Just noticed I used Queen instead of Empress… have gone back and changed it in past chapters!
“Do you think I’m joking in this situation?”
The Crown Prince of Shinzui, Kousho, is a man of unparalleled beauty, not only in Shinzui, but also in neighbouring kingdoms.
She had heard this before. She had thought that the rumours were exaggerated, but he was actually far more handsome than the rumours said he is. Not only did he have a well-shaped handsome face, but he also had a beautiful low voice that made her legs want to give way.
He looked tall and slender, but his body was actually well-trained. He was the embodiment of the beauty that God had extravagantly created. Her heart felt like it was going to jump out of her chest as he stared at her closely.
(What should I do! My heart’s beating so much that it hurts! Kya!)
She was screaming in her mind because she was being hugged by strong arms.
“… I won’t give you to anyone.”
His sweet whispers made her heart throb and she frowned.
“I don’t think you like me enough to say that…?”
She couldn’t help but wonder why he was whispering loving words that sounded as if he was proclaiming his love to a long-time lover.
Kousho’s body shivered as they hugged each other.
“You’re teasing me, aren’t you? Please let me go. I have something important to talk to you about.”
She tried to push his body away, but he didn’t budge. She panicked while wandering what she should do, and he put more strength into his arms. He hugged her so tightly that it made it difficult for her to breathe.
She never imagined that she would be hugged by the Crown Prince of this kingdom.
Kousho’s arms suddenly loosened as she struggled, and she tried to take this opportunity to escape, but he wouldn’t let her. He easily picked her up and quickly put her on the bed.
“What are you doing?!”
“What do you think?”
She thought this was a bad joke, but she felt as if her body was in danger since she realised that it might not be a joke. Kousho stayed on top of her.
“Stay here forever if you’re not going to go back to your cell. Being by my side is the safest place in the world. Don’t get involved with this anymore.”
His voice sounded gentle. A normal woman might be spellbound by his voice, but Riri was different.
She remembered why she had come here because of those words.
“I can’t do that~!”
She shouted and managed to push Kousho away. Something rolled out of her sleeve as she got up. Kousho stopped moving when he saw what had rolled onto the bed. It was the incense container that his first love had given to him.
“Where did… you get this?”
“I came here to talk to you about this. Please listen to me!”
She raised her voice and Kousho reluctantly got up. She sighed in relief now that she could finally have a real conversation with him. She got out of bed and rearranged her clothes. Then, she turned to Kousho.
“This incense container was found in the container in the chair that His Majesty was sitting on. I’ll get straight to the point. This incense container smells like poison. When the Department of Incenses examined this container, they found traces of poison. What is the meaning of this, Kousho-sama?”
“… I see. So, you suspect I did it. Of course, you would. That belongs to me. And if that had poison in it, then it could belong to the culprit. In other words, that is proof that I’m the criminal.”
“That’s right. But I don’t think you did it.”
She looked down and Kousho seemed surprised.
“What makes you think I didn’t when you have the evidence with you?”
“I don’t think you’re as bad as you make yourself out to be. You may be arrogant, but you’re actually a good Crown Prince who wants peace for his kingdom. You also respect your father, His Majesty, a lot…”
“But that may be a lie. I may have just acted that way and was secretly planning to assassinate my father so that I can have full power over this kingdom… Garan seems to think this way.”
He seemed relaxed even though he was under suspicion.
“Garan is a good person, but he’s serious and inflexible. The situation indicates that I’m the culprit. But he also wants to believe me. I’m sure he’s having an internal struggle… Hmm. Interesting.”
“Please don’t be amused by this. He’s conflicted because he trusts you.”
Kousho looked as if he was sulking.
“I’ve been wondering this since a while ago. You call Garan by his name, but you add honorifics to my name. I didn’t know that you’ve gotten that close to him. How did this happen?”
She blinked her eyes as he drew closer to her.
(Huh?! You’re the suspect of an assassination and that’s what you’re curious about?!)
“Hey, tell me. When did you and Garan get that close? He hates perfumers.”
“Can’t we talk about that later?”
He tried to say something but closed his mouth. He looked down as if he was thinking about something, then opened his mouth again.
“You’re a talented person from my inner palace. You won’t be able to complain if I dismiss you for getting close to another man.”
“Maybe, but I entered your inner palace, so that I can create the treasured incense. It’s not like you want to make me your Empress, or your concubine.”
She remembered every word he had said to her. She had never heard him tell her that he thought of her as a woman. He seemed to be pondering again, but then he suddenly sighed.
“Forget it. I’ll ask Garan later.”
She was fed up with his persistence and chose her next words carefully since she wanted to get back to the topic at hand.
“I don’t believe you’re lying to me. Your personality is bad, but you don’t seem like a liar.”
Kousho tilted his head curiously when she looked up at him.
“I don’t remember doing anything to make you trust me that much.”
“You’re right. I only remember you saying unpleasant things to me, but that’s just how I feel… Everyone suspected me of mixing a poisonous incense when His Majesty collapsed. But for some reason, I strongly believed that you were the only person who would believe me innocent.”
The first time she had met him was about a month ago at the downtown clinic. After that, she had several opportunities to talk with him alone, but she never felt as if they were close enough for her to trust him.
“It’s weird. I don’t know how to put this, but my heart screaming… that you didn’t try to assassinate His Majesty. The screaming won’t stop, no matter how much evidence I gather, or how bad of a person you are.”
Kousho suddenly looked down and his shoulders shook as he began laughing.
“Fufuhaha. You’re really interesting.”
The first sincere smile she saw from him looked very gentle. It was as if he was a completely different person from the person who usually looks mean.
