The next day, Maomao went to check the pail from yesterday. The water that had been brown was almost black.
“See, look at this.” Maomao slowly tilted the pail. She poured out the top layer of black water; there was white sludge sedimented at the bottom.
Sazen peered at it. Chou’u was next to him—does he have free time?
“The sedimentation at the bottom is what makes kudzu powder. It’s denser than water, so if you leave it for some time, it’ll sink to the bottom. The top layer is dirty so get rid of it. After you strain it a few times and remove the first layer, you can get clean kudzu powder,” Maomao said.
“Is this what became yesterday’s mochi—” Chou’u asked.
“Hey, don’t stick your finger in that, it’ll mix together.” Maomao pushed Chou’u, who was being a hindrance, away. “After doing that a few times, the sedimentation gradually whitens. There are still some kudzu fibres in it; we can get rid of that with the water.”
“I see,” Sazen said.
“If you do it four to five times, we can reduce the amount of water and pour it into a different container. Once we remove that first layer, we can dry it.”
“W-wait a moment. I’ll note it down.” Sazen flusteredly went to grab writing equipment. The steps were all there even if he didn’t write it down, but he’d probably learnt it better if he wrote it down.
“If staying here is boring you, go play somewhere else.” Maomao shooed Chou’u away like a dog.
“I’m here to help too. Be thankful, Freckles,” Chou’u said.
“Cat paws are more helpful,” Maomao said.
“Nyaa—” Chou’u carried maomao over and punched with its paws.
“Fur’s gonna fall in.” Maomao set maomao free. “If you’re going to help, then carry water over. You stole Ukyou’s share yesterday, didn’t you?”
The head manservant who likes children, Ukyou always spoils Chou’u.
“Wha— manual labour again,” Chou’u said as he headed to the well with a bucket. “Oh yeah, Freckles.”
“What?” Maomao replied as she removed the top layer.
“You came back yesterday, right? When will you be back next time?”
Officials are given a break every ten days, and court ladies go on breaks with them. However, as the latter have fewer important duties compared to the former, they have many breaks. On top of that, there are the seasonal national holidays, but those are scant after the new year break.
(The next break is ten days later? Coming back on a day trip is also a hassle.)
Provided that Sazen is being more reliable than expected, it’s not necessarily a good thing for Maomao to show her face too often. He could send letters if anything comes up, so it should be fine.
Also, on Maomao’s breaks, she does the laundry and medicine making she couldn’t do on the days she has work, and reviews what she’s learned. Recently, Yao’s group also invite her to go shopping, so there was no way she’s free.
(I shouldn’t forget about Yao’s group’s matter.)
It’d be good if nothing bad happens with regards to the book they discovered at the weirdo tactician’s house, however.
“About one month later?” Maomao said.
“What? That’s ages away.”
“I have a lot of things to do.”
Chou’u sulked. He headed to the well with a bucket, and Sazen came back to take his spot.
“Oi, are you bullying Chou’u again?” Sazen treated Chou’u as a young master before, but it seems he treats him with no problem now. The man knew about the few secrets of the Shi Clan, but at this point in time, he probably hadn’t done away with the veil of secrecy.
“Not really. I only told him that I won’t be back since I’m busy,” Maomao said.
“Ahh, poor thing.” Sazen was surprised as he listed down on the wooden slip the things she taught him. The man used to be a farmer in the Shihoku province, but he was very proficient in reading and writing. “Kids pretend to be tough and still want to be spoiled. Especially Chou’u, he’s a little…he doesn’t have a family and he doesn’t remember anything about those times.”
“I don’t know about family, but don’t the courtesans spoil him?”
“Even so. He’s imprinted onto the person who looked after him the first moment he didn’t have his memories. Like a duckling.”
Ducklings, as soon as they are born, believe the first being they see to be their parent.
“I’m not that kid’s parent though,” Maomao said.
“Chou’u knows that much as well. But you know, he’s still a child.” Sazen, who finished writing on the wooden slip, started to slowly tip away the water in the bucket.
“When I was his age, I was earning my keep.”
“…capable people do not understand the feelings of those who are not, something along those lines, right? But, those who are extremely capable know the extent of an incapable person’s ineptitudes.”
His words were somewhat reproachful, unlike those of the usually flustered Sazen.
“…Sazen, you’re just repeating what Ukyou told you, aren’t you?”
“How did you know!?”
