Riri gently closed the door after confirming that Keika was in the room.
Riri was out of breath from running. She took a few deep breaths and turned to look at Keika when she had finally caught her breath. She seemed to be breathless from running too and was breathing roughly.
“Princess Keika, you’re safe now. We’re far from His Majesty’s room and Garan is guarding the room. He’s very strong. He can drive away any enemy.”
Riri sat Keika down on a chair. She hugged her trembling shoulders and slowly rubbed her back.
Keika stopped trembling after a while and looked as if she had calmed down.
“It seems like you’ve calmed down… Is that servant alright?”
From what Riri had heard, the servant had gotten the temperature of the medicinal bath wrong.
She concluded that he would be punished severely from his desperate screams as the soldiers dragged him away.
“He’ll probably be in prison for a while, then he’ll be banished from the palace. At worst, he’ll be put onto a ship and be forced to work for the rest of his life.”
“That’s cruel! He only got the temperature of the medicinal bath wrong…”
“It’s a lot better now. After Brother became the Crown Prince, he put various measures in place to ensure that the people are spared even if they incur the Emperor’s wrath.”
(So, they would have lost their lives if they incurred the Emperor’s anger before Seirai became the Crown Prince?!)
“I can’t believe it…”
Riri muttered. Seirai had told her that Aren was very stubborn and was uncontrollable once he got angry, but he seemed like a calm and understanding person when she spoke to him.
However, a shiver ran down her spine as she realised that she was wrong. Keika covered her face with both hands.
“There’s no guarantee that even we, the royal family, will survive if we incur his anger. People have been saying that His Majesty is self-righteous… but he wasn’t like this in the past.”
“He was different in the past?”
The way Keika had said this caught Riri’s attention. She sat down and took out incense pastille and an incense burner from her bag. She burnt the calming incense and gently placed it beside Keika.
The gentle scent of fresh greens began to waft around the room. Keika, who had been looking down, eventually raised her head slightly.
“I remember that His Majesty was very strict when I was younger, but he wouldn’t scold people unreasonably. His subjects were afraid of him, but they also respected him, and he ruled Koran with overwhelming power.”
Keika took a deep breath and stared at Riri.
“His Majesty changed after my mother passed away. My mother wasn’t a noble and was of low birth, but she was favoured by His Majesty all the same. After my mother passed away 10 years ago, he started getting seizures and gradually began to behave erratically.”
Keika’s complexion was looking better because of the incense.
“He made it a serious crime whenever he found the slightest fault in his subjects and stopped listening to anyone. Everyone in the palace is afraid of him now. The tension in the palace is so great that it’s suffocating.”
When Keika said that Riri finally understood the nature of the various nervous scents she had smelled since arriving in Koran palace.
(It was surprising to smell a lot of scents that smelled as if people were being attacked by ferocious beasts, but the palace is filled with this scent because everyone is afraid of His Majesty.)
Keika turned to Riri and squeezed her sleeve as if she was clinging to her.
“I’ll talk to Brother about the servant from before and see if we can get His Majesty to forgive him and expel him from the palace… I’d like to see His Majesty return to his former self, but that’s not easy. I can only rely on Brother like this, and it hurts a lot…”
Keika buried her face in Riri’s chest and sobbed.
It was all she could do to prevent him from being charged with a serious crime. She must have been frustrated with herself.
Riri slowly stroked Keika’s back. She didn’t know much about what was going on in Koran since she came from a foreign nation.
Kousho had also told her to be careful about what she said and did, but she knew she couldn’t leave Keika and Aren like this.
She pondered if there was anything she could do to help.
There was a large lake in the middle of the palace.
Riri and Keika were on a small boat, enjoying the sensation of the boat swaying in the middle of the lake.
It was a small boat that was full with just three people and Garan was the boatman and the guard.
The sun was shining brightly and there was a breeze. It felt nice.
Keika, who was sobbing before, was finally smiling.
“It’s a beautiful day. It’s perfect for riding a boat.”
“It is. It’s amazing that there’s a lake large enough in the palace for riding boats.”
They were in the middle of the lake, and Riri wasn’t sure that she could swim to shore if the boat capsized.
She looked at the clear water and focused on her nose. Something had been bothering her for a while now.
(I can smell citrus from this pond too. Is this the scent of the water?)
It was the same scent she had smelled when she had first come to the palace, but she could smell it strongly from this lake.
Water had a scent too. If this pond was made out of spring water, then she believed that there must be a citrus tree near the source. Maybe that was why it smelled like this.
As she was thinking about this, Keika slowly turned to look at her.
“I’m glad you like riding on a boat. I was happy when I was asked to be your guide. I thought I could repay you for stopping my marriage.”
