The north of the capital extends out to the grain-producing region. There is a large river that flows from west to east, with towns and villages scattered here and there.
Where the south grew rice, the north grew sorghum and wheat. There were forests up further north, and beyond that was the mountain range.
Northward beyond the forest, was the Shi Northern Province[note]子北州[/note]. It wasn’t under the direct jurisdiction of the emperor.
The area where the capital was centred was the Ka Province[note]華州[/note]. There were three other large provinces, and several tens of small provinces as if to fill the gaps.
Shi Northern. You can somehow expect what it entails by seeing the name. The high official called Shishou originated from the Shi Northern Province.
(What was it again, the founding story?)
The country Maomao resided in was called Rii[note]茘[/note]. A simple country name of only a single character. That alone illustrated the founding story of this country.
Three Blades[note]刀[/note] below the Grass[note]草. Becomes 『艹』 in radical form.[/note]. The grass had the meaning of “Ka[note]華[/note]”. This represented the founding emperor of this country. According to the story, it was said to be a woman. The blade represented the warriors – it was said that there were three warriors that accompanied the founder.
Maomao had a feeling it was a lot more complicated when it is spoken in detail, but as she was yawning as she listened, she didn’t really remember.
What she barely remembered was that the blades were different sized. The blade on top was bigger compared to the two beneath it.
For that reason, she also understood the reason why the current emperor cannot raise his head.
North, in other words, the Blade on Top, as the high officials like to call it, was the place said to do leisurely things like falconry.
The emperor didn’t come as expected, but it was said all the renowned people were gathered.
All this, was explained to her by the military officer before her eyes.
Currently, Maomao was travelling in a bumpy horse carriage.
The speed of the horse carriage was about two-and-a-half li[note]里, a unit of distance that is approximately 3.927 kilometers or 2.44 miles.[/note] (10km) in a half-dual-hour (1 hour). Hasn’t it already run for three-dual-hours (6 hours)?
(My butt hurts.)
Even if she revealed her honest feelings, and wanted to try improving the current situation, for the time being, she laid out a sitting cushion underneath. Everyone was in the same position; nothing could be done of it even if she complained. Maomao kept silent and looked outside.
Although it was Shishou’s invitation, it truly was difficult to go from the capital to the Shi Northern Province. It wasn’t a distance where you can return home in one or two days. Even Shishou was taking up residence in the capital. The Shi Northern Province was governed by Shishou’s clan.
Let’s see now, the military officer who explained to Maomao what she wasn’t interested in was Basen. With a sour look, he briefly summed it up to Maomao, then went silent with his arms crossed. Just like that, the officials who were riding the horse carriage with them looked worn out, as they were in the same carriage as them.
It seems they couldn’t sleep before a superior officer who appears to have a high rank despite being still young. Jinshi and Gaoshun were riding in a different horse carriage.
There was a bit of drool around Maomao’s mouth, but it was amusing.
Seeing Maomao like that, Basen clicked his tongue.
“Why is Father[note]父上, chichi-ue. Very formal[/note], to this girl…”
(Father, is it?)
It’s no wonder it was a face I recognise from somewhere, she thought.
This man, was Gaoshun’s son.
(Gaoshun and Basen huh.)
There was something she was stuck on, but let’s not say it out loud.
The eunuch Gaoshun having a son hm, she thought at first, but when she considered it, it doesn’t mean that eunuchs were eunuchs since they were born. Basing it on his age, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to have even one or two children.
After hearing about this, Maomao thought about the head maid in her thirties who was in the Jade Palace.
Maomao knew that since the head maid was in a workplace where she has too little meetings, recently, she has been muttering that even eunuchs were fine recently, and looked at Gaoshun a lot.
During that, she saw from the window that they were approaching a large estate.
When Basen relaxed his crossed arms as they were finally there, the other officials were relieved.
Maomao gazed at the estate awestruck as she rubbed her backside.
The estate was very much imposing.
