Maomao didn’t consider her own words to be absolute. However, through speaking with Jinshi and the others, her opinions appeared to carry some weight. It’s been the case up until now, so she might’ve gotten a little too self-conscious.
With Airin remaining as the suspect of the priestess’ attempting poisoning incident, the discussions continued.
Airin confessed when they interrogated her. Her reason being that she come into this country despite her own unwillingness. One of the key motivating factors had been her grudge against the priestess. Despite being raised as the next in line after the current priestess, she lost the opportunity to the person who continued to occupy that position unfailingly for years upon years.
From her confession, combined with her resentment towards both the priestess and the country of Rii, they could only conclude that she became desperate in the end.
(Bearing resentment towards the emperor also leaves the worst impression possible.)
Despite being a shallow, foreign woman, she had attacked the priestess out of malice.
It was more convenient, to do it.
“That’s absurd…” Maomao unintentionally spat out at Rahan who had come to inform her. Since it wasn’t a topic that could be settled through messengers, he had summoned Maomao to speak with her directly. He had specially called her out under the pretence of a medicine errand.
“I’m also troubled by what she told me,” he said while swallowing the stomach medicine brought along for the errand. Can this guy even get a stomach ache, Maomao wondered as an afterthought.
“How is that court lady, the one called Yao or something?”
“She’s probably fine by now, but there might be after-effects.”
Her condition had mostly improved with Dad and En’en’s medical attention. However, she has yet to make a full recovery, and was down in the dumps about having eaten poison unknowingly. It’s only natural for you to be unaware, poisonous mushrooms are unexpectedly delicious after all, Maomao had tried to console her. But Dad had gently stopped her. Apparently, it’d backfire instead of having the intended effect.
Maomao checked on the priestess’s condition once per day, though to be frank, it was near impossible to judge as the latter masked her expressions expertly.
If the priestess was faking her illness, Maomao didn’t need to enquire after her condition, and what’s more, she would become complicit in charging Airin with the crime.
Even though she had time to meet the priestess—it was vexing how she wasn’t able to probe her about it then.
Moreover, what Maomao said was no more than an inference; she didn’t have solid evidence. If she had travelled outside the country to specially set Airin up, what kind of weakness did she seize? The risk was much too great.
“That woman, what kind of weakness did she snatch from the priestess….?”
“Certainly. Even I thought they were on good terms with each other,” she said.
Rahan placed his elbows on the table and drank some water. At this Maomao said, remembering, “if you don’t eat anything afterwards, it’ll upset your stomach.” He took out some dim sum from the shelf with a look of dissatisfaction. Maomao asked “Don’t you have any with meat filling?” at the sweet potato filled steamed buns, but he replied, “none”. How boring.
Can’t be helped. She continued to speak while stealing a sweet potato filled steamed bun. “If they were on good terms, this sort of thing wouldn’t have happened, right?”
“At the very least, I thought Airin-dono adored the priestess. If not, she wouldn’t have given a testimony like that, right? For argument’s sake, what if that’s a false accusation?”
“Even though I told her that I’ll listen properly if there’s an explanation. She went and openly abandoned herself. She’s quite the actress.” Rahan seemed to believe that Airin had been falsely accused.
She had confessed while speaking ill of the priestess, but looking at it from another perspective, she seemed to be covering up the crime herself.
Maomao still had no idea what kind of relationship the two of them had. “What have you heard about Airin’s relation to the priestess?”
“Nothing more than gossip. Airin-dono had trained by the priestess’ side for five years as the candidate successor. As an apprentice, she resided in the palace up until she lost the qualification to become a priestess when her monthly cycle began.”
She heard that she’d once been a priestess apprentice, but she didn’t think that they would be together for such a long time.
“Hmmmm…. Wait a sec.”
She didn’t know the exact age of the foreigner but she looked to be about twenty-five. If you do the maths….
“Doesn’t that overlap with the period the priestess had suspicions of pregnancy!?”
“Yes. Did I not mention that? That’s why I personally asked you to investigate,” Rahan said.
“Wait. If she lived with her for five years, then wouldn’t she know if she had gotten pregnant or not?!”
“…is that how it is? Normal people can’t tell when it’s covered by clothes, right?”
“Even if someone like you can’t tell, it’s difficult to hide a pregnancy. Even more so if she accompanied her as an apprentice.”
Rahan chewed on his steamed bun, and gulped down the tea. “That could be the case, if you put it like that.”
He might seem level-headed at a glance, but in the end, this guy is a member of the Ra Clan. He was off and lacking in some areas.
“Moreover, even if she had suspicions at the time, wouldn’t it be unusual for her to reveal it now?” he continued.
As if beauties were his weakness, Rahan’s train of thought seems to have dulled, somewhat. He pushed up his glasses and fell deep into thought.
“Then, can we look at it this way?” Rahan crossed his arms and closed his eyes. “The investigation into whether she had a child was actually a front.”
“You’re going with that, huh,” Maomao said.
“Airin was hiding something bigger behind that front. How she fell into the current state of affairs also stemmed from that.”
“It’s not illogical when you put it like that.”
The problem was, what she was hiding?
Maomao and Rahan groaned.
“If only Dad was here…”
“Great Uncle would definitely figure something out. But even if he knew, he might not speak up.”
Which reminded her, he had made an expression like he was stuck on something. Did he realise something Maomao hadn’t noticed?
“Even the priestess. If Great Uncle examined her, he might come up with something.”
