Yujia's first test subject was Chef Hong, who finished preparing the breakfast for that day. Hastily, Yujia rushed to the kitchens. Usually, there were a few servants lined up there, each to deliver breakfast to the right courtyards. Yujia recognized the servant that usually took the food meant for her senior brother, Ye Yunhe. Before entering the kitchens, she managed to convince the servant to give the task to her.
Just like that, Yujia blended in and followed the line of servants entering the kitchens to deliver food. She kept her head down as she entered. She kept her head down as she made her way to the table with all the boxes of food set out. She kept her head down as she grabbed the food, turned, and exited.
The moment that Yujia stepped foot out of the kitchens, she looked up, a grin of triumph spreading across her face.
Aha! She managed to sneak in and do servant-ly tasks without Chef Hong, who was only feet away from a disguised Yujia, even noticing.
Yet in the midst of Yujia's triumph, a voice suddenly called out, "Disciple Yujia?"
Yujia's grin dropped as she flinched. She looked to the side, seeing Lili, one of the workers in the kitchens, staring at Yujia with a puzzled expression across her face. She held a bucket of water, seemingly returning to the kitchens after drawing water from the well.
"What are you doing, dressed like that? And the food… why are you doing a servant's job?" Lili questioned.
"Ah… I'm just practicing a little… undercover work today," Yujia managed to say, awkwardly wincing.
Lili nodded, not entirely convinced, but she had better things to do. After exchanging a few more words with Yujia, she went back to work.
Yujia let out a deep breath of relief, even though she wasn't exactly sure why she had been so nervous about getting discovered by Lili.
She supposed that she learned her first lesson.
Lesson #1 of the Day: One must keep a servant's composure for the entire day. Even if one thinks that no one is looking, someone is always looking. Breaks don't exist until one is completely out of enemy-territory (the Yang Villa) and back home (Lingxin).
Yujia slowly made her way to Yunhe's courtyard on the other side of the villa, making sure to keep her head down constantly this time. At the front of his courtyard entrance, Yujia paused, taking a deep breath.
Once she stepped into the courtyard, if she wanted to keep her disguise intact, she couldn't afford a single mistake.
She stepped in.
Proceeding with her servant tasks, she set out the breakfast of that day on the stone table in the courtyard garden. Yunhe liked eating breakfast outside when the weather was good, she recalled, so surely, the servants all knew that too.
Once she put all the food down on the table, she resisted the urge to eat anything, then walked over to Yunhe's room. Softly, she knocked on the door, and changing her voice to be a tad bit more high-pitched, she called out, "Young Master?"
Young Master had to be the right thing to call Yunhe, right? She couldn't call him "Disciple" or "Noble", so "Young Master" seemed to be the right choice.
Sure enough, a moment later, Yunhe opened the door to his room. He didn't bother to properly glance at her, only listening as she reported, "Young Master, breakfast is ready."
"Alright," he answered nonchalantly.
At this response, and the fact that he didn't spare her more than a glance, Yujia realized the magic of the servant robes. As long as she wore these robes and kept her face down, no normal young master would bother looking at her for too long. To them, all the servants were the same, so even if the ones that usually took care of them were replaced, if they never formed a true bond with that servant, they wouldn't even notice, or care to notice. Seeing Yunhe's response and gaining these facts was reassuring knowledge.
He went back into his room to do something, and a few moments later, he stepped out. Yunhe walked to the stone table in his yard, taking a seat. Yujia, playing her role of a servant, dutifully followed behind him, making sure to stand by the side in case he needed something while he ate.
She watched him scoop up a bit of congee with his spoon, eating it before reaching with his chopsticks to grab some of the vegetables off the dishes on the table. He placed a slice of white carrot onto his spoon, then ate that along with his congee. Bits of soft steam rolled off the congee, so it was still definitely hot. Yunhe, who ate carefully, was never bothered by the temperature.
Yujia could only stare at Yunhe as he ate.
She had congee like this for breakfast everyday. Except, now that she was in a situation where she hadn't had breakfast yet, the congee suddenly looked all so wonderful. Paired along with the dishes on the table, Yujia found herself drooling a bit as she imagined how wholesome and fulfilling the meal must taste.
Yujia imagined the warm congee melting on her tongue. Then, she imagined the savory taste of the stir-fried white carrots and their crisp texture. After that, she imagined the preserved vegetables, with their combination of its tangy and salty taste. In between the preserved vegetables, there were some slices of pork, and Yujia could almost taste the tender, juicy, and delicate slices of meat in her mouth.
Ah. She was really, really hungry.
Her body knew that as well. Involuntarily, she found out that her stomach let out a growl.
Immediately, Yujia clutched her stomach and cursed in her mind. She found her face becoming flushed. She hoped that Yunhe didn't hear.
Only, who was she kidding? That rumble was loud enough for him to hear, definitely.
Yunhe turned to her, asking, "Did you not have breakfast yet?"
And then, he noticed her face.
It took a few seconds. For one, tense moment, the two of them just made eye contact.
In the next moment, Yunhe burst out in a wave of laughter. He dropped his chopsticks, laughing as he exclaimed, "And I was really thinking that this poor maid didn't get fed this morning— heavens, Junior Sister, why is it you? Why are you dressed like this?"
Yujia threw her hands up, completely giving up on her act. She swung around to take a seat across from Yunhe.
"I wanted to practice my undercover skills, alright?" she explained with a bit of frustration how she failed again.
This was how she learned another lesson yet again.
Lesson #2 of the Day: To do proper undercover work, one must make sure that one has a full stomach. Working on an empty stomach can be not only embarrassing, but also a giveaway of one's identity. So, always be sure to eat breakfast!