“Looks like they caught the merchants responsible for selling wine containing questionable substances.”
While eating lunch in the dining hall, Maomao and the others chatted away about current affairs.
They stationed themselves in the corner as to not intrude on the lunch break of military officials. There were more people than usual with the pouring rain outside. It was unusual weather for autumn, and yesterday there had been a huge clap of thunder. It had been so loud that Yao made a fuss at the lodgings, clinging to En’en.
Maomao remembered it was around the time of the evening bell.
If rumours are to be believed, the lighting had struck the forest just northwest of the capital. The court ladies nearby were chatting about it.
“Strange substances in the wine? Was it watered down?” Maomao asked.
“No, to sweeten the originally sour wine, they added medicine to it,” En’en answered.
Yao ate her namasu, looking a little disappointed as though she had wanted to explain. Today’s main dish was noodles with meat and bean paste. The tingling spiciness was delectable.
“Sweeten it, you say. They must have added lead, right?” Maomao was surprised. Drinkers will suffer from lead poisoning if that were the case.
“On top of that, they faked imported goods. In fact, they purchased cheap, inferior grape wine for boiling and processing.” Unwilling to give up, Yao added on.
“Inferior grape wine, was it? Then, could it be a product from the region of the western capital, or something that uses crimson glory vine from the north?” Maomao wanted to try tasting it to see what it is, but considering how Jinshi didn’t give her the option, the matter was probably already resolved.
“You sure know a lot about grape wine, huh?” Yao asked with great interest.
“I have sampled them many times.” Maomao had been raised in a brothel known as Rokushoukan. Customers were treated to wine at that shop, a high-class bordello, but Maomao had also been summoned for tasting. The madam allowed it, since Maomao’s sense of smell and taste was quite sharp.
“Grape wine, huh.”
“Milady…” En’en watched Yao with a lonely expression.
Yao’s liver was damaged from food tasting, so she has to refrain from ingesting salt and alcohol.
“I don’t know its original strength, but just sampling should be okay, right? It’s just that you can’t drink to the point of drunkenness. Shall we look for grape wine with low alcohol content?”
“…is there such a thing?” Yao’s eyes flashed. She looked grown-up, but she was still a fifteen-year-old girl. It seems she has some interest in wine.
“Grape wine, you say. Once you take away the alcohol, it’s fruit juice,” Maomao said.
“Only Maomao would think that,” En’en said starkly. “Milady, I’ll accompany you while you drink, so please don’t ever drink in a way that will damage your body.”
En’en was overprotective. “Don’t push it”, her eyes appealed to Ma0mao. Maomao also understood, so she shut up and ate her food.
As she opened her jaw wide for the last bite.
A man’s voice resounded.
Maomao and the others turned to face the sound.
A commotion appeared to be breaking out at the other end of the hall, where many officials congregated.
“What could this be about?” Yao asked.
As everyone feigned ignorance, they listened in.
“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, TO LAY YOUR HANDS ON MY YOUNGER SISTER!?”
That’s not really something you talk about in the dining hall at noon, Maomao thought, even as she glanced over.
A large man stood before three others, a vein bulging beneath his skin. If it were only that, she wouldn’t have given it much thought, but—
“Don’t they have the same face?” Yao tilted her head.
“…that’s true.” Maomao was looking up at them as well.
The three men being shouted at, despite donning different outfits, all possessed the same face. As they have lovely faces with neat brows, the three of them side by side resembled dolls in a line.
All eyes were on the white-faced man who was yelling.
“The triplets. They’re at it again, I see,” a nearby court lady explained to them with a know-it-all look. In her early thirties, she had a peculiar dignity to her.
“Triplets? And what do you mean, again?”
“Those triplets, aren’t they quite the lady killers? The three of them are also promiscuous, so they often make moves on women. Unmarried girls, married women, it matters not. They have no integrity. That’s why, occasionally, you get this yelling—“
A bunch of troublemakers, Maomao thought as she looked at the triplets.
Yao frowned and scorned the men as despicable. And speaking of En’en, she clutched onto the tableware as a makeshift blunt weapon, as if warning off those who want to approach her milady carelessly.
“They always seem to get out of it, since there’s no evidence.”
“Yeah. Of which of the triplets made a move on the woman. In the end however, no one knows who did it. The idiots’ father is a big shot, and he had retorted, ‘Clarify who’s done it. If you sue the wrong person, don’t expect to get away scot-free!’”
Like father, like son, it seems.
“You people as well, if you want to avoid a painful experience, don’t approach them.”
“Thank you very much.” They thanked the well-informed miss, and cleared away their tableware.
