She raised her voice and Garan nodded.
“I’m sure the preliminary process will take a few days, so you may have a little more time depending on the order of the interviews. But you should assume that you will be interviewed on the first day. Noble ladies from good families participate in the beauty pageant, so it’s natural for them to be able to do it. While everyone is able to do it, the judges are seeing how beautiful their mannerisms are and how much knowledge they have.”
“Woah! That sounds tough. I wonder if it’s possible for me to obtain enough knowledge to beat the other ladies in three days?”
“Riri, I’m actually here to make a suggestion. I can give you lectures on Shinzui and national politics if you want. I know the person who makes the question for the preliminary round, so I can predict the questions he’s likely to give, so I can give you lectures that cover those areas. You can get through the preliminaries if you memorize these things well.”
The smile on his face coupled with his manly features almost captivated Riri for a moment.
“Really? I’d love that, but I know you’re busy with work. I can’t ask you to take time out of your busy schedule to help me.”
“I don’t mind. Kousho-sama wants you to become one of the Four Consorts and has ordered me to teach you. Besides, you’re my friend. I want to help you as much as I can.”
(Kousho-sama did…? I see. He said he wanted me to become one of the Four Consorts to buy time until he could meet his first love.)
He must have thought of some way for this to happen and sent Garan to help her.
Riri smiled, put her hand to her chest and looked up at Garan.
“Thanks. I might have hope of winning if you can help me. Please teach me.”
She bowed and Garan nodded. Then, Garan looked around and lowered his voice.
“There’s also something else I want to ask you, it’s about Mokuren.”
Her heart almost stopped when she heard Mokuren’s name. Ryouka, who was standing beside her, looked up with a frown.
Mokuren was her incense master. He was also Riri and Ryouka’s benefactor.
She trusted him and loved him.
However, he is the head of the Dark Perfumers who are trying to rebel against the Emperor by starting a revolution.
The Dark Perfumers were originally an assassination squad that directly reported to the Emperor.
However, they were banished from the palace due to a certain failure.
They resented the Emperor for abandoning them and were now watching vigilantly to get their hands on this kingdom.
Ryouka looked down and let out a trembling voice.
“Why did Mokuren-sama do something as terrible as trying to assassinate the Emperor?”
The Emperor’s attempted assassination took place last month. At the perfumers meeting, the Emperor, Ju Reibun, smelled an incense, vomited blood and fainted. People suspected that Riri had used a poisonous incense and the people in court thought she was the culprit.
However, the real culprit was Mokuren. He left the palace after the whole assassination attempt was revealed to Kousho.
Since Mokuren’s incident involved the Dark Perfumers, who are a national secret, only those involved knew the full details of what happened. Ryouka knew that Mokuren had caused that incident, but she didn’t know the exact details. Garan softly looked down.
“It appears that Mokuren was originally trying to remind Riri about how to prepare the treasured incense. He was going to pretend that he had made the treasured incense after he learnt how to make it, so that he could receive the ‘Qilin’ title and bring about a revolution.”
The Emperor who rules the kingdom receives the ‘Dragon’ title, the General who is said to be the Emperor’s guardian deity and is in charge of the army receives the ‘Phoenix’ title, and the Master Perfumer who is said to protect the kingdom with a benevolent heart receives the ‘Qilin’.
Those who hold the ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Qilin’ titles are supposed to govern the kingdom in accordance to how the Emperor rules.
The ‘Dragon’ and ‘Phoenix’ titles have been given to those who have become emperors and generals for generations.
However, the ‘Qilin’ title was only given to those who could make the treasured incense, regardless of their rank or birth.
“Why does Mokuren-sama want to start a horrible revolution…?”
Ryouka was in tears. Garan kneeled down and made eye contact with her.
“Mokuren said that he holds the dark ‘Nine-Tailed Fox’ title as the head of the Dark Perfumers. The Nine-Tailed Fox is the imperial family’s guardian deity, but it is said that they encourage revolution when they deem their master lacks virtue. He told Kousho-sama that he would start a revolution according to the meaning of the dark title he holds.”
