Garan left the prison, and the soldier was back as if they were changing places.
Riri looked at the soldier who was standing with his back towards her and sorted what she knew in her mind.
(From what Garan was saying earlier, there’s a high possibility that the culprit is a Dark Perfumer. But when and where did they plant the poisonous incense for His Majesty to smell? The incense I burnt definitely didn’t contain any poison.)
Her nose, which she prided herself in, can detect even the slightest difference in fragrance. If there were any poisons mixed in her incense, then she would definitely know. If so, where had His Majesty smelt the incense?
(The area where His Majesty was sitting first might be suspicious. It was far away, and the hall was open and well ventilated. There were more than a hundred people in the hall, and their scents were mixed together, so if someone had burnt a poisonous incense in the area where His Majesty had been sitting, then even my super olfaction wouldn’t be able to detect it. I might be able to find something if I look around that place.)
She was sure that she would be able to detect traces of poison with her olfaction. But the longer it took, the fainter the scent became. If she delayed her search any longer, then she wouldn’t be able to smell the traces of the poison at all.
She looked at the soldier again. She didn’t think that he would let her out if she asked. She might be able to get out if she asked the soldier to get Garan and explained her idea to him, but the traces of the poisonous incense will disappear.
(Since it’s like this…)
She reached into her chest and pulled out a small, portable incense burner that she had hidden. She always had this incense burner, materials and a flint with her at all times. She was subjected to a physical examination when she was taken to jail, but the soldiers had been reluctant to touch her since they had been taught strictly to be afraid to even speak to women from the inner palace. Thanks to that, they didn’t examine her chest area and her incense tools were somehow safe.
(I wonder if I can make a useful incense with the materials that I have now… Oh, that’s right! I can make that incense with the materials that I have. But…)
The incense she came up with was a ‘sleeping incense’. She had made incenses that made people drowsy many times before, but this was a unique version of it that made you fall asleep as if you had just fainted just by smelling it. She had made it to help people who were suffering from insomnia, but if she could put the soldier to sleep with this incense, then she could escape.
(The problem is that my own incense concoctions have rarely been successful. The sleeping incense doesn’t make me feel sleepy at all.)
The odds of it succeeding were pretty slim, but she knew she couldn’t just sit here and do nothing. She thought about how she could improve the sleeping incense and calculated the ingredients and measurements she needed in order to make it. She mixed the ingredients together and put them into the incense burner in a way that went unnoticed by the soldier. Then, she screamed with all her might.
“Kyah! It’s a rat!”
“It’s running down the hall! People say that rats bring plagues, so we have to get rid of it quickly.”
She pointed at the corridor outside of the prison. The soldier rushed to the end of the corridor.
When she was sure that he was out of sight, she struck the flint and lit the incense burner.
“It seems like it ran away.”
She hid the incense burner behind her back and the soldier returned. Then, he turned his back towards her and kept watch again.
(Alright. I got it lit. This is an odourless incense, so he shouldn’t be able to detect the smell.)
She watched her surroundings, then approached the wooden bars, and put the incense burner near the soldier.
She stepped back so that she wouldn’t inhale the scent, and lightly fanned the smoke with her sleeve so that it would go towards the soldier.
(It should have an immediate effect, so if I could just hold my breath for a while…)
She prayed and looked at the soldier. When the smoke reached the soldier on the other side of the wooden bars, he suddenly bent down.
“Yay! Did it go well…?!”
She cheered for a moment. The soldier, who should have fallen asleep, turned towards her.
The soldier’s eyes were shining, he was breathing really heavily. Then, he roared.
“Uoooah! I’m on fire-!”
She looked at the soldier who was banging his head against the wooden bars and was troubled that she had made the same mistake as before.
“Why are you getting excited instead of falling asleep?! Isn’t that the exact opposite effect-?!”
Actually, she was too embarrassed to admit this to Garan, but her own incenses often had the opposite effect of what she was aiming for. She tried to change the amount, but she failed again this time.
“What should I do? What if he doesn’t fall asleep…? Hmm?”
The soldier ran back and forth through the narrow corridor of the prison. The cell that Riri was in was at the very end with a wall to her left. The soldier rushed into the wall.
