“He saved your life?”
She couldn’t overlook this. Garan nodded slightly.
“It was when I had just become General. I fell into a certain man’s trap and was almost framed for a crime.”
Riri’s eyes widened. She heard that Garan became General three years ago.
He had inherited the position from his father. He was still in his teens, so she could imagine that he must have had a lot of trouble leading the army as their General.
“What kind of crime was it?”
“They said I was being bribed to get a certain subordinate to rise in the ranks. I did promote him, but that was because he was a man worthy of standing above others since he’s skilful and compassionate.”
His words were very frigid.
“However, they said that I had taken a bribe and promoted the man, and there was even a witness who claimed to have seen me accepting the bribe. The witness was also one of my trusted subordinates. When I realised he had betrayed me, I…”
Garan’s lips trembled slightly when he remembered what had happened. Riri put a hand on his shoulder.
“Garan, if it’s too painful to talk about then…”
Garan is a pure person. The shock must have been unfathomable if he was betrayed by someone he trusted.
“No, I’m fine… I was accused of accepting the bribe and thrown into jail, and then Kousho-sama came to me. I’ve known him since we were children, but at that time, I didn’t like his arrogant personality, so I pretended to respect him while avoiding him, but he found it amusing that I was acting that way, so he always made fun of me and teased me.”
Riri could almost picture what they were like back then.
It must have been one of Kousho’s favourite pastimes to tease the serious Garan.
“Kousho-sama said I looked unsightly when he saw me in jail. It was pathetic, but I couldn’t say anything back. Seeing me like that, he told me that he didn’t have anyone to tease without me around and that it was boring, so he was going to find the culprit. After that, he suddenly got serious and told me that I’m his friend, and that he won’t allow anyone to hurt his friend. He said he would definitely protect me.”
That must have been a good memory for Garan; he was smiling.
“The next day, they caught the man who had framed me. The man who testified also admitted that he had lied. I was quickly freed… I wouldn’t be here today if Kousho-sama hadn’t acted. He saved my life.”
Garan looked at Riri and smiled.
“Once Kousho-sama decides to protect someone, he will protect them with everything he has. As far as I can tell, you’re someone he decided to protect. I’m sure he has his reasons for acting coldly towards you, so why don’t you trust him for a while longer?”
Riri could see the trust Garan had in Kousho.
And she realised that the real Kousho that she knew was the same as the person who Garan had just described.
“… Okay. I’ll wait for a while longer. Besides, I have to concentrate on my dance training right now, so I don’t have time to dwell on it.”
She smiled and Garan nodded. She once again practiced how to make herself flexible with him as instructed by Seirai.
She didn’t know what Kousho was thinking, but she decided to trust him and move forward to achieve her goal.
Dance gracefully to the sound of the claps.
It was easy to say, but Riri thought that it was a next to impossible task.
Especially the court dance, the ranryou, which looked like a slow dance but was actually quite an exercise.
The gold mask hid her eyes, making it difficult to see well. Of course, there were holes in the mask where her eyes were, but it was difficult to see the whole area with the mask on.
She wondered if she could really stand on stage in this condition, watch the movements of the other consorts and dance with them.
As she thought about this, she fluttered her long sleeves, spun around, turned her back, and then her knees gave way.
As she fell down, Garan, who had been watching her practice, tried to rush over to her.
“Are you okay?!”
Seirai stopped Garan with his hand.
“Riri, losing your stance from turning your back a little is proof that you’re not flexible, and I’m sure you’re thinking about something else. Your thoughts show when you dance. If you fall down on stage like you just did now then not only will it ruin your dance, but also the dance of the other consorts. Concentrate.”
His voice and tone were harsh, but it motivated her.
“I’m sorry. Seirai-sama, please continue. It would be my fault if I’m the only one embarrassed because I can’t dance, but I can’t ruin the other consorts’ dances.”
The consorts who had passed the preliminary selection are practicing the dance together. She wasn’t good enough to practice with them. She knew that, therefore she wanted to be good enough to not slow them down. Seirai nodded in admiration.
“You have guts, just the way I like it. I don’t cut corners when it comes to dancing. If you can keep up then I’ll continue, what do you say?”
