Volume 7, Chapter 26: Kanzashi Thief Latter Part (Volume End)

It may not be entirely correct to say the mystery has been solved, but Maomao has figured out how the kanzashi was lost.

However–

(This is problematic in and of itself.)

By comparing the information gleaned from Infa with her own guess, it could only head in a fishy direction.

She wanted to give Empress Gyokuyou a peace of mind, but should she tell the truth?

While she was lost in thought, morning came around.

Rubbing her eyes, Maomao looked at the kanzashi.

Given that she had asked Infa about this and that, Maomao had no choice but to say it.

“Maomao, let’s have breakfast!”

Infa quickly showed up.

Maomao took up her offer. Gui’en and Airan were also at the breakfast area. Gui’en had the same gentle demeanour, and gained a bit of weight. Did Airan grow a little taller—her gaze was higher than before. Maomao, who was short, envied Airan’s height.

Maomao also smiled a little at the nostalgic gathering.

“I made the breakfast fancy and added dried abalone!”

““Ooooh!””

Maomao found herself clapping along. Could it have been pinched from the ingredients for Empress Gyokuyou’s night meal?

It was a simple meal consisting of good soup stock with a tiny bit of salt, but it was delicious, with the ingredients being what they are. The rice was also first class—as expected of being part of the empress’ entourage, the maids’ meals have also risen in ranking.

As the four people chatted, Maomao looked around.

“What is it?” Gui’en asked Maomao, who looked unsettled.

“No, are the others eating a good breakfast?”

Alongside Haku’u and two others, the number of maids should have increased when Gyokuyou became Empress.

“Yeah, Haku’u-san and the others are eating elsewhere. The other maids don’t eat here.”

“Yup, I want to get closer to them but those three are diligent.”

(I think only the three of you are laidback.)

That’s why they’re easy to get along with, though.

Infa’s group had been around longer with Empress Gyokuyou in the inner palace as maids. However, they probably affixed an honorific title to Haku’u and the others since the latter were acquainted with Empress Gyokuyou from the start.

As the head maid, Honnyan stood at the top, but for some reason, in terms of standing, Maomao couldn’t help feeling that Haku’u was higher up than Infa’s group.

“Hey, Maomao, you still haven’t figured out who the culprit is?” Infa asked her.

“–there’s a difficult part,” Maomao replied vaguely.

The three girls’ expressions fell.

“If you haven’t figured it out, Maomao, you can come back here again. It might be difficult for you to compound medicine and the like, but if we provide a reason, we can get permission.”

“That’s right. There are many more rooms here than at the Jade Palace. A lot of cooking stoves as well.”

“I think we can also get our hands on imported medicines.”

(Imported!)

She found herself falling for it. Not good, not good.

Maomao drank some tea, calming herself. “Currently, my adoptive father and the other court physicians are teaching me the work. It’ll also inconvenience the other colleagues. There’s no way I can easily change my job.”

She understood that working at Empress Gyokuyou’s place also has its charms. However, by heading to the empress’ side, in a different meaning, it wouldn’t work with various adjustments.

(Like that weirdo.)

The monocle tactician might show up at the empress’ place. That man might only see it as that he’s visiting Maomao, but other people will take it differently.

Empress Gyokuyou probably isn’t oblivious to the relation Maomao has with the weirdo tactician now.

(I only see him as a complete stranger.)

Maomao honestly wondered if she was actually the child of a different male customer. That’s what she wanted to believe. But the chances are low.

It would be less troublesome if Empress Gyokuyou saw Maomao as a pawn, but the woman valued Maomao’s abilities.

(I can’t flat out refuse her.)

Moreover, Infa and other’s gazes were painful.

As she wondered how she could struggle through it, a woman with a red hair cord showed up. She looked very similar to Haku’u, but a little younger.

“What is it, Seki’u?”

If Maomao remembered correctly, Seki’u was the same age as her. Haku’u’s younger sister, the youngest of the three sisters; unlike Haku’u, Seki’u seemed to speak casually.

