Yao, the priestess, and the priestess’ other food taster. Out of the three, Yao had it the worst. Though she was in remission for a time, she had relapsed once again. Now, three days later, she seems to have mostly stabilised, but there were no grounds for guesses.
Maomao had taken over Yao’s duties at the priestess’ villa to nurse them. However, as their symptoms were minor, she was only staying over as a precaution.
Most importantly, the real issue was regarding the individual deemed as the poisoner.
(Why is it Airiin again?)
Why would this woman from Sha’ou, the same country as the priestess herself, poison her?
(She’s only treated as a suspect, though.)
There was a witness. It’s been confirmed that Airin had indeed procured the poisonous incense powder beforehand, and that she was seated close to the priestess during the banquet, as her former compatriot. Moreover, although she was under constant monitoring, Maomao knew that wasn’t strictly the case. When Maomao delivered the incense, there hadn’t been a maid around Airin. She imagined the consort must’ve snuck it onto the plate when the opportunity arose.
It wasn’t impossible.
After looking at the witness and the circumstances, she was told Airin was undergoing questioning about the matter.
(We have to find the culprit as soon as possible.)
It’ll blow up into an international problem.
(But if that person is from the same country…)
The situation is convenient for Rii as a country. They can shift the responsibility of the priestess’ attempted poisoning over to Sha’ou’s as internal strife. If Airin turned out to be the actual culprit, it will be all the more convenient.
(If so, how will things pan out for Rahan?)
Maomao recalled the small man whose head was full of numbers and was only attracted to appearances. To begin with, Rahan had invited Airin into the country under the guise of either improving food security or providing asylum. Even if it was a mistake on his part, that calculative man probably won’t be implicated as an accomplice. Nevertheless, it’s not something that can be brought up comfortably in conversation.
(There might be something more to it.)
Above all, Maomao felt sick. There were too many things she couldn’t figure out.
“Priestess-sama is already doing better.”
It was on the morning of the fifth day when the attendant relayed this to Maomao.
“Priestess-sama’s complexion still seems poor, though,” Maomao said.
“That’s due to her frame of mind. With someone like that as the other party, there’s no way she’d feel well.”
(I know right.)
Considering how even though her life had been targeted in a distant, foreign land, the poisoner was still someone from her own country.
“That’s true. Do they know each other?” Maomao asked.
“…yes. She was originally among those who had shown up as the next priestess candidate,” the attendant replied.
(I see now.)
“Understood.” Maomao thought as she agreed.
A horse-drawn carriage arrived just as she left the priestess’ villa. Maomao stepped on board as is, but the person inside was Dad.
“Is Yao all right?” she asked.
“For the moment, yes. En’en is looking after her. She will let me know as soon as her condition worsens,” Dad answered.
Maomao was told that Yao had been in remission, after which her condition had worsened, and has now stabilised. They couldn’t let down their guard just yet, but there was probably a reason behind Dad coming to pick up Maomao. Dad looked outside, and as expected, he said:
“We’re not returning to the medical office. We’ll be going a little further inside.”
The inside of the medical office was the area where the so-called big shots in the imperial court congregated. Maomao had an inkling as to why they were headed there. “…is it about the banquet?”
Maomao with the priestess and the priestess’ attendant, and Dad with Yao, respectively. The two of them have been providing medical care to victims of the poisoning. With Airin as the suspect, it wasn’t hard to guess why Maomao and her dad were summoned as witnesses.
The carriage passed by the medical office and headed for its destination. It was Jinshi’s palace.
Greeting them with a polite bearing, was Suiren. The aging maid, with her white hair twisted into a bun, gave a faint smile as soon as she saw Mamao. Maomao bowed her head at the somewhat crafty old lady in response.
The old lady guided them into a room with Jinshi, Basen, and Rahan. Briefly, she wondered why Rahan was present, but he was the one who had a hand in Airin’s entry into the inner palace. He seemed perplexed at the current situation—the short, bespectacled man’s lips were twisted.
“Did you hear about the matter at hand?” Jinshi asked.
“Is it the matter regarding Consort Airin?” Maomao said.
“Then let’s get to the point. First, I want to hear from Ruomen-dono.”
