She hadn’t heard much about other kingdoms, so this was news to her. She was surprised and Seirai nodded.
“He tried to hide it at first, but he had a seizure when he appeared in front of the people for the New Year ceremony, and because of this, the other princes are trying to remove me from the position of Crown Prince as soon as possible. I will be the emperor if anything happens to my father. It seems that everyone is unhappy that I, a commoner, will be the emperor.”
Seirai’s position in Koran is delicate. Something caught her attention as she listened to him.
“Is your sister still in the palace now?”
Whenever Seirai mentioned his sister, his eyes narrowed slightly, that was proof that he cared for her.
“Yeah, my sister… Her name is Keika. She’s in the palace now. She’s extremely beautiful, but a little timid. It was my job to comfort her whenever she cried because her dance practice was too hard.”
Seirai smiled nostalgically.
“You two are very close, aren’t you?”
She was an only child, so she was envious of those who had siblings. She always wanted a kind, older brother.
“We are. My mother passed away ten years ago, and we’ve been helping each other survive. We would have lost our position in the palace if it weren’t for our dancing skills and been thrown out. But…”
Seirai stopped talking. She was concerned that his expression had become cloudy, so she spoke.
“I’m just a little worried about Keika. Truthfully, she has recently been ordered to marry a noble by my father.”
Marriage was a joyous occasion, but she could tell that Seirai was unwilling to let Keika get married from his expression.
“Are you opposed to it?”
“I can’t object. It’s the Emperor’s order, but he’s 30 years older than Keika, and he’s getting remarried because his wife passed away. He lives deep in the mountains, far away from the capital of Koran. He’s a high-ranking noble and a wealthy man, but he’s not good with women and has many concubines.”
It would certainly be worrisome to let his precious sister marry such a man. Seirai pursed his lips.
“He wants to marry the Emperor’s daughter so that he can be connected to the royal family. Keika isn’t strong enough to live in the countryside without knowing anyone and being surrounded by a lot of concubines. I believed that I would have more say in court if I became the Crown Prince, but the Emperor is still alive, and so my father’s words are absolute. I don’t have the power to overrule the Emperor’s decree right now, but…”
Seirai stopped. The seriousness in his eyes startled Riri.
“I just want to protect Keika.”
She understood his feelings towards his sister so well that it was painful. He is a frivolous man who spares no effort to say sweet words to women. That was her first impression of Seirai.
But now he looked like a kind and sincere man who cared for his sister.
(This is the first time I’ve seen such a serious look in his eyes, maybe he’s a serious person after all.)
She thought as her heart throbbed. She looked down not knowing why her heart was throbbing.
“I hope there’s a way for you to stop Princess Keika from getting married.”
“It’s difficult. I wish I could persuade my father, but he’s very stubborn and doesn’t easily change his mind. Keika’s marriage is for establishing a connection with a rich noble living in the countryside, so there’s a lot of advantages. He might change his mind if I can show him something as a bargaining chip.”
Seirai smiled wryly.
“But I need something quite valuable to trade in order to change my father’s mind. I’ve always wondered what would be valuable to my father… If I had more power, then I could save Keika.”
Seirai had the expression of a kind brother thinking of his sister.
Her heart started throbbing when she saw him look like that.
She was puzzled by how she was acting while thinking over Seirai’s words again.
(Something that is valuable to the Emperor of Koran. What on earth can it be…?)
She pondered over this, but this was something that Seirai was also troubled over, so it wasn’t going to be easy to solve.
“My legs feel heavy…”
Riri lost her strength as soon as she entered the Beautiful Flower Palace and crouched down on the spot.
It has been about five days since she started receiving training from Seirai. Every day, practice went on from morning to night. Today, the practice continued until it was completely dark, and she was finally able to go back to her room after Garan suggested that she should take a break.
As soon as she left Garan and entered the Beautiful Flower Palace, she felt so tired that it became difficult to stand. Her legs and hips were strained and in pain, and the joints in her arms were creaking.
Her body felt heavy, but she managed to muster the strength to stand up.
“Everyone should be asleep by now. I need to get some sleep too.”
She suddenly noticed a certain fragrance as she staggered towards her room.
“… This is Consort Hisui’s fragrance. Why is she up at this time of the night?”
The light fragrance would probably go unnoticed by a normal person. The corridor was deserted at night, and it didn’t mix with other fragrances, so she recognised it as Hisui’s aloeswood incense.
Her fragrance was coming from the ballroom.
She walked towards there since she was curious and saw Hisui practicing alone in the middle of the ballroom which was facing the garden.
“Wow, she’s so beautiful…!”
She stared at Hisui from behind the pillar.
Wearing a gold mask and dancing gracefully, Hisui was so beautiful that she seemed out of this world.
Hisui had passed the preliminary round with the best score, and she would lead the ranryou dance in the final selection.
Riri could tell that the mask Hisui wore on her face was more finely crafted than her own when she looked at it.
