It was on the day of her first holiday in a long time when she found that there was indeed more to it all.
Though she was told not to venture out too much, she was also curious about the situation at the pleasure district. She slipped out of the lodgings and snuck off to Rokushoukan.
The letter wrote that there weren’t any issues, and apparently, it was so. The store was laidback at noon, the kamuro were sweeping the entranceway and the brat was playing with maomao the cat.
Chou’u raced up to her with the cat in his arms. maomao thrashed, kicked the boy squarely in the belly, freeing itself, and circled behind Maomao.
Apparently, it still remembered Maomao. She picked up the furball and threw it over the wall, where it promptly sprinted off. What an unfeeling furball. She wanted it to return with some precious natural medicine to repay the favour.
“Oi, you didn’t come back for so long. What’s up with that?” Chou’u asked.
“I have work so there’s nothing I can do about it.” Maomao grabbed onto the head of the boy who had closed in to hug her and pushed him off.
Did he grow a bit taller? Maomao looked at Chou’u. Was it because he played around in the outdoors every day? He was a little sunburnt. With his front teeth having grown nicely, he had lost his goofiness*.
(*A punny pun sadly lost in translation.
間抜け>collectively, gap[間]+lost[抜け]=stupidity; the gap can refer to the gap between the boy’s teeth. His teeth have grown back, so he lost his gap and his stupid look.)
“Is Sazen around?” she asked about the apprentice pharmacist.
“Yeah, the one-eyed big bro is here now.”
Apparently, Kokuyou was also here.
Maomao, while giving simple greeting to the courtesans she knew, went into the pharmacy that was rented from Rokushoukan.
“Yeah, the main point is that you have to grind it all down evenly. As for why, if there is even a little uneven when you mix it, the effectiveness of the pill will decrease.”
Kokuyou was patiently teaching Sazen who was grinding powder. It was praiseworthy that they were working properly, but seeing two rascals glued next to each other in the cramped pharmacy, it can’t be helped that it looked filthy.
As if they acknowledged that it was hot, the ventilation was good with the window and door completely open, but that was yet another problem.
A number of courtesans were smirking as they watched the two rascals chatting while sitting glued together. Kokuyou would be a beauty if he had half his face covered, and Sazen with his simple and inconspicuous face wouldn’t be said as plain.
Rokushoukan didn’t deal with male prostitutes—kagema—so apparently it was quite fun for the courtesans.
Maomao strode in between the two who were utterly ignorant of the fact that they were being looked at this way. “Doesn’t seem like there’s a problem,” she said.
“Ahh—, I’m doing it properly—” As usual, Kokuyou replied with an idiotic tone.
“No, it’s quite tight,” Sazen said with a little reproachful look.
“It’s the best thing that there are no problems,” she said.
“Hey, listen to me!” Sazen was probably just complaining to her from what she’s heard. He was quite obstinate.
Maomao gave the interior of the pharmacy a once-over and went to see if there was an increase in weird things and if there was anything they were down on.
“What’s this?” she asked.
It wasn’t medicine; something she has never seen before was on the shelf. It looked like some thin wafer that could also be a sweet—could it be a snack?
“Ahh. That. I tried making that since it didn’t seem like medicine we can find here—” Kokuyou took a thin cracker and placed it over the crushed medicine. “You take it like this. Otherwise, you swallow it down by wrapping it up after melting it to soften it.”
“Hehh, first time seeing this.” Maomao was honestly in awe. It was said that good medicine is bitter, so the excuse of not buying medicine because it tastes bad was a given. Maomao would make them eat it by mixing it with honey and such, but honey was a high-class item in and of itself. If they can eat it without it touching their tongue, there would be no need to adjust for taste.
“But wouldn’t that make it hard to swallow?” she asked.
“I guess so. It’s not recommended for children and elderly.” As if to say that water was also properly prepared, he shook the jug. “But this is a common way to eat it in the west. I heard before that it was because, in terms of race, they have more saliva.”
“…you know a lot.” Maomao’s eyes were slightly shining. “Come to think of it, where did Kokuyou get taught medicine? There’s no way you were self-taught?”
She understood by seeing him teach Sazen just then that his foundations were down pat.
