The day hadn’t fully broken yet. The smell of morning dew and vapors still lingered in the air.
May was around the corner and theoretically it shouldn’t have been this cold. It wasn’t clear whether it was due to the surroundings, or if it was just too early in the morning. Xiao Hua who only had a single button-up robe actually felt chilled to her bones.
Xiao Hua wasn’t sure how she got to this place, and wasn’t even sure where this place was. She only knew that she was handed over by Trafficker Qian to another human trafficker and spent three or four days on a horse carriage. After reaching a completely foreign place, she spent a night before being taken away by the trafficker once again. Several more twists and turns later she ended up in this place.
When she arrived yesterday it was already very late. The twenty or so girls all squeezed together in bunks and rested for the night. Before it was light out, they were awoken and made to stand outside in the courtyard.
She used the faint light in the sky to peek at her surroundings. Due to the darkness, her surroundings were all she could make out. Everything further away was blurry. All she could see were the dark perimeter walls that seemed very tall.
Xiao Hua guessed she was currently in a large courtyard.
As they were lined up in a row, another group of people were led over. From their appearance, they seemed to be girls in their teens who were then placed beside them.
After everyone was in place, the people that led them here vanished.
Since no one had given orders, the group of girls didn’t dare move at first. Gradually, they started making some noise.
Xiao Hua had always understood to blend in. Since she was a newcomer here without a grasp of the situation, she continued to stand there honestly since no one had given orders. Overcoming the frigid air that caused people to involuntarily shiver, she restrained her gaze and stood in silence.
Having been a maid in both lives, this small bit of skill was something she could still perform.
While Xiao Hua could remain unperturbed, the girls beside her were unable to endure not just the cold air but also the uncertainty of the situation.
A little girl with a round face said in a clear voice: “It’s not even light out, what on earth are they making us stand in the yard for?”
Some of the girls spoke in agreement, though there were still some who remained silent.
Discussions gradually broke out. Some spoke quietly to those next to them, others began looking all over the place. Some even started calling out loudly, asking if anyone was there. Silence was the only response.
They really appeared to be alone, so the somewhat orderly row of people started to get chaotic. A few of the girls formed up in groups of twos and threes for discussion.
A girl with her hair pinned in two buns who was standing next to Xiao Hua slightly leaned her body over and whispered: “What do you think we’re doing, why isn’t anyone here? Where did the people who made us stand outside go?”
Xiao Hua restrained her gaze, not knowing whether to speak or not. Since they didn’t know each other, she decided not to open her mouth after some thought.
The girl wanted to speak further but a sneer was heard from the side.
It was a tall and beautiful young girl who looked around thirteen. Her eyes framed by her oval face made her appearance quite outstanding. It was just that her expression of arrogance and disdain made her seem a little unapproachable.
“Do you think everyone is as foolish as you, making a racket by asking questions left and right without even having a grasp of the situation? There might be people who are secretly observing.”
The young girl’s voice was very quiet, allowing just those around her to hear. After she finished speaking, she looked away in disdain, standing with her head lowered. Looks like this little girl was also quite well-behaved, knowing that this wasn’t the right time to jump about.
The girl with the twin buns on her head wanted to retort but held herself back, lowering her head in grievance while her face flushed in embarrassment.
The day gradually grew bright and the courtyard grew more and more noisy, full of buzz as people whispered to each other.
Suddenly there was the sound of a light cough. Only then did the girls below notice that at some point, a middle-aged lady with the appearance of someone in charge had been standing on the stage, observing with a keen gaze and stern expression.
Silence fell right away.
The managerial looking lady also didn’t say anything, only selecting around ten girls to step forward. At first everyone was still confused, but they gradually realized that those who were selected had all been jumping about and making a clamor earlier.
Seeing the situation, the remaining girls were completely silent and stood at attention, deeply afraid the lady would call them out next.
After taking out around ten people, the original forty or so had been reduced by a quarter.
The lady waved her hands and a few maids appeared from out of nowhere, leading the people away. The whole process had occurred in silence.
Only now did Xiao Hua realize that the people she saw since she arrived all had a kind of dignity and prestige, making one inevitably fall silent in front of them.
Where on Earth was this place? Xiao Hua’s heart started feeling uneasy.
This didn’t seem like some large family’s household. The servants of those households wouldn’t be so solemn and still.
As Xiao Hua was lost in her thoughts, the lady looked over the people remaining and opened her mouth to speak.
“My surname is Qi, and I will be the auntie in charge of you. You can call me Auntie Qi. The most important thing to remember when working here is to mind your words and actions. The ones just now were all disqualified, and I hope those who remain will continue to remain qualified until the end.”
Auntie Qi paused for a bit and continued: “During this period of time, I will instruct you. I hope your performance in the future will show remarkable improvements. First, you may all go eat breakfast. Cui’er, show them the way.”
A maid around sixteen or seventeen wearing a bright red short coat with a verdant long dress bowed to Auntie Qi. She led Xiao Hua and the rest through a door to the side.
They arrived at a spacious room with ten or so tables, each surrounded by stools.
A few girls dressed in maid attire brought in a bucket of porridge and a basket of white buns. Another started handing out bowls, plates and chopsticks to everyone.
