Kousho has been fond of the small garden located at the east of the palace ever since he could remember.
It was a garden with only a pond, so not many people visited it. As a newly turned 14-year-old, the garden was like a secret hiding place where he could be alone and feel comfortable.
On a hot day when the sun was blazing down and he was sweating, he brushed aside the plants and stepped into the quiet garden.
But then he suddenly stopped. Today, there was a person by the pond. He was surprised and at the same time, he smelled a sweet and sour scent. The scent seemed to be coming from the girl who was sitting on the edge of the pond.
“What are you doing?”
He spoke to her, and she turned around. He had never seen her before. She looked a little younger than him.
She was too young to have entered the harem, and she wasn’t a part of the royal family. She had lovely, big, black eyes and long black hair which she wore in a braid. She was reasonably well-dressed, but her hair ornaments weren’t expensive.
“Ah, I’ve been found. Even though Father had told me not to let anyone find me…”
The girl looked troubled as she stood up in a panic. She looked at him and seemed dazed.
“I’ve never seen anyone with red hair and greyish-brown eyes before! It’s so beautiful… Are you a foreigner?”
“A foreigner, you ask…? Don’t you know who I am?”
Everyone knew that the royal family had different hair and eye colour.
And yet she didn’t know this, so she must be an ignorant girl.
“Are you perhaps a palace guard? Please don’t tell anyone about me.”
“You don’t want me to tell anyone you’re here, so you must be someone who isn’t supposed to be in the palace. If so, then I’ll call the guards.”
Just as he was about to turn around, the girl came up to him and grabbed his arm.
“Wait. I’m not anyone suspicious.”
“How can you say you’re not when you’re sneaking around?”
“Well, that’s true, but… Huh?”
The girl suddenly blinked her eyes and looked at him.
“You have a sad ‘scent’ on you.”
Kousho widened his eyes. The girl who he had met for the first time had just seen right through him. He had hidden his emotions so well that even his close aides couldn’t tell that he was sad, so how did she know?
“What do you mean I smell sad?”
“I have a really good nose. So, I can tell a person’s physical condition and emotions by their scent. Father said that my olfaction can probably detect even a minor change in a person’s scent.”
It was hard to believe but it was true that he was sad. The girl tilted her head.
“Why are you sad? Did something bad happen?”
He hesitated but his mouth opened on its own.
“… My mother passed away.”
Why had he said that? He immediately regretted saying it. His mother, the Empress, had suddenly passed away just a few days ago. Even as a child, he understood that she hadn’t passed away from illness or because of an accident. He knew she had been murdered by someone.
The culprit was probably one of the women in the inner palace. There are hundreds of women in his father’s inner palace.
The all-female scheming world had taken the life of his mother, who, as the Empress, was the sole recipient of the emperor’s love.
He hated the women in the inner palace who had taken his mother away from him. He had decided that he would not have an inner palace if he grew up and became emperor. All he needed was one person to love.
He wondered why he told this to a girl, whom he didn’t know, and suddenly realised that he might have just wanted someone to listen to him. He realised that was how sorrowful his mother’s death had been. For as long as he could remember, he had been educated to be an emperor, and he had been trained not to show his emotions.
Yet, no matter how sad he was, he regretted sharing his feelings with an unknown girl.
He turned to look at her while thinking he shouldn’t have done that and saw that large tears were flowing from her eyes.
“Why are you crying?!”
“Because it’s sad. But you’re holding it in and acting as if everything is fine. I thought about how much pain you are in and tears just… Uoaaah!”
The girl started crying and tears flowed down her cheeks.
It was his first time seeing a girl cry, so he didn’t know what to do, but he still put his hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, don’t cry. Argh! Wa…”
A sob began to well up in his throat, but he managed to hold it back. The girl put her hand on top of his, which was on her shoulder.
“… You can cry. I definitely won’t tell anyone.”
The girl’s kind words triggered his emotions. He couldn’t help but hug the girl as they both sobbed. His father and mother told him to always be cold as the Crown Prince, and he had always disciplined himself to be so. This was the first time he had cried in public.
A long time passed as they cried and finally calmed down.
“I’m sorry. You’re sad, but I cried first. I’ll give you this.”
The girl wiped her tears and pulled out a small incense container from her sleeve. The incense container was made of ceramic and had wisteria flowers painted on a white background. When the girl opened the lid, he saw several white packages inside.
“These are calming incenses. Try burning them when you feel sad, they’ll calm you down.”
The girl’s kindness made him happy. He could be honest in front of her since she didn’t know he was the Crown Prince.
“Thanks. Oh yeah, what’s your name?”
He wanted to talk to her more about these painful feelings that he had to keep inside.
He felt that she would listen to what he had to say no matter what.
He heard a rustling sound coming from the plants. He turned his head in surprise and saw several men standing there.
“Kousho-sama, come with us.”
He didn’t know them. When he saw that they had drawn their swords against him, the Crown Prince, he realised they were enemies.
The men inched closer and closer. He realised that she would be caught up in this when he saw the puzzled look on her face. His instincts were screaming at him to protect her, so he immediately grabbed the girl’s hand.
He pulled her hand and ran in the opposite direction of the men. They ran as fast as they could, but the men were adults. They soon caught up to the boy and girl and blocked their path. The girl, with tears in her eyes, screamed at the men.
