His sweet voice sounded as if he was whispering sweet nothings to her, but the words that came out of his nicely shaped lips were so shocking that she felt as if her heart had been grasped.
She was surprised, but she smiled so as not to show her inner turmoil on her face.
“What are you talking about?”
Seirai’s smile remained gentle, but Riri noticed that the aura emanating from him was filled with an unmistakable pressure. She took a step back since she was overwhelmed by him.
“Don’t act dumb. It’s the incense that has been handed down as a legend in Shinzui. Everyone in Shinzui knows about it, and you should too since you want to become a perfumer. There are rumours about the treasured incense even in Koran. Do you know what kind of incense is capable of repelling any enemy?”
She tried to take another step back to escape from Seirai’s pressure.
But the big pillars of the pavilion which were behind her made it impossible for her to escape any further.
“It’s impossible for me to know about the effects of the treasured incense since I’m only a talented person in Kousho-sama’s inner palace. I believe only the royal family and a few perfumers in the Ministry of Incense know about its effects.”
She believed she had lied well, but Seirai kept looking at her, questioningly.
“You’re not very good at lying, Riri. When you blink a lot that means you’re lying.”
“What?! Do I have that habit…?!”
She quickly moved her hand to her eyes, and Seirai smiled at her.
“See. You panicking is proof that you’re lying. I only said you were blinking a lot without thinking, but your expression tells me that you know about it.”
(Ah!? I’m an idiot…!)
She was panicking inside. Seirai suddenly looked at her seriously.
“There are people in Koran who want to get their hands on the treasured incense.”
Seirai acted like a Crown Prince and Riri froze because she didn’t know how to answer.
“What are you doing?”
Riri was startled by the calm voice. She looked towards it and saw Garan leading a maid, who was holding a tea tray, towards them.
Seirai immediately put his gentle smile back on his face.
Riri breathed a sigh of relief since she had escaped from his terrifying gaze.
(He looks frivolous, but he really is the Crown Prince of a nation. He was so intense. I can’t let my guard down.)
She calmed herself down and straightened her posture. Seirai looked at Garan, who had just arrived, and leaned against the chair.
“I was just talking to her. I was finally able to make a move on her, but you’ve already returned? Tactless.”
Garan walked into the pavilion, stood in front of Riri and bowed at Seirai.
“Consort Riri is a talented person in the Beautiful Flower Palace. Please don’t forget this.”
“I know already. I’m just teasing her. Now, Riri, please start talking about incenses. I’m sure I will know some things, but I’m curious as to what you have to say about them.”
Riri felt as if she could finally breathe since his aura had changed so much from before.
She didn’t know how much she could lie if he kept asking her about the treasured incense.
(Seirai-sama knows about the treasured incense. I have to be careful.)
She told herself as she picked up the documents she had prepared and began to talk about incenses.
“… I have finished talking about incenses.”
Riri looked up as she noticed the orange sunset beginning to light up the area. Seirai was sitting across from the pavilion, and Garan was standing outside of the pavilion. Seirai looked disappointed.
“It’s this late already? Time flies when I’m listening to Riri’s cute voice. How about we have dinner together? To thank you for telling me about incenses.”
Riri’s expression didn’t change, but she was screaming in her head.
(I can’t stay with you any longer! I won’t be able to talk back if he asks me about the treasured incense like before. I need to get away from him as soon as possible.)
She panicked and Garan quietly entered the pavilion.
“… Seirai-sama, I’ve been ordered to take Consort Riri back to the Beautiful Flower Palace in the evening, unless there’s a special reason. I would like to refrain from asking her to dinner.”
“Don’t say that, isn’t it fine for us to just eat together? I want to talk to Riri more. There’s no reason for her to rush back to the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
He was gently asking her to have dinner with him, but he still had a sharp glint in his eyes from when he asked her about the treasured incense. She wasn’t sure if she could handle it if he were to hound her again.
(I should find a good reason to refuse so that I don’t offend Koran’s Crown Prince… Oh yeah!)
“… I’m actually one of the finalists for the beauty pageant, but I don’t have any dancing experience. I need to practice a lot so that I can show you a dance that you would be satisfied with, Seirai-sama.”
She explained her refusal in a sincerely disappointed tone.
Please give up…! She prayed in her mind.
“You’re in the beauty pageant too, Riri? It’s going to be hard to practice when you don’t have any dancing experience. There’s only nine days left until the final selection, right?”
She nodded in her mind as Seirai spoke worriedly.
(That’s right. I really need to practice. I need to show you around in the daytime, so I need to practice hard at night. So, please let me leave.)
She stared at him hopefully, and Seirai smiled.
“I’ve got a good idea. I want to spend more time with you, and you need to practice your dancing. I have a great idea that will fulfil both wishes. ――― How about I teach you how to dance?”
Riri forced a smile on her face at his surprising suggestion.
“I said I will teach you how to dance, so we can always be together.”
