Today was the day of the perfumers meeting. Riri followed behind the perfumers led by Mokuren. She walked up the stairs that led from the gravel garden to the palace hall.
She wore the same purple hanfu as the other perfumers, and had her hair tied up in a ponytail. Mokuren prepared this hanfu for her since he felt it would be inappropriate for her to attend the perfumers meeting in a dazzling outfit.
In the hall, dozens of men dressed in black government uniforms were standing in a row on the polished floor that didn’t have a scratch on it.
She looked to the left and right at the men who were bowing their heads down while facing the front while following Mokuren and the other perfumers to the bamboo blind.
Mokuren and the perfumers kneeled in front of the bamboo blind, so she did the same.
The Grand Chancellor, Jin Koudoku, sat in front of the bamboo blind, and said in a polite tone.
“Raise your heads. Today, His Majesty the Emperor will personally address the perfumers. This is a great honour. Please don’t be rude. His Majesty is very interested in the concoction of the treasured incense. Answer sincerely.”
(I can’t believe His Majesty will be speaking to us! As expected from a national event.)
A figure was reflected from behind the bamboo blind. Her fingers trembled with nervousness when she thought that it was His Majesty, Ju Reibun.
(Kousho-sama said that His Majesty is the only Emperor in this kingdom’s long history who hasn’t gone to war. I also heard that even though there are constant quarrels with Koran over the mining rights, His Majesty puts a lot of effort into diplomacy and has kept Koran in check through talks alone.)
It is said that Ju Reibun’s diplomatic skills are so good that even the enemy, Koran, is impressed by it. If there was a war, then those living in the downtown area will be affected by it too. People downtown could live peacefully even though they were poor thanks to the Emperor’s excellent diplomacy skills. All the nobles gathered in the hall looked at the bamboo blinds with respect.
When the Grand Chancellor gave the signal, the servant respectfully raised the bamboo blinds.
Behind the bamboo blinds was an elderly man sitting in a golden chair on a raised floor.
He had a stern face with deeply etched wrinkles. His red hair, which had grey streaks in them, was tied up and his body looked stronger than his age. On the robe he wore was a dragon ascending to heaven.
It was a design that only the royal family, the descendants of the dragon, were allowed to wear.
“Thank you all for gathering here today.”
His voice made Riri tense and struck a chord in her stomach. When she looked up front at the Emperor again while flustered, she saw that Kousho and Garan were next to him. The two of them were kneeling on both sides of the Emperor.
“Sei Mokuren of the Department of Incenses, and the perfumers. I have something I lack. Do you know what that is?”
The Emperor looked around at the perfumers. Mokuren, who was in front of the perfumers, bowed his head.
“With all due respect, there is nothing that Your Majesty lacks…”
“That’s not the answer I want to hear. Is there anyone who can tell me?”
When the Emperor looked at the perfumers again, he could tell that they were nervous. Seeing that no one was answering in the quiet hall, Riri took a deep breath. It took her great courage to speak up.
“I believe there is one thing that you lack, Your Majesty.”
She tried to keep her voice as calm as possible even though she was suffocating from tension and fear.
“Wasn’t that a woman’s voice just now?”
The people in the hall started whispering to each other as they looked around the room. The Emperor’s gaze turned towards Riri.
“Silence, all of you! … You’re the girl that Kousho has specially allowed to participate in the perfumers meeting.”
She felt like she was going to stop breathing from fear as he gave her a sharp look. But she managed to keep her wits about her and met his gaze head on. In fact, she had a plan for this perfumers meeting. In order to succeed, it would be best if she left an impression on the Emperor. Her lips and fingertips were trembling, but she mustered up the courage to make her dream come true.
“I am. It is an honour to meet you. My name is Ou Riri. My father was Ou Saido. Thank you for allowing me to participate in this perfumers meeting even though I am not a perfumer.”
Everyone started talking again. Her father had presented the completed treasured incense to the Emperor, but he had failed, and had to leave the palace. This happened six years ago, so many of the officials must still remember this incident.
In fact, it was problematic for her to reveal her name since she had entered the inner palace under false pretences. But yesterday, a servant had come to deliver a letter from Kousho. The letter stated that he had reported to the Emperor that he had allowed Ou Saido’s daughter to participate in the perfumers meeting. So, she didn’t have to hide her identity while in attendance.
When she introduced herself, the Emperor’s expression softened slightly.
“I heard about your identity from Kousho. I also remember Saido well. He was an excellent perfumer. His incenses saved my life many times when my body wasn’t feeling well.”
It seemed that the Emperor had good memories of her father. She glanced at Kousho and he nodded slightly. She thought that Kousho was right in telling her to reveal that she was Saido’s daughter since the Emperor had good memories of her father. It would seem suspicious if a mere girl, who was not a perfumer, participated in a big event like the perfumers meeting. However, she didn’t have to worry about being kicked out if the Emperor knew that she was Ou Saido’s daughter since he was the head of the Department of Perfumers and had researched the treasured incense.
“Riri. Do you know what I lack?”
“With all due respect, I believe what Your Majesty lacks is a master perfumer with the Kirin title. The Emperor is the dragon, the person who protects the kingdom is the Phoenix and the person with a benevolent heart is the Kirin. It is said that when all three people come together, the kingdom will flourish and have the power to control the world. Furthermore, it is said that the treasured incense made by a master perfumer has the power to repel any enemy.”
“Restrain yourself. You can’t talk like that to His Majesty…!”
One of the Emperor’s close aides stood up, but the Emperor stopped him with his hand.
“It’s fine… Riri. You’re correct. You are outspoken like your father. Saido also spoke frankly to me. That honest man isn’t around me anymore.”
