“Legend says that when these three people are gathered together, they will have the power to conquer the world.”
“The power to conquer the world?! What kind of power is that?”
Riri leaned forward.
It sounded too far-fetched to be true, but based on Mokuren’s serious expression, this wasn’t a lie.
“I don’t know either, but His Majesty believes in this power. Most importantly, the auspicious beasts are an ancient culture that is deeply rooted in our country. When these titles are held by all three people, the people will have more faith in the court. Everyone will be united and the country’s strength will increase. It seems like His Majesty and Kousho-sama believe in this, so they decided to hold the perfumers meeting.”
Riri listened to Mokuren speak, then asked the question that had been on her mind for a long time.
“I know about the auspicious beasts. I’ve been wanting to ask this for a long time, but what kind of effects does the treasured incense have? I remember Father being happy that he had perfected it, but I don’t remember exactly what it was. I heard that its effects are a national secret known only to the royal family and a few people in the Department of Incenses.”
Riri heard that the secret incense was powerful enough to repel any major nation.
However, it was a mysterious incense, and she didn’t know exactly what it was. Mokuren frowned and folded his arms.
“I’d like to tell you but leaking the secret of the treasured incense is punishable by death. If you want to know the secret, then you’ll have to ask His Majesty or Kousho-sama for permission to compound the treasured incense. Until then, I won’t tell you no matter how much you want to know. So, you’ll have to get permission to participate in the perfumers meeting first.”
Ryouka, who was listening to the conversation, moved her gaze around in confusion.
“So, you’ll be going to the Wing Dance Palace to directly ask His Majesty for permission to participate in the perfumers meeting?”
“What’s the Wing Dance Palace?”
Riri tilted her head in confusion since she had never heard this place before and Mokuren looked at her.
“It’s His Majesty’s inner palace. But His Majesty’s health hasn’t been good, so he hasn’t been to the Wing Dance Palace these days. I believe that you won’t be able to meet His Majesty even if you enter the Wing Dance Palace, so I decided to get you to join Beautiful Flower Palace… Kousho-sama’s inner palace.”
Riri thought about Kousho’s handsome figure and suddenly blushed.
“Oh yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about making the treasured incense, but if I enter the inner palace, then that means I’m an empress candidate, right?”
Kousho had the most handsome face she had ever seen, and his personality seemed good as well. She felt embarrassed and awkward when she thought that such a magnificent person might fall in love with her at first sight.
“It’s okay. There are many beautiful and elegant concubines in Beautiful Flower Palace, so I don’t think they’ll approach you. Don’t worry!”
Riri had mixed feelings when she saw the smile on Mokuren’s face.
“Are you saying that I don’t have to worry because I’m not beautiful or elegant?”
She was by no means confident about her appearance but hearing this from Mokuren hurt her feelings.
Mokuren looked surprised.
“That wasn’t what I meant. They won’t associate with you even if you enter the inner palace… ah, wait.”
Mokuren dug his own grave every time he spoke. He coughed and opened his mouth again to speak.
“It’s not that you’re not beautiful or elegant. Actually, it seems like Kousho-sama is reluctant to marry an empress. The Beautiful Flower Palace has just been established and there are about ten noble ladies living there, but he doesn’t visit them at all.”
Riri was surprised to hear that Kousho was reluctant to marry an empress, but she was more curious about something else.
“There are ten noble ladies in Beautiful Flower Palace?!”
“It’s not that many. There are more than a hundred concubines in the Wing Dance Palace. Including the maids, there are over a thousand women living there. More concubines will enter the Beautiful Flower Palace from now on.”
Riri was rendered speechless by the size of inner palaces.
“That’s amazing… Why is Kousho-sama reluctant to marry an empress?”
“Who knows. But it has been decided that he must have an empress by the time he ascends the throne. So, I’m sure Kousho-sama will choose an empress before long. There are going to be a lot of beautiful women in the Beautiful Flower Palace from now on, so matter how reluctant he is, he’ll probably find at least one person he likes.”
“Is that so? By the way, I heard the women in the palace have their own status. What exactly is my status in the Beautiful Flower palace?”
Mokuren told her that it was better for her to hide the fact that she was Ou Saido’s daughter.
It was unfortunate, but people believe that her father failed to create the treasured incense. Because of this, his reputation in court wasn’t good even now that he was dead. The officials will pay attention to her if they find out that she was Saido’s daughter.
She didn’t want to stand out. She discussed with Mokuren that the quickest way to get permission to make the treasured incense would be to enter the inner palace discreetly and look for an opportunity to talk to Kousho alone. She wanted to know how she was entering the inner palace since she was faking her identity.
Ryouka was the person who answered Riri’s question.
“You will be entering the inner palace as a talented person, Riri-sama.”
“What kind of status is that as a concubine?”
“To put it plainly, it’s a very low position. Talented people often work as a lady’s maid as well, and there are many talented people in the Wing Dance Palace who have never met His Majesty before.”
“I see. What other statuses are there in the inner palace?”
Although Riri was a noble, she had lived downtown for a long time, so she was unfamiliar with such things.
