A while after Mokuren had left, Riri heard someone outside the door and stood up.
“Somebody! Is there somebody there!?”
She knocked on the door, but there was no answer.
(Calm down. You need to remain calm in times of crisis. I can still feel someone on the other side of the door. Wah… That’s right.)
She focused her attention on her nose. It was hard to smell because of the door, but there was a slight scent.
She focused all her attention on her nose and realised that the scent was one she knew.
It was warm, deep and slightly sweet. It was an elegant scent, and wasn’t too pungent, but it wasn’t a plain scent either.
The owner of the musk scent was…
“… Seirai-sama? Seirai-sama is probably the person on the other side of the door. Musk is rarely harvested in Shinzui, so there’s no one here who uses this as a scent. This fragrance definitely belongs to Seirai-sama. My nose isn’t wrong!”
She confidently said this on purpose. The rare incense scent and the original scent of Seirai mixed together to create an elegant and somewhat dangerous scent. There wasn’t any other scent that smelled like this in the world.
“Please open the door! Seirai-sama!”
She didn’t know why he was here, but her first priority was to escape, so she kept knocking on the door. The door eventually opened a little, and someone slipped in.
It was the silver haired Seirai. He closed the door with a bang.
“You have a wonderful sense of smell since you’re able to recognise someone by their scent even when the door is closed.”
Suspicion crossed her mind when she saw him smile.
“No way… Were you the one who kidnapped me?”
The Beautiful Flower Palace was closed to men. There were only a limited number of people who could enter and leave the inner palace.
That was why Mokuren couldn’t kidnap her himself until now.
Seirai was the neighbouring kingdom’s Crown Prince, and everyone was willing to ignore some of his actions in order not to offend him.
He would be able to kidnap her from the Beautiful Flower Palace.
“That’s right. I saw you alone in the ballroom. I’ve been looking for the opportunity to kidnap you, but it’s been quite difficult since Garan sticks to you. I have to return to Koran tomorrow, so I thought this would be my last chance.”
“Why are you doing this? Don’t tell me you and Mokuren are…”
A chill ran down her spine as she imagined the two of them being connected.
Seirai crossed his arms thoughtfully.
“No, Mokuren and I are still less than friends. We both have a common goal, but I’m not sure I can trust him. I’m deliberating whether to collaborate with him or not.”
Riri widened her eyes in surprise, and she spoke in a shaky tone.
“What common goal?”
Seirai smiled. It was the coldest smile she had ever seen on him.
“Of course, to get Shinzui. Mokuren wants to abolish the Emperor and I want to conquer Shinzui. That’s why Mokuren wants us to collaborate with each other to reach our goals.”
Riri was shocked by the words the gentle-looking Seirai said.
“Why do you want Shinzui? Our two kingdoms haven’t fought in the past few decades and have maintained peace. There will be war if you do that.”
“You’re right. I don’t want war either. I just want to get my hands on the mining concessions from the mines on the border between Shinzui and Koran.”
Right now, the mining rights belong to Shinzui.
The profits from the extracted gold were substantial and both nations have fought over the rights of the mines for a long time, but both nations agreed to give a quarter of the mined gold to Koran.
“Why are you so obsessed with that mine? Kousho-sama will eventually become Shinzui’s emperor. If anyone finds out that you’ve kidnapped me from the inner palace of the neighbouring kingdom, then your position might be in jeopardy. What’s the point of doing this?”
She desperately asked and Seirai’s expression suddenly became serious.
“It would be too late when I become emperor and gain power. I want something that can be used as my bargaining chip right now.”
There was firm determination in his voice.
As she said this, she suddenly remembered a conversation she had with Seirai. He said he had a younger sister who had been ordered by the Emperor to marry a rural noble who was years older than her. He said his sister hated it and wanted him to do something about it. He said that he would be able to help his sister if he had more power.
She looked up after remembering his words.
“You said bargaining chip, didn’t you? Is that to stop your sister, Princess Keika, from getting married?”
Seirai slightly lowered his eyes. That was his answer.
“So, it is. You want to collaborate with Mokuren in order to obtain the mining rights so you can use it as a bargaining chip to get the Emperor to stop Princess Keika’s marriage.”
Seirai sighed and looked straight at her.
“That’s right. My father wants the mining concessions, but Emperor Reibun is a shrewd man. Do you know about the Three Kingdom Peace Conference?”
Seirai’s words reminded her of what she had studied during the preliminary selection for the beauty pageant.
“Yes. As I recall, the Emperors of Shinzui, Koran, and Sairin got together to discuss the peace of this continent…”
There are three kingdoms on this continent, and on the other side of the continent across from Koran was Sairin. Perhaps because Koran was in between Shinzui and Sairin, but Shinzui and Sairai have had little diplomatic relations for a long time.
Shinzui and Koran have been fighting over the mining concessions for a long time because of the mine that was between the two kingdoms. However, when Reibun became Emperor 20 years ago, the three kingdom’s positions changed drastically during the Three Kingdom Peace Conference.
