The room she was shown into was stark but well tidied.
This would have to be an unused guest room. The furniture seemed to be high-class, seeing as though they were imported goods, but they had seen better days. It was pretty much the same as what was in the room where she had a conversation with the former family heads just then, but there was newer stuff there. Those were rather plain though.
The meal tasted okay. They didn’t use any bad ingredients. There was both meat and fish, but the fish was a little on the salty side. It must have been salt-pickled. It was common to preserve seafood in salt when you move inland. The fish used in imperial court cuisine were freshly caught, brought over on a fast horse before it spoiled, so those weren’t pickled in salt.
That weirdo tactician and Rahan actually did provide them with sufficient living expenses. They had enough to employ servants for housework, but not to buy high-class furniture and eat extravagantly.
She thought that these measures were sufficiently generous. It would be humiliating for people who had once lived in luxury in the capital though.
And as they endured with this humiliation for many years, they might explode given some push. What could that push be?
Maomao recalled the white cord Rahan’s mother was wearing. The snake-like white cord that resembled those warding ropes.
It would be good if she had remembered wrong, but she thought up something unpleasant.
When she sat on the bed and crossed her arms, there was a knock on the door.
“I have arrived with hot water.”
She heard a servant’s voice.
Maomao opened the door. A man bearing a large wooden pail entered. He lowered it slowly to avoid spillage, then set down a basket with a towel beside it. It also contained a change of clothes. They were typical clothes for this season, made from linen. They were neither gaudy nor crude.
She thought that it would be a woman who would bring the tub regardless of its weight for this occasion, but it turned out otherwise. In a normal situation, a lone man wouldn’t enter the room of a female guest. He would have women accompanying him at least.
The servant retreated from the room with his head bowed.
Maomao felt a sense of discomfort, but not for long. When she picked up a towel from the basket, a piece of paper fell out. It was blank paper. Fine quality paper that had been properly made rather than those of inferior make. It had flowers pressed into it.
(I see, huh.)
The corners of Maomao’s lips raised up into a grin and she dropped the paper into the tub.
The previous family heads had looked baffled from the rude way Maomao treated the weirdo tactician. It wasn’t baffling; there were times where blood ties were weaker than ties with other people. Conversely, it could also be seen as hateful. The people in question were like that, and yet they were trying to demand something from Maomao. Honestly, their attempts to take the weirdo tactician and his ward as hostages to have Maomao listen to them was more worthless than a mooncake dropped into a puddle.
It was just annoying to be captured like so, thus she decided to cooperate with them for a little while.
Maomao was only just abducted.
It can be said that her job was fully accomplished with just that.
When Maomao was lying on the bed yawning, she heard a loud sound.
(Just in time, huh)
Maomao looked at the crumpled paper in the rubbish bin. Being low-quality paper, it had disintegrated as soon as it touched the water. Good paper would retain its shape for longer.
Maomao opened the door. It wasn’t locked; no guards stood outside either. She would walk around on her own, but since she had no idea where she was, she returned to her room and decided to take a nap. They will come to wake her up if they need her.
“Oi, wake up—”
She woke up with her hair being messed about. There was a meddlesome middle-aged man. It was Ukyou, the head manservant.
Maomao yawned. “You’re late.”
“That’s not the case.” Ukyou was wearing dark-coloured clothes. It was the perfect colour to sneak in through the side door of the estate at night. “It was tough, you know,” he said. “I needed to tell the granny first and then there’s the personnel. Also, it’s not like I could leave when Chou’u wasn’t going to sleep.”
For one who was saying that it was tough, he was making a cool expression.
In other words, the talks had been settled ever since Rikuson showed up at Maomao’s place. The other party must have been aiming for Maomao’s capture while letting Rikuson go. It seems they known about her as a rumour but might not have known who exactly she was.
Even when Maomao having a conversation at the pharmacy – she hadn’t noticed, but there must have been people who were keeping a lookout.
And so, Maomao made a situation where it was easy for them to know and easy for her to be captured.
After that conversation, the perceptive Ukyou would understand the reason Maomao secluded herself alone in the shack at least, she thought.
He’s a very well-balanced man.
It’s really wasteful that he’s working as a manservant in the pleasure district.
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
Since Maomao was staring at Uykou, he peered back at her with a mystified expression.
“…nothing. And so, what happened?” Maomao asked.
“Fox-dono and his nephew are in another room. They had the free time to draw a go board on the table with ink and play on it. They even went as far as to say that “we were late”. The nephew who was getting to a hundred loses was relieved to be finally released.”
