Koran’s palace was elegant and full of fine silver ornaments, unlike that of Shinzui which was characterised by its gold and vermillion.
Riri peeked outside the carriage and couldn’t hide her excitement from seeing a foreign palace for the first time.
“This is Koran’s palace… It’s so beautiful.”
Seirai, who was seated in front of her, proudly pointed at the palace with one hand.
“It’s magnificent, isn’t it? Koran is also known as the Land of Water because of the large lake at the centre of the kingdom, but there’s also an underground passage under the palace that’s filled with water.”
Kousho nodded next to Riri.
“You’re talking about the Snowflake Spring, right? I’ve heard that the water from the Snowflake Spring is delicious and that crops grown with it are so good that it melts in your mouth. Is it true that Snowflake Spring saved Koran?’
“Yeah. A few hundred years ago, there was no rain in Koran for several months. Even the large lake ran dry, and people starved to death because the crops wouldn’t grow. The Emperor of that time built a channel to transport the Snowflake Spring’s water out of the palace. Oh, look over there.”
A garden full of blooming flowers appeared as they walked around the building. Seirai pointed to the large pond in the garden. There was also a pond in Shinzui’s palace, but this was several times bigger than the one in Shinzui’s palace.
There were small boats floating in the pond and there were women on those boats.
“That water was created from the water in Snowflake Spring. There’s a chancel in this pond that leads to the outside of the palace. During the drought hundreds of years ago, the water from the Snowflake Spring continued to gush forward and moistened the people’s throats and plants. People were saved thanks to the spring. It’s a famous tale that gets spoken a lot.”
Seirai smiled and turned to Riri.
“The crops grown with the water from the Snowflake Spring are delicious but the fruits are scrumptious, and people from other kingdoms come to buy them. I wish I could feed them to Riri.”
“That sounds delicious. I’d like to try some.”
She blurted out her real feelings and Kousho glared at her.
“You’re not here to play. Tell me what you’re here to do.”
His low voice made her straighten her back.
“First of all, I will do my best to greet His Majesty as politely as I can so that I don’t offend him.”
Kousho said that the people working in the mines will be able to live in peace if the treaty is signed. She wanted to help him with that as much as she could.
“That’s right. If you make a mistake and offend His Majesty, then the discussion may break down… and don’t act so friendly towards Seirai.”
He whispered his last words, but Seirai still heard them and leaned forward.
“You’re just jealous, aren’t you? Kousho, your attitude has changed a lot now that we’re far away from the inner palace. You acted cold towards Riri to protect her from the jealousy of the other consorts, but you’ve become possessive now they’re gone. Is that how you really feel?”
Seirai said sharply and Kousho grinned.
“I’m the same as always. If you and Riri act friendly towards each other then those who don’t understand the situation might misunderstand, so I’m just giving her some advice.”
The carriage stopped at the same time as when Seirai shrugged, and a voice came from outside.
“Welcome to Koran. Your Highness Ju Kousho, the Crown Prince of Shinzui.”
Riri looked through the bars and saw about a hundred well-dressed men kneeling in the large garden.
They were dressed in matching clothes. They all clasped their hands together, raised them in front of them and bowed their heads.
“““Welcome, Your Highness, the Crown Prince Ju Kousho.”””
Riri gasped at how overwhelming it was to see them all greet Kousho in unison.
Seirai stood up.
“These are the officials of Koran. It’s the law to greet important guests of the kingdom like this.”
Seirai took a deep breath and put a stern expression on his face.
“This is where it all begins. The letter stated that they wanted to discuss the treaty, but Koran has always wanted the concessions to the mine until now. The reason for the Emperor’s sudden change of attitude might not have been because of Riri’s incense. I have to focus on the discussions.”
Riri could feel Kousho’s tension from his voice. Her heart suddenly started to beat faster.
“Kousho-sama. What should I do after I greet His Majesty?”
“Just keep quiet and smile. The Emperor of Koran, Emperor Tou Aren, must be fond of you. I doubt he’ll treat you badly, but he’s also a difficult person. I’ll say this again. Be careful of what you say and do.”
Seirai nodded while looking nervous.
“That’s right. Even though he’s my father, His Majesty’s stubbornness is sometimes a problem for us too, but I’m sure he wants to see you because he’s fond of you. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t say the wrong thing. Good luck.”
“You’re wishing me luck casually, but I’m really nervous. What should I do?”
The thought that her words might crack the peace between Shinzui and Koran made her want to leave. Kousho put a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t worry. I can’t stay with you all the time since Seirai and I will be busy discussing the treaty, so stay with Garan. You can talk to Garan if you run into trouble.”
Kousho looked outside the carriage. Garan was getting ready for them to get off the carriage. Garan turned his head to look at them as if he had heard their voices through the bars.