“Hahaha. By the person who took care of me, you see. He was a person from the west. His hair was gold, and both his hair and body hair were thick—” he answered.
“A Sha-ou person?” she asked.
“Nah, further west?”
Maomao was interested in that.
“Can you speak the language there?” she asked.
“Only a little—” he replied.
“So where is your foster parent?” Maomao was going to say that she wanted to meet them if possible, but..
“Ahhh. He died. By this, you see—” Kokuyou said as he pointed to his smallpox scars.
“I see.” She thought it was a little unfortunate. It wasn’t unusual for doctors to die from a contracted illness. Rather, it was common. They have the most contact with sick people. “My bad for delving too much into it.”
Sazen, who was standing outside the mosquito net, poked Maomao. “They’re calling for you.”
In the direction Sazen was pointing, there were the madam and Rahan.
They were provided with a room for private talks as usual.
The amusing part of the madam was that she would increase the extravagance of the room the more they return, so today’s snacks were around the upper of the middle class. By the way, in the case when Rahan’s adoptive father comes, apparently he only gets served water in a chipped cup.
“I heard that you have a holiday today so I wondered if you would be here, and it was a good thing you were,” Rahan said.
“No, you probably investigated,” Maomao said.
It was like Rahan to be thoroughly prepared like this.
“Rather, can we skip the preface and get to the point. I have things to do,” she said.
“No, weren’t you just chattering away like normal just now?” he said.
“It’s kinda like whenever I talk to you, I don’t have enough time to spare.”
“What is this you? Call me Brother Dearest.”
She was already done with this exchange. She wanted him to get on with the talk.
“So, the subject, would have to be about the court ladies who assist court physicians, right?”
“It’s helpful that you get to the point.”
Rahan was wary. He probably investigated Yao and En’en’s backgrounds and came to see if their characters would pose an issue, but it seems he wasn’t able to broach the main topic regardless. “I have seen the condition of the Sha’ou Priestess, but I have one more thing I’m bothered about.”
“How so?” Maomao tilted her head.
“What if the priestess isn’t the priestess?” he said.
“Don’t glamourise the information and just get straight to the point.” Maomao picked up a steamed bun and split it in half. It had sweet stuffing inside, so she clicked her tongue, ate half and put the rest on Rahan’s plate.
(No stuffing or meat stuffing was better.)
Maomao didn’t like sweet stuff that much. It was unfortunate, but the madam had prioritised Rahan’s preference over hers.
“You must have heard about the priestess’ condition. That they are limited to girls who haven’t gotten their first period,” Rahan said.
“Ahh. But in truth, there are women who never get it,” she said.
It was unusual, but she couldn’t declare it as strange.
“What if this priestess person had given birth?” Rahan asked.
“…” Maomao’s face twitched.
“It undermines the hypothesis,” he said.
“…when?” she asked.
“It seems there was a period of time where the priestess’ health was bad so she left the Sha’ou capital for a distant place to recuperate. For around several years from twenty years back.”
Maomao suddenly recalled the time the artist saw the white beauty. White women were hardly common—if it was a big shot like the priestess, it wouldn’t be an existence that a travelling artist could see.
But if she had been recuperating in the countryside, it was valid.
And if that priestess had given birth to a child during that period of recuperation.
“Is it possible for a white daughter to be borne from the white priestess?” he asked.
“…I think there is a higher chance than those born naturally.”
But if the father was also an albino, it would probably be almost certain.
And if the priestess had given birth to a child, it wasn’t a single question that comes from it.
“What if that child is Lady Pai?” Rahan gave an eerie grin. “We don’t know honestly, but it makes sense. Lady Pai is currently imprisoned. But she won’t confess about under whose orders she did it.”
Strangely, when it came to Lady Pai, he displayed a cautious stance.
For what reason the current priestess’s daughter, Lady Pai, would cause trouble in another country. Even for Sha’ou, Lady Pai’s existence could only be troublesome.
However, there might be people who would find it favourable.
If the political rival who had chased out Airin had known about this fact.
“Does Airin know about that?” Maomao asked.
“Yeah. But the person had uttered that as the priestess’ apparent supporter in terms of position,” Rahan said.
