“What’s wrong, Riri?!”
Choumei came and crouched down next to her as well.
“Doctor, this person has a chest disease. It smells like she’s having difficulty breathing.”
“You’re right. She has weak lungs. She can’t breathe!”
Choumei put his hand over his mouth, then groaned.
“We have to get her to breathe quickly!”
He held the woman’s nose and blew into her mouth.
“I have something that will work! Give me an incense burner!”
She took out an incense package to improve the respiratory tract from the cloth bag that she was carrying.
The woman who was helping at the clinic knew what she was doing and immediately offered Riri an incense burner.
She put the kneaded incense from the package into the incense burner, lit it with a flint and white smoke began to rise.
When she placed the burner beside the woman, a refreshing aroma drifted in the air. She fanned the smoke from the burner with the notebook that she was holding so that it would go directly to the woman as Choumei repeatedly gave the woman mouth-to-mouth.
After a while, the woman’s complex gradually got better.
“… Alright, she can breathe on her own now. She’s going to be okay. Hey, carry her.”
Choumei called, and several men in white coats came to help.
They gently picked up the woman and carried her to the examining room nearby.
“Riri, thanks. She had completely stopped breathing, so my treatment alone may not have been enough. She could breathe again on her own thanks to your incense, so thank you.”
“It’s alright. You were quick to react. The incense was just a medical aid.”
She suddenly heard a voice from behind her as she was talking to Choumei.
“Riri? Is that you?”
She saw a familiar face when she turned around. The person was in his late twenties. He had straight black hair that reached his shoulders. He was thin, but tall, and he wore glasses. His black eyes narrowed gently. His name was Sei Mokuren. Mokuren wore a purple kimono worn by the perfumers of the Department of Incenses. He was a handsome man and his slightly droopy eyes gave him a gentle aura.
“Ah, it’s been a while, Mokuren!”
She smiled, but then she looked around and ducked her head. The Crown Prince, Kousho was standing behind Mokuren, and there were strong soldiers and government officials in fine kimonos near him. But Mokuren didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s been a while, Riri. I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t been able to visit, how have you been?”
“… Is it alright for you to talk to me? I know you’re here on business since you’re the head of the Department of Incenses.”
In the court, there is a department where perfumers work; that is the Department of Incenses. Mokuren supervises the department as its head, and it wasn’t an exaggeration to say that he is the best perfumer in the country. As a noble of high status, he was someone who she would be afraid to talk to. However, Riri and Mokuren have been close friends for a long time.
(Mokuren first came to visit us in Shinko five years ago. He told us that he was indebted to father and came to check up on us many times after that. He’s also the master who taught me how to mix incenses.)
She looked up and Mokuren was smiling at her gently. He was an easy-going man who didn’t care about status. When she had first met him, she was nervous to talk to him because of his high status, but he told her that she could drop the suffix. Even so, she refrained and called him Mokuren-sama, but she ended up dropping the -sama, and now they were like family.
“It’s alright. I’m just filling in for the doctor who couldn’t make it due to a sudden illness. By the way, you used your special skill just now, didn’t you Riri? Your nose can even tell what kind of illness she had. How amazing.”
With one eye closed, Mokuren’s tone was the same as when he always came to her house to talk about trivial things.
Riri grew anxious since she thought it was bad for him to talk to her like this with the Crown Prince nearby.
“Mokuren, who is she?”
Crown Prince Kousho said as she panicked by herself.
When she saw that Mokuren had turned around and kneeled down, she rushed to follow suit. The Crown Prince approached them.
(Whoa! What should I do? The Crown Prince is this close to me…!)
Mokuren bowed his head once as her body stiffened from nervousness.
“This is Riri. She’s an acquaintance of mine.”
She felt both embarrassed and afraid as she was being stared at by the handsome Kousho. The Crown Prince was rumoured to be as passionate as fire when it comes to protecting his country and as calm as ice when it came to politics and was extremely popular among the people. He was especially popular with women and Riri believed that this was partly because of his masculine face. She couldn’t help but admire his face, which was undoubtedly one of the best among all the men she had ever met.
“So, your name is Riri. You did great just now. You instantly recognised her symptom and burnt the right incense to assist the doctor in his treatment… But how did you know she fainted because of lung disease? Did you know her illness beforehand?”
Riri tilted her head at the soft-spoken and expressive Kousho.
“No, umm, yes…”
She smiled vaguely and nodded, knowing that he wouldn’t believe her if she told him that she ‘smelled’ the illness.
“I see. I was impressed with how quickly you burnt the incense. I admire your skill.”
He was praising her without restraint.
She was so pleased that she folded her arms and bowed her head in the highest form of respect.
