Riri was dreaming.
She knew it was a dream because it was the same one she always had since she was a child.
She was burning incense in a small garden somewhere and a boy who seemed a little older than her appeared.
The boy’s face and figure were blurry, and she had no idea who it was.
Her conversations with the boy were a little different each time she had this dream.
In today’s dream, they were sitting on carpet and inhaling the smoke rising from the incense.
What was different from usual was that she was watching the scene in the air.
She tilted her head, thinking it was strange since she had never dreamt in a third-person’s perspective before.
“It smells good.”
She could tell the boy was smiling at her even though she couldn’t see his expression because his face was blurry.
“Right?! I made it myself. There’s no other incense like it in this world.”
“Are you good at making incenses?”
“Yes, my sense of smell is special, so I can smell all kinds of scents. My incenses have improved a lot even though they’re not as good as Father’s. I hardly make any mistakes.”
She wanted to tell her happy child self that she always failed at making her own incenses, but her child self didn’t seem to be lying.
She hypothesised that maybe she had been able to make her own incenses reasonably well before she lost her memory.
There was one thing that bothered her.
(What did that incense smell like…?)
The incense in the incense burner between the two which was emitting white smoke was probably a pastille.
She got a headache when she thought about what the incense smelled like.
(That fragrance was certainly…)
Suddenly, a sweet, powdery scent assaulted her nose.
At the same time, a small butterfly appeared in her mind. The butterfly was perched on a yellow dandelion, resting its wings.
She remembered seeing this peaceful scene before.
(I believe it’s the same scent as the one Kousho-sama had. He told me that it was very expensive and special…)
Since she could only vaguely guess what it smelled like, she wasn’t sure that it was the same.
As she tried to focus her attention to her nose to get a better smell of the fragrance, she heard a rustling sound coming from the nearby plants.
She looked and saw a group of men dressed in black standing there.
“… Come with us.”
The sweet, powdery scent from earlier faded because of the mixture of fragrances coming from the men.
(Argh! I wanted to smell it more closely!)
Once they appeared, her dream proceeded as it usually did. They were after the boy.
Wanting to protect the boy, her child self threw the ashes in the incense burner of them.
“Someone, anyone, help!”
Calling for help was always enough to wake her up from her dream.
But something surprising happened today; the dream continued.
The men glared at her as they brushed the ashes from their faces.
“You brat! How dare you!”
The men drew their swords. Her child self cowered in fear.
(Weird. The dream never continued after I threw the ashes at them before. What’s going to happen next…?)
The boy quickly stood in front of her child self as she watched the scene unfold.
“I won’t let you hurt her! I’ll protect her.”
The boy’s voice was so manly and reliable that she couldn’t help but feel her heart throb even in this kind of situation.
Riri jumped up and threw off her blanket.
“I was so surprised. My recurring dream didn’t stop where it usually does. I’ve never had that happen to me before.”
The boy, whose face and appearance she didn’t know, had appeared in her dreams so many times since she was a child that she felt as if he was a childhood friend.
Her face turned even redder as she remembered the back of the boy who had screamed that he would protect her.
“What’s wrong with me? Pull yourself together!”
She stood up as she pressed her hand on her beating heart.
She suddenly remembered the fragrance that had appeared in her dream when she had finally calmed down.
“It was similar to a sweet and powdery scent. I wonder what it was. I think it’s very similar to the scent Kousho-sama had. Did I remember the fragrance in my dream because I met him yesterday and talked to him for the first time in a while…?”
She tilted her head and thought about it, but then she realised it was time for Ryouka to come and wake her up.
“I’m curious about it, but Kousho-sama said he will summon me when he burns the incense. I’ll think about it again once I’ve smelled it. I have a dance rehearsal starting today, so I have to concentrate on that first.”
With that decision made, she immediately began her morning preparations.
Riri and Garan had arrived at the May Finch room in the Guest Palace.
The room was big enough for about ten people and it was usually used by guests to hold discussions.
She was grateful to Garan for arranging this room for her.
“Wow, it’s such a beautiful room!”
