Sometimes concubines, Cassia found, were sent off in a grand manner.
She had always assumed that, as the daughter of a lowly singer turned concubine who happened to die in childbirth, she would be given away like several of her sisters with little to no attention from anyone when she was older. Women's ranks were not too difficult to calculate, it was a simple equation.
In other words, as an assistan minister's child from a concubine of the lowest rank Cassie was only qualified to be some government clerk's wife, or marry a moderately wealthy merchant. But of course she could always become a concubine of the third rank for whoever her father liked.
Now Cassia sat in a pretty carriage following her legitimate sister's, with more dowry given just to be polite from visitors than fifty girls like her could have expected. Then again, since her sister was about to marry a prince, and one of the emperor's direct nephews at that, there had been a lot of well wishers adding to her sister's dowry. A nice hairpin set here, some earrings that were out of fashion there, a box of leftover bolts of cloth and a whole lot of other things given because giving only to one sister and completely disregarding the other would be impolite...it really added up to an amount equal to what some 5th or even 4th rank officials gave legitimate daughters.
As her fingertips silently tapped on certain points in her dowry list she was going to sell to open shops the noise outside became more intense. Music and shouts, all of them celebration sounds came from the sides of the road.
A secret look through the courtains revealed servants passing around buns, wooden trinkets, nuts and even some drinks in buckets with large spoons. Not very hygienic, but those people were low level commoners hoping for these little gifts who were certainly used to worse. Cassia herself was used to sharing a small room with ten sisters, a child like herself certainly wasn't living the luxury life in her father's home.
This group of people was obviously kept far away from the estate they were about to enter. The outer gate allowed them in along with their dowry, the trail in front of her carriage filling a good part of the road to the main building. Not long after another road crossed the one they were on. Most likely this was the road that lead around the entire estate's borders on the inside. A wall, this time more decoration than the solid wall the main gate led through, followed the road roughly a bit further along the main path. Buildings and what looked like walls bordering certain separate yards could be discerned inside the decorative walls. Cassia had a while to gaze at those walls since her own carriege followed the road around the estate and didn't drive to the main building like her sister's.
Cassia was, after all, not going to become the estate's mistress.
Several minutes later her carriage drove into a small gate along the road and stopped in a closed off space. It was clearly a backyard meant for deliveries and, well, her carriage. Hard dirt floor, the back of a small two story house and walls to her left and right, with three doors. One seemed to be for her, one was open and revealed the kitchen and the third appeared to be some kind of storage judging by the fact that the dowry carriages started unloading and somebody opened that door. Only consumables and things that were not very valuable were carried into it though, so there had to be another storage area for jewelry and expensive books and herbs and such.
As she was busy watching the door to her carriage opened and a properly dressed servant woman bowed. "Lady, the house is prepared. Would you like to take a look?"
Cassia recognised her as one of the servants who had helped teach the rules of this estate a few weeks before. Meaning, this was not one of those who would actually be her servants - something she had never had just for herself - but a woman sent by a housekeeper or some wife involved in the management of the estate. If this house with its own kitchen was hers now then she would be treated like a favored 3rd grade consort, not a regular one or, as she should have been regarded as the daughter of a slave, a 3rd grade concubine of little importance.
With a friendly smile Cassia nodded at the servant in greeting. "Thank you, I would like that very much. There was no need for someone of your position to bother with a girl like me." Of course they didn't, not really. They just wanted to make sure the Princess consort, her sister, would have a good impression. Still, Cassia offered a small box she had been carrying around along with other things in her little bag that was hidden in her skirts.
Inside there was a silver ring with a small amber stone, the kind of jewelry that wasn't too attention grabbing and would not look strange if a more senior servant wore it. Or sold it. Ironically, it had been exactly this woman who taught her which gifts would be appropriate in the estate for which kind of people. Strictly speaking this present was one that should be given only on very special occasions as a reward for something really special, but Cassia figured that the woman's patience while teaching and the good will she had been showing were going to save her a lot of trouble in the future. So it was both a thank you and an advance on future aid she would definitely need.
The woman raised her eyebrows but didn't look inside. She simply put it away in a small, embroidered pouch at her hip.
Then she offered both hands to help Cassia out of the carriage. Her legs had fallen asleep from sitting properly for a while so she was a bit unsteady as pins and needles shot through her feet. This numb feeling faded quick though, so by the time the servant woman led her to the entrance at the back of the house Cassia was fine again. She was a bit bothered by the motherly looks the woman gave her, but since she was only six years old it wasn't too odd. Just...in her former home most people had considered dealing with the motherless girls a nuisance. The daughters of unfavored concubines hadn't been much better off, of course. But Cassia just wasn't used to people paying much attention to her.
Which was a good thing, really.
If they had her odd behaviour would have been noticed.
Still, feeling such a kind gaze felt good, so Cassia held the servant woman's hand obediently and let herself be guided into her new house.
It was pretty empty, but spacious enough. On the lower floor there was a small entrance hall with seats and a visitor's sitting room with sofas, small tables and a bigger table with chairs. A door led to the yard in front of the house, too. There was a small kitchen that was obviously just for cooking simple things like porridge or soup, boiling water and cutting vegetables and fruit. The meals would be sent from the estate's kitchen. Then there was an empty library with a table and chair in it as well as a divan.
On the upper floor there was a bedroom, a children's bedroom, servant bedrooms and a small storage room for valuables as well as a big empty room. That room could be used any way she liked, the woman said.
By this point Cassia had come to several conclusions about this high ranking servant woman. First, she was given this duty because she really liked children. Second, she tried to get Cassia to like her so she would have someone around the prince's new wife who had an impression of her, and a positive one at that. And third, this woman really liked well behaved young girls who listened obediently.
Before she had been a strict if kind teacher, but now that she had started talking it seemed unlikely she would stop giving well meaning advice any time soon. From eating vegetables to stay healthy to books about manners the prince's mother considered worthy Cassia got more advice than she really wanted.