Only after having stayed a few days did Xiao Hua realize where she had ended up.
This was the Jing Province, and they were inside the Jing Prince Estate as a batch of newly entered servants.
The Jing Province was the vassal state of the Jing Prince. The current prince was the emperor’s fifth son, who was conferred as the Jing Prince. The palace maids inside a prince’s estate could normally not be chosen from the commoners, but the Jing Prince sympathized with his subjects and abolished this imperial order, purchasing all his maids from the general populace.
Xiao Hua didn’t have any impression of the Jing Province, and wasn’t even sure where it was located. She only knew what she had overheard from her time as a maid. It seemed to be very, very far from the capital, and could be described as a cold and desolate place.
Since I’m here, might as well make it my home. Xiao Hua could only think of it this way.
The Jing Prince Estate had many strict rules, and her group of newly entered maids still weren’t allowed to step outside of their training grounds.
Their training grounds was the large courtyard Xiao Hua and the rest had been staying in. It was said this place was specially used to train newly entering maids, and only after qualifying could they leave and begin their duties.
The training was very arduous, but the housing and food given were all pretty good. They got two sets of clothing, from inner wear to outer wear, and even the bedding was new.
They lived four maids to one room. The room was very small, just enough to fit four beds and a cabinet each for their things. But compared to sleeping in the bunk enclosure, this was better by far.
It was worth noting that Xiao Hua coincidentally ended up being assigned to the same room as Xi’er. The other two in the room were also around the same age as them. One was called Xiu Yun, and the other was the oval-faced girl who was always sneering, Qiao Lian.
Of the four in the room, Xiu Yun was fifteen while the other three were fourteen.
Four people with four types of personalities. Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun were both girls of few words. Xiao Hua just didn’t feel like speaking whereas Xiu Yun was naturally calm and quiet, though she normally could endure a lot of suffering. She was unlike Xi’er and Qiao Lian, who would whine for days after getting back from the day’s training.
Qiao Lian still had the same haughty expression and penchant for mocking others. Xi’er was naturally talkative and didn’t hold grudges. She would always be infuriated by Qiao Lian until her eyes turned red, but with a twist of her head it would seem as if nothing happened and she’d continue talking with Qiao Lian.
After listening to her chattering for a period of time, Xiao Hua felt that she still liked Xi’er a fair amount. She gave off a feeling of innocence, her face unable to hide any expressions and her stomach unable to swallow any words.
Learning proper etiquette was a very difficult task. Even though Xiao Hua had lived as a maid for two lifetimes, she had never been trained so strictly before.
Raising a pot was the first step, which was just keeping an empty wooden pot raised with both hands.
While it sounded easy, it was actually very difficult. This was because they weren’t just raising it up and putting it down, but rather holding it up for an entire half-hour.
That was only the beginning. After training to hold up the empty pot for two days, the pot was filled with water. First the pot was filled by less than half, and then half. Many people were unable to endure and ended up spilling water all over themselves.
Even though their clothes were soaked they were not allowed to go change, and were forced to keep holding the pot until the time was up.
After a few days everyone was complaining non-stop. Especially since their sore arms were not given a chance to rest before having to hold up the pot again the following day. It was basically torture.
The oldest of these girls weren’t over sixteen, and the youngest was only thirteen. How could they endure such strict training? Many people secretly cried after returning to their room at night.
Yet even if they cried, they couldn’t stop training. There were a few who refused to obey and were led away.
It was said they were returned to the trafficker. Having all come from traffickers and finally ending up in such a nice place where both food and housing were good, everyone gritted their teeth and continued to endure the bitter training.
Every day before noon they would train etiquette and in the afternoon they were responsible for learning the rules of the estate. After, they were given some leisure time, though by this point most people were exhausted and went back to rest in their room.
Xiao Hua rubbed her arms as she entered her room along with the other three.
All four lay on their own beds without the energy to even talk.
Xiao Hua used her hands to gently massage her own upper arms, and found her muscles to be extremely stiff and sore when kneaded. Still, Xiao Hua continued to gently rub using her hands. She learned from experience that if she didn’t take care of it now, it would hurt even worse during tomorrow’s training.
Only after rubbing out the knots in her arms with clenched teeth did Xiao Hua let out a breath and lie back on her bed.
After resting for around half an hour, the people in the room got up one after the other. After days of such a disciplined schedule, they didn’t need to look outside to know it was time for dinner anymore.
After they returned from dinner, they casually washed up and went to sleep since tomorrow was another day of early training.
Auntie Qi who was responsible for their training probably felt that the past few days had been a little too harsh since the group of girls were all a little downcast. Today after training was finished, she didn’t disperse them right away but remained instead for a speech.
“I believe that over these few days you have all become aware of what this place is. Working for our Jing Prince Estate comes with many strict rules and taboos, but there are also many benefits. Those who are able to qualify and enter will not only be given a monthly salary, but clothing for every season as well. Additionally, you won’t have to worry about earning your freedom while working at the prince’s Estate. Our estate rule is that every palace maid will be released at the age of twenty five. At that time, not only will we return your slavery contract to you, we will also arrange for those without housing a place to live within our Jing Province’s borders. Most importantly, your listing on the slave registry can be erased.”
