Translator’s notes: First sponsored chapter of the week, thanks to Kiwi and Birdo. I’m going to leave the chapter bar filled for a few days so I don’t get overwhelmed. Please restrain your blossoming spirits of generosity until it’s cleared if you want it to count towards the next chapter. This chapter was extra long for some reason…
Objectively, the Jing Prince was someone who was very easy to serve.
As low-ranked palace maids who had only been doing manual labor, none of them had any experience in personally serving the master. They had all been a little flustered in the beginning, but the Jing Prince had never commented on it. Only Eunuch Fu would give them a few reminders in private.
However, Xiao Hua had also confirmed that the Jing Prince was a very strange person. In the few days she had served him, she had never heard him speak, and he had never given them any orders.
When he returned to the hall, he would sit there without moving. Every time he sat, it seemed as though he entered a meditative state, his face expressionless. At least Xiao Hua hadn’t seen him make any other expression besides his lack of expression.
Xiao Hua even started to suspect whether he was a mute, though of course she could only keep her suspicions to herself and didn’t dare express it.
Having served a few days in the hall, Xiao Hua’s group also had some understanding of the prince’s character.
This understanding came from their own observations during their work, and also from what the two low-ranked eunuchs serving with them in the front hall had pointed out. These two eunuchs were called Xiao Xia Zi and Xiao Qin Zi1. The two of them were the hall’s eunuchs who performed miscellaneous tasks, their status slightly higher than the eunuchs who performed such tasks outside the hall. After all, there was still a difference between the inside and outside of the hall, and even for miscellaneous tasks the difference in status was clearly noted.
There were a few other eunuchs in the Hall of Splendor, but those few were all extremely strict and were only responsible for serving his highness personally. They never spoke with Xiao Hua’s group of low-ranked palace maids so they weren’t familiar with them.
According to Xiao Xia Zi, his highness the Jing Prince’s character was just that indifferent. He rarely spoke so it was important to pay attention to what his eyes were saying when serving him.
What was said with the eyes was usually nebulous, and whether one could understand the meaning depended on personal skill. Xiao Xia Zi could only give them a few pointers that made it easier to serve his highness in the future, but wasn’t able to say much else.
And regarding the reason for the Jing Prince’s weirdness, no one dared to ask and no one dared to tell.
How can a servant comment on his master’s business? They just had to do their jobs well. The closer one served by the master’s side, the better the opportunities but also the greater the dangers. This was what Xiao Xia Zi said as he pretended to be profound in response to Xi’er who showed signs of wanting to ask about his highness’s personality.
Some people didn’t accept this while others deeply accepted it. Xiao Hua, for example, knew these words were true.
Without considering anything else, just the fact that everyone who served in the Hall of Splendor had solemn and respectful bearings made this concept very clear. Xiao Xia Zi also normally looked to be mindful of his words and actions, so it was unexpected that he acted so familiar with their group of low-ranked palace maids.
Xiao Hua didn’t learn much else from her two lifetimes, but she had learned how to read people pretty well. At least she could tell that behind Xiao Xia Zi’s smiling face hid arrogance. She reckoned that someone had instructed him to fill them in on things, otherwise he wouldn’t take the time to be bothered with them.
After serving inside the hall for a few days, Xiao Hua had pretty much figured out that they were last minute additions.
While they seemed to be serving, the available jobs had already been divided amongst others. Those who served the tea only served tea, those responsible for meals only waited on the prince during the meal, whereas she and Xiu Yun were responsible for just standing there.
People would come out and stop them if they tried to do additional work. It somehow gave Xiao Hua the feeling of not fitting in, as if they were outsiders. Despite entering the hall, they weren’t truly part of it.
Xiao Hua did not tell anyone about these worries and merely kept it in her heart and raised her alertness. Of course, she could just be overthinking things.
People had different statuses, and jobs were divided into good and bad which was really decided by one’s perspective.
Having served in the hall for a few days, these low palace maids could all somewhat sense a few things.
