When Maomao disembarked from the ship, the stench of fish and hustle and bustle of people came to her all at once. The street stalls were closed since it was already sundown, but she could see there was still the last-minute dinner shopping rush.
“Take care—” The quack fluttered his hand towel from the ship’s deck.
“She’ll be fine with me accompanying her–” Rihaku answered in Maomao’s stead.
(Wasn’t this guy the quack’s bodyguard?)
Does this mean that Maomao is also someone who needs a bodyguard now?
The materials of the clothes Chue prepared were fine despite its simplicity. It was appropriate for a food taster. The soft linen was cool against her skin, comfortable in the humidity of this region.
(Let’s start wearing this tomorrow.)
She hadn’t prepared anything suitable to wear aside from underwear, so it was just what she needed. A material that dried quickly after washing was good. She had court physician assistant robes, but those were so stuffy they were no good.
Chue came over many times since then to put makeup on Maomao, but Maomao refused her. But it would be rude to go without, so she gave herself a light application of face powder and rouge.
“She’d said a carriage will be arranged, hadn’t she?” Rihaku looked around restlessly.
“Is it not that?” Maomao pointed to the carriage that had stopped before another ship.
“Is it? There are already people on board. Doesn’t that mean we can’t ride it?”
People were quickly climbing on board.
Were they the attendants of a bigshot? But she found their numbers high.
When Maomao was at a lost with Rihaku, Chue suddenly popped over.
“Woah, you came out of nowhere.” Rihaku was surprised. They hadn’t felt her presence at all.
“The carriage has been arranged over there, so please,” Chue said.
“Sis, you walk really lightly.”
“Yes. I move well for my plainness. That is the selling point of Chue-san.” With a grin, she twirled and struck an inexplicable pose.
(This person gets carried away.)
She had the cheeriness of the type that didn’t hang around Maomao. Chue took out something, a string of small flags, from her bosom pocket again.
(I have no idea what comeback to make.)
Maomao ignored Chue who looked a little lonely, and boarded the carriage.
The country of Anan(亜南, ya nan. Lit. A South) is situated to the south of Rii. It has been the vassal state of Rii for over a century. Anan used to be called something else in the past; this name was dubbed by an emperor of the past.
The word “A”(亜) had the meaning of “Secondary”, “Following”, and “Lesser.”
Calling the countries north of Rii Hokuaren(北亜連, lit. North A Group) was also the same. It was a confederation of lesser countries in the north.
(The person who named it was truly arrogant.)
Giving such a mockery of a name was to give the namer a sense of superiority.
(The other countries probably also name us as they see fit, though.)
Foreigners from the west are commonly taller and have skin whiter than the people of Rii. So, occasionally they would mock the people of Rii as monkeys. Maomao planned to speak in her native language, but she, who understood a smattering of western languages, would notice the other party scorning them. When the madam noticed their slander, she would raise the room fee with a smile.
(People do it anywhere.)
If you don’t want them to say it, you have to speak up about it. But she wanted to protect herself with her words before saying it.
After all, the relationship between countries is the same relationship as a gathering of people.
After Maomao alighted from the carriage, she was guided into a large palace.
The red colour of the paint was the same as in Rii. The shape of the roof was a little different. It was a bit round, with lanterns glowing in a row.
A pure white passage cut through the centre of the palace. Hemp palms grew symmetrically in the garden.
Although they had a bit of an accent, the guide spoke the same language of Rii.
(No, I’m a food taster, so it’s not my concern.)
So Maomao wanted to say, but Chue sped ahead. The attendant was probably meaning that she was going to lead the way for them.
Maomao and Rihaku followed her meekly.
“Please use th’s.”
They were guided to a room. Chue headed inside to check. She seemed well-practised.
“Are there anything strange?” Rihaku joined in with her, looking around.
“Not really. Snakes and insects occasionally come indoors in the south,” Chue answered.
“Snakes?” Eyes shining, Maomao started to look around. “Are they venomous?”
“They are,” Chue said.
“Are there scorpions?”
The two of them were disappointed after finding nothing after their check.
“Not just lass, but even sis is disappointed,” Rihaku retorted calmly.
“Wouldn’t it be more interesting if there were?”
