“MAOMAO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“Even if you ask me that.”
Maomao put down the small knife she cut her left hand with.
She was testing new medicine in her room. Though it was an ordinary scene for Maomao, no doubt it was out of the ordinary for Yao.
“It’s fine. I have medicine here.”
However, she didn’t know whether it would work or not. The making of new medicine is a cycle of trial and error.
(If only there are other people I can test it on.)
Dad will give her a grim look. Occasionally, she could use the medicine on healthy military officials, but those who fit the criteria were limited, and often, they don’t return after the first treatment.
People got angry at her for using mice, and before, when she thought about shaving off maomao’s fur to try hair growth medicine, everyone in Rokushoukan objected fiercely, so she couldn’t try it out. Even though she had made sure to use the cut fur as a brush.
So Maomao had no choice but to use her own body. However.
Yao got angry at her.
Hearing Yao’s voice, En’en came over.
En’en watched as Yao grabbed hold of Maomao’s left hand in anger.
“En’en, say something to her!”
“What should I say?”
Apparently, En’en was in the middle of dinner preparations—there was a napa cabbage in her hands. Is it hot pot today? En’en’s baitang is delicious, rich in the flavours of seafood and pork bone stock. Let’s partake in it later.
(白湯, lit. white soup, Chinese version of pork bone soup. A milky white broth. The equivalent of tonkotsu broth in Japanese cuisine.)
“What, you say. It’s this, look. Her left hand is a mess,” Yao said.
“Yes. She’s probably testing medicine on it,” En’en said.
“Really.” En’en is sharp, so it seems like she realised it despite having never seen it before.
“If you knew, why didn’t you stop her? I thought it didn’t look like it was healing at all, but it turns out she was making new cuts.” Yao had never pried into the bandage matter. So apparently, it wasn’t that she hadn’t noticed, but that she was worried and couldn’t broach the topic.
“This, Milady, is what Maomao did to herself. Since it’s for the sake of making medicine rather than simply self-harm, I decided there was no reason to stop her,” En’en said.
“Yes. There’s a reason for it. The difference between medicine and poison is paper thin, so I have no choice but to test out how I should compound them,” Maomao said.
As a healthcare practitioner, Yao should know the importance of drug experimentation. In order to test the efficacy of the medicine, the medical office keeps several types of animals for testing. Yao had looked at it with a complicated expression, but she didn’t complain. Since she knew that it was needed.
And so, Maomao thought that Yao had no right to speak out, but Yao furrowed her brows, not looking like she was going to draw back.
“Even so, I can’t just leave it like this.” Yao didn’t let go of Maomao’s hand. “To think that my friend is doing something like this!”
““…”” Maomao and En’en’s eyes widened.
“Friend, yes, if you’re close enough to be friends. Yes, I guess…” En’en looked at Maomao a little enviously.
“We’re friends, huh,” Maomao said.
Which reminds her, recently, outside of work, they had been eating and chatting together. This might be classified as hanging out with friends.
When En’en and Maomao each spoke like they were checking, Yao’s face quickly flushed red.
“N-no! We’re not friends. W-we’re colleagues! Colleagues! You’ll stop colleagues when they experiment on strange medicines, right? You’d do the same too, right, En’en?”
Yao sought for En’en’s agreement.
En’en thought for a moment. “…honestly, it’s pointless to stop Maomao. Moreover, if it’s meaningful, it’ll be right to let her do it.”
Maomao also nodded.
“Then, I’ll do the same!” Yao said.
“YOU CAN’T!” En’en snapped back. The cabbage in her hands dropped to the floor. “I won’t allow any injuries on Yao-sama’s beautiful, delicate skin. It’s not possible. It cannot be. If you were to do such a thing, I would inflict myself ten times, no, a hundred times the injuries on my body. Even so, would that still be fine?”
Retorting a spiel of words with a serious look, En’en grabbed Yao’s shoulders and shook her.
It seems Maomao was being treated rudely, but since Yao was the subject, it couldn’t be helped.
It was about wanting to restrict the other party’s actions to the point of attachment. All the more so, if it was connected to self-harm.
Maomao tilted her head and groaned.
She felt that was something that was there and not there in the back of her mind.
(No, let’s take it as nothing.)
As Maomao groaned, she smeared medicine on the left hand that Yao had released and bandaged it. She picked up the cabbage En’en dropped.
“Hey, I smell something burning.” Maomao sniffed the air.
“…the pot. I left it on the fire,” En’en said.
The three frantically headed to the kitchen.
The pan fried buns that had been made in addition to the hot pot had transformed into charcoal. There were three of them; Maomao wanted to believe that it included her share, but she didn’t feel like eating the burnt things.