Right on the mark, it seems. The somewhat philosophical manservant had said many similar things to Maomao when she was young.
“I’m done. Then, I’m going to tell you the next steps so write it down,” Maomao said as she picked away the remaining fibres.
The workdays following the end of the holidays were slow-moving.
Maomao rubbed her sleepy eyes as she ate breakfast.
“That’s impolite,” Yao said, a little displeased. She was eating abalone congee, which was a somewhat mysterious green. It was an unusual way to eat it in the capital Maomao was in, in Kaou Province.
(Since abalone beautifies skin.)
It was something En’en, who was currently nonchalantly eating, had made. She had probably considered its benefits.
By the way, Maomao was also eating the congee En’en had made, but instead of abalone, it was just plain congee with black vinegar. Abalone is a high-class ingredient, so it was only included in Yao’s share.
Being the only one eating something different bothered Yao, and occasionally she would ask to have the same thing prepared. However, Maomao was being treated to a free meal, so she had no desire to eat the same thing as Yao. En’en also understood this notion, and so prepares unlimited servings for Maomao.
When Maomao went to wash the dishes after breakfast, En’en sidled up next to her.
“Thank you very much. Thanks to you, our holidays ended without meeting strange people.”
“Rather, I thought you were at the house of a strange person but,” Maomao replied, thinking that there are hardly any families who are stranger than that one.
“The master of the estate came back when Maomao left but he was hospitable in his own way.”
“In his own way”—they probably received an odd reception that was different from the norm.
“We also got souvenirs.” En’en gingerly took out a stick whose shape portrayed a catastrophic lack of character. Maomao knew what it was since she was brought similar things many times. It was a kanzashi. She had no idea whether it was bought or made, but it was better to stick a twig from the ground in your hair than to use this.
“How about you throw that away?” Maomao said.
“Yes. This doesn’t suit Yao-sama at all, but the materials it’s made from are good, so I was thinking of taking it apart and selling them off,” En’en replied.
“Yup. I think that’s good.”
Maomao uses a fairly similar disposal method.
“Maomao was given one too, but.” En’en took out another kanzashi. Compared to what En’en received, it was a lot gaudier and odd.
“Dispose of that for me over there,” Maomao said.
“Understood.” En’en returned it to her bosom pocket since she had separated them.
The two of them washed the dishes.
“If it’s about Yao-sama, I’ll take responsibility so please rest assured,” En’en said.
“That will be extremely helpful,” Maomao said. She didn’t think much about it at Rokushoukan, but in truth, when she started working, she was worried about how Yao was going to act. However, even if Yao did her work as a court physician assistant as if nothing happened, Maomao was worried about what will happen from here on.
There was no way that the perceptive En’en wouldn’t notice that.
“…Maomao, I have a question.”
“What is it?”
“What is the difference between court physicians and apprentice court physicians in this country?”
Maomao thought for a bit. “…I heard that apprentice court physicians rank up after passing the exam and learning under a court physician.”
“Yes. And I investigated what kind of exam they take to become a court physician apprentice. When I did so, the problem arose as it was roughly the same as the exam we took.”
“The same content?” Maomao herself thought that it only contained foundational medical knowledge though.
“Yes, also, court physician apprentice and court physician assistant. Our work has more odd jobs, but we basically do the same things. Rather, if we just change the official names, it’s the same.”
“Are you saying that we have the path to become court physicians later on?”
It wasn’t a concept strange enough to be called wild. If there wasn’t a barrier known as the law.
(There’s no way En’en is thinking of wanting to become a court physician.)
The one who has, would be her master, Yao.
And, if they pass something that is between court physician and apprentice court physician, if they would become court physicians…
(Speaking of that something is…)
“The conditions to become a court physician, I can’t help feeling it has something to do with the said prohibited literature.”
The prohibited literature that Dad owned secretly. No doubt there was some relation to it.
En’en’s hypothesis had reached that far.
And the reason she spoke to Maomao at a place out of Yao’s earshot is…
“I don’t want Yao-sama, don’t want milady to become a court physician.”
First, she couldn’t accept it ethically, Maomao thought. But Yao tries hard to see things a little more flexibly than she seems. Her personality puts effort into acceptance.
En’en’s words were only just in case.
“…understood.” Maomao shook off the water droplets from the teacup. “I won’t say anything to Yao-san.”
“If Yao-san chooses it herself, I feel neither of us can do anything.”
That was all she told En’en.