The handsome man who looked as if he was from a picture book spread his hands in front of her and whispered sweetly.
“So, you must be the rumoured Riri. Nice to meet you, Riri. I am Tou Seirai. I’m Koran’s Crown Prince. ――― I came here to see you.”
His words were so surprising that her head was in chaos.
(So, he is…! But what do you mean you came here to see me?! What rumours?! I don’t know what I should be surprised about first!)
She didn’t know how to reply, so she could only stare at the kneeling Seirai.
“Seirai-dono! What are you doing?!”
Riri, who had been frozen in place as Seirai kneeled in front of her, was startled by the sound of Kousho’s voice.
She looked at Kousho, who had a dumbfounded and angry expression on his face.
“Consorts, please go back to your rooms.”
“Don’t say that Kousho. I want to play with the pretty flowers more.”
Seirai put a hand to his chest. Kousho stood in front of him while holding back his anger.
“Seirai-dono, this is my inner palace.”
“You’re treating me like a stranger by adding -dono to my name. We’re close, aren’t we?”
“Well, politeness is not just for strangers.”
“Don’t act like that, Kousho. Garan, you and I have been friends since we were children. Speak your mind.”
Kousho was expressionless towards the smiling Seirai, but Riri could tell just by looking at him that he was about to explode from anger. Kousho turned to face her.
“Consorts, hurry back to your room.”
Hisui and the other consorts left the room in confusion. Seirai pulled Riri’s hand when she tried to follow after them.
“Wait, Riri. I told you I came here to meet you, didn’t I? Please listen to me.”
His voice sounded as if he was making a request, but the hand that held hers was strong, and she could feel that he wouldn’t let her say no.
She hesitated as she wondered what she should do about this sudden situation. Then, Kousho quickly grabbed her hand from the other side.
He pulled her towards him forcefully.
“My concubines have yet to be trained on how to entertain the Crown Prince of Koran. This may seem rude, but I’m sorry. Please let her go.”
Kousho’s smile was so cold that it seemed that the area would freeze.
However, Seirai didn’t seem to mind. He chuckled.
“Why don’t you just be clear and tell me not to touch your woman? Women love men who are that overbearing.”
“I’ve been curious about this since a while ago, but how do you know Riri’s name? Also, what do you mean by ‘you came here to see her’?”
“I just heard from a perfumer from the Ministry of Incense that there’s a woman in the Beautiful Flower Palace who can mix incenses. I came to Shinzui because I want to popularise incenses in Koran. I’d like to have a perfumer from Shinzui show me around the Ministry of Incenses and tell me about incenses. But all perfumers are men.”
Seirai sighed loudly.
“I feel that incense burnt by a pretty woman will work better than incense burnt by a filthy man. It’s also more enjoyable to talk to women than men. So, I wanted to ask Riri to guide me while I’m in Shinzui.”
“… So, you admit that you entered the Beautiful Flower Palace in search for Riri?”
Kousho asked sharply and Seirai shook his head.
“No, I didn’t. I would be beheaded if I entered this place on purpose. I got lost, then I met Riri by chance. This coincidence must be fate. Riri and I are connected.”
Seirai grandiosely spread his arms wide open and said in a loud voice as if he was singing and Kousho raised an eyebrow.
“I heard from your father, the Emperor, that he was troubled because you were hitting on women in Koran like this and telling them that it’s fate.”
“Kousho. Don’t be cold. It’s okay to support your friend’s love. Lend Riri to me so she can show me around.”
Seirai hit Kousho’s shoulders and Kousho’s eyes flashed with anger.
“I am honoured you consider me a friend as you are said to have the best brain in Koran. If you can use that brain for more than just seducing women, then Koran will be more prosperous.”
Kousho samiled, but his greyish-brown eyes weren’t smiling at all.
Seirai smiled back evilly.
“Even in foreign nations, Shinzui’s Crown Prince has the reputation of being a capable man who can govern on behalf of the Emperor. Why don’t you spend your talents on getting yourself a wife? I believe that connecting with women will greatly help to stabilise the kingdom.”
(These two… aren’t compatible.)
Riri realised that their thoughts were completely different as she listened to what they said. Even so, they had enough sense to not violently fight with each other out in the open, given their positions as Crown Prince.
“I’d love to hear about your love for love’s sake speech another time. Riri is a talented person in Beautiful Flower Palace. She’s not allowed to leave the inner palace, so she can’t show you around.
“Isn’t it fine since she’s not your special person? It’s fine as long as you give her permission to leave the Beautiful Flower Palace while I’m here. I like Riri.”
“No. I’ll have a perfumer from the Ministry of Incense guide you around.”
