Housekeeper of the Hundred Blossom Palace - Chapter 3
At last, they finally reached the Imperial Palace.
Yui Mei and the girls walked through the immense palace grounds. Their guide led them until they reached the end, where a staff entrance was located. He knocked on the wooden gate.
This must be where the Inner Palace was. The door opened from the inside, and a middle-aged woman appeared.
“Hmpf, you sure they are all in great health?”
“Of course, that is the most important requirement, after all.”
The mister bowed his head servilely as the woman sharply assessed the girls.
“So long, you guys. Work properly.”
The mister promptly scurried off after he received a hefty-looking bag from the woman.
“You all come with me.
The woman instructed the abandoned girls, including Yui Mei, to follow her. After being led for a while by the woman, they finally set foot inside the Inner Palace. The intensity of Yui Mei’s curiosity matched the nervousness of the other girls, and her eyes were burning as she followed the woman past the wooden gate.
The first thing they saw upon entering was the white earthen walls and the wooden building.
It was different from the vermilion-lacquered building they saw from the street back then. It looked like a house for an ordinary citizen.
Laundry was hung up, trash-looking objects were scattered around, and everything was a mess. A few women, who seemed to be court ladies, were wandering around restlessly.
This would be the girls’ workplace, apparently.
Without breaking pace, they were taken into another building that looked like an assembly hall. They were first subjected to a physical examination according to the woman’s instructions.
“All of you undress. Take off everything.”
All the girls except Yui Mei froze.
The emperor resided in the Inner Palace.
A physical examination was compulsory if one was to work there.
Aside from that, it was to verify whether they were virgins, and to ascertain that they did not have venereal diseases. For this reason, even the most private parts were examined carefully.
Yui Mei assumed this would happen, so she already prepared herself, but the rest of the girls were on the verge of tears.
At least, there were no eunuchs present in this place.
After the physical examination, their listening comprehension was tested.
They were asked questions such as their age and health condition, among other things.
After the interview, the woman toured them around their workplace.
She explained about various places in the building, including the kitchen, the dining hall, and the privy. Lastly, she took them to their lodging — a huge room inside the house.
“This will be your sleeping quarters from now on.”
Folding screens were used to create partitions. A few people were sleeping, and their soft breathing could be heard.
Yui Mei surmised that they must be the night shift court ladies. She headed towards her assigned place.
“I see, so this is how it is.”
Yui Mei entered the space divided by the folding screen. Everything was within her expectations.
There was a wooden bed*, as well as a round basket woven out of bamboo for her things.
This was the only place where Yui Mei could be free. However, if she was promoted, then someday she could also have her own room.
The court lady uniform was prepared on top of the wooden bed.
‘Oh, it’s cotton!!’
Yui Mei was deeply moved by the cotton clothes.
She had been wearing clothes made from hemp. It was fine during the hot days, but she would be freezing in the cold, since hemp could not block the wind.
Layering did not help, so during the bitterly cold days, she would wear fur to keep warm.
They were nothing fancy like the coats in her previous world. She would skin the animal, and then she would wear it directly afterward.
She herself thought that she was like a bandit from some place.
The reality that she was in the capital hit her as she changed into the clothes made of cotton.
It seemed that the other girls also felt the same, and she could hear them squealing in delight beyond the screen.
The situation in the countryside didn’t change that much, no matter where that may be.
She needed to return back to the woman’s place after changing clothes and leaving all her possessions.
It was necessary that valuable possessions should be brought along instead of leaving them behind, as this was just a partitioned large room, but Yui Mei did not have anything worth stealing.
She just took two sheets of cloth and slipped it in her obi, with the thought that these might come in handy somehow.
She headed back to the assembly hall.
After all the girls had gathered again, the woman started to assign their work.
“Your main job is to do the laundry and cleaning. Do it properly.”
She would divide the girls into the laundry group and the cleaning group.
