ID of the work: 3814

The gift

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The gift

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“Alright, Xiaomao. After you have wiped the dust from the shelves, please put everything back on its place and get over to the next room. I will clean the windows in the meantime.” “Very well, Lady Suiren.” “And be so kind as to hurry up a bit, otherwise there won’t be any time left for a tea break.” “Yes!” This was the conversation Jinshi heard as he passed one of the rooms in his residence on the way to his office where his usual work was already waiting for him. It wasn't by far the first time such a kind of dialogue between his two ladies-in-waiting reached the young noble’s ears. He knew perfectly well just how incredibly merciless and strict his chief lady-in-waiting, Suiren, was regarding work, despite her usually calm and friendly appearance, hence he was really glad that she seemed to have taken a liking to the apothecary girl and that they were getting along quite well together. That was a relief, he had to admit. However… constantly seeing how busy Suiren was keeping Maomao almost every day, Jinshi couldn't help but feel a tiny bit… guilty. Compared to her former tasks as a food tester at the Jade Pavilion, Maomao's workload had undoubtedly increased since she had started living at his house and… well… she had never uttered a single word of complaint, of course not, but from time to time, he did wonder whether she really liked it here. Jinshi had already encouraged her to speak up if something shouldn’t be to her liking, but still… Who knew whether she really would? After all, he didn't want her to silently start hating life as his maid and even eventually regret having accepted to let him buy her out.  Jinshi shook his head.  No, that would be terrible. *** Having reached his office, Jinshi walked over to his chair, slumped down on it, let out a sigh and placed his left elbow on the desk, resting his cheek on his palm and starting to absent-mindedly rummage through the pile of documents lying in front of him with his other hand, barely sparing a glance at their content. “What’s the matter, sir?” Gaoshun asked, who had been waiting for him by the door, and came closer. He must have noticed the slightly troubled expression on his master’s face. Jinshi looked up at him, still half-immersed in thought. “I should gather more information on rare medicinal ingredients,” he said quietly, picking up his brush and playing around with it, tapping it lightly against the desk. Seeing Gaoshun questioning gaze, he explained: “You know, I think I should buy something for the apothecary to express my gratitude for her hard work. So that she doesn't become dissatisfied with being my maid.” “Xiaomao doesn't look dissatisfied to me.” “Indeed, but still.” Gaoshun cleared his throat. “I understand you very well, sir, and believe that this is very kind and thoughtful of you, but… I wouldn't offer her another one of those rare objects if I were in your place. After all, you have already promised her a bezoar and also given her that strange insect not too long ago. You're spoiling her too much.” Jinshi averted his gaze upon hearing these words and turned his head to the side. A slight blush appeared on his cheeks. “I don’t really mind spoiling her, though…” he muttered. Yes, exactly. He was one of the richest men in the nation, after all, so spoiling one single woman wouldn't do him any harm. Besides, seeing her happy made him happy as well, so what better use could there even be for his money? Why shouldn't he buy a gift to show someone his appreciation?  No. Not just “someone”.  But someone he cared for. Really cared for. In other words: Her.  He felt a tingle in his stomach and gulped heavily at the memory of how she nearly danced from joy (sometimes nearly, other times quite literally) every time she got a chance to come in contact with medicinal ingredients. Her smile during these occasions… it was really something else. Truly unusual for a person who normally never showed any strong emotions. He wanted to see it again. And again. And again. And maybe one day, she would dedicate that smile not to the objects he gave her, but to him. (That one time she had done it accidentally and caused him to bang his head against the wall didn't count in his opinion!) His blush got even more intense at that last thought, and he was really grateful that Gaoshun was considerate enough as not to comment on that. But yes, the aide was still right. Rare gifts should really only be given on outstanding occasions so they stayed something special and didn't lose their effect. Occasions such as baiting Maomao when he needed her for something. Jinshi grinned a little at that thought. Well, then he had to think of something smaller, a gift that wouldn't be too valuable and too special, but still of a high enough quality to properly convey his appreciation and gratitude. Maomao loved alcohol. Hm, not bad, but he had already gifted her some before on a few occasions and was also sharing a glass with her from time to time, anyway, when she was tasting his wine for poison, so he wanted to give her something else this time. But what could that be? Jinshi had heard of the custom to give flower bouquets and sweets to the women one liked and valued, so maybe he could go with that. And since he already knew by now that Maomao wasn't very fond of sweets… “Flowers! Flowers it is!” he exclaimed out of the blue, almost jumping up from his seat and slightly startling Gaoshun. “Sir?” “I will give her a bouquet of flowers!” Gaoshun put on a little smile and then handed Jinshi the brush back that the latter had dropped on the desk. “That’s a good idea, my lord. But please finish your work first.” “Uhm, yes, of course…” *** The next few days, Jinshi was busy summoning different gardeners to his residence and visiting various expensive flower shops in town (masked, of course) in order to pick out the best flowers for a gift. He wanted them to be a sort that didn't grow at the inner nor at the outer palace.  