“Empress Gyokuyou is calling for Maomao.”

Maomao picked up her finished bowl at the frank reply.

“Ahhh, we’ll clear it away later, so leave it.”

Going along with Gui’en’s words, Maomao left it as it is.

“We’re waiting for a good answer—”

Bowing once at the three people who were waving their hands, Maomao headed to where Empress’ Gyokuyou was.

.

.

.

In the empress’ room was Honnyan, Haku’u, the imperial princess, and the crown prince.

The imperial princess was showing toys to the crawling crown prince. Was she meaning to pacify him?

Noticing Maomao’s arrival, Haku’u picked up the crown prince. “Seki’u, the Imperial Princess.”

“Understood.” Seki’u, who had guided Maomao in, took Imperial Princess Rinrii’s hand.

“Play more.”

Was she two years old? It seems the imperial princess can say words. However, she regarded Maomao as if seeing an unfamiliar face, apparently not remembering her.

Feeling a little lonely, Maomao waved her hand lightly. Can’t be helped.

Haku’u also made to leave the room with the baby in her arms. Maomao inadvertently grabbed her sleeves.

“What is it?”

Although they met before, they didn’t have much contact. Haku’u looked a little stiff at the rude gesture.

“Can you stay here?” Maomao asked.

“Why?”

“I think I want you to listen to the discussion together.”

Haku’u’s expression was unchanged.

Honnyan went out to the hallway and called Airan, who had showed up nearby, to a stop. “Look after him.”

The crown prince was transferred from Haku’u to Airan. The crown prince laughed as he tugged Airan’s hair. Airan smiled wryly as she took him away.

“Maomao, what’s this discussion about?”

Empress Gyokuyou and Honnyan didn’t comment on the fact that Haku’u had remained. Apparently, they wanted the discussion to proceed quickly.

“It’s about this.” Maomao took out the kanzashi that had been entrusted to her.

“Did you figure out who the culprit is?” Gyokuyou asked.

“I don’t know the answer to that. As to why the kanzashi turned black, and whether the stone inside is missing, I believe I have an explanation for those two things.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” Maomao took out the sketch Infa had drawn for her last night. “Empress Gyokuyou, you headed to the palace to change your dress, right? And whilst doing that, you noticed the kanzashi was missing.”

“That’s right. We were short on time, so changing clothes took precedence over looking for it.”

(I knew it.)

They didn’t make a commotion when the kanzashi went missing.

“You thought you dropped it, right?”

“Yes. Since we were in a hurry. I thought I dropped it along the way when my head collided with the tree branches.”

“…could it be, around here?” Maomao pointed at the sketch.

“Yes, that’s right. There was a pallet at my side. To avoid it, I came into contact with a tree branch.”

Pallet, in other words, where the pot was?

Maomao glanced at Haku’u. Her expression was unchanged.

(Was I wrong?)

But, it would faster to explain with her here.

“Frankly speaking, I wondering if this kanzashi was dropped rather than stolen.” Maomao said.

“…what do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said. Empress Gyokyou is worried that ‘the kanzashi has been stolen without your knowledge and then returned as a threat, correct?”

The kanzashi was blackened and missing the stone inside it, as if threatening the owner with the same fate. The darkened silver suggested poisoning.

“As to why the kanzashi was blackened and why the stone is missing, if there was no malicious intent, will Empress Gyokuyou gain a peace of mind?”

“…my.”

“Also, Empress Gyokyou, do you have an idea about why the stone disappeared?”

Empress Gyokuyou twirled the ends of her hair. Her eyes wandered.

“Please explain it already. Why is the stone in the kanzashi missing?” Honnyan said.

“Empress Gyokuyou. Do you still have the rock?”

“…so we can’t avoid explaining it, huh.” The empress stood in resignation. She went deeper into the room, bringing back a small box from which she produced a clear, six-sided crystal.

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“May I use it?” Maomao asked.

“It was Maomao who gave it to me in the first place.”

Maomao pick up the stone and a pitcher of water. “Can you lend me a container?”

