Several doctors were busy standing around and working in the Emperor’s bedchamber.
The Emperor was sitting on his bed, and when Riri and Kousho entered the room, he turned his head towards them and smiled.
“You’re here. Come here.”
Kousho dismissed the surrounding doctors. After a short while, it was just Kousho, the Emperor and Riri left in the room. When she looked up from her kneeling position by the bed, the Emperor’s face was pale.
“Father. The Dark Perfumer who had infiltrated the palace was Mokuren. He said he is the current head of the Dark Perfumers.”
Kousho summed up what had happened earlier and reported this to the Emperor who sighed when he had finished listening.
“The Nine-tailed Fox has appeared? He has concluded that I am an unvirtuous Emperor. The Nine-tailed Fox indicated that he wants to start a revolution. They’ll try again.”
The stern expression on his face was that of an Emperor’s. Riri almost shuddered from fear and awe.
“Riri, you were quick to uncover the truth. Above all else, your father died to protect the treasured incense. I’ve always wanted to honour him for his service, but I couldn’t do so publicly. You and your mother have also been missing for so long that I haven’t been able to do anything to honour him.”
The Emperor’s eyes were gentle, and then she noticed that there was regret hidden behind his eyes.
“One of the regrets I have as an Emperor is that I had to hide the fact that Saido lost his life protecting the treasured incense.”
The Emperor’s words were filled with sadness, regret and various other emotions.
“I predicted that you and your mother would be targeted had I made the success of the treasured incense public. I did what I had to do to protect you, but I still regret what I did. I’m sorry.”
The Emperor gently touched her cheek. His hands were wrinkled but strong. Knowing that there was someone here who recognised her father’s efforts brought tears to her eyes. Kousho turned towards the Emperor and bowed.
“Father. I have a proposal. I will take over the throne in a year’s time. The kingdom I’m aiming to build is one where talented people can flourish regardless of their status or gender.”
This was the first time Riri had heard what was on Kousho’s mind. The Emperor sighed.
“A kingdom where talented people can flourish… It is certainly an ideal kingdom, but it would be difficult to actualise that in our kingdom.”
“I know. The national examination needed to obtain qualifications granted by the kingdom, as well as the imperial examination to become an official can only be taken by men. Also, only nobles can take the imperial examination. It will take a lot of effort to change this system. However, there is a person who has the potential to make the old system vanish.”
The Emperor’s eyes were stern, but he also seemed as if he was looking at something interesting.
“Who is that?”
Kousho looked at Riri. She was shocked to see his greyish-brown eyes stare at her.
“If Riri can make the treasured incense and become a master perfumer, then this kingdom will surely change. Because the Qilin, the auspicious beast who holds a benevolent heart, will be a woman. If she receives the Qilin title, then she will be my right-hand woman in politics. I will be able to show the world that women and people of low statuses can be excellent talents as well.”
That was the same dream that she had told Mokuren. Her heart was filled with excitement as soon as she heard this.
Mokuren said he would kill the Emperor and start a revolution. His dream of an equal kingdom where there was no distinction between men and women, or statuses, was her dream kingdom as well. But she didn’t want to create this by shedding blood.
She wanted to prove that it was possible to change the kingdom without making sacrifices.
(Mokuren won’t stop his revolution no matter what I say. But I can bring about a new wind to this Kingdom if I make the treasured incense and become a master perfumer. If I can prove that revolution is possible without sacrifice… then would the Nine-tailed Fox return to his original position of protecting the royal family?)
She knew it would be difficult, but she believed that this was the only thing she could do to stop Mokuren.
(Mokuren… you saved my life. You came to visit when Mother and I were shivering from the cold in the downtown terrace houses and had nothing to eat. I can’t hate you no matter who you are…)
She owed him a lot and had some important memories with him. She wanted to rescue him from the vortex of revenge. And more than anything, she wanted to make the treasured incense and restore her father’s honour.
“Please let me do it. I’m not a perfumer but I watched my father mix incenses. My memory of that time is vague since it was erased by the treasured incense. However, my olfaction still remembers how the incense was prepared even if my memories have been erased. As proof of this, I was able to recreate one of the treasured incenses, the ‘Memory Erasing Incense’.”
She looked up and saw that the Emperor was thinking.
“If I have the time and materials, then I can make the other treasured incense, the ‘Memory Restoring Incense’. I’d like to use it to regain my memories and remember what had happened when Father died.”
The memory of watching her father die must have been gruesome, so she was scared to remember it.
But her desire to know the truth was stronger. Most importantly, it was painful to only be able to remember her father’s face vaguely. She wanted to use the Memory Restoring Incense to regain her memories of her father.
She pleaded with all her heart and the Kousho turned stern.
“Riri, this is a dangerous path. You will be risking your life. There are many people who think that women shouldn’t be appointed official positions. The fierce ones may even try to kill you to get you out of the palace.”
She felt anxious when she thought about it. Kousho’s words weren’t a threat. If she stayed in the palace to make the treasured incense, then what he had just said would happen in the near future. But she kept strong.
“I’m aware of the risks. But still, please let me do it. I want to become a master perfumer, earn the Qilin title and become a person who can protect this Kingdom with a benevolent heart. I want to work together with Kousho-sama and General Garan to continue to maintain the peace of this Kingdom. I’ll prove that even a woman can do this.”
Riri suddenly remembered Hisui. She was certain that Hisui also had a dream that she hid deeply within her heart.
She wanted the world to change into a place where Hisui could openly talk about her dreams. The Emperor chuckled.
