“Riri-sama, this is bad! More than 100 noble ladies have gathered in the Beautiful Flower Palace to participate in the beauty pageant.”
Riri widened her eyes when she saw Ryouka rush into her room while gasping for air.
“A 100?! Are there that many candidates for Kousho-sama’s Four Consorts position?”
This is Shinzui in the Crown Prince, Kousho’s, inner palace. There are currently ten noble ladies living in the building called Beautiful Flower Palace. The Beautiful Flower Palace has just been built and soon there will be a beauty pageant to choose the Four Consorts who will be an Empress candidate for Kousho. Her own maid sat in front of her while holding her breath.
“It’s because he’s the most handsome man in Shinzui. Even wise officials who have passed the examination at the top of their year bow their heads down to him and he’s in charge of politics on behalf of the Emperor. There are many noble ladies in this kingdom who want to be Kousho-sama’s consorts. I heard the noble ladies who wanted to enter the palace suddenly increased when it was officially announced that a beauty pageant would be held.”
Riri folded her arms and tilted her head at the rumours about Kousho’s reputation.
“It’s true that he’s incredibly good-looking and smart, and he’s so good at politics that His Majesty, who is ill, has complete trust in him, but…”
Riri used to be a noble, but she has lived in the downtown area for a long time due to various reasons. She entered the Beautiful Flower Palace for a reason, but when she met Kousho, she realised that he was quite different from how the world knew him.
“I’m worried that the ladies will be disappointed when they find out the real personality of the apparently perfect Kousho-sama.”
“Riri-sama, now is not the time to be worried about that. You have to compete with the noble ladies to become one of the Four Consorts!
The Four Consorts are known as: Noble Consort, Pure Consort, Virtuous Consort and Worthy Consort. Their status is high, and they work together to manage the Beautiful Flower Palace. There was a reason why she wanted to become one of the Four Consorts.
Incenses are as valuable as medicine in Shinzui. Her skill was that her olfaction let her detect even the slightest traces of smells. She was good at making incenses because of her keen sense of smell.
Her dream was to create the legendary ‘treasured incense’. If she becomes one of the Four Consorts, then she will be given her own building. She wanted her own building so she could concentrate on mixing the treasured incense without endangering others.
Kousho had asked her that he was going to meet his first love soon, so he wanted her to become one of the Four Consorts and refuse to be Empress in order for him to buy time to meet his first love. She was surprised to see how earnest he was and at the same time she suddenly remembered the prickling pain in her heart.
(I wonder what kind of woman Kousho-sama’s first love is…?)
She had been wondering about this for a long time, but she hadn’t been able to ask him yet.
“What’s wrong, Riri-sama?”
Ryouka tilted her head and looked at Riri. Riri quickly looked up and smiled.
“It’s nothing… But it’s going to be pretty hard to win a beauty pageant with over 100 noble ladies competing.”
“I think you have a good chance of becoming one of the Four Consorts. You need knowledge and beauty to become one of the Four Consorts, but it is also easy to be noticed if you have a special skill. Since you’re the only person in the Beautiful Flower Palace who can mix incenses, you can use that as your appeal.”
Ryouka said this, then suddenly smiled.
“And Kousho-sama likes you. I’m sure they’ll take that into consideration!”
“Likes me, you say… My status at the Beautiful Flower Palace is low since I’m a talented person, and I’m actually in a position where I can’t even look at Kousho-sama. A lot of things happened, so I got the chance to talk to him, but I don’t think he likes me.”
Riri was puzzled why Ryouka had suddenly said such a thing, and Ryouka smiled broadly and held out a white package.
“But I just received some sweets from Kousho-sama. I think that it’s amazing that Kousho-sama sent you a gift even though he’s not interested in the inner palace. It’s proof that he likes you!”
Riri widened her eyes at Ryouka’s excitement.