The Emperor narrowed his eyes nostalgically and took a deep breath.
“The power of the treasured incense is tremendous. If we have a master perfumer who can make the treasured incense, then our kingdom will be safe. No enemy is to be feared in the face of the treasured incense. And the master perfumer will be given the Kirin title.”
The Emperor turned his attention to Kousho, who was standing to his right.
“I will not be around for much longer. I want together all three people with the auspicious beast titles before I hand over the throne to Kousho. The auspicious beasts have been an emotional support for the people in Shinzui since long ago. The people will surely be delighted when they see these three people wearing the robes of their respective titles and vow to protect the kingdom. The nation’s strength will increase if the people are united. I can’t die until I see that…! Ugh, cough!”
The Emperor suddenly coughed, and Kousho stood up in a panic.
“Father, if you get too excited…”
“I’m fine… Perfumers. You are recognised as the best in this kingdom. I hope you have prepared something that will satisfy me for this perfumers meeting.”
Mokuren was at a loss for words and bowed his head down again.
Riri had just heard from Mokuren that the Department of Incenses hadn’t succeeded in preparing the treasured incense.
She couldn’t get the details out of him, but it seemed that the Department of Incenses couldn’t even narrow down which ingredients to use.
When Mokuren was unsure of how to respond, a soldier in armour sitting in front of the bamboo blinds spoke up.
“I’m sorry for interrupting your conversation. You’re pulling quite the long face, but you could say that the Department of Incenses was established to create the treasured incense, but you’re not going to tell us that you couldn’t produce any results after having so much sacred bamboo wood prepared for the department once every twenty years.”
The soldier stood up and bowed to the Emperor before turning his attention to Mokuren again.
“Mokuren-dono, if you report to His Majesty that you have failed in making the treasured incense, then it’s the same as you saying that the Department of Incenses has no use. Do we really need such a department?”
The people who were nodding their heads in agreement were mostly soldiers.
(This is bad. If things continue like this, then they’ll probably start talking about shutting down the Department of Incenses.)
As she watched them nervously, the soldier continued to speak with an exaggerated tone and gesture.
“Your Majesty, the palace doesn’t need a Department of Incenses that can’t make the treasured incense. Rather than the invisible power of incenses, our army, which works and trains hard every day, will protect Shinzui.”
She feared that the Department of Incenses would be destroyed if they couldn’t make the treasured incense by the time of the perfumers meeting.
This was about to become reality. She didn’t want the Department of Incenses to disappear since she had memories with her father there.
“The treasured incense exists. My father made it!”
All eyes were focused on her when she raised her voice. She was almost seized with fear by their curious looks, but she managed to keep her wits about her. The soldier from earlier glared at her.
“Foolish. Your father is Ou Saido, is he not? I saw how he failed to show the Emperor the treasured incense that he had made. Could it be that you’re also lying to get into the Emperor’s good grace?”
“Please wait, Senshin-sama.”
Mokuren was about to stand up, but the soldier named Senshin glared at him.
“What are you saying when you can’t even make the treasured incense? If you want to give your opinion, then why don’t you wait until you have achieved something?”
Those sarcastic words made Mokuren put on a troubled expression. Senshin must have a higher status than Mokuren. The Department of Incenses situation would get worse if Mokuren were to go against him. Therefore, Mokuren held back his remark. Riri was scared, but she knew that flinching was the same as admitting that her father had failed, so she mustered up her courage.
“I am not trying to get into his good grace. Besides, my father succeeded in making the treasured incense.”
“Then prove it.”
Riri pursed her lips together at those words. Senshin sighed when he saw that she wasn’t speaking.
“You can’t, can you? It’s not easy to make the treasured incense, after all. I heard that you’re not working for the Department of Incenses and were mixing your own incenses at the palace. I heard that you mixed the treasured incense without knowing what effects it has because you can’t enter the Department of Incenses since you’re a woman.”
The whole hall buzzed with whispers. Senshin smiled triumphantly.
“You can’t possibly make the treasured incense when you don’t even know what its effects are. You don’t even know anything about it, so how can you say that your father had made the treasured incense?”
Senshin sneered and Riri looked at him seriously.
“No. I tried making the treasured incense by remembering what my father had done. Then, I realised what the treasured incense could do.”
After seeing Senshin’s surprised expression, she caught her breath and turned her attention to the Emperor.
“Your Majesty, I came here to prove that my father was right. I’ve already studied the effects of the incense that I made while remembering my father’s concoctions. If those effects are the same as the effects of the treasured incense, then this will prove that my father created the treasured incense.”
She was still worried about whether she was correct or not.
That was how unexpected the effects of the treasured incense was. But she kept her confident expression and tone. If she got scared here, then she would never get involved in making the treasured incense again.
“… Riri, if the effects of the incense you made according to your memory is indeed the same as the effects of the treasured incense, then this will prove that Saido succeeded in creating the treasured incense. Kousho, give me your hand.”
“Your Majesty, please don’t push yourself. If you need to talk to her, then you can call her here.”
“It’s fine. I’m always in my room nowadays. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to see everyone’s faces up close.”
The Emperor stood up. She was worried that his condition really wasn’t that good since he had to have Kousho’s help to stand, but he walked up to her firmly. She shivered at his presence as he stood close to her and looked down at her.
(Don’t be afraid. I’ll be one step closer to my dream if I can get through this.)
“Riri, the effects of the treasured incense is a national secret only known to a few people. Speaking about it in public is not allowed. So, whisper to me the effects of the incense that you made by remembering your father’s concoction.”
Riri nodded, stood up and whispered in the Emperor’s ears while trembling in fear.