“It is a great honour to receive such compliments from the Crown Prince.”
“Oh. You have manners. It’s hard to believe that you’re a commoner.”
Mokuren looked at me.
“She is originally from a noble family. She’s a woman, but she can mix incenses very well, and I think it’s a shame that women can’t take the national examination since she would make a good perfumer.”
“I see. You’re right, she is indeed skilful. It is impossible for women to become perfumers, but I hope that you will continue to devote yourself to making incenses.”
Riri bowed deeply at the Crown Prince’s words. When she saw him turn away, she pondered on what he had said in her mind.
(So, it is impossible for women to become perfumers… I guess women can’t become official perfumers no matter how hard I try.)
She was trying her best because she believed that women can become perfumers, but at times like this, she became dispirited.
“Riri, I’ll go to your house later. Is that alright?”
Mokuren whispered in her ears as she bit her lip. She panicked then quickly nodded.
“Yes. I’m going home after I finish helping at the clinic, so I’ll probably be home at night.”
“Ok. Then, I’ll see you later.”
Mokuren waved slightly and followed after Kousho. She wanted to become a recognised perfumer like him, join the Department of Incenses and research the treasured incense. But her dream won’t come true just because she was a woman.
She was so annoyed and frustrated by this.
When Riri arrived back home, her mother was asleep. She quietly cleaned the room so that she wouldn’t wake up her mother.
When she was finally relieved that it was clean, she heard a voice from the entrance.
“Riri, it’s Mokuren. Can I come in?”
She replied and opened the door to find Mokuren standing there in a luxurious kimono that was unsuitable for the downtown area. She invited him in and motioned him to sit on the chair in front of the table. He sat down and looked around.
“Hey, where’s Renka-sama?”
“She’s sleeping. She hasn’t been sleeping much at night.”
“I see. Then, let’s talk quietly. I don’t want to wake her up.”
She thanked him for his thoughtfulness. She made a pot of tea and brought it to him, and he broke into a smile.
“It smells nice.”
“Doesn’t it? I went to the teahouse to smell the tea one by one before buying this. It’s cheap but tastes good.”
Mokuren, as the head of the Department of Incenses, was fussy about fragrances. She was delighted to be praised by him.
She sat down on the chair and faced him as she sipped on her tea.
“By the way, what did you want?”
She tilted her head and Mokuren’s face turned serious as he pushed his glasses up.
“Actually… this is just between us, but I’ve been fired from my position as head of the Department of Incenses…”
Riri widened her eyes at the sad Mokuren.
“What?! Really!? How on earth did that happen?”
“His Majesty’s food looked so delicious that I couldn’t help but snatch some…”
“Why would you do that?! … Wait, huh? Isn’t it strange for a grown man to do such a thing? Are you telling the truth?”
“No, I’m lying.”
Mokuren laughed and Riri dropped her shoulders in disappointment. She remembered his personality and anger welled up within her.
“I couldn’t help myself. It’s adorable how you get fooled every time.”
The smiling Mokuren was a kind and nice person, but he would tell silly lies sometimes. She was fooled by his lies every time and worried about him, and she hated her simple mindedness.
“Argh! If you’re just here to tease me then please leave, I’m busy!”
“Don’t get angry. I really have something to talk to you about. Actually…”
Mokuren suddenly became serious, then he lowered his voice slightly.
“We got some sacred bamboo wood.”
Riri shouted loud enough that her voice echoed throughout the room and Mokuren quickly put his index finger to his lips.
“Shh. Be quiet. It’s bad to talk about this outside of the Department of Incenses.”
Riri quickly put her hands to her mouth and took a deep breath to control her quickening heartbeat.
“Sacred bamboo wood, THAT sacred bamboo wood? Really? You’re not lying again, are you…?”
“It’s true. We’ve obtained the sacred bamboo wood, the main ingredient for the treasured incense.”
The mere mention of that wood made Riri serious. She straightened her back and put her hands on her knees.
“The treasured incense… a magical incense that can repel even the most powerful of enemies. However, no one has ever made it before, so people are doubting if it really exists…”
Strangely enough, this was what she had talked to her mother, Renka, about this morning.
“Yes. A lot of perfumers have tried and failed to create the treasured incense for hundreds of years. The court has been working with perfumers to obtain this incense that is said to hold great power.”
The Department of Incenses is a place where perfumers research and prepare incenses of various effects.
However, Riri’s father had once told her that the main purpose of the Department of Incenses was to create the treasured incense.
Even the Department of Incenses department hasn’t been able to complete the treasured incense for hundreds of years.
The reason was because the main ingredient, the sacred bamboo wood, was rarely available.