For some reason, he wasn’t being as clear as he should have been. It was as if he was preoccupied with something else.
(What’s wrong? He’s looking at me, so it’s not like he’s thinking about something else.)
She pondered. Kousho put his hand to his mouth and nodded.
“I see. So, you’re Saido’s daughter. I remember Saido well. Mokuren told me that having a male perfumer in the inner palace would cause trouble, so I allowed you to come because he convinced me that it was a good idea to have a female perfumer here… I never imagined that you would turn out to be Saido’s daughter…”
“I was by Father’s side when he concocted the treasured incense. I have super olfaction, which means I have a really good nose. When the woman collapsed in the clinic, I could tell that she was having a seizure from the scent of her sweat, so I burnt incense that would relieve her condition.”
She thought he wouldn’t believe her, but Kousho surprisingly nodded.
“Yeah, you do have a good nose.”
She was disappointed since she expected him to make fun of her. But she was relieved that he believed her and weaved a web of words.
“I only vaguely remember Father’s face, but my nose remembers the scents that he used to make the treasured incense. If I had the materials, tools and time, I could use my nose to find the scent and make the same thing. Please let me do so!”
She bowed her head, and after a short pause, she heard Kousho sigh.
“Saido was indeed one step closer to making the treasured incense… When I ascend the throne in a year’s time, I want to have the completed treasure incense and have all three auspicious beasts. That’s what my father, the Emperor, and I, the Crown Prince, want. That’s why we specially asked the Department of Incenses to gather the best civilian perfumers.”
In the past, it would have been impossible for ordinary people to enter the palace.
Kousho’s desire to complete the treasured incense was genuine.
“It is said that when the three auspicious beast titles come together, the country will prosper, and one will have the power to control the world. Did you know that? Although Shinzui seems at peace now…”
Kousho’s expression clouded a little. She knew what he wanted to say from his expression.
“Are you talking about the neighbouring country?”
He widened his eyes in surprise at her quick answer.
“… I see. You seem to understand politics a little. Yes, we’ve always been fighting against Korancountry. There is a large mine between the two countries. Our two nations have been fighting for the rights to the mines since long ago. Things have calmed down in the past few years, but you never know what might happen.”
This was something that all the citizens in Shinzui are worried about. Right now, the mining rights belonged to Shinzui.
However, there are already rumours in the country that Koran is planning to go to war for the mines.
“It is said that if a person is able to bring together the three auspicious beast titles, then they will have the power to rule the world. I, however, think that such things are pure superstition. But the auspicious beasts are the pride of the people. The people will be united if I can assemble those three people. The national strength will surely increase because of that.”
The tense expression on Kousho’s face was shocking. He was a Crown Prince worthy of respect since he had spoken of his country.
“And the treasured incense is really effective. It’ll be a strong weapon against Koran, since they’re waiting for the opportunity to attack us. I don’t want to fight. I want to kill the spark before it becomes war. I can probably do that if I use the treasured incense.”
Riri was curious to know what kind of effect this so-called strong weapon had. It seemed that it had enough power to kill the sparks of war. She wanted to ask, but Kousho’s pressure prevented her from doing so.
“My father is the only emperor in the history of this country that never fought, despite our long feud with the neighbouring country. He taught me that it would be the people who would suffer if we went to war. He told me that as the emperor who protects this country, I must never make the people sad. ――― My father is a great emperor.”
She was struck by his words. It was true that there had been no wars for the past few decades.
Thanks to this, the people of downtown Shinko lived their lives to the fullest, despite being poor.
“I want to follow in his footsteps and build a country where there is no war. I want to protect this country that my father protected.”
Kousho’s words showed his respect towards his father, the Emperor.
Kousho also idealised the peaceful country that his father wanted. She suddenly felt her heart throb when she saw his face, which she thought of as arrogant, was now coloured with the responsibility and strength of a Crown Prince.
She stared at him as her heart throbbed, and Kousho stared at her seriously.
“I definitely want the treasured incense completed in my generation and have all three auspicious beast titles gathered. I will become the emperor and inherit the title of the Dragon. General Garan holds the Phoenix title and excels in military arts. And…”
She listened to his words, then folded her knees and bowed at him in respect.
“I will complete the treasured incense and receive the Qilin title. And I will follow your desire to protect this country with a benevolent heart.”
She finished and Kousho smiled.
“You’re a really interesting woman. You’re a woman and you’re not even a perfumer, so can you really complete the incense?”
“It doesn’t matter if I’m a man or a woman. I’m-I’m Ou Riri. I’m Ou Saido’s daughter and am closer to completing the treasured incense than anyone else. I will definitely produce results if you give me the opportunity to do so.”
