After many days of bitter training during which several people were eliminated, Xiao Hua and the rest where finally able to become official low-ranked palace maids and leave the training grounds.
The servants in the Jing Prince Estate were not just called maids, but palace maids. They were divided into different rankings, all the way up to high-ranked palace maids. The low-ranked palace maid and mid-ranked palace maid titles were similar to the common maids and junior maids, whereas the high-ranked palace maid was similar to a senior maid. The aunties in charge were similar to the matrons, but here they were called aunties instead.
The batch of low-ranked palace maids were brought to a place called the sweeper area, where they were settled.
It was worth noting that the four people who lived in the same room during training were still in the same room. It had to be said this was a kind of fate.
Only after staying in the sweeper area for a few days did Xiao Hua’s batch of newly-minted low-ranked palace maids realize how grand and vast the Jing Prince Estate was.
The estate was large to the extent that these palace maids working in the sweeper area still didn’t have a complete picture.
Especially since they didn’t have much freedom to speak of. Normally when they went about their chores there would be a mid-ranked palace maid leading them and watching from the side. When they were off duty they could only stay in their rooms and were not permitted to leave the area.
Waking up before dawn every day, they would eat their breakfast and go off to sweep the walkways of various pavilions. They returned before noon, and in the afternoon someone would take them if there were additional chores to be done. Otherwise, they would be instructed in various rules and regulations of the estate.
Yet this busy schedule couldn’t prevent a few of the low palace maids with proactive tendencies to scout out some information. After pooling the gathered information, everyone finally had some understanding of the Jing Prince Estate’s structure.
The layout was similar to that of the imperial palace, where the son of heaven 1 was the highest authority. The heart of the estate was gated on all four sides like a walled capital, and the outside was surrounded by a moat fifteen zhang2 long. The layout could be described as that of an imperial city, though that was avoided by calling it an estate.
Jing Prince Estate’s main doors were known as the Gates of Ceremony. The eastern doors were the Gates of Benevolence, the western doors the Gates of Righteousness and the northern doors the Gate of Wisdom. Through the Gates of ceremony were the Gates of Ascension, as well as the three forward palace halls known as the Hall of Ascension, the Hall of Origin and the Hall of Deliberation. This was where the Jing Prince would conduct his daily affairs. Behind the Hall of Deliberation was the Hall of Splendor where the Jing Prince rested. Apart from the palace halls in the center, the “imperial city” still had three pavilions to the east and west, a library, a retirement hall, a treasury, a place in charge of meals, a place to offer tribute, the six departments3, and the employees’ sleeping quarters. The space the estate occupied was enormous.
The Jing Prince Estate’s front and back section was divided by the Hall of Deliberation’s passageways. The front section was where the current prince would handle official business and the back was where he would live with his wife and concubines.
Xiao Hua’s normal chores as a low-ranked palace maid was to sweep the three western pavilions.
Although they were called pavilions, they were actually far more superior. At least Xiao Hua hadn’t seen buildings with such high steps inside the Jinyang Marquis Estate before. Today Xiao Hua’s group had swept until the second area. While they had to sweep the outside, the buildings themselves were off limits.
The western three pavilions were one of the areas for the Jing Prince’s would be wives and concubines. However, since the estate was overly large, only the eastern three pavilions were in use at the moment. The western ones were currently empty. Since there was no one living there, every now and then someone would be sent to sweep the courtyard which was filled with leaves, as well as the walkways.
Xiao Hua swept the floor with her large broom in silence. Xi’er with her lively nature would sweep for a bit and run off to chat with a few low-ranked palace maids, looking around curiously before continuing her sweeping.
“Xiao Hua, Xiao Hua! Look how beautiful it is inside. I just peeked into the window there and it is super luxurious inside.” Xi’er grabbed Xiao Hua’s arm and excitedly pointed at the building in the middle of the yard.
“Making a mountain out of a molehill!” Qiao Lian rolled her eyes and sneered, “Such a country bumpkin! Don’t you know the layout of this prince’s estate? Although this place is called a pavilion, the imperial-palace-based layout indicates that these kinds of buildings can only belong to a few of those masters inside this estate.”