At least some people understood that despite them all being the same, there were two people whose jobs were better than everyone else’s, these two being Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun.
The way this was reflected was that Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun became isolated by everyone else in the room.
These days the others in the room, intentionally or not, rarely spoke with the two. Even Xi’er who normally enjoyed sticking to others and chatting had spoken noticeably less. Luckily Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun both knew how to be tactful, otherwise it would really have been a little hard to get used to.
Of course this was just the beginning. In the following days, the others gradually started saying a few sour words. Only then did Xiao Hua realized why she and Xiu Yun received such “special” treatment from the others in the room. It was because their jobs allowed them to stay by the Jing Prince’s side the longest.
After Xiao Hua understood, the only thing she could do was smile bitterly.
The one who acted out the most was Qiao Lian, followed by Zhi’er. Mei’er and Xi’er didn’t really say much, but Xi’er barely spoke with Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun anymore, often looking at them with a complicated expression.
Serving by the master’s side often meant they went hungry. The master sits while you stand. The master eats while you watch. If the Jing Prince didn’t take a rest after eating, Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun would have to hungrily wait until he left.
Therefore, the job was not as great as it seemed. These things Xiao Hu could understand, but unfortunately the rest could not.
Having endured their hunger until the Jing Prince took Eunuch Fu to the front court in the afternoon, Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun let out a breath and returned to the palace maids’ room. Their lunch had already been delivered, and those in the room had already eaten. Only they had yet to eat.
The food left on the table had gotten cold, and also seemed like someone’s leftovers.
This situation had happened several times before. When Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun were unable to make it back for lunch, the food was brought over by the rest of the low palace maids in the room.
At first it was still alright, but it gradually became this way. The food grew less and less, with only a few grains of rice while the dishes were more sauce than substance.
The Jing Prince Estate’s meals were pretty decent, and having come to the Hall of Splendor things only improved. For it to become like this, Xiao Hua didn’t believe the rest didn’t do it on purpose.
She didn’t say anything, and only looked fixedly at her own bowl.
When Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun got back, everyone in the room had been talking. When they entered things had quieted down a little, and seeing Xiao Hua’s lunch the room had fallen silent.
“Who helped fetch my food today?” Xiao Hua did her best to keep her voice mild and succeeded, though she was not as successful in keeping her expression mild. Actually, Xiao Hua’s current appearance was really not that different from her usual self, but those with guilty consciences would let their imaginations run and feel guilty.
“I did.” Zhi’er smiled uncomfortably, pretending to accidentally glance at their food, “oh, you guys must know since you weren’t able to eat on time, there were a lot of people eating and by the time I got there this was all that was left.”
A “witness” appeared on the side, “That’s right, I was with Zhi’er at the time.”
Qiao Lian appeared much more overbearing, “What, you wouldn’t be blaming Zhi’er right? Is she going to get blamed while trying to be nice? Why are you being so picky when we helped bring back food for you?”
Xiu Yun didn’t say anything to the side. Her head was lowered and she slowly clenched her hands.
Xiao Hua smiled and said: “Qiao Lian, you certainly have a vivid imagination. When did I say anything that sounded like I was blaming Zhi’er?”
There were no stools inside the room so she grabbed her bowl and sat on her bed.
“Helping your roommates bring back food should be a standard convention, but I still want to thank you guys. However, I do want to ask, aren’t the meals fixed in timing and quantity?” Without waiting for anyone to react, Xiao Hua continued: “I know you guys are all really busy, and that the two of us are causing you a lot of hassle. If it’s not convenient, please tell us directly and I can have Eunuch Fu arrange someone else to help us with our meals.”
Currently the awkward situation had been kept under the surface. Those in the room at most just outwardly ignored the two, or occasionally had a sour undertone in their words. No matter how turbulent things got beneath the surface, no one wanted things to reach Eunuch Fu’s ears.
“Based on what Xiao Hua is saying, I guess we can only blame ourselves for being too slow today. We will be more careful next time, no need to bother Eunuch Fu.” Zhi’er smilingly promised.
