I won’t be updating images for this on the website since it’s a Kadokawa work (:
Riri woke up as soon as she shouted. She breathed hard while in a daze, then calmed down enough to look around. The small room was draughty with small holes everywhere.
She was relieved to see the familiar sight of her room where she has lived in for the past few years.
“I must have had that dream again… I’ve had that dream so many times since I was a kid, but I always wake up when the men in black are about to grab the boy. Why do I keep having the same dream?”
The boy’s face is always blurry and unrecognisable. The conversation she had with the boy changed with every dream, but she always woke up when the men in black tried to catch the boy. She thought about the dream, but eventually sighed.
“It’s only a dream, so whatever.”
Riri came to the same conclusion as usual, stood up and stretched. Then, she sniffed.
“The neighbour’s breakfast is congee with spinach. It smells delicious. I’m jealous.”
She smiled. Riri had dark eyes which were large and bright, but her looks were average, she was skinny and not very feminine for a sixteen year old. Her long black hair is said to be lustrous, but because of poverty, she didn’t have a single hair ornament, so she always had it in a ponytail. She wasn’t particularly beautiful or sexy. The only thing she can boast about was her nose, which can smell anything.
Her keen sense of smell allowed her to find out what the family next door was having for breakfast without having to open the window.
When she opened the small window, she could hear cheerful voices coming from the same old terrace houses. This town is called Shinko. It was a small town where the commoners live and not everyone is wealthy.
Even so, the people of Shinko were in high spirits every day.
“I’m busy today as well, but I have to do my best!”
She motivated herself and left her room to make breakfast.
“I’ll clean up after breakfast, Mother.”
Riri stood up with the dishes and turned to face her mother, Renka. Her mother smiled as she was about to wipe the table.
“It’s alright. You have work.”
“But you don’t look well, you must have another fever.”
Renka was nearly forty. She was slender and short, with a face like that of a young girl.
“I’m fine. You’re doing your best at work, so I should at least do the housework.”
Her mother was a hard worker, but she has always been weak and caught fevers easily. Riri didn’t want her mother to push herself too hard.
“It may be work, but I’m just mixing my favourite fragrances, so it’s not hard at all. It’s not very lucrative, so I can’t afford to live in luxury, but if it’s just you and me, then we can get by. So, you don’t have to worry and just relax. I’ll wipe the table.”
I reached out and Renka smiled as she handed me the cloth.
“Thanks. Then I’ll leave it to you. At any rate, you’re a girl but you’re strong. You’re just like your father in that way. Your father also loved his work. He was a great perfumer who used incense to solve the problems and sufferings of many people.”
Incenses are highly valued as medicine in Shinzuicountry name.
People who mix fragrances are called perfumers, and they are respected as much as doctors. There was even a department in the court called the Department of Incenses, where the best perfumers gather.
In fact, her father used to be the head of the Department of Incenses.
Riri smiled as she listened to her mother reminisce. She could feel her mother’s love for her father from the way she spoke.
They were an intimate couple and she was happy to have been born to them. Renka narrowed her eyes.
“I’m so proud of your father. I was so sad and cried for days when he passed away, but you comforted me by saying, ‘Don’t worry, Mother. I’ll protect you,’ so I was able to move on.”
That happened when she was a child and she didn’t even remember saying it. But her desire to protect her mother hasn’t changed. Renka looked out the window.
“It’s been six years since your father died in an accident…”
Riri tried to picture her father’s face when Renka said that, but she felt a throbbing pain in her head as soon as she tried.
She almost scrunched up her face, but managed to hold it in.
(That was close. Mother will be worried if I say I have a headache again. But why does my head hurt whenever I try to remember Father?)
She endured her headache and remembered the face of her father, but it was blurry. She had very few memories of playing with her father, but she did remember that he used to sneak her into court.
(I was happy to be told that it was something special at that time, but now that I think about it, he just wanted to use my sense of smell in his concoctions. The only thing I remember about the court was smelling different kinds of fragrant wood in my father’s messy concoction room.)
There are two types of incenses. The first is fragrant wood, which gives off a pleasant aroma. Fragrant wood is made by drying the branches and roots of various trees, or by burying the wood in the ground to agglomerate the resin. Fragrant wood is commonly shaved and heated to release its fragrance.
The other type is called kneaded incense, in which fragrant woods and materials are turned into fine powder and mixed together, and burning it releases the fragrance. There are several other types of incenses, but those two are commonly referred to as incense.
Sometimes her father would get a piece of unknown fragrant wood. After he examined the fragrant wood and narrowed down the raw materials, it was her turn.
Her father praised her sense of smell for getting the raw materials correctly, “You have a great sense of smell!”
She wiped the table while reminiscing and brought out the incense burner that was on the shelf.
