The banquet finally began in the Beautiful Flower Palace’s reception hall.
Riri stood at the back entrance of the hall and opened the door slightly to see what was going on inside.
The banquet, which was being held in the hall and decorated with large flowers, was a great success.
Hundreds of nobles were gathered for the banquet, and they were enjoying drinks and a lavish meal. A platform had been constructed at the back of the hall, and Emperor Ju Reibun, Kousho and Seirai were sitting down and drinking near the platform.
Tonight’s banquet was attended by the most noted nobles in Shinzui.
The thought of having many spectators made her nervous, but she managed to calm herself down.
Riri went to the next room where the consorts were waiting and opened the door.
The quiet little room was filled with a suffocating sense of tension. As soon as she saw the consorts preparing themselves in the mirror, she was overwhelmed by their beauty and stopped in her tracks.
The gold masks worn by the lead dancer were shaped like a bird spreading its wings.
The consorts had the area around their eyes hidden by masks, and they wore pale peach dresses made of light fabric that didn’t look heavy at all. The sleeves and hems of their outfits spread out gracefully as they spun around while practicing. Their tied-up hair was decorated with real red peonies.
Today’s performance was the Ranryou.
It was said that Ranryou hid his beauty behind a mask while fighting and won.
The music for Ranryou’s entry into battle, which everyone was dancing to, was the symbol of his bravery as he faced his great enemy with only a few men while wearing masks and won.
Ranryou was often danced by men, but sometimes it was danced by women, perhaps because of the beauty and grace of his face.
“Consort Riri? You’re supposed to be dancing. Why haven’t you changed?”
Ranran said. Riri was wearing the same red quju that she always wore.
Juka stood up and approached Riri.
“You show up now and haven’t even prepared. Are you even motivated? You didn’t show up to rehearsal once. We’re really troubled. We were expecting you to show up for the last rehearsal at least, but you didn’t even show up. What are you trying to do?”
“I’m sorry about that.”
She was planning on attending the last rehearsal session, but she couldn’t make it because Seirai had kidnapped her. The 10 people here were dancing together, so everyone needed to know where they would stand.
She had caused trouble for everyone even though she had her own reasons for not showing up to the last rehearsal session.
“You can’t just sweep this away with an apology. Everyone moves in unison around the lead dancer. There’s no way we can dance in unison with someone who has never been to rehearsal. I know you want to become one of the Four Consorts, but from our point of view…”
“I… will not be dancing.”
It took a lot of courage for Riri to say those words. She strained her voice and Juka and Ranran stopped moving.
“What’d you say?!”
“As Consort Juka said, the Ranryou requires everyone to move in unison. I was practicing alone because I’ve never danced before, but I wasn’t able to attend the last rehearsal. I will be a liability if I were to dance now.”
“But you want to become one of the Four Consorts, right? You’ll never become one if you don’t dance.”
Riri knew that. She wanted to become one of the Four Consorts so that she could have an environment in which she could make incenses and to buy time for Kousho to meet his first love.
However, when she saw Hisui practice, she strongly believed that even if she practiced hard for a few days, it would be impossible for her to dance with the other consorts who have practiced since young.
Even so, she was going to attend the last rehearsal and try to move in unison with the others before deciding what to do, but that didn’t happen either.
She came to the conclusion that she should withdraw from the dance after looking at the situation calmly and thinking it over.
“This banquet is meant to welcome the guest of honour, Seirai-sama. Some noted nobles from Shinzui will also be attending the banquet. Beautiful Flower Palace is a newly established inner palace and is still not well known compared to His Majesty’s inner palace, the Wing Dance Palace.”
Riri clenched her fists tightly after saying this.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve been practicing all night and I want to dance with everyone. But I think the important thing right now for Beautiful Flower Palace is for this dance to succeed.”
She turned her attention to the consorts in the room.
All of them have been practicing dance and etiquette since they were young in order to become Kousho’s Empress. Riri would ruin the dance if she couldn’t keep up with the others.