Riri straightened her posture and bowed.
She was under the impression that Seirai was a frivolous man who spared no effort to say sweet things to women, but he was quite strict when it came to dancing, and she was grateful for that.
“Good answer. Then, let’s continue.”
Garan took a step closer to Seirai and pointed at the open door.
“Please wait, it’s already past noon. We haven’t even had a full cup of tea since we started practicing. If we continue like this, then Consort Riri will probably collapse. I think we should take a short break.”
Seirai turned his head towards the garden facing the corridor and squinted at the rising sun.
“Oh, you’re right. It’s already this late. I’ve been too focused on training her that I completely lost track of time. Alright. Let’s take a short break. It’s part of training to eat well and build up strength.
Seirai shrugged. Garan turned to look at Riri and spoke softly.
“Riri, take a break. I’ll ask the maids to prepare a meal for us. You’ve been moving since morning. Will you be alright without me?”
She felt anxious, but she was also hungry. She nodded and Garan left even though he looked worried.
“Riri, give me your hand.”
Seirai held out his hand in a natural gesture.
“No, it’s rude for me to get help from you personally. I can walk by myself.”
“Don’t say that. I can’t cut corners when instructing you on how to dance, but I live to be kind to women. Let me be nice to you when you’re not practicing.”
She blinked at his soft tone which was completely different from how it was earlier, but she put her hand over his, thinking that she would make Koran’s Crown Prince feel bad if she continued to refuse.
Seirai smiled and pulled her hand. The two of them moved to the desk on the raised platform.
He told her to sit down on one of the chairs and she sat down in front of him.
“Riri, you aren’t good at dancing at all. A kitten dancing might look cuter and more pleasing than seeing you dance.”
His statement pierced her heart, but she couldn’t argue with him since she had danced and knew that his words were true.
“Would it be an inconvenience if I danced with the other consorts in the final selection?”
She asked timidly and Seirai chuckled.
“Definitely if you don’t improve. But you have the motivation and guts. If you can keep up with my training, then I’ll make sure you dance better than a kitten.”
It was just like him to say that. His training was strict but very precise.
His usual playful attitude disappeared during practice, and he taught her seriously.
“Seirai-sama, you’re very serious about dancing. Is there a special reason for this?”
She was afraid to ask the Crown Prince a question, but she was curious since he was different when he taught her. Seirai smiled slightly.
“Special reason…? Alright, I’ll tell you something that only you will know. Dancing was a necessary means for my sister and I to survive in the palace.”
“To survive in the palace…? Aren’t you the Crown Prince? Why…?”
“I’m the Crown Prince now, but I wasn’t until about two years ago. The eldest son in the royal family succeeds the throne in Koran. I have an older brother who was supposed to be the emperor, but he fell off his horse two years ago and died.”
She had never heard this before, and she became docile.
“I’m sorry to hear that he passed away…”
“There are ten princes in Koran. We all have different mothers, and while I know what the others look like, I’ve never spoken to them before. I’ve never spoken to the previous Crown Prince, so I can’t honestly say that I’m sad. However, I was promoted to the position of Crown Prince thanks to his death.”
She suddenly realized something from his tone and manner of speaking.
“I have a feeling that you didn’t want to become the Crown Prince.”
She asked reluctantly even though she knew it was rude, and he smiled softly.
“You’re right. The position of Crown Prince is very formal. My mother was a commoner and her position in the palace wasn’t high. She was a famous dancer, and when she was invited to the palace to dance, the father, the emperor, took a liking to her and my sister and I were born. We weren’t inferior in the palace just because my mother was a commoner.”
Seirai crossed his hands over his lap and sighed a little.
“Mother taught me how to dance and it was the only way for my sister and I to find our place in the palace. The Emperor would be in a good mood if we danced well and our position in court also stabilized. That’s why I practiced like crazy.”
She thought he was raised as a Crown Prince without any problems, but it seemed she was wrong.
“When my eldest brother died, I, the Second Prince, became the Crown Prince, but my mother wasn’t a noble, so many objected… This is a known fact in Koran, but my father has a heart condition and has seizures quite often.”