They were somewhat curious, but in the end, it was someone else’s’ affairs. It wasn’t something for Maomao and the other to pry.
Yao seemed quite curious, but En’en was an iron wall impervious to vermin.
It was time they returned back to their noon tasks.
“If she doesn’t know who she was with, even I won’t have any evidence, right?”
One of the triplets, the one with the blue tassel, looked at the big man, a challenging look in his eyes. It was just as the know-it-all court lady had said.
“That’s true. Can your younger sister even tell people’s faces apart at all?” the man with the red cloth said.
“If you have a complaint, you have to formally file a lawsuit,” the man with the yellow sash said.
The three laughed at the big man as they walked away. Since they were walking so haughtily, it seems they couldn’t see what’s in front of them.
They bumped into an old official who was walking unsteadily. The old official dropped his uneaten lunch and fell over.
“My bad. Don’t walk so unsteadily.”
The triplets left without apologising.
“…Maomao.” Yao peered at Maomao’s face.
“Don’t. Don’t get involved.” En’en gently held down Maomao’s hand. Maomao noticed that she was going to chase after the men with a nearby kettle in hand.
“I know.” Maomao helplessly put down the kettle and went to the old official who had fallen over. “Dad, are you okay?”
She pulled on his arm. It was her dad, Ruomen, wearing a miserable expression.
“Hahaha. It’s all spilled.”
His lunch was all over the floor. En’en immediately went to clean it up. Yao saw En’en, and in panic, started to help out with the cleaning.
“Sorry, old man.” The large man immediately rushed up to them.
“What is up with those people?” Maomao said in a fit of anger. She felt bad for the large man, but you don’t quarrel in a place with this many people at noon.
“There’s nothing you can do about those guys,” he spat out, with an expression like he had chewed on a bitter bug.
“…does your younger sister feel the same?” Dad asked timidly. He must have overheard as he passed by.
“…what feel the same, my younger sister is only fourteen. She’s at the age where she still doesn’t know much, and they still went after her.”
“…they’d be better off dead,” En’en said without hesitation and stuck to Yao’s rear to protect her. Yao is also fifteen years of age; her appearance aside, she still carried some childishness within her.
“I understand how you feel, but you made a mistake with the setting. This was a terrible way of being considerate towards your younger sister.” Dad stood up as he admonished the man. There was congee all over his clothes; a damp cloth was not enough to wipe it all off.
“…I, I know that, but…”
He must have been unable to hold back.
Dad’s brows lowered.
It was this former eunuch’s bad habit. Not being able leave troubled people alone when he saw them.
“Would knowing who the perpetrator was among those three help?”
“C-can you tell?” The large man reacted to Dad’s words. He seemed to be a military official, his air somehow resembled Rihaku, but didn’t have enough composure.
“I don’t know how helpful I can be though.” Dad placed his hands on the table and started to walk by pulling his legs along.
Borrowing a room in the medical office, Dad and the large man sat across from each other. Calming tea had been prepared and laid out on the table.
“I should have held my tongue in telling her to go shopping for a bit. She’s bad with thunder, so she got scared when it struck yesterday. One of the triplets was close by, and called out to my sister.”
The large man’s name is Boku*. Per his appearance, a military official.
(牧, Boku, or Mu in Chinese, is the Han Dynasty title for Governor.)
The noon work had already started, and normally, Boku would have also returned to his post. However, Dad had enough sense to bring him here.
“Just what is he planning to do?” Yao was peeking from behind the pillar, with half her face visible.
“Good for nothing bastards need to be punished.” En’en breathed roughly.
“You two have heavy heads….” Maomao, being the shortest, naturally had the two others leaning over her. Yao wasn’t the only one who was peeking.
“I can’t help but ask if you guys are doing your work properly, or what your intentions in doing this might be.” A voice filled with anger came from behind them. When they timidly looked back, Court Physician Ryuu was standing there.
“S-sorry!” The three scattered hastily.
Their conversation ended in a quarter of a dual hour(30min).
“What happened?” Yao, unable to suppress her curiosity, asked Dad. In a place where Court Physician couldn’t see them, of course.
“I arranged a meeting to hear out the triplets. Since they all seem to be military officials.”
“…Dad.” Maomao could imagine what Dad was trying to do. He was probably summoning the military officials in the form of a command. It was clear who he was depending on.
There was that annoying individual, although his appearances have decreased lately.
“I don’t know what to think about summoning them using such a strange connection.”
“It can’t be helped, right? No need to feel bad. Besides, speaking in that tone is no good, right?” He gently calmed her down.
Maomao frowned as she wondered how things will turn out.