“WHAT?! What do you mean you’re accompanying Kousho-sama to Koran?!”
Ranran widened her eyes in surprise. Riri cowered at the jealousy in Ranran’s voice. The consorts had come to the Beautiful Flower Palace in order to become Kousho’s Empress, so Riri had expected this kind of reaction. Hisui stopped Ranran with her hand while Riri was struggling to think of what to say so that she wouldn’t upset them.
“Stop. If that’s what you want to talk about, then I’ve already heard about it from Kousho-sama.”
Hisui’s beautiful, bell-like voice was strong enough to stop Ranran.
“Kousho-sama told me that the Emperor of Koran is incredibly interested in the incenses that Consort Riri makes. If Consort Riri can showcase her incenses in Koran and attract people’s attention, then the fame of the Beautiful Flower Palace where she belongs to will also rise. Please do your best to be recognised by the Emperor of Koran. I’m looking forward to hearing about your success, Consort Riri.”
Those words belong to the person who had the highest position in the Beautiful Flower Palace and everyone’s expressions changed.
“Oh my, that would be amazing if that really happens!”
“It would. I can’t believe that a consort from our palace is recognized by the Emperor of another nation!”
Ranran’s expression finally relaxed when she heard the other consorts say this.
“I suppose so. You can go if it’s to raise the fame of the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
Riri was relieved that Ranran finally smiled. She looked up at Hisui again.
Hisui slowly walked forward and put a hand on Riri’s shoulder, then she put her mouth next to Riri’s ears.
“Good luck, Riri.”
Those were the words of a friend. Riri nodded in happiness.
“Yes. I’ll do my best, Hisui.”
Riri whispered back and they both smiled at each other. Riri’s precious friend patted her on the shoulder again to cheer her on.
Riri went to the gate to return to her own palace after she had received permission from the Four Consorts to leave the palace.
The guard who had escorted her here was supposed to be waiting for her at the gate.
But the person standing there was Garan. He looked at her and smiled in relief.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier; I had a military meeting. My work is done now, so I’ll send you back.”
The culprit who had sent her poisoned sweets still hadn’t been caught. Garan was worried about this and was escorting her as much as he could instead of letting another guard look after her.
“I’m sorry. You must be busy with work, but you have to look after me too.”
She followed Garan as he started working. Garan continued to look forward as he shrugged.
“Kousho-sama ordered me to guard you as well. You don’t have to worry about it.”
When Garan turned around to face her, he had a manly smile on his face. Her heart raced when she saw the friendly look on his face. She was happy that she was the only one who could see this kind of expression on the strong General.
“Thanks… Say, Garan. You’re going to Koran too, right?”
Garan faced forward and replied while keeping an eye on the area.
“All I know about Koran is that there’s a big lake there, have you ever been there?”
“I’ve only been there on business, so I don’t know much about Koran…”
Garan continued talking while his back was still turned towards her.
“Koran is ruled by Emperor Tou Aren. The nation is thriving in the crafting industry. They’re especially good at silversmithing and they receive a lot of orders from other nations for them. Their agriculture is also thriving, and fruits from Koran are famous for being sweet and delicious.”
“Really? I’m so excited. I’ve never been out of Shinzui, so I was wondering what it was like in a foreign kingdom.”
She tilted her head as she spoke. There was nothing strange about the conversation, but she felt that Garan was acting differently from normal. The thing that bothered her the most was the scent of his sweat.
(I can still smell nervousness from his sweat, just like the other day in the medicinal garden. Why? Did I do something wrong?)
It was already evening, and no one was around. All sorts of scents mixed together in a crowded place, but in this situation, her super olfaction could pick up the scent of anyone nearby without her consciously noticing.
She became anxious when she realised that Garan was nervous around her.
She wanted to ask him what was going on, but she didn’t know how to ask since he still treated her like normal.
(Come to think of it, I think he started giving off this nervousness scent whenever he spoke to me after the beauty pageant.)
At first, she had thought he was being tense to protect her, but now she thought differently. She wondered if she had done something to make him feel uncomfortable, but she couldn’t come up with what that would have been.
She spoke while trying to think of a way to start a conversation when Garan stopped in his tracks.
“We’re here at the Fragrance Princess Palace.”
