“What are you doing?!”
“I don’t think Ryouka was talking back to you earlier. And yet, you want to throw her out in her underwear.”
“Oh my, how can you talk to me like that? Do you know your status?”
Riri was terrified to be surrounded by more than ten women, including the maids. But she couldn’t afford to be frightened here. She was determined to stop these women from humiliating Ryouka.
“I’m afraid to even speak to the Four Consort candidates. But I don’t believe that you can do whatever you want, no matter how high your status is.”
She spoke as calmly as she could. She knew she couldn’t become as emotional as Ranran.
“Impertinent! Do you know what will happen to you if you disobey us in the inner palace?”
“I’m well aware, but I can’t accept that the innocent Ryouka will be punished.”
She spoke calmly, and Juka and Ranran’s faces flushed red in anger.
“What did you say…?!”
Juka and Ranran stopped moving immediately. Hisui elegantly covered her mouth with the fan that she was holding.
“That’s enough. If you cause more trouble, then the dignity of the Beautiful Flower Palace will be questioned.”
With just that comment, Juka and Ranran shut up. Hisui’s beautiful black eyes stared at Riri.
“Did you say your name is Riri? I’ll give you some advice. You won’t last long in the inner palace with a personality like yours.”
Hisui’s words sounded more frightening than the harassing words of Juka and Ranran.
Huisui turned her back and started walking, and Juka and Ranran hesitantly followed after her. Riri watched as the women returned to the pavilion and helped Ryouka, whose quju had been untied, stand. She immediately moved Ryouka to a place where no one could see them.
“Riri-sama, thank you for saving me. But you’ve made an enemy out of Concubine Hisui, Concubine Juka and Concubine Ranran. Mokuren-sama told you to keep a low profile. It’s my fault that you’re standing out…”
Riri gently placed her hand on Ryouka’s shoulder as Ryouka looked down and wept.
“It’s alright. It’s fine as long as you’re okay. We can worry about the future later.”
Ryouka was a friend who knew that she was going to enter the inner palace under false pretences and was willing to help her out. She couldn’t stand by and watch silently while Ryouka was in danger. She gently hugged Ryouka, who was crying.
“You’re helping me a lot, Ryouka. I entered the inner palace to ask Kousho-sama to allow me to participate in the perfumers meeting. I need you to help me since I don’t know anything about the inner palace. Let’s do our best together.”
They looked at each other and nodded. It seemed like her life in the inner palace was about to take a stormy turn.
Riri was given a small, bleak room with only a wardrobe and a writing desk.
She looked around the room and her eyes sparkled.
“This room doesn’t leak. There’s no draft and there’s no hole in the wall! I’m impressed!”
It was a far cry from the downtown terrace houses. She was restless as she wondered where she should sit. She gazed at the entrance while fidgeting.
“Ryouka told me to wait while she went to get some bedding and other necessities… But Mokuren told me that the sacred bamboo wood won’t arrive at the palace until tomorrow, so he’ll start trying to mix the treasured incense the day after. If possible, I want to join the Department of Incenses in two days.”
The Emperor and the Crown Prince will attend the perfumers meeting in a month’s time. By then, the Department of Incenses’ perfumers, led by Mokuren, and the best perfumers selected from the general public, must work together to complete the treasured incense.
“I have to get permission from His Majesty or Kousho-sama before I can participate in the perfumers meeting. But both of them aren’t people who I can easily meet. I need to be prepared to meet and talk to them.”
She quietly opened the door. A corridor with no scratches on it stretched out on either side. She felt anxious to be alone in an unknown place. But she took a deep breath and got rid of her anxiety.
“Calm down. You decided to do whatever it takes to make your dream come true… This is Kousho-sama’s inner palace. I’ll surely have the chance to meet him if I lie in wait. First, I need to find the layout of Beautiful Flower Palace and figure out where I can ambush him.”
She felt impatient when she thought about how little time she had left before the perfumers meeting.
She should just wait until Ryouka came back, but even that felt like a waste of time.
She stepped into the corridor to do what she could do now. Then, she looked around.
From the outside, Beautiful Flower Palace seemed to be quite large. For now, she wanted to see what was around her room so that she could move around freely on her own.
The front of her room faced the garden. The Beautiful Flower Palace was built with an open structure, and many of the corridors seemed to face the garden. The well-kept garden with its white gravel and green plants was easy on the eyes.
According to Ryouka, there were about ten concubines here and ten female maids.
“It really is huge. It’s going to be hard to remember. What should I do if I get lost? … Huh?”
She walked down the corridor and observed the area, but she suddenly stopped after a while. Then she turned around and blinked. She had turned around several corners, but she didn’t know where and which turn she had taken.
“No way?! Am I lost?!”
She thought that she wouldn’t get lost so easily since she was in a building, but when she went back the way she came, she just kept seeing the same scenery, so she didn’t know where her room was.
“Argh, what should I do?!”
She was perplexed and wandered around to see if she could find anyone, but there was no one around.
“There should be about a hundred people in the Beautiful Flower Palace, but why can’t I see anyone? I don’t know what to do…”
As she walked back and forth through the corridors in confusion, she suddenly smelled a refreshing aroma.
“It smells sweet, but manly, and the smell makes my back tense up. This is an aroma bag.”
Aroma bags were aromas that were placed in small bags and they could be smelled at room temperature even if they aren’t heated up.
