The words ‘blue winter daphne’ was written in that sentence.
“I found it~! … Eeh?!”
She threw her body back in excitement as she yelled this, causing her right hand to slip off the ladder and her body swayed unsteadily.
“No way~, I’m going to fall!”
She tried to grab onto the ladder, but she was already falling head first onto the floor. She knew her situation was bad but there was nothing she could do, so she closed her eyes.
She imagined the pain of falling to the floor, but the pain she had expected never came. Instead, something soft enveloped her body, softening the impact. She heard Garan’s voice when she hit the floor.
She opened her eyes nervously, not knowing what was going on and saw Garan collapsed beneath her body.
“D-did you, I mean, you softened my fall. Garan! Are you alright?”
Garan’s body was shaking.
He slowly opened his eyes and glared at her.
“I told you it was dangerous. I thought my heart was going to stop when I saw you fall!’
He sounded really angry. Garan’s face suddenly turned red as she was about to apologise.
“What’s wrong? Where does it hurt?”
She put her hand on his chest reflexively which caused him to gasp as if he was putting up with the pain.
“It’s nothing. So… get off me.”
When he said this, she remembered that she had fallen off the ladder and was still on top of Garan.
She was sitting on his belly as he laid on the floor.
She quickly got off him when she realised her situation.
“Ah, I’m sorry. I must have been heavy.”
She couldn’t grasp the situation because she was confused. Garan stood up while still looking at the ground.
“Garan, you must be hurting somewhere. Your face is red. Are you holding it in?”
“I’m not in pain. I’m fine.”
It didn’t seem like he was lying.
She couldn’t smell the sweat he exuded when he was enduring pain.
Instead, he was exuding that sweat and heartrending.
Garan took a deep breath and looked up just as she was about to say something.
His face was calm and composed.
“I told you I’m fine. Anyway, you found the record?”
He picked up the book at his feet. It was the record that she had just found.
“Huh? Yes. I did.”
She questioned his attitude, but also believed that he might not like her if she continued questioning him.
She had no choice but to drop this and focus on her goal. Keika peeked at the book and raised her voice, “Ah!”
“This is it. Here, ‘A blue winter daphne was presented at Princess Keika’s tenth birthday’.”
The passage that Keika was pointing to did indeed say that. Riri looked at who had sent the blue winter daphne and read his name.
“It says that Riyoku Saisei sent it.”
Keika put her hand over her mouth and pondered.
“Riyoku Saisei-sama… I remember now. It was definitely Riyoku Saisei-sama who gave me the blue winter daphne that time!”
“Do you know him? Where is his fief?”
“It’s about half a day by horse from here. The fief ruled by Riyoku Saisei-sama has a volcano nearby, so not many crops can be harvested there, but it is famous for its rare plants and trees.”
It clicked when she heard the word ‘volcano’.
“The soil might have changed because of the volcanic ash. Maybe that’s why the winter daphne changed to blue. If it takes half a day to get there by horse… then maybe I can go?”
She looked up at Garan who nodded with a complicated expression on his face.
“Let’s ask Kousho-sama.”
This was Koran. She couldn’t act without permission.
Even Kousho had told her to talk to him before doing anything.
She nodded at Garan and left the archives with the record in her hand.
“You want to go somewhere that will take half a day by horse?”
Riri looked seriously at Kousho who said this stiffly.
Keika had obtained permission to borrow the record book, so she and Garan visited Kousho’s room with that in hand. She opened the book and pointed at the section that contained information on the blue winter daphne.
“I might be able to get blue winter daphne if I go to the fief of the noble whose name is written here. I really need the fragrant wood of the blue winter daphne to complete the treasured incense.”
“But this is Koran. It’s dangerous to leave the palace. We can’t act immediately if something were to happen to you in a foreign nation. Why don’t you stay in the palace and have someone else look for it for you?”
She had expected Kousho to say this.
She also didn’t want to do anything conspicuous since she came here as a representative of Shinzui.
But there was a reason why she must go.
“That probably won’t do. The wood that becomes the blue winter daphne’s fragrant wood has no scent. It’s only when the withered branches are buried in the ground for a long time that they finally emit a fragrance. We have to find the fragrant wood in the soil.”
She put her hand on her nose while looking at Kousho.
