“Riri-sama, there’s no one around.”
It was the second night after Riri arrived at the inner palace. Riri slipped out of the inner palace, and when she heard Ryouka’s voice in front of her, she quietly peeked out from behind the thicket. The moonlit garden was quiet. Everyone seemed to be asleep and there was no one around as far as the eye could see. She walked up to Ryouka, who was hiding behind the tree.
“I heard that you can’t leave the inner palace unless it’s for the funeral of your parents of siblings. I guess it’s true.”
She stood next to Ryouka, whispered to her and Ryouka replied softly.
“You’ll be executed if you get caught sneaking out. So please don’t let them find you.”
She was horrified by what Ryouka had said, but there was a reason for why she had sneaked out of the inner palace even though she knew it was dangerous.
“I’m sorry, Ryouka. I’m sorry for being unreasonable. I really wanted to stay still but I really want to go to the Incense Palace. I don’t remember much about the time when Father made the treasured incense, but if I go to his mixing room in the Incense Palace, then I might remember something.’
Going to the Incense Palace was something that Riri and Mokuren had discussed before coming to court. She had asked him to leave the gates of the Incense Palace unlocked so that she could sneak out on the second night.
Ryouka led the way in the darkness of the night, and Riri felt so nervous that she could hardly breathe. Riri was terrified whenever she saw patrolling soldiers, but they managed to arrive in front of the Incense Palace gate.
“Riri-sama, I’ll hide in front of the gate and keep watch. I’ll let you know straight away if anyone comes.”
“Thanks. But I’m worried. You’ll be out here alone so late at night.”
“It’s alright. I can make an excuse if I’m found since I’m a servant, but you’ll be executed if you’re found, so please be very careful.”
“Okay. Then, I’ll go to where Mokuren is. I’m sorry, but please keep watch for me.”
Ryouka watched as Riri walked into the Incense Palace.
Riri looked around and felt nostalgic, but soon frowned.
“Oof, this smell! This really is the Department of Incenses. There are so many different fragrances mixed together, it almost smells gross. My nose is going to wrinkle from the stench.”
She held her nose and the door in front of her opened. She tried to hide in a panic, but it was Mokuren.
“Riri, thanks for coming. Come inside quickly.”
He invited her into the room. She looked around the small room and smiled.
“This is Father’s old mixing room?”
In the back was a wooden desk and chair. On the walls were latticed windows and green curtains, and papers and scrolls were piled up so high on the floor that they looked as if they were going to fall down at any moment.
She felt so nostalgic that she almost cried as she looked around the cluttered room.
“Yeah. This room has been used by the head of the Department of Incenses for many generations, this means that your father, Saido-sama, also worked hard here. You said you’ve been here a few times. Do you remember anything from those times?”
She looked at the back of the room and saw her father sitting in his chair, staring at the incense burner on his desk.
“Until now, my memory of Father has been very faint, and I could only recall his blurry face. But as soon as I came into this room, I could see him sitting in that chair… Ouch!”
She thought she could remember her father’s face clearly this time, but she had her usual headache.
But it was more intense this time. She couldn’t stand up, so she crouched down.
“Are you alright?”
Mokuren rushed over to her in a panic. He put his hand on her shoulder and she managed to nod.
“… Why do I always get a headache whenever I try to remember Father?”
She didn’t know the answer to this either. Mokuren stroked her head.
“I’m sure it’s because you’re trying to remember the shock you felt when Saido-sama passed away. That’s why your mind refuses to remember that shock and gives you a headache.”
She was ten years old when her father passed away, so she should be able to remember something about him, but she couldn’t remember anything at all. She also thought that she had intentionally forgotten about him because the shock she had felt at that time had been too great. She tried not to think about her father and her headache naturally went away.
She finally pulled herself together, stood up and looked around the room again.
“I remember those green curtains well. I remember how scary it was to see the candle flickering on the curtains when it got dark and the candles were the only source of light. And…”
Her eyes fell on the small chair at the corner of the room.