Haku’u brought over a bowl. Maomao placed the stone inside it and poured water over it.

“…it’s dissolving?”

“It’s salt.”

“SALT!?”

So Honnyan actually hadn’t known. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have allowed it to be used in the kanzashi worn at the garden party.

“G-Gyokuyou-sama. What’s the meaning of this?”

“Fu-fufufu. I mean, it’s pretty. No one noticed, right?” Empress Gyokuyou’s mischievous expression was certainly just like her.

“I didn’t think rock salt could take such a pretty form though.” Haku’u watched the dissolving salt.

“Yes, I crystallised it nicely and picked a pretty looking one,” Maomao said.

“…Maomao, don’t tell me, you made something like this at the Jade Palace?” Honnyan said.

“…”

It’s past the time to be told this now.

“So, the rock had dissolved in water. What about this blackening then?” Gyokuyou asked.

“There are many reasons as to why silver will cloud up. For example–” Maomao drew an oval on the edge of the sketch. “Egg.”

“Egg?” The three people looked mystified.

“Yes, egg. Do you know what rotten egg smells like?”

The three people shook their heads. It’s fundamentally the maidservants’ job to clear out the kitchen waste, so they might not have come across the stench of rot before.

It’s hard to explain, huh, she thought as she looked for a different example.

“You would know what boiled egg smells like, right?”

“In that case…”

“It has a characteristic smell, but in fact, hot springs also have the same smell.”

“Hot springs. Ahhh, now that you mention it.”

It seems Empress Gyokuyou had bathed in hot springs before. There might be one or two hot springs on the journey from the western lands to the capital.

“Hot springs contain sulphur. In reality, so do boiled eggs. Silverware will tarnish when you eat egg with it.”

“I see.”

Honnyan made a face that said, “Why didn’t I realise this?”

She knew about the dishes at the garden party, so she’d probably have an idea about why the kanzashi blackened.

“The reason something happened to the kanzashi was that it fell into a pot containing boiled eggs. The salt crystal inside it dissolved and the silver blackened because of the eggs.”

The “extremely salty soup” that Rihaku mentioned, was probably because of the salt crystal.

“Then how did the kanzashi end up in the pot?”

“I don’t know. It could have fallen in coincidentally when Empress Gyokuyou dropped it, or someone put it in.”

“Someone put it in, you said. What was their intention?” Haku’u’s eyes narrowed.

“Pretend you’re someone who’s preparing the cooking. You find a kanzashi. Then a maid appears,  looking for a dropped kanzashi. What do you do then?”

Immediately present it, asking, “Is it this?”

Play dumb?

Or—

“Try and hide it somewhere in surprise and panic?”

“Are you saying, they unintentionally put it in the pot in front of them?”

“Yes.” Maomao continued on with a slight sense of guilt at the ambiguous details. “In the end, once inside the pot, it can’t be retrieved right away. Even if it was dropped by accident and hidden inside the pot temporarily, it became blackened with the rock inside missing when it was taken out.”

They probably kept silent and couldn’t return it.

“Just a moment. If a server found the kanzashi, wouldn’t it be hard for them to return it?”

“Yes. That’s right.”

Going by that, how was it returned to Empress Gyokuyou?

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“It is difficult for a server to return the kanzashi by hiding it amongst the empress’ gifts. I can only assume they asked someone else for help.”

And so, how the missing kanzashi became a threat was due to the manner in which it was returned.

Maomao wasn’t confident, but she had some theories.

The reason she had Haku’u stay behind was because of that.

However, as far as Maomao could see, Haku’u wasn’t behaving strangely. She might be thick-skinned, or she might really be unaware.

What would happen if someone near the palace saw a maid part of Empress Gyokuyou’s entourage? It would probably be easy for that maid to slip the kanzashi in among the gifts.

When returned in such a worn condition, they should have known what the reaction would be.

Honnyan would surely report it. Knowing Empress Gyokuyou’s character, there was no way she’d deliver punishment.

