“Sister, I am so sorry that I forgot this important thing.”She took out a box, and said, “This is the core of semen nelumbinis; I dried it to make tea. I heard from Nanny Li in the kitchen that sister enjoys this tea, so I came to deliver some of it.”
“Thank you, Qinglian,” I said with true gratefulness, and passed the box to Bing’er. “Take this for me.”
Bing’er opened the box to take a look, and was surprised. “My lady, this is better than those we brought.”
“Sister, I picked them from the pool and chose the best to dry. It was also the previous queen’s favorite, but now she . . . So I feel very happy that I have someone else to serve.”
“Our lord likes the core very much. Throughout her childhood, she could never pass it up. Other precious drinks she cared for so little,” Bing’er explained to her.
Qinglian smiled as she heard this. “Really? Then I should make more next year. The taste is better if we have dewdrops to brew the tea. But we should wait until next summer.”
“Great! I will follow you to gather the lotuses next year,”Bing’er said, applauding with excitement.
“Though the core of the lotus tastes bitter, it can cleanse the heart and make me feel comfortable. It would’ve been hard to leave it behind, so thank you for giving me this precious gift that you carefully selected, one by one.”I nodded to Qinglian.
“My pleasure and honor, sister!”She somehow felt shy upon hearing my praise.
My heart was melting from her kindness and obedience. I did not know why she was sent here when she was found out to have a conflicted birth character. But there was also the matter that we shared the same man, and I couldn’t do anything about that.
When I was thinking how to treat her suitably, she started to say something but ceased suddenly.
“You want to tell me something? Go ahead.”
“I should go now, sister, or the prince’s old illness will come back.”
“What old illness?”I was surprised by this strange claim.
“I am sorry; I am forbidden to tell you, sister,”Qinglian muttered.
“Really?”I had to show no special interest.
She performed a half-bow to salute me and left, leaving me to flounder in confusion and doubt.
“Mingzhu!”I yelled with intentional anger.
She ran to me hurriedly, saying,“My lady.”
“Tell me the truth, or I will send you to the wash house.”
She panicked when she heard the punishment and bowed down before me.
“What old illness was Qinglian speaking of? Why do you have so many secrets to hide from me?”
“Old illness . . . old illness . . . ” Mingzhu was hesitating.
“Tell me or you won’t see me tomorrow morning.”I put on a false expression of coldness.
The fire in this room warmed all of us, but I could still feel my fingers were cool. But Mingzhu was so afraid that her forehead was sweating. “I am sorry, my lady, but I was forbidden from telling.”