“Kousho-sama ordered her to make incenses. Do you want to be scolded by him because you interfered with this?”
Hisui’s tone was gentle but was undeniably powerful. The maids who were holding onto Riri’s arms let her go in a panic. Junka regretfully put the sacred bamboo wood back into the box and whispered into Riri’s ears.
“I won’t forgive you if you lied about not wanting to be Kousho-sama’s wife.”
Hisui left Riri’s room and the other consorts followed after her. When the room was finally silent, Riri let out a sigh.
She urged Ryouka, who had been sitting on the ground, to stand up and went out into the corridor. She saw Garan standing in the garden.
“Thank you very much for saving me.”
“Kousho-sama ordered that you mix without incident in the inner palace. I’m only following his orders… But don’t get me wrong. I hate perfumers. If it wasn’t because of an order, who would come to check on you?”
He had been hostile the other day, but this time, he was quite blatant. Riri got taken aback.
“Why do you hate perfumers that much? I’ve heard that the military and the Department of Incenses don’t get along well, but I’m not an official perfumer and I don’t remember doing anything towards you to make you hate me.”
“Yeah, I have nothing against you. But I have something against your father.”
Riri’s eyes widened when he said this.
“Against my father?”
“That’s right. Kousho-sama told me that you’re Ou Saido’s daughter. I don’t want to speak ill of the deceased, but that guy is despicable. I’ve suffered a lot because of his incenses.”
Riri had a very bad feeling when she heard him spit out those words.
(Father is a great perfumer, but he’s not a very good human being. He would do the most outrageous things for the sake of making incenses. For example, secretly bringing his daughter to the Department of Incenses or making completely unrelated people try out incenses he’d made.)
Riri glanced up at Garan. He had his arms folded and wasn’t even hiding his anger.
“Did Father secretly make you smell incenses with extraordinary effects? For example, did he make you smell incenses that made you laugh non-stop in any serious situation or make you fall asleep in important situations?”
“Th-that’s ridiculous! I would never do such stupid things!”
He denied this with his mouth, but his expression told her that she was spot-on.
“… I’m sorry. Father was an enthusiastic and hardworking man, but he’s also someone who is willing to use any means necessary to make successful incenses. He would try to concoct incenses by himself, and said that he couldn’t observe the effects objectively, so he often tried them on uninvolved people. I apologise for all the trouble he has caused!”
She bowed deeply and Garan looked flustered.
“There’s no need for you to apologise. The one who’s at fault is Saido; he doesn’t even care about how other people feel.”
“You might be right, but I must apologise for his actions as his daughter. But I’m certain that you’re a good person if Father used you as a test subject for his incenses.”
Riri smiled and Garan blinked in confusion.
“What do you mean?”
“Father likes to choose serious people who don’t lie as his test subjects. The more honest someone is, the more effective the incenses become. You must be a very good person to have been used as a test subject for Father’s incenses many times.”
“What are you saying? I’m the General! The wealthy and powerful Garan!”
Garan stormed up to her with his eyes wide open. When he was close enough for her to breathe on him, she suddenly smelled a certain scent.
“… Where does it hurt?”
She realised that the scent of sweat coming from him was from someone enduring pain. She often doesn’t notice the smell of people’s sweat when she was outside, but his scent got stronger the closer he got, and she could smell that he was enduring a lot of pain. When she looked up, she saw that Garan had widened his eyes in surprise.
“… I’m healthy. Nothing hurts.”
He looked composed but he couldn’t disguise his sweat scent.
She went back into her room, pulled out the only cloth bag she had brought from home from the shelf, went back into the corridor and gave it to Garan.
“Inside this bag is an incense that soothes pain. Please use it.”
“I told you nothing hurts! I wouldn’t rely on incenses even if I was in pain.”
Garan was being stubborn, but she gripped the bag and spoke slowly.
“Incenses can help you sleep well, purify your body and mind, unify your spirit and ward off misfortune. Unlike medicine, it can be used all the time without harm. You didn’t seem like you were in pain the other day, so you must have been taking painkillers then, right? You must have missed a dose or ran out of painkillers today.”
Garan looked away. It seemed like Riri was right.
“I want to become a perfumer who heals people. I want to use incenses to help heal people who are suffering from illness or mental and physical disorders. I helped out at a clinic before I entered the inner palace. People all looked so happy when my incenses helped their physical and mental ailments.”
She could still easily picture the faces of the patients she had helped. She wanted to use the incenses that she made to help people, who are suffering from mental and physical ailments, live a little more comfortably.
“You can’t accept incenses because you’ve experienced something else that incenses can do first-hand. But incenses have unlimited potential.”
Riri stared at him and his eyes widened in surprise.
“Constantly taking painkillers is harmful to your body, but this incense won’t harm you no matter how much you use it. I hope you will use this for your health, General Garan.”
“I don’t want…”
She forced the cloth bag into his hands even though he was still trying to refuse.
