She thought Empress Gyokuyou was an easy-going person.
In the garden of women known as the inner palace, the treatment of the woman who is loved by the emperor is horrifying. Yet, her smile never waned. Maomao believed Empress Gyokuyou, who possessed both the curiosity of a young girl and the determination of a woman would be fine, even without her.
(Was that not the case?)
Empress, mother of the nation or not, she was still human.
Maomao examined the kanzashi entrusted to her.
She was told to stay the night since it was already late. The dorm was already notified.
In terms of distance, the dorms were a quarter of a dual hour away. More importantly, isn’t allowing an outsider stay in the empress’ palace a much more serious matter?
(Was she going to remain uneasy until the culprit is found?)
That said, was it because there was no one else she could entrust it to?
Or could it be—
Maomao sat cross legged on the bed in the room prepared for her, and crossed her arms.
Silver tarnishes. It darkens when neglected, so it’s constantly polished.
The nobility prefer silver cutlery. Rather, they have no other choice.
Since silver blackens in contact with arsenic.
Arsenic blackens silver quickly. It is colourless, tasteless, odourless, but due to this property, it is easy to discover. Putting it another way, they cannot part with silver cutlery.
Had Empress Gyokuyou come into contact with arsenic before? No, mood aside, her constitution has been generally good, not the air of someone who’s been served poison.
Then, why did it blacken?
(Did the kanzashi become blackened after it was stolen?)
They tried to use poison, but couldn’t. That’s why they stole the kanzashi to threaten Empress Gyokuyou.
(That’s not it…)
It was too indirect.
Assuming they had a motive, Maomao couldn’t make a guess. What could their objective be?
And there was one other thing that bothered her.
“It doesn’t look broken.”
Honnyan said there was a large crystal inside. Where did that crystal go?
When she crossed her arms, there was a knock at the door.
“Maomao, are you free?”
It was Infa.
“What is it?”
Normally, Maomao would think Infa was here to chat, but that didn’t seem to be the case. However, it was perfect timing. Maomao also had something to ask her.
“I-It’s about the kanzashi, but.” Infa made a somewhat awkward expression.
Suddenly, Maomao understood. “Could the crystal used in this kanzashi be—”
She recalled something she made when she was at the Jade Palace.
“A salt crystal?”
She had steadily grown crystals from small grains. She gave a number of nicely made ones to Empress Gyokuyou. If she didn’t mention what it was made from, they might be mistaken for quartz crystals.
“…as expected of Maomao. You know it well.” Infa nodded in shock.
“I knew it.” Maomao picked up the kanzashi with a cloth and waved it around. “Why did she use salt in the kanzashi? It breaks easily.”
She had warned Empress Gyokuyou when she gave it to her that it will melt in high humidity. No matter how pretty it looks, salt is salt.
“Gyokuyou-sama has been bored lately. That’s why she wanted to have some fun at the garden party.”
Infa said that it was Empress Gyokuyou who orchestrated it.
Of course, it was kept a secret from the inflexible Honnyan. That was why Infa was behaving awkwardly.
“What was she planning to do if it broke midway?”
The garden party is also a place to appraise women. They were scrutinised from the tips of toes to the ends of their hair.
When they were in the inner palace, there were many middle ranking and low ranking consorts who imitated Empress Gyokuyou to receive the emperor’s affection like she does.
If the inside of the kanzashi breaks, it wouldn’t be a good look.
“She was sent to change her clothes before that. She probably had half-a-dual-hour to fix the colours, she said.”
The peculiar shape of the kanzashi that resembled a ground cherry drew everyone’s attention. Everyone must be wondering what that rock inside the cage was. The women who help out at the banquet, in particular.
Not just in the inner palace, there are many women outside who think about trying to attract the emperor’s attention.
She must have had fun watching her surroundings who had no idea what was used in the kanzashi. Or she might have been enjoying the excitement of what happens when it breaks.
If you say it’s like Empress Gyokuyou, it is.
(Did a maid who was needed to study the kanzashi steal it?)
It wasn’t out of the question. If the reason she returned it was because she had been feeling uneasy about stealing it, that was still relieving. But, it wasn’t something you can simply return.
“Excuse me. What were the surroundings at the garden party like?” Maomao asked.
“What do you mean by that?”
“How the seats at the banquet were arranged and who worked behind the scenes.”
“Got it.” Infa left the room and returned with stationery and paper. She sketched it out for her. “His imperial majesty was seated at the middle of the banquet. To his right, was the empress dowager and Jin—no, the Prince of the Moon. On his left was Gyokuyou-sama, followed by Gyoku’en-sama a little further down.”
Maomao knew from the arrangement that the grand purpose of this garden party was the granting of a name to Gyoku’en. Of course, there were other powerful people in line as well.
“Where did she change?”
“This time it was close to the palace, so we moved over to there.”
Since there was also a toilet in the palace, it seems this time’s was relatively easy.
“However, the kitchen was a bit far. It’s typical for the dishes to get cold, but it seemed rough to have them carry about several people’s worth of food.”
During food tasting, the dishes get cold. Such a waste of the good flavour that has been especially prepared, Maomao thought.
“Here, there was a pot right next to the palace.”
“…” Maomao narrowed her eyes. “Was anyone watching the pot?”
“I don’t think so. It’s probably for the people at the lowest seats.”
The share for people who require food tasting is prepared elsewhere.
“Then, did she lose the kanzashi while the pot was there?”
“Ah, yes, that’s right. It was just when the food was being prepared. I was asked to do something else, so I wasn’t with Gyokuyou-sama for a time. When I returned, there was a fuss over the missing kanzashi.”
(Ahhh, is that how it is?)
Maomao looked at the kanzashi, understanding. She knew why it was blackened.
“Maomao, you kinda look like you know something?”
“You do! What is it, tell me!”
Even if she told her to tell, it’s troubling. It wasn’t proven yet, still within the range of a hypothesis.
“I don’t have enough information yet.”
“No way! Tell me!”
However, if she refused to divulge it now, Infa wouldn’t obediently keep quiet.
“I understand. But first I have to make sure of one more thing,” Maomao said.
“What is it?”
“It’s nothing major. At that time, do you know who was at the palace? It’s okay if it’s just people you know.”
“In that case—”
Maomao added the names of the people Infa said to the paper.