“I’ll wash it later.” En’en’s shoulders slumped. She was probably more depressed over cleaning off the charred surface than the food wastage.
Maomao helped herself to a meal of congee and hot pot that was more simple than usual. She scooped up some broth with a soup spoon. En’en’s baitang is delicious. Maomao had asked about the recipe once but En’en never taught her. Although, as En’en was smiling while she watched Yao, it might be the correct answer to not ask for the details.
(What could be in it?)
Unlike Yao, Maomao was fine with strange things, so let’s not mind it.
Yao seemed a little disappointed over the slightly fewer side dishes, but didn’t say anything when she saw that En’en was down in the dumps. The reason this master and follower got along with each other, was also because, looking from En’en’s perspective, there was Yao who can take her overly one-sided love.
Maomao picked up a dried shellfish with her chopsticks and put it in her mouth. It was still flavoursome. “Which reminds me, Yao-san. What business did you have with me?”
The reason for the burning pot was because Yao had gone to Maomao’s room. The shy Yao wouldn’t go to Maomao meaninglessly, or without a reason.
“I forgot.” Yao put down her chopsticks that was holding onto some pork. She took out a sheet of paper from her bosom. “Here, the schedule.”
Court physicians are often stationed at the medical office for every ritual. So, court physicians aren’t called out but provided a monthly schedule.
Maomao opened it. There were familiar words.
That’s right. It’s said that this season, before winter, has the garden party feared by the consorts of the inner palace.
“The main events are the garden party and the end of year ritual.” En’en also stepped in.
“Isn’t it a bit late for the garden party?” Maomao felt that it was already past the month for the season of the previous garden party. There wouldn’t be any flowers left to admire.
“It’s late. But I feel this time, the garden party is a façade.” The well-informed En’en traced the words “Garden Party” with her finger. “I wonder if it’s for the introduction of the new “Named” that has turned ambiguous?”
“Gyoku” in other words, Empress Gyokuyou’s father: Gyoku’en. It has been six months since he, who governed the west of Rii, the western capital, was summoned to the capital.
Normally, he would have been debuted immediately. If there wasn’t the poisoning incident with that Sha’ou priestess, that is.
Yao and En’en looked a little sick.
The two didn’t know that the priestess was still alive. Yao might have noticed, but En’en shouldn’t know of it. If En’en were to, she, who lived for Yao, might do something.
“It seems that enlistment has started anew in the West. No, not just the West, other regions as well,” En’en said.
(Where did you get this information from?)
“Enlistment, you say.”
“Yes. It’s fine if it’s just expanding the army.”
En’en was probably thinking about it through some kind of perspective.
Anyway, it wasn’t something for Maomao, a court physician assistant, to stick her head into.
“En’en, may I ask a question?” Yao asked.
“What is it?”
“Can you trust the people from the western capital?”
With Yao’s overly direct words, Maomao checked her surroundings. There was no one in the dining hall. It was cold so the doors and windows were shut tight. No one would hear it.
“I know. That’s why I’m asking here.”
Even Yao wasn’t a fool. She spoke because there was only the three of them here.
“Certainly, I’ve heard rumours about Empress Gyokuyou. She’s beautiful, but not prideful, even nice to lower people in the inner palace. Maomao would know that well, though.”
“Empress Gyokuyou isn’t the temptress type that ruins nations. And it doesn’t appear like his majesty is obsessed with women either.”
I spoke too much here, Maomao realised.
“…is what the inner palace court physician said.”
She slipped the quack doctor in.
They were aware of the fact that Maomao had worked in the inner palace before, but she didn’t say that it had been at the Jade Palace. En’en might know, but she was keeping silent since it’s safer to not speak of it. She’ll talk about it if it’s mentioned.
“You say she’s not a temptress.” Yao spooned up some congee. “But, I wonder how many temptresses in the past were truly wicked?”
She dripped the congee back into the bowl.
Maomao understood what Yao was getting by.
“No matter how accomplished a person Empress Gyokuyou is, I don’t know if I can say the same for her relatives.”
Maomao didn’t know much about the man called Gyoku’en.
Normally, if pushed to say it, Yao is impulsive, but she is strangely sharp at times.
“Yes. I want to believe Empress Gyokuyou isn’t a pawn, to put it nicely.”
“Yao-sama.” En’en looked at Yao worriedly.
What does this girl, who had been used by her uncle as a pawn, think about Empress Gyokuyou who, as an instrument for highest promotion, had ascended to become the top woman of the nation?
Yao scooped up another spoonful of congee and put it in her mouth.