Riri was sitting in a room at the back of the Fragrance Princess Palace with a mortar in front of her and her arms crossed.
This palace was her own private palace.
As a talented person, she wasn’t supposed to have the luxury of living in an independent palace.
However, the Emperor gave her this palace after the many twists and turns of last month’s beauty pageant. This palace had been unused for a long time, so it took a long time to repair and clean it, and it was only a few days ago that she had finally started to live in it.
The Four Consorts who were chosen by the beauty pageant and oversaw the Beautiful Flower Palace were also given their own palaces.
Their palaces were new, spacious and magnificent, but this one was old and cozy. But on closer inspection, the gold ornaments on the window frames and pillars were intricate and the curtains on the windows were made of silk. The floor was made of marble and shone brightly. It may have been built a long time ago, but after some cleaning and polishing, it was as magnificent as the palaces of the Four Consorts.
In the past, she had received complaints from other consorts about the scent of her concoctions, but she didn’t have to worry about bothering anyone with this palace.
She believed that she could finally concentrate on concocting, but immediately ran into a big obstacle and sighed.
“Garan told me that the perfumers from the Ministry of Incense told him that the treasured incense definitely contained daphne odora…”
It was said that only the royal family and a few perfumers knew about the effects of the treasured incense. The fragrances used to make the treasured incense was still unknown. She went to the medicinal garden to confirm what Garan had told her, but her super olfaction told her that what the perfumers said wasn’t true.
“I wonder if one of the fragrances used to make the treasured incense was made from the fragrant wood of the blue daphne odora.”
The daphne odora was a common shrub in Shinzui, and its flowers give off a sweet and strong fragrance.
But, as Garan had said, she had only seen peach-coloured and white flowered daphne odoras in Shinzui.
“My super olfaction is connected to my lost memories. If Father used the blue daphne odora to make the treasured incense, then….”
She tried to remember her late father.
She suddenly felt a headache as if she had been hit by something.
There are two types of treasured incenses: one that erases memories and one that brings them back.
She always got a terrible headache whenever she forced herself to remember the memories she had lost because of the incense.
She heard it was dangerous to force herself to remember, so she forced the daphne odora out of her mind.
The only way for her to remember the past was to smell the incense that brings back memories.
But her olfaction seemed to be linked to her erased memories, and something flashed through her mind whenever she smelled the fragrances that her father had used to make the treasured incense. She was trying to recreate the treasured incense that her father had made by relying on her olfaction. She had received many incenses with the help of Kousho since she came to the inner palace. She was able to guess to some extent, the fragrances that went into making the treasured incense from carefully smelling them one by one.
But no matter how many different fragrances she smelled, she still felt that something was missing.
She was confident that the blue daphne odora, which had flashed through her mind, was one of the ingredients needed to make the treasured incense.
There was only eight months left until Kousho, the Crown Prince of Shinzui, ascended to the throne. She had promised to make the treasured incense by then. She suddenly heard a voice from the other side of the door as she was pondering.
“Riri, are you there?”
She turned her head and the door opened before she could reply.
She quickly bowed her head. The people of Shinzui all had black hair and eyes, but the royal family, rumoured to be descended from dragons, have a special hair and eye colour. The Crown Prince, Kousho, also had long red hair which was tied up in a ponytail and greyish-brown eyes. He wore an amber hanfu embroidered with a rising dragon, a pattern that only the royal family was allowed to wear, but he was so good-looking that the flamboyant design faded into the background.
He was accomplished in both literary and military arts and is a handsome man who is loved by the people of Shinzui. He smiled faintly.
“You don’t need to bow. I don’t like such formalities.”
He was blunt but his voice was gentle. When she had first entered the inner palace, he was arrogant and foul-mouthed, and honestly, she didn’t like him. But, after living in the palace for a few months, her impression of him had changed a lot.
There had been times when he was cold towards her and that confused her, but he said that it was to stop her from being threatened.
She came to realise the kindness and compassion that was hidden behind his foul-mouth.
She believed she had grown a little since she came to the inner palace.
“How is it living in the Fragrance Princess Palace?”
Kousho came into the room and sat down on a chair that was placed on the wooden floor.
