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Kusuriya no Hitorigoto (The Apothecary Diaries) – 20

Goodness me, what an avalanche of revelations that was.  Once more the theme here is coincidence and conspiracy, and a detective’s (and that’s what Maomao is, let’s not kid ourselves) ability to spot the difference.  Even by conspiracy standards there’s an awful lot of coincidence here, to the point where it does have a whiff of dramatic license to it.  But it’s nevertheless quite artfully put together, and so many of those mysteries which seemed random are in fact part of this grand conspiracy.

Suirei is at the center of the conspiracy Xiaomao – convalescing in Jinshi’s bed, no less – pieces together.  She’s got an eye covered and fifteen stitches in her leg, but once she regains consciousness her brain seems quite unaffected by any concussion.  Among the huge mysteries teased out here Lakan’s role seems quite secondary, but it’s nevertheless important.  How much did he know and when did he know it?  I continue to be believe he was uninvolved in the conspiracy itself, but it seems he could have been aware of it and schemed to make Maomao a hero for solving it (calling attention to talented people, as it were).  But that’s still speculation.

Assuming Maomao is right, Suirei was responsible for the various deaths and events which led to the attempt on Jinshi’s life.  She may have been acting under orders – it’s implied that it’s the new Pure Consort Loulan (still silent) behind it but that’s also conjecture.  Suirei apparently used mandrake – referred to as thorn apple in the subs and usually called Jimson weed in modern English – to fake her own death.  Her co-conspirators collected her and replaced her with another corpse, and she’s disappeared into the woodwork somewhere.  If Maomao is correct…

Maomao is kind of a scary person, but that’s not news.  She’s close to amoral – her admiration for Suirei’s cleverness is further proof of that.  We can probably assume that Suirei was responsible for the death of the woman in the coffin right in front of Maomao, and several others in the various schemes, but Maomao is rapt with admiration and gleeful at the scope of her cleverness.  I continue to believe that she’s working harder and harder to stifle her instincts where Jinshi is concerned, and she has good reason to not want to know.  But she senses the truth, I’m sure of it.

Just what is that truth?  Well, I’ve known for a long time that Jinshi wasn’t a eunuch but that’s confirmed here.  And that Gaoshun isn’t either, and that Basen is in fact his son – his youngest (19), and he has an older brother with a child.  Based on what we’ve seen, Occam’s Razor suggests that Jinshi is most likely the son of Ah-Duo and the Emperor.  But it’s been broadly suggested that Ah-Duo’s child was switched (under Luomen’s watch) with the son of the former emperor, so it’s not impossible that Jinshi is under the impression that he’s actually the current emperor’s brother.  Cutting against that notion is the close relationship he seemingly has with Ah-Duo, but she may have fostered that under the guise of friendship.

Motive is, of course, a huge factor in all this.  Why is Jinshi living this covert life, ingesting drugs to suppress his maleness which may eventually sterilize him?  The answer may depend on whether he knows which lie he’s leading – who he believes his parents are.  And what was the motive in this attempt on his life – another question hinging on what the conspirators believe Jinshi’s true identity is.  If Loulan is behind it (though that may be too broadly foreshadowed to actually be true), perhaps she intends to eventually claim the throne through a child with the Emperor, and wants to eliminate all potential rivals first (and Jinshi could theoretically be one no matter which version of his parentage one believes to be true).

We can say this much – anyone playing that long game has a lot of work to do.  There are already official heirs (though not male, that we know of) and multiple consorts (though the Emperor, to his credit, is leaving Lishu alone in rejection of his predecessor’s taste for young girls).  Any one of those consorts could become pregnant and bear a son and heir, and Gyoukuyou indeed may be pregnant again.  In light of this Jinshi has asked Xiaomao to return to the Rear Palace to care for her – though he may be motivated as well by his desire to get her away from Lakan.  That should prove an interesting change of venue for Kusuriya, and I’m assuming we’ll be there until the end of the season (with a detour to Maomao’s old haunts in the mix).

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