Ryouka let out a sob. Riri gently put a hand on her shoulder.
Riri had heard that directly from Mokuren. She strongly wanted to stop him.
“Garan… Do you know where Mokuren is?”
She wanted to cry with Ryouka, but she held it in. Garan shook his head.
“No. We’re still looking for him. I mobilised a large number of soldiers to find him, but we still can’t find a trace of him after he left the palace. You and Ryouka were close to him, right? I was wondering if you might have any idea where he might be.”
Ryouka and Riri looked at each other, then Ryouka turned to face Garan.
“I haven’t heard from him since he left the palace and I rarely meet him outside of the palace, so I have no idea where he might be. I’m sorry I can’t be of any help…”
Ryouka looked down and Garan raised a hand in panic.
“I’m sorry to remind you of something painful. I just asked you two because we haven’t been able to find any clues about where he might be. Mokuren’s goal is to retrieve the memory that Riri has of how to prepare the treasured incense. I’m sure he’ll try again. So, I wanted to catch him as soon as possible.”
The treasured incense could manipulate a person’s memory and could have terrifying effects depending on how it is used.
The ‘Memory Erasing Incense’ and the ‘Memory Restoring Incense’ make the treasured incense. When Riri was younger, her father, who was the head of the Ministry of Incense, used to sneak her into the palace, and she watched him make the treasured incense then.
However, her memories of that time were erased by the treasured incense that her father had made. Her father passed away six years ago, so the only way for her to find out how to make the treasured incense was to recall the memories that lay dormant in her head.
Garan gave her a worried look.
“If Riri regains her memory, and Mokuren finds out how to prepare the treasured incense then the worst case scenario will happen, and this kingdom will be shaken. I want to capture Mokuren before that happens.”
Ryouka gripped the hand that was resting on her knee.
“If there’s anything I can do to help, then I’ll do it. Mokuren-sama saved my sick mother with his incense. He’s a very kind and good person. I don’t want him to do something terrible like cause a revolution.”
Riri nodded at Ryouka’s words.
“Yes. Mokuren isn’t a bad person. He helped me a lot when I was younger. Mokuren said he was kind to me because he wanted to find out how to make the treasured incense…”
Riri felt as if her heart was being squeezed tight when she thought about Mokuren.
“But I can’t dislike him. There will come a day when we can understand each other.”
Mokuren said he wanted to create a kingdom where men, women and even statuses were equal. That was also her ideal world. However, she believed that it was possible to create this ideal kingdom without fighting if she could create the treasured incense. If she could create the treasured incense and become a Master Perfumer, then she could create a kingdom where women could work in central roles.
She believed that she could change the kingdom without having to start a revolution if she could do that.
Her idea was supported by the next Emperor, Kousho, as well as General Garan, who held the Phoenix title.
“Let’s capture Mokuren first to save him from his sad fate of seeking out revenge. I’ll take care of that. Riri, you go ahead and make the treasured incense.”
Riri nodded at Garan. Thanks to Kousho, she had the precious materials and tools needed for making the treasured incense.
Next, she needed an environment where she could concentrate on concocting.
The effects of the treasured incense were a national secret and only the royal family and a few perfumers knew what it did.
She had discussed with the Emperor and Kousho that it would be better to keep the fact that she was trying to make it a secret.
That was why she was in the Beautiful Flower Palace where people wouldn’t see her rather than the Ministry of Incense.
Garan slowly smiled.
“You need a palace so you can concentrate on concocting incenses. But Riri, you should only think about how to become one of the Four Consorts first. I’ll support you as much as I can.”
She didn’t believe that she could win against more than 100 noble ladies, but she might be able to since Garan and Ryouka were supporting her. The thought of them helping her gave her courage.
“Thanks, Garan and Ryouka.”
She looked at Garan and Ryouka who nodded.