“He’s here! Alright, I’ll go then. Ryouka, you wait here.”
“Are you alright by yourself? Please don’t be rude and get yourself killed.”
“I won’t. I’ll do my best this time.”
Riri told herself to calm down and relax, then she quietly approached the pavilion.
“… Oh, it’s the funny woman from last time.”
Kousho had been reading a book, but he turned and looked at her. She saw that he had his hand on his sword for a moment.
(That was close. Did he think I was someone suspicious? I have to be careful.)
She kept her distance from him and managed to smile.
“Good evening… What a coincidence.”
“Coincidence? I’ve felt your eyes on me for a while now. I thought you were enemies since you didn’t come out. Did you come here to lecture me again? Funny woman.”
“I’m not a funny woman, my name is Riri. I’m sorry for being rude to you the other day!”
She bowed her head in apology. She lifted her head and Kousho was looking at her curiously.
“I’m surprised you’re apologising. You didn’t say anything wrong.”
(He said I didn’t say anything wrong… So, he knows he’s arrogant.)
She thought that he was a Crown Prince who couldn’t look at himself objectively, but she realised that might not be the case.
“You must think that you’re not wrong. And yet, you’re desperate enough to apologise… is there something you want from me?”
She gasped at how sharp he was. Kousho put his hand on his chin.
“You have something you want that’s more important than your own will, so you looked for me to apologise and ask for a favour. There’s been a servant passing by here for the past two days. She told you that I was here, so you’ve been keeping an eye out for me.”
She was at a loss for words since he was right. Kousho smiled in satisfaction.
“I’m right. Your emotions show on your face. You should be careful if you want to survive in the inner palace which is full of beautiful monsters.”
She was frightened when she heard him say beautiful monsters. At the same time, she had a different impression of Kousho.
(I have a feeling that he pays close attention to those around him and knows how his words and actions will be perceived by others, which is why he acts arrogant. If so, then his arrogant behaviour might be a way to test people.)
In that case, Kousho is pretty smart. She won’t get the answer she wanted from him even if she tried her best to persuade him.
“You’ve suddenly gone quiet. You wanted to ask something of me, but you’ve finally realised that it won’t be that easy. If you understand this then get the hell out of here. I don’t like having my time interrupted.”
Kousho turned his attention back to his book as if to say that he was no longer interested in talking to her.
He was reading a book by the faint light on his desk. She wasn’t sure what to do, but she wouldn’t have the chance to meet him alone again. She told herself that this was her only chance.
“I won’t leave. I have a request for you.”
“I’ll refuse if you want me to make you my wife, or buy you expensive hair ornaments, or make your relatives into high officials.”
Kousho said bluntly with his eyes still on his book.
(I get the feeling he’s used to those kinds of situations. He’s the Crown Prince, so I’m sure there’s a lot of people who try to butter up to him. He might act the way he does to try and curb the people who try to butter up to him. If that’s the case…)
“I have a favour to ask, but I’m not going to ask for something expensive or to be treated well. I’m not interested in those things at all. I’m only interested in one thing: the treasured incense.”
She was sure that she couldn’t compete with Kousho in terms of speaking or intelligence. So, she had no choice but to honestly tell him how she felt. He raised his head slightly, but his eyes were still on his book.
“I’m begging you. Please give me permission to make the treasured incense and to participate in the perfumers meeting.”
As soon as she said her request, Kousho finally looked away from his book and stared at her.
“Oh. The treasured incense? You were brought here by Mokuren, right? You used your incense to help the woman who had a seizure at the clinic.”
Kousho smiled nastily.
“Come to think of it, I asked the clinic doctor about you. The doctor praised you, but he had one question. He said that your incenses work well, but for some reason, you always make incenses with the same effect. He asked why you didn’t make new incenses with different effects since it’s more profitable that way.”
She was shocked and broke out in cold sweat.
“Of course, it is a perfumers’ job to mix incenses, but their job is also to combine different materials to create new incenses with different effects. But you never try to make new incenses. You’re very skilled, so I’m curious as to why you don’t, especially since Mokuren recommended you to the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
Kousho’s nasty smile widened.
“I think you have a ‘fatal weakness’ as a perfumer.”