The discussions proceeded without preamble.
“I can only talk about Yao, a court lady who assists court physicians,” Dad said.
(That has to be a lie.)
Maomao thought. Dad has a cautious personality. Or more accurately, something along the lines of “he only verbalises thoughts grounded in concrete evidence?” He’s the type of person who refuses to speak of assumptions.
“Yao is in a critical condition. She has symptoms of abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. Though she was in remission, her condition deteriorated once again, and she is currently back to a stable state.”
It was also as Maomao had heard. The symptoms matched those of incense powder poisoning. But the severity of her symptoms, where her condition worsened again, made Maomao tilt her head a little.
Shikimi, an ingredient in incense powder, is toxic. It is a potent poison that is potentially fatal, but the poison itself is only found in high concentrations within the fruit. The powdered form of the leaves and peel are what’s used in incense. If you eat copious amounts to such an extent…
(I would have expected her to notice it.)
Maomao had taught Yao how to food taste. She also told the court lady to examine by smell. However, Yao’s complexion had been bad since before the food tasting, so Maomao feared she may have had a blocked nose.
However, what Dad said next transformed Maomao’s uncertainty into something more decisive:
“I believe the poison is likely to be mushroom poison. It is not shikimi poison.”
At the words that overturned their assumptions, everyone was dumbfounded. The ones who summoned Dad were probably here to clarify the suspicion of Airin over the assembled evidence.
“I see….” Maomao understood now. Mushroom poison has many varieties, some of which are much stronger than shikimi. Moreover, the symptoms are similar. Indeed, Yao wouldn’t be able to identify the smell and taste of poisonous mushrooms.
Amidst the shock, Rahan leaned forward. “Then, can we interpret this as an attempt to frame Airin-dono, Great Uncle?!”
He sounded happy. It was true. If the person he had won over in the first place caused trouble, the responsibility would also fall unto him. This would become nothing more than an incident outside of his calculations for the small man.
“I only said that the poison wasn’t incense powder,” Dad said.
Dad’s roundabout way of speaking sometimes aggravated others. Maomao spoke up to move the discussion along; to put forward the facts as objectively as possible, so that those present won’t get carried away by Dad’s words.
“As for the priestess and the other food taster, both experienced similar degrees of abdominal pain and nausea. Their symptoms appeared much milder in comparison to Yao’s, and their physical conditions improved somewhat after three days. If there is a point of concern with regards to the mushroom poison hypothesis, I feel that the doses ingested by the priestess and the other food taster were nowhere near sufficient and that the poison itself acted too quickly.”
Poisonous mushrooms—from the symptoms, it reminded her of the destroying angel(毒鶴茸). It contains a strong toxin with a delayed onset. It was frightening in the way it takes effect as it’s absorbed by the body; a terrifying poison where the next set of symptoms take hold just as you start to think you might be cured. It’s not that she thought Dad’s treatments inadequate, but if Yao’s condition was due to mushroom poisoning, he’d have to treat it more seriously than shikimi.
Maomao had also considered poisonous mushrooms, but had eliminated that possibility as symptoms take over six hours to develop. It was a little too soon for the poison to take effect right after food tasting.
(Dad should already know all this.)
And yet, despite all that, there must be a reason he brought it up. Is there a drug that can accelerate the effect of the poison? Or was he saying that it wasn’t the destroying angel, but a poisonous mushroom of a different variety? Or was it—
(that they ate it long before the food tasting….?)
Maomao found herself slapping the table.
How did she miss it? She recalled the conversation in the villa just then.
“Jinshi-sama,” she said.
“What is it?” Jinshi asked.
“Was the Sha’ou priestess told that Consort Airin is the suspect?”
“We have no intention of informing her until it’s been confirmed. We don’t want to cause pointless anxiety.”
That’s it, that’s the case. However, the attendant at the villa said:
“That’s due to her frame of mind. With someone like that as the other party, there’s no way she’d feel well.”
“…yes. She was originally among those who had shown up as the next priestess candidate.”
From that exchange, Maomao had concluded the priestess had already been made aware of the suspect’s identity. Since Maomao had also heard the news, she didn’t think much of it, assuming they, too, had caught wind of it.