Arrogant, foul-mouthed and mean… that was Kousho’s real personality. While Riri was curious about the sudden turn of events, Ryouka opened the white package.
“Wow! It’s Tsubaki mochi!”
Inside the package were two sticky rice cakes wrapped in two camellia leaves.
The mochi were made by kneading a sweetener called amazura into the flour and was one of Riri’s favourite foods.
“The amazura used to make mochi is made from the sap of the plant. Judging from the smell, a lot of amazura was used. That’s how sweet it is… It’s unusual for Kousho-sama to send me a gift, but I’ll accept it since he sent it. You can have one too, Ryouka.”
Riri took one and offered the other one to Ryouka, but Ryouka shook her head.
“I can’t! I’m too afraid to accept a gift from the Crown Prince, I won’t even be able to swallow it.”
The door suddenly opened as the two talked.
“Hey, Riri, are you here?”
Riri looked towards the door and saw the Crown Prince, Kousho, standing there. He had just turned 20 and was wearing an amber outfit with an embroidered dragon on the back, which was something only the royal family are allowed to wear. He had red hair and greyish-brown eyes, which was typical for a royal member, and he was as handsome as the rumours said he was.
Riri suddenly stood up and looked up at the tall Kousho, then she bowed.
“Good day to you, Kousho-sama.*
“No need for formal greetings. I asked you to become one of the Four Consorts, but have you thought about how you would?”
His tone was unusually soft today, then she suddenly recalled that Kousho had been gentle towards her lately. However, he was still arrogant towards others, so his sudden change was weird to her.
(I found out that he’s not as bad as he seems after talking to him. Maybe he’s easily misunderstood.)
He might have asked her to join the Four Consorts and made it possible for her to create the treasured incense at the Beautiful Flower Palace because he let his guard down around her. She was happy to see that she had gained his trust.
“I heard that you are judged on your family background, appearance, grace, beauty, dance and mannerisms at the beauty pageant. But I don’t know what we’ll be doing exactly, so I was going to think of a plan as soon as the details are announced.”
“I see. Let me know if you need anything. I really want you to be one of the Four Consorts… Oh yeah, I’ve brought you some fruit, so you should eat it.”
He presented her with a large peach. The sweet and mellow scent coming from the peaches indicated that it was ready to eat.
Peaches are luxury items that are rarely available. Riri had only eaten them a few times before.
“Wow! Thank you very much. You already gave me some sweets and now you’re giving me a peach.”
Riri clapped her hands in delight and Kousho frowned.
Ryouka kneeled down next to Riri and bowed her head. Then, she said timidly, “This morning, a servant brought us this and said it was from Kousho-sama.”
Kousho looked at the Tsubaki mochi and Riri, then he suddenly raised the corners of his mouth.
“I might have sent that. But if you eat the sweet Tsubaki mochi then you won’t be able to taste the peach. Why don’t you leave the Tsubaki mochi for later and have the peach first? The peach is ready to eat.”
The peach was indeed ripe and looked delicious.
“You’re right. Then I’ll have the peach first and leave the Tsubaki mochi for after dinner.”
“Yeah, do that… Ah, but the Tsubaki mochi will get hard after a while, so I’ll have some new ones delivered to you later.”
“But it’s such a waste.”
Riri shook her head, but Kousho forcefully took the two Tsubaki mochis.
“You’re a talented person in the Beautiful Flower Palace. Don’t act so poor. I’ll get rid of these Tsubaki mochis for you. See you later.”
Kousho waved as he walked out the door.
“Wasn’t Kousho-sama a bit weird just then?”
Riri couldn’t put it into words, but she felt strangely uncomfortable. Ryouka thought so too as she looked puzzled.
“Us lowly people can’t imagine what the Crown Prince is thinking… Riri-sama, let’s eat the peach since he brought it all the way here for you.”
Riri nodded at Ryouka who had regained her composure, but she continued to stare at the door where Kousho had left through while feeling puzzled.