Not only was Chue a show-off, but it seems she also found chaos interesting. So that’s how it is. Maomao also understood the reason the attendant was married into Gaoshun’s clan that was rife with idiosyncratic people.
Chue started to prepare tea. Tea had already been readied from the start. From the condensation, it seems the chilled drinks had been arranged just a moment ago.
“I can prepare it myself, so you don’t have to mind,” Maomao said.
“No, it contains my share too. I’ll be staying with Maomao-san tonight.” Chue prepared the teacup from the room with sleek movements. “Suiren-sama told me that although he’s a bodyguard, it’s improper for an unmarried maiden to stay alone with a gentleman, so here I am.”
Maomao and Rihaku exchanged glances.
“Ahhh, we’re not like this at all,” they said in unison.
“Yes. I think so too, but if someone like big aunt tells me, I’ll have no choice but to do it. Also, I have my actual mother-in-law, right? I plan to do it properly, but staying with her twenty-four seven is tiring, you know. My husband is like that, so no one can step in at all. I thought I could leave my husband to my mother-in-law, and take a breather once in a while,” Chue said, sitting on the couch and started to drink tea. She was very much at home.
Treated to such an extent, Maomao and Rihaku both decided to do as they pleased. Rihaku, as if he couldn’t think of anything to do, started to do pull-ups on the frames.
Maomao sat down and started to drink tea.
“Also, I wish to give an explanation on the course of the banquet,” Chue said.
Chue started to speak like she was relaxing at home. “The food tasters will be Maomao-san and I. For the Prince of the Moon and Grand Marshall Kan. There are also other big shots, but theirs will be prepared separately.
“I wish to food taste for the Prince of the Moon,” Maomao said.
“Yes, it seems more interesting to do it for the Grand Marshall, so I understand.”
Her reasoning aside, Maomao was happy that Chue would do it for her.
“For the most part, the food tasting will be conducted the same way as it was at the garden party and such. I don’t think I need to explain much, but we’re on diplomacy grounds, so do it while hidden at the seat that is situated a little to the back.”
“I guess so.”
“And so, please make do from the top of your head at the scene of the banquet.”
(It’s perfunctory, no, rather than that, it’s rough.)
It was easy that it wasn’t too exact though.
In the beginning, Maomao thought Chue resembled En’en, but the attendant felt more like Maomao.
“Also, we’ll be going to the Prince of the Moon’s room in a moment,” Chue added.
“The Prince of the Moon’s?” Maomao asked.
“Yes, you’ll know when we get there.” Chue grinned and set down the teacup.
Jinshi’s room was right down the corridor from the room where Maomao was guided to. Being a bigshot, he had guards. Maomao’s group passed through them with Chue’s face.
They went in. There was Jinshi, Basen, Suiren, Taomei and something like Baryou who was hidden behind a curtain.
The room was several times larger. There was a balcony outside.
(I remembered their names. Good going, me.)
Maomao praised herself pointlessly. She was starting to forget Taomei’s name from the introduction of the excessively idiosyncratic attendant called Chue, but she remembered properly. Good going.
Rihaku was on standby outside the room.
“What is your business?” Maomao asked.
“No, rather than a business-” Jinshi made another somewhat awkward look.
“Maomao.” Suiren placed her hand on Maomao’s shoulder. “We have guests. Please stand back a bit.”
What are they doing? Maomao stepped back, when a large man came in followed by a woman. The man was supporting the woman like he placed importance on her body.
(Huh, that person?)
Maomao felt like she recognised the woman’s face.
“Fuyou-dono. Congratulations on your pregnancy on this occasion. I apologise for my late greetings. I was on a different ship,” Jinshi said.
It’s her. The consort who danced on the wall.
In that case, could the man who accompanied her, be the military official whom she had been bestowed to?
“Prince of the Moon, I have not forgotten my debt of gratitude from some time ago. My returning to this country like so, is thanks to the Prince of the Moon.” Fuyou slowly bent her back. She wore an airy outfit, but her body looked a little heavy.
Could the man not opening his mouth, mean that the position of the wife is higher than the husband at this location?
(Could it be?)
The people who rode on the different carriage might have been Fuyou’s people.
