The business discussion will be held in a small province west of the capital that is sandwiched between Kaou Province(華央州, Ka Central Province) and Seii Province(西威州, Western I Province). Maomao heard the name of the province, but she didn’t try to memorise it since she had no intentions of doing so.
It took about ten days for them to get there, by going upriver by boat then changing to carriage. Even though the presence of Spring was getting stronger, she couldn’t feel the change of seasons in the desiccating steppe area.
Maomao was shown into a room in the estate that was to be used for the business discussion. It was too splendid for a servant to use, so she was also provided clothes that were more splendid than usual. How thoughtful of the stingy Rahan, she thought, but it seems to be the necessary expenses.
Since she will be leaving the capital for a period close to a month, she had told everyone. The madam’s expression was grave, but when Maomao handed over the golden snacks, the crone’s cheeks eased into a smile of delight. This is also a necessary expense, Rahan had said, but he looked somewhat vexed.
The discussions with the Sha’ou merchants will be tomorrow. Until then, Rahan moved about as if he’s busy and the man called Uryuu also seemed busy as is.
According to what she overheard, it seems Uryuu was originally chosen as the adopted son-in-law due to his business sense. The U Clan in those days was apparently in grave states so it must have been a blessing for them that there was a second son of a wealthy merchant who was distantly related to them.
Maomao looked out the window. The view was good from the third storey.
Unlike the capital, houses constructed of a lot of stone and bricks stood out. There was a pond in the garden. She could see lush vegetation, but the greenery outside the estate was sparse.
If you head a little west, it spreads out into a desert.
The desiccating breeze caressed her cheeks.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of interesting plants.
Maomao gazed out in boredom.
(Shall I go catch some scorpions?)
Scorpions seem to live here – she was advised to check her shoes before she wore them when she woke up.
Nonetheless, they were holding a discussion in a delicate place.
The discussions from the other day had been held in the capital, but it seems that was something that had been arranged beforehand. Since the real big shot will show up this time, they decided to hold the discussions in this town rather than the capital.
Considering the geographic condition, she thought that they should do it in the more-developed Seii Province, but they would be involved with some bothersome matters there.
(The U Clan huh.)
This Uryuu person who had tried to send his own daughters into the inner palace must see Seii Province as an eyesore.
That place was the hometown of the current main wife, Empress Gyokuyou. Maomao thought that normally he didn’t need to purposely protrude and leave it to them, but would this be a sense of competition?
Even though that Uryuu had come along out of duty to negotiate with the merchants like so, Maomao had a single thought.
It was about Empress Gyokuyou’s family.
The truth was that the empress’ family didn’t even have a conferred name. Could it be due to the fact that they were from a remote place, so there had been no opportunity for them to be conferred a name from the imperial family? Even if their family was large, it seems that, from the fact that they didn’t have a name, their slight gravity was different.
The barbarian princess was born from such a family. That is, Empress Gyokuyou is a princess flowing with foreign blood, but that was also an issue. It could be that Empress Gyokuyou is the child of a concubine or an adopted daughter that had been taken in from a distant relative. The foreigners in the western territory are mostly merchants or performers.
She didn’t think that there was a problem with Empress Gyokuyou’s education. The empress was still young at twenty-one years, but Maomao knew her intelligence and determination very well.
However, everyone else probably wouldn’t hold the antipathy to treat the woman, who was only twenty-one, lacking a name, and possessing foreign blood, as the empress.
(Why is it this sort of pretence again?)
At least, wouldn’t it be fine in another couple of years? Although the empress had given birth to the crown prince, the child was still young. Honestly, no matter how carefully you handle very young infants, they die easily.
Maomao didn’t know much about politics, but she had also noticed that regardless.
(Since that province runs along the national border huh.)
About the big shot’s expectation – she thought that she would just get tired by pondering about it.
Maomao made a big stretch and fell onto the bed. The futon was warm, woven with wool. Since it would suddenly get cold at night, this futon was a godsend.
She rolled around on the bed, and there was knock on the door from outside.
(Ah, is it already time?)
Maomao got up, smoothed out the wrinkles on her clothes and left her room.
Maomao looked at the cooking that was served on the plate before her eyes.
The plates on the tray were vibrantly hued. They had used valuable vegetables here, garnishing the colours. It was a dish that was made with mutton as the core.
Maomao glanced at the kitchen.
She didn’t see anything strange in the raw materials.
Is there anything moving strangely inside the dishes?
She looked at it.
Appearance-wise, it was most suspicious to have a seat prepared for her to just study the dishes.
However, she wasn’t going to mention that “I’m looking since I’m worried that you’ll add any strange things,” and the other party also understood so they kept silent.
Thus the gazes pointed at Maomao were sharp, but she shouldn’t mind them at all.
If the land is different, the cuisines are also different.
It was interesting to see their ingredients.
The food staple was bread primarily made from wheat. They also used rice, but rather than congee, they cooked it with ingredients and added flavouring. It seems they also cooked buckwheat grains like they did with rice, but it wasn’t something familiar to the central region, so they didn’t make any for them. Maomao was glad about it that way.
There were also noodles – boiled with mutton. In order to remove the gamey stink, they are commonly garnished with potherbs.