When she entered the room, she found brand new wooden floors with carpet embroidered with gold thread.
There was a raised platform with a desk and silver chair at the back of the room.
The window frames were covered with gold bars, and they glistened in the sunlight.
“Thanks, Garan. I think I can concentrate on my dance practice here.”
“Don’t worry about it. Kousho-sama also informed me that he wishes for you to become one of the Four Consorts. I’ll try to help you as much as I can. There’s not much time before the final selection dance, so practice hard.”
She nodded her head when she heard Kousho’s name, but she also had a question for him.
(Kousho-sama wants me to become one of the Four Consorts, right? So why is he acting so coldly towards me?)
She believed that he was probably acting cold towards her when there were people around.
Actually, when she had met him yesterday alone, he didn’t act cold towards her at all.
As she wondered why he would do such a thing, she heard a voice from the corridor behind her.
“Oh, you’re already here, Riri.”
She turned around and saw that Seirai was just about to enter the room.
She quickly kneeled down with Garan and bowed her head.
“Good morning, Seirai-sama. I’m sorry for taking up your precious time.”
“It’s alright. I offered to teach you because I want to be with you. Are you ready to start practicing?”
She nodded and Garan looked up.
“I’m glad that you offered to teach her, but there’s something that worries me. Have you heard enough about incenses?”
“I heard enough yesterday. Isn’t that right, Riri?”
Riri nodded as she looked at Seirai and Garan.
“Yes, I know from talking to you yesterday that you know enough to become a perfumer.”
Garan looked surprised as he stared at Seirai.
“Then why did you ask to talk to Consort Riri about incenses?”
“Because I wanted to talk with the cute Riri. I don’t care if we talk about incenses or practice dancing as long as we get to be together… By the way Riri, I feel like you’re a bit different today, did something happen?”
Seirai suddenly looked at her face.
“No, not really.”
“Is that so? You’ve been looking a little dazed and your face suddenly turned red. Are you in love?”
She was stunned by his words.
(My face is red because I can’t get that boy, who I saw in my dreams last night, out of my head… Huh? Why does my face turn red when I think about him? He asked me if I’m in love, but I don’t…)
She blinked and Seirai smiled.
“So, you are in love? I’d be happy if you’re in love with me.”
“No, I’m not.”
Her instincts told her that if she didn’t deny this outright then she would be in big trouble.
Seirai smiled wryly and shrugged.
“You didn’t have to be that blunt about it. It’s a shame you’re not in love with me, but I’d like to hear about it. You don’t seem very familiar with love, so maybe it’s your first love?”
When he asked her that, the boy in her dream whose face and appearance was blurry flashed through her mind.
(Why did I think about him? Are you telling me I’m in love with him? Impossible!)
She shook her head feverishly.
“Let’s stop talking about first loves. We’re wasting time.”
“You’re right. Consort Riri seems troubled.”
Seirai’s gaze turned to Garan, who had come to her aid.
“Come to think of it, when was your first love, Garan?”
Garan looked surprised.
“You don’t need to ask about me.”
“Of course, I do. General Garan, you’re famous for being as handsome as Kousho even in Shinzui, but I’ve never heard a single rumour about you. So, tell me.”
Seirai approached Garan and Garan took a few steps back.
Riri felt bad for Garan, but she was relieved.
(Calm down. It’s impossible for me to be in love with a boy who can’t possibly exist in real life. Now’s not the time to get carried away. I need to practice dancing.)
She took a deep breath and turned her attention to Seirai, who had cornered Garan against the wall.
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, Seirai-sama, but I want to get a high rating in the upcoming pageant and become one of the Four Consorts. Could you teach me?”
Seirai looked towards her and sighed.
“I finally thought I could tease Garan, but I guess I’ll give up since you’re that serious. Now, put on your mask and practice.”
She will be wearing a golden mask while she dances the ranryou.
She put on the practice mask that she had prepared and tied the string behind her head, then she took a deep breath.
(I should just concentrate on dancing for now. I must be chosen as one of the Four Consorts and get my own palace.)
In order to grasp her dream, she quickly danced to the sound of Seirai’s claps.