Half a month has passed since the banquet where the final selection took place was held.
Kousho stood alone in the back garden while staring at an incense burner and the smoke gently drifting from it.
This was the back garden where he had first met the girl who had given him this incense burner.
There was a small pond with floating lotus flowers in it, bright green plants and a small pavilion in the corner of the garden.
This garden hadn’t changed at all in the last six years.
He had ordered people to leave this back garden untouched since he wanted to preserve his memories of that girl.
When he was told that he had to build his own inner palace, he allowed them to build him one under the condition that it was near this back garden. He wanted to come here whenever he wanted and reminisce about his memories of her.
After six years of thinking about a girl’s whose name he didn’t know, he was finally able to meet her again.
Her name was Riri, but she had forgotten everything about when they had first met.
He pretended to act cold towards her to protect her, his first love, but he realised that he was doing the wrong thing when she was kidnapped and cried for him to not act coldly towards her.
“I don’t need to act cold towards her, I just need to get her to remember me and protect her with everything I have.”
He was confident that he could protect her, but she could be confused if he acted close to her when she didn’t have any memories of him, so he wanted her to remember their encounter from six years ago.
Most of all, it was getting harder and harder to hide his true feelings in front of her.
He clutched the incense burner that she had given him six years ago, placed it on his forehead and uttered.
“Riri, I can’t wait any longer. Please remember me…!”
He didn’t want many things, but they were all things that were hard to obtain.
He placed the incense burner on a rug with that wish in mind.
The pattern on the rug was the same as the one that Riri had used six years ago.
He recreated the scene from when he had first met her and gave a little sigh.
“I had Kansou make the same incense that was in this incense burner. Riri’s sense of smell is special. She noticed the scene coming from this incense burner and acted strangely even when I was just carrying around. If I burn this incense, then she might remember something.”
He had summoned Riri here, so she should be here soon.
He had observed her for a long time and had a feeling that her olfaction was linked to her memory.
So, he prepared the same scene and scent from six years ago.
Of course, there was no guarantee that she would remember, but he thought it was worth a try.
But it was also a dangerous gamble.
“Riri’s memory was sealed with the treasured incense. It is said that her life may be in danger if someone forces her to remember those sealed memories. If this does cause her pain, then…”
His heart wavered and he wanted to stop.
But he clenched his fist and pushed down those feelings.
It was painful to pretend that he didn’t know the woman he loved.
He wanted to tell her that he loved her. He wanted to hug her and protect her in his arms so that she wouldn’t be in any danger.
Riri had entered the inner palace to become a perfumer. He wanted to help her realise her dream.
But there was a big wall between them that was created by the memory erasing incense.
He believed that his future with her would be closed forever unless he got rid of that wall.
Her feelings towards him would probably change if she could remember the past.
It made him sad that she had forgotten their special time together.
He believed that he was a bit pathetic for letting such a thing affect his emotions.
“Riri, please smell this fragrance and remember me, and recover the mutual feelings we must have felt for each other at that time.”
He looked up to the sky and prayed. Then, he waited for Riri to come.
Riri was heading towards the back garden in Beautiful Flower Palace.
She will be moving to the palace that the Emperor had given to her as a reward tomorrow.
Ryouka told her that Kousho wanted to see her as she sorted through her belongings.
“I can finally talk to Kousho-sama today. He hasn’t been to the Beautiful Flower Palace in a while, so I haven’t been able to see him. I have to thank him for saving me, and also apologise for not becoming one of the Four Consorts.”
She was extremely apologetic.
She had her own palace now. The palace was a building of its own, so no one would complain about unpleasant smells.
But she hadn’t granted Kousho’s wish.
Kousho had been acting cold towards her, but the things he had said to her while her mind was hazy was true.
Garan had told her this because he had gotten permission from Kousho.
He told her that the sweets she had received from Kousho were poisoned, and that they were looking for the culprit, but still have no clue who it is. It was scary to hear that she was being targeted but she couldn’t run away.
There was only about nine months left until Kousho ascended to the throne.
The only thing she could do now was to complete the treasured incense before then.
She suddenly thought of the time when Kousho hugged her and said that he would always protect her.
“… Was that also real? I haven’t had time to talk to Kousho-sama since then, so I haven’t been able to ask him if that was real.”
I wonder what expression I should make when I see him if that was real, and then her face turned red.
She noticed a certain aroma when she reached the back garden.
Kousho liked the small garden at the back of Beautiful Flower Place. There was only a small pond with lotus flowers floating in it, some plants and a pavilion, so not many people came here. It wasn’t maintained often, but it had a relaxing atmosphere.
