The consorts were sitting in colourful quju in the reception hall of the Beautiful Flower Palace.
On their heads were hairpins decorated with flowers and birds, and they all wore beautiful makeup.
Riri was overwhelmed by the sight of more than a hundred consorts as she sat at the back of the hall.
(The ten who passed the preliminary selection will be chosen from this group. I heard that Kourin-sama will be here soon to make the announcement, but I’m so nervous! At any rate, this is the first time that I’ve seen all the consorts of the Beautiful Flower Palace in one room. They’re all so beautiful…)
She stared at the consorts while feeling anxious.
They were all wearing expensive quju and ornaments. It was a gorgeous sight.
She was also wearing a red quju with a flower pin on her head. These were things that Mokuren had bought for her when she had entered the inner palace. They were quite expensive, so she wasn’t inferior to the other consorts in terms of clothing and ornament.
However, she felt anxious, wondering if she would really be chosen over the other consorts who have good looks and elegant features.
As she waited restlessly, Kourin came into the hall with two attendants, and sat down in front of the consorts.
“Consorts. Thank you for gathering here. The Four Consorts of the Beautiful Flower Palace will be chosen at last. I believe that you all have come to the Beautiful Flower Palace to serve Kousho-sama. The Four Consorts, who are candidates for the Empress position, will serve Kousho-sama, who will be Emperor, run the Beautiful Flower Palace and manage the consorts there.”
Kourin slowly looked around at the consorts before continuing.
“In addition to beauty, they must have good mannerisms and an understanding of politics. I had the chance to speak with each of you during the preliminary rounds and judge you on your knowledge and mannerisms. ――― Now, I will announce the top ten candidates.”
His dignified voice sounded through the room. Riri could tell that the other consorts were nervous as well.
Her heart tightened in her chest, but she managed to breathe and let go of her tension. She wasn’t confident, but she did the best she could with Garan and Ryouka’s help. Now all she had to do was wait for the results.
“First, the top scorer, Jin Hisui.”
The person who was called was Hisui, the daughter of the Grand Chancellor. She had the highest status in the Beautiful Flower Palace and was also the most beautiful. She had a doll-like face, and when Riri had first met her, she couldn’t tell what Hisui was thinking and had the impression that she was hard to approach. However, Riri and Hisui had the chance to talk alone, and Hisui told Riri that she was unhappy with the fact that she had been brought up to believe that it was a woman’s happiness to be the wife of a virtuous man.
Hisui really wanted to be independent.
She said that she wanted to be Kousho’s wife because she liked him, and that she wouldn’t want to marry someone whom she didn’t like, no matter how virtuous of a man he may be. She was a pure person who Riri can relate to.
Hisui responded with a majestic gesture and bowed her head. The consorts in the room looked at her with envy. No one could argue that Hisui had scored the top position.
Kourin called out the next names.
“Kan Ranran. Ei Juka…”
Riri heard familiar names and saw familiar consorts bowing.
However, there was no sign that her name would be called.
(This is bad…! The next person will be the tenth person. It’ll be over if my name isn’t called next. What should I do?)
Sweat ran down her forehead from panic and nervousness. Kourin took a deep breath as she waited in silence.
“Now, the tenth person. The last person is…”
My heart was beating so fast that I almost stopped breathing.
“――― Ren, Riri.”
She thought she had misheard him, but she realised that she hadn’t when all the consorts turned to look at her all at once. She was so happy that she couldn’t stop smiling.
Kourin looked at her when she replied and nodded.
“The ten candidates for the Four Consorts will have a final selection. The details of the final selection will be announced tomorrow, so please wait until then.”
Everyone bowed as Kourin stood up. Riri clenched her fist in her mind as she bowed.
(I’ve made it to the final round somehow. This is connected to my wish!)
Kourin had left the room, so Riri took a deep breath and stood up. She waited for a while so as not to get in the way of the consorts who were leaving the hall. She headed towards the door when there were only a few consorts left in the room.
Her arm was suddenly pulled. She turned back in surprise and saw Juka. Behind her stood Ranran and several other consorts. They were beautiful and overwhelming at the same time.