The number of people living in the Inner Palace would easily exceed a thousand if the court ladies were included.
To sum it up, it would probably be a job wherein they had to do laundry all day long — every single day.
Aside from that, touching the silken robes of the dignitaries was nothing but a pie in the sky.
They first had to wash the clothes of the other court ladies.
As for cleaning, it needn’t be said.
It would be foolish to assume that it could be accomplished just by lightly sweeping around, considering the sheer size of the Inner Palace.
It would definitely be a test of strength.
“Well, since this is just the beginning, I will let you choose. Cleaning or laundry, what will it be?”
Her wish was unwittingly granted by the woman.
“Yes! I want to do the cleaning!”
Yui Mei had immediately hoped that she would be assigned to the cleaning group
She finally came to the Inner Palace at great pains, so it was but natural that she would want her area of activity to be as wide as possible.
She would probably start with cleaning the court ladies’ quarters and the surrounding areas around it, but if she was recognized, then it would be possible that she would be assigned to clean the areas around the dignitaries.
Yui Mei was willing to labor in order to satisfy her curiosity.
The other girls were drawn, too, after Yui Mei declared her intention, and they started to choose their jobs one after another.
The woman could have chosen to automatically divide them without saying anything. However, the motivation and attitude they would show towards their work were bound to be different if it was a job that they chose themselves.
“Alright. Now, listen to your respective supervisors.”
With that, the senior court ladies that were summoned by the woman earlier led each of the separated groups away.
The one assigned to Yui Mei was a woman in her twenties.
She had a fairly pretty face, and had a womanly figure; she must be popular with men.
“We’re lacking manpower right now, so don’t think you can have it easy just because you’re a novice.”
The woman already put on airs right off the bat, and said that overbearingly to Yui Mei.
Yui Mei was irritated, but she didn’t say anything.
The woman was not able to elicit any reaction from her, so finding it uninteresting, she wrinkled her nose and glared at her. She then flung the tub with the rag onto the broom and dustpan.
Yui Mei picked up the cleaning paraphernalia that fell on the ground, and obediently followed her.
She had been certain that she would be cleaning the area near the court ladies’ quarters. Contrary to her expectations, however, she was led further from the lodging house, and deeper into the palace.
‘Wait, how far are we going?’
They arrived at a building that looked like it could be a concubine’s residence.
“You will clean here. Make sure you polish it beautifully.”
The woman left it at that, and she returned back the way they came.
“Won’t you at least explain the details, like who’s living here?”
Upon seeing that she was left all alone, Yui Mei grumbled.
At first glance the place looked like it was owned by a stylish commoner, but the glass windows gave it the air of luxury.
It was also located in a corner near the court ladies’ domain, so even if it was owned by a concubine, her status should be relatively low.
She peered through the window to check the interior, and she saw that the furniture was neatly arranged. That meant it was not an empty house, but occupied, instead.
However, not a single shadow could be seen, so the owner must have left.
‘But isn’t it too dirty?’
Even if the owner was someone low-ranking, it was still a place where the emperor might come, yet it was very dusty for some reason.
She could also see some cobwebs high in the ceiling.
‘Did anyone ever clean this place?’
It really didn’t seem that way.
‘Clean this alone’ — That must be the woman’s intention when she left Yui Mei on her own.
However, it was already past noon, so there was not much time left until dinner.
This country basically had two meals in a day.
It was the norm for people to rise at daybreak, and retire at sunset.
They did not have any electricity to illuminate the night; at most, they could only make do with paper lanterns and candles to spend the night.
Compared to modern Japan, their activity period was much shorter; hence two meals would suffice.
Their dinner was around the time when Japanese people had their afternoon snacks. In other words, the countdown until dinner began at past noon.
That was the reason why Yui Mei’s allotted time was short.
“Alright, let’s do this!”
Yui Mei was the type of person who would become stronger when confronted with tribulations.
T/N: I like the MC’s personality already.
shōgi – wooden bed