Volume 7, Chapter 7: Grape Wine, Baked Pastries, and Go

The days have gotten shorter, Jinshi thought. It was truly a relief that he managed to return before sunset.

“Then, that’s all for me.”

Basen will be returning home. Night guard duties were left to someone else. He had been worked up over staying overnight to guard before, but honestly, Jinshi would get tired if he were to stick to him for the entire day, so he wanted to practice restraint.

Suiren greeted him as soon as he returned to his palace. “First, you’re eating.”

“No, a bath first….” Jinshi tried to correct her, but the palace had a different feel to it from usual. Normally, she would light an incense that Jinshi was fond of—it was a little sweeter than usual.

Even the guards inside was different from the usual faces.

“A guest?”

“Yes.”

And guests who show up at Jinshi’s palace were few and far between.

As the guards lining the corridor lowered their heads, Jinshi headed for the living room.

The person he pictured was relaxing in the living room.

“Is it okay to not visit the inner palace today?” As he lowered his head, Jinshi spoke to his majesty.

“The latest administrator has been recommending me too many of the new consorts.” The great man with the beautiful beard read a book as he tilted his cup. There was a Go board before his eyes. Here too was another individual who rode the craze. “Pushing all girls of my tastes at me.”

In other words, those with large breasts—Jinshi knew. The sovereign of a country, this gentleman wouldn’t pick consort based on just that.

By carelessly choosing a consort of his liking, it’ll be troubling to have individuals who were politically unsuitable. His majesty’s “troubles” refer to that.

But that wasn’t the only reason.

There was Empress Gyokuyou, who rose from consort to empress. In other words, she had become the main wife. Her father, Gyokuen, was currently staying in the capital.

“Worried about your father-in-law’s eyes?”

They were now at Jinshi’s palace. Their conversation took a casual turn.

“No matter the era, those who bear a crown must keep an eye on everyone’s countenance.” His majesty set down a Go stone with a clink and urged Jinshi to sit with his free hand.

Jinshi smiled at his action and sat on the seat opposite the Go board. The Go bowl on his side contained black stones.

His majesty lowered his book. Needless to say, it was the weirdo tactician’s book.

Suiren brought a cup to Jinshi. The fluid within was as red as blood.

He relished the swirling liquid that was visible through the clear glass.

“This grape wine is really sour.” Beside his majesty was a cup that had already been set down.

“This taste is to my liking,” Jinshi said.

“I don’t dislike it either, but recently I heard that sweet wine is popular.”

Hearing sweet wine, Maomao’s disgusted expression suddenly came to mind.

“What’s wrong?”

“No, nothing.” His face had broken into a wide smile. He smoothed it over flusteredly.

His majesty looked puzzled and swirled his cup. “Which reminds me, the Go craze is liable to overshadow it, but apparently imported goods have appeared on the town market.”

“I guess so.” Jinshi also knew. Alongside the western priestess’ arrival the other day, foreign products are on the market in abundance. For a time, taxes had also been lowered temporarily.  

“Do you know what the most popular good among them is?”

“What is it?”

The emperor smiled. Normally, it wasn’t unusual for him to look silly before Jinshi, so long as he’s not exhausted from work. “It seems to be grape wine.”

“Grape wine?” Jinshi tilted his head. “It’s not something made in the West?”

In the vicinity of the western capital, Empress Gyokuyou’s hometown, grapes are produced in abundance. The grape wine he currently held in his hand was also a product of the western capital.

“Do things produced in the western capital possess a characteristic sourness like this? However, apparently, the imported ones are sweeter and more delicious.”

“Are they of such high quality?” Jinshi took a gulp of wine. The western capital produce is sour but its initial flavour isn’t bad. However, he felt that Maomao had said it wasn’t supposed to be this sour.

When was that?

Was it around the time Maomao stopped working at the inner palace last year to start work at Jinshi’s place?

Jinshi suddenly swirled the cup. “Is this truly an imported product?”

