How long had it been since she was put in this dark and damp prison?
Riri sat with her knees folded up and recalled the incident that had happened in the hall over and over again.
“The incense I made was definitely the same as always. If there it had mixed with a poisonous incense, then my sense of smell wouldn’t have failed to detect it. And yet, His Majesty was in pain. Why?”
If things continue like this, then she wouldn’t be able to make the treasured incense and will be executed for attempting to assassinate the Emperor.
She wanted to prove her innocence, but she couldn’t figure out where or how the Emperor was poisoned.
“His Majesty didn’t eat anything in the hall. Did he eat something poisonous before he came to the hall…?”
The voice came from through the wooden bars at the entrance of the prison.
There was a soldier standing there moments ago, but now it was Garan standing there with his arms folded.
“The poison tester tastes everything His Majesty eats. It’s impossible for him to eat poisonous food. Moreover, according to the doctor, His Majesty’s symptoms were caused by smelling a poisonous incense.”
Shocked by what she had heard, Riri ran over to him and tightly gripped the wooden bars.
“Is His Majesty alright?”
“It was a close call, but he survived.”
“That’s a relief…”
She weakly fell to her knees. Garan also bent down when he saw this.
“It’s not the time to be relieved. You’re the suspect. Everyone in the palace is saying that you’re the culprit.”
“I would never! The situation may seem suspicious, but I have no reason to assassinate His Majesty…”
“You do. You’re Ou Riri. Saido’s daughter.”
Riri widened her eyes and Garan nodded quietly.
“Your father was forced to leave the palace after he failed to present the treasured incense. I heard that he passed away after that. People suspect that you hold a grudge against His Majesty because your father had died since he lost all hope when he was forced to leave the palace, so in order to get revenge, you entered the palace and made His Majesty smell a poisonous incense.”
Riri widened her eyes at what she had just heard and then quickly shook her head.
“I… I’m not the culprit. I want to restore my father’s honour, but I was going to prove that he had made the treasured incense by making it myself. And more importantly, I would never use incenses to torment people!”
Incenses have been a part of her life for as long as she could remember. Smelling incenses reminded her of her father and made her feel happy. She felt delighted to see people being healed by the incenses she made. Incenses are an irreplaceable part of her life.
Garan probably wouldn’t believe her even if she shouted with a trembling voice. She suddenly realised that the reason he had sent the soldier away was because he might secretly kill her here. Neither Garan nor that man, Senshin, made it a secret that they hate perfumers. She couldn’t help but give him a frightened look.
“I’m not the culprit. You may not believe me, but I swear…”
Her head was full of thoughts about how she could calmly explain this and make him understand.
“Yeah, you’re not the culprit. I know.”
“I said, I’m not the culprit… Wait, what?!”
She didn’t understand what Garan was saying for a moment and let out a hysteric voice.
“I said that I don’t think you’re the culprit.”
He looked sour, but his words weren’t as harsh as they were before.
“Do you believe me, Garan-sama?!”
“You don’t have to add -sama. You’re my benefactor, Riri.”
She blinked. She was confused. Garan suddenly grabbed the collar of his robe and turned around.
Garan had stripped himself to the waist, and she saw that he had a rather large scar running from his shoulders to his back.
“This happened ten years ago. I almost died, but I managed to survive. But the wound would hurt a lot on cold or rainy days.”
It was normal for a wound this large. But now, Garan wasn’t exuding sweat that smelled as if he was enduring pain.
“Does it not hurt right now? It’s really cold today.”
It wasn’t cold enough to snow, but it had gotten quite cold lately.
“Ah. It’s thanks to your incense that it doesn’t hurt.”
She stared at Garan, who was fixing his robe, and recalled.
She gave him incense that had a pain killing effect since she could tell from the scent of his sweat that he was in pain.
“You used it?”
“Yes. I knew that you weren’t lying since you said you wanted to become a perfumer who healed people. I don’t like perfumers or incenses, but your eyes were shining so brightly that I felt like I could trust you. So, I humoured you and used the incense.”
His face told her that he had been unwilling to do so, but she was sure that he was someone who wouldn’t lie.
He was a righteous man who could give fair assessments even if it was for something he didn’t like.
“I couldn’t sleep recently because of the ache, but after burning the incense, I slept well until morning. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept this well… I didn’t want to rely on incenses or medicine.”
She was certain that he meant what he had said in the last sentence.
“I think you can rely on incenses and medicine when you need them. You only live once, so I think it’s better to use what you can to live a happy and relaxing life rather than suffer from poor conditions. You may harm your body if you use medicine too much, but incenses aren’t harmful to your body no matter how many times you use it.”
“That may be true, but I feel that relying on incenses and medicine is a sign of weakness.”
“Garan-sama… I’m sure you’re a strong person, Garan. But I think you should rely on what you can rely on and use that strength for something else.”
Garan blinked several times. Then, he laughed.
“I’ve never heard someone say that before. But you may be right. When you’re in pain, you’re so occupied with yourself, so you can’t think of others. Instead, it’s better to use what you can to have more room in your heart.”
When the usually stern General smiles, he is a refreshing and charming man.
“At any rate, I’m curious as to how you knew that I was in pain. No one noticed I was since I didn’t let it show in my face or in my attitude.”
“Actually, my sense of smell is very special.”
She told Garan about her super olfaction, and how she was able to detect that he was in pain from the scent of his sweat.
“… It’s unbelievable. But it’s true that you noticed that I was in pain. And I don’t think you would lie.”
Garan was confused, but he seemed convinced. Riri smiled at him.
“Thank you for believing me, Garan.”
“I believe you, but the court does not. Everyone thinks that you’re the culprit.”
Garan sighed and folded his arms. The incident in the hall replayed in Riri’s mind.