Riri immediately knew that Keika was talking about the time when she was almost forced into an arranged marriage.
“You don’t need to worry about that anymore. I only made the incense for His Majesty. Seirai-sama was the one who gave this incense to His Majesty to stop your marriage… It’s hard to get married to someone you don’t like. I’m really glad it was called off.”
Riri was relieved that Keika wasn’t forced to marry someone against her will and Keika smiled.
“I believed that I would have to marry a stranger since I was born in the royal family, but when I found out that I would be living far from the palace, and with a man who was much older than me and his concubines, I was puzzled about whether we would get along.”
Keika looked down slightly and clasped her hands together.
“I was crying all the time because of my anxiety, so Brother said he would help me. He said he would have to go to Shinzui to help me. I waited wearily for him to return, and when he came back, he had His Majesty promise that he would cancel my arranged marriage in exchange for the incense you made.”
Seirai was light-hearted and a womaniser, but he cared deeply for his sister, Keika.
He had taught her how to dance the Ranryou at the beauty pageant, so she wanted to repay him, that’s why she made the heart soothing incense for Seirai since he couldn’t get his hands on the treasured incense because he had helped her.
(Seirai-sama is really amazing. If it were me, I wouldn’t have been able to go to a foreign nation and do something dangerous just because my sibling was forced into an arranged marriage.)
“… I’m jealous that you have such a reliable brother. I don’t have any siblings, so I’ve always wanted an older brother.”
She spoke truthfully and Keika smiled mischievously.
“If you admire Brother, then why don’t you just marry him like His Majesty said? I can call you Sister if you do. I’ve always believed it would be nice to have a kind sister.”
“Huh? No, umm…”
Keika was probably joking, but Riri didn’t know how to reply, then a voice came from behind her.
“She can’t marry him…”
Riri turned around and saw that Garan had covered his mouth in surprise.
“… I mean, Consort Riri is a talented person in Kousho-sama’s inner palace, so she can’t marry Seirai-sama.”
Garan looked down slightly. Keika shrunk and nodded a bit.
“I’m sorry. Of course, I’m aware that it’s impossible. I just wish she could marry Brother.”
Keika was afraid of the large, military man, Garan. A heavy silence fell over the boat. Riri believed that she couldn’t leave it like this or else the atmosphere would turn sour, so she raised her voice to break the silence.
“General Garan knows that you are joking. He’s just warning you because of his position, so please don’t worry about it, Princess Keika.”
She believed that they shouldn’t make the royal family feel uncomfortable since they were going to sign a treaty with this nation. Garan lowered his head because he knew this too.
“I apologise for interrupting your conversation.”
Keika jumped when she heard Garan’s voice.
“It’s okay. It was my fault for joking around, but I only did that because Riri is a good listener. I apologise as well.”
Keika bowed. Her fear of Garan wasn’t going to fade that easily seeing how she was still nervous, so it might be a burden for her if they stay on the same boat together.
Riri knew that Garan is really kind, but it would take time to explain and convince Keika of this. First, it would be better not to cause any more misunderstandings.
“Shall we go back to the shore? It’s getting a little windy.”
Riri looked at Garan. He nodded and steered the boat towards the shore with his paddle. The boat landed by the shore, where Keika’s maid was waiting, and Garan got off first. Then, he held his hand out towards the boat.
“Please get off first, Princess Keika.”
Garan urged and Keika slowly held out her hand.
He grasped her hand firmly and pulled her towards him, and she got onto the shore without any difficulty.
“Thank you very much…”
Keika’s voice sounded thin as she looked down at the ground and thanked Garan. Then, Garan turned back to face Riri.
He was about to offer his hand to her when he stopped for some reason.
“… What’s wrong?”
Garan straightened his posture and froze. He looked flustered and his face turned red.
It was natural for a man to help a woman get out of a boat. Garan had lent his hand to Keika without hesitation, but he was hesitant to lend his hand to Riri for some reason.
“You’ll be holding my hand…? I see. Ah, no it’s nothing. I’m alright.”
Riri raised her eyebrow at the way he was talking to himself.
“Are you not feeling well?”
“No, I told you I’m alright.”
“You don’t look alright. You’re sweating a lot. Huh? This smell is…”
Her olfaction can almost always detect a person’s emotions by the scent of their sweat. She usually avoided talking about this because it might make the other person feel uncomfortable.
But this person was her friend, and she had noticed that he had been acting strangely lately, so it just came out.
The scent of his sweat didn’t smell like he was unwell.
She tilted her head since she had never smelled this kind of scent before.
“Smell…? Come to think of it, you can tell things about someone by their scent.”
Garan panickedly took a step back.
“Ah! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. I’ll try not to worry about this scent anymore…”
Riri suddenly heard a deep voice from her left as she looked down.