“Are you sure Kousho-sama is in the garden, Riri?”
Riri nodded as Garan spoke to her from behind.
“Yes. He’s always reading in that pavilion. I wonder where he is.”
She looked around and sighed, then remembered that she had something to say to Garan.
“Garan. It’s not often that we get to talk together, so let me take this opportunity to thank you. Thank you for coming to my rescue when Mokuren attacked me.”
“You don’t need to thank me. I owe you.”
“You don’t owe me; you saved my life… Your social status is a lot higher than mine and you’re older than me, but I consider you a friend. Is it alright for me to be your friend?”
She spoke to him in a friendly tone. She looked up at him timidly and saw that he was smiling broadly.
“Yeah, I’ll be honoured if you thought of me as one. I hope we can be friends from now on.”
She had fun talking to Garan since he wasn’t two-faced, and she could rely on him. She felt an unpleasant feeling coming from her right while she was feeling happy. She turned to the right, she noticed that Kousho was standing nearby with a sullen expression on his face.
“Ah, Kousho-sama. His Majesty is looking for you. Garan was looking for you, so I showed him here.”
She smiled, but Kousho’s sour expression didn’t change.
(He seems to be in a bad mood. Well, he’s only in a good mood when he’s scheming or being mean.)
She thought this was harsh even though she was saying it only in her mind, but it couldn’t be helped since it was the truth.
“It looks like you two are getting along pretty well.”
Kousho stared at Riri and Garan, then spoke in a low voice.
“Yes, I’ve become friends with Garan!”
Riri smiled broadly and Kousho’s mood soured even more.
“What does that expression mean? Even I can make friends too.”
She was annoyed that he thought she was incapable of socialising. Kousho looked down.
“That wasn’t what I meant.”
(Something’s weird. Sometimes I feel like he wants to act sulky when he talks to me.)
She thought it was suspicious, but then brushed it off as her imagination. There was no way the Crown Prince of this kingdom would act so childishly. Kousho took a deep breath and looked at Garan.
“Tell His Majesty that I will be right there.”
Garan kneeled down and bowed, then left. Riri looked at Kousho again when the two of them were the only ones left in the garden.
“Kousho-sama. Thank you for everything. If you hadn’t put in a good word for me with His Majesty, then I wouldn’t have been able to stay in the palace. It’s thanks to you that I’m able to continue making the treasured incense. I will definitely complete the treasured incense and become a master perfumer.”
“His Majesty gave you this opportunity because he thought you had the potential. Live up to his expectations.”
“I will! … Oh, come to think of it, I have something else to thank you for. You arranged for my mother to be transferred to the National Medical Centre. Thank you very much.”
The National Medical Centre is the best medical facility in Shinzui. It has doctors, medicine and incenses, but it costs a lot of money and is only available to the royal family and nobles of high statuses.
“I wrote to the doctor at Shinko’s medical clinic to ask about my mother’s condition, and he told me that my mother had been referred to the National Medical Centre by you. I wrote a letter to my mother soon after that too. I didn’t tell her that I entered the inner palace since I didn’t want her to worry, but I told her the truth.”
“… You even told her about Mokuren?”
The tone of his voice didn’t change but his slightly downcast eyes showed that he was worried.
“No. That’s the only thing I can’t tell her. My mother trusts Mokuren a lot.”
She was shocked by Mokuren’s betrayal. It felt as if her heart had been ripped out of her chest. She didn’t want her mother to experience the same feeling.
“That’s fine. It would be better not to add to her heartache. The National Medical Centre has excellent security as well as medical care. If you complete the treasured incense, then some people might try to take your mother hostage in exchange for the treasured incense. I’ll take full responsibility for protecting your mother. Rest assured.”
His reliable words and smile made her heart throb.
(Kousho-sama looks nice when he smiles. It makes my heart throb when he stares at me. He’s really cool even though he has a nasty tongue…)
She didn’t want to know that her heart was throbbing, so she kept her head down and bowed again.
“Thank you very much. Ryouka was also safely released, and Kousho-sama has hired her as my new lady-in-waiting which is a big help.”
Ryouka cried when she learned of Mokuren’s betrayal, but she said that she would support Riri’s dream of creating the treasured incense.
“I can concentrate on making the treasured incense today. The deadline for making the treasured incense has been set for a year, and I will work very hard on it even if I have to neglect sleep. I should be able to make it at the inner palace as long as I have the tools and materials. Oh, but come to think about it, there is something that is troubling me.”