Honestly speaking, the cooking of this area had a lot of peculiarities. Maomao wasn’t really perturbed by it, but the big shots were complaining. About how the broth with goat milk is spoiled, or that they want to eat something other than mutton and goat.
If Maomao didn’t observe them properly like this, she thought they might end up spitting.
Nonetheless, since they were pros who did what they could do, it seems they procured a new ingredient today.
Chicken and fish, and could that be dried fruit in the basket? It’s hard to obtain fish here, Maomao thought.
During the time she observed the food like so, it seems the evening meal was ready. They will be carried over in wagons.
Maomao followed the servant who transported that.
The meal will be eaten in the hall of the estate.
You sit on the carpets that had been laid out. Large platters of food were placed in the centre.
The people of the central region probably wouldn’t like this setup.
“The eating ways of a savage tribe huh.”
There were those who spoke ill of it that way.
This must have been done to resemble the eating manner of nomadic tribes.
It was a cause to eat not with chopsticks, but with bare hands.
Maomao sat down half a step behind, next to Rahan who had already sat down. There’s a custom that dislikes having women in the same seat, but Maomao was being treated as a guest. Uryuu was inside, and the one sitting close by would have to be the lord of this town.
It was a manly man who was growing a bushy beard. Maomao didn’t need to remember him, so she didn’t even remember his name.
Around them were women who bravely looked after them. When the platters were cleared, they would serve up the next dish, but unfortunately, Uryuu had no appetite.
He only went for the lamb on the bone and boiled rice, and afterwards, he refused everything else aside from seconds for wine.
Rahan seemed to have taken a liking to the fish dish – that was all he was eating. The cooks, as if they lack confidence, looked relieved.
Maomao also helped herself with some of the fish. The was a blueback fish that had been pickled in salt, so the preservation must have been effective. It had a slightly peculiar stench, but that was probably the smell of fermentation rather than rot.
For one who was used to eating fresh fish in the capital, it might be unsatisfactory, but it must be good for Rahan who didn’t mind it over the stink of mutton.
Maomao, who didn’t mind the stink, ate everything without exception.
Since there was no food tasting or anything with this meal pattern, there was no other way than to eat a little bit of everything at the start and see if there’s anything weird in it.
(From the way it looks, it would have to be that kind of meal pattern.)
Sha’ou is an area with a lot of nomadic tribes. Culturally, they would have to be similar to this place.
For the portions where you don’t know who will eat, expecting that, you will need to pay attention to the servants. Also, you will have to know what kind of ingredient is in it, otherwise it is likely that you can mistake potherbs with poisonous plants.
Due to that, she had to eat while remembering the taste and appearance of the dishes.
She chewed, and when she saw a cup of wine placed next to her, she thought, “What a thoughtful servant”. It was set down by the man who was sitting next to her.
The wine had been poured by the servant, but it seems the person himself doesn’t drink.
It was a man in his thirties with slender, nice looks.
She was pretty sure this man would have to be the subordinate of the weirdo tactician that Rahan had mentioned. His name was…
She couldn’t remember.
“Please drop the title, Lady Maomao.”
When she was called “lady”, Maomao contorted her face with all her might. However, since it was also irritating to correct him, she offered this condition.
“Then just Rikuson.”
“Then just Maomao. Since I can’t drink, I’ll be happy if you drink this though.”
Since he told her that, she had no reason to hold back.
(Since it’ll be bothersome if there is something weird in the wine.)
Maomao raised the cup to her lips. Grape wine. It wasn’t that strong. The cooking aside, the wine isn’t bad, Maomao thought. However, unless you eat the cooking all the way, there was no reason for you to dull your taste buds.
After she drank some water and refreshed her palate, she went for the next dish.
The servants were postponing Maomao’s share, so she had to get it herself.
“Is this one acceptable?”
“Thank you very much.”
It was Rikuson who presented Maomao what she wanted to get. He had properly portioned off a little for her.
It doesn’t appear that he was merely following that weirdo tactician pointlessly. He must be following that man because he paid full attention to things.
Rikuson frequently called the servants to a stop and indicated, “Take that for me, and this isn’t enough.”
At a glance, he looked like a slave driver, but his attention was directed to the faces and figures of the servants.
(Does he remember them?)
It seems Maomao didn’t need to remember the faces of the servants.
She’ll leave that to this man and focus on just remembering the taste of the cooking and the ingredients.
It was that moment.
She heard the crash of breaking crockery. She looked towards the sound. There was a panicking maid and Uryuu who had his hands raised overhead.
The lord was beside them, taken back by surprise.
“Didn’t I tell you that I don’t want it?”
“…my, my apologies.”
The woman cleaned up the plate as she panicked. The plate had been pushed away, shattered when it hit the wall. The contents were scattered everywhere.
(What a waste.)
She must have wanted to have him eat the fish dish that had been specially prepared for him. It wasn’t that Maomao didn’t understand her feelings, but the servant overdid it.
The lord whispered into the ear of another servant as he fiddled with his beard.
She wondered if that servant will be punished or fired.
It was a pity, but that can’t be helped.
That’s the way it is, Maomao continued to eat.