How about the Infa and the others, those three girls?

The three individuals also knew the crystal was made of salt. They could explain it properly, and they had no reason to hide it either.

Then, what about Haku’u’s group?

In terms of personality, Maomao is inclined to think they’d report it honestly. If you exclude a certain point–

“There are some incompetent individuals too. Nevermind the fact that it would have ended with no issues if it had been returned properly. With this, you’d think that someone is threatening a poisoning.”

And, for Empress Gyokuyou, who would fit the role of a political rival? Consort Rifa who gave birth to an imperial prince in the same year? Or–

Jinshi, the former crown prince and younger brother of his majesty?

Maomao wasn’t saying Haku’u’s group wasn’t loyal to Empress Gyokuyou. However, something about them that was clearly set them apart from the old timer maids.

“I have one question for Haku’u-sama. Do you think the person who stole and returned the kanzashi is Jinshi-sama?” Maomao asked.

“…wouldn’t it be the case if you think about it normally?” Haku’u answered.

“Haku’u, didn’t I tell you that won’t happen?” Empress Gyokuyou smiled bitterly. Empress Gyokuyou was aware of the fact that Jinshi didn’t want the right to imperial succession.

Honnyan and Infa’s group was also in close terms with Jinshi. They wouldn’t think that he would mess with them.

Even Maomao knew very well that Jinshi found his own position as a pain above all else.

That’s why she decided to take it upon herself to say words that met halfway with Haku’u. “From the look of things, Gyokuyou-sama, it seems strange people will enter your circle before you realise it.”

“My sincerest apologies, but it is the case.” For some reason, Haku’u looked at Maomao.

Honnyan looked like she had an epiphany.

(What’s with this reaction?)

Maomao felt a little uneasy.

“Gyokuyou-sama needs to understand that there are many enemies around you,” Haku’u said.

“I know. But, we don’t need to bare our fangs against people who aren’t our enemies. …hey, Haku’u. could this be a message from Father?” Gyokuyou asked.

“…no, it’s my own opinion.”

“Then, this isn’t something you did, right?”

“What are you talking about!” Haku’u raised her voice.

Honnyan looked at Haku’u. “Could it be Gyoku’ou-sama, then?”

(T/N: 玉鶯, Yu Ying)

(Gyoku’ou?)

It was Maomao’s first time hearing that name.

“It’s not something done under Older Brother’s suggestion, right?” Empress Gyokuyou said, checking.

(Older brother, huh.)

Maomao heard that Empress Gyokuyou has an older brother, who is currently governing the western lands on behalf of his father. She was sure that Rikuson, who had been the weirdo tactician’s aide, was there as his advisor.

“No.” Haku’u’s expression changed. “I—”

From her words, Maomao could clearly imagine who had done it.

The other two maids, Koku’u and Seki’u. Haku’s younger sisters.

Empress Gyokuyou and Honnyan wore complicated expressions.

Empress Gyokuyou’s faction wasn’t a monolith either. Though their objectives were the same, their methods varied.

(They succeeded when Empress Gyokuyou got a sense of danger.)

However, Maomao was hung up on the name, Gyoku’ou.

Empress Gyokuyou, from her colouring, has foreign blood. Her father Gyoku’en is old, so there’s a high chance that her brother was born from a different mother.

Specifically dispatching Rikuson to the western lands as well, could there be some idea behind it?

(I have absolutely no idea.)

Haku’u went to summon her younger sisters. Maomao, feeling awkward, fidgeted with the kanzashi.

She could go back to the dorms right now, but what could happen from here on?

Other than that, she felt a little gloomy when she realised it was nearly time for work.


Jinshi END

- my thoughts:
And that's the end of what appears to be the set up for the next arc, seeing how the next arc is called Jinshi 2. The latest arc is still ongoing and currently has 6 chapters. What to do hmmm... Well, first I'll be taking a break.(vol8 snippet is now up @ shikarito.wordpress.com) Edit: I'm super tired so I'll be back in July, sorry guys!
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