“But it’s not easy to make a poisonous incense. Incenses are originally meant to heal people. You need a very special method to mix poisonous incenses…”
As she thought about this, a word suddenly popped into her mind.
“… Dark Perfumers?”
“Why do you know those words?!”
Garan’s expression suddenly became stern. She was confused and searched through her memories.
“… I don’t know. They’re just words that suddenly popped into my head when I was thinking about poisonous incenses. What are Dark Perfumers? From the way you asked me that question, you must know what they are, right?”
The word ‘Dark Perfumers’ left such a strong impression on her that she couldn’t get it out of her head once she thought about it. Her heart was filled with anxiety. She knew those words, but she couldn’t figure out what it meant. But every time she thought of the words ‘Dark Perfumers’, she felt a shiver run down her spine, so she knew that she was frightened by those words.
“You said those words without knowing what they mean? What’s the meaning of this?”
“I think I might have heard it from Father. Actually, my memories of him are fuzzy. I was ten when he passed away, so I think I should remember more about him, but I can’t even remember what he looks like. I think the shock of his death was so strong that my memories of him became fuzzy.”
Garan pondered for a while then turned his attention to her.
“… Alright. I’ll tell you about the Dark Perfumers. But this is one of the national secrets. Don’t tell anyone about this. I’m telling you because you’re being framed for assassination.”
She nodded seriously and Garan sighed.
“Dark Perfumers are those who specialise in poisonous incenses. We don’t know how many of them there are or what they’re like, but they’re… they’re an assassination squad.”
“An assassination squad?! So, they’re criminals? Why haven’t they been arrested?”
Garan looked grim.
“We wouldn’t be having this much trouble if they were easy to catch. We are currently investigating them in secret for various reasons. I suspect that the Dark Perfumers are involved in this matter.”
Riri was curious about what those reasons were. But she probably couldn’t ask about it since he hadn’t told her about them.
“Riri, those who don’t know about the existence of the Dark Perfumers think that you’re the culprit. You know about incenses and you could hold a grudge against His Majesty since he expelled your father from court. It’s natural for them to think that you concocted your own poisonous incense and made His Majesty smell it.”
“I do know about incenses, but I can’t make poisonous incenses… I’m really an amateur who hasn’t even passed the Imperial Exam.”
She didn’t want to say this, but she knew she had to confess this in order to prove her innocence, so she spoke heavily.
“An amateur? Ridiculous. You made an incense that took away my pain. You said that you created an incense that was close to the treasured incense, didn’t you? That’s something that the best perfumers of the Department of Incenses couldn’t do no matter how many are there.”
Garan laughed as if he didn’t believe her, but when he saw that she had her head hung down with a gloomy expression on her face, he looked at her through the wooden bars as if panicking.
“Wait. You’re serious? What do you mean by that?”
“Actually, the only incenses that I can make that have any real effects are the ones I made while remembering how my father made them. My nose remembers the scents of my father’s incenses, and I can make the same painkillers and cough suppressant incenses as he did. But I can’t create new incenses myself…”
The main role of a perfumer was to create different mixing methods and create incenses with new effects.
The Imperial Exam for perfumers included a written and practical test in which they demonstrated the incense that they had created.
“For example, let’s say I create an incense that is effective for healing your sore throat using my own mixing methods. But the incense I would end up with would have a different effect, for instance, making you lose your voice instead of relieving the pain.”
She recalled the failed incenses she had made so far. She had made an incense for curing sore throats before. In fact, instead of losing her own voice, her voice turned into the low, harsh tone of a man’s. This went on for a month, and she lived everyday half in tears while trying not to speak and wondering what she would do if her real voice never returned.
Honestly, this was also the fatal weakness that Kousho had pointed out to her when she asked him to let her participate in the perfumers meeting.
(Like Kousho-sama said, I’m an amateur perfumer. I can only make incenses that Father used to make…)
“Really? You confidently said in front of His Majesty that you could make the treasured incense.”
“If you think I’m lying, then you could ask Mokuren. He will testify that I have a good nose and can make incenses, but I’m not good at making new incenses.”
Garan’s dumbfounded look was painful.
“That’s why I’m not good enough as a perfumer to create poisonous incenses. But I really wanted to prove that Father had created the treasured incense. I feel bad for pushing my way into the inner palace even though I’m only an amateur…”
Her words gradually got quieter and quieter. The dumbfounded Garan took a deep breath.
“If what you say is true, then you’re certainly not capable of assassination. And I know very well that you want to heal people with incenses. And I know very well that you want to heal people with incenses. There’s no way you would kill His Majesty with your precious incenses.”
Garan’s eyes became gentle. She was relieved that he believed she was innocent.
Then, she said something that had been bothering her ever since she was locked in this prison.
“I’m changing the topic, but do you know what happened to my maid, Kyouka? I was worried that she would be suspected as well since I’ve been locked up.”
Ryouka knew that Riri was going to enter the inner palace under false pretences and came with her. She didn’t want to cause any trouble for Ryouka.
“Oh, the soldiers seized the maid.”
“No way…! Ryouka has nothing to do with this. Please let her go!”
Riri gasped since the situation was as she had feared. She was so worried about Ryouka that she almost stopped breathing.
“It’s alright. I’ve put her in a different prison, but the guards have been ordered not to handle her roughly. I will take full responsibility for her safety.”
She relaxed after hearing those words and collapsed on the spot.
“Riri, leave the culprit to me. You and your maid will be released immediately after the real culprit is caught. I’ll prove your innocence.”
Garan patted Riri’s head through the wooden bars. The warmth and size of his hand almost brought tears to her eyes.
“… Thank you very much. But please let me do something too.”
“No, you stay here and behave yourself. Alright?”
He emphasised and she could only nod reluctantly.