This group stayed together during training for over half a month and then got assigned to the same room in the sweeper area. These girls who were of similar ages spent all their time going in and out, eating and drinking and living together. Inevitably, some feelings of friendship ended up developing.
After Xiao Hua, Xi’er and Xiu Yun got to know each other better, they would occasionally sit together and converse. Due to her tendency to give people crap, the three of them were not too willing to associate with Qiao Lian.
However, Qiao Lian got along quite well with several other low palace maids. Those few were all good at gathering gossip, and since Qiao Lian associated with them, she often knew more about things than others. Many of the things Xiao Hua’s group knew about actually came from Qiao Lian.
While Xi’er usually didn’t like Qiao Lian much, her love for Qiao Lian’s gossip overshadowed her dislike. This time was no exception as she sidled up beaming in front of her.
“Qiao Lian you really know so much. Tell us how many masters we have in our estate.”
Qiao Lian glanced sidelong at Xi’er, and seemingly wanting to show off her vast knowledge, spoke properly for once: “Our estate’s masters naturally are the royal highness, his consort, his senior concubine and the two madams.
“Do they all live over by the three eastern pavilions?”
Qiao Lian sneered in an unpleasant tone: “You’re really a dumbass. His highness definitely wouldn’t live in the eastern pavilions. That’s where his harem lives. His highness lives in the Hall of Splendor.”
Xi’er let out an “ohh” and continued speaking: “Then his highness really doesn’t have many people in his harem. There’s only a total of four. The rich old master I served before had a ton of concubines and mistresses in his room.”
“What business is it of yours how many concubines and wives his highness decides to take? We’re just low-ranked palace maids from the sweeper area. Don’t let your imagination wander.” Qiao Lian sneered once again and angrily left with her broom.
Qiao Lian seemed extra jittery today, her words sharper than usual. But then again, when were her words not sharp?
Xiu Yun glanced at Qiao Lian’s retreating figure and lowered her head again, her sweeping motions never stopping.
“What a short temper, what’s wrong with her today?” Xiu Yun asked quietly.
Xiu Yun was a frail young lady with delicate features, giving off a gentle and refined air.
Xiao Hua’s figure was naturally skinny. Even while at the Jinyang Marquis Estate she had been thin and frail, and after more than a month of torment at the hands of traffickers she was even more skin and bones. After getting to the Jing Prince Estate, although learning etiquette had been strenuous, the meals were pretty decent so she gradually grew some meat on her bones, recovering her previous appearance.
It’s just that since her reincarnation she had gotten used to hiding herself, so not many people noticed. Xiu Yun however was observant despite speaking little, and had slowly realized that the initially unremarkable looking Xiao Hua was gradually revealing some good looks. Yet she didn’t take it to heart since all the girls coming out to sweep everyday had decent appearances and Xiao Hua was also not too outstanding.
“Who knows?” Xiao Hua also glanced at Qiao Lian’s back and lowered her head once more.
Xi’er on the other hand knew a couple of things, and her little mouth moved nonstop as she spilled it out: “I heard Zhi’er say Qiao Lian tried to flatter big sis Su Lan into giving her a different position, but it doesn’t seem to be going too well.”
Zhi’er was one of the palace maids Qiao Lian was close to. Xi’er was naturally outgoing and was close with all the low-ranked palace maids in their batch, so her relationship with Zhi’er was also pretty good.
Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun looked at each other and didn’t say anything.
During their time working in the sweeper area, the batch of new palace maids had witnessed the imposing air of the imperial household. The environment was completely different from their previous places. No wonder the prince’s estate could be called an imperial city.
At first this group of low-ranked palace maids were full of joy at being qualified to enter the estate. But after a few days working in the sweeper area, the initial feelings of happiness faded.
The world outside was vast. The world outside was also imposing and magnificent.
The estate was large, the chores were many. The sweeper area chores which they originally thought were pretty good were actually the estate’s lowest position and the most tiring work. Therefore, many people began to entertain thoughts of wanting to change jobs.