The others also spoke up and agreed. Only Qiao Lian remained silent and gave Xiao Hua a glare.
“Then I really have to thank all my sisters here.” Xiao Hua smiled widely but it didn’t reach her eyes.
After speaking, she silently held her bowl and ate.
Taking advantage of the two being gone to do their dishes, Zhi’er opened her mouth and spoke: “I told you this wasn’t a good idea, but you still insisted.”
QIao Lian also had a bellyful of anger, “Was I the only one?”
What she said was true. At first it was only Qiao Lian who would do it while the others watched without saying anything, as though watching a show. Seeing Xiao Hua and Xiu Yun not react the first time, and knowing the two had taciturn personalities, the others also had the idea to let them suffer in silence.
They had indeed suffered in silence, and suffered for a few days at that. But it seemed like they did not intend to suffer any longer.
“Enough, enough, let’s not go overboard. If things got to Eunuch Fu it would get ugly.” Mei’er helped smooth things over at the side. They were palace maids who had just entered the Hall of Splendor. They had to at least maintain a harmonious appearance.
Qiao Lian hmphed and didn’t say anything.
The days passed and things became more complicated and busy. As long as the Jing Prince was present, they would have to serve him, and they couldn’t go about their work as idly as they had in the past. Since they were under the eyes of the biggest master in the estate, even if they schemed against each other in private, they still paid strict attention to their work.
The Jing Prince rarely stayed in the Hall of Splendor, mostly going to the front court. He left in the morning and returning for lunch though sometimes he would remain out. Sometimes he would read in the study in the afternoon, or sit fixedly in the hall. Of course there were times when he couldn’t be seen.
When the Jing Prince wasn’t there, Xiao Hua’s group was also not permitted to enter the hall. Once evening arrived they were permitted to end their shifts. Adding up the time they were on duty and the breaks in between, apart from the tension while on duty they had a good amount of free time.
During their free time, the few palace maids who were adept at flattery continued to expand their network. In this aspect, Xi’er and Zhi’er both became magnanimous and contributed no little effort. Xiao Hua didn’t enjoy such activities but didn’t stop herself from picking up on what they heard in gossip.
Although the Hall of Splendor was large, it was still a palace pavilion. There was not a lot of people for Xiao Hua’s group to interact with. Xiao Hua’s personality was very steady so she was fine with staying in the room after getting off work. Others got bored of the same thing after a few days.
That was how Xiao Hua found out that they were allowed to leave the Hall of Splendor if they had business elsewhere.
The good news was brought over by Xi’er, who had asked the low ranked eunuchs. Leaving the hall wasn’t difficult. All they had to do was report to Eunuch Chang and explain their reasons. Eunuch Chang was the Hall of Splendor’s vice-management eunuch. Eunuch Fu had to serve his highness on a daily basis, so in his absence Eunuch Chang would manage the hall’s affairs.
Having received this good news, Xi’er went out for a trip, saying she was going to find her old friends. Seeing Xi’er leave successfully, Zhi’er and Qiao Lian also went out, though what excuse they used was unknown.
Seeing them leave, Xiao Hua didn’t make a move. She never had “good friends” and she was also too lazy to move. When she was unlucky she would have to stand the whole day for her shift. Since she had some free time she might as well use it to rest in her room.
Xiu Yun had always wanted to go find her sister, but had cautiously refrained from making a move. Seeing a few people take the lead, she also went to apply for a leave with Eunuch Chang, her excuse being to meet someone from her hometown.
Xiu Yun walked to the meal management center and was able to find Ru’er without any obstacles.
Ru’er had done pretty well for herself, and as a mid-ranked palace maid she had been given authority over one of the kitchens.
However, the meal management center was divided into many kitchens, so the position wasn’t something outstanding, but could still be said to be decent. Working in the kitchen meant being in charge of meals for palace maids all over. Even though the estate had strict rules and shady things such as withholding meals from others didn’t exist, there would still inevitably be those that tried to curry favor.