She clapped her hands.
“What is it?”
“My room at the inner palace is big enough to live in, but it’s a little small for concocting. I won’t have any place to sleep if I place all the tools and materials in my room. Besides, I’ve been getting complaints from the neighbouring rooms because of the fragrances.”
The scents that drift about in the air from incense concoction are often unpleasant to people.
The women who lived next door to her often complained while she was making the treasured incense.
“If it’s alright with you… I’d like it if you could give me a bigger room and let me mix in a place where I won’t bother my neighbours.”
She knew it was an extravagant request, but it was something she needed in order to make the treasured incense.
Kousho put his hand on his chin and thought about it.
“… You need a room? I have a good proposal for you.”
His greyish-brown eyes sparkled as if he had found something fun.
“Beautiful Flower Palace will hold a ‘Beauty Pageant’, the winners will be judged by their family background, appearance, grace, beauty, dance and mannerism. The Four Consorts will be chosen from among the noble ladies who hold excellent marks in this pageant. You can have your own palace if you become one of the Four Consorts.”
She was confused since they were all words unfamiliar to her.
“The Four Consorts…? As I recall, they’re the second highest ranking concubines after the Empress in the inner palace. If I remember correctly, they’re the Noble Consort, Pure Consort, Virtuous Consort, and Worthy Consort.”
“That’s right. I have yet to marry my Empress, so those Four Consorts will be the ones who hold the real power in the Beautiful Flower Palace. The Four Consorts get their own exclusive building… In other words, they receive a palace. Wouldn’t it be more convenient for you to have your own palace if you’re going to make the treasured incense?”
That was indeed tempting. On top of being able to make the treasured incense in secret, having a palace where she didn’t have to worry about others would help her concoct better.
“Once you have your own palace, you and your maids will be the only ones living there. You won’t bother anyone with the scents, and no one will complain.”
“Will I really get a palace if I become one of the Four Consorts?”
“Yes, but you have to enter the beauty pageant and compete with the other noble ladies to become one.”
She wanted her own palace, but she didn’t like the idea of participating in the beauty pageant.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to win if I compete…”
“You are originally a noble lady, so you should know a certain level of etiquette. I’m sure you’ll be able to handle it. Participate in the beauty pageant and become one of the Four Consorts. The Empress must be chosen from among them. I’ll be troubled if you don’t.”
She didn’t understand the meaning of his last words.
“Why do you want me to become one of the Four Consorts?”
Kousho quickly held his tongue. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“I told you before about my first love. I might be able to meet her soon.”
“What?! Really? That’s great!”
“Yes, but I can’t meet her right now because of reasons. So, I want to postpone marrying an Empress until I can meet her. If you enter the beauty pageant and become one of the Four Consorts, then refuse to be my wife to buy me time, then I might not have to marry until I meet her. So, please.”
She was speechless since it was too surprising to see Kousho bow his head to her.
(The arrogant Crown Prince is bowing down…! He must really care about his first love. I don’t know what kind of woman she is, but she must be very charming. Kousho-sama loves her so much.)
While she was thinking this, she felt as if she had been pierced in the heart with a needle.
(Huh… Why does it sting?)
She felt Kousho put a hand on her shoulder while she was confused by the sudden pain.
“Are you listening?”
“Oh, yes. I’m sorry. I’m listening.”
“I hope so. Anyway, get an excellent score at the beauty pageant.”
She looked down and pondered. She needed a large room for mixing, and if she receives a palace, then she wouldn’t have to worry about others. She wanted a place where she could concentrate on concocting since she only had a year to make the treasured incense.
“――― Alright. This is something I have to do in order to become a Master Perfumer. I’ll enter the beauty pageant.”
She said, but her heart was filled with anxiety.
“The women in the inner palace are quite strong-willed, and the thought of competing with them is depressing…”
She felt a shiver run down her spine as she imagined a battle where women glared at each other as they tried to get Kousho.
Still, she couldn’t run back home.
“But I won’t lose! I’m going to make the treasured incense!”
She clenched her fists and declared, and Kousho looked relieved for a moment.
She looked at him curiously and he tightened his expression.
“Yeah, that’s the spirit. Make sure you become one of the Four Consorts.”
Her life in the inner palace which was about to begin was going to be filled with big ups and downs.
But she vowed that she would overcome everything for the sake of her dream.