“…is the taste different? I’ve never drunk it before, but the cabinet minister said it’s delicious?”

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“It might be better if you don’t drink it.” Jinshi shared a look with Suiren. When she came closer, he whispered into her ear.

Suiren left the room and returned with a cloth pouch.

“This is?”

Jinshi showed the contents of the package to the emperor who was stroking his beard. It was a metal cup. “This is something I received before. Was it last year?”

Jinshi suddenly recalled the early spring of the previous year.

“I believe it’s better if you don’t drink that wine,” the unsociable pharmacist maid said as she stowed away the tableware. It was when he was pouring a cup of grape wine after a meal.

“Why? You tasted for poison just then, right?” Jinshi tilted his head as he swirled his cup.

The pharmacist had left the inner palace the other day and returned to the pleasure district. She had been employed as Jinshi’s maid and food taster, saying that she’ll come if the pay is good.

“I’ve tasted for poison. I don’t think there’s anything poisonous in the grape wine. If anything, it’s really sour.”

Jinshi preferred sour over sweet. Suiren must have prepared it to suit his tastes. It was a product from the western capital. “Then…”

“It’s just the container that’s an issue.”

“The container?” Jinshi looked at the metal container. “Is it coated with poison or something?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

The pharmacist gently took the cup away from Jinshi. “Excuse me.”

She dipped a pair of chopsticks into the cup of wine and placed a drop into her mouth. After tasting it slowly, she slipped out of the room. Probably to spit it out and rinse her mouth.

The pharmacist, who returned in no time, took away the cup of wine. “It turned into poison.”

“Turned into?”

The pharmacist said meaningfully. “It’s gotten a lot sweeter since I first drunk it. If you use it for a while longer, it would probably turn even sweeter. It tastes delicious, but the component is poison.”

“I don’t quite get it, but can I give my opinion?”

“Go ahead.” The pharmacist nodded, expression unchanging.

“The item itself isn’t poison. But when the two are combined, it becomes poisonous?”

The corner of the pharmacist’s lips lifted faintly at Jinshi’s words. It seems he was right. “Metals dissolve in strong acids. This container is probably made of lead. When lead and sour grape wine is mixed, it is said that the dissolved lead will turn it sweet. I have heard before that in the west, lead is added to grape wine to sweeten it.”

And that there are a high proportion of people who are poisoned from drinking that.

“In the end, all of it is my foster father’s opinion, but there is a high chance that the poison originates from that.”

Apparently, her foster father is a considerably excellent doctor. As the pharmacist says, was he a person who understands everything from only one component?

“…” Jinshi gently placed the lead container down.

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“I don’t know if you can suddenly become poisoned from drinking it once or twice, but it might be dangerous with regular use.” She didn’t declare it outright. It was this pharmacist’s trait to not want to speak of speculation.

“For argument’s sake, if this is poison, what sort of symptoms do you think will appear?”

At Jinshi’s question, the pharmacist thought for a moment. “…do you remember the poisonous face powder in the inner palace?”

“Ah. There’s no way I can forget that.”

“I have heard that those are made from adding vinegar to lead.”

In other words, was she saying that it will cause the same symptoms as face powder poisoning?

Jinshi understood.

“To the person who taught you how to drink the grape wine, it’s better to investigate how they drink it themselves.”

If the person also drank from a lead cup, they would have told Jinshi out of goodwill. If not, there is the possibility of malice.

Jinshi had his life targeted many times. For what purpose, how they did it. He had a need to investigate things like that.

“May I add one more thing?” she asked.

“What is it?”

The pharmacist looked at the grape wine that had yet to be poured into a cup. “Jinshi-sama thinks that this wine’s sourness stems from its place of origin.” She swirled the bottle. “But I believe that the wine had just turned into vinegar due to its long journey.”

“…”

In other words, she was saying that the taste Jinshi liked drinking was the flavour of inferior goods.

“I believe it used to be a good product. However, if you think a little more about the transportation method, the wine probably won’t change in quality.”

