Volume 8, Chapter 11: Court Physician and Herbalist

Within the imperial court, there is a medical office in the section where civil officials work. Inside it, of which is also established as a nap-room for civil officials, Maomao, Ruomen, and Court Physician Ryuu faced one another.

Her adoptive father, whom she hadn’t seen in a while, looked more distraught than usual.

Although they had the same duties within the outer court, they were assigned to different medical offices, meaning they only met occasionally during work hours. Maomao also felt that her allocation had been deliberate, to prevent Ruomen and her from working together, as Yao and En’en were tasked with more or less the same job.

Court Physician Ryuu must’ve arranged it that way, Maomao thought.

“And that’s how it is. What will you do, Ruomen?”

In contrast with Dad’s grim expression, Court Physician Ryuu held a look of astonishment.

“Maomao, ah…”

(Stop it.)

Maomao didn’t mean to trouble Dad. However, she too, had things she wanted to do.

It’s not like she doesn’t understand why Dad didn’t want her to become a doctor.

Ruomen probably wanted Maomao to be as happy as she possibly could.

In that process, he attempted to withhold options which would increase her hardships.

(Going so far as to eliminate them, sounds like something that Dad would do.)

“Do you really want to become a court physician no matter what?” Dad asked.

“I’m not fixated on being a court physician. However, I think I’d like the skillset of one.”

Out of consideration for Court Physician Ryuu, she spoke politely.

Dad shook his head slowly. “If you are adamant, I cannot stop you. Above all, I have a good idea about what you are doing by asking Court Physician Ryuu to bring you here.”

“I’m prepared for the most part,” Maomao said.

“Oh, Ruomen. Is it okay to give a ‘yes’ so easily?” Court Physician Ryuu prodded belatedly. “Becoming a court physician, that on its own carries more weight. It is a role that takes charge of people’s lives. You cannot be in this position without commanding a certain degree of respect. But, what happens if you don’t have that position? Humans fear death. Is the occupation that is closest to death the priest of a Buddhist temple, a gravedigger, or a doctor?”

He spoke eloquently.

“No matter how knowledgeable you are, people won’t trust you if you don’t have the position to use this knowledge. Even if you strive to help them, what is going to happen if an injured or a sick person dies?”

“Isn’t that the same for a herbalist?” Maomao countered.

She can’t turn back now by having him object here.

“Herbalists and doctors are different. Herbalists only provide medicine, and only treat the simplest of injuries, correct? You might be able to treat broken bones or sew up cuts. But what about moments where an arrow has perforated organs and pulling it out will only lead to death? Can you leave it to a herbalist?”

“….”

She couldn’t answer. Maomao has never fallen into such a situation.

“No one would pin such a serious condition to a herbalist. Herbalists heal by providing medicine. Since people know that it is pointless to keep prescribing medicine if there’s no physical energy. But it is different for a court physician.”

Court Physician Ryuu’s voice deepened. “There is a soldier with an arrow that has barely missed his heart. A situation where it is best for a herbalist to raise their hands in surrender and give up, is within a court physician’s duty to accomplish. You have to cut into the skin and flesh without damaging the blood vessels, extract the arrow, and sew it back. It’s easier said than done, but that is the difference between a doctor and a herbalist. If the patient moves so much as a cun, just about everything is over. You have to use just enough anaesthesia to soothe him. The patient has to be strapped to a bed, and held down by a few people to prevent him from moving. While you stare at a face of fear, with saliva and tears and soiling, as his chest is being cut up, it is unforgivable if your scalpel slips even a little. If you pull out the arrow, he’ll soon die, but if you fail at the extraction, he’ll immediately die.”

She understood. The degree of danger in the treatment of lives is different for herbalists and doctors.

“It’s still fine for court physicians. They can give an excuse where ‘there was nothing to be done’ if they fail since they have the skills and qualifications. But, what happens when someone without the qualifications does the same treatment and fails?”

They probably won’t be allowed to get away with it. The situation will be dependent on the bereaved family and their having killed the patient won’t be taken out of consideration as well.

“Court Physicians have a national title. The country will shelter the failure for them. But you are…”

“I cannot become a court physician. Not as of now,” Maomao admitted honestly.

Women cannot become court physicians.

It is difficult to change the law. Now is not the time, and she didn’t know when. It’s more likely to remain unchanged.

“And you still want to have the same skills as a court physician?” Court Physician Ryuu asked.

Maomao wanted to glance at Dad, but stopped herself. She could imagine the kind of face he would be making. Her heart could be swayed.

“Yes,” she said.

“…and that’s how it is, Ruomen.” Court Physician Ryuu sounded even more astonished. “For a child raised by you, she is truly stubborn. In a different sense to you, she has a difficult character.”

 She even sensed affection in Court Physician Ryuu’s tone.

“She really is a hopeless child.” Dad slowly stood up and tapped Maomao’s head gently.

(Dad is thinking about me.)

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That’s why he was apologetic. But she was against being unable to do what she could do if she knew what she didn’t know.

 .

 .

 .

The first thing prepared was chicken. It was still warm and hadn’t stiffened completely. Only the chest and belly area was plucked free of feathers, and it hadn’t been drained of blood. When she pierced it with a well-sharpened scalpel, blood spurted out.

“Take out the organs completely. Don’t injure a muscle either. It’ll be food later, so don’t treat it sloppily.”

