Chapter 22 – Prelude
Lin momo came into Zhou momo’s room with a food box.
“It’s almost the Qi Qiao Festival. We, at the Royal Snack Kitchen, came up with some new snacks. Zhou momo, you serve by the empress’s side, you understand the empress’s tastes the best. I want to ask you to help us sample these desserts.” Lin momo said as she put the food box on the table.
“Elder Sister, if you made it then it is definitely good. Empress niang niang loves eating the snacks that you make.”
Both Zhou momo and Lin momo were from the empress’s family, and between the two of them, they had relations as in-laws. They both entered the palace together, and have looked after each other all these years, treating each other like sisters.
Lin momo took out a plate. “Try this one. This is bird’s nest cake. The cake mold is also newly made.”
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“This magpie’s shape is good. Elder Sister, you’re so attentive. The empress niang niang will definitely like it when she sees it.” Zhou momo picked up a piece of pastry, and put it in her mouth to try the taste. “The flavor is great! Elder Sister, you just wait to be rewarded, ba.”
“Then I will take your lucky words, ha ha.” Lin momo also smiled. She saw the roster that Zhou momo had placed on the table. “It seems like you’re busy. Did I disturb you?”
“Ai! Elder Sister, I am precisely worrying about this at the moment. The empress niang niang wants to bestow a xiao shi* from Yong Shou Palace to the crown prince. I looked and there is not one that is suitable. How am I supposed to report back** on this?”
[*T/N: 小侍 xiao shi – supposed to be the lowest ranking concubine]
[**T/N: 交差 jiao chai specifically means “to report back after completion of one’s mission,” but here she can’t even complete the mission.]
“There are very few palace attendants in our palace. This is a difficult task.” Lin momo said with concern.
“There are only two who meet the conditions, but their appearance is too ordinary,” Zhou momo grumbled.
“Then what to do, ne? Appearance not good. The empress niang niang definitely would not be satisfied.” Lin momo agreed. “Speaking of appearance… the ger at my Royal Snack Kitchen is very good.”
“Alas, it’s a pity that he’s just thirteen years old.” Zhou momo said regretfully.
Translations by Vanilla Muse.
“Not thirteen years old. He turned fourteen years old just last month. But he’s still a little small.” Lin momo said. “His appearance is really good. He has big expressive eyes, and also very pleasing dimples.”
Zhou momo listened to what Lin momo said, and thought about it. “Why don’t I report all three of them to the empress niang niang? It would be nice to have one more name on the list.”
“That’s right. Two candidates are too few. It would look better to have another name on the list.” Lin momo guided carefully.
“En, then let’s do it like this.”
The next day, Zhou momo handed the names of the three candidates to the empress. After looking over the list, the empress slapped the roster onto the table. “Zhou momo, what are you doing? Why are there only three candidates? And there’s even one as young as thirteen years old to make up for the shortfall in the number of people!”
Zhou momo hurriedly knelt down, and gave the answer that she had previously thought out. “Empress niang niang, it’s not that I was not diligent. The number of palace attendants in our palace is really too few. There are only two suitable ones, but their appearances are just barely satisfactory, how could they possibly make the crown prince “specifically favor” them? I could only add another one. His age is a bit young, but his appearance is very good, and won’t bring disgrace or humiliation to His Highness, the crown prince.”
Zhou momo saw that the empress’s expression looked a bit better, and continued to say, “This ger works at the Royal Snack Kitchen. He’s very lovable and sensible. He just turned fourteen years old last month. He’s a bit smaller, but gers and girls are different, being a little younger just so emphasizes their freshness and tenderness.”
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“Although that’s the case, I’m afraid that Cheng Er won’t like.” After listening to Zhou momo’s explanation, the empress no longer had a reason to blame her.
“Empress niang niang, why don’t you let the crown prince take a look. If he doesn’t like him, then we can only choose among the palace attendants in other palaces.”
“En, let the crown prince make his own decision. It’s the person that he will be favoring, so he must like him. Zhou momo, you go and make some arrangements.” The empress did not want to choose a candidate from another palace. If it were not someone from her own palace, she wouldn’t be at ease. Moreover, selecting someone from another palace would draw more attention, which was inappropriate. I hope that Cheng Er will be satisfied with this candidate.”