“Hmm… it’s not that easy to teach a novice how to dance…”
She managed to slur her words in an attempt to refuse. Seirai opened his arms wide and smiled.
“I’m the best dancer in Koran. You don’t have any dancing experience, but you’re going to dance the ranryou for the final selection. It would be impossible for you to keep up with everyone’s movements in nine days if you just practice normally, but with my guidance, you’ll be able to master the moves and receive higher praise than the other consorts.”
His confidence and strong attitude were so pleasant to watch.
She even believed that she would be alright if she were to follow his instructions.
Garan paid attention to Seirai and whispered in her ears.
“… Seirai-sama is definitely a genius when it comes to dancing. You might be able to dance well enough to get a high rating in the finals if you were to receive his guidance.”
This was the moment when a ray of light shone through the dark clouds.
(But Seirai-sama wants to know more about the treasured incense. I might let something slip if we’re together for a long period of time even if I’m being careful. It’s dangerous.)
But she won’t get her own palace if she doesn’t become one of the Four Consorts in the final selection.
She also promised to help Kousho get his first love.
She remembered how he looked when he told her about his first love, and she felt something grasp her heart.
(Kousho-sama… His attitude has completely changed from when he talked about her before. I’m sure there’s a reason for this but…)
She thought about the best thing to do while trying to soothe the pain in her heart.
She made up her mind after pondering for a while. She stared at Seirai.
“――― Please teach me.”
It took a lot of courage for her to speak, but she shook off her hesitation once she had made up her mind.
“Good choice. I’m strict, so can you keep up with me?”
“I believe I have the willpower and stamina to keep up with you. I’ll do my best, please teach me.”
As for his curiosity towards the treasured incense, she’ll try her best to dodge his questions.
She had no experience in dancing, so she needed someone to teach her how to dance.
Therefore, it would be better to ask Seirai, a master dancer, to help her win.
(This is also for the sake of making the treasured incense… But I’ll be with him all day and night. That’s depressing.)
She firmly vowed once again to not let him know that she was trying to make the treasured incense.
I visited the Ministry of Incense, and Kansou, the current head of the Ministry of Incense, was in front of me.
The old man was famous for being strict and stubborn. Although he was an excellent perfumer, he refused to take brides in the dangerous palace, so he hasn’t been able to make a name for himself.
However, when the former head of the Ministry of Incense, Mokuren, rebelled and left the palace, Kansou was promoted based on his skill and honesty.
After he became the head of the Ministry of Incense, the perfumers, who had entered the palace through noble connections and had no talent, were weeded out one by one. Thanks to that, the aura of the new Ministry of Incense has changed a lot.
I knew that his stubbornness meant that he had made up his mind, and I liked that part of him.
“This is the incense you requested, Kousho-sama. I believe I was able to replicate the incense that you had given me for reference.”
Kansou gave me a white package, and when I opened it, I found a black pastille inside.
“You made the exact same one?”
I raised my voice in surprise. I had asked perfumers to replicate the incense in the past, but they didn’t know what materials it was made from, so they couldn’t replicate it.
I believed that Kansou might be able to make it, so I asked him to. It seemed that my decision was correct.
“Yes, I happen to know of this incense. I remembered that the former head of the Ministry of Incense had the same incense. I had a general idea of how to mix it, but I didn’t know the combinations or quantity, so it took a while to complete.”
Kansou paused and looked at me.
“Kousho-sama, where did you get that incense?”
“I got it when I was a child. I was told that it would calm me down. I wanted the same incense because it was really effective, so I asked you to replicate it for me, since I don’t have much left.”
“I see. The perfumer who you asked to make this before told me that you were very particular about the blend, and that you were very fussy about not wanting it to be different at all from the incense you provided. There are many incenses that can calm you down, why does it have to be this one?”
When I heard those words, the face of a certain girl flashed through my mind.
This was the incense that she had given me when we had first met.
“Because this incense calms me down the most.”
But I didn’t want other people to know too much about my memories of her, so I gave him a different reason.
Kansou stared at me for a while, then finally closed his eyes.
“I see. Come to think of it, the person who had this incense once told me that his daughter had a very keen sense of smell, and he made sure I kept this information to myself in case someone misused her keen sense of smell. He said that she can make incenses better than he can, and I heard that she was the person who had actually created this calming incense.”
I couldn’t help but frown when I heard that. The person who had given me this incense was Riri.
The girl who Kansou was talking about was definitely Riri.
But the girl I knew and the girl who Kansou was talking about were very different.
Riri wasn’t good at making her own incenses.
I know that she ended up making explosives when she tried to make a sleeping incense.
“Yes, the father was trying to make the treasured incense, and the daughter helped him. I saw her in the mixing room several times and warned him not to sneak her into the mixing room, but he insisted that he can’t complete the treasured incense without her. That was how good the daughter was at making incenses, and her father knew it.”
I folded my arms and chose my words carefully.
“Have you ever seen her actually making incenses?”