Riri immediately reached for the tea utensils and prepared some tea.
“It’s very comfortable. The people who lived next to me in the inner palace often complained about the fragrances I produced whenever I concocted incenses, but I can mix without worry here since it’s a separate building.”
The only people who were allowed in this palace was Kousho, his guard Garan and her maid Ryouka. Since they all knew that she was making the treasured incense, she didn’t have to worry about being discovered.
“Please have some tea.”
She offered him a cup of tea, and he lifted it up and took a sip.
“Tasty… Speaking of which, where’s the maid that’s always here.”
“You’re talking about Ryouka. Her mother injured her hand, so she went back home to take care of her. She said she’ll be back as soon as her mother’s hand is healed.”
Ryouka taught her many things about the inner palace when she didn’t know anything. She couldn’t thank her enough.
Honestly, she felt lonely without Ryouka, but she can understand that Ryouka was worried about her mother.
Riri told Ryouka that it was fine, and that she should go look after her mother.
“Isn’t it inconvenient for you to do everything alone? Shall I send someone to help you?”
“No. This palace isn’t so big that I can’t clean it by myself, and I’m worried about people coming here when they don’t know what I’m doing.”
It was a secret that she was making the treasured incense. If people knew that she was making the treasured incense, then there might be people who want to get their hands on this powerful incense. Kousho nodded since he knew what would happen.
“I see. But let me know if you have any problems.”
He had said that lightly, but she knew he was worried about her.
It was only recently that she realised that there was a huge difference between what he said and what he thought.
(Kousho-sama tried to protect me from the jealousy of the other consorts in the inner palace by deliberately behaving coldly towards me when I was given poisoned sweets. I could have accidentally eaten those poisonous sweets if it hadn’t been for him.)
That thought gave her the chills. His mother had been assassinated due to the jealousy of the other women in the inner palace.
She felt angry that sweets had been given to her under the exact same circumstances.
It had been a while since then, and she no longer received any strange gifts, probably because Kousho had strengthened her guards.
(He didn’t find out who gave me the poisoned sweets in the end, but I can live in peace since Kousho-sama has ordered the guards to take care of the food and drinks. More importantly, it was hard for me to be cold towards Kousho-sama. I’m glad we can talk normally like this.)
“Thank you very much.”
She really wanted to thank him. She bowed her head and Kousho-sama smiled unkindly.
“I’ll be troubled if you die before you finish the treasured incense.”
“Are you saying cold things on purpose? I know that Kousho-sama is kind.”
She smiled and Kousho made an awkward expression.
“It would be boring if I were honest. Tormenting you is the only thing I enjoy.”
His hateful tone was still the same, but she had enough trust in him now to know that he didn’t mean it.
Kousho suddenly became serious.
“Riri. Sorry to change the conversation, but I came here today because I have a favour to ask you.”
“A favour to ask me?”
She blinked her eyes. She had her own palace, but her status wasn’t high in the inner palace. She had no special skills other than her olfaction and her incense making skills, so she wondered what kind of favour he wanted to ask her.
“Actually, I received a letter from Koran the other day.”
Koran was next to Shinzui. She had never been there before, but she heard it was a nation with a big lake.
The first thing that came to her mind when she heard Koran was a certain man.
“I’ll tell the rest.”
The door opened and the person who appeared was the person who she had been thinking of.
He was Seirai, the Crown Prince of Koran. He was in his early twenties. He had long silver hair which was tied up and light brown eyes. His face looked like something out of a painting, and he was said to be the smartest person in Koran. In fact, his memory was so good that it deeply impressed Riri, but the problem was his personality.
Kousho suddenly turned stern.
“Seirai-dono. I’ve told you many times, this is…”
“You want to tell me that I can’t enter this palace because it belongs to your talented person. I’ve heard it so many times, I’ve got calluses in my ears.”
Seirai folded his arms while grinning. Kousho seemed to be holding his anger as he spoke quietly.
“Why don’t you start obeying them if you’ve heard it so many times that you’ve gotten calluses.”
“No way. I’ve decided that I’ll bring Riri back to Koran as my wife. I have to talk to her a lot to make her like me, so it’s natural for me to come see her. Besides, you’ve already told me that your inner palace is my inner palace. Therefore, your talented person, Riri, is also my talented person.”