“I always sat on that chair and watched Father’s back as he mixed the incenses. He would only call me when he was unsure what the source of the aroma was and made me smell them. When I guess the materials correctly, he would get me to sit on the chair again. I was always hungry as I watched Father mix the incenses.”
Her father always forgot to eat whenever he mixed incenses, so she was always hungry whenever she was here.
When she closed her eyes, she pictured her kind, but sometimes stern, father.
“… I think this is the first time I’ve remembered him this well.”
“I’m sure your super olfaction reacted to the unique scent at the Department of Incenses and brought back your memories of him. Memories become more vivid when you enter a room that is full of memories. Your super olfaction is special, so I thought if I brought you here, then you would remember something.”
Mokuren took a step closer to her.
“I’m sure you’ve seen Saido-sama mixing the treasured incense here. Do you remember anything?”
Mokuren, who was always carefree, looked unusually serious now.
(He must be desperate since he said that the Department of Incenses will be destroyed if they can’t produce the treasured incense by the time of the perfumers meeting. I want to help prepare the treasured incense somehow for his sake too. But…)
She closed her eyes and pondered for a while, but then she sighed.
“I’m sorry. I can’t remember anything about the treasured incense. I only remember Father’s back.”
“If you were close enough to see his back, then you would have smelled the fragrances that he was mixing. You would have known what materials were being used to make it with your super olfaction.”
That was true, but no matter how much she thought about it, she couldn’t remember what it smelled like at that time.
“I can’t remember at all. I’m really sorry, Mokuren.”
She quietly opened her eyes and looked down, and Mokuren’s serious expression relaxed slightly.
“No, it’s okay. It won’t be that easy for you to remember since it was six years ago. But there must be a clue to the treasured incense hidden in your memory. I also want to protect the Department of Incenses that Saido-sama protected. So, I need your help.”
“Of course. I can’t recall any of it, but I’m sure I’ll be able to remember if I smell and check each of the materials that were used to make the treasured incense. I can’t rely on my memories, but I can trust my super olfaction.”
The materials available downtown couldn’t help her recall any memories of the treasured incense. Perhaps precious materials that are needed to make the treasured incense can only be found in the Department of Incenses. Mokuren smiled and nodded.
“I’m looking forward to it. First, you have to ask Kousho-sama to let you participate in the perfumers meeting.”
When he said that, she remembered what she had done and said on her first day at Beautiful Flower Palace.
(I said some pretty rude things. I don’t regret it since I don’t think I was wrong, but I’m certain that Kousho-sama is angry…)
She turned white. She was troubled and Mokuren tilted his head.
“It’s nothing, umm… Kousho-sama has a fiery temperament, doesn’t he…?”
Mokuren widened his eyes and then smiled wryly.
“Ah, have you already met him? He’s wise, skilled in martial arts, and handsome. He’s perfect, but he can be very harsh with his own people. He does hold himself back, so it hasn’t become a big problem.”
“I wonder if he won’t listen to my wishes if he hates me.”
“Maybe. I heard that he wouldn’t even talk to a person if he hates them, so make sure he doesn’t hate you. Please get permission from him to attend the perfumers meeting.”
He patted her on the shoulder and smiled, but she couldn’t reply.
(I can’t tell him. I can’t tell him that Kousho-sama already hates me… What should I do?!”
She felt like she had been plunged into darkness when she thought about the future.
“I’m troubled. How am I supposed to get permission from Kousho-sama?”
Last night, Riri had sneaked into the Incense Palace so she didn’t sleep much. But she managed to get her foggy mind to work and pondered how she could meet Kousho again.
“I don’t think I said anything wrong but being right isn’t enough to get by in this world. I think I should meet him again and apologise.”
She thought about this and took a breath.
She heard something crash and looked at the direction in the corridor in surprise. Then, she immediately heard the sound of footsteps.