“I’m Koran’s Crown Prince. Isn’t it the duty of a consort to entertain state guests?”
Seirai folded his arms and chuckled.
“Or are you trying to tell me that the Beautiful Flower Palace is full of low-ranking ladies who can’t even entertain state guests? If I were to accidentally tell the other nations that you have an inner palace full of such consorts, then wouldn’t that ruin your reputation?”
Seirai was enjoying himself. Kousho, on the other hand, raised his eyebrow.
Seirai brought his face close to Kousho’s and slowly opened his mouth.
“Even our kingdom has heard that Emperor Ju Reibun’s Wing Dance Palace is full of wise, and beautiful ladies who surpasses others when it comes to entertaining state guests. I can’t believe that ladies in your inner palace can’t even entertain state guests when you’re his successor. It’s quite a scandal to hear that you, who is considered a perfect Crown Prince by many nations, can’t even educate your consorts. I’m sure everyone would be amused and spread the rumour. Oh, but of course I would never spread it.”
Seirai clearly sounded amused.
Riri knew that he was lying when he said he wouldn’t spread it.
(Isn’t it bad if things continue like this? Kousho-sama’s reputation would be damaged if people think of him as a royal who can’t even manage his own inner palace.)
Riri looked at Kousho and saw that he had fallen silent.
He might also believe that it was a bad idea for Seirai to spread this rumour.
Riri could smell that he was pondering from his sweat even though he didn’t look pensive.
“I’m sorry for interrupting your conversation. If it’s alright with you, Kousho-sama, I would like to be his guide and talk to him about incenses…”
It took a lot of courage for her to speak up, but she wanted to do something for Kousho.
She was able to attempt making the treasured incense because of his recommendation to the Emperor.
She couldn’t thank him enough.
Kousho and Garan widened their eyes in surprise, and Seirai smiled with joy.
“What are you saying, Riri?!”
Kousho shouted. Riri cowered but managed to open her mouth.
“I may be inadequate, but there is no greater honour than being able to introduce the wonders of incenses to Koran’s Crown Prince.”
Seirai put his hand on his chest and looked at Kousho.
“Look, even Riri is saying she would show me around. Your inner palace is my inner palace. Your talented person is my talented person. So, I want to ask you to let Riri be my guide.”
Seirai’s logic left Riri dumbfounded.
But Seirai had a generous smile on his face as if he really believed that.
(Seirai-sama’s point seems pretty off to me. But he’s Koran’s Crown Prince. He’s here to observe, so I can’t be rude to him.)
Kousho shook his head and was about to speak, but Garan spoke first.
“I’ll be responsible for guarding the two of them. Will that be alright? I won’t let anything happen to them.”
There was a hint of consideration in his words for the Crown Prince of Koran, who was currently in a tense situation with Shinzui.
Kousho understood his intent, Kousho pondered as he looked at Riri.
Riri folded her arms and stared at Kousho.
“Kousho-sama. I’ve heard that incenses haven’t flourished as much in Koran as it has in Shinzui. So, I would like to tell Koran’s Crown Prince about the good things about incenses. I believe that it would be a great help to the people if incenses can be used to elevate illnesses in Koran.”
She wanted to become a perfumer and help ease the pain of those who are suffering from physical and mental illness. That was the main reason why she wanted to become a perfumer. She stared at Kousho pleadingly, and Kousho let out a small sigh.
“Fine. Alright. Garan, do your best to guard them.”
Riri was relieved to hear a favourable reply.
Seirai smiled broadly and clapped his hands.
“Alright, it’s been decided. I look forward to it, Riri.”
She had never had a man talk to her in such a friendly manner before.
She managed to smile and bow even though she wasn’t used to it.
In the morning, Riri stared in the mirror while changing her hanfu.
She had been given the task of guiding Seirai, who had come here to learn more about incenses, but honestly, she was a bit depressed.
“What if I do something rude without realising it…?”
The door of the room suddenly opened as she was thinking about focusing herself.
“Riri-sama, a government official has just arrived to inform you about the details of the final selection for the beauty pageant!”
Ryouka jumped into the room. Riri immediately turned to face Ryouka.
“Really?! What did he say?!”
Yesterday, Riri received permission to leave the Beautiful Flower Palace to show Seirai around with the condition that they be guarded by Garan.
She’ll be busy while he’s here, but she couldn’t neglect her preparations for the beauty pageant either.
(I don’t know what I’ll have to do in the final selection, but I made it through the preliminaries, so maybe I can win depending on the criteria. Please don’t let me be judged from ‘that’!)
She looked at Ryouka who was sitting in front of her. Ryouka’s cheeks flushed with excitement as she spoke.