“It’s sweet and smells almost like powder. I’m pretty sure this scent is…”
Her olfaction could tell what ingredients were in an aroma just from smelling it.
But she couldn’t tell what this fragrance was made of.
However, she realised that it was the same scent that she had smelled from Kousho before.
She was curious about this scent at that time too.
The aroma became stronger and stronger as she approached the pond.
A white incense burner with wisteria flowers on it was placed on a rug next to the pond.
Incense burners are used to carry incenses around.
Kousho had told her that this incense burner with wisteria flowers on it was given to him by his first love.
Something surfaced in her mind when she caught sight of the incense burner and smelled the incense emitting from it.
“Huh? I’m sure this incense burner is…”
She saw the boy that always appeared in her dreams with his blurry appearance and face.
He was holding something in his hands. It was…
“Argghh…! It hurts!”
She screamed. She often got headaches, but this pain was more intense than usual.
She couldn’t stand anymore and sat down. The headache was so painful that it made her fall to the ground.
“Riri! Dammit. Was I too impatient?!”
Kousho yelled and rushed over to her. Riri’s headache was so bad that she couldn’t speak or stand up. She held her head which felt like it was going to crack and Kousho kneeled down beside her.
“Are you alright? I’ve already put out the incense. Try to breathe slowly.”
He held her up. She gently opened her eyes and saw Kousho’s face right next to hers.
She did as he said and the headache gradually lessened. It took a long time for the pain to completely subside, but Kousho was holding her in his arms in the meantime.
“… I am alright now. What the hell was that?”
It was obvious that her headache had been triggered by the aroma.
She blinked and Kousho closed his eyes then smiled gently.
“That was… a new headache-inducing incense made by the Ministry of Incense. I was trying it out when you came. I’m sorry.”
It might have been true since he said it was a new incense that the Ministry of Incense had made.
However, something was bothering her. She tilted her head curiously and Kousho helped her up.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. But I think the aroma I smelled just now was the same one I smelled on you before. I also have a feeling that I’ve smelled it somewhere before long ago.”
She looked at him and saw he was smiling wryly.
“It’s still too early for you. Sorry.”
She was surprised that he had apologised twice, but she scrunched her eyebrows since she didn’t know what he was saying.
Kousho patted her head.
“Don’t worry about it. Rest here for a bit. Oh yeah, are you ready to move to your palace?”
Riri moved to the pavilion at his suggestion. She sat down on the chair that he was pointing at and Kousho sat in front of her.
“Yes. I don’t have much luggage… I’ve been meaning to tell you this but thank you for coming to my rescue when I was kidnapped.”
“Ah, that was quite a hassle. I want you to repay me by quickly making the treasured incense. I’ll kick you out of the Beautiful Flower Palace if you can’t.”
He was as nasty as ever. He declared that he wasn’t joking, and her heart tightened.
“I can move to my own palace, so I’ll be able to proceed with making the treasured incense. Also, I’m sorry for withdrawing from the dance even though you asked me to become one of the Four Consorts.”
Riri bowed her head deeply. Kousho was silent for a while, then he finally chuckled.
“Ah, right. But, enough about that. I’ll think of another way.”
She was prepared for any snide comments, but Kousho accepted it more easily than she had expected.
“Are you sure? Didn’t you want me to buy time so that you can meet your first love?”
She tilted her head curiously and he folded his arms.
“Well, yeah, but you shouldn’t push yourself too hard. I think it’s better if we take our time to figure this out.”
He really didn’t seem angry.
She nervously gazed at Kousho then breathed out a sigh of relief.
It had been a long time since she had leisurely spent time with him in the backyard like this.
A thought emerged in her mind as she was enjoying her time.
“Come to think of it, Kousho-sama. There is something I am curious about. I heard that the palace that I am moving to is quite old, did someone live there before?”
She hadn’t been there yet, but the palace had been there for a long time.
The palace where Hisui and the other Four Consorts were moving to was located close to the Beautiful Flower Palace, but her own palace stood a little further away. She was curious about the history of the palace that she was moving to.
“That palace…? It’s called ‘Fragrance Princess Palace’.”
“Fragrance Princess? I have never heard of that court rank before.”
She looked at him in confusion and he put a hand over his mouth.
“This is an old tale that only a few nobles and royals know about. Hundreds of years ago, there was a certain perfumer. They perfected the treasured incense that drove away the enemy and brought victory to Shinzui.”
Riri had heard about this from Mokuren before.
“You are talking about the Master Perfumer who created the treasured incense. It is said that the Master Perfumer received the Qilin title in recognition of the victory he led.”