This matter was accomplished magnificently, once again courtesy of Gaoshun’s commendable finesse.
With the madam already bribed and the apprentice Sazen looking after the pharmacy, Maomao was to be reserving a room in Rokushoushan to study. The madam will be nearby, so she could go ask the crone questions if there was something she didn’t understand. It wasn’t that she was constantly sticking to her, but there had been no slip-ups lately.
Chou’u, the brat, would occasionally come in to bother Maomao, but the madam or a manservant would come to drag him away by the scruff of his neck every time.
An incense that improved concentration was lit in the room, and she could hear gentle erhu and qin melodies from the room next door. Courtesans talented in music were performing for her.
Though it was said that you’ll crave for sweet food when you study, Maomao was provided salty senbei and cold fruit juice instead.
How very gracious of them.
(Just how high is this pile?)
Even such a question came to her mind. The madam was also making rounds at the same time in case Maomao skipped out by napping, so it was actually difficult for her to do. Even though it had been a long time ago, the madam had used to be quite a high-class courtesan in her youth. As a result, her education was a step higher than the average person.
“Hey, can you not even do poetry properly either?” the madam said.
“It’s mysterious. Why do you need poetry in a court physician exam?” Maomao said.
More correctly, it wasn’t a court physician exam, but one for court ladies to serve court physicians. There were several requirements to becoming a court lady in this court – she was told that this exam was new. If they had to go so far as to make a new exam, why couldn’t they just do away with poetry?
“What does poetry have to do with medicine? Also, what’s up with history, and copying sutras?” Maomao said.
“A depth of a person changes by knowing history. Characters are easier to read when they are pretty, so sutras are a good thing to study.” It was only in moments like this when the madam talks about decent things. Her usual “It’s fine to not remember things that won’t get you money” would have been good enough.
Her copybook handwritten characters were neat. Those now withered hands of hers must have been long and slender fingers with beautiful nails a long time ago.
Women with beautiful handwriting were liked. Women with good looks were liked.
She was a woman who had been polished for the sake of men, and yet she was still training courtesans in the pleasure district. If she was known to be that much of a beauty, why hadn’t she chosen a different life? Or had she been unable to choose?
“Even if the words you write are pretty, it doesn’t always mean what you write about is pretty too.”
Maomao was expecting the madam to drop a fist, but nothing happened.
“Not everyone is going to know if the things you write are pretty or ugly. If so, wouldn’t it be better if it’s just your words that are pretty?” The madam gave her a look of her sample as if to tell her to “So, write.” Her standard, uniform words seemed as if they were the model solution of the civil exam.
If she procrastinated, the cane would come hurtling towards her. Maomao rolled up her sleeves and picked up the brush.
Apparently, the court lady examinations were held quite frequently. Unlike the civil examination, the examinees were all young girls. Unlike men, their work period was short, so personnel were employed at fixed intervals otherwise there would soon be a shortage of workers.
The girls who wished to become court ladies were mostly the daughters of officials, so in a way, it was also for them to train in homemaking and groom searching. So, it also felt like it wouldn’t be an issue even if their numbers more or less decreased.
The examination site was in a school in the north side of the capital. Though the civil examinations were held in a provincial city north of the capital, a frequent exam would be better off held within the capital.
After cramming for around half-a-month, Maomao haggardly went to take the exam. There were around a hundred examinees in the examination site. There were also examinees aside from court physician apprentices, so it must be that.
In regards to the exam, it wasn’t difficult. It was finished within a dual hour, and she promptly went back. Apparently, the judging was already over. They probably didn’t want to show their crushed faces when they fail people during the screening process.
The places where Maomao had issues in were the subjects she had no interest in – namely poetry and sutras. She should be getting good marks for the other subjects. Rather, if she made any mistakes, they would be things that she wanted them to teach her.
After taking the exam and writing what she had to write, she had nothing left to do so she was going to hurry back to the pleasure district on foot.
If she didn’t hear that stupid voice.
“Ehhh, why aren’t you letting me take the exam?”
There was some dispute in front of the examination hall. It looked like it was between an official who supervised the exam and an examinee, but no matter how Maomao looked, the examinee was strange. She was wearing women’s clothes, women’s clothes, but she was tall for a woman. It was fine if she was just tall, but her voice was deep, and above all, Maomao recognised it.
(It’s like I’ve seen this scene before.)
Maomao had an unpleasant premonition. She wanted to ignore them, but she couldn’t as the scene was bizarre.
“Can’t you let me in?”
The coy-acting woman had half her face covered by a cloth. Maomao was already suspicious at this point, but her confidence faltered there. Certainly, by looking at that woman’s face, it wasn’t that they didn’t look like a woman. Their face was attractive; the contours itself were slender. Their makeup was also done quite prettily. However, that person was unable to hide it properly even if they spoke in falsetto, and above all, the way they wiggled their body was gross.