“The Beautiful Flower Palace has only just been established so there aren’t a lot of concubines there yet, so I’ll start by telling you the statuses in the Wing Dance Palace. The highest rank in the Wing Dance Palace is, of course, the title of Empress. However, the Empress passed away a few years ago. Therefore, the Wing Dance Palace is ruled by four concubines, known as the Four Consorts.”
As expected of someone who had been working in the palace for a long time, Ryouka knew a lot about the inner palace.
“The Four Consorts are concubines who have been given a noble rank: Noble Consort, Pure Consort, Virtuous Consort and Worthy Consort. Below them are the Nine Concubines. Below them are the 27 Hereditary Consorts. But Riri-sama is a talented person, so you will have the status of one of the 27 Hereditary Consorts.”
Just listening to this made Riri confused. She managed to organise her thoughts and listened to what Ryouka had to say.
“The Empress is chosen from one of the Four Consorts. But the Beautiful Flower Palace has only just been established, so the Four Consorts haven’t been chosen yet. There will be an event to choose the Four Consorts in the near future, but I think that will be after the perfumers meeting.”
Riri could barely keep up with the titles since she had never heard them before. She fell on the table.
“Will I… be able to remember all this…?”
“You have to remember it. You’re entering the inner palace in two days. You’ll have to learn the minimum etiquette, greetings, and customs of the inner palace by then. I’ll teach you everything, so be prepared.”
Riri knew very well how tough Mokuren can be when he got serious since he had taught her how to mix incenses. She probably wouldn’t have time to sleep for two days.
“I’ll… I’ll do my best…!”
Riri clenched her fist and expressed her determination while telling herself not to whine.
After two days of intense studying to enter the inner palace, today was finally the day she was going to court.
“It looks good on you, Riri-sama!”
Ryouka, who had helped Riri dress, looked at Riri through the mirror. The red fabric was made out of silk.
Riri had a white sash tied around her waist and the bottom of her quju spread out softly. The quju was made of high quality fabrics and probably cost more than what she earned in a month. Her back-length black hair was braided by Ryouka and tied up on both sides of her head. She had red and white flower hair ornaments on her head and finally, she wore a pair of pointed shoes. The shoes, which were the same red colour as the quju, were embroidered with small flowers and looked very cute.
Before she knew it, her reflection in the mirror had transformed into a woman of high status.
When the finishing touches were done, Mokuren was called into the room and he widened his eyes.
“Hmm. Beautiful. You’re a sight to behold when you try, Riri.”
“So, I’m not worth looking at if I don’t try?”
Riri sometimes thought that Mokuren was very rude. Mokuren chuckled when she pouted.
“My bad. I was just being honest… I mean, anyway, I’ve prepared other kimonos for you as well. I also got you some hairpins, shoes and ornaments, so take them with you.”
“Thank you for preparing all those things for me.”
“It’s alright. You’ll have to dress appropriately since you’re entering the inner palace. And I’ve always wanted to buy you things, but you always refuse. Oh yeah, don’t worry about money. You know, I’m actually the Crown Prince of a certain country so I have quite a bit of money.”
Riri almost believed Mokuren for a moment when he looked serious.
“… That’s too unrealistic for me to believe.”
“Huh? The part of you that believes any lie is cute though.”
Mokuren forced his eyes wide open. Then, he chuckled and pulled himself together before speaking.
“Well, all jokes aside, this is a small price to pay for the debt I owe Saido-sama.”
“I’m the one indebted to you. I’ve been able to make a living by selling incenses because you taught me how to mix them. Even this time, I’m able to enter the inner palace because you’re my guarantor.”
Mokuren had provided Riri and her mother with financial support when they were struggling to make ends meet after Saido passed away.
He also taught her how to compound incenses when she told him that she wanted to be independent.
He was her teacher and her benefactor. It was thanks to him that her mother and her were able to make a living together.
“I was also thinking of asking you to help me make the treasured incense. If I can’t present it at the perfumers meeting, then the Department of Incenses might cease to exist. Then I’ll also be unemployed. The quju and hairpins are necessary expenses, so don’t worry about it.”
Mokuren suddenly looked worried.
“By the way, have you told Renka-sama about you entering the inner palace? Renka-sama doesn’t really like the court since they refused to recognise that Saido-sama had made the treasured incense. Wasn’t she opposed to you entering the inner palace?”
“Yes, I thought she would stop me if I told her, so I told her that I was staying away for work for a while. I told the clinic doctor about my circumstances, and he agreed to take care of Mother for a while. She hasn’t been feeling well lately, so I want her to rest and recuperate.”
It was painful for her to lie, but she didn’t want to cause her mother to worry since her mother was getting weaker.
Choumei was at the clinic and she trusted him, and with the donations from the court, there seemed to be more helpers at the clinic, so he can take care of her mother for her.
“I see. Then, we’ll keep this a secret from Renka-sama. I’m sure she’ll faint if she found out. Riri, I’ll do my best to unravel the secret of the treasured incense, so let’s do our best together, Riri and Ryouka.”
The three of them formed a circle and nodded. From today on, Riri’s fate would change drastically. But no matter what, she vowed that she would not change her determination to make the treasured incense to restore her father’s honour.