Perhaps the soldier ran too fast since he couldn’t stop and crashed into the wall with a tremendous thud.
He slumped down in front of her. She reached out at him through the wooden bars and found that he seemed to have fainted.
“I’m sorry for burning a weird incense. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I can’t escape like this… Huh? That’s the key to this cell on your hip, isn’t it?”
The soldier had fainted near the bars, and the key was within her reach.
“Hmmm. I didn’t mean for things to turn out like this. I was supposed to put him to sleep with the sleeping incense, and then make a quick escape from this cell with the key. How can I be an inspiring perfumer when I had failed to make the incense I wanted…? The soldier just happened to faint nearby so I could get the key.”
She didn’t know whether to be happy or sad, but for now, she had to get out of here and find out more about the poisonous incense. She almost cried about how unskilled she was, but she reached out and took the key.
“I’m sorry, I’ll be borrowing this.”
She struck her hand out of the wooden bars and unlocked the door. She sneaked out through the open door.
“Get yourself together. I can’t accept this but it’s fine. Now, I have to hurry and get out into the corridor.”
She took a deep breath and started running outside.
The sun was setting when Riri emerged from the prison. She headed towards the hall, being careful not to be seen.
“Who is it?!”
As she was running through the garden, she heard a voice from behind her. At the same time, a light shone on her.
This is bad, she yelled in her mind as she quickly turned the corner.
“Wait! Suspicious person!”
She looked back as she ran and saw that two soldiers were chasing after her. Not wanting to be caught here, she ran as fast as she could while gasping. After a while, she saw a familiar building.
(It’s the Beautiful Flower Palace! Only the royal family and authorised guards are allowed to enter there.)
She went inside through the backdoor and ran up the corridor. She noticed the storage room in front of her after running for a while.
“If it’s there…”
She had run too much and reached her limit. She went into the storage room, closed the door and held her breath.
“They must have gone this way.”
The voice sounded very close. Her pursuers had unexpectedly entered the inner palace.
“We’ve just had an assassination attempt on His Majesty. We’ve been ordered to capture anyone who looks suspicious. Find them!”
The soldier sounded as if he was panicking.
“I can’t go out. I guess I’ll have to hide here until night falls.”
The more time passed, the fainter the scent of the poisonous incense would become. She didn’t have time to wait until nightfall. As she sat there, holding her breath, she heard the footsteps of the soldiers moving away.
“Thank god… It seems they’ve gone somewhere else.”
The door suddenly opened while she was feeling relieved. It was so sudden that she didn’t have time to hide.
She braced herself to see if the soldiers had found her, but it was Hisui who was standing there.
“So, it is you. I heard you got arrested for trying to assassinate His Majesty.”
Hisui had on a poker face like always. Riri stood up quickly and shook her head frantically.
“No, I’m not the culprit. I escaped from my cell to catch the real culprit…”
Hisui hadn’t supported Juka and Ranran’s bullying, but she didn’t stop them either. She was sure Hisui didn’t like her, so it was pointless to say anything here, but she wanted Hisui to pretend that she hadn’t seen Riri here.
Riri heard the soldier’s voice. They seemed to have returned. There was only one door in the storage room.
Hisui was standing at the door. Even if Riri pushed Hisui out of the way and ran, there was a good chance that the soldiers would catch her.
She shut her eyes and heard a rattling sound. She opened her eyes in surprise and saw that the door was closed.
“What’s going on?”
Before Riri could comprehend the situation, she heard Hisui’s voice from the other side of the door. She was talking to the soldier. Riri thought that Hisui was going to hand her over to the soldiers but wondered why she had closed the door if that was the case.
“We saw someone enter the inner palace and are pursuing them.”
“I saw a strange woman running that way.”
(What? Why are you lying when I’m right here?)
She heard the soldier’s voice from outside the door while she was puzzled.
The soldier seemed doubtful, but Hisui raised her voice coldly.
“Yes. I am Jin Hisui. Are you saying that I, as the daughter of the Grand Chancellor, would lie? Oh yes, as you probably know, this is the Beautiful Flower Palace, Kousho-sama’s inner palace. If a man enters the inner palace without permission, then they will be executed. Won’t you be prosecuted for entering the inner palace without permission even if you’re chasing a suspicious person?”