She could easily imagine it.
To be stuck in the same room as that old man – even if Rahan was his opponent, she ended up feeling sympathy for him.
“Mm but then, everyone is gathered in the hall, so what do you want to do?”
“Isn’t it fine if I don’t go?” Honestly, she didn’t want to be in the same place as that fox glasses.
“We can’t have that. The nephew is holding down Fox-dono. You have to go. We can’t have Fox-dono get violent. Besides…”
Ukyou said as if he was putting on airs, “You’ll understand when you come to take a look. It looks like we fished up something strange.”
Maomao reluctantly headed for the hall as she was told. There were men she had never seen before standing at the entrance of the room – most likely Ukyou’s acquaintances acted as bodyguards at the pleasure district – and thugs collapsed on the corridor.
When she entered the room, Maomao’s expression immediately twisted.
It was the monocle weirdo, punching into the jaws of Rahan who had been holding him down and sweeping aside Rikuson who had showed up unawares. He charged towards Maomao with movements inconceivable for a bastrd who would normally strain his back from exercising his unfit body.
Maomao immediately thrust her hand into her bosom, taking out a small bottle, which she sloshed over the fox bastrd’s face. Just as she thought the fox would crash right onto her, he collapsed into a heap at her feet.
“Oi, what did you do?” Rahan stoked his chin as he came up to her. There were fine cracks on his glasses, but let’s not meddle too much.
“It’s not a poison so it’s no problem. It’s a secret miracle drug.” Maomao returned the small bottle to her bosom.
“A secret miracle drug? Can you mass produce that?” Rahan had come to get his teeth into it, seemingly gotten wind of the smell of business.
“It’s not that I can’t, but it’s exclusive for this old man.”
To say it simply, it was highly concentrated alcohol. It’s already a well-known item; it was effective because the old man was uncommonly weak to alcohol. However, to think that he would pass out with just a sprinkle over his face, wasn’t he weaker than before — Maomao scrunched her face. The old man was snoring with a flushed face.
“With this, it’s quiet.”
Just in case, Maomao opened his eyes and check his pupils for irregularities. There shouldn’t be a problem.
“My adoptive father can only be managed by you. Why don’t you show your face more often?” Rahan said seriously.
“No thanks.” Maomao didn’t want to see his face at all. It cannot be helped this time. “That aside, what are you going to do about this incident?”
Maomao scowled at Rahan.
Rahan made a show of moving his gaze towards the interior of the room as he stroked this chin again. “That point is okay. Since we discovered something very nice.”
“WHAT! WHAT IS WITH YOUR SPEECH! FORGET THAT. WHAT ARE YOU UP TO, RAHAN!!”
She heard a hoarse voice.
Inside, there was an elderly man – the previous family head – who had been tied to a chair. Beside him, were Rahan’s mother and older brother who looked mortified.
Maomao ogled at the personage who was sitting more to the side of them. “…that person.”
“Didn’t I tell you? We fished up something strange,” Ukyou said cynically.
Right there, was a woman clad in white. She wore a white veil over her head, looking down as she was shielding her eyes from the nearby light source.
The white of her skin and hair overflowed from her dress. Only her pair of eyes were red like garnet stones.
There was a wanted person among them.
It was really unexpected. It brought about laughter.
“NOT JUST US, BUT EVEN FAIRY-SAMA! DO YOU FCKERS THINK THAT IT WILL END WITH THIS!”
It was Rahan’s mother who cried out.
Certainly, Maomao had a feeling the woman had such ties to Lady Pai. The woman’s sash and fan had reminded her of the warding rope at the village with the water spirit.
And besides, like Consort Riishu’s half-sister, it was a given fact that people who are into divination exist. If Lady Pai is the ringleader who started all those problems, there would be no reason that there wouldn’t be the possibility of her being connected to the problem here right now.
However, seeing as the woman was so taken into it, it was conversely just anti-climatic.
Lady Pai was tied to a chair, silent.
Maomao got curious, but she put it aside and looked at the previous family head’s people. The three were openly angry, looking as though they wanted to snap at her.
(Huh? One, two three…”)
There were three people there. Rahan’s father should also be there, but where could he have gone off to?
“It looks like we’re missing one more person though,” she said.
“You don’t have to mind the fact that my dad isn’t here.”
“Dad”, Rahan had said. Looks like he still saw his father as his father even with ten-odd years of separation.