It was popular among nobles to carry aroma bags in their chest pocket to give off an elegant scent.
“The fact that I can smell an aroma bag means… that there’s someone carrying this scent around!”
She was grateful for her sense of smell once again. It was a faint smell that most people wouldn’t notice, but her nose, with its super olfaction, could tell her exactly where the owner of the scent was.
“Alright, let’s see if they can tell me where I am!”
She ran down the corridor for a while, turned a corner and bumped into something.
She tried to flip around, but someone pulled her arm, so she managed not to fall down onto the ground. Everything happened so fast, that she crouched down to the ground, then she heard a voice come from above her head.
“Why are you in such a rush?”
The voice sounded familiar. She looked up and saw the Crown Prince, Kousho, staring at her.
(How lucky…! I can’t believe I got to meet the Crown Prince so soon. Oh yeah, I was in such a hurry that I didn’t notice, but this aroma smells exactly the same as when I smelled him at the clinic a few days ago. Wow, he has the same red hair and greyish-brown eyes as last time. He looks kind… Huh?)
She was about to swoon when the handsome Kousho gazed at her, but then she suddenly squinted.
His expression wasn’t as gentle as it was at the clinic. He sighed, folded his arms and looked as if he was looking down on her.
“Where were you looking? You’ve got some nerve to bump into me.”
His cold expression and voice had a numbing effect.
His rude tone of voice was completely different from the Kousho she had met at the clinic.
“Hah? Eh? Hmm?”
(Ma-maybe it’s just someone who looks like him. No, no, only the royal family has red hair and greyish-brown eyes. And the aroma bag is definitely the same one I smelled the last time we met.)
Riri was dumbfounded and Kousho snorted.
“I don’t need a maid who can’t answer my question in the inner palace. A little girl who doesn’t have any feminine appeal can get the hell out… Jeez, it’s completely incompetent of those idiotic officials to build me this palace when I’ve already said that I don’t need one yet, and then they only gather women of this calibre.”
She could hear disgust in his low voice.
She was puzzled as to where the gentle, sparkling Crown Prince with the soft aura had gone.
“This is close to my private chambers. It has been decided that no one is allowed to approach this place without my permission. You’re a useless maid if you can’t follow that rule.”
She felt disbelief as she pondered over the words he had said.
Despite being confused, she remembered her purpose for coming here. She managed to stand up and speak.
“My name is Riri. Umm…”
Before she could speak about the perfumers meeting, Kousho raised his eyebrow.
“I don’t need to know your name. You’re not worth me remembering your name. I’ll just call you, You. Or do you think you’re worthy of me remembering your name?”
She managed to stop herself from falling down from the words that had been stabbing her since a while ago.
(He shouldn’t speak like that even if he’s the Crown Prince.)
It made her angry to think that she was being looked down upon, but she managed to calm herself down.
He was the Crown Prince. She took a deep breath, knowing that she had to be polite.
“I apologise for coming so close to your private quarters without your permission. I got lost. However, I’m not a maid. Even if I were, I’m a human being just like you. Calling me You is…”
She managed to keep her voice calm, but Kousho suddenly smiled.
“I, a member of the royal family, am equal to you?”
“I didn’t say we’re equal. You are the Crown Prince. But that is a matter of birth, and whether your virtue is suitable for the Crown Prince is a separate matter. I’m sure you’re surrounded by… Ah.”
Realising that she’d said too much, she quickly covered her mouth with her hand. In Shinzui, it is said that the virtuous Emperor will be blessed with the blessing of the auspicious beasts. She wondered if this Crown Prince, the heir to the throne, had that virtue, so she spoke up. When she looked up at him fearfully, he didn’t seem to be angry, but he was looking at her as if he was observing a creature for the first time.
“Interesting woman. I’ve never heard anyone talk to me like that before. I guess you still have something to say. I’ll listen to what you have to say since you’re interesting. Tell me what you think.”
She was unsure of what to say when urged to speak, but she spoke honestly.
“I’m sure there’s no one around you that will admonish you for your arrogance. If there really isn’t anyone, then I feel sorry for you. If there’s no one around you to admonish you for your arrogance because they’re afraid of being punished, then you’re not blessed to be surrounded by such people.”
She knew that she might be punished if she expressed her opinion. Still, she mustered up her courage. He will become the Emperor in a year’s time. She was worried about what would happen to this country if he didn’t change his arrogance and there was no one to admonish him.
Kousho’s expression turned serious for a moment, but then he chuckled.
“You’re really an interesting woman. You said your name is Riri? I’ll remember it. You seem docile, but you’re surprisingly strong-willed. I’m in a hurry today, so I’ll let you off with this. I’ll destroy that aggressiveness of yours the next time we meet, so be prepared.”
Even his back was beautiful as he walked down the corridor, but he was completely different from his outward appearance.
“What should I do? I’ve made him angry. And I couldn’t tell him that I wanted to participate in the perfumers meeting.”
She thought about chasing after him, but then realised that it wasn’t a good idea to bring up the perfumers meeting to Kousho right now since he probably didn’t like her. She sighed while thinking it was better to give it some time before she brought up the discussion again.
She turned to the garden that was facing the corridor, crouched down and said in disappointment.
“Ah, I’m an idiot. I didn’t say anything wrong, but what did I come here for?”