“What is it…?”
Riri was surrounded in no time. She was puzzled as she looked at Junka. She saw that Junka was clearly angry. Ranran, who was standing to Riri’s right, also had the same expression on her face.
“You plan on participating in the beauty pageant?! I thought you would refuse since you don’t have to enter. You said that you didn’t come to the Beautiful Flower Palace to be Kousho-sama’s wife, didn’t you?”
Ranran demanded an answer and Juka nodded.
“That’s right. You said that you came here to fulfil your dream of becoming a perfumer. So, why did you enter the beauty pageant to become one of Kousho-sama’s Four Consorts? We thought you wouldn’t be entering.”
Riri couldn’t tell them that the reason was because she wanted her own palace to prepare the treasured incense.
She couldn’t talk about something that was related to the national secret. She also couldn’t tell the girls that Kousho had asked her to become one of the Four Consorts so that he could meet his first love.
“What’s the matter? If you have a reason for entering, then say it.”
Juka pressed Riri, but Riri knew that it could sound bad depending on how she answered.
(I definitely can’t tell them about the treasured incense, but I can’t come up with a good lie to cover this up either. I have to get through this somehow.)
Riri wasn’t good at lying. She was nervous even though she knew she could just make up an appropriate reason.
She could see that Ranran and the other consorts were getting angrier as she remained silent.
“You said you entered the inner palace for your dream, but in the end, you’re just trying to become Kousho-sama’s empress. You’re being silent because you can’t come up with an excuse.”
Ranran and the consorts glared at Riri, and she froze.
A voice which sounded like rolling bells said. It was Hisui.
Riri looked and saw that Hisui was standing behind Ranran with her usual poker-face.
Everyone bowed. Hisui was the most remarkable person in the Beautiful Flower Palace.
When Riri had been caught and suspected of trying to poison the Emperor at the perfumers meeting, then escaped from her prison, Hisui was the person who had chased away her pursuers. Hisui agreed when Riri said that she wanted to fulfil her dream by her own power. Riri looked at Hisui while remembering this and Hisui quickly averted her gaze.
“… Consort Riri, you chose to be Kousho-sama’s wife over your dream in the end.”
Riri widened her eyes in surprise at Hisui’s words. However, she immediately realised that it would appear that way to others.
(My actions certainly look like that to other people…)
She wanted to tell Hisui the truth, but she couldn’t say anything since the other consorts were here as well. She kept silent and Hisui sighed.
“You’re not going to say anything? I thought you might have your reasons for participating in the pageant but if you don’t say anything then that means that you lied to me. I’m such a fool. I know that women in the inner palace will pretend to be honest while lying to me, but I believed you for a bit.”
The corners of Hisui’s lips lifted slightly. She had a cynical expression on her face and her eyes were cold.
Riri wondered what she should do when she suddenly heard a voice from behind her.
“Well, well, well. The beautiful flowers are in full bloom. It’s like this place is a paradise.”
She smelled a scent that she rarely smelled at the sound of the man’s refreshing voice.
She turned her head in the direction of the voice and scent and couldn’t believe her eyes. The owner of the voice and scent was a man in his early twenties.
He had long, silvery hair that was tied up in a bun and light brown eyes.
He had a well-defined face that rivalled his gorgeous hair, and he was tall and slender.
The people of Shinzui all had black hair and black eyes, except for the royal family who is said to have dragon blood.
Riri had never seen anyone with silver hair and light brown eyes before.
Most importantly, the scent that was coming from him used musk as a base, but musk wasn’t used in Shinzui.
Musk was a scent obtained from animal secretions. It was a nice fragrance that was warm, deep and slightly sweet.
However, there weren’t any animals that secreted musk in Shinzui, making it difficult to obtain.
She had been exposed to incenses since she was young, but she had only smelled musk a few times.
“Who are you?!”
“There’s a man in the Beautiful Flower Palace!”
Hisui stopped the noisy consorts with her hand and stared at the man.
“This is the Beautiful Flower Palace. Men are not allowed in here except for those who belong to the royal family or those who have permission. Consort Juka, call the guards.”
