“Who is it?”
Part of her was scared, but another part of her really wanted to know what had happened, so she stood up.
She cautiously opened the room door. Outside the door was a corridor with a well-maintained garden on the other side. Several men had rushed in. They were holding swords in their hands.
From their dishevelled and dirty clothes, they didn’t seem like members of the court. A man walked into the garden, following the men with messy hair. The man was in his early twenties. He was tall and in great shape. He had short black hair, sharp black eyes, and an iron breastplate on his body that was so strong that it could make any woman fall in love with him. The spear in his right hand was pointed at the men.
“Garan-sama! Please stand down. We can take care of this.”
A few soldiers who rushed in later spoke to the big man. But the man, “Garan”, laughed faintly.
“I can take care of these thieves. You guys stand down.”
Garan glared at the men with a relaxed expression.
“I’m Gou Garan, the general in charge of protecting the palace. You guys have some nerve to enter the palace to steal. I don’t think you guys snuck in here alone. Someone must have helped you. I’ll capture you and make you talk.”
Riri’s eyes widened when she heard him say the word ‘general’.
“He’s the general…. So that means he holds the ‘Phoenix’ title.”
There are three people who hold the auspicious beast titles. They are the protectors of this country.
The Emperor, who rules this country, holds the Dragon title.
The General, who controls the army and protects the country, holds the Phoenix title.
The Master Perfumer, who has a benevolent heart, holds the Qilin title.
Looking closely, she saw that the black cloth that Garan was wearing over his shoulders was embroidered with the image of a phoenix with its wings spread wide in gold thread. Garan swayed that cloth and laughed boldly.
“It’s a pain in the ass, so come at me together. I’ll let you off the hook if you can take a swing at me.”
His overwhelming self-confidence was almost pleasing to behold. The men looked at each other, then turned to face Garan.
Garan let out a powerful yell like a wild beast as the men sprung at him all at once.
The spear he had swung as he shouted knocked the men down. The battle was over in the blink of an eye. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that all the men had fallen to the ground.
“I won’t allow you to do as you please in this palace… or even in this country as long as I’m the general in charge of the army and hold the Phoenix title. Take them away!”
The soldiers seized the men at Garan’s signal. Ryouka ran down the corridor and kneeled very close to Riri.
“Are you alright, Riri-sama?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Did thieves get in?”
“Yes. They tried to sneak into the treasure room, but they were discovered, so they escaped to here. But it looks like they’ve been caught. Thank goodness!”
She invited Ryouka into the room. Ryouka suddenly blushed as they both peeked outside.
“Garan-sama is there. Then, it’s fine.”
“Garan is the big guy? If he’s the general, then he must hold the Phoenix title.”
“He does. He inherited the General title from his father at eighteen and has been in charge of the army for the past three years. He’s also in charge of the palace security, and is the only man, other than the royal family, who can enter the inner palace. He’s very strong!”
Ryouka admired him. Riri understood why she felt that way.
Indeed, Garan was strong and handsome enough to be popular among women.
“He’s really strong. He defeated the men in a second.”
“Enemies of this calibre are nothing for Garan-sama. Two years ago, he was the person who had single-handedly defeated a hundred enemies who had invaded the palace!”
Ryouka was very talkative when it came to Garan.
“A hundred enemies?! That’s amazing if it’s true.”
“It is. I saw it.”
Riri widened her eyes in surprise. Garan was really talented.
In the garden, the men were tied up in ropes and were about to be taken away.
“I apologize for the disturbance, Consorts. I’ll have this settled in no time.”
Garan pointed his spear upward and bowed politely towards the Beautiful Flower Palace building.
Riri suddenly realised something as she watched him.
“Watch out! Behind you!”
Riri opened the door and shouted. The man, who was supposed to be tied up behind Garan, had suddenly stood up. The rope had gently fallen to the ground and the man was about to slash Garan’s back with a dagger. Garan quickly turned around, caught the man’s arm in the nick of time, twisted it and took away the dagger. He then punched the man’s stomach and knocked him out.
“It seems the rope was tied too loosely. Don’t let your guard down just because you’ve seized them. Tie him up again and take him to jail.”
The soldiers shuddered at the low rebuke. The soldiers carefully tied the man up this time and took him away.
Garan turned to look at Riri after watching them walk away.
“Were you the one who shouted just now?”