“THAT FOOLISH SON! I’M CAPTURED AND WHAT IS HE DOING!”
Rahan told her to not mind it, but it seems that it’s a huge problem for the elderly man.
“Isn’t the time to tend the morning glories(牽牛) now?” Rahan said as he looked out the window. He opened the bamboo blind; the morning sun was starting to rise.
Lady Pai turned her face away; it was too bright for her who sat next to the window.
“Tend the flowers! DON’T BULLSH*T ME! WHY ARE YOU ONLY LETTING HIM HAVE THAT MUCH FREEDOM!”
(Hey, hey, hey.)
Shouldn’t it be won’t anyone come save me if I get caught? – Maomao sat on a chair as she had that question. There was mooncake on the table so she picked up it. Rahan’s older brother watched her resentfully, but she paid no heed to it.
The mooncake stuffing seemed like out-of-season chestnut. However, it was the most delicious chestnut she had ever tasted. It was sweet and didn’t have the sensation of being dried. No, was it chestnut? The texture also resembled beans that had been carefully strained.
Even for Maomao who didn’t really like sweet food, it was a mooncake with quite a nice flavour. Even confectionary shops in the capital rarely release such flavours.
While she was interested, the elderly man moved his mouth.
“EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM! GOOD FOR NOTHINGS! A DISGRACE TO THE CLAN!”
The elderly man stamped his feet. It sounded like the floor was going to break apart.
“TO THINK THAT I HAVE AN ELDEST SON WHO CAN’T TELL FACES APART LIKE A NORMAL PERSON AND A SECOND SON WHO PLAYS FARMER. BOTH WOMBS I SOWED WERE BAD! I HAVE TO GO MAKE ANOTHER ONE, A PROPER ONE!”
The elderly man continued to swear.
Everyone around him squinted at his words.
Maomao ate the mooncake without paying attention. It’s actually different to chestnut, she chewed as she wondered what could be inside. Since her throat was parched, she helped herself to some tea.
“EVEN RUOMEN WHO, ON TOP OF NOT EVEN HOLDING A SWORD LIKE A DECENT PERSON, GOT HIMSELF CASTRATED, I DON’T HAVE ANY DECENT PEOPLE AROUND ME!”
Maomao’s hand stopped moving.
She gulped down everything in her mouth and stood up with the teapot in hand.
Maomao went to stand before the elderly man. Then spilt all the tea onto the elderly man’s feet.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!”
“Nothing. I just spilt some tea,” Maomao said in a serene voice.
“WEREN’T YOU STAYING OUT OF IT!”
“Yes, I decided to stop. Since I also have a reason. I’ll say it once, but if you slander my adoptive father anymore, I prepare boiling water immediately. So please, shut up for a bit.”
“WHAT’S WITH YOUR TONE! WHO DO YOU THINK I AM!?”
“A noisy old man who’s tied to a chair. A measly old man who can’t even avoid tea water,” Maomao said with a smile.
The elderly man’s face stiffened. Rahan’s mother and brother’s faces paled.
“Maomao, no more. Stand down. It’s fine. Don’t say anymore. Even if my adoptive father is quiet now, if you are annoyed, the talks won’t proceed, right?” Rahan said.
Rikuson also nodded at the back.
Ukyou pushed Maomao’s shoulders and sat her down. He was carrying a basket with something she’s never seen before inside. The thing that looked like a flattened dried daikon was releasing white powder.
“I dunno what this is, but it’s quite delish.”
After saying that, Ukyou put that enigmatic object into Maomao’s mouth.
Sweet. And when she chewed it, it got sticky. It was stringy but didn’t have a bad texture.
(The stuffing of the mooncake is this, huh.)
Maomao scrutinized the object. It was sweet but didn’t taste like it used sugar or honey.
Could it be dried fruit? What kind of fruit is it? She scrutinised it when the door to the entrance opened.
A gentle middle-aged man with a towel draped over his neck came in. It was Rahan’s father. She was told that he was tending the morning glories, but he was holding onto some plant stems.
“…dear, you’re doing such a filthy thing again,” Rahan’s mother said.
“RAKOU! DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, QUICKLY!” the elderly man yelled.
“FATHER!” Rahan’s brother also yelled.
Rahan’s father set the bundle of stems on the table as he rubbed his face with the towel. She observed it intently. It looked to be some stalk, but she didn’t know what they were.
Rahan had said that this father was tending the morning glories, but it seemed to be something else.
