After getting back, Xiu Yun seemed preoccupied for the rest of the day and seemed completely different from her usual calm self.
She spent an entire day digesting her sister’s words.
Xiu Yun and Ru’er were both from the Jing Province. Their family was a poor farming household. They had their father, but since their mother sadly passed away early he remarried and their stepmother gave birth to two younger brothers. Therefore, the two sisters became eyesores in their own house.1
Just as Ru’er was about to be betrothed, her stepmother prevented it and sold her off instead. The excuse was that her two sons needed money to go to a private school and bring honor to the family in the future.
Once you have a stepmother, you also have a stepfather. This saying was completely accurate. Unwed daughters were money drains to begin with so her father didn’t think twice before obeying the stepmother and selling his oldest daughter off.
The panic and grievance this induced naturally doesn’t need to be said. But Ru’er was lucky. The trafficker she was sold to was responsible for bringing servants to the Jing Prince Estate, and by coincidence Ru’er was able to enter the estate.
After getting there, things were naturally worlds apart from her past.
It was just unfortunate that despite having a decent appearance, Ru’er was from the countryside in the end. Her etiquette and vision were both insufficient and the opportunity passed her by. She was a clever one though, and her relationships within the estate were managed well. Staying in the estate for two years, she had seen through many things and ended up having thoughts to make arrangements for her younger sister.
For servants working in the Jing Prince Estate, if their home was within the Jing Province they could return home once a year. Ru’er took the opportunity to make a trip home. Regarding her sister Xiu Yun’s situation, Ru’er was able to guess without having to see it. She was probably about to be sold off or married off in exchange for a few silver in betrothal gifts.
Weighing the two options, Ru’er decided to manipulate her father into “selling” her sister into the Jing Prince Estate.
Of course it wasn’t possible to completely grasp the timing, and some luck was needed. But Ru’er also thought that regardless it would be better than staying at home. She could tell that their stepmother had been preparing to marry her sister off to the idiot son of some local landlord. It was only because her stepmother could earn more from selling her than the betrothal gifts that she changed her mind.
Now that Xiu Yun successfully entered the estate, if she was lucky enough to be assigned to the Hall of Splendor Ru’er thought that the possibilities were endless. All that remained to be seen was if her sister would be lucky enough.
Yet taking ten thousand steps back, even if there wasn’t any luck, staying here was pretty good already. At least she didn’t have to worry about being married to some idiot.
Xiu Yun was a clever young lady and could of course understand the intentions. She had followed her sister’s instructions to the letter, saying little and observing more, properly learning the rules.
It was just that this situation was too shocking so Xiu Yun was unable to sleep the entire night, tossing and turning.
Xiu Yun also realized she had made a little slip-up today. She hadn’t been sure at the time and was afraid it would be hard to speak with her sister once she found her and so asked Xiao Hua to come along to help cover them. However, who knew her sister had done better than expected and could directly take her away from Su Yan.
The only thing that didn’t match up was that she had said it was her sister whereas Ru’er had said someone from her hometown. But Xiu Yun saw that Xiao Hua didn’t make any strange reactions so she thought Xiao Hua hadn’t heard it at the time.
It was late into the night and the people in the room were asleep.
Xiao Hua was in close proximity to Xiu Yun so naturally heard her tossing and turning.
Thinking of the scene at noon, the weird occurrences and now the usually calm Xiu Yun so flustered, Xiao Hua felt that something was definitely going on.
Could it also have to do with switching jobs?
But since she wasn’t some prophet, and also didn’t want to care too much about others, she could only think it over and then put it to the back of her mind.
Nothing seemed to have changed from before and Xiu Yun was still the same as she was in the past.
At first Xiao Hua thought the sisters might be discussing how to get Xiu Yun a different job, but seeing Xiu Yun remain in place afterwards, she didn’t think anything more of it.
During this time, a few lower palace maids left the sweeper area. It was said that they went to another place to work but there were no further developments on this side.
Those who couldn’t hold it in became even more desperate, but there wasn’t much they could do except suffer inwardly.
The fact that Xiu Yun had someone from her hometown working as a mid-ranked palace maid in the meal management center was somehow leaked. Qiao Lian’s treatment of Xiu Yun immediately turned for the better, and Xi’er in her simplemindedness pulled Xiu Yun over to ask her all sorts of questions about the situation.
Xiu Yun brushed it off by saying it was just someone from the same town and the relationship wasn’t very deep, so no need for her to even think about trying to get help switching jobs. If she could get help she wouldn’t still be here.
Hearing this, Qiao Lian and Xi’er’s faces turned grumpy. Xi’er no longer bothered Xiu Yun and went off to play with others. Qiao Lian’s expression returned to its normal sourness, and even spoke a few words of mockery.
Seeing such a performance, Xiao Hua felt very helpless but also felt some discomfort in her heart. This scene reminded her of many past experiences, and she had slowly begun to drift apart from Xi’er. She had even gradually become distant with Xiu Yun due to the weirdness surrounding her.
The wheels of fate continued to turn slowly, until one windy afternoon it suddenly descended.
On this day, Auntie Qi suddenly appeared in the sweeper area.
