dusk.
Clothes up to her head, she was holding a lantern and woven mat in her hands. At a glance, she looked like a normal woman, but-.
With a clank, Chou’u rose up.
He should be able to see it from a distance. The face of a streetwalker with a missing nose. The worst class prostitute, who lacks decent lodging and can only take in customers from the roadside, due to a type of venereal disease, has her body worn out in various places. There was no way she could keep at it for long with that, but she still needed to take men to earn her meal expenses for today.
It must her dad’s merciful heart that they settled down in these parts.
Something bothersome had turned up, Maomao thought.
“Here isn’t a clean place. If there is a brat with money, there will be many guys who are going to steal it even if it means killing you.”
Listen to me if you don’t want to die, she said.
Chou’u pursed his lips. Eyes slightly teary, he nodded.
“I get it. I’ll eat quickly then sleep.”
He said that and Maomao moved to the front of the stove. She stirred the congee again.
The next morning, when Maomao awoke, Chou’u was already up.
There was some rustling sound, and when she looked, there were papers strewn about the table. Chou’u was fervently moving the brush.
(Did that brat just…)
Maomao got up to drop a fist. As she did so, a sheet of paper with something drawn on it fell from the table.
Thinking it fishy, she picked it up.
There was a detailed picture of an insect drawn on it.
It was drawn really realistically. Looking at it was almost enough to make her feel gross.
(Reminds me of her.)
Of the palace lady who liked insects, no, the girl who was a consort.
That the girl who assumed the name Shisui, had also drawn in this manner.
She got a little sad as she looked at it.
Chou’u suddenly got up.
He went before Maomao with a sheet of paper in his hand.
“Freckles, I’ve done it.”
“What did you do?”
“This. It’s this.”
He displayed the paper close to her face.
There were two insects – locusts – drawn there. Both of them were locusts, but their forms were slightly different.
“I can’t remember properly, but I have a feeling it’s something like this. I think I saw this with the talk on crop failure.”
He spoke vaguely, but his drawings were extremely clear.
“This is the locust during normal times. Underneath is the locust when there is crop failure.”
“Is that true?”
“I think so. It’s just bits and pieces though.”
Chou’u has lost his memories. But could he be in the process of regaining bits and pieces of his memory? If so, there will be a whole lot of inconveniences, but on the other hand, there was another thing that was more important.
Two kinds of locusts.
I need to study more about this, Maomao thought.
There is a thing called locust plague.
It is one of the natural disasters that ruin the country, where a large swarm of insects eat up all the crops.
There is great crop damage from insects every year, but there is no comparison in the case of the locust plague. Locusts eat up every and all things. It is said that in bad years, they will go as far as to even eat grass sandals and straw ropes.
Though she had no idea what kind of pattern it would occur in, it happens every couple of years. Besides, it hasn’t occurred since the current emperor came to reign.
The current emperor’s reign is splendid, therefore the heavens won’t let the locust plague happen, is something that is not possible, Maomao thought. At any rate, wouldn’t it be more likely that it hasn’t come yet?
If that’s the case, just having the first locust plague occur in this era would be a chance to test the emperor’s power. The other day, they had only just punished the Shi Clan that had consolidated the most power in this country.
The timing is bad.
If the locust plague occurs, people could take the punishment of the Shi Clan as heaven’s punishment.
(Yeah, it’s not related, not related.)
Though that was what she had been intending to do, Maomao found herself heading off to the bookstore in town.
(I doubt they have anything though.)
She recalled seeing Chou’u’s detailed picture.
She was sure that she had seen that sort of picture before.
Maomao entered the shop among the rows of shops that had books lined up in detail.
When the bell jingled, the owner who looked like an ornament gave a light greeting from the interior. That was the limits of his courtesy, as he returned to his posture where it wasn’t clear whether he went back to sleep or not.
The books inside were generally books for loan or second hand. He also sold new items, but as books are high-class items, you had to order them otherwise they rarely come out.
(I guess there’s no way there would be any.)
The books here were generally all popular fiction or otherwise things that are, so to speak, vulgar, pornographic prints. Still, occasionally there would be lucky finds so she came to have a look but…
Maomao rubbed her eyes.
What is with this convenience?
She reflexively pulled her cheeks.
“Uncle, can I look at this for a bit?”
Maomao pointed to the stack of books on the shop owner’s table.
Maomao took that indescribable response as an affirmative and picked up that book.
The book was thick. It had a drawing of a bird on the cover.
(This has to be a lie.)
No, it wasn’t possible. But it was actually possible.
The book had lots of illustrations of birds and explanations, as well as written notes here and there.
“What’s up with this?”
“Mmm—, this came in to be sold yesterday.”
It was an apathetic response.
“Are there other ones that had come in to be sold?”
“There is only one volume for this. Though, he said he’ll come again.”
Maomao’s face lit up.
This was the second time this book fell into Maomao’s hands.
That’s right. It was the exact same book she saw from that time.
From the room she was confined in after Shisui brought her along for the short while. This was one of the volumes of the books she found there.