She put her desperate thoughts into words. She hoped that her feelings would be conveyed to him.
“If you say that much, then fine.”
Riri was so happy that she broke out into a smile, but Kousho remained stern.
“Ah, but you’re not a perfumer. All the perfumers who work at the palace and the non-official perfumers have passed the national examination. That is the first condition for working at the Department of Incenses to make the treasured incense. You haven’t met that requirement, so I can’t let you join the Department of Incenses.”
She couldn’t argue. Kousho folded his arms when she looked down.
“But I also feel that you have talent as Saido’s daughter. So, I’ll allow you to use the sacred bamboo word to make the incense. However, you can’t enter the Department of Incenses, so do it in your room.”
The Department of Incenses has excellent perfumers and Mokuren. She had a higher chance of creating the treasured incense if she had their help. However, new problems would arise if she were to visit the Department of Incenses often since she wasn’t a perfumer. Kousho was thinking that far ahead.
So, she could only agree. She was extremely lucky to have his permission to mix incenses.
“You only have a limited amount of time to make the treasured incense. I will hold the perfumers meeting in a month’s time to present the treasured incense to the Emperor. I will allow you to participate in the meeting, so you must complete the treasured incense by then.”
“You’re allowing me to participate in the perfumers meeting? Thank you very much…!”
Kousho stared at her coldly when she was filled with joy.
“You can’t keep being happy. Listen, if you can’t produce the treasured incense by the time of the perfumers meeting, you will be punished accordingly. You entered Beautiful Flower Palace under a false name and purpose. That’s a very serious crime. You can’t complain even if you’re executed. Of course, the servant who serves you and your guarantor, Mokuren, will also receive the same punishment.”
A whine escaped from Riri’s lips. She was prepared to face her punishment if it was just her who was receiving it, but when she thought about how Ryouka and Mokuren might be executed as well, her heart ached, and she couldn’t breathe.
“Ryouka and Mokuren have nothing to do with this. They don’t know anything. I lied to the both of them…”
She tried to argue, but Kousho shook his head.
“You can’t lie to me. If you create the treasured incense by the time of the perfumers meeting, then I promise that I will honour your achievement, and no one will be punished. But if you fail, then be prepared.”
Kousho didn’t want to listen to her appeal. There was only one way for all three of them to survive.
“－―― Understood. I’ll definitely make the treasured incense. I’ll bet my life on it.”
Her voice was trembling, but she looked at him in determination and he nodded.
“Good answer… Anyway, you said earlier that you could only vaguely remember your father’s face. How much do you remember?”
She noticed that Kousho’s tone had softened slightly and finally inhaled deeply.
“Well… I don’t know why, but I get a horrible headache whenever I try to remember Father. That’s why I can’t remember his face that well.”
Kousho looked thoughtful.
“… I see. So, it’s like that. How much do you remember about the treasured incense? Did your father tell you about the effects of the treasured incense?”
The treasured incense is said to be powerful enough to repel any enemy.
It is said that only the royal family and a few perfumers from the Department of Incenses know about its effects.
“I don’t know what effects it has. I don’t know if this is because Father never told me about it or if I just don’t remember.”
She answered honestly and Kousho sneered.
“What an unreliable answer. I’ll tell you the effects if you bow your head and beg me.”
The tone of his voice was joking, but his eyes weren’t smiling.
“It’s alright. The effects of the treasured incense are a national secret. I’m in no position to be told. I’ll use my nose to figure out what materials Father used to make the treasured incense and try my hand at making the same incense. I’ll know the effects of the incense if I can complete it.”
She actually wanted to know what effects it had, but she felt as if she was being tested.
Her instincts told her that she shouldn’t take advantage of Kousho.
“I see. That’s a good answer.”
“I would have you caught right now had you bowed your head and begged me for the answer, but you’re quite gutsy, aren’t you? It’s been six years since Saido passed away. How can you not remember something that happened six years ago?”
The question that he had asked was actually something she had wondered herself.
“I think the shock of Father’s death may have messed up my memories.”
She felt Kousho’s sharp gaze.
“… I see. Then search your memories carefully while you’re making the treasured incense. There might be something surprising in your memories.”
Those words really stuck in Riri’s mind for some reason. Kousho went back into the pavilion and sat down.
“Now go. I’m busy reading my book.”
“Yes. Thank you very much.”
(I got permission to mix it. But if I fail, then Ryouka and Mokuren will also be punished. I must finish the treasured incense before the perfumers meeting!)
She turned her back to the pavilion and mustered the courage to walk towards the building where Ryouka was waiting for her.