“…what are you doing?” Maomao said. It would have been fine to ignore them, but she felt sorry for the official who got roped into this. He’s a nice official. Maomao would have handed the woman over to a military official as soon as she could.
A man she knew from before at the harbour. There were smallpox scars on half his face, covered by the cloth. He worked as a doctor, but he was an unfortunate person who was unable to find decent work due to his face – though it really didn’t seem unfortunate with his idiotic personality.
“Ah, Maomao. Long time no seeee. Listennn, why isn’t this uncle letting me take the exam?” He fluttered the lashes of his uncovered eye as if to cajole her into joining the conversation. Stop that, it’s gross.
(Even if you tell me to join in.)
“The exam’s already ended,” she said.
“Ehhh, no wayyy.” He covered his cheeks with both hands. It’s troubling even if he had spoken in a falsetto.
“Come on, you’ll trouble the uncle.” Maomao tugged Kokuyou’s sleeves and took him away from the examination site.
The flow of things is a scary thing, so Maomao was now eating lunch with a pervert in women’s clothes. It would have been better if he changed out of it, but unfortunately, he hadn’t brought a change of clothes with him. By the way, it seemed he had borrowed the clothes from the wife of the village head.
“And here I thought I found a place to work. The next examination is in two months, huhhh,” Kokuyou said.
“The exam requirements made it impossible for you to take the exam from the start,” Maomao said.
He may be a beauty who can pass as a woman, but it was most bizarre with his deep voice on top of his half-covered face. Does this guy think that he could work in the imperial court normally if he took the exam? It was really fortunate of him that he didn’t even get booted out.
“Work, you say. What happened to grandpa’s place?” If she remembered properly, the man was assisting the eccentric old doctor who lived next to the village. They seemed to be getting along just fine, though.
“Grandpa, you see. He hasn’t been well lately. He’s going to retire soon so he told me to go look for work now.”
“…” Maomao made a slightly complicated expression. She pretty much remembered the reason the old doctor was weak-spirited.
“It was just the perfect timing that I heard that you can get qualifications to become a court physician’s assistant.”
(Check your gender first.)
Or rather, she wanted him to do something about his women’s clothes. Moreover, the problem was that he looked quite pretty – the men around them were glancing their way. He seemed to look mysterious with half his face covered. Even though they would be flaccid at a breath when they hear his voice.
Maomao ate her light meal, a steamed bun, and Kokuyou, his boiled gyoza.
“There are a lot of medicinal herbs in the village. Grandpa said that for as long as I live there, he would give me the house—” he said.
“Wouldn’t it fine if you take over after grandpa?” she asked.
“That won’t go well—. Grandpa used to be a court physician, right—? It’s because he has that title that people come from far away to see him. If a guy who comes from who-knows-where were to take over, it’ll be weird, I don’t think they would want him to see them–.”
That was most definitely true. He might have earned some degree of trust in the village, but it would difficult for him to earn a living in that small place. Was he meaning to scrape by selling herbs and doing a number of side jobs?
Maomao’s index finger shot up.
Last time, she had thought of getting more people for the pharmacy, but then she decided that it would be better to leave it since there was Sazen around. But the situation was different now, right? “Hey, from the village to the pleasure district, how many times in a month can you make the trip?”
“It’s fine if I have travel expenses—- Also, I’ll be happy if meals are also included,” he answered.
“We have a surplus for rice, so it’s not a problem.” As there was rice attained from connections from the quack doctor’s village, there was also sweet potato. “I want you to teach the apprentice doctor knowledge about medicinal herbs and to maintain the sales of the herbs. And while you’re at it, I want you to compound whatever medicine the apprentice doctor can’t manage. On that occasion, I want you to let the apprentice and the madam, who is the landlady of the pharmacy, to check the medicine.”
Since he’s a person with a sketchy background, she decided to take such measures.
“Also, the shop tending is originally left to the apprentice doctor, so you don’t have to serve customers.”
“Ehh–, I have confidence in serving customers—” He wiggled his body. She decided to ignore that since this was the words of someone who was unable to find work due to his personality, unfortunately.
“How about this much for your wage?” Maomao lifted a finger. It was a sum that, even with village work included, was survivable. It’s somewhat low for the wage of a doctor, though.
“Should be more like this, perhaps.” Kokuyou prised up two more of Maomao’s fingers.
As they laughed together, Maomao scowled.
In proportion to his stupid actions, he understood the value of things.
From raising several fingers to making detailed calculations, Maomao had no choice but to discuss with him as she ate her steamed bun.