As time passed, a few who were good at sucking up to others for personal gain started flattering a few mid-ranked palace maids once they got a grasp on the situation, hoping to change their roles sooner rather than later.
Looks like Qiao Lian could also no longer remain still.
Xiao Hua only found out in the past few days that Qiao Lian had other sides to her as well.
Towards them she would rarely have pleasant expressions. If her nose wasn’t in the air then her voice would be full of sarcasm. But towards others who were “useful” or to those mid-ranked palace maids in charge of them, her face would by full of smiles as she sucked up to them skillfully.
Regarding this, Xiao Hua didn’t really know what to say. Some people were drawn towards getting benefits, and it was unavoidably the same everywhere. Her small group of three were merely low-ranked palace maids who stuck to the rules and weren’t good at currying favor. They didn’t reach the level where Qiao Lian felt she needed to build a better relationship with them.
From their daily interactions it was apparent that Qiao Lian didn’t really bother with her and the well-behaved Xiu Yun. Only Xi’er was worth talking with occasionally, and Xiao Hua could tell that it was only because Xi’er would sometimes have some gossip of her own as well. It was just a relationship where they both used one another.
Therefore, Xiao Hua had quite a high level of trust in Xi’er’s words.
“Xiao Hua, don’t you want to switch jobs?” Xi’er suddenly asked after sweeping a few times.
Xiao Hua silently shook her head. Xi’er looked towards Xiu Yun, who had the same reaction as Xiao Hua.
Xi’er seemed to have some complaints about them not turning from iron to steel: “How can you guys be so laidback? There’s no freedom in this area, and the work is hard. We’re so strictly controlled and aren’t allowed to come and go as we please. I saw the low-ranked palace maids in other areas moving about freely.”
Xiao Hua was also aware of this fact. It was probably because they were new to the estate that they had such strict oversight.
Of course she also knew that Xi’er wasn’t just saying this because she wanted more “freedom”. After all, Qiao Lian wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sit still these past few days. Just from rumors alone one could tell several of these low-ranked palace maids had developed desires to relocate. Looks like Xi’er had started having similar thoughts.
It was true that the sweeper area chores weren’t that easy. Especially since it was now June. Despite the weather in the Jing Province not being too hot, the work was all physical so they would inevitably be covered in sweat while their faces turned red from exposure to the sun. Girls at their age loved to appear beautiful, and no one was willing to weather the elements since it would make their skin coarse and rough.
The chores of some palace maids who were the same level were easier while they had to do hard labor. Anyone in this situation would feel dissatisfied. No wonder Xi’er would hate iron for not turning to steel so much.
But Xiao Hua wasn’t one of those who had restless feelings. She felt the sweeper area was pretty decent, the work was simple and uninvolved with other areas. Although the days were dreary it was much better than having to struggle against others.
While the rules of the Jing Prince Estate were strict, Xiao Hua didn’t believe there wouldn’t be any struggles. After all, places with many women would have many quarrels. Based on the places she stayed at previously, the closer to the center the more intense the struggles.
The sweeper area was clearly a place on the outskirts. Xiao Hua felt that muddling about in this place until she turned twenty-five didn’t seem too bad.
Since coming to the sweeper area, although the work was hard, Xiao Hua felt unprecedented peace in her heart. She even felt that staying here forever wouldn’t be bad.
Of course, there wouldn’t be many here who would approve of her thoughts, and she also wouldn’t say them out loud.
Seeing Xi’er continuously hopping about, Xiao Hua gave her some advice: “Wishing by ourselves doesn’t do any good. Only the Aunties have the authority to change our positions. Being impatient won’t do anything.”
Xi’er also understood this, but couldn’t help feeling impetuous and impatient so she stomped her foot a little and ran off. But Xiao Hua knew that she would come running back after a bit. Xi’er was always like this.
As expected, after a few moments Xi’er returned, picked up her broom and began sweeping. After a few sweeps, she started her chattering again. Although Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun didn’t really respond much, the talking never stopped.
Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun smiled helplessly at each other.
Author’s note: Male lead appears next chapter.