Rahan’s father put down the towel. His face, gentle and placid, actually resembled Ruomen in some ways.
“Father, even if I return to the family head seat now, there’s no place for us in the imperial court,” Rahan’s father said in a gentle voice that resembled Ruomen. “And besides, it’s not a good plan to be with this Fairy person.”
“Dear! What are you saying?” Rahan’s mother said. “Didn’t Fairy-sama’s divination see through everything about us!”
Lady Pai was in a daze; it was unknown what she was thinking about.
“You’ll easily know that sort of thing from looking at your brows,” Rahan’s father unreservedly declared in a gentle voice. Their son beside them looked like he hit upon something regarding that and gave an indescribable expression.
“It’s not that you want to believe the divination, you just want confirmation, right?” he continued. “And if you break everything, we’ll be right where we started, right?”
“WHAT! What everything! Tell me what is enjoyable about this countryside!? There’s no proper store, you can’t buy imported goods. There are just fields. Moreover, far from vegetables, it’s all nonsense grass. TELL ME WHAT’S LEFT!” Rahan’s mother said in a passionate voice.
Maomao’s ears hurt.
“While there’s life, there’s hope. You heard about the Shi Clan, right? The imperial court is still in chaos. I don’t know what will happen if we stir up something untactful. Older brother is acknowledged by his majesty even so. What do you think will happen if we take over that person? It’ll be a loss if we get crushed by everyone around us.”
“Then wouldn’t now be the opportunity?”
“That was stirred up by Fairy-sama,” Rahan’s father smiled sadly.
As if he hit the mark, Rahan’s mother went silent.
“It’s fine to feel strongly about that Fairy-sama, but if this gets out, we’ll get beheaded along with her. More than your thinking, it would be a greater sin to shelter that person.”
“That’s why you got into contact with me, Dad,” Rahan said.
“YOU TWERP! TO DO SUCH A THING WITHOUT TELLING ME!” The elderly man stamped his feet again. “WERE YOU UNUSUALLY ON BOARD WITH THIS CASE BECAUSE OF THAT!”
“….” The silence was telling. Rahan’s father headed towards Rahan.
The elderly man tried to yell again, but he’ll be interfering with the talks, so Ukyou came over and gagged him. The elderly man wasn’t required in this conversation anymore.
“Will we get blamed if we hand over this Fairy?” Rahan’s father asked.
“I think it will depend on when you started to shelter her. We spared a lot of personnel to find this maiden,” Rahan replied.
“…then, what if I say that I will hand you this?” Rahan’s father showed him the bundle of stems he was carrying.
“A long time ago, I heard that there are some interesting morning glory, where the seedlings are sold for high prices. It’s a product from the south. While it looks similar, it seems to be a different flower that it grows roots instead of seeds. Moreover, it didn’t bloom flowers for some reason, so I really wanted to make this successful and widely known.”
Rahan’s father looked out the window.
“Since coming here, the fields have become considerably big. I know that flowers bloom very occasionally only when certain conditions are met, but I ended up with a strange by-product.”
After saying that, Rahan’s father picked up the enigmatic foodstuff that Ukyou had brought in.
“It’s a root vegetable called sweet potato. It’s sweeter than chestnut and can grow even on barren soil. It’s likely that it’s not just me that’s cultivating this in this country. I have distributed a small number of seed potatoes to our neighbours who have helped us, but it looks like everyone ate it without growing them. As an item for sale, it’ll all be ripened by the time they are sent around.”
It looks like the enigmatic foodstuff was a dried version of that potato.
Could they have employed thugs with money that came from there?
Rahan’s dad mentioned that and reflected upon it. “Aside from increasing the number of roots, there are also ways to increase the use of this stem. It’s already the end of planting season, but if you do it as soon as possible, you might still be able to make it.”
Maomao blinked. Rahan did the same. However, his eyes were shining brightly.
“Rahan did say it, right? That there’s nothing that can be used as a countermeasure for the locust plague. Besides, you said that at this point in time, you wanted to get your hands on something useful that’s relatively easy to obtain.”
When was it when Maomao proposed the idea of tobacco to Jinshi? Jinshi should have gotten proactive in cultivating it. Rahan had seen that, so it would mean that he was occasionally keeping in touch with his father.
(I’ll have to revoke it, the fact that he resembles dad. )
So Rahan’s father is really Rahan’s father, huh.
Maomao looked at the gentle-faced mastermind and had an indescribable feeling.
Let’s just say that she got a pleasant miscalculation on the sweet potatoes.