Fussy voices and the smell of incense.
Maomao was lying spread eagled in one of Rokushoukan’s rooms. The room was like a storeroom, in that half of it was crammed with trunks and shelves. On occasions when the number of courtesan increase, it can be used as a bedroom, if one avoids the trunks.
In the end, she was able to return to the pleasure district during the final two days of the end of year break.
The few days she spent at the nasty bast*rd’s stronghold was worthwhile, but it also came with hardships.
She wanted to make transcriptions, and she also wanted to check on Yao’s movements.
She finally returned to the Rokushokan after deciding it’d be fine to do so. However…
“Ya haven’t paid the room fee.”
The madam, with a pipe in mouth, looked down at Maomao who was lying on the ground.
Maomao’s dilapidated shack was currently occupied by Sazen the herbalist apprentice. The little sh*t, Chou’u also stayed there previously, but he moved to the Rokushoukan for safety and comfort. A patron who pays well is with him, so she couldn’t say anything.
Sazen used to impose on the manservant’s room, but that place wasn’t suitable for compounding medicine. So, he went to live at Maomao’s house, which was unoccupied.
Maomao herself had no problems with even lying down in the same room as him, but Sazen went blue in the face and told her to stop it. So for the time being, she decided to stay at the Rokushoukan, but–.
“About this much?” the madam answered.
“Rip off!” Maomao’s face stiffened at the fingers the crone held up.
“My oh my—ya asked to rent a room in this long-standing Rokushoukan. Ain’t this quite a steal?”
“What room. This is half a storeroom, innit?”
“Scram if you don’t like it. Will ya chase out Sazen who works hard at his job every day? Or are ya living on the roadside? If it’s a single straw mat, I can loan ya free of charge.”
Maomao gave up and took out her wallet. As the crone left counting the coins, her cackles were like a bubbling cauldron from the depths of hell.
(It’s childish, but I can’t bring myself to evict Sazen.)
She spat out a breath and got off her heavy ass. She wanted to lie down, but she had to check the pharmacy beforehand. She took out a book from her belongings and left the storeroom.
As she headed towards the room she rented on the Rokushoukan’s ground floor, she heard voices coming from inside.
“Ahhh, this is nice. This is really nice. So skilled. You’re so skilled now.”
(T/N: the word for ‘skilled’ here could also mean ‘tasty’. Take that as you will.)
“Seriously, the first time I thought you were so sloppy I was at a loss.”
“It’s because you taught me so diligently.”
“Really now. Then, can you do it in front of me?”
“Eh, do I have to?”
She knew the owners of the voices. Sazen and one other, Kokuyou, who works as a herbalist in a nearby village. The man had ugly pox scars on half his face, but the other half is good-looking.
Still, there were courtesans with free time eavesdropping on what the two men were saying behind closed doors.
“What are you doing?” Maomao asked.
“Oh my, ufufufufu.” They left in haste with rather embarrassed looks. No doubt they’ve been having filthy delusions.
“I’m coming in—” Maomao opened the door with a clatter. There was Sazen who was grinding herbs and Kokuyou who was watching from behind him.
“Ahhh, what! Didn’t you say that you’d be there the entire break!” Sazen said.
“I have a lot of things to do, so it’s been rough. Rather, don’t close the shop just because it’s cold, please. Not when you two are alone,” Maomao said.
“Ehhh, but it’s freezing—” Kokuyou shivered theatrically. His personality is carefree as usual.
Maomao checked the interior of the pharmacy.
(The medicinal herbs are properly stored. The account book is properly recorded.)
Not bad. He’s improved.
Maomao passed the book she brought with her to Sazen. “The shop will be closed now. Since you’re always forced to make cold medicine and pain-killers, we’re making something new.
The book was what she transcribed yesterday. It contained various things even Maomao hadn’t heard of, so she thought about trying to make some while reviewing, but there was a medicinal herb she was bothered about, so she prioritised that.
“Wahh— how fun—. Mix, mix—” Kokuyou pressed his face towards her, so Maomao pushed him aside. It’ll be handier with male help, so she won’t stop him if he tagged along.
(The ingredient, Dad grew it outside the town.)
Despite his bad leg, he grew a medicinal herb field outside the wall. He has a habit of growing herbs whenever there’s empty land ever since he worked in the inner palace. He’s usually sensible too. Could his occasional peculiarity be from his blood?
(Somehow, he resembles Rahan’s biological father.)
Even if it’s rotten, they’re still relatives—was she about to say that? She recalled the middle-aged man with sparkling eyes who had absolutely no desire to succeed and created a humongous sweet potato field.
“All right, we’re going to gather the ingredient so bring the tools,” Maomao said.