“You really are Saido’s daughter. Saido also acted strongly to achieve his goals… I understand your feelings. If the next Emperor, Kousho, wants to create such a world, then so be it. I’m already old. My aides told me that I will still have the right to make decisions even if I hand over the throne to Kousho, but I’ve had enough.”
The Emperor raised his eyebrow in annoyance.
“You are allowed to make the treasured incense, Riri, but there is a problem. It is not easy to change the imperial system. It would be unwise to let Riri make the treasured incense at the Department of Incenses since she is not a perfumer. People will look down on you and criticise you.”
Riri believed that as well. She glanced at Kousho.
“I always thought about that. The Dark Perfumers are after the treasured incenses and others might attack her for her memories of her father if they find out that she is making the treasured incense. So, why don’t we let her secretly make the treasured incense at the Beautiful Flower Palace instead of the Department of Incenses?”
The Emperor slightly widened his eyes. He pondered for a moment, then gave a small nod.
“That might be a good idea. It will be less dangerous if you remain as a talented person in Kousho’s inner palace and mix the incense in secret. The Beautiful Flower Palace is a place where men aren’t allowed to enter and it’s heavily guarded. I’ll make sure you have everything you need, so what do you think about this, Riri?”
She had mixed feelings about this. The Department of Incenses was equipped with the tools she needed and there were other perfumers there, so she could get help from them.
(But His Majesty has a point. I’m not an official perfumer, so I can’t impose on the Department of Incenses. It would be better for me to keep it a secret that I’m making the treasured incense.)
“I understand. I will do my best.”
The Emperor nodded in satisfaction as she made up her mind.
“One more thing. Kousho will inherit the throne in a year’s time, so I want you to complete the treasured incense by then. When Kousho becomes Emperor, I want to reassure the people, who are growing anxious about the threat from the neighbouring kingdom, by letting them know that we have gathered three people with auspicious titles and have completed the treasured incense. Riri, if you can complete the treasured incense by next year, then I will acknowledge you as a Master Perfumer and bestow you the Qilin title. Can you do it?”
The Emperor turned his sharp gaze at Riri, and she suddenly lost her nerves. What will happen to her if she doesn’t succeed?
What if she gets attacked by an enemy who wants the treasured incense? What if I’m interrupted by those who don’t like women working in court?
The more she thought about it, the more anxious she became. She felt something soft and warm on her back.
“It’s alright. Run towards your dream. ――― I’ll protect you.”
The anxiety that had been occupying her mind was blown away by his strong words. She turned towards the Emperor as if pushed by Kousho’s words.
“I will definitely make the treasured incense within a year!”
Her voice which was full of resolution echoed in the room.
『Mokuren! I want you to have this incense. I mixed it while thinking about how gentle you are and how safe I feel when I’m around you. I can’t afford expensive materials, but I wanted to thank you for teaching me how to make incenses.』
Mokuren recalled the time when Riri shyly gave him the bag of scented incense three years ago. For some reason, Riri always failed when she tried to make her own incenses. But as far as he knew, this was the first incense that she had been able to make something original properly. The thought of her working so hard just to give him a gift made him feel bittersweet; a feeling he had never felt before in his life.
On one hand, he was happy, but on the other, it was the moment when he first felt bad about deceiving her.
“Mokuren. You seem pretty calm for someone who has failed.”
As Mokuren sat in his chair and reminisced about the past, he looked up at the voice of the person who had appeared before him.
“I didn’t fail. I just had a slight change of plans. I should have known better than anyone how amazing Riri’s olfaction is, but I let my guard down.”
He had been amazed by how incredible her sense of smell was from the moment he met her. It was a pleasure to teach her how to make incenses and watch her skills improve.
“Riri was it? I told you to get rid of her if she didn’t remember how to make the treasured incense, but you insisted that she would remember and kept a close watch on her. It’s your fault that the plan has failed. How do you plan on taking responsibility for this?”
Mokuren clenched his fists at the man’s cold words. However, his expression remained the same and he spoke calmly.
“It’s better to keep her alive. In the past, I heard from Saido that the treasured incense isn’t meant to completely erase memories, but to seal and bury them in the depths of the mind. It’s a one in a million possibility, but I thought it would be possible to trigger her memories and bring them back without using the Memory Restoring Incense.”
He was careful not to sound desperate, both in his tone and in his attitude.
“That was Saido’s personal opinion, so I can’t say that is the truth. However, even though Riri’s past memories have been sealed by the treasured incense, she relied on her sense of smell to recreate the Memory Erasing Incense. She might remember how to make the Memory Restoring Incense if something triggers her memories.”
The man, who was listening with his hand on his chin, chuckled.
“But if she perfects the Memory Restoring Incense and uses it, then won’t you be the person who will be most troubled by her remembering? Riri doesn’t remember, does she know that you…”
Mokuren glared at the man and spoke in a low voice, then the man quickly shut his mouth.
“Oh right. I promised to keep it a secret. Alright, I won’t say anything else. You don’t have to get that angry… Mokuren, if you want to keep her alive, then you should make sure that she doesn’t interfere with us anymore.”
“I know. I’m the Nine-Tailed Fox, and from the moment I received that title, I vowed to start a revolution to protect the weak people of this kingdom. I’ve thought about our next move.”
He stared at the man and raised his voice in determination.
“We, the Dark Perfumers, will create a new kingdom. We won’t show any mercy on those who oppose us, even if it’s Riri.”
He was certain that there was no hesitation in his voice, but the image of Riri smiling flashed through his mind and his chest tightened in pain.