The flow of time is not uniform. Fun times are fleeting; bitter times are prolonged.
As such, the period leading up to the banquet was brief to the point that it could be said that time flew like an arrow. The days that led up to unpleasant matters were in all, too short.
At her own insistence, Maomao didn’t have to visit the weirdo’s place until the day itself. Unlike Maomao, Yao was enthused when most of the work was entrusted to her alone. She’d been staying at the priestess’ villa over the last couple of days. This was to ensure she would eat whatever the priestess is eating, whether it’s at the banquet or with her usual meals.
The priestess had insisted— although meals are checked thoroughly, there’d be trouble if anything was overlooked.
Maomao was interested in the foreign dishes, but that, too, was that weirdo’s fault.
And so, until the very day of the banquet, she had to start work half-a-dual hour earlier than usual.
(I don’t want to go.)
How many times had she thought that?
It was as she was taking her time leaving her room at the last minute after slowly changing clothes.
“Oh, long time no see.” She bumped into En’en in the hallway. The court lady had been sent to work as Jinshi’s attendant, so she stayed elsewhere outside of the lodgings, but…
The court lady looked haggard. She bore a somewhat hollow gaze and her lips were dry. Her aimless movements reminded Maomao of a ghost. “Maomao… where’s Milady?”
“U-umm, if you’re asking for Yao…”
When Maomao told her Yao wasn’t there, she looked like the stars had fallen from the sky and crashed on to her head. Swaying, she leaned against the wall and sank right down to the floor.
“Are you okay?”
En’en didn’t look okay in any respect, but it was probably good manners to check.
(She really likes her.)
Maomao considered what to do while twiddling her fingers. She didn’t want to go to work, but it was an offence to be late due to personal commitments, so she can’t always be around to accompany En’en.
“What’s wrong? What about work? Don’t you have to stick close for the entire day today?” she asked.
“Uu, Uuu. I slipped away by saying it’s not time yet…. The Prince of the Moon’s head maid, she keeps a really close eye…” En’en answered.
“Ahh.” Maomao understood. If her memories served her correctly, the Prince of the Moon refers to Jinshi. He has an official name as the imperial brother, but only his majesty could say it. And so, everyone calls him by a different name.
And the person who comes to mind as Jinshi’s head maid was an elderly maid called Suiren—she was quite a cunning person. It appears En’en couldn’t escape Suiren’s clutches either.
“If you don’t go back now, she’ll get mad again, no?”
“…that’s true. It’s okay, I just wanted to get close for a whiff. I only wanted to tie up her hair properly. I don’t want to tie up a scoundrel’s hair no matter how silky it is….”
Even entrusted to tie up Jinshi’s hair—seems like she’s in Suiren’s good graces. By the way, when Maomao grew used to working for Jinshi, she was told to tie up his hair many times, but she refused every time saying that she had never done such a thing before.
En’en rose sluggishly to her feet. She was going to drag herself back, but then turned to face Maomao, as if remembering something. “Which reminds me, I haven’t sent you the reply to that letter. I couldn’t send it using the excuse from before either.”
If they were to exchange letters carelessly, it’s possible for them to be mistaken for spies. En’en showing up here now was already suspicious enough, but if she fell under suspicion, Maomao would need to come up with an for her.
“Thank you very much for all this.” Maomao accepted the letter. She requested it, since En’en seemed to know a lot of about gynaecological diseases and beautification medicines.
She opened the letter. It was written in quite some detail. Maomao knew most of it, but she was in awe, seeing it had so many effects of this sort.
Maomao’s eyes rested on a line in the middle of the letter.
“Umm, this part,” she asked, grabbing onto En’en who was wobbling back. “About the hasma, is this, true?”
“Umm, you made her eat it knowing such a thing?”
“It’s so Yao-sama can grow beautifully.” En’en’s face sparkled for an instant, before returning to its hollowness.
As Maomao felt a pang of sympathy for Yao, she decided to go to work as well.
Maomao didn’t know much about the proceedings leading up to the banquet. Apparently, it was carried out like a ritual, but there were so many steps she honestly couldn’t remember them all. And above all, only pertinent individuals could enter, so she was on standby for orders until then. She was on standby, so she couldn’t understand why she was forced to work half-a-dual hour earlier.
Maomao eyed the medicine shelf in the medical office and considered gloating, but she just had to be summoned by a court physician. As she wondered what it was about, it seemed to be for an errand.
“I want you to take these to the consorts.”