(How did the priestess’ attendant hear of it?)
The explanation for why Yao’s condition was critical while the priestess and the other food taster only experienced minor symptoms. The mismatch in the time taken for the poison to set in—all will be adequately explained from here on.
“Dad… this is only a deduction, but can still I say it?” Maomao said, facing Dad with earnest eyes.
Dad looked troubled. “Can you take responsibility for what you say?”
Once it’s out in the open, there’s no way she can stop herself.
“But, there are times when you just need to say it, right?” she said.
Dad was silent. Maomao took that as acceptance.
“There seems to be something,” Jinshi said.
“Yes. This is nothing more than deduction though,” Maomao said.
Perhaps, by phrasing it this way, she’d left herself a way out. Even Maomao didn’t have enough confidence to declare it with conviction.
“It would seem that Consort Airin wasn’t the one who served the poison.”
“Your basis being?” Jinshi sought for an explanation without taking her words at face value. Rahan and Basen also observed Maomao.
“It’s because Dad, no, Court Physician Kan proposed the poison to be mushroom poison. In that case, it’d difficult to justify Consort Airin as the one who served the poison.”
The time at which the poison started to take effect. For it to be the destroying angel, it needed to be served before the banquet. Airin had been under constant surveillance since leaving the inner palace. Although her maid had taken her eyes off her, with no allies, the consort herself couldn’t leave the room. It would be impossible for her to serve the poison before the banquet.
“Then, are you saying someone served the poison before the banquet?” Jinshi supposed.
“Yes. The poison must’ve been served at the villa,” Maomao said.
Yao had stayed at the villa for a couple of days beforehand to eat the same meals as the priestess. It’d be reasonable to presume that the poison had already been ingested while they were at the villa. In that case, the person who served the poison would have to be…
“It would have to be someone among the priestess’ attendants. In other words, it’s a charade.”
““!?”” Whilst everyone looked shocked, only Dad’s expression stayed the same. He’d probably reached the same conclusion. However, he won’t simply voice speculation on his part—that was Dad.
If it was a charade, she could account for why the two aside from Yao had milder symptoms. The only one who ingested the poison was Yao, and the other two were acting, or had eaten a different poison that was a lot weaker. Besides, it also explained why they knew who the suspect was, even though they shouldn’t have known.
If it was a charade, and it was to pin the blame on Airin… If they were old associates, they would probably know, at the very least, that she habitually used incense powder with a similar toxicity to poisonous mushrooms.
Don’t speak of speculations—Maomao understood the reason behind her dad’s teachings. But there were times where she would get pissed off.
(The reason Yao got dragged into it is this!)
If a food taster from Rii became terribly ill, death from poisoning alone would have a significant impact. Yao was exploited for such a reason. She has a slightly haughty side to her, but in essence, she’s an honest and diligent girl.
She was no En’en, but Maomao still felt indignant.
Belatedly noticing her numb hand, Maomao reflected on whether she had lost her cool when she spoke. She looked around—Dad was silent, Jinshi and the others were taken aback.
The one who spoke first was Basen. In times like these, he reacts quickly. “Why did the priestess set up Consort Airin?”
“I have an idea about that.” Rahan raised his hand, taking over for Maomao. “To me, Consort Airin had hinted at the possibility of the priestess giving birth at some point, and whether the child could be Lady Pai. Therefore, I asked Maomao to investigate whether the priestess had ever given birth.”
If the priestess lacked the qualifications to be one, she would be expelled from her position and have it snatched from her. If anything, she might receive punishment instead.
“Is the priestess… Lady Pai’s mother? This, too, is a huge blow,” Jinshi said.
With this, the reason she defected was not only due to the existence of a political opponent, but also that she had grasped part of the priestess’ secret.
And the reason why the priestess came all the way to Rii as well.
“If we think that it was to keep her mouth shut…”
At Rahan’s remark, Maomao felt like she was stuck on something.
Why? There’s nothing off about her deduction. So what’s with this unpleasant sensation, like there’s something stuck between her teeth?
Maomao looked at Dad.
Dad sat silently, neither affirming nor denying.
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