“Don’t do anything horrible to him! He’s very sad! I won’t forgive you if you do something to him! Someone! Anyone, please help~!”
He was happy to hear the girl’s scream even though they were in a situation like this. She didn’t know his status. He was filled with a sweet feeling that he had never experienced before while thinking that she was genuinely concerned about him. No one had ever seen him for himself; they only saw him as the Crown Prince. Even his father and mother treated him as a child with the title of Crown Prince. He had always wondered if there was anyone who would see and cherish him for himself.
But here she was.
She had just met him, but she cried with him and accompanied him in his sadness. Her hands were shaking, so she must be scared, but she was still trying to be brave to protect him from the enemies.
He had never met a girl like this before. He wanted to protect her, and he strongly wanted to hold her in his arms and never let go. He had a feeling that meeting her would change his destiny.
“That was my first love,” Kousho chuckled as he looked at the pond where he had met the girl.
The memory of that day was so strong that he hadn’t forgotten it for six years, not even for a single day.
After that, the soldiers, who had heard the girl’s cries and her father, who had been looking for her, drove the enemy away. Their lives had been saved since she risked her life to shout.
Ever since then, the only thing his only relaxation was reading a book while looking at the pond and remembering her.
He noticed a woman appear in front of her as she loitered around as he was relaxing. Her name was Riri. She was a somewhat rash woman who had entered the palace in order to make the treasured incense.
Today, Kousho wasn’t in the pavilion where he usually sat, instead he was sitting on the ground near the plants on the other side of the pond as he read his book. She must have come looking for him since she looked troubled when she saw the pavilion.
There was something that he hadn’t told Riri.
“You’re so heartless for forgetting me and this pond. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.”
The girl who he had met six years ago was Riri.
He smiled when he realised that her lovely, big, black eyes, her lustrous black hair and strong sense of justice and sympathy towards people hadn’t changed a bit from six years ago. He remembered that day as if it was yesterday, but she had forgotten everything. This was because of the treasured incense.
Her father, Saido, who had come to rescue them at that time, had told him that the enemy who had attacked him were Dark Perfumers.
He predicted that the Dark Perfumers wanted to kidnap Kousho and exchange him for the newly created treasured incense. He said that the existence of the Dark Perfumers mustn’t be known and that he felt bad, but he had to erase his daughter’s memory because she had seen how the treasured incense was made.
Kousho felt sad that the girl would forget about him when Saido took her away. However, he knew that she was Saido’s daughter, so he believed they could meet again.
However, Saido was attacked by Dark Perfumers who wanted to steal the treasured incense that night and died in battle. Kousho heard that Riri had seen the battle but didn’t remember because it happened right after the treasured incense was used on her.
He failed to ask the girl’s name because of the commotion caused by the attackers, and he regretted it greatly. He shouldn’t have been so careless to think that he would see her again soon just because she was the daughter of someone he knew.
Soon after Saido’s death, Riri was taken away by her mother and they both disappeared. He tried to find out her name at least, but Saido had been afraid that people would abuse his daughter’s super olfaction ability, so he rarely took her out. He hadn’t even allowed the servants to get close to her, so no one knew her name.
“She grew up. I hadn’t realised it was her at first.”
The memory of his first love was very important to him. He had decided that if he was going to have a wife, then she should be able to smell emotions, have the kindness to cry for others and the strength to help others out when they’re being attacked.
However, several years had passed since then and his feelings for the girl changed slightly. Even if he could meet her again, she had already forgotten about him. He was afraid that she would hate him even if he redid their encounter.
He knew he was arrogant, but he believed he wouldn’t care if anyone hated him since he would be responsible for this kingdom and wanted to create a new world.
However, there was a part deep inside him that didn’t want to be hated by her.
In a sense, the feelings that occupied his mind for so many years was like a curse. He always thought about the girl when he looked at other women. Sometimes, he even wished that she had turned into a selfish and detestable woman.
Then, he could finally let go of this first love that felt like a curse.
The reason why he gave Riri permission to concoct the treasured incense and said that he would punish her if she failed was all to test her. He feared the Dark Perfumers had infiltrated the Ministry of Incenses, so he had her concoct it at the Beautiful Flower Palace.
He would have been disappointed in her had she ran away because of her adversity towards the inner palace.
He thought that he could finally get rid of his obsession with his first love and be at ease if she did that.
However, Riri went beyond his expectations.
“I’ve been pestered to choose an empress within a year, but I guess my first love will always influence me.”
He was convinced that the girl he had met hadn’t changed even after she grew up as he watched her behaviour in the inner palace.
Since that was true, there was only one person who could be his empress. But there was a big problem that prevented him from making her his wife.
“I want her to remember me…. But because of the treasured incense… How troublesome.”
If he forced her to remember, then her memories would be in chaos and she will be shocked mentally and physically, and in the worst case, she may even die. That was what Saido had told him, so he believed it would be bad if he forced her to remember. So, he showed her the incense container that she had given him and talked about his memory, but it had no effect. If he used the treasured incense then she would get her memories back, but the formula only existed in her erased memories.
“… It’s no use. Either I wait for Riri to create the treasured incense, or…”
He looked at Riri and chuckled softly.
“It’ll be fine if I make her fall in love with me.”
Riri seemed disinterested in love, so it will be difficult.
However, he was finally reunited with his fated love, so he had no intention of letting her slip away.