The western capital was quite far. And furthermore, hot.

“But I can taste its deliciousness.”

Maomao narrowed her eyes at Jinshi who tilted his head. “When you’re tired, your sense of taste dulls and you won’t be able to taste sourness….”

“…”

“Also, I like spicier wine.” The food taster side of hers made a request.

Unfortunately, Jinshi wanted to say that he originally liked the sourness. Wanted to believe it. “I’ll have grape wine for the time being,” he said.

“Understood, young master.”

Since Suiren gave a judicious reply, the pharmacist made a look of displeasure.

“Was there such a thing?” His majesty drained the cup. Nearby, Suiren had set down some baked pastries she prepared unnoticed.

Jinshi’s cup had been filled to the brim as well.

“Hmmm, then you’re saying that the wine currently on the market is…”

“An inferior product, otherwise there is a high possibility that it’s a counterfeit product,” Jinshi said.

The grape wine was transported over from a foreign country. There was no doubt that it had taken more time to transport over compared to from the western capital. If so, it would be difficult to preserve its quality. And if it appeared on the market in town, inferior products would probably inevitably increase.

To make it sweet nonetheless, it had to undergo processing. In that case, what’s on the market would have to be poisoned grape wine.

Also, if they produced grape wine that is a fake of the imported product, it’s considered swindling. Among imported goods, that alone is taxed. Even if the tax is lowered, its price will be beyond double that of the western capital produce due to factors such as transportation expenses and rarity.

There is also the possibility of good quality imported grape wine appearing on the market by chance, but the likelihood of that was low.

“We should probably investigate this a little.” Jinshi picked up a baked pastry. It had an airy, peculiar texture, with dried fruit kneaded inside. It had the faint aroma of alcohol. When he took a bite, it had a soft sweetness that faded into obscurity.

She must have known his majesty was coming. Suiren is Jinshi’s nanny, but she was also his majesty’s. Apparently, she had prepared interesting pastries for them to savour.

His majesty seemed to be pleased with it, stuffing his cheeks without delay. He seemed to enjoy himself, leaving not a crumb as he ate it all, washing it down with freshly poured grape wine.

“Want to play for the first time in a long while?” His majesty stroked his beard, brushing away stray crumbs while his free hand picked up a black stone. “The last time we played, was right before you entered the inner palace, huh.”

His majesty nostalgically returned the Go stone to the bowl.

When Jinshi was thirteen, the previous emperor had passed away. That year, when he became the crown prince, Jinshi had brought up the suggestion to play Go with his majesty.

“Playing Go for stakes and such, wasn’t what I intended to do…I have always thought so ever since that time.”

“…you can’t overturn that now.” Jinshi, holding the black stone, had won against his majesty. Then he had demanded a reward.

“If you said that you wanted the throne, I would have given it to you in time.”

“I don’t want it.”

Jinshi had thrown a tantrum, saying that he didn’t want to be the crown prince.

However, during that time, the emperor didn’t have a child. The previous emperor who already died didn’t have any other children.

As a result, he decided to make a new substitute.

As a eunuch, as Jinshi, he entered the inner palace, and looked for consorts for the emperor.

“I’ve never regretted losing in Go that time,” his majesty said.

“That’s not possible, right?”

The reigning emperor loved not just the crown prince, his child with Empress Gyokuyou, but Imperial Princess Rinrii as well. There was no meaning to restoring Jinshi as the crown prince now. If there were, it is simply to sow causes for conflict.

His own existence must not become the cause of war.

And at the same time, he had to avoid the sparks in the air.

“….your majesty, I do have a request, though?”

“Are you scheming up something bad again? We’re not betting anymore, you know?”

“It’s nothing significant.” Jinshi picked up the black Go bowl. However, his majesty also seemed to have the same idea, and did not let go.

“Can you lend me your Go instructor for a short while?”

At Jinshi’s request, his majesty quizzically let go of the bowl of black stones.

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