Whether it’s the garden party or the banquet, these events are some of the very few chances for the flowers of the inner palace to go outside. And so, even for errands, they couldn’t send for a man. Yao and En’en weren’t around, so Maomao had to go.
She checked the package in her hands; there were incense sticks inside. As to why these were found in the medical office, it’s because they also have medicinal properties. Smoke is effective as an insect repellent, and the fragrance is calming.
“She wants a substitute for mosquito repellent. She said it’s unavoidable as simple mosquito repellent is smoky,” the court physician said.
When it comes to mosquito repellent, it’s usually not something refined like incense sticks, but rather wooden sticks with an insect repelling effect. Even smoke on its own has some effect, but certainly is… smoky.
“Which consort is being selfish?” Maomao asked.
“Come on, it’s the new consort from that foreign country.”
How unexpected, Maomao thought.
It was that Airin woman. She has the light complexion of a foreigner, high stature, and on top of that, just for kicks, a voluptuous figure.
(There still aren’t any sexy news yet, huh)
Maomao hadn’t informed Yao and En’en. On what Rahan had only told Maomao to investigate.
(Did the priestess give birth to a child?)
In the end, she left without coming up with an answer.
“As she hails from Sha’ou, despite being newly instated, there have been protests against her presence at the banquet. Try to give these to other consorts as well, and try not to mix up the order when you give it to them.” The court physician relayed to her a summary of the consorts in attendance and explained the map of the buildings with consorts. Empress Gyokuyou was a given; high ranking consort Rifa, the middle-ranking consortAirin, and two others.
If you mix up the order, it’ll be scary-scary.
I don’t really understand the hierarchy of power in Sha’ou, Maomao mused as she went about her errand.
(Airin’s defection enabled her political rival, a woman called Aira, to seize the priestess’ weakness, though Airin claimed she’s one of the priestess’ people.)
Maomao wracked her brain—was the correlation chart something like that?
Not to say she wasn’t curious, she was, but carelessly sticking her head into things could get her entangled to the point where her head rolling becomes a real possibility. Poking around what’s kept in the dark seems extremely dangerous, so it would be better to retreat as soon as possible.
The antechamber was where she could deliver things to each consort respectively. Only Empress Gyokuyou will be waiting somewhere else. In terms of the order, it’d be appropriate to start from Consort Rifa, but discussions tend to drag on whenever she makes an appearance.
Maomao waited before Consort Rifa’s antechamber for a familiar-faced maid to come. It was good that all the good-for-nothing maids were fired, but Maomao wished the remaining ones would stop freaking out every time they saw her.
She quickly passed them on, one after another.
She came to a stop in front of Airin’s room. Suddenly, Maomao sniffed the air.
(What is this?)
There was a rather peculiar smell. She couldn’t recall what the smell was. For the time being, she knocked on the door.
Hearing the consort’s characteristic pronunciation, she opened the door. Only Airin was inside. None of her maids were around.
Airin had something pressed against her breast region. When she got closer, that strange smell became stronger.
“I have brought the mosquito repellent,” Maomao said.
“Thànk you very much. Can you put it there? My maid just left her póst.”
Did she go off to the bathroom or something? The consort’s maid had come along to half-watch, but this antechamber didn’t have a single window, and only one entrance. There were guards outside. Probably there to see if anything goes wrong.
“Then, I’ll be taking my leave…”
As Maomao made to head back, her sleeve was grasped.
“Wh-what is it?” she said.
“You went to Priestess-sama’s place as well, right? How was her cóndition?” the consort asked.
(How should I reply?)
Maomao wavered for an instant, then decided to reply as is. “She didn’t seem tired from her travels. As for her illness, we are examining her closely, so please rest at ease.”
Having given such a safe response, Maomao wanted to smile at herself.
“Is that só. I’ve heard that you’re particularly outstanding among the court ladies, so I have high hopes.” The consort piled on the pressure. As she drew closer, the smell intensified.
(Just what is this smell again?)
Hmm, Maomao pondered as she left Airin’s room.
(What is this gloomy feeling?)
It was the same with the smell from just now; she was consumed by a sense of gloom about other things as well. She was stuck on a few things regarding the relationships of Sha’ou. It’s likely that she had gathered several chances to get to the answer, but she couldn’t derive it from what she had. Otherwise, she felt that she was missing a few pieces before she could arrive at the answer.
(If it’s Dad, he would have reached the answer already.)
Giving a sigh at her own inexperience, Maomao returned to the medical office.
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