“Mother. It’s time to burn the incense. You said you haven’t been sleeping well lately. I’ve prepared a calming incense for you to try.”
Riri’s mother had been having trouble sleeping since her father’s death, and her sleep had become light. Renka wasn’t a healthy person from the start, so she tends to get sick when she didn’t get enough sleep. Therefore, Riri had mixed an incense that her father had taught her to calm Renka down and help me sleep better. The incense burner on the table was made out of ceramic and was small enough to fit in the palm of a person’s hand. Riri picked up the pieces of charcoal that was used to prepare breakfast with long metal chopsticks and put it into the incense burner.
“Oh, Riri. You’re not directly burning the incense today.”
“Yes, I made kneaded incense. I mixed the materials and added honey, then rolled it together. I’m going to put it on top of the charcoal and let it warm slowly to release the fragrance. It takes a while to take effect, but I thought it would be nice once in a while.”
Riri placed the kneaded incense on the charcoal and after a short time, an elegant fragrance filled the room.
As she breathed in the scent, she imagined a waterfowl resting its wings by a quiet pond.
“It’s a nice fragrance. It’s not too sweet or harsh and smells nice… Isn’t this aloeswood?”
Riri was relieved to see Renka’s shoulders relax.
“You’re right, Mother. I put some aloeswood in the kneaded incense. Aloeswood is usually too expensive to buy, but I happen to find it cheap the other day. I also bought some other materials, so I made some incense for pain relief as well. I’ll go to the clinic later and ask them to buy it. We’ll have a feast today.”
Doctors and perfumers often work together at the clinic and incense was used along with medicine.
“Your talent for mixing incenses is also inherited from your father. Your father was an excellent perfumer. He was the head of the Department of Incenses and was highly respected in court. If he hadn’t passed away then it would have been possible for him to become the master perfumer, since he already perfected the ‘treasured incense’.”
Renka’s voice sounded dignified. The word ‘treasured incense’ made Riri tense and she couldn’t help but mutter.
“Treasured incense… The incense that has been handed down like a legend in Shinzui. It is sought after by all perfumers, but no one has ever perfected it.”
It was a story that even a small child in Shinzui knew.
It is said that the treasured incense has a powerful power that can repel any enemy. Only the imperial family and a few perfumers from the Department of Incenses know the details of its power, and the general public isn’t informed.
Riri’s father, the head of the Department of Incenses, put his life on the line to perfect the treasured incense.
“I also believe that father perfected the treasured incense. I don’t remember what he looks like, but I remember him telling me happily, ‘Riri, I’ve finally completed the treasured incense!’”
Her father was supposed to have the title of master perfumer, the pinnacle of perfumers, because he had accomplished a feat that no one had succeeded in making for hundreds of years.
“But he failed to present the treasured incense to the Emperor and was called a liar in court.”
Riri bit her lip in frustration.
Her father didn’t lie when he held her and happily told her that he had perfected the treasured incense.
“Father had certainly perfected the incense. However, he died in an accident soon after he failed to present the incense to the Emperor, so there’s no proof that he actually made it. But you know, Mother. I will definitely prove that he made the treasured incense.”
“I’ll be happy since you’ll be restoring his honour, but can you really do it?”
Riri nodded at the worried Renka.
“Yes. I don’t remember his face well, but I have something else to rely on besides my memory. My ‘super olfaction’ remembers the fragrances that he used when he made the treasured incense. If I can mix it just the way my nose remembers it and create the treasured incense, then it will prove that he was right.”
She has always been thinking about it since her father died, hence she studied aromas every day.
Renka tilted her head while still looking worried.
“But I heard from your father that the materials used for the treasured incense are all special, and you can only get them if you’re in the Department of Incenses. You have to become a perfumer if you want to get into the Department of Incenses, but you’re a girl, Riri. Girls can’t become perfumers.”
That was a big obstacle for Riri, who wanted to restore her father’s honour.
She put her hand over her mouth and thought about it.
“You have to take the national exam to become a perfumer in order to work at the Department of Incenses. But the national exam is only open to men. In addition, to work at the court, you have to pass the Imperial Exam to become a government official, which is also only open to men.”
She would do whatever it takes if she can solve this with hard work. However, being unable to become a perfumer and work at the court because she was a woman was something beyond her control.
“I won’t have the necessary materials and tools to make the treasured incense if I don’t work at the Department of Incenses as a perfumer. As it is, it’s almost impossible to prove that father was right. But I’m not giving up. There must be a way for me to prove he was right. I’ll definitely make the treasured incense.”
Her determination was firm. Renka finally smiled.
“You have your father’s strong will as well. I believe in you. Your father used to say that you have a special sense of smell. But don’t do anything too dangerous.”
“I know. Ah, I have to go now. Take it easy, Mother.”
Realising that the appointed time was approaching, Riri rushed to her room to get her bag.