The usually stern and grave Auntie Chen had a bit of a flattering attitude as she escorted her to the group of low-ranked palace maids.
Having worked in the estate for a period of time, everyone already knew a little about Auntie Qi’s background.
Auntie Qi was one of the Aunties within Jing Prince Estate. What was most impressive about her was that she didn’t enter the estate the same way other palace maids did, but rather came from the imperial palace itself. Her seniority was extremely high, and she was said to have come along with the prince when he first moved to the Jing Province.
The experiences of these low-ranked palace maids were all similar. They either came as previous maids of rich households or were commoners forced to sell themselves for one reason or another. Their worldview was limited and anyone from the imperial palace was incredibly awesome in their eyes.
Xiao Hua’s previous household was probably the wealthiest out of everyone’s here, but in both her lives her experience was still rather limited. At her best she was merely the estate young master’s concubine, one that could never leave the house and could only remain in the backyard at that. Anything regarding the imperial palace was just a pipe dream for her.
Therefore these low palace maids always had feelings of reverence whenever they saw Auntie Qi, each now tightening their expressions and staring at the stage.
Auntie Qi’s appearance was unchanged from when they had last seen each other, with the same unaffected expression and calm gaze, her appearance unassuming. Her presence made others involuntarily turn silent, though it wasn’t known if this was a psychological reaction.
“Auntie Qi, that batch of low palace maids are all here.” Just from her address, they could tell that despite also being an Auntie, Auntie Chen’s rank was clearly much lower.
Auntie Qi nodded briefly, and a palace maid wearing a pinkish red short coat and lilac dress held up a piece of paper and walked in front of Xiao Hua and the rest.
“Those whose names I call out, step forward.”
The palace maid paused a little and started calling out names.
Xiao Hua, Xiu Yun, Xi’er and Qiao Lian were all part of the list. A total of twelve people stepped out.
“Alright, you guys come with me.” Auntie Qi finished speaking and took the lead along with the high palace maid, and had the rest follow behind.
Head slightly lowered, light steps, speed in sync with the palace maid in front and maintaining a distance of three steps without the hair or skirt hem moving. These were the estate rules for their walking postures. Based on their appearance, these low-ranked palace maids had all learned it pretty well.
Still, the half lowered eyes exchanged glances with each other. However, they were mostly looks of pleasant surprise since everyone knew that this was a change of jobs.
Only Xiao Hua’s emotions were a little complicated since she didn’t know if this switch was good or bad.
After walking for a while, twisting and turning several times, even Xiao Hua who felt her memory was pretty good had completely lost track of the way.
After entering a courtyard, Auntie Qi led them to a stop. Moments later someone wearing a small black feudal hat2 and an embroidered dark cyan garment came walking out. He was a middle-aged forty or fifty year old man but his face was hairless.
“Eunuch Fu, I’ve brought the people. Will you take a look?” Auntie Qi showed a rare smile. From their expressions it seemed the two were extremely close.
The one called Eunuch Fu laughed helplessly and walked up to examine each of them.
Each of them were examined for a long while. These low-ranked palace maids were all young, and being stared at for so long unavoidably made them feel ill at ease. Especially when meeting Eunuch Fu’s eyes, which made them unable to resist hurriedly lowering their heads.
Eunuch Fu shook his head after looking at one, then shook his head again after another. Auntie Qi’s heart grew more and more heavy. The scene’s mood turned extremely weird, each of them seemingly able to hear their own hearts beating rapidly.
Xiao Hua kept her eyelids half closed until she was enveloped by a dark shadow.
She could feel Eunuch Fu looking at her, the gaze making her feel extremely uncomfortable as though she was being dissected and examined inch by inch. Xiao Hua couldn’t resist raising her eyes, happening to lock eyes with the person across from her.
She wanted to lower her head at first, but after some thought decided to maintain her posture, only lowering her eyes and half dropping her head in respect.
After a moment, the shadow over her moved on.
Looking over all twelve took quite a while.
“How is it?” Though it wasn’t clear why, the usually calm and composed Auntie Qi’s tone had a hint of restlessness.
The Eunuch Fu kept them in suspense as he shook his head until her saw Auntie Qi’s disappointment in her eyes, then smiled and said: “Forget it, let’s pick a few to go serve first. I just so happen to need some workers.”
He then raised his finger and pointed a few times, selecting four people: Xiao Hua, Xi’er, Qiao Lian and a low-ranked palace maid called Zhi’er.
Xiu Yun couldn’t help but squeeze her hands tight.
Eunuch Fu’s behavior was extremely strange, hesitating for a long time while looking repeatedly, and finally raised his finger again and pointed out two more. This time Xiu Yun and another called Mei’er was selected.
“These six it shall be.”
Auntie Qi let out a breath, and her tone clearly contained traces of happiness. She nodded her head towards Eunuch Fu, and placated the remaining people in a rare display of good mood.
“Alright, those who weren’t chosen don’t be upset. I will arrange another role for you guys.” She turned her head towards Xiao Hua’s group and said, “Go with Eunuch Fu and work properly. By all means, don’t screw up and get returned.”
- Why can’t step relatives ever get along in this story…
- Something like this