And after he had finally made his choice, he went to look for Maomao, whom he spotted cleaning once again, and asked her to come to his office as soon as she finished her current task. Then he headed there himself and sat down, waiting for her with anticipation while contemplating the bouquet of white and yellow flowers standing in a vase on his desk. Sincerely hoping that they would be to her liking. Finally, he saw the door open and quickly hid the vase under his desk before Maomao entered. She stepped into his office and approached him, her hands hidden in her sleeves. “You called for me, Master Jinshi?” she asked with a brief bow.  Jinshi cleared his throat and stood up. “Yes, but it’s nothing to worry about, so please stop making that face.” Maomao relaxed her features. She had been frowning, as if thinking “What is it this time?”, ready to glare at him as if he was a pebble that had found its way into her shoe. Perhaps, because she had noticed the smile he had on his face and found that suspicious. “What is it, sir?” “Well, I have noticed that you are working very hard as my lady-in-waiting.” Maomao arched an eyebrow, not really understanding where he was getting at. “I don’t mind hard work, sir. It’s certainly better than having nothing to do at all.”  “And a lot better than having to work as a courtesan… ” she muttered to herself, quiet enough for him not to hear. “I see. Nonetheless, I would like to express my gratitude to you.” He reached under his desk and picked up the vase, stepping in front of the apothecary. “And give you this as a little gift to decorate your room.” Jinshi handed her the flowers, his smile widening. Now, she would probably thank him and bow again, he thought. Well, compared to his other gifts, it wasn’t much this time, but he still hoped she would get the message, which was what mattered. Maomao took the vase from him, just staring at the flowers with her eyes wide open and without saying a word. A few seconds passed. Jinshi grew a bit confused and also worried. “Apothecary? Is something the matter?” Suddenly, her lips curved into a huge smile, and her cheeks became bright red. She looked absolutely elated, as if she had tasted a piece of paradise. Jinshi took a step back, not having expected such a reaction in the slightest. It wasn’t quite the face she was making when catching sight of rare medicinal ingredients, but he would have sworn having already seen it before. He narrowed his eyes. Was that… a thin trail of drool leaving the corner of her mouth? Jinshi’s pupils shrank, and his mouth opened wide in shock and realization. He knew that kind of expression… Oh, no… “Thank you so much, Master Jinshi!” Maomao blurted out, her voice almost cracking from happiness, while looking up at him with big, shiny eyes. “I have read that this plant has a poison in its leaves that tingles in your mouth, spreads through your entire body and lets you experience exquisite trembling and convulsions! Though it’s said to have a strong and unpleasant taste, I always wanted to try it, but have only seen it in books!” Her hands were trembling slightly from excitement. Then she noticed his face and decided to add a little reassurance. “There is nothing to worry about, as long as only a small quantity is ingested, it isn't lethal.” Jinshi was still staring at her as if petrified. He hadn't even thought of informing himself about the possible “effects” of the flowers, just having chosen them based on their appearance, blinded by his wish to give her a beautiful bouquet. What a fatal mistake! How could he have been so dumb?! He was an idiot! No, not an idiot, but an IDIOT (lower-case letters just weren’t enough to express his level of stupidity)! He wanted to bang his head against the wall. Why?! Why couldn’t he just choose roses and be done with it?!  *** Gaoshun was walking calmly through the hallways of his lord’s residence. Suddenly, his eyes widened when he spotted something rush his way and then past him with a weird sparkle. No, not something, but rather someone: It was the apothecary girl, running as fast as her legs could carry her and clutching a vase with flowers to her chest. The aforementioned sparkle had come from her eyes. Gaoshun blinked in confusion as he stared into the direction she was sprinting to. And a few seconds later… …his lord Jinshi came chasing after her, screaming: “Get back here this instant! Don't eat them! DON’T YOU DARE EAT THEM!". The aide heaved a deep sigh and went after them. Sometimes he felt as if he didn't have three children, but five. Three adult ones and two toddlers.
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