The small room was now full of crates and mixing tools that had just been brought in.
Riri’s eyes lit up when she looked at the room that had no space left for her to stand in.
“The mortar and pestle used for blending are brand new, the incense burners come in all types and sizes and the fire tools are the most expensive lacquered ones. There are all kinds of top quality incense making tools that I’ve never had access to before! I have to thank Kousho-sama. I only asked him for these things last night, but he’s already had them delivered to me.”
What made her the happiest was the precious incense wood which definitely wasn’t available in the downtown area. It seemed that about ten wooden boxes were filled with precious fragrant wood. Among the boxes, there was one special box with gold leaf stuck on the four corners of the box. She opened the box as her heart was throbbing and found a piece of fragrant wood wrapped in white cloth.
“This is sacred bamboo wood, the main ingredient for the treasured incense…”
There were about ten dried branches as thin and long as chopsticks. She was afraid to touch them, but when she picked up one with trembling hands and smelled the aroma, an image of a hawk soaring in the clear sky flashed through her mind.
“It has a strong scent. I can feel freshness from it and the breath of life… This scent is the same one that I smelled when Father was concocting. Father really was making the treasured incense when he brought me to the Department of Incenses. He used this sacred bamboo wood!”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was afraid that what her father made at that time wasn’t the treasured incense. But the fact that the scent of the sacred bamboo wood was present when her father was concocting was proof that he was making the treasured incense.
Sacred bamboo wood can only be obtained once every twenty years. She suddenly remembered how her father handled the sacred wood with care as if it was a broken piece of wood because of how scarce it is.
“I can’t believe I remember things about Father because of the sacred bamboo aroma. It seems like my sense of smell and memory are connected to each other after all. I might be able to remember more about him while making the treasured incense.”
She wanted to remember more about her father since she loved him so much. She stared at the sacred bamboo wood with that feeling in mind.
“The problem is how much and what kind of materials I need to mix with the sacred bamboo wood. There are also many different ways to burn incense. Some incenses are lit directly, some are warmed up and some release their fragrance at room temperature. I need to find out how it needs to be burnt.”
The aromas of incenses can change completely even when the materials are slightly adjusted. Relying on her nose, which remembered the scent her father used to make the treasured incense, she will sniff out dozens of different fragrances to get the same ones her father had used. It sounded simple to do when it’s put in words, but in reality, it was a daunting task. But her excitement wouldn’t fade.
“Mixing incenses is like solving a mystery. To get the answer to the ‘scent’ of Father’s treasured incense, I have to examine the suspect ‘fragrances’ and find the ‘amount’ that he used to make it. Once that’s in place, the truth will reveal itself. I can’t wait to get to the truth.”
Her being excited by this made her realise that she was definitely related to her father. She may be an eccentric too like her father who would do anything for the sake of concocting. But she didn’t care as long as she could master mixing incenses.
“Now then, I don’t have much time, and I don’t even know what the treasured incense does, but I’ll definitely make it! I’m going to prove that Father was right.”
A voice came from behind the door as she was rolling up her sleeves.
“Excuse me, Riri-sama.”
Ryouka opened the door. She looked pale for some reason.
“Hmm… It’s just… Ah, wait!”
Ryouka shouted behind her, but the door opened right away. There stood Juka and Ranran, and Hisui, who was so beautiful that it made one sigh, yet she had a somewhat cold look in her eyes.
“You received presents from Kousho-sama this morning, didn’t you? What the hell did he give you?”
Juka decided to mess around. Riri quickly dropped to her knees and bowed. She didn’t want to cause a scene.
“He gave me incense materials and mixing tools. I was admitted into Beautiful Flower Palace because I can mix incenses, so Kousho-sama gave me these things to use.”
She thought it was better not to mention that she was making the treasured incense. Some people might want to misuse the treasured incense since it’s famous as a phantom incense with tremendous power.
“Incenses, you say? Really? Didn’t you butter up to Kousho-sama and receive something expensive in return?”
Ranran looked suspicious of Riri, but a frown appeared on her face as if she had noticed the various scents in the air.
“My head hurts since the smell is too strong. How can you stay in a place like this?”
Ranran and Juka entered the room despite saying that the aroma made their head hurt.
“Please wait. There are a lot of valuable materials in here, so please go outside.”
“What?! You can’t tell us to leave.”
“I’m sorry. But… Ah! Don’t touch that!”
Ranran reached for the box that contained the sacred bamboo wood. Riri rushed to grab her hand when she saw this.
“This is a very expensive fragrance. There’s only a little bit of it, so don’t touch it!”
