Before entering the inner palace, whether you were a eunuch or a palace lady, your body had to undergo a checkup. Maomao and her dad were used to it, but Yao and En’en seemed to have found it quite humiliating. They looked terribly uncomfortable about the fact that they would be touched by eunuchs, so they blatantly made indignant faces. With a look of resignation, her dad called for palace ladies for them.
“Just this time, okay?” he said.
It didn’t look like they were intending to defy her dad. The only thing was that after they heard that he was a eunuch, it felt like their attitudes had worsened a little.
(It’s not particularly unusual, though.)
It wasn’t unusual to be dismissive towards eunuchs. Her dad was also used to it, so he might not be that bothered by it, but it irritated Maomao.
They entered the inner palace, and a nostalgic atmosphere filled the air. The garden of women; the men around here were all eunuchs. For a place that gets influenced by this peculiarity on a daily basis, the people who live here also become a little peculiar.
Flickering stares focused on Maomao’s group. As this place that had no freedom of movement, they were sensitive to people who come in from the outside world. Their eyes glittered, wondering if they had any interesting news or anything that could spark a rumour.
Among those, there were a couple of faces she recognised. Though she wasn’t particularly close to them, they were maidservants whom she had occasionally chatted with when she was in the washing area. They looked marvelled, as every single time Maomao left the inner palace she would return.
Her dad made a beeline for the inner palace medical office first. The two court ladies looked around in wonder as they walked, but Maomao and her dad didn’t really care. As if Yao couldn’t stand her behaviour, unusually, she went to talk to Maomao.
“Why are you acting like you’re used to it?” she asked.
“I have worked here for close to two years,” Maomao answered. It was at short intervals, but she had been here until the autumn of last year. “Since the term of service of palace ladies in the inner palace is two years.”
As it was bothersome to explain everything, the court lady should understand if she just said that.
The conversation ended on that note, and they reached the medical office in silence. A familiar loach moustached face was dozing in the medical office.
When her dad called out to him apologetically, his nostril flared and he flew up in a fluster.
“OH! If it isn’t Ruomen-san. And Lass! Long time no see.”
The quack doctor tottered over to them, his heavy belly under his arms. Although he said long time no see, Maomao had accompanied him to his family home, the papermaking village, so it had only been a couple of months.
It looked like Yao couldn’t stand the fact that Maomao was also acquainted with the quack doctor.
She had intended to take the exam, but it probably would be strange for people to even see it that way. She ruminated on the words the court physician, who worked in the military, had said just then. It can’t be helped that he thought that way, but it wasn’t something to be bothered about.
“Who are the young ladies at the back?” the quack doctor asked, seeing Yao and En’en.
The two had a delicate expression. He may be a eunuch but he was also a court physician. They seem to understand that in their heads but were at a lost on how they should act towards him. The quack couldn’t read their expressions, no, didn’t read their expressions, and started to search the shelves while asking, “What tea cakes would be good?”
His personality was enviable in a way.
“These three are court ladies of the imperial court who will be acting as assistants for court physicians from now on. Since it will be difficult for us alone to watch over the inner palace, we will be taking them around with us as a test. Did you not get the correspondence?”
At her dad’s words, the quack doctor was taken aback. He glanced over to the table. An unopened letter was in view, but let’s not meddle.
“Ahhh, is that so, that’s how it is. And how will this be done?” the quack doctor said meaningfully as if he had already known about it.
Maomao thought that it was the usual and her dad gave a wry smile. Yao and En’en immediately faced this court physician with eyes of full of doubt like he was somewhat strange. It shouldn’t take much time for them to figure out that the quack doctor is a quack.
“Today, we will be heading to Consort Rifa’s place, then the middle ranking consorts.”
The high ranking consorts in the inner palace were Consort Rouran who had passed away due to the rebellion, and Consort Gyokuyou who became an empress and left the inner palace, And then, there was Consort Riishu who was still retired to religion. In essence, there was only Consort Rifa.
(I heard she had given birth to a boy, but how is she?)