As the town itself wasn’t that large, let’s take this place as a different world. It should be a construction of sufficient scale for people with critical eyes from the capital to stay in.
The roof of the three-storey building had conspicuous red pillars that imitated the shape of beasts. There was a moat around the estate, where carp the colour of brocade[note]Red, yellow and white[/note] swam in.
Here and there, dragons and tigers covered up the inside of the stucco wall. It must have been carefully constructed by craftsmen with trowels. It was a decor that was hardly seen in the capital.
Maomao was taking a long hard look when she was poked from her side. When she looked up, Basen was glaring at her, so she meekly trailed after him.
When she entered the room she was guided into, Jinshi was listlessly stretched out on the couch. There was sweltering-hued cloth on the table. She realised that was a hood.
It was a sin to be too beautiful. To think that he needed to specifically bring even a mask to hide from everyone when he goes to faraway places.
Certainly, this man could even stop the hearts of innocent town girls with just a smile.
It was a good graciously troublesome face.
As this room was for guests, she understood that basing from the arrangement of the estate, the highest floor was for guests only. Even the fixtures and furniture were splendid, but since she was accustomed to these from the Jade Palace and Jinshi’s building, she estimated it was something like that. Even so, it was a satisfactory room for the guest of honour.
At any rate, this room is hot, Maomao thought.
The windows were closed. Instead, there were lanterns.
She wanted to loosen her collar, but since she couldn’t possibly do that, she endured.
Jinshi was already baring his chest. She subconsciously faced him with eyes like she was looking at a crushed frog for the first time a while.
It must be because there was only Maomao, Gaoshun, and Basen in the room. This look of relaxation is-.
It looked like there were shadows on Jinshi’s face. Could it be a trick of the wavering light from the lanterns?
“What do I call him here?”
Basen asked Gaoshun.
“It is as usual within the room. Outside, call me Kousen[note]香泉, Xiang Quan in Chinese.[/note].”
It was Jinshi who answered on behalf of Gaoshun.
Oh, Maomao tilted her head, looking at Gaoshun.
Gaoshun, while stroking his chin, looked at Jinshi, and Jinshi looked at Maomao with squinted eyes.
At that scene, Basen was even more doubtful.
He stalked over to Gaoshun,
“Father, what is this supposed to mean?”
Gaoshun, his expression slightly clouded, signalled with his eyes to Jinshi. And then, he dragged Basen’s arms to the corner of the room for some reason and spoke to him furtively.
From whatever Gaoshun had said, Basen looked at Maomao in surprise. And then, as if Gaoshun was against that, he shut up and dropped a fist on his son.
What are they doing? Maomao thought, but since it wasn’t like she was interested in it, she decided to put away the baggage for the time being.
If she didn’t do her work properly, Suiren will get angry afterward.
Falconry was tomorrow, so they were staying over in the estate today.
There was a night banquet being held in the garden, but Jinshi and the others weren’t in the state to go outside. With the window shut, they just wasted time reading books and playing go.
The room was hot, but it became somewhat better when they received ice. Having it brought over by a fast horse from an ice room, in summer, was the highest grade of luxury.
Since Maomao was looking at the ice extremely enviously, Gaoshun snuck some ice shards over to her. He really is a thoughtful eunuch.
If it’s like that, we might as well just open the windows, Maomao thought, and blurted out the question.
“Why aren’t we opening the windows?”
She had asked Gaoshun, but it was Jinshi who spoke.
“For starters, go food taste the dinner.”
You’ll know when you do it, Jinshi said with an amazed expression.
As she was told, when the dinner was carried over, Maomao served it on a small dish and began the usual food tasting.
“You should know now.”
Jinshi looked at the extravagant meal with amazement. The meals that were carried on the cart seemed like the highest cuisine that made the best use of the ingredients though.
“To think it’s suppon meat. This again.”
Suppon. Turtle meat. A creature that won’t let go when it bites at you once. Its fresh blood is used as a vitality drug. Of course, its meat seems to also have that effect.