“I apologise for being a novice,” Maomao replied sarcastically. But Maomao felt the same way. Being touched by a eunuch should be fine, even if they were considered men. “….”
“Eunuch.” Maomao clutched at her forehead. There were still many bits of the answer scattered about. She remembered something.
Maomao took out a notepad from her bosom. It was a record from the time she interviewed the priestess. Yao’s notes from the banquet were also scribbled in.
“And this is?” Rahan asked.
“Food the priestess often ate. It’s effective for gynaecological diseases, that is, things that boost femininity.”
There were also ingredients for a medicine the old court physician had taken a long time ago. She’d initially thought his face of disgust was due to the taste, however, a note on its effects made her smile wryly.
“…Maomao, aren’t you better off using it instead?”
“Yes, moving on. Try sounding out the characteristics of eunuchs.”
“Treating your brother dearest with disrespect. Okay, okay, I understand, I’ll say them. Their masculinity decreases, their hair thins, and their voices become higher, right?”
“Other than that, they put on weight as they age, and afterwards, immediately grow old. You can tell when you look at Dad, but there are additional features.”
What kind? Rahan watched her with great interest.
“When males are castrated before puberty, their voices don’t change, nor do they grow body hair. And since they’re missing the increase in masculinity that comes with puberty, their limbs become excessively long…”
“I haven’t gotten a good look at the priestess, but could it be…”
“She’s tall for a woman, her limbs are long, and she’s started to put on weight recently. Even her illness from her decline in femininity; eunuchs experience a similar phenomenon.”
The traits coincided.
“Oi, wait a sec. Surely you can differentiate between a eunuch and a woman, right? Didn’t you check the top half of her body?”
“Yes, she has a proper set of breasts.” Maomao took out the notepad from before sardonically. En’en’s letter listed the effects of the medicines, including those of hasma.
‘Hasma: good for beautiful skin and a beautiful figure. High nutritional value and highly nourishing. However, the chest area swells when overeaten’
The delicacy En’en made Yao eat. For Yao’s healthy physical development.
This may have been the reason for the old court physician’s wry smile. It was no laughing matter to eat too much and have your chest swell up.
“It’s because you distinguish between genders by looking at the chest. Though, it would’ve been better if I had taken note of the position of her navel..”
Since the priestess was plump, even if she found it odd, it’s probably hard to notice. If even Maomao, who had an extensive understanding of the differences between men and women, didn’t notice, suffice it to say Yao and En’en wouldn’t question it either.
The reason even eunuchs couldn’t get close to her, was because eunuchs possessed physical characteristics much closer to her own. She had been afraid of being exposed.
It had been arranged from the start.
‘Investigate whether the priestess had given birth or not.’
She hadn’t considered the priestess to be a man at that point in time.
She had been completely duped. Dad’s delicate expression probably suggested that possibility, judging from the priestess’ physical characteristics he heard from Maomao.
“In other words, if this is the secret the priestess wanted to hide…”
It was a weakness, absolutely.
“No, but wait. Even if that’s the case, would she come all the way to silence a woman who had become the consort of another country? And do it in such an elaborate manner, taking it this far.”
The priestess wasn’t a woman. If this premise holds, wouldn’t the other things also flip over?
If the priestess pushed the crime on to, no, if Airin had pinned the crime on herself. If so, then she couldn’t explain the latter’s actions. Having her shoulder the crime alone would benefit the country of Rii instead.
“…hypothetically, what will happen if a resident of our country kills the priestess?”
“It’ll be on the face of the country. If handled carelessly, it’ll probably escalate into a war. We can only be grateful for Airin-dono’s confession now.”
“Then, are you saying, as long as it’s Airin, it won’t become a issue?”
“Not entirely, but a war probably won’t break out over it. Our country will have to yield to the whims of Sha’ou, though.”
Without warfare, Sha’ou can conduct itself proudly next to its large, neighbouring nation.
Her thoughts were in disarray, but she had to calm down and piece it together. Let’s consider the priestess’ gender. “What’s happens if the priestess is outed as a man in Sha’ou?”
“What happens if his imperial majesty is a woman in this country?”
It’s a stupid question. First and foremost, it’d be impossible. Rii only had a female emperor up until now. Yes, the mother of the previous emperor’s ‘Empress’ was only a nickname—her title was Empress Dowager.
If she had faked her gender to be enthroned, not only will she receive retribution, the dignity of the country itself will also be marred.
“In Sha’ou, the government consists of two pillars: the priestess and the king. If only one pillar remained, no doubt a faction of the population would rejoice. Even if the next priestess is selected, their dignity will be rock bottom. Things created in the era of the white priestess will be completely destroyed.”
The current priestess has been in power for a long time. Owing to that, the freedom of speech of the women of Sha’ou can be said to be emboldened. However, if this very priestess is revealed to be a man, this notion will be dismantled from the source.
“If enemies of the priestess, for example, the king or his subjects, were to catch a whiff of it ―the priestess would be in a position to be exposed sooner or later. Thus, she did something she wouldn’t normally do. Travel outside the country.” Maomao said to verify. “The reason she travelled outside the country, was to ensure her true physique won’t be revealed to the king and his people—“
For the sake of reaching a place where she’ll no longer be exposed. A place beyond the reach of others. Somewhere she can go without leaving behind any evidence.
Maomao clutched her brows. No, there’s no way, right? She gritted her teeth. But, once you piece together the things she’d done up until now, everything falls neatly into place.
“In order to commit suicide.” Maomao flew out of the room with those words.