The day Xiao Hua went into her room, she lay on the bed and pondered for a long, long time.
No matter how she pondered, she couldn’t think through the obstructions in her heart. Her emotions were a complete mess.
She had thought that his highness would probably come that night, but even when the sky turned dark he had yet to show up.
Xiao Hua didn’t eat dinner. The entire western pavilion was extremely silent.
After the last Chun Zhu left, a new “Chun Zhu” had been sent over. Because of what had happened, Auntie Qi had said “very clean” when she sent the new person over.
Ding Xiang understood Auntie Qi’s meaning. This Chun Zhu thus started serving in the western pavilion.
When the master was favored, the servants would have a lot of face. Normally when walking in the estate, everyone would attach some importance to them. After what happened with the last Chun Zhu, the remaining three Chun Mei, Chun Lan and Chun Ju were all extremely well behaved. With the addition of the new Chun Zhu, the four of them all served carefully, hoping for the day they could serve by the madam’s side like Ding Xiang and the other two.
There were very few inside the estate who didn’t keep things in their mind.
Today when madam came back from the Hall of Splendor, Ding Xiang had strangely sent Ding Lan and Chun Cao out. Afterwards, the two of them had gone back inside but only the living room lamps were lit. The western room and madam’s bedroom lamps were all dark. Along with Ding Xiang and the other two’s expressions, the four low-ranked palace maids all understood that something major had happened.
Each of them shrunk their necks in, working lightly and carefully, deeply afraid of becoming the punching bag.
“Aren’t we going to take a look?” Ding Lan said quietly.
Chun Cao’s face was filled with worry, and she felt irritable on the inside. She didn’t know how to vent her sullen emotions.
Ding Xiang’s face was solemn. Seeing the other two’s expressions, she said: “You guys should be more mindful. Don’t act as if your parents had died just because the madam isn’t happy. Our role as servants is precisely to make the mistress happy. When the madam gets up later, she will definitely feel unwell again after seeing your expressions.”
Ding Xiang never let any opportunity to educate Ding Lan and Chun Cao slip by. However, they knew that Ding Xiang was teaching them for their own good.
“Big sis Ding Xiang, we understand. We definitely won’t let madam notice anything.”
After another while, Ding Xiang put down the things in her hands and went towards the bedroom.
It was dark inside, but the moonlight made it possible to see. Ding Xiang didn’t light the lamps and walked in front of the bed curtains.
“Is madam still sleeping?”
After a moment, a voice that was slightly hoarse sounded out.
Hearing the response, Ding Xiang lifted the curtains and walked to the bed.
“It’s already very late. Madam should get up and eat some food.”
“What time is it?”
“It’s past dinner time.”
“Oh, it’s already this late?”
The voice carried a little hint of a sigh. Ding Xiang had to blink a couple of times to drive away the moisture gathering in her eyes.
“It’s indeed time for food. How can I not eat, right?” Xiao Hua muttered.
“Then this servant will go arrange it.”
Ding Xiang spoke, and then left to give the other two their orders. Although it was quite late, the Jing Prince Estate had many people. Apart from the Jing Prince and his harem, there were also various visitors, advisors, vassal officials and what not. Naturally there would be a stove left overnight.
In the past, there wouldn’t be any food left once the time had passed. Now, Madam Hua was a favored concubine no matter how one put it. Getting some food from the meal management center was not a problem.
After Ding Xiang gave out the orders, she went back to the bedroom and lit the lamps before going to the bed and helping Xiao Hua up.
Hanging up the curtains on the golden hooks, Ding Xiang saw that although madam’s face was pale, she seemed to have recovered her calm.
She didn’t look much different from before. However, Ding Xiang felt miserable seeing madam revert from her lively self the past few days back to the state she was in when she first moved here.
She forced a smile: “Madam, this servant has Ding Lan going to the kitchen for some lamb meat hot pot with a couple pickled dishes. Mixed with sauce and eaten while it’s hot, it beats anything. Weren’t you especially fond of eating this kind of lamb hot pot in the past? This servant has always said eating this sort of food causes flare ups, so we haven’t eaten it in a long time. Let’s indulge properly this time.”
That’s right, it’s been a while since they last had it. The Jing Prince had been coming regularly, and he preferred plain and simple foods. Xiao Hua hadn’t eaten that sort of hot and spicy food in a while.