She tasted the aperitif too. Fruit juice was added to make it seem like it was refreshing – there was something considerably intense was added.
From the aperitif to the appetiser, side dishes, main dishes, even the fruit, it was heaped with ingredients that made you vigorous.
Gaoshun silently prepared the portable food he took out from the baggage. It seems he was going to have a modest dinner with the long-awaited cuisines before his eyes.
“Are you not going to eat? There’s no poison.”
“Even if there’s no poison, it’s not something you can eat. Or, should I say, you can’t eat it with composure.”
I can’t believe it, she looked at Jinshi and Gaoshun with those eyes. Basen was boiling water in the corner of the room. Wasn’t it really hot?
“It’s really delicious. It’ll arouse suspicions if we leave it, so may I eat it?”
“Do whatever you want!”
Jinshi looked at the satisfied Maomao’s face, and he squinted, lips slightly puckered.
Maomao ate the suppon soup like it was delicious.
Jinshi stared at her doing that.
“Is it tasty? That.”
“Indeed, I don’t have good memories of suppon, but this is good.”
“What is it? This memory.”
Jinshi, with a bit of great interest, picked up the bowl of soup.
“It’s not a big deal though.”
Maomao was her foster father’s assistant ever since she was young. She had also gone to buy medicinal ingredients from the market, but in the middle of that, she came across good-for-nothing adults.
They were exhibitionists, who untie their sashes and clothes, fully exposing themselves. There were many in winter.
The surprised Maomao was about to run away, but she unintentionally threw the package in her hands.
“So that package was a suppon that was alive, and that—”
“Ahh, enough. Enough. You don’t have to say it.”
Jinshi put down the bowl and made a distant stare.
Gaoshun and his son did the same.
(It was popular with the prostitutes though.)
As I thought, the story doesn’t suit people with good upbringing, Maomao put down the emptied dish.
But, it really is a waste, Maomao thought.
“The other things aside from suppon are also delicious though. Is it really fine to not eat it?”
It was iffy that she was recommending a half-eaten meal, but it wasn’t an amount that Maomao can finish alone. And besides, reconstituted dried meat and rice won’t fill up the bellies of three men.
“…Is it okay to eat?”
Jinshi asked Maomao to make sure.
It’s waste to have to leave it, Maomao thought.
“Is it really okay?”
Jinshi looked at Maomao intently.
I don’t understand why he’s asking this much, Maomao tilted her head, and Gaoshun entered from her side. He gave a tiny shake of his head for some reason, and Jinshi reluctantly nodded.
“I’m good. Basen, you can eat it.”
“If Kousen-sama says so.”
Basen sat on the seat humbly. Maomao passed over a cup of the aperitif.
He slowly drank that down.
“That’s good to hear.”
Basen stopped moving, and blood trickled down his nose.
His face was bright red, and he looked like he was holding back on something. When Jinshi peered at his face, he trembled in surprise.
“Why, is this girl fine?”
“Even if you ask why.”
Her constitution is like that, there’s no other way to say it.
Basen’s eyes were glassy. His cheeks were flushed, he was looking around like he was seeking for something.
“…Basen, hurry up and sleep.”
“I understand, father.”
Basen tried to stumble over to the room next door and collapsed just like that.
“What is wrong?”
When Maomao asked,
“Let him sleep here. I’ll sleep in the room next door.”
“Jinshi-sama, I’ll properly carry him to his room.”
“Aren’t you tired?”
If Jinshi says it that way, Gaoshun put his doubled-over son to sleep on a bed with a canopy. Maomao also more or less helped. Since he looked like he was sweltering, when they loosened his collar, his complexion became slightly better. Some nose blood got onto the sheets, she was slightly sorry.
Jinshi slept in the room next door. Maomao was permitted to use the room next to his.
It’s such a luxury to have a room to myself, Maomao thought. She took a bath. It was a small bit of happiness.