Riri tried not to provoke Ranran, but the thought of something happening to the precious sacred bamboo wood made her blood boil.
“There’s no reason to complain no matter what I touch. You’re really cocky. Everyone, get her!”
Ranran said, then maids quickly entered the room and grabbed Riri’s arms.
“What are you doing?!”
“We haven’t even received a gift from Kousho-sama yet, so why are you? We’ll find out if it’s really just incense tools that he gave you. It seems like this fragrant wood is really important to you, but what if you’re hiding something underneath it?”
Juka put her hand in the box that contained the sacred bamboo wood. She took one out and held it close to her nose.
“It smells pretty good.”
“Stop! Let go!”
As Riri had expected, she couldn’t move since several people were holding her. Ryouka quickly tried to enter the room but was blocked by the maids who were waiting outside. Juka lightly swung the sacred bamboo wood.
“If you’re telling me that this is a fragrance then I’ll burn it for you. I’m sure its nice aroma will envelop the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
“Please don’t! Those are really precious. You can’t get them anymore!”
The servants who brought the sacred bamboo wood to her room told her that there weren’t any spares left. If they really get burnt, then she wouldn’t be able to make the treasured incense before the perfumers meeting. Then, Kousho will arrest Riri, Ryouka and Mokuren with cold eyes and order for their execution. Juka chuckled as Riri desperately tried to break free from the maids.
“You really treasure this dried branch. Where would you like me to burn it?”
Ranran looked amused as she pointed her right hand outside.
“How about that garden over there? Let’s see what it smells like when we burn it?”
“Don’t! Please. Consort Hisui, please stop them!”
Juka and Ranran won’t stop no matter what Riri said. The only person who could stop them is Hisui, who has a higher status than them. But Hisui didn’t tell them to do anything or stop them; she just watched them emotionlessly. Riri once again pleaded to Hisui who didn’t move an eyebrow.
“Please, Consort Hisui! My dream is at stake!”
But Hisui turned to look at her for the first time when she tried to stop Juka and Ranran.
“Dream? What dream?”
Hisui asked in a beautiful voice that sounded like bells ringing, and Juka approached her.
“Consort Hisui, why are you talking to a lowly person…?”
“I’m asking Riri.”
Hisui flatly stated, and Juka held her tongue in a panic.
“You have a dream? Is your dream to become Kousho-sama’s Empress?”
Hisui’s expression didn’t change much, so it was difficult for Riri to read her emotions.
“My dream isn’t to become Kousho-sama’s wife. I’m here to pursue my dream of becoming a perfumer.”
She tried to explain her feelings, but Hisui’s expression didn’t change and she tilted her head a little.
“It’s impossible for a woman to become a perfumer. In this country, it’s a woman’s happiness to be the wife of a high ranking man and have him protect her. There’s no point in having a dream like that.”
Hisui’s tone sounded as if she had given up. Riri shook her head.
“I don’t think that way. I believe dreams are there to come true. If one believes that it’s impossible for their dreams to come true, then everything ends there. So, I don’t want to give up, no matter how much people tell me how impossible it is.”
Hisui’s expression changed slightly. Her eyes widened and she gulped.
“I’ll grab my dream with my own hands… Please don’t say such sad things like my dream is impossible. My life is my own.”
The women, who have gathered here to become Kousho’s wife, might not understand how she feels. But she felt sorry for the women who had grown up with the common knowledge that it was normal for women not to be able to dream freely.
Riri turned to look at Hisui, and Hisui stepped back as if something was pushing her. Junka raised her voice.
“What a rude thing to say to Consort Hisui! Consort Hisui, let’s burn this fragrant wood.”
Even though Juka had spoken to her, Hisui had stopped moving as if she was thinking about something.
“What are you doing?”
A voice came from behind Hisui. Hisui moved her body to look behind her, so Riri could see the garden behind Hisui. There stood Garan with a spear in his hand.
“I’m on patrol. Is there something wrong?”
His words were polite, but his eyes were so sharp that Riri could see the Consorts trembling.
Hisui, the only person unfazed by his gaze, slowly faced him.
“Nothing. We’re here to pick up Consort Riri since her dance rehearsal starts soon.”
“Kousho-sama has asked Riri-dono to make incenses for him. So, she has been exempt from dances and other inner palace practices. I’ve been told that if anyone tries to interfere with her concoctions, then they will be severely punished.”
Hisui glared, then smiled softly.
“Alright. I’ll stop inviting her to dance rehearsals if Kousho-sama says so.”
Hisui turned back to look at Riri, then she looked at Juka and Ranran.
“Let her go.”