Xiao Hua smiled and said: “That’s great. Since this busybody is finally not fussing about it anymore, I have to properly enjoy it. Have the kitchen make it a little spicier.”
“That goes without saying.”
Ding Xiang helped Xiao Hua quickly brush her hair and casually tied it up.
On the other side, Ding Lan worked fast and soon brought Chun Mei and Chun Lan back along with the food. In her hands was a steaming copper pot. Charcoal was added to a center compartment in the pot and soon the pot started boiling. The fragrant smell of lamb meat soup permeated throughout the room.
Xiao Hua sat at the table while Ding Xiang directed things on the side. “Add some more spice. Madam wants to eat a little spicier today.”
There were several ways to eat this kind of lamb hot pot. One was to make it spicy, another was to keep it light and fresh. Xiao Hua liked to eat spicy normally, so the kitchen would always make the spicy version for the western pavilion.
However, the level of spice was not easy to grasp. If it was too light the master would be unhappy. If it was too heavy, the master would also be unhappy. Therefore, the kitchen’s solution was to keep the spice at a minimum and provide additional spicy stock on the side. If it needed to be spicier, it can be added.
Ding Lan carried the bowl of spicy stock and added a little inside.
Xiao Hua looked at the pot and smiled: “Not enough, not enough. Put in some more.”
Ding Lan scooped some more inside, and Xiao Hua said in annoyance: “It’s not like this madam is eating your portion, why so stingy? Put in half the bowl of spice.”
Ding Xiang’s face revealed some concern. Ding Lan still poured half of it inside.
Once the spicy stock was added to the pot, the soup inside turned bright red and the nose stinging smell of spice filled the air.
“Isn’t this too spicy?” Ding Xiang asked in concern.
Xiao Hua beamed, “No, no. I like it this way.”
The hot pot only contained the broth. The lamb was cut into extremely thin slices on a plate, and was to be dipped inside before eating. The kitchen had sliced up two large plates of lamb meat, and based on Xiao Hua’s appetite it was more than enough.
This sort of food tasted better when doing it yourself.
Xiao Hua didn’t let others serve her. She picked up some meat with her chopsticks and dipped it into the pot.
It wasn’t her first time eating this, and she naturally knew that the meat could be eaten after being dipped briefly into the pot. If it was left in there too long, it wouldn’t taste as good.
The square table was filled up with the pot, two plates of lamb meat and various mushrooms and vegetables. There were also two plates of pickled side dishes and several smaller plates of pastries.
Xiao Hua ate heartily by herself. Eating the piping hot food lightened her spirits. She soon started sweating, and her face turned red either from the heat or the spice.
“Ding Xiang, is there honeyed chrysanthemum water?”
Xiao Hua had the peculiar habit of having Ding Xiang prepare some water while she ate heavily spiced or flavored foods. In the past it was plain water. Now it was changed to honeyed chrysanthemum water. It was just dried chrysanthemum boiled in water, without any tea leaves, and with some honey added. She didn’t drink it hot, but had it left sitting until it was merely warm before drinking. She also insisted on a large jug.
The regular teapot wasn’t large enough, so Ding Xiang specially prepared a large porcelain jug. How large? It was the size of the kettle that was normally used to boil water.
Knowing that madam was going to eat spicy today, Ding Xiang naturally had Chun Cao prepare it early. It was now at the perfect temperature.
“Naturally it’s prepared.” Ding Xiang said as Ding Lan brought the jug over.
“Use a bigger cup.”
Ding Lan was all smiles as she poured the light yellow honeyed chrysanthemum water into a large cup and placed it by Xiao Hua’s hand.
Therefore Xiao Hua ate even more freely. When she got overly burnt by the heat or the spice, she would take a large sip from her cup.
Seeing the smiling madam whose actions were very different from past, Ding Xiang let out another sigh in her heart.
“Madam, let this servant cook some vegetables for you.” After speaking, she lowered her head and used her chopstick to put a few cabbage stems inside.
The steam swirled around Xiao Hua’s face, making her face a little obscured. She mechanically grabbed another piece of meat, dipped it and ate. Then she grabbed another piece, dipped it and ate. She soon felt that it was too slow and grabbed a large batch with her chopsticks before throwing it all in. After they were cooked, she grabbed it out and put in in the bowl in front of her.