Ru’er saw her sister wearing a different palace maid outfit, and was instantly delighted in her heart. She took Xiu Yun to her own palace maids’ room and asked many questions such as where she was working, what she was responsible for, and whether she was able to serve inside the hall.
After hearing Xiu Yun’s description, Ru’er knew her sister had gotten off to a good start.
“Xiu Yun, you’re off to a good start. You’ve been arranged to serve inside the hall so you definitely have to be meticulous in your work. Don’t make mistakes. Based on sister’s past experience, a single mistake would mean getting kicked out of the hall.”
“I think it should be fine. We all made some small mistakes in the past few days, but his highness didn’t have any reaction.”
Seeing her sister’s frivolous attitude, Ru’er couldn’t help but frown and say sternly: “That’s because his highness doesn’t want to be picky, or perhaps there are other reasons. Keep in mind that you have to be cautious, cautious and even more cautious. Definitely don’t get kicked out.”
Xiu Yun was only fifteen this year. While she normally looked calm and steady, it was only slowly learned when entering the estate. Of course, Ru’er’s “teachings” also forced her to mind her words and actions tightly. Seeing her sister’s seriousness, she nodded her head, obedient as usual.
Ru’er also didn’t want to give her sister too much pressure, and said gently: “Sister is also doing this for your own good. You know clearly how hard we sisters had it growing up. Since our fate is bad, we can only rely on ourselves.”
“Sis, I understand.”
“We don’t have a mother, and we might as well not have a father. I was able to enter the Jing Prince Estate due to luck. I don’t dare to consider where I might have ended up if I wasn’t lucky. Even after that woman sold me off, she still wanted to marry you off to some idiot. To be honest, this was all because we didn’t have the ability to resist. Now we finally have a chance. Perhaps this will change our destinies. Xiu Yun, you must work hard. Sister’s future is in your hands.”
Ru’er had said similar words to Xiu Yun many times.
Xiu Yun also knew what her sister said was true. It was because they were too weak that they were constantly bullied by their stepmother. Now that this chance was before her eyes, as long as she could persevere and steadily serve by his highness’s side, there would come a day when she could ascend to the sky.
The two sister’s spoke again for a long time. Most of it was Ru’er speaking while Xiu Yun listened, and the contents were mostly encouragement or reinforcement.
After they were done talking, Ru’er again asked Xiu Yun about the other palace maids that entered the hall.
Xiu Yun gave a summary of everyone in their room. Ru’er carefully asked a few follow up questions when her sister brought up the one called Xiao Hua.
Ru’er was silent for a while before speaking: “From what you said, out of everyone only that Xiao Hua is a steady one. Sister also doesn’t have much experience serving others. You can observe and learn from that Xiao Hua. And you must remember, you have to be steady in the beginning. Those that can’t, won’t be able to stay long.”
Xiu Yun nodded her head and took her sister’s words to heart.
Ru’er looked at the color of the sky outside and realized they had been talking for a long time. She carefully instructed Xiu Yun a few more times before letting her leave. Xiu Yun returned to the Hall of Splendor and saw Xiao Hua half lying on her bed in the room.
She thought about her sister’s words as she snuck a glance at Xiao Hua.
In her eyes, Xiao Hua was a very steady person. She was clearly younger than her, but her actions clearly showed that she knew when to advance and when to retreat.
It wasn’t clear in the training grounds but there had been some small changes during their time in the sweeper area. Now after entering the hall and doing the same work as her, Xiu Yun could finally feel the distance between them.
She couldn’t describe this feeling of distance, but it made her feel as though she was looking up at a tall mountain.
This was also why Xiu Yun brought up Xiao Hua in her conversation with Ru’er today. Having such a person next to her in comparison, she felt a lot of pressure.
Xiu Yun thought about her sister telling her to learn properly from Xiao Hua and felt uncomfortable in her heart. Seeing that it wasn’t early anymore, she still softly called to Xiao Hua: “It’s getting late, let’s go to work.”