“The final selection of the beauty pageant will be based on the ‘Ranryou’ dance! It’s a famous court piece. You’ve danced to it before, haven’t you Riri-sama? This is good. Riri-sama… huh?”
Ryouka’s delighted expression suddenly clouded because she had noticed that Riri had turned pale.
“What?! Riri-sama, why do you look so gloomy?! D-don’t tell me…”
Ryouka widened her eyes. Riri knew what Ryouka wanted to say, so she nodded.
“I’ve never danced in my life…”
Riri had heard from Kousho that consorts would be judged on their family background, appearance, dignity, beauty, dance and mannerism. She wasn’t confident about being judged on any of those categories, but she knew that dancing would be the most difficult.
She let out a shaky voice and Ryouka came close to her.
“Father was strict about mannerisms and such, but he believed that I should mainly learn how to mix incenses.”
She didn’t recall learning how to dance even when she tried to remember what little she could from her childhood.
“Father was worried that my olfaction would be abused, so he didn’t let me out much. I believe we had servants, but Mother was the one who looked after me. I spent my childhood learning about nothing but incenses.”
Riri didn’t remember hating it.
She loved incenses more than anything else, so she never wanted to learn about anything else.
“Mother and I moved downtown after Father passed away. I didn’t have time to learn anything after that, so I have no dancing experience.”
She heard a voice from outside as she talked to Ryouka.
“Riri, I’ve come to get you. It’s nearly time for you to show Seirai-sama around the Ministry of Incense.”
Ryouka quickly opened the door.
Garan was standing in the garden facing the corridor. Ryouka looked around then quietly said.
“Garan-sama, can I speak to you?”
Ryouka asked and Garan walked up to the corridor.
“Garan-sama, this is really bad. We know the details of the final selection…”
Ryouka told him the conversation from earlier and Garan frowned.
“It’s a dance…? Riri, can you really not dance?”
Riri nodded and Garan and Ryouka looked at each other.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never seen anyone dancing before either.”
“I know Mother danced for Father a few times when I was a child, but I don’t really remember it well…”
Her memories of that time were quite vague.
“Riri, you should at least have a feel for it since you’ve seen it a few times. Why don’t you show us right now? We’ll decide how to deal with this after we see how well you can dance.”
Garan said calmly. Riri stood up, thinking he was right.
(As I recall, she raised her arms like this, bent her back, and moved her legs like this…)
There wasn’t any music, but she pictured how her mother used to dance and moved.
After a while, Riri noticed that the aura in the room suddenly became heavy.
She stopped moving and looked at Garan and Ryouka. They were both pale and stunned.
“… Was my dance horrible?”
She asked timidly. Ryouka looked away and Garan nodded while folding his arm in thought.
“Riri, I’m saying this because we’re friends. That wasn’t dancing. You were just waving your arms and legs around. It was neither graceful nor beautiful. You will never become one of the Four Consorts as you are now.”
She was shocked; it was as if she had been hit on the head with a heavy blow. She knew that she couldn’t dance, but she realised that she was horrible at it when he had told her that. Garan continued.
“I also heard that all the finalists will dance to Ranryou. All noble ladies who enter the inner palace should be able to dance to it. If you don’t practice, then you’ll be the only one who can’t dance it and it’ll make you look bad. Things aren’t looking good.”
“Will I be dragging everyone down with me?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
Riri felt as if her head had been hit again and collapsed. Garan sighed lightly.
“I’m sorry for being harsh, but I thought it would be better to tell you what I thought from an objective point of view.”
“It’s alright. Thank you for telling me. When’s the final selection, Ryouka?”
“In half a month.”
“That’s pretty soon. The other consorts are practicing as well…”
She realised something when she said that.
“Oh right. It’s a famous piece since all noble ladies should be able to dance it. I don’t need to practice a lot now, so half a month should be alright.”
Garan nodded his head with his hands on his hips.
“That’s right. The finalists will probably practice a few times to get themselves in sync, but your dancing skills are clearly not good enough to participate in a practice session with them.”
She lowered her head sadly.
“What should I do…?”
Garan spoke in a tone that was difficult to describe while she was worrying.
“Riri, I’m sorry to say this while you’re feeling down, but it’s time for you to show Seirai-sama around. I’d like to give you time to practice dancing for the sake of your dream, but you can’t ignore Seirai-sama.”
Riri quickly looked up, and then she stood up straight away.
“Of course. I said that I wanted to guide him. I’ll do what I can to help him leave Shinzui in a good mood.”
She was at a loss when she thought about the beauty pageant, but she managed to motivate herself and left the room.