Housekeeper of the Hundred Blossom Palace - Chapter 6
Half a month had passed since Yui Mei entered the Inner Palace.
She had been very busy since the day she cleaned Lady Wang’s residence, as she was flooded with requests continuously. Apparently, the other concubines heard about her from Lady Wang. Those jobs had something in common; they were all under the responsibility of Li Mei, her ‘supervisor’.
‘That person isn’t working at all.’
Moreover, she hadn’t seen Li Mei’s since that first day.
Fortunately, Yui Mei already completed a round of cleaning in those residences, so she no longer spent the whole day working. Today, she even managed to return to the quarters just past noon. Yui Mei finished her work, so she was carrying her tools as she walked, when a court lady beckoned her. It was the woman who was resting at the garbage dumping site on Yui Mei’s first day.
“Come here, I have some ma hua.”
The court lady’s name was Lu Mei Na, and she was around thirty-five years old. She was assigned to work in the kitchen. Today, she was also using a suitable stone as a seat to rest.
“Here, Ah Mei, they’re freshly made.”
Mei Na used a pet name to call Yui Mei as she handed the ma hua to her. It was China’s version of karinto, and they were sweet and deliciously crunchy. Yui Mei frequently bought it from food stalls in China, but she had never tried it in this world. Sweets were luxuries in the countryside.
Mei Na was working at the kitchen, so she could bring freshly made ones. Yui Mei took one from Mei Na, and popped it into her mouth.
“Hmm! So sweet, so yummy!”
Mei Na bitterly smiled upon seeing Yui Mei ecstatically beaming with her mouth full.
“Aren’t you unlucky, having to clean after Mei’s mess.”
Mei Na stroked Yui Mei’s head as she said that.
Yui Mei already thought that she was carrying the can for Li Mei, but she didn’t expect others to see it that way, too.
“Why is she so belligerent towards me, and right off the bat, too?”
Mei Na laughed as she explained the answer to Yui Mei’s naïve question.
Mei was born in the city of Kyou. The other court ladies didn’t mind, but those who were born in the capital were inclined to be haughty, and to throw their weight around.
‘Oh, so that’s why she said that I’m JUST a country bumpkin.’
So there was a hierarchy among the court-ladies, too. Rather than working, Li Mei’s true intention in becoming a court lady was to be promoted and enter the ranks of the concubines. That was the reason why she didn’t bother doing any work, and spent all her time polishing her beauty. Cleaning Lady Wang’s residence was also her responsibility, but she kept on ignoring it. Apparently, she can’t forgive the fact that a person, who was not as beautiful as her, actually became a concubine. She also neglected several residences just for that reason.
‘Just as I thought, those dusty residences were all owned by concubines with low status.’
Apparently, it was all due to Li Mei’s envy. But she’d be scolded if she didn’t work, so she just haphazardly looked for places to clean, then did her job while cutting corners.
“But the emperor hasn’t noticed her even until now, so she might be frantic.”
A court lady must possess considerable skills in order to compete with the imperial wives, but if that was not the case, then she could only rely on her youth as her advantage. Li Mei, who had no special skills to show-off, was already approaching half-past her twenties, so her time was running out. Thus, she made herself disagreeable toward the concubines with low status. Her courage knew no bounds.
‘Maybe she’s not the emperor’s type?’
Yui Mei tried to analyze why Li Mei’s ambition was not realized. Men have different strokes for different folks regarding women. Beauty was not a guarantee to a man’s heart. Even in her past life in Japan, there was a woman who was unexpectedly popular despite being on the plump side.
Yui Mei had not seen the empress or the higher-ranked consorts. However, based on the concubines who lived in the residences she cleaned, rather than being ostentatious, they were mostly tranquil, or gentle. Basically, they were all homely.
Only the most beautiful women should have been selected for the positions of empress and higher consorts, since they represented the Inner Palace. However, perhaps the emperor’s true preference was women who were plain – Yui Mei secretly thought so.
‘If that’s the case, then I understand now why Mother was a Beauty.’
And why ostentatious Li Mei, who possessed a beautiful face, wasn’t favored. It must have been mortifying for one who prided herself on having good looks.
Yui Mei decided to set aside Li Mei’s affairs. She had long wanted to ask someone about a particular matter, but she wasn’t able to, since she was previously busy cleaning until sunset every day.
“Mei Na, where is the clinic?”
This clinic was where the exclusive physicians of the Inner Palace permanently stayed.
The clinic physicians were in charge of the Inner Palace’s court ladies, eunuchs, concubines, and the low-ranking consorts. The emperor, empress and high-ranking consorts were examined by the imperial court physician.
“Why, are you feeling sick?”
Mei Na puckered her eyebrows at Yui Mei’s abrupt question.
“No, I just want some utility-grade sake.”
Utility-grade sake was just another term for industrial alcohol.
Indeed, Yui Mei wanted to create an alcohol-based sanitizer, and she needed the utility-grade sake for that. If there was anyone who uses industrial alcohol, then that would be a physician.
“Don’t tell me you want to drink it?”
“No, you’re mistaken. I just want to use it for cleaning.”
Yui Mei explained honestly under Mei Na’s suspicious gaze; she didn’t want her to think that she was an alcoholic. Nevertheless, the desire to drink industrial alcohol was a symptom of an end-stage addiction. She was definitely out of that category.
“Then it’s fine.”
Mei Na taught her the directions to the clinic.
After putting away her cleaning paraphernalia, Yui Mei headed toward the clinic.
T/N: So many Mei’s in this chapter, lol. The author used the chinese readings in her original work, and she placed the katakana in parenthesis for the benefit of the readers. Yui Mei’s name comes from the characters rain(雨) for yu, and Sister(妹) for mei. Li Mei’s name came from season (李) for li and Plum (梅) for mei. Lu Mei Na’s name came from route (路) for lu, beauty (美) for mei, and grace (娜) for na. This is just trivia to distinguish the multiple Mei’s 🙂
Here’s a photo of ma hua.
Ma hua: https://www.xinshipu.com/zuofa/15599
Karinto is a traditional Japanese snack. They are deep fried dough cakes shaped into short cylinders, coated with brown sugar.
Sake is Japanese wine.
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