“O-okay,” Sazen said.
“What could it be? What could it be?” Kokuyou said.
Sazen stuck the be-back-soon sign on the pharmacy’s noticeboard. Kokuyou was in high spirits even though it was nothing major.
Maomao took out several herbs from the shelf, boiled them, and downed the broth.
“What did you drink?” Sazen peered at her.
“It’s a tonic that keeps me awake and gives me a bit of energy. I’m tired,” Maomao answered.
“Hmm. Rather, are there medicinal herbs during this season? Also, the field is outside the wall, right? I heard that there are herbs, but I couldn’t find it anywhere so I left it.”
“Ahh, it’s nothing. Nothing weird is growing. …so, you’ll know when we get to it.” Maomao put on a jacket and left the Rokushoukan.
“Oh my. You’re going out with two sexy guys? Way to go—”
“Not a chance.”
Maomao and a similar aged courtesan said jokingly. She knew her from when she was a kamuro, so their exchanges were also casual.
They left the still-empty-at-noon pleasure district via the south side. They could see beggars in the alleyway, staring at them and wondering if they could be extorted from.
The old man guarding the castle gate yawned in boredom. Kokuyou smiled and waved at him like good friends, but the old man responded with a look of disgust. How much trouble did he stir up?
“What did you do?” she asked Kokuyou.
“I did nothing,” he replied.
The gates are surrounded by a moat on the outside, similar to the inner palace in structure
Apparently, the inner palace was constructed on what used to be the castle ruins of the previous dynasty a long, long time ago before Rii was created. Could this outer wall be similarly built from the town ruins?
They turned right after leaving the gate. In terms of directions, they headed west.
“Here, that,” she said.
Maomao pointed to the outer wall. There were branch-like things creeping on the wall. It was currently winter, so to some extent, the leaves would be more green and lush during summer. Having spread over the waterway, their vitality is amazing.
“I can see withered branches, but what’s this?” Sazen asked.
“We’re not using the stalks.” Maomao grabbed onto a branch and followed it down to the roots. She dug up the soil with a tool.
“Hehh, arrowroot, huh?” Kokuyou nodded, and helped her.
“By arrowroot, you mean kudzu?” Sazen asked.
“That’s right. Don’t stand around like an idiot. Help out,” Maomao said.
The three of them dug in the soil.
“Umm, can I ask a question?” Sazen asked.
“Sure,” Maomao said.
“I feel the old man at the castle gate is looking at us weirdly.”
“It’s fine. The outer wall will be damaged with the kudzu growing on it, and moreover, it’ll become a path for foreign enemies to invade. That’s why kudzu harvest is encouraged, apparently.”
Apparently, Dad had been apprehended by the guard many times and explained that. That’s why it was fine to dig up the arrowroot.
“I heard kudzu has high vitality. They can thrive even in a place like this.” Kokuyou was smiling in awe.
“Apparently they have been growing since around fifty years ago.”
She recalled what the old man of the castle gate said once. An old timer, he was gatekeeping during retirement.
“…can I ask a question?” Sazen said.
“Sure,” Maomao said.
“You said, Ruomen-san created a field here.”
“Eh, then, you’re saying he grew kudzu?”
“Yeah–, come on, your hands are idle. Quickly, dig, dig!”
Maomao roughly shaved down an excessively large root.
She recalled Dad looking at the outer wall in apology a long time ago.
He had left in a hurry to study in the West, and then worked in the inner palace afterwards.
In the space of a few decades, the kudzu had grown densely.
Dad started work at the imperial court again, and Maomao also became a court lady who assisted the court physicians, so they once again grew quickly.
Since there is a male help known as Sazen here, she wanted him to work hard at digging out the arrowroot.
“There’s a lot of arrowroot. Can we use them all?” Kokuyou asked.
“We don’t need to worry about the amount since kudzu powder can be sold as cold prevention,” Maomao said.
“Kudzu powder, how nice. But, wouldn’t that take a lot of work to make? Wouldn’t it be easier to buy it norma—”
“Come on, your hands are free. Work, work.” Maomao silenced Kokuyou who was saying unnecessary things. She noticed she was more talkative than usual to silence the chatterbox.
He wasn’t someone responsible for cleaning up Dad’s mistakes, but she had him come along to eradicate the kudzu.
Making kudzu powder will take more than one or two days, so she’ll explain later. Besides that, she had to forbid Kokuyou from speaking.
(Ahh, we don’t have enough time.)
While she was thinking busy, busy, other things were on her mind, so it was good she could forget about her other worries.
Maomao diligently dug out the kudzu whose roots had spread over the ground.