Riri finished her moves after Seirai finished clapping. Ryouka had shown her how to dance the ranryou, so she should have danced exactly like Ryouka had, but the aura in the room was really heavy.
It was the first time she had seen such a stern look on Seirai’s face.
“――― I didn’t think you would be this bad.”
His voice sounded more serious than it ever had. It was as if he was a different person from the one who flirted with her. She took off her mask and quickly walked over to Seirai.
“I’ll be blunt. A dog dances better than you. Your movements are awkward, and you can’t dance to the beat. You can’t dance with the others at this point, let alone win the finals. You’ll stand out because you’ll be the only one who can’t dance to the beat.”
She felt down since he said her dancing was horrible.
“It’s impossible for me to teach you if you’re this bad. I’m going to have to back out.”
She desperately screamed at Seirai who turned around.
“I’ll listen to you no matter how strict you are. Please teach me. I really want to become one of the Four Consorts.”
Seirai turned around and stared at her.
“… Do you want to become one of Kousho’s Four Consorts that badly? If you want to move up in the inner palace, then there are other ways. That’s how bad your dancing is.”
She shook her head at Seirai who had his arms folded.
“I don’t want to move up in the inner palace… I just need to become one of the Four Consorts because of my circumstances, so I can’t use any other means.”
She kneeled down and bowed deeply to Seirai.
“I’m sure my dancing is horrible, but I don’t want to give up without trying. Please teach me.”
She kept her head down and waited patiently. After a while, she heard Seirai take a deep breath.
“There are only eight days left until the banquet. I don’t think you’ll have time to sleep If I’m going to teach you, are you alright with this?”
“Yes, I won’t complain.”
Seirai laughed when he heard this.
“That’s a good answer. When I see a woman working hard, I want to support her… It’s impossible for you to become an expert at dancing in eight days. But I heard the finalists will be dancing an act from the ranryou. If you can learn to dance that one act, then you might be able to get a good score.”
She smiled when she finally heard what she wanted to hear and bowed her head once again.
“Thank you so much!”
“Then let’s start practicing.”
She was about to put on her mask again when Seirai said this, when she heard a voice from the door.
“Seirai-sama, it’s time for your audience with His Majesty.”
The person who had opened the door was Seirai’s attendant. Seirai sighed when he saw him.
“Oh, that’s right. I’ve been given time to speak with His Majesty. Riri, I’m sorry to interrupt your enthusiasm but I need to leave for a while.”
“Yes, take care.”
She bowed her head and Seirai turned his attention to Garan.
“Garan, you can teach Riri how to be flexible while you two wait for me. You’re a martial arts master, so you’re flexible. Her biggest problem is her stiffness. The basic principle of dancing is to be as soft as possible and be beautiful and graceful down to your fingertips, so do something about her stiffness first.”
“Leave that to me.”
She thanked Garan from the bottom of her heart when he agreed. Seirai headed to the door.
“Smooth out your awkward movements that look as if you’re made of wire by the time I return.”
She let out a sigh when he was out of sight.
“I was under the impression that Seirai-sama is frivolous, but he knows enough about incenses to be a perfumer and he takes dancing very seriously. I wonder if he’s actually a good person.”
She muttered. Garan came next to her and smiled.
“He says and does a lot of things that would make one unsure if he’s serious or not. I can’t say that he has a good personality, but I personally don’t think he’s a bad person either. It’s just that when Kousho-sama is involved…”
She could guess what Garan wanted to say since he looked troubled.
He took a deep breath and turned towards Riri.
“Now, Riri. Let’s work on your flexibility like Seirai-sama said. Your body is indeed really stiff.”
The door suddenly swung open as she was preparing to do as Garan told her to.
“Seirai-dono, are you here?”
Kousho was the one who had opened the door. Riri’s eyes widened in surprise when she saw that Ranran and Juka were behind him.
The Beautiful Flower Palace was built for Kousho. There was nothing strange about him walking with consorts from the Beautiful Flower Palace, but this was outside the inner palace.
Bringing the consorts to such a place was unthinkable for the past Kousho.