It’s really been a long time since she met Consort Rifa. She was a consort that she had various feelings about, seeing how she had once nursed her constantly before. Though it wasn’t to the point of Consort Riishu, Consort Rifa also had various baggage on her. Apparently, the good-for-nothing maids were all fired in one clean sweep, but how was it now?
And then, speaking of the middle ranking consort, she was also bothered about the woman from Sha’ou who had newly entered, Airin. She originally became a court lady assistant to court physicians for this woman.
“For the time being, shall we go to the Crystal Palace?”
And so, they will be going to meet Consort Rifa.
Upon reaching the high ranking consort’s place, there were eunuchs that were different from the usual court physicians standing guard. Along with being escorts for the court physician, they were also guards for consorts to keep her out of harm’s way. Faces don’t change that way, so these were also faces that Maomao were familiar with. They were devoted to their work, and so didn’t talk to Maomao’s group who were outside their required realm, thus she didn’t know their names either. Maomao was fine with that, and the other party would be better off not troubling them too.
As usual, the palace of one of the high ranking consorts, Able Consort Rifa, was gorgeous. Maomao had borrowed a room once before to cultivate roses. The roses left over from that time had been planted all over, so the palace garden was full of roses. Maomao’s roses had been white, but the gardeners might have felt that the colours were a little dreary. It was now vibrant with reds, yellows and hybridised greens. It was a little wasteful that the flowering season was already over.
The maid who came to receive them at the entrance of the Crystal Palace cried out when she saw Maomao.
It appears that there were still a number of old-timers left, seeing how there were those who blatantly contorted their faces at the sight of Maomao. As usual, they were treating her like a demon-she wanted to them stop.
She felt that Yao and En’en were giving her strange looks again.
On the contrary, even her dad looked at Maomao. His eyes were uneasy, asking, Did you do something here too?
They were led to the interior of the palace. Not the bedroom, but the parlour. A short while later, with the sound of clothes rustling, the consort that was like a rose appeared. In her arms, there was a chubby infant who was smacking his lips. He had a slight milky smell—his mother might have just been breastfeeding him just now.
Consort Rifa wasn’t wearing face powder, she had only applied a light amount of rouge. Her skin was naturally beautiful, so she was fine even without face powder.
Following after the quack and her dad, Maomao and the others greeted her as well. It’s a good thing the consort I haven’t met in a long time looks healthy, Maomao thought. The infant in her arms also had a good complexion. He was already a lot older than the crown prince who had passed away.
The legal wife Empress Gyokyou’s son was currently the crown prince, but the successor was Consort Rifa’s child. Considering the issue of succession, they will get a little uneasy in the future, but it’s good enough that he is being raised soundly now, Maomao thought.
“We can keep the greetings short. More importantly, can you check his condition?”
Consort Rifa gently passed the baby over to Maomao. To be suddenly given the baby, she got a little bewildered, but the baby wasn’t shy, squinting his eyes as he sucked his thumb.
(I’m not that good with kids, though.)
Consort Rifa probably wanted to show to Maomao this. That Consort Rifa, who was a hollow shell after losing her previous child, had now given birth to a son and was raising him. When Maomao thought of it that way, there’s no way she could say that the baby wasn’t cute at all.
The maid who had joined the Crystal Palace was outstanding. She prepared a chair for Maomao to sit on so she could hold the infant properly.
Her dad asked Consort Rifa questions about her health, then took her wrist and measured her pulse. The quack doctor did nothing, only smiling as he stood beside them. Instead of him, it was En’en who took out the tools.
Maomao examined the baby.
Perhaps due to the considerably warmer temperatures, there was a light amount of sweat on the baby’s head. Aside from that, there was nothing to worry about, he was the picture of health. She whispered into the ears of the quack who was smiling with his eyes, and he passed the message for her to her dad. It seemed to be within his expectations, so the quack was told by her dad to take out medicine for heat rash from the medicine box they had brought over.
It was the best thing that he was being brought up in good health, but the whole time Maomao carried the baby, Yao and En’en were glaring at her.