“Consort Hisui…?! I, I’m sorry! We were rushing, but it was a mistake to enter the inner palace without permission. I will immediately inform the guards of the inner palace about the suspicious person and leave.”
The soldier’s attitude changed at once and he apologised earnestly. Then, Riri heard Hisui’s gentle voice.
“You’re just doing your job. It’s alright. Hurry up and leave.”
Riri heard the footsteps of the soldier moving away. The door opened as she widened her eyes in confusion and Hisui stepped into the storage room again. She widened her eyes in disbelief. She had thought that Hisui would turn her into the soldiers, but she had actually covered for her instead.
“You want to know why I saved you? I’m afraid I don’t know why myself.”
Hisui looked beautiful even when she was troubled. Hisui sighed softly.
“I thought you were someone who I didn’t have to worry about. Juka and Ranran didn’t seem like they like you, but if you ran away from their bullying then you aren’t suited for the inner palace. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re gone, so I thought I should just let them do what they want.”
Riri remembered that Hisui always looked at Juka, Ranran and herself with cold eyes.
“But I was shocked when you said that we should make our own dreams come true. Ever since I was a child, I was taught that the happiness of women in this kingdom is to become the wife of a virtuous person. That’s what I’ve been told my whole life…”
Hisui choked on her words then. Her expression changed for the first time.
“But the truth is, I really hated being told this…!”
Her face contorted and tears welled up in her eyes. The beautiful Hisui was always expressionless.
Riri had thought she looked like a doll, but her crying face was cute and appropriate for her age.
“I’ve been in love with Kousho-sama since the first time I saw him. I would love to be his wife, but I wouldn’t like to be the wife of another man, no matter how virtuous he may be. It’s my life. I want to marry the person I love.”
This was something that Hisui kept deep within her.
“I actually wanted to study more. I always hated being told that all women should do is dress up and smile.”
Hisui was a proud woman, so she couldn’t stand being controlled.
“I wanted to learn the same things that my brothers are learning. But I was told to restrain myself because I’m a girl. I was told that men don’t like women who are smarter than they are. I thought I had to live like I was told to, but after hearing your words, I realised that maybe I could choose a different path.”
Hisui stared at Riri with her tear-filled eyes.
“You’re a woman, yet you said your dream is to become a perfumer… I’m jealous since I’m not allowed to have a dream or even talk about my dreams.”
Hisui was born into a high ranked noble family. Riri thought that Hisui was pretty and lived a life without any problems. However, different people have different ideas about what made them happy. Happiness to Hisui is using her talents and living her own life rather than living under protection.
“… Consort Hisui. As I’ve said before, dreams are meant to be fulfilled. No matter how difficult it may seem, you are free to set it as your goal. Everyone can dream. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. I don’t think it’s bad for you to have a dream and to say it out loud.”
Riri smiled and Hisui bit her lip.
“It’s not that easy. It is my fate as the daughter of the Grand Chancellor… Go.”
Hisui suddenly strained her expression and raised her voice in a dignified manner. Then, she pointed at the door.
“I don’t think you tried to kill His Majesty. Since it’s you, I’m sure you want to investigate this yourself. This is also something you need to do in order to achieve your dream, so do what you want. But the soldiers might catch you if you’re dressed like that, so why don’t you change into a maid’s uniform? I’ll bring you the robes.”
“Are you sure? If they find out you helped me then even you will be charged as my accomplice.”
“Our situation will go bad if it turns out that there’s a criminal in the Beautiful Flower Palace. At the very least, catch the real culprit and prove your innocence. I’ll help you do that.”
Riri couldn’t help but smile as Hisui raised her head aloofly.
“Thank you very much…!”
“Don’t get me wrong. I really like Kousho-sama. So, this is the only time I’ll be helping you. Find the culprit and return to the Beautiful Flower Palace as soon as you can.”
“I’ll definitely come back. Let’s work together to achieve our dreams, Consort Hisui.”
Hisui smiled softly. Riri bowed her head deeply in gratitude as Hisui closed the door behind her and left.