“I believe that everyone here has worked hard to achieve their dreams in Beautiful Flower Palace. I think I will interfere with your dreams if I were to dance as I am now, that’s why I’m withdrawing. However, I would like to help liven up the dance.”
“Help, you say?”
“How would you help?”
The consorts started muttering. Then, Hisui, dressed in the red costume that only the lead dancer wore, stood up.
“Calm down everyone. Let’s listen to what Riri has to say. She talked to me about this earlier and I think her proposal will help everyone.”
Everyone quietened down when Hisui, who had the highest position in the Beautiful Flower Palace, spoke.
“Then, I’ll tell you all my plan. I want to become a perfumer and I’m still studying about incenses. This dance is not only for the final selection of the beauty pageant, but also to welcome the Koran’s Crown Prince, Seirai-sama. I’ve been thinking about how to make him satisfied with the dance.”
Riri punctuated her words and looked at everyone one by one.
“The dance is the Ranryou. You’re going to dance one of the acts. I have prepared an incense to match with the mood of the dance. I’m going to burn it near the stage. I think the incense will help lift the spirits of the people who are watching.”
Hisui nodded after listening.
“I thought it was a good idea when I heard about it earlier. The reputation of the Beautiful Flower Palace would increase if the dance performed at the banquet for a state guest gets lively. The Beautiful Flower Palace needs to have the momentum to catch up with and surpass His Majesty’s inner palace, the Wing Dance Palace.”
The consorts listened intently to what Hisui had to say.
“There are many famous consorts in the Wing Dance Palace. I want to make the impression that the Beautiful Flower Palace has even better consorts than the Wing Dance Palace for the sake of the next emperor, Kousho-sama. What does the Beautiful Flower Palace have that the Wing Dance Palace doesn’t? We have Riri, who can make incenses.”
Hisui turned to look at Riri. Riri nodded and took over the conversation.
“The power of incenses is limitless. I have prepared an incense that when inhaled, will excite people and simulate the excitement of battle. I’m sure the audience will be so excited that they will believe that they’re drinking the alcohol of victory.”
“Can you really experience something like that just by inhaling an incense?”
Ranran asked suspiciously.
“Yes, incenses have a variety of effects from calming you down to making you excited. The incense was formulated to create a moderate state of excitement. If people inhale this incense while watching the dance, then I’m sure they’ll get emotionally involved with the dance which features Ranryou who defeated his great enemy with a few allies.”
Riri crossed her arms and continued speaking as the consorts looked at her puzzlingly.
“I’m not good at dancing, but I’m good at making incenses. Please trust me and allow me to burn this incense.”
If she had burnt the incense without permission, then she would break the consorts’ concentration.
She wanted to get everyone’s permission before she burnt the incense. Hisui looked at everyone.
“I’m sure everyone here hopes that the reputation of the Beautiful Flower Palace improves. I want to go along with Riri’s suggestion, what about you?”
Hisui looked around and the consorts looked at each other in confusion.
“If Consort Hisui says so…”
“Yeah. It won’t be a loss for us if it’s not a strange aroma. Consort Riri, I hope that you were able to make an incense that is suitable for the dance.”
Riri nodded at Juka.
“I’m sure it’ll make the dance more exciting. Then, I’ll burn the incense at the corner of the hall, so please do your best everyone.”
She gave them words of support, then the door opened and one of the servants came in.
“The dance is about to start. Consorts, please get ready.”
The consorts stood up with nervous expressions on their faces. Riri watched them walk out of the room. The consort’s pale peach-coloured outfits fluttered beautifully as they moved.
Ryouka had fixed her own outfit since it was too big.
She wanted to wear that outfit and dance with everyone. She swallowed her true feelings.
“I’ll do what I can.”
She was jealous of the consorts who were about to perform, but she knew that she wasn’t good enough to dance with them.
The consorts, who wanted to be empress since they were children, danced.
And Riri, who wanted to become a perfumer since childhood, burnt incenses. That was the right thing to do.
Of course, she was disappointed, but she had no regrets about withdrawing.