Rihaku had said that excellent military officials aren’t released by Rii, but he must have returned due to Fuyou’s pregnancy.
(What will happen to the husband?)
Will he stay in Rii or will he return to Anan?
Maomao didn’t know that far, but being able to give birth in their homeland was probably a big thing.
(It must be like that.)
The Fuyou couple interacted with Jinshi courteously, then left the room.
(They seem to be a harmonious couple.)
The military official had been worried about Fuyou to the point that it looked embarrassing to watch.
Fuyou was bestowed due to the military official’s achievements, but afterwards, being able to return to her country was probably thanks to Jinshi. Again, Fuyou should know what Jinshi did in the inner palace.
(He’s a softy, or what?)
The type that can’t completely cast away their emotions.
It was a virtue for a person, but a weakness for a figure of authority.
This part of him was the source of Maomao’s gloominess.
“Well then, you can come forward now.” Suiren pushed her forward. She spoke with some implication, but it can’t be helped that Maomao felt a little against it.
“Jinshi-sama. Thank you very much.” Maomao lowered her head.
“It’s nothing. About Fuyou-dono, I feel it’s better to have you know that she has depended on us before,” Jinshi said.
“Yes, I’m a little refreshed,” Maomao glanced around. “This room looks splendid and it also has a balcony.”
“You can look around if you’re interested.”
“Then don’t mind if I do.” Maomao headed to the balcony.
Basen came over to say something, but it seems someone immediately stopped him. There were no signs of him coming.
If there were bows or firearms, she thought it would be the perfect place to be assassinated, but—
(It’s hard to aim since it’s hidden by the shade of the trees, and there’s no place to snipe from too.)
She thought safety had been considered.
And so, no one came after Jinshi when he chased after Maomao alone.
Based on the incident with Fuyou, they probably have a favourable relationship with Anan.
(It’s favourable, but there’s the possibility of people sneaking into his bed at night.)
“Jinshi-sama, please take care tonight,” Maomao said.
“Why are you suddenly saying that?”
As Jinshi had left the eye of his subordinates, he leaned against the wall.
“Don’t you have an idea when you think back on the nights at the inner palace?”
“Mn.” Jinshi made a dubious look, as if it came to mind.
And then, he looked like he wanted to say something but couldn’t.
“Umm, so with this, Fuyou-dono will be returning to her hometown. In exchange, the niece of Anan’s king will be entering court,” he said.
“That sounds rough,” she said.
“Yeah. Empress Gyokuyou’s niece will be entering court as well.”
“Is that so?” Maomao felt like she had heard about it before. “Jinshi-sama, you’re not Jinshi-sama anymore, so I think you can do your work without sticking your head into the administration of the inner palace.”
“I think so, but I can’t completely cut myself away from it.”
Maomao looked at Jinshi with cold eyes.
Jinshi returned her gaze uneasily.
Maomao got irritated again. “Jinshi-sama, you are a figure of authority, so please act with more self-importance.”
“It’s better to use what you can use.”
“…I’ll do it.”
“Then…” Maomao approached Jinshi.
With a grin, she looked up at Jinshi. Her right hand smacked against the wall, pinning Jinshi in between.
His eyes widened.
“It’s unpleasant to be used by someone. But—” she whispered in a voice only Jinshi could hear. “If I’m going to be someone’s baggage, it’s still better to be used as a tool. Your indecision is the indecision of the country. A moment of indecision can kill tens of thousands of citizens. You are going to regret regardless, so please pick an upright path without hesitation.”
Maomao moved away from Jinshi’s face. “Use it properly if you say you’re going to use it. Medicine is made to be used.”
She closed her eyes and let out a breath.
She spoke what had pent up from the past couple of days.
There was a lot more she wanted to say, but this was probably her limit.
(Jinshi would forgive this much… right?)
She opened her eyes. She checked to see if he was angry.
(He’s not… angry?)
Jinshi’s face was beet red. But he wasn’t angry. Rather, he was—
“What is it?”
Jinshi clutched Maomao’s sleeves.
His gaze should be higher up than Maomao, but it seemed like he was giving her upturned eyes.
“Can you hug me?” he asked.
“…why are you the submissive?”
Of course, she refused.