Kousho’s cheeks tensed up as soon as Seirai finished talking.
(Kousho-sama doesn’t like Seirai-sama, so his words and attitude towards him are like this, but Seirai-sama is amazing for not caring.)
She was almost impressed by his dignified attitude.
She would normally be amazed by his attitude, but perhaps his good point was that he had a part of him that was hard to hate.
But Kousho didn’t think the same as her. He made no attempt to hide his anger as he stood up.
“I’ve heard enough of your far-fetched arguments to get calluses in my ears. I’m sick of it.”
Kousho had a smile on his face, but his words were becoming rougher and rougher.
Riri rose to her feet when she realised this.
Shinzui and Koran have been engaged in a long fight over the mines located at both borders.
Shinzui and Koran has been able to avoid war in the past few decades due to the leadership of Emperor Ju Reibun, but both nations were still in a state of tension.
Although they were both Crown Princes, there was a stark contrast between Kousho, who took the current circumstances into account and held back, and Seirai, who seemed like he didn’t care at all. Seirai put a hand over his mouth and stared at Kousho.
“Kousho, you look sexy when you’re a bit angry. It’s a shame. I would have flirted with you straight away if you were a woman. I’m quite fond of standoffish and arrogant women.”
Riri heard the sound of Kousho’s patience running out.
“Stop messing around, Seirai!”
Kousho stopped adding honorifics to Seirai’s name as he drew closer to him. Riri intervened.
“Please calm down, Kousho-sama. You told me not to take Seirai-sama seriously, didn’t you?”
Seirai was staying in Shinzui to study incenses. Kousho was supposed to act like a great host since Seirai was a guest, but the two of them didn’t get along, and they would always fight whenever they saw each other.
Kousho looked flabbergasted, then he took a deep breath.
“Whatever. I’m going to talk to Riri now. I’ll be the one who tells her important things. Get out of here.”
Kousho made a shooing motion with his hand. He had decided to stop respecting Seirai as the Crown Prince of the neighbouring nation.
Seirai didn’t mind Kousho’s attitude, in fact, he smiled and seemed quite happy that Kousho was acting this way.
“It’s better for you to talk like that since it sounds more you. You make me feel self-conscious when you speak formally.”
“I’m surprised you’re sensitive enough to feel self-conscious.”
Their conversation was so intense that it made Riri nervous. Riri raised her hand, hoping to quickly end the noble yet trivial argument between the Crown Prince of Shinzui and the Crown Prince of Koran.
“Let’s leave it at that. If the two of you start arguing, it might turn into war. You had a favour to ask me, did you not Kousho-sama? Is it to do with Koran?”
She looked at the two of them, then Kousho took a deep breath and looked at her.
“That’s right. Riri, do you know about the mines on the border of Koran and Shinzui?”
“Yes, I do. I know a bit about it since I had to study it during the beauty pageant.”
She was told that the mines on the border of Koran and Shinzui produced a lot of gold. Shinzui has been fighting with Koran for a long time over its concession. She recalled what she had learnt during the beauty pageant.
“Twenty years ago, the emperors of Shinzui and Koran had a discussion about the mine concessions at the Three Kingdoms Peace Conference. I heard that Shinzui agreed to give a quarter of the gold to Koran in exchange for the concession rights.”
She glanced at Seirai. He looked gentle but his eyes were serious.
“That’s right. But as I’ve told Riri before, my father didn’t really want to give up the mine concessions. He still grumbles about how he was tricked by Emperor Ju Reibun at the Three Kingdoms Peace Conference. So, my father isn’t very happy with the current situation.”
Riri tilted her head since the way Seirai had spoken bothered her.
“What happened? Can I ask what was written in the letter?”
Riri asked anxiously and Kousho nodded. It seemed to be a matter of national importance.
“Yeah, it has to do with you. But don’t tell anyone since it’s a diplomatic matter. Alright?”
She nodded while feeling nervous and Kousho folded his arms.
“The letter was sent by the Emperor of Koran. He stated that he wanted to sign a treaty to entrust the mining concessions to Shinzui.”