The cold sweat got worse. Riri felt like she couldn’t breathe properly because she was panicking.
“That’s because, umm…”
“I asked Mokuren a lot of questions when he recommended you to the Beautiful Flower Palace. Mokuren was being evasive, but when I kept questioning him about the incenses you made, the answers he gave me were as expected… Your fault weakness is that you’re a novice. It’s a hundred years too early for you to want to make the treasured incense.”
(Not good…! He knows my ‘secret’. I will never become a perfumer if anyone other than Mokuren knows about this…!)
When she turned pale, Kousho folded his arms.
“You’re only a novice, but a woman who can mix incenses is valuable, so I allowed you to enter the Beautiful Flower Palace. However, the perfumers meeting is a national event. I can’t allow a novice to participate in it. You’ll only just waste the sacred bamboo wood. Give up.”
He shooed her with one hand. She clenched her fist, knowing that things weren’t going well.
She contemplated on how to make him change his mind.
“I’m certainly only a novice, but I’m closer to completing the treasured incense than the perfumers at the Department of Incenses.”
She forcefully made her voice sound strong. Kousho’s shoulders shook as he kept his eyes on his book.
“Hah? You’re closer to completing you than the perfumers here you say?”
“Yes, I’m known as Ren Riri now, but my real name is Ou Riri. My father, Ou Saido, was the former head of the Department of Incenses and he researched the treasured incense when he was alive.”
It was a gamble to reveal this to him. The court believes that her father failed to compound the treasured incense.
It would be difficult for her to get permission to participate in the perfumers meeting if he believed that she is the daughter of a failed perfumer once she revealed herself to be Ou Saido’s daughter.
However, she felt that she needed to tell him why she was confident in her ability to create the treasured incense.
Suddenly, Kousho stopped moving.
He stared in front of him in surprise for a while and then fixed his gaze on her.
“You are…? Saido’s daughter?”
She nodded. Kousho stood up with his eyes wide open in surprise, walked out of the pavilion and stood near her.
(Huh? I thought that if I told him that I’m Ou Saido’s daughter, then he would be disgusted that I’m the daughter of a failed perfumer, but he looks quite surprised.)
It was an unusual reaction. If Kousho knew that her father had created the treasured incense, then he would be surprised, but also delighted since she held a clue on how to make the treasured incense.
“Wait, are you really Saido’s daughter? Saido’s daughter disappeared with her mother after he died. We couldn’t find her no matter how hard we searched.”
It was her father who was one step closer to completing the treasured incense. Although he failed in his attempt to present it to the Emperor, many people believe that he was the only person who could create the treasured incense.
Perhaps, Kousho had been looking for Riri and her mother because he wanted to find the secret to the treasured incense.
“Mother and I hid ourselves downtown. After Father’s death, soldiers came to our house, hoping to find the secret on how to make the treasured incense. My mother said she was sick of it all. She was still grieving for Father, and our house got ransacked.”
She was puzzled by Kousho’s reaction, but she realised that the situation was going in the right direction.
He hadn’t shown any interest in her, but now he was focused on her.
First, she had to impress him, then she needed to let him know that she can make the treasured incense.
She thought there was something she had to do first to get him to listen to her opinion.
“I’m sorry. I entered Beautiful Flower Palace to ask you for permission to participate in the perfumers meeting. I apologise for entering the inner palace under false pretences.”
She bowed deeply. She wanted to make a sincere apology to Kousho.
She lifted her head and looked at Kousho with her hands folded as if she was praying.
“But there is a dream that I really want to fulfil even if I have to commit a crime. Kousho-sama, please let me make the treasured incense and participate in the perfumers meeting. The scene of Father mixing incenses is etched in my mind. I will definitely make the treasured incense if you let me use the sacred bamboo wood and give me some time.”
Many perfumers have been unable to create the treasured incense for hundreds of years, and honestly speaking, Riri wasn’t sure if she could make it. She can’t remember how her father had concocted it, and there was a good chance that she wouldn’t be able to make it. But she knew that Kousho wouldn’t give her permission if she showed her uneasiness.
“I beg you. Please allow me to make the treasured incense at the Department of Incenses.”
She bowed once again. Kousho blinked as if he had finally come back to his senses.