There was a guard standing outside the Fragrance Princess Palace gate. Garan raised his hand and greeted the guard, then stepped through the gate. He was in charge of protecting the inner palace and was the only man outside of the royal family who had access to both the Beautiful Flower Palace and the Fragrance Princess Palace.
Garan finally stopped when they reached the entrance of the palace. Even Garan couldn’t enter the palace without permission. He opened the door and gestured for her to enter.
“We’re leaving tomorrow. It’ll be hard for you to pack without Ryouka. I can send someone to help you if you need help.”
She was grateful for his thoughtfulness. This part of him didn’t change.
“No, I’m fine… More importantly…”
She didn’t know what to say, so she just stared into his eyes. She had heard that eyes speak louder than words. She wanted to know how he really felt, so she put all her energy into her eyes.
Then, Garan’s face suddenly turned red for some reason.
“Wh-what’s wrong, Garan?”
Garan quickly looked down. He suddenly got flustered and Riri widened her eyes in surprise.
“If you stare at me like that… No, it’s nothing! Hmm… Oh yeah, I have a fever. I’m not feeling well, so…”
He was red and sweating. Riri scolded herself for not realising that he wasn’t feeling well.
“I see. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise. Oh yeah, I know an incense that works well for fevers. I’ll make it for you right away.”
“It’s alright! You don’t have to. I’m all better now!”
She widened her eyes in surprise again when Garan quickly waved his hands around.
“You feel better? You can’t be serious.”
“I’ve been training myself, so I can bring my fever down. I’ll take my leave now!”
How did you train yourself in order to bring your fever down?
Garan quickly turned away and walked out of the gate as Riri was blinking.
“What’s wrong with him? Did I do something wrong after all?”
She muttered to herself while wondering what could have caused his attitude to change.
Garan walked quickly to the back garden in Beautiful Flower Palace.
This was the back garden that Kousho loved and everyone in the palace knew this, so they didn’t go near it.
Garan came here because he knew that Kousho wouldn’t be here for a while since he was in a meeting with the Emperor to discuss the treaty with Koran.
He really wanted to be alone to calm down. He leaned against a large tree and took a deep breath.
“Get yourself together!”
He said to himself. He hadn’t been able to control himself ever since he realised that he liked Riri.
He wouldn’t say that he had never been interested in women before, but this was the first time he had liked someone. He had never been nervous when facing an enemy, no matter how strong they were, but when facing Riri, his body froze, and his mind went blank.
Whenever he talked to her, his heart beat so fast that he felt it would jump out of his chest, and he was trying his best to talk to her normally.
His mind would be in chaos, and he wouldn’t even know what they were talking about if he even looked her in the eyes. It was the first time he had ever been in such a situation, and he was confused and even scared of the feeling called ‘love’ that had put him into this situation.
He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down.
“I must never speak of these feelings. Riri is a Kousho-sama’s Empress candidate.”
He muttered and bit his lip. Kousho was a master worthy of serving for his entire life.
In the past, Kousho had helped him find out the truth and catch the real culprit when he was framed and caught for a crime he didn’t commit.
He would still be in jail as a criminal or worse, even executed if Kousho hadn’t helped him at that time. He had made up his mind to serve Kousho for the rest of his life when Kousho had saved him.
That belief hadn’t changed even now. He believed it was a ‘sin’ for him to have these feelings towards Riri, who was a candidate to be Kousho’s Empress.
However, it was hard to stop love once it had taken root.
“I have to stifle my feelings. I must not let Riri, or Kousho-sama know about these feelings.”
He believed that Riri was special to Kousho since he had served Kousho for a long time.
Kousho might treat Riri specially because she could make the treasured incense.
But Garan didn’t believe that was the only reason. He noticed that Kousho looked at her gently and more lovingly than he had ever looked at anyone.
He had never seen Kousho have any special feelings towards a woman before. If Kousho really likes Riri, then he had to stifle his feelings and shove them into the corner of his mind.
Riri was a close friend, and Kousho was his respected Master.
Both of them would surely suffer if he were to reveal his feelings to them.
He wanted to keep his feelings to himself because they were both important to him.
“But Riri noticed that my behaviour has been strange. I’ll be interacting with her more when we go to Koran. I can’t do anything to betray them.”
He told himself, then he covered his face with both his hands and sighed deeply.