“Listen closely, Garan. Stick to Riri in Koran and protect her.”
Garan dropped his gaze slightly.
“Yes. Please leave it to me.”
Garan replied calmly. Riri felt that Garan had been behaving strangely lately, but she didn’t think much about it while they were travelling.
The only thing that bothered her while they were travelling was the angry scent of sweat that was coming from Garan as he watched her talk to Kousho.
She pondered about whether she had said something that had rubbed him the wrong way, but she couldn’t recall saying anything like that.
He responded normally when she spoke to him, and he didn’t act strange except for that one time.
(But there’s something strange about him. I can’t really put it into words, but I feel like he’s hiding something.)
Those thoughts swirled in her mind, but she decided to think about this later. She was visiting Koran right now as a representative of Shinzui, so she should focus on the task at hand.
“Well, follow me, Kousho and Riri. I’ll guide you from here.”
As soon as Seirai got off the carriage, the officials, who were lined up in the garden, bowed in unison.
She realised once again that Seirai is the Crown Prince of Koran when she saw this scene.
Seirai urged them to get out of the carriage and Kousho got off in a dignified manner.
Riri followed after him and gracefully stepped out into the garden.
The foreign palace that she was standing in for the first time was much bigger and more majestic than the one she had seen from inside the carriage.
(It smells nice, like citrus. It’s a nice scent.)
She took a deep breath and smelled the ‘scent’ of the palace. The scent of this palace, which was a mixture of the scents from the building materials and plants, was different from the palace in Shinzui. Seirai turned to look at her and Kousho.
“Welcome to my kingdom, Koran.”
The officials split into two and made a path on Seirai’s signal.
The officials lined up on both sides of the road, and Kousho, Seirai, Garan, Riri and the rest of their group walked through the middle.
Riri walked behind them and entered the big building in front of them with a mixture of anxiety, nervousness, and tension.
After being welcomed by the officials, they entered a building lined with opulent, silver doors. Riri followed after Kousho and the others down the corridor while looking nervous.
Kousho looked like he always did but he had a nervous aura around him.
Seirai, who was standing next to him, had lost his usual goofiness and had the expression of a Crown Prince.
Garan walked behind him while staying vigilant.
(Kousho-sama and Seirai-sama both said that Emperor Aren is a hard to please person. Will I be alright? Will I be able to communicate with him?)
She knew proper etiquette, but she roughly studied them again just to be sure.
She continued walking while feeling suffocated when she suddenly noticed a certain scent.
(Huh? The nervous scent coming from here is tremendous. We’re nervous, but it smells like a lot of people are holding onto their breaths…)
Seirai told her earlier that this building was in the middle of the palace and was where Emperor Aren resided.
Everyone must be nervous to serve the Emperor, but this scent was different to that. It smelled like the sweaty scent that came from a life-threatening situation like if one was being attacked by a fierce beast. She frowned as she continued quietly.
At the end of the corridor was a garden covered with white gravel.
Instead of going down to the garden, they continued down the corridor and turned a corner to reach a hall.
On the platform at the back of a room was a glistening chair made of silver.
An elderly man was sitting on that chair as he looked down at them with sharp eyes.
When Riri saw that Kousho, Seirai and Garan had kneeled down, she quickly did the same.
“It has been a while, Emperor Tou Aren.”
Kousho said in a sonorous voice and Aren slowly stood up.
“Kousho-dono, thank you for making it here. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Aren’s smile and soft voice made Riri blink.
(I heard that he’s a difficult man, but it doesn’t seem like he is. He seems kind.)
This was her first impression of the Emperor of Koran, Tou Aren.
She kept her head down as she glanced up at Aren with only her eyes.
He looked to be in his mid-sixties. His hair and beard had a hint of grey in them.
Aren stepped down from the platform with the help of his aide and approached them with a heavy gait.
His complexion didn’t look good because he was suffering from heart disease.
His skinny body must be due to his illness. He looked high-strung, but his expression was calm, and because he is Seirai’s father, their gestures and facial expressions looked the same.
Kousho widened his eyes slightly and spoke again.
“My father isn’t feeling well, so I have come in his place. I may be young, but I look forward to working with you.”
“Me too. My health isn’t good either, so my son, Seirai, will take part in the discussions as a representative of Koran… Seirai, I’ll leave it to you. You hear me?”
It was great that Seirai would participate in the treaty discussion as a representative of Koran. Seirai raised his head in surprise since he had been granted permission to participate in the discussions.
“Are you leaving the discussions to me?”
“Are you going to make me repeat myself?”
Riri suddenly felt the sharp edge in his words. Aren’s expression turned stern for a second.
Seirai quickly lowered his head.
Aren became happy again and turned towards Kousho.