Kousho had said that he hated the inner palace in the past, but recently he has been taking a completely different attitude. She believed he had his reasons for this, but she didn’t know what they were.
Garan kneeled down and bowed his head, and Riri quickly followed suit.
“Where is Seirai-dono?”
Kousho looked around and Garan raised his face.
“Seirai-sama has an audience with His Majesty, so he’s out at the moment.”
Kousho looked at Riri and looked sullen for a moment.
“… So, Seirai is really teaching you.”
Kousho stopped talking. It was rare for him to stop speaking when he wanted to say something more. Riri tilted her head in confusion, and Kousho collected himself and turned to face Ranran, who was standing next to him.
“The consorts are having a tea party, so I thought I would invite him to join, but I guess he’s not here.”
Kousho made eye contact with her several times, but he didn’t speak to her.
(His attitude towards me is really cold when there are people around. Why?)
She glanced up and saw him happily talking with Ranran.
She tried to greet him, and she also wanted to see his reaction.
But Ranran stepped forward and interrupted her.
“My, how rude. I can’t believe you tried to talk to him first.”
Juka, who was standing at Kousho’s right, giggled.
“You don’t know how to be polite, that’s why you don’t even know that it’s rude for a mere talented person to speak directly to the Crown Prince.”
Talented people had a very low rank amongst the ladies in the inner palace. Therefore, it was rude for them to talk to the Crown Prince. He had asked her to become one of the Four Consorts to buy time so that he could make his first love the Empress, but now he acted as if he hadn’t asked her this.
“… I’m sorry.”
He seemed to have his own circumstances, but he hadn’t said anything about it so she believed she couldn’t ask. She bowed her head and tried to move backward, but accidentally tripped on something.
She glanced and saw that someone had stepped on the hem of her hanfu. The consorts who followed Kousho were nearby, so it could have been one of them, but it happened so fast, so she could have imagined it.
She was about to fall down when someone’s arms quickly caught her.
“Are you alright?”
The voice belonged to Kousho. It was his strong arms that supported her body.
She looked up and saw that he had a worried expression on his face.
“Oh my, how dare a talented person like you have Kousho-sama catch you!”
Kousho widened his eyes slightly at the sound of Juka’s voice. He closed his eyes and quickly released Riri.
“… If a woman is about to fall in front of me, I’ll catch her even if she is a princess from an enemy nation.”
He said as if it was nothing and turned away. Riri quickly turned around and bowed to him.
“Thank you very much.”
She thanked him, but he ignored her. Kousho turned his attention to Garan.
“See you. I’m counting on you to continue guarding Seirai-dono, Garan.”
As she watched Kousho and the consorts walk away, she was worried that he might not like her even though she believed that he was behaving this way for a reason.
“What’s wrong? You don’t look so good.”
Garan gently placed a hand on her shoulder. His hand was large and warm.
“Tell me if there’s something on your mind. You and I are friends.”
“Thanks… To be honest, Kousho-sama has been acting cold towards me lately, but he only seems to act cold towards me when there are people around. So, I’m certain that he has his reasons for doing this, but I’m also starting to wonder if he might hate me.”
She smiled bitterly and spoke about her worries. She felt embarrassed saying this, but she wanted to get it out of her mind. Most importantly, Garan is her friend, and she knew that he had a strong, yet kind personality.
“I want to know why he’s acting cold towards me if he has his reasons, but I couldn’t ask him about it. I just don’t know what to do.”
She tried to look as cheerful as possible. Garan thought for a while, then finally spoke.
“… I think I’m one of the reasons why he’s not talking to you.”
She blinked at his words.
“Do you know why he’s acting cold towards me?”
“No, that’s just what I think… Kousho-sama acts like the perfect Crown Prince, but he’s very clear on who he likes and dislikes. If he dislikes someone, then he will criticise them to the bitter end.”
It was a horrible thing to hear, but she couldn’t help but agree. Kousho was indeed like that.
“However, he also shows the utmost affection to those he likes. I’m sure that once he decides to protect someone, he will do whatever it takes to protect them. He’s actually saved my life before.”