(If you don’t drain out the blood completely it’ll stink when you eat it.)

They were probably prioritising the advancement of the skill.

Aside from Maomao, there were five to six other people. As far as she could confirm with the faces she knew, they were all apprentice court physicians.

They were told to come along to buy medicine, and were then brought over to a plot in a farmhouse that ran a poultry raising business. It was situated a short distance from the capital.

Since they started with catching free-range chickens, they couldn’t go about wearing court physician robes. They started work with a thin farmer’s outfit and a leather apron. After catching the chickens outside and strangling them, they cut them up inside a hut.

“I didn’t tell you to cut them up while they’re alive. Be grateful for that.”

Court Physician Ryuu sounded like he was having fun. After pompously giving out instructions, he started his dealings with the chicken farmer. He was evaluating the deposit for the chicken, chicken entrails and the source of the chicken for herbal medicines.

When it came to catching and slaughtering chickens, Maomao bragged that she was better than the other apprentice court physicians. However, it was Tenyuu the apprentice court physician who caught the first chicken, so it was somehow vexing.

“Are you from a family of farmers?” Maomao blurted out in her vexation.

“No, I got used to this training, with this being the third time I’ve done it. That said, it doesn’t feel good, does it?” Tenyuu answered.

As expected, he had been feigning ignorance that time a few days ago.

Tenyuu seemed to be a generally useless man with a loose tongue, but it seems he has deft fingers. He sliced through the slippery chicken skin skilfully.

“Do it while thinking which organ is equivalent to the parts of the human body.”

Of course, the structure of humans and chickens are different.

This was probably the very first point of introduction.

If you can’t catch a chicken that’s running around, there’s no way you can do it to a human subject.

If you don’t have the guts to strangle a living chicken, you won’t be able to cut up a human.

If you don’t have the finesse to cut apart a strangled chicken, you won’t be able to do it to a human body.

It was the introduction of an introduction, but there were also apprentice court physicians who had a hard time with the first step.

“What’s after chicken?” Maomao asked.

“Pig. It’s large, so it’s one per three people. Once you get to cow, it’s five people. Once you’re used to it, you don the court physician robe and do it without making any blood splatters. And I haven’t advanced to the next step,” Tenyuu said.

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“You still haven’t advanced?”

“No, I was made to start all over again. My skill is shaky, they said.”

He looked calm compared to the other apprentice court physicians, so she ended up talking with Tenyuu.

“It’s fine if you’re just doing it all over again. If they take that you don’t have the potential at all, you don’t have the path to promote,” he said.

(No potential, huh.)

She recalled the apprentice court physician that went strange.

“I won’t be able to make En’en-chan feel at ease with an apprentice court physician’s wages,  you see.”

(En’en, keep at it.)

It seems this man is truly persistent.

By chopping up chickens, it grew thick with the smell of blood. An apprentice court physicians who couldn’t tolerate the smell cut the chicken while covering his nose and mouth with a towel, but Court Physician Ryuu, who had returned, stripped it off.

“It is correct to wear a mask when you treat patients. But take it off now.”

The face of the apprentice court physician who got his mask taken off turned ghastly pale. He ran out of the hut, sick.

“Ahh. How many times has it been? He’s going to be treated as having no potential now.” Tenyuu commented about others.

Maomao laid out the organs on a plate. Heart, liver, intestines, stomach…

(Intestines are easy to damage but they’re delicious. It’s edible now though.)

It was a bit of a hassle to wash chicken intestines since they are so thin though.

(I want to turn it into a gizzard skewer and sprinkle salt on it.)

It would probably be delicious if the blood was drained.

(The gallbladder hasn’t been crushed. Good.)

When bile spills out, it’ll be spoiled.

She gently placed the organ down. When she put it all of them down, Court Physician Ryuu…

“Now, put it back together and sew it up.”

Even though she had divided all of them for cooking.

“I know that you’re eager to eat it, but don’t keep doing this. You’ll be seeing your patients as meat,” he said.

“That is not going to happen, obviously,” she said.

It seems Maomao’s thoughts were transparent.

She placed the organs back into their original positions. She put in special care for the gallbladder as to not crush it.

“You know how to use it?” he asked.

Taken out before Maomao was something carefully wrapped in cloth that looked like a fish hook. There was also some thread.

“Yes,” she said.

Was the thread silk? It had a characteristic sheen. She passed the thread through the hole in the fish hook and sewed it up with her fingers pinching onto it.

(Since I have sewed before.)

She always used a straight needle, but the fish hook shape was easier to use than expected.

(When you become a bureaucrat, you get to use nice tools.)

She sewed with awe. Calling it extravagant, the area she was pinching onto was thin so if there was a tool she could use to maintain a proper grip on it, she could do it more easily.

(I can’t hold on with tweezers, huh. If there’s a tool that can grip on a little better, I want it.)

She finished sewing while in thought.

She looked over to the side. Tenyuu was looking like he had already finished his work, so it was vexing.

“How did it go? Give me a look.” Court Physician Ryuu looked at the stitches. “…hmm, do whatever you like to it afterwards.

It seems she got a passing mark.

“Wash the needle properly and boil it afterwards. It’s expensive, so don’t lose it.”

This kind of shape and degree of thinness can only be the craftsmanship of truly skilled artisans. To sneak it home would be impossible—she gave up on that.

Maomao cut the thread she had sewn with and decided to take out all the organs and wash it.


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