She ate it one bite at a time. She didn’t eat fast, but she never stopped her movements.
Her cheeks were sore from the spice, and her mouth was numb. Xiao Hua did her best to continue eating until she finally reached the limit of her tolerance and tears started flowing.
“Bad Ding Lan. Why did you put so much spicy stock? You made this madam cry from the spiciness……” She laughed with her mouth but her hands still didn’t stop.
The emotions pent up inside her couldn’t get resolved no matter how she tried. She bottled it up, smothered it, endured it…..
Finally they all drained out along with her tears.
“…..but this flavor, it’s really great…….”
The next day, Xiao Hua had two pimples on her mouth.
There was some whiteness in within the yellow, making it look truly ugly.
Ding Xiang was panicked to death, truly afraid that the Jing Prince would come and see it. She forced Xiao Hua to eat lighter foods, and went to the medical center to get Doctor Hu to prescribe something that could reduce the flare up.
This sort of small problem made Doctor Hu have a headache. These sort of pimples on the mouth would get better in a little bit. Being helpless, he prescribed rhizome and honeysuckle medicine that reduced internal heat and had Ding Xiang soak it in water for Madam Hua to drink. He also gave a bottle of cooling ointment. He said to pick out the pimples with a needle and apply the ointment.
But things wouldn’t get better for some time, and it probably needed at least three days.
Ding Xiang was helpless. She returned and tried various methods. Over the next few days, she forced Xiao Hua to eat lighter foods, and also mixed the medicine into water for her to drink. The honeysuckle wasn’t a big deal, but the rhizome made the water extremely bitter. Luckily, Xiao Hua wasn’t that spoiled. If she had to drink it she would drink it.
The pimples were also popped. During the popping, Xiao Hua teared up from the pain. After squeezing everything out, the ointment was applied.
Ding Xiang had done everything she could. If the Jing Prince still managed to encounter it, then she could only be resigned to this fate.
Xiao Hua smiled as she consoled Ding Xiang, saying that highness was busy and wouldn’t come.
Luckily, the Jing Prince really didn’t come over the next few days.
The pimples had finally healed, scabbed over and the scabs had fallen off. There were no signs left of those two disgusting pimples.
Xiao Hua finally didn’t have to eat various light porridges anymore, and the world seemed to have gotten much brighter. Xiao Hua’s smile grew more and more splendid.
What was the Jing prince?
Xiao Hua seemed to have forgotten, and the entire western pavilion forgot along with her.
While everyone seemed to have forgotten, Ding Xiang who always served by Xiao Hua’s side did not forget. She would often see madam acting no differently, but when she was alone she would always seem unusually taciturn. Ding Xiang’s emotions were extremely complicated.
Especially since his highness, in a rare display, had not come at all these past few days.
After enduring over and over, she still couldn’t help but console.
“Madam, you have to think it through a little. It’s normal for a man to have several wives and concubines….”
From Ding Xiang’s perspective, this was something extremely normal. Especially in rich households, this was a common sight. If one couldn’t get over it, there was probably no way to pass the days.
“This servant has seen many favored concubines during her time in the palace. But what is favor? It’s all just an illusion. It seems very beautiful, but it can vanish in the blink of an eye. Those who can think it through will enjoy their favored days properly and do their best for a child. That way they have something to rely on in the future…..”
“Spending one’s own days well is more important. The rest is all fleeting……”
Xiao Hua understood Ding Xiang’s words. But understanding and accepting were two different concepts. In her past life she could adapt very quickly to circumstances. But in this life, she just wasn’t able to. What should she do?
Therefore, every time Ding Xiang mentioned this, Xiao Hua would become uncharacteristically silent and stop smiling.
Ding Xiang saw madam’s taciturn face and let out a sigh.
Madam was still young after all!
Releasing this chapter is probably going make some people run after this author to give a beating, (crying face) but this is a necessary stage that needs to be overcome. If Xiao Hua can’t overcome this, wouldn’t she still be at a loss when faced with troubles in the future? (Of course, this is just hypothetically speaking, this author wouldn’t do that) But she has to come to this understanding herself. Tomorrow, spring will come and the flowers will bloom. The rain clouds will be brushed aside and the moonlight will be revealed.