Riri walked out into the corridor and nodded, and Garan smiled. The smile on his masculine face was unexpectedly gentle.
“Thanks. You’re my benefactor. Can you tell me your name? I’d like to thank you sometime.”
“My name is Riri. But I only did what I had to do, so you don’t have to thank me…”
After she’d said that much, she noticed that Garan’s expression had suddenly become stern.
“Riri? Ren Riri?”
She nodded in surprise when he repeated her name.
“So, you’re the person who Mokuren brought in to mix incenses even though you’re a woman?”
Riri was puzzled by the sudden harshness of his words. Garan was angry.
(I wonder what’s wrong? He was smiling so gently just now.)
Garan and the other soldiers nearby stared at her more intensely as she stared at Garan in confusion.
Ryouka panicked next to Riri and whispered in her ear.
“Riri-sama, the military and Department of Incenses have had a bad relationship for a long time. The military is a meritocracy, and they don’t like perfumers who use incenses with mysterious effects. Garan-sama doesn’t even talk to Mokuren-sama.”
When she heard this, she remembered that she had heard the same thing from Mokuren. Garan folded his arms.
“I’ve heard rumours that Mokuren has been trying to manipulate the palace from behind the scenes. I’ve always thought there was something fishy about him. I’ve always suspected that he was planning on doing something terrible with that unpredictable attitude of his.”
“No way! Mokuren isn’t that kind of person. He’s a wonderful perfumer who doesn’t care about getting ahead or prestige, and is passionate about mixing incenses… Though, he can be mean sometimes.”
Riri wanted to defend him, but she slurred her words when she thought about how he lied about all kinds of nonsense matters on a regular basis.
She saw Garan’s eyes widened in shock as she pondered about how to make him understand that Mokuren wasn’t a bad person.
“… I think I got a little too heated for my own good. That was not the right way to speak to a woman. I apologise for my rudeness.”
He apologised verbally, but the suspicious look in his eyes remained.
“But it’s my job to guard the palace. I will catch you and Mokuren immediately if you two act even the slightest suspicious. You’ll do well to remember that. Well then.”
She wanted to explain that Mokuren is an upright and uncorrupted man, but she was at a loss for words as he left the garden with his soldiers.
Riri hid behind a building and secretly stared at the garden at night.
Ryouka stood behind her. She looked nervous and her voice was quiet.
“It’s not good if you’re found outside of your room at night without permission even if you’re in the inner palace. Please try not to be found.”
“I know. But this is the only way for me to meet Kousho-sama. You’ve seen him at that pavilion a few times before, right?”
“Yes, I’ve seen him here two nights in a row, so he might be here tonight as well.”
This was the rear garden of Beautiful Flower Palace. It was a cozy garden with only a small pond with lotus flowers and some other plants. When Riri had come here during the day, there weren’t many people in this garden, probably because it was small, and it was reasonably well-maintained. However, the garden was completely different at night.
The moon was reflected in the pond in the middle of the quiet garden, illuminating the surroundings with its soft light. She felt peaceful in the quiet garden.
“It’s a little scary but it has a beautiful atmosphere. But why does he come here alone when he has beautiful women in the Beautiful Flower Palace?”
She needed to meet with Kousho in order to ask him to let her mix incenses in the Department of Incenses. But he is the Crown Prince. He isn’t someone who she could easily meet. He rarely showed his face at Beautiful Flower Palace, which was built for him. The other day was the first time he had come here.
As she wondered about how she could meet him, Ryouka informed her that she had seen him at this pavilion on her way back to the room after work.
“I imagine that since Kousho-sama isn’t too keen on taking a wife, he probably doesn’t want the officials to urge him to go here, so he stays here.”
“He’s unwilling to take a wife…? I’ve heard this before. But he has to marry his Empress if he wants to succeed the throne. Why doesn’t he want to marry one?”
“I heard Kousho-sama said that he will choose his own wife. The high officials built Beautiful Flower Palace to let him choose his own wife, but he doesn’t even visit the women here.”
The women in the Beautiful Flower Palace may not have the best personalities, but they are all unmistakably beautiful.
Kousho was pretty stubborn since he didn’t even look at them.
Ryouka and Riri watched the rear garden for a while, then they saw a figure enter the pavilion. The person sat on a chair inside the pavilion and was illuminated by the light of the full moon. The tall man with red hair was definitely Kousho.