“I’m sorry for forcing this on you, but please take it… Please take care of yourself, General Garan. The fate of the army protecting this country rests on your shoulders.”
She gently bowed her head, signalled Ryouka, who was watching their interaction, went back to her room and closed the door.
“… Stupid. I’m not going to use this kind of thing!”
She heard strong words come from the other side of the door and felt him leave.
Riri visited the rear garden again at night.
As she made her way to the pavilion, looking at the pond with the moon reflection in it to her right, she spotted a figure.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you while you’re reading, Kousho-sama.”
“Don’t interrupt me if you feel bad about it.”
She couldn’t help but flinch at how cold he sounded.
She quickly stated her business since it wouldn’t be discussed if they kept being upfront with each other.
“I heard that there is a herb garden in the palace. I’d like to go in there to see if there are any herbs that I can use for fragrance, but I’ve been told that I can’t enter unless I have permission.”
It has been three days since she started concocting. She was still in the process of identifying the materials needed to make the treasured incense.
Garan’s words had been effective and Juka, Ranran and Hisui didn’t bother her anymore, but the process of making the treasured incense was proving to be extremely difficult. She presented a brush and writing paper that she had brought with her to Kousho.
“Please write that you are giving me permission to enter the garden on this piece of paper…”
“If you’re going to make me pick up a brush and write a permission slip then you must do something for me.”
Kousho looked at Riri and smiled. She had a very bad feeling about this and sighed.
“What would you have me do?”
“You’ll pay me for my time and effort. Since you’re taking up the Crown Prince’s time, you must do something that is equivalent to that.”
“I don’t have anything that would satisfy the Crown Prince even if you say I need to do or give you something of equivalence.”
“I don’t want anything. There’s nothing I can’t obtain myself… Oh yes. Tell me about your childhood. I grew up mostly in the palace, so I’m interested in what normal life is like. I want to hear what a normal childhood is like.”
Those words were surprising coming from Kousho. She was surprised that he had a delicate heart that yearned for a normal life.
However, it was certainly understandable that he would be interested in ordinary lives since he grew up as the crown prince.
“You want to know about my childhood? What age should I tell you about?”
Kousho quickly closed his book as she racked her brain for a memory.
“What did you do when you were ten?”
She was bewildered by how quickly he answered. It was as if he had prepared this question for her.
She realised that her father had passed away around the time she was ten as she tilted her head.
“… When Father was alive, we lived in a very nice house as nobles. But I don’t remember living a luxurious life. Father was a man who didn’t care about money or status. I feel like all I saw was his back as he was concocting incenses.”
“Did you have friends?”
“I don’t remember having many friends. I was always helping Father with his concoctions, so I hardly went out.”
“Really? You must have at least had one friend.”
(Why is he being so persistent? He probably didn’t have anyone close enough to call a friend, so maybe he wants to hear about friends?)
“… I’m sorry. My memory of when I was ten is vague. I think the shock from when Father died confused my memories. So, I don’t remember much of what I was doing then… I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything fun.”
When she bowed her head, Kousho seemed to be thinking about something for a while, but then he turned his attention back to her.
“It’s okay. It seems like your brain isn’t very good, so that’s all you remember.”
His smiling face was that of an ideal crown prince, but his words were as awful as ever.
She was going to reply in anger, but he suddenly stood up.
“Shh. Come here.”
When she entered the pavilion on his command, he grabbed her arm and motioned for her to bend down.
“Be quiet. The Prime Minister is here.”
Kousho’s gaze was fixed on the shadows of the building. Soon after, a man came out from behind the building. The man was the Prime Minister, Jin Koudoku. She had heard that he is Hisui’s father.
“Where did Kousho-sama go? I was going to take him to watch Hisui and the others dance… Kousho-sama is unmanageable. I tried my best to make him an inner palace, yet he doesn’t seem interested in it at all.”
The sighing Koudoku lowered his voice.
“I have to make sure that Kousho-sama chooses Hisui as his Empress… Look for him!”
Several soldiers, who were standing behind him, dispersed. Koudoku also approached, close to us, while looking around.
(Does he not want to be found? If he doesn’t, then I need to stay quiet. But we’re so close together right now!)
The two of them were crouched down in the narrow pavilion with Kousho holding her from behind and covering her mouth. She could almost hear his heartbeat since his chest was on her back.
(Waaah! I can’t believe the Crown Prince is hugging me…! I can’t believe I’m feeling his body heat and scent so close to me. What should I do!?)
Her mind was in chaos. She had never been this close to a man before.
She didn’t smell perfume from him even from before. Instead, there was a sweet but somewhat sharp scent coming from him.
As soon as she smelled it, the image of a heavenly dragon flashed in her mind, and she almost bowed down to its power and majesty.
This must be his own scent. Her heart was pounding so loud that it felt like it was about to jump out of her chest, and it took her great effort to stay still, but she managed to hold it together while her face turned red.