Juka quickly tried to rush out.
“Wait. I’m not a suspicious person.”
The man was imposing. He was well-dressed and didn’t look like an intruder.
Hisui looked at the man in confusion, perhaps because she had never seen his features before in this kingdom.
“Are you perhaps a guest from another kingdom?”
(It would be rude to treat him as an intruder if he is a guest from another kingdom, and he would also lose face if the guards were called.)
Hisui thought the same as Riri; her words were polite even though she was looking at him suspiciously.
“Well, I guess so. But you’re an exceptionally pretty flower among all the beautiful flowers.”
“… Thank you for the compliment, but I’m a person, not a flower.”
“Ah, I like your cold reply. It suits your beautiful appearance.”
The man maintained his imposing manner no matter what Hisui said as he looked around at the consorts.
“It seems like you’re gathering around here, what happened? It’s nice to see beautiful women angry, but it’s better when they’re smiling. I’d like to see you all smile. Would you show me your smiles?”
The man tilted his head and smiled; he looked like a beautiful celestial being from a picture book.
Juka and the other consorts looked dazed as they smiled along to his words.
“You all really do have cute smiles. I’m jealous of Kousho since he has an inner palace full of beautiful women.”
Huh? He just called Kousho-sama’s name without any suffixes. Who on earth is he?!)
Riri heard the sound of someone running down the corridor when she was surprised by this.
She turned her head and saw Garan running towards them.
“This is troubling. This is Beautiful Flower Palace. Please don’t enter here without permission.”
Seirai deliberately looked surprised.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I got separated from you because you kept wandering off. I got lost while searching for you.”
Garan was expressionless, but Riri noticed that his cheeks were slightly twitching.
“I was right beside you the whole time. You took advantage of my weak spot and disappeared, and we got separated on the north side of the palace. It’s quite a distance for you to walk all the way here. It’s impossible for you to have wandered in by accident.”
Seirai kept calm even though Garan had replied logically.
“No, it really was an accident. Or are you saying that I separated myself from you so that I can enter the inner palace? A man who enters the inner palace without permission will be executed. Are you going to behead me?”
Seirai said strongly. Garan went silent for a moment, then he took a small breath.
“No. It seems that you’ve wandered into this place, Seirai-sama. It’s my fault that we got separated. Please go back.”
The way Garan had said it indicated that he didn’t believe Seirai at all. Seirai chuckled.
“You’ve grown up, Garan. You would never back down in the past. Now it seems like you think about the situation… I used to think your stubbornness was cute. It’s not fun to tease you anymore.”
The last words were said with a whisper, but Garan heard them clearly.
“I’ll say it again. Please go back, Seirai-sama.”
Seirai sighed as he looked at Garan bowing forcefully after he had said that politely, but rudely.
Seirai closed his eyes.
“I smell aloeswood. I like this scent. Whose is it? This is the first time I’ve smelled it though.”
He put a hand on his chest and gasped as he said that in a mutter. Riri timidly spoke up.
“Are you familiar with incenses?”
“I’m studying about them right now. Is this your scent?”
“Yes, it’s from this.”
Riri guessed that he was of high status from the way he dressed and from the way Garan spoke to him.
She was careful not to be rude as she pulled out a blue bag from her chest.
It was the incense that she had made the other day.
Incenses that she made herself often failed, but she was proud that she was able to mix this one well.
Seirai took the cloth bag and held it close to his nose.
“… It smells good. It’s not too sweet and not too pungent. It’s the perfect scent for a woman to wear. Most importantly, I like aloeswood. It’s a pity it isn’t used more often in our kingdom.”
Riri suddenly remembered what Garan had told her yesterday.
He told her that the neighbouring kingdom’s Crown Prince was going to visit the palace.
(I did think he was from another kingdom, but I can’t believe this person is the neighbouring kingdom’s…)
She tilted her head because of what Seirai had said, but he suddenly paid attention to her.
“Did you make this by any chance?”
She nodded and he smiled broadly. He even kneeled down in front of her.