“Kousho-dono. As I have mentioned in my letter, I am willing to give up on the mining concessions to prevent any more conflict between our nations… I was quite forceful when I was young, but I have changed my mind now that I’m ill. I can now understand the suffering of the people. If giving up the mining concessions will give the people peace of mind, then so be it.”
Riri had heard that the Emperor of Koran really wanted to obtain the mining concessions, but the Aren in front of her didn’t seem like he wanted it. As he said, he must have changed his mind when he became ill.
There have been many battles over the mine in the past. Although there have been no wars over the mine in the past few decades, the people of Shinzui and Koran are still frightened of the possibility of war.
They wouldn’t need to fear anymore if the treaty discussions go well.
Riri was relieved to hear that the treaty was going to become reality.
Then, she noticed something and tilted her head.
(I feel like Emperor Aren is looking at me…)
She raised her head a little and her eyes met with Aren’s.
She panicked and looked down, then heard a gentle voice above her head.
“You are Riri?”
She raised her head and nodded nervously.
“Yes. It is a pleasure to meet you Emperor Aren. Thank you for inviting me to Koran.”
If she made a mistake, then it would lead to conflict between the two nations. She couldn’t let the treaty discussion, which seemed to be going well, fail because of her. Even her fingers were tense.
“I’m glad you’re here. I was looking forward to meeting you. I really wanted to thank you, Riri. Thank you for making me that incense.”
His voice and words were full of gratitude. She heard from Seirai that the Emperor suffered from seizures, so she made a heart-soothing incense to calm down his seizures and gave it to Seirai so he could stop his sister’s marriage.
She was delighted to hear that the incense worked well, and that Emperor Aren was happy with it.
She wanted to help people who were suffering from illnesses and injuries. That was why she wanted to become a perfumer.
Women aren’t allowed to become perfumers in Shinzui, but she believed that they could become perfumers if she made the treasured incense and became recognised as a Master Perfumer.
“I am glad I could be of help.”
She kept her words short since she was afraid that she would say something to offend him if she spoke too much.
Aren smiled and put his hand on his chest.
“You saved my life. The pain from the seizures are too painful to describe in words, but I was relieved of that pain and felt better after I burned your incense. No doctor in this kingdom could make medicine that would calm the seizures that well. You’re amazing.”
He praised her without reserve, and she was surprised by this but filled with joy.
“I am still in training. I want to learn more about incenses and use that knowledge to help those who are suffering from illnesses and injuries.”
“I see. That’s a good attitude. Actually, Riri… I would like to welcome you to my kingdom as a perfumer. Would you give this some thought?”
She had been prepared for this question.
People who suffer from illnesses always keep medicine with them at all times.
Aren wanted to keep her by his side because she could make the incense that would sooth his seizures.
She discussed with Kousho about how to answer if she was asked to stay in Koran.
“I am very honoured by your invitation, but I would like to learn more about incenses in Shinzui. As I have said before, I want to help those who are suffering from illnesses and injuries. Shinzui is the best place to study incenses. Therefore, I cannot leave my kingdom.”
She tried to look troubled and keep her voice quiet.
If she can’t refuse him skilfully then it might interfere with the upcoming treaty discussions.
“But I’ve read the instructions that came in the bag that Seirai brought me with the heart-soothing incense. It said that the incense will only be effective for about six months after it is made. What if the incense runs out or loses its potency? You can always make the incense for me if you stay in my kingdom.”
Aren was quite stubborn. Kousho looked between Aren and Riri, then spoke.
“Your Majesty, I, the Crown Prince of Shinzui, promise that I will have Riri make the heart-soothing incense every six months to send to you. You can write this down on a piece of paper as proof of my promise.”
Kousho wouldn’t be able to break his promise if he wrote it down on a formal document. Aren looked at Kousho then sighed.
“I’ll give up if that’s what you say, Kousho-dono.”
He accepted this proposal. Riri was relieved.
(Seirai-sama said he was stubborn, but he’s understanding. I’m glad.)
Aren smiled as if he had regained control of himself.
“Then, Riri, please study hard and become a great perfumer. Oh yes, I wanted to thank you for making the heart-soothing incense for me. I’m not feeling well, so I’ll send someone to look after you and take you around. It’ll take some time before the discussions can take place, so take your time to enjoy my kingdom.”
“But I am Kousho-sama’s talented person, so I do not need…”
“Isn’t it fine, right Kousho-dono?”
Kousho looked down slightly when Aren looked at him.
“We graciously accept. Riri, do as His Majesty says.”
Kousho had said that he didn’t want to put Aren in a bad mood. She wanted to help him since everyone will be busy with the discussions, but she had no choice but to follow Kousho’s decision since it would be bad to refuse.
“As you wish. Thank you very much for your kind words.”
She bowed her head and Aren nodded in satisfaction.