Apparent, he said but it was actually scary. Politics can turn someone into an enemy at any time. However, it coincided with her interests. In short, was it about Airin knowing that the fact that they had secured Lady Pai and entered the inner palace?
There were also a lot of points she wanted to question. While saying that she is the priestess’ supporter, she was talking to people of another nation about Lady Pai. Wouldn’t this be a large problem for Sha’ou?
(There might be various other things though.)
There were many things people like Maomao who were distant from politics didn’t know. However, she knew that they couldn’t carelessly execute Lady Pai. Let’s say that was all she understood.
“If you are saying that you don’t know what I am trying to say, would you understand if I say this way?” Rahan grasped Maomao’s thoughts. “If we know that the priestess’s child is Lady Pai, as far as we shelter her, the priestess will be in our debt. At the same time, as long as Lady Pai is in our hands, we can restrain the person who drove Airin away and acts as though they are greater than the priestess. If we can believe Airin’s words, Lady Pai was apparently being used by this political rival person.”
He meant that Lady Pai could become the key to diplomacy. Maomao’s face stiffened.
“Of course you won’t mention everything we’ve said up until now, right?” he said.
Speaking if who to, it was Yao and En’en.
“Yes, but don’t drag me into this.” She wanted to crush his glasses.
“I thought that if you didn’t pass, I would be at a lost. I would have no choice but to rely on the Sui noble, but in terms of position, it would be bothersome in various ways, you see.”
Could the Sui noble be about Suirei? If he were to use someone who doesn’t exist, he would have to create a background for her first. He would probably fabricate her to be the daughter of some official on the spot, but her original background was an issue.
Maomao was also concerned about what kind of background she would be given for this exam, but she told them beforehand to treat her as the adopted daughter of Ruomen. It would be absolutely fine if Ruomen, who was now working properly as a court physician, was her relative.
“However, going all the way to Sha’ou this time? Even though it was harsh enough to go to the western capital.” She had no idea how long it would take for a round trip.
“No, that point is fine,” Rahan said as he picked up the steamed bun Maomao had halved. “The priestess will be coming to the capital.”
“Hahhh!?” Maomao burst out in rage.
Rahan choked on his steamed bun in his surprise and drank it down with tea.
“What is this suppose to mean? Are people forcing her to make the long journey to check up on her illness?” Maomao said, her temples pinching.
Rahan, who had droplets of tea on the side of his mouth, calmed down Maomao with his hand. “This is politics. Even for Sha’ou, this country, Rii, possesses a great duty. They want to make an appearance at the large ceremony.”
“Large ceremony?” she asked.
“You didn’t know? The legal wife was decided, and her imperial child was able to become the crown prince. Empress Gyokuyou’s family will be bestowed a name in a formal ceremony. It’s the family of the empress, that is powerful in the areas close to the national border. Sha’ou would also want to win their favour.”
There were several distinguished families in Rii that could be known as named. With the Shi Clan destroyed, the named decreased, so if the empress’ family were to become named, it wouldn’t be an issue.
If it were to also become the crown prince’s debut, would it become a grand festival?
(All the crown princes up until now were short-lived children after all.)
They had died before the ceremony was carried out.
The current crown prince has yet to reach one year old, but that part might have been embroiled with politics.
“Although it’s a long journey, Sha’ou has a long sea-route. If they ride the seasonal winds, they will be arriving faster than the overland route,” Rahan explained.
If there were some problems in the other country, wouldn’t they be able to push responsibility to them—she got anxious about that. With the coming of the leader of the foreign country, that alone could have a harmful influence. Politically, that might be their aim instead.
However, if it goes well, they could get stronger ties with Sha’ou.
“You might not want to do it, but you have to. That’s why I’m requesting you this way,” he said.
“…” Maomao drank her cold tea with a frown.
As long as she had heard about it, she couldn’t feign ignorance anymore.
“By the way, the one who thought this up was Jinshi-sama,” Rahan said.
Maomao somehow stopped herself from saying that out loud.
Jinshi also had to pay attention to his appearance and bearings position-wise. But she wanted him to become someone who could be annoyed as well.
“Will I get a special allowance?” she asked.
“Leave the negotiations for that part to me.” Rahan beat his chest, glasses twinkling. That alone was the most promising part.