“That’s right. My father says he was entrapped by Emperor Reibun at the Three Kingdom Peace Conference. Of course, he can’t say this publicly, so he only does it when he’s drunk.”
It was a word that she couldn’t let slip. Seirai sighed lightly.
“Shinzui and Koran fought over the mines, and Sairin watched them fight and took no sides. This was the history that had been repeated on this continent for hundreds of years. Emperor Reibun believed he needed a strong ally to stop the war. He made Sairin’s Emperor his ally.”
Garan had told her about this during the preliminary selection process.
It was widely rumoured that at the Three Kingdom Peace Conference, Emperor Reibun made Sairin’s Emperor his ally and cornered Koran’s Emperor.
However, the truth of the conference was hidden in the hearts of the emperors, and no one knew what really happened.
“How did he make Sairin’s Emperor his ally?”
“My father doesn’t know how either. However, Sairin’s Emperor, who had been quietly watching the situation, accepted the conditions that Shinzui had set out for the mines during the Three Kingdom Peace Conference. If we refused, he threatened to side with Shinzui and invade Koran.”
She wondered how Reibun could have persuaded Sairin’s Emperor, who had observed the situation thus far, to express such an aggressive opinion. She looked at him in surprise and he laughed.
“This is my father’s secret. I heard him blurt it out when I took care of him when he was drunk at a banquet. Koran is sandwiched between Shinzui and Sairin. We won’t be able to hold out if both nations attack us at once. So, he had no choice but to agree to take a quarter of the gold.”
It was a considerable reward to be able to get a quarter of the gold without doing anything.
However, she knew that Koran’s Emperor wasn’t satisfied with that.
“My father is still annoyed by that, and although he doesn’t want to antagonise Shinzui and Sairin, he definitely wants to get his hands on the mining concessions.”
“If that’s the case, then wouldn’t it be a bad idea to kidnap me? This could lead to conflict with Shinzui.”
If he joins hands with Mokuren and bares his fangs at Shinzui, then Koran would be in danger.
However, Seirai smiled calmly.
“That’s not the case. If I can get my hand on the ‘treasured incense’, then I can make Emperor Reibun smell it and falsify his memories, so that he will personally give up on his mining concessions.”
She was astonished by his words. He shouldn’t have known about the treasured incense.
“The treasured incense doesn’t…”
“Don’t act dumb. Mokuren told me all about the treasured incense. The treasured incense consists of two incenses. One is an incense that erases memories and the other is an incense that brings back memories. I also heard that this incense can be used to alter memories. I can obtain the concessions of the mine without starting a war as long as I have the treasured incense.”
Seirai was serious. It was impossible for her to deceive him anymore since he had heard about the treasured incense from Mokuren.
“… You won’t be able to manipulate the memories of everyone in this kingdom even if you use the treasured incense. There will be lingering grudges. It’s possible that the peace will be shattered. People’s lives will be in danger if war breaks out. Are you sure you want that to happen?”
She had only known Seirai for ten days. She didn’t understand what he was thinking.
However, having listened to him, she had a feeling that he wasn’t a bad person. Seirai pulled his chin back as if he was flinching.
“I don’t want war either. That’s why I have to make this work. If I don’t do this, then I won’t have a bargaining chip to stop my sister from getting married…”
His last words almost sounded like a blood-curdling scream.
Her eyes widened in surprise as she saw him bare his emotions even though he was always easy-going.
“My father is the Emperor. He can have anything he wants. The only thing he can’t get is the mining concessions. The only ace I can think of that would make him change his mind and stop my sister’s marriage was the mining concessions.”
Seirai stared at her. It was an uncharacteristically serious stare.
“So, I want you to remember how to make the treasured incense no matter what. I heard about the situation from Mokuren. You succeeded in making the incense that erases memories, right? Please, at least tell Mokuren how to make that first. If you do, then I might be able to stop my sister’s marriage.”
It was painfully obvious that Seirai wanted to save his previous sister.
She wanted to help him, but she couldn’t tell him about the treasured incense.
“Are you really sure that’s what you want?”
She looked at him sincerely and he lowered his eyes.
“Don’t look at me like that. I know Mokuren is an eccentric man… If I make a mistake with what I’m about to do, then it could lead to a big war that can hurt people. I want to avoid that.”
Seirai’s words seemed sincere. He was suffering. The expression on his face was cloudier than she had ever seen.
“I came to Shinzui and approached you because I heard from Mokuren that you might be able to create the treasured incense. I wanted to talk to you and find out if you really have the knowledge to create the treasured incense.”
Seirai softly put his hand on her cheek.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect much from your mixing skills since I couldn’t trust Mokuren. However, I found that you were more knowledgeable about incenses than I expected, and you were serious about making them. The more I interacted with you, the more I began to think that you might be able to make the treasured incense.”
She gently pressed down on Seirai’s hand and moved it away from her cheek, then looked at him again.
“I have something that is important to me like you do, and I’m willing to put my life on the line to make the treasured incense.”
As soon as she said that, Seirai’s eyes widened.