She was fascinated by his smile.
“I’ll tell you the truth since you trust me that much. I lost that incense container. No, it was stolen from me.”
“Last night. I happened to have it with me when I showed it to you, but I usually keep it in my room.”
Kousho brought a box from the desk by his bed that was large enough to hold in the palm of his hand.
The golden box gleamed and didn’t have a scratch on it.
“I usually keep it in this box, but the incense container was gone when I opened this box last night. It was there the day before yesterday, so someone must have stolen it yesterday. I wanted to find the thief and get it back straight away, but the palace has been so busy with the perfumer’s meeting, so I thought I wouldn’t be able to find the thief until after the meeting was over.”
She realised something as she looked at the golden box and listened to his story.
“I really don’t think you’re the culprit after all. You kept the incense container in such a beautiful box. You must have looked at it everyday since you knew that it wasn’t there last night but was there the day before yesterday. It’s that important to you, so I don’t think you would use it as a tool for assassination.”
Riri smiled and Kousho looked embarrassed.
“Don’t tell anyone about this. You’re the only person who I’ve shown this incense container to.”
He did have a pure heart. She even thought that it was cute that he stared at the box.
Kousho suddenly became serious.
“I’m not the culprit, and even if I were, I wouldn’t be foolish enough to leave my own incense container in a place where someone would find it. Someone’s setting me up.”
That was what she thought. Kousho is cunning. If he really wanted to assassinate the Emperor, then he would have made a more complete plan. Kousho put his hand over his mouth.
“The real culprit originally planned on framing me for the crime. Think about it. It was only decided then and there that you would burn the incense. No one could have predicted that. The plan was for my father to fall ill from the poisonous incense while he was sitting on the crafted chair, and when people checked the chair, they would have found my incense container and I would have been arrested for the crime.”
That’s right, she thought. The Emperor had told her to burn the incense there, so she did.
And then he collapsed after she had burnt it.
Perhaps the incense that he had smelled while sitting on the crafted chair had slowly worked its way through his system and poisoned him then.
“You just got caught in the middle of it… Anyway, behave yourself… Hey, Garan, come in!”
The door opened and Garan came in as soon as Kousho shouted this. Garan didn’t hide his dissatisfaction.
“Kousho-sama. You can’t touch a woman outside of the inner palace…”
“I was only joking around a little. You knew I was, so you didn’t come in, right?”
“Yes… But Riri entered the inner palace to become a perfumer. I’m not sure that such a joke is appropriate now that I know this.”
Garan was genuinely angry.
His words were polite, but Riri could tell that he was feeling murderous even without smelling his sweat. Kousho frowned a little.
“Garan. Do you like Riri? You sound as if you’re jealous.”
Garan suddenly turned red.
“No way! Riri and I are helping each other catch the real criminal. We’re comrades! I just can’t stand it when I see people treat my comrades lightly!”
Riri was happy to hear his sentiment, and quietly approached him.
“Thanks, Garan. But it’s alright. It’s a bad joke on Kousho-sama’s part as usual. We shouldn’t be arguing right now. Let’s work together to catch the real culprit.”
“No, I won’t be working with you.”
Riri stared at Kousho, startled by his sudden declaration.
“Garan and I will search for the real culprit. You, go back to your cell. I’ll send someone I trust to guard you. You might be targeted if you wander around outside.”
“No! They’re using poisonous incenses. Isn’t it possible that the Dark Perfumers are involved?”
“Why do you know about the Dark Perfumers? … You remember?”
She didn’t know what he was talking about and tilted her head in confusion. Kousho looked surprised.
“What do you mean by remember? I heard that Dark Perfumers use poisonous incenses from Garan.”
After she had said that, she remembered that the words ‘Dark Perfumer’ had popped into her head before she heard about them from Garan. But Kousho spoke before she could tell him about this.
“I see. You heard about them from Garan… It’s nothing, don’t worry about it. I don’t know what he told you, but Dark Perfumers are really dangerous. I obtained information that their associates had infiltrated the palace a long time ago, so I had Garan investigate this. It’s highly likely that they’re involved in this matter as well.”
It was highly likely that they were using a poisonous incense to assassinate His Majesty, but Riri had one question.
“Why do the Dark Perfumers want to assassinate His Majesty?”
Kousho and Garan averted their gaze slightly when she stared at them.
“… It’s none of your business. Riri, this is as dangerous as it gets for you. Leave the rest to us.”
Garan agreed with Kousho.
“That’s right, Riri. You’ve checked the hall and found traces of poison. You’ve also talked with Kousho-sama, so you should be satisfied now, right? Prison is the safest place for you right now.”
Although they were at odds with each other, Garan and Kousho only agreed with each other at times like this.
“But I’m the one who found the incense container that the poisonous incense was in. Please let me help. And…”
She mumbled. Actually, there was something that was bothering her this whole time. She had a feeling that what was bothering her would become a huge clue to finding out the truth if Kousho isn’t the culprit.
She wanted to explain what she had found out to them, but they didn’t seem to want to listen to her.
“No. Garan, take her back.”
Garan nodded in response to Kousho’s order. She instinctively backed away as Garan slowly approached her.
(What should I do? There’s still something I want to confirm, but I’m sure they’ll force me back to the prison if they need to. Even though this is something that only I can confirm…!)
She quickly looked around. Fortunately, the entrance to the room was right behind her.
“I’m sorry you two!”
She deliberately knocked over the chair that was on her right, stopping Garan in his tracks and ran towards the entrance. She left the room and ran down the hallway as fast as she could, trying to shake off Garan who was chasing after her.