“Fragrance wood of the same type will have a slight difference in scent depending on how long it has been buried in the ground and the environment. I have to find a fragrant wood that emits the same fragrance as the one my father used when he was making the treasured incense with my nose. Only I can do this.”
Kousho covered his mouth with his hand.
“I see. I would like to grant your wish if it’s necessary for the completion of the treasured incense… but I’m at a loss. I would like to go with you, but I’m still in the middle of discussing the treaty. It would take you two days to travel there and find the fragrant wood. I can’t leave here for that long.”
“As I said before, this is Koran. If we were in Shinzui, then I could deal with any problems immediately, but I can’t respond as quickly here. I’m worried something will happen to you.”
The tone of his voice made her believe that he sincerely felt that way.
(Kousho-sama… you’re a very considerate person. He’s mean to me sometimes, but I think his concern for me is real.)
When she thought that, she felt her heart gently warm up.
A lot of things had happened between her and Kousho, but she felt that he was even more dependable now that they were in a foreign nation.
He told her not to worry because he would protect her no matter what before they came to Koran.
Those words gave her emotional support and eased her anxiety about being in a foreign nation.
“… So, here’s what I’m going to do. Garan, I need you to protect Riri.”
Kousho looked at Garan who was waiting near the door.
“I can rely on you for this. I trust you more than anyone else in Shinzui.”
Garan quickly looked down when Kousho smiled.
There was something strange about the way Garan was acting. He would usually look proud that Kousho could depend on him like this, but now he looked apologetic. She didn’t know why he was making such an expression.
Then, Garan immediately looked Kousho in the eyes and put a hand on his chest.
“As you wish.”
His reply sounded reassuring like always. She tilted her head and wondered if she had just imagined the strangeness from earlier.
“Riri, I will tell His Majesty that you’re interested in obtaining a rare fragrant wood and ask him to inform the noble of the fief that you’ll be going there. This should make your search much easier. His Majesty seems to like you, so he will not disapprove. I’ll go immediately to request an audience, so wait in your room.”
She bowed her head and watched as Kousho walked away.
Riri was packing her belongings in her room.
Her search for the blue winter daphne was approved quickly thanks to Kousho.
Aren wrote a letter to the noble of the fief and suggested that she take ten soldiers to escort her there and help her search. She was relieved to know that she would be accompanied by several Shinzui soldiers and that Garan would be there too. She was getting ready to leave immediately tomorrow.
“Riri-san. May I have a moment?”
The voice coming from the other side of the door belonged to Keika.
The door opened when she replied and Keika appeared. The maid, who was always beside her helping her guide them around, wasn’t there.
Riri motioned for Keika to enter, so Keika nodded and stepped into the room.
Riri suddenly smelled a certain fragrance when Keika stepped into the room.
“… You’re wearing an unusual fragrance.”
It was different from the scent that Keika usually wore and had a dense aroma that smelled like a ripe fruit.
“You can tell? Actually, I came to ask you about this fragrance.”
Keika took a small incense container from a cloth bag on her waist. The ceramic incense container looked expensive, there was a gold leaf on the white background. When she opened the lid, the fragrance that had been wafting through the air became stronger.
Inside the incense container was a white bundle.
“It looks like pastille, but it has a unique aroma. I’ve never smelled this scent before.”
“You know what you’re talking about. You’re amazing, Riri. This is a memento from my mother.”
Keika gently took out the bundle with great care.
“It’s a memento?”
“Yes. When my mother was younger, she was invited to perform in other nations as well. She learnt how to make incenses during that time and created this.”
Keika had a strange smile on her face that looked both lonely and proud.
“My mother was an amazing person. I heard that even after she was first seen by His Majesty and entered the inner palace, she wasn’t agitated at all when she was harassed by the others for not being a noble. She was a very strong person with a strong sense of justice, and she didn’t even try to flatter Father even though he’s the Emperor.”
Keika had nice memories of her mother.
Her expression was gentle and calm as she spoke of her mother.
“She was the only person who could speak strictly to His Majesty. His Majesty only listened to my mother, even though he did so with a wry smile. My mother told him, “If you don’t listen to me then I’ll leave. I won’t regret it,” and she left with my brother and me. I remember being surprised when His majesty came downtown to pick us up.”
It was hard to believe this when Aren acted in the way he does.
But if that were true then Riri could imagine that Keika’s mother must have been deeply loved by Aren.