The mask, which covered her eyes and the right half of her face, was adorned with green gems on her forehead and her cheeks were shaped like flower petals. Hisui danced gracefully, wearing a gold mask that could only be worn by the lead dancer.
The ranryou was quite an intense dance even though it looked like a slow dance. She sometimes ran out of breath when she was practicing, but Hisui’s expression didn’t change even though she danced intensely.
She was reminded of her own dancing as she admired Hisui. She devoted herself to practice while sacrificing her sleep.
She believed that she had improved a lot since the beginning thanks to Seirai’s guidance.
However, she felt as if she was a small child playing a game when she compared her dance to Hisui’s.
“I’m sure the other consorts are as good as Consort Hisui. I’ll be the only person who will have trouble keeping up with them if I dance with them, then I’ll be a nuisance…”
She had been frantic to have her own palace until now.
But now that she thought about it again, this dance was meant for the consorts of Beautiful Flower Palace to entertain the guest of honour, like Seirai. The thought of this important dance being ruined because of her gave her the chills.
(This is bad. I need to practice more….!)
She suddenly heard a voice as she was thinking.
She turned her attention to the ballroom and saw that Hisui had stopped moving and was looking at her.
Riri nervously stepped out from behind the pillar. Hisui took off her mask and raised her eyebrows.
“Consort Riri, why don’t you show up to dance rehearsals at least once? We’re all dancing together, so we can’t do it without you.”
“I’m sorry. I’m not good enough to dance with everyone…”
Riri approached Hisui and Hisui sighed softly.
“We certainly heard about that from Garan-sama, but the final selection is in three days. We’re all going to dance together, so we mustn’t disturb the harmony. We will have a final rehearsal with masks and our outfits for the performance, so be sure to attend.”
Riri was anxious about whether she would be able to dance as well as Hisui and the others in three days. She hung her head and replied, and Hisui tried to put on her mask again.
“Consort Hisui, you also practice until this hour?”
It has been a long time since she has spoken to Hisui alone. Riri has always admired her dignified words and actions.
She wanted to spend time with Hisui even if only just for a little while.
“Yes. Dancing is profound. I’ve been learning it since I was a child, but I’ve never been able to dance to my satisfaction.”
Riri’s eyes widened at Hisui’s surprising words.
“Your dancing looks perfect though.”
“It’s not perfect yet. I need to work harder.”
Hisui seemed to be enjoying herself as she said this. Hisui is a hard worker.
Perhaps Hisui enjoyed improving herself. In that case, Riri thought she was amazing.
“I’m looking forward to seeing your dance.”
Those words came from Riri’s heart, but Hisui looked as if she was ready to fight Riri.
“Don’t lie. You’re one of the finalists. We’re rivals for Kousho-sama’s Four Consorts positions. How can you be looking forward to it?”
Hisui put on her mask and folded her arms.
The black eyes behind the mask had a complicated feeling in them which couldn’t be described as anger or sorrow.
“You don’t want to be Kousho-sama’s wife. You told me that you came here to fulfil your dream of becoming a perfumer and I believed you, since I believed you weren’t someone who would lie. Then, you entered the beauty pageant.”
Her voice was accusatory. Looking closely, Riri could see Hisui’s lips trembling.
“At first, I thought you might have your reasons, because I believed that you are an honest person even though the palace is full of lies and schemes… But all you do is rehearse and neglect your incenses. And you lied to me by saying you were looking forward to my dance.”
“It’s not a lie. I have my own reasons…”
“What kind of reason?”
When Hisui asked Riri that, she didn’t know how to answer.
(If I tell her the real reason, then she might find out about the treasured incense and even about Kousho-sama’s first love. How do I convey my true feelings while hiding the things I shouldn’t talk about?)
She hesitated and Hisui sighed.
“See. You can’t tell me because you’re lying. I’m saddest when lied to. I thought you and I would be friends who could reach great heights together.”
Hisui’s almond eyes were moist. She bit her lips and sighed loudly.
“I guess I was wrong when I thought we were becoming friends.”
Riri wanted to tell Hisui she was wrong. She didn’t want to lie to Hisui, but there were just some things she couldn’t talk about.
She was confused, not knowing what to do and Hisui looked at her.
“You’re not my friend anymore. I won’t lose. I’ll do whatever it takes to become one of the Four Consorts.”
Hisui turned away after saying this. Riri didn’t know what to say as she watched Hisui walk away.
Mokuren put the powdered fragrance into a white ceramic mortar.
“The head of the Dark Perfumers is using a very old and cheap mortar.”
The soft voice was familiar to him. He pushed up his glasses and looked at the front door.
Someone entered the room.
“I’m familiar with this mortar and it’s easy to use.”
He answered briefly since he didn’t want to tell the person the truth. The man sat down in front of Mokuren.
“Is that the only reason? You’re the head of an assassination squad who uses poisonous incenses. You hold the ‘Nine-tail Fox’ title and will bring about a revolution in Shinzui. You seem very particular about what you use, so I was sure you’d use the best tools.”