Auntie Qi paused a little and spoke once again: “Perhaps you don’t understand what I’m saying at the moment. However, I believe that someday you will. Now, everyone can go rest.”
Everyone dispersed. Auntie Qi’s words were too profound and none of the girls took it to heart. Yet Xiao Hua was incredibly shocked. Forget about what Auntie Qi said in the beginning. After all, it was the same benefits as most rich households. What moved her most were the last two benefits: arranged housing and slave registry removal.
There were two types of slaves in the Grand Xi Dynasty, official slaves and private slaves. Those like Xiao Hua were private slaves, who were attached to their masters. They were not listed on the household registry and were instead assigned on a registry for those of lowly status.
The imperial laws of the Grand Xi Dynasty were as follows. For escaped slaves, every day missing would be sixty strokes with a stick. The punishment is doubled after three days. If a slave strikes the master, no matter if it resulted in injury, they would be beheaded. If a slave kills the master, death by a thousand cuts. In the case of manslaughter, execution by hanging. When those of lowly status struck those of a higher status, the crime’s severity is doubled, and in cases of relatively heavy injuries the punishment was death by hanging. In cases of deadly beatings, death by beheading. If someone of a higher status strikes someone of lowly status, the crime’s severity is halved. Furthermore, the lowly status registry is a hereditary system. Once you are listed, unless someone of influence helps remove it, your descendants will automatically become listed on the lowly status registry….
The inhumane treatment of those on the lowly status registry in the Grand Xi Dynasty was clear, and slaves were the bottom rung of that registry.
Those of lowly status could not marry someone of higher standing. Just this point alone suffocated the future of those who were once slaves. Even if you worked in an estate and was released once you came of age, you could only find someone who was similarly of low status to marry, and your children will continue to have that same status.
Even though Xiao Hua become a concubine in her past life, she had remained ignorant and never had any understanding of such concepts. Only when Qiao-Shi had spat at her on one occasion saying how she was a slave sapling who could never escape her low status in her lifetime did she start to understand these kinds of things. Once she understood she had turned pale with fright. Her dad, for the sake of a few pieces of silver, had pushed his daughter into the abyss without even further consideration.
After Xiao Hua had understood she decided to suck up to the 4th young master and have him help erase her from the registry. However, for reasons unknown she hadn’t managed to succeed up until her death.
After reincarnating, Xiao Hua’s main reason for being at a loss was because of this registry.
This was also why she never considered escaping. A slave not listed on the household registry but on the lowly status registry instead had nothing to rely on for survival and nowhere to go. This was without even considering the punishment for escaped slaves.
The subjects of the Grand Xi Dynasty were strictly controlled. Commoners who went beyond a hundred li1 needed a travel permit as proof of identity. How was someone not even on the household registry supposed to get a travel permit? If she was arrested for not having a travel permit, and later found to be an escaped slave, she would be executed.
But the Jing Prince Estate’s treatment of its servants gave Xiao Hua hope. Perhaps in the near future, she could reach the age of release, escape her status and find someone to marry….
Of course that would all be in the future. Xiao Hua currently had to become qualified to stay.
These few days at the training ground, Xiao Hua had also secretly observed the situation here.
The same batch of girls would wear the same clothing and eat the same food. But there would always be a few who were taken away for various reasons. Of the original forty or so people, only around twenty remained.
Xiao Hua didn’t know what point she would have to reach to be considered qualified, and could only continue enduring until the end.
Therefore, from that day on, she put all her heart into her training. She never complained and never whined about the hardships. She was well-behaved and rarely spoke, afraid of being disqualified and thrown out. Of those in her room, Xiu Yun was like her, rarely speaking and not provoking anything. Only Qiao Lian and Xi’er could be considered more restless. Yet despite being restless, the two were quite diligent during their training.
After raising the pot, the next thing to learn was walking.
Bystanders would say that everyone knew how to walk from when they were a couple of years old. Even Xiao Hua, with her two lifetimes’ worth of experiences in serving different masters, had never seen such strict requirements placed on servants before. But since Auntie Qi said they needed to learn, everyone had to concentrate and learn.
They were required to walk with grace, always calm and unhurried. In order to train their walking, Auntie Qi had ordered special metal plates to be prepared. The plates were slightly larger than their heads, and although they were extremely shallow they were still filled with water. Every day they have to train by placing the plates on their heads until the plate never tilted and water never spilled.
Therefore, after their arm workout from raising the pot, everyone’s necks and waists were polished next.
Only a long time later did Xiao Hua find out that this Auntie Qi from the Jing Prince Estate came from the imperial palace. The training methods she used on the servants here were all used to train maids in the imperial palace, hence the degree of harshness and severity.