Cui’er said in a clear voice: “These will be your utensils for meals in the future. Make sure to do your own dishes after eating. There’s a cabinet where you can store them on the side. This is the cafeteria. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be provided here every day.”
Before her voice could fade, a few girls who were probably too hungry to resist already grabbed their newly received bowls to fetch food. The maids responsible for serving the food showed no signs of movement, and completely ignored them.
Cui’er gave those girls a glance and continued speaking: “When a palace maid of a higher level is speaking, those under her are not to act without permission. Since this was your first offense, there will be no punishment. Next time you will go hungry for the day. Also, when getting food you must line up. Don’t form a mob.”
Cui’er paused a while after speaking, and seeing the girls remain completely at attention and still this time nodded her head in satisfaction.
“Alright, all of you go eat.”
Without prompting this time, everyone lined up honestly.
Xiao Hua secretly clucked her tongue. What kind of wealthy household was this, for the rules to be so strict?
It was finally Xiao Hua’s turn to be served. The food was pretty good. The rice porridge was fragrant and the buns where large and white. Everyone was also given a small plate of side dishes.
Seeing this, Xiao Hua was actually very touched. She hadn’t eaten such good things in a long time. Ever since being sold, it had been dry flatbread with plain water, with a serving of starvation for the rest of the day.
She carried her food with the utmost care and found a place to sit. She ate a mouthful of porridge and a bite of the bun, and suddenly felt extreme bliss.
Xiao Hua was used to savoring every bite of food slowly, no matter how hungry she was. She couldn’t remember who had taught her this, but only knew this would prevent the stomach from getting hurt. This was especially true for the first meal after a period of extreme hunger.
“You’re sitting over here huh, let’s sit together.”
Xiao Hua turned her head towards the voice and saw the girl who had secretly whispered to her earlier.
“My name is Xi’er, what about you?”
Xi’er put her food down and sat next to Xiao Hua as though they were close friends.
Xiao Hua was not used to someone suddenly being so intimate with her, but still opened her mouth and spoke her own name.
Xi’er hadn’t replied yet when a familiar voice sneered to the side, “What a tacky name.”
Xiao Hua looked towards the source of the voice and saw another familiar figure. It was the oval-faced girl who sneered at Xi’er earlier.
Xi’er’s little face turned red. “People like you—”
Concerned about Cui’er who had been constantly watching them from the side, she angrily closed her mouth, and finished her sentence quietly while lowering her head, “are really hateful.”
Xi’er looked very lovable, with large eyes and a cute nose. Her currently red face somehow gave people an urge to smile.
“Don’t bother with her.” Xiao Hua spoke and returned her attention to her food.
Xi’er was clearly a little girl who loved to talk. To put it more bluntly, she was noisy. During the meal, the sound of her chittering could constantly be heard. Yet Xiao Hua didn’t feel repulsed by this little girl. Though she wasn’t sure how best to describe it, she could feel a sort of lively spirit from her.
After eating, Cui’er showed them where they could do their dishes. Once everything was cleaned up, she took them next door to an unfamiliar courtyard.
After entering, they were each given a set of clothing, and allowed to go bathe themselves clean.
The bathhouse was a large communal pool watched over by two old crones. Once they finished washing themselves, they were carefully inspected before being allowed to put on the clothes and go back outside.
Xiao Hua hadn’t had a bath in many months. Before they arrived, the trafficker had said they were dirty and smelly from head to foot, and was afraid no one would want them. She fetched some water and wiped them off, but of course it couldn’t be compared to an actual bath. After the bath, Xiao Hua felt completely rejuvenated.
Their old clothes had been taken away. What Xiao Hua put on was the new clothes they received.
An indigo blue short jacket paired with a pale yellow long skirt made of fine cotton. Although the colors didn’t look too good, they were extremely comfortable to wear. Being able to shed their dirty and tattered clothes, clean themselves thoroughly and put on brand new clothes, Xiao Hua was already very satisfied. Yet there were still people whose eyes were full of disdain.
“What an ugly color.” It was the oval-faced girl speaking disdainfully to one side while pulling on her clothes.
Once everyone was done bathing and had changed into their new clothes, Cui’er led them out.
At this time the sky outside was very bright. Cui’er took them through many gates and through a courtyard before finally reaching their destination. Xiao Hua guessed this had to be some wealthy residence since on the way they passed many pavilions within pavilions, all surrounded by tall, light gray walls.
Auntie Qi was already waiting for them. She swept her gaze over the group of girls and revealed a satisfied smile. The smile faded in an instant, her face soon resuming its unperturbed demeanor. Auntie Qi had the appearance of one who would easily get lost in a crowd, but she wasn’t ugly. If one had to describe her, the word ordinary would come to mind. Yet the imposing air she exuded from head to toe was definitely extraordinary. Just her presence made others unable to resist standing at attention.
“Since I said I was going to instruct you, the first thing to learn will be the etiquette.” After speaking, Auntie Qi looked to her side where a row of maids walked up, each holding a wooden pot.
These wooden pots were handed over to Xiao Hua and the rest.
“The first lesson today is to hold up a pot 1. I hope you can master this very quickly.”
Hold up a pot?
A commotion rang out from the crowd.
- Something like this I imagine