“She must have been a wonderful mother.”
“She was. I admire my mother. I wanted to become an independent woman like her. People say that my face and voice are just like hers. But compared to my brave mother, I’m weak. I wouldn’t worry my brother if I were stronger.”
Keika smiled wryly as she stroked the pastille with great care.
“This pastille is something my mother used to make and burn in her room. She called it palm incense. She was the only one who knew how to make it, so this is the last of it. I have always loved this fragrance. When I smell it, it reminds me of my mother and makes me happy.”
It was cute to see Keika holding the white bundle to her chest with great care.
“Fragrances have the power to remind people of their memories. My father was the head of the Ministry of Incenses, and I don’t have many memories of him. But when I smell certain fragrances, I remember, oh, my father used to do this or say this about this fragrance.”
She closed her eyes, concentrated on her nose and smelled the palm incense, then she nodded.
“I was sure when I heard the name, but this is probably the scent of palm oil. There are places where palm trees grow in the south in Shinzui, and palm oil with this unique fragrance is extracted from their fruit. Sometimes, it’s used in fragrances.”
“I’ve never heard of… palm trees before in Koran. My mother was a dancer who travelled to different nations to dance, so she must have obtained it then. Hmm… Riri-san. I would like you to make this incense, can you get the materials for it?”
Keika glanced up at Riri and spoke shyly.
“I have some palm oil with me, since I brought a little bit of everything that I had on hand with me from Shinzui.”
She wanted her incense to be as useful as possible since she didn’t know what would happen in Koran.
“Then do you know how to make it? I’ll like you to teach me if you do.”
She believed that she could definitely smell the different materials used in this palm incense to some extent with the power of her olfaction.
Besides, mixing was her specialty.
“I think I can. Will you be using it yourself?”
Keika turned bright red, and she blinked a lot. Then, she finally spoke after a while.
“I’ll tell you the truth since it’s you. I want to give this to the man that I like, since this is my favourite fragrance.”
Her face turned even redder. She looked down and covered her face with both her hands.
“Eh? Really? Who is this man?”
Riri knew she was being rude, but her curiosity got the better of her and she leaned forward.
“It’s a secret!’
Her shyness was adorable, and Riri couldn’t help but hug her small shoulders.
(A secret, huh? But talking about love is exciting. I wonder who it is… Wait a minute…)
Riri suddenly remembered something as she was thinking.
Keika has been glancing at Garan and looking embarrassed for the past few days.
“Could it be that you like Garan…?”
She wasn’t sure. It was just a thought that popped up in her mind when she saw Keika’s attitude and expression towards Garan. Keika quickly looked up. Her eyes were widened in surprise and her mouth was wide open.
That seemed to be the answer.
“Ah! I’m sorry. I said too much. I’ll get ready to make the pastille right away.”
Riri quickly turned her back to Keika when she saw Keika freeze up.
Riri suddenly realised that her mind was a bit hazy while preparing the tools she needed for mixing.
(What is it? Why am I feeling strange? From the way she was acting just now, I’m pretty sure that she likes Garan. He may look tough, but he’s handsome, dependable and kind, so it’s not strange for Princess Keika to like him…)
She must have started to like him when he drove away her former fiancé.
The way Keika looked at Garan changed since then.
Riri wanted to support Keika if she had someone she liked.
But it was a bit different since it was Garan.
(Garan is my precious friend. Should I be happy if someone says they like my friend? But I don’t feel happy for some reason…)
She loved Keika. She was sure it would feel like this if she had a sister.
The honest Keika was a good match for the kind, yet boorish Garan.
But she couldn’t be happy about it.
(My heart hurts for some reason… I wonder if I’m feeling lonely because I’m about to lose a friend?)
She concluded that that must be it.
She pushed down her hazy feelings and turned to face Keika.
“Now, I’ll find out what materials are in that pastille.”
She smiled a smile that was contrary to her heart as if to blow away her hazy feelings.
She didn’t want Keika to know that she was feeling this way.
“This is probably the fragrance.”
Riri laid a cloth in front of Keika and placed some materials on it. She brought as much materials as she could from Shinzui, so she somehow managed to put together the materials for the palm incense that Keika wanted.
“Wow! Riri-san, you can tell what kind of materials are used just by smelling the fragrance!”
Keika’s eyes were sparkling.
Riri crossed her arms and thought about how to fulfil Keika’s wish of giving her mother’s memento to the man she liked.
“My olfaction is my only special skill. I can tell what materials were used with my olfaction, but now comes the hard part.”
“What do you mean the hard part?”
“The most difficult part is to determine the quantity of the materials. The slightest difference in quantity can result in a completely different aroma. This is why one must be careful when they are making incenses.”
“I see. I’m sorry for asking you to go through all this trouble.”
Riri quickly waved her hands left and right when she saw that Keika had become so small.
“It’s fine. I like to think and formulate incenses like this. It’s just like solving the mystery of a case.”
Keika seemed puzzled.
“The mystery of a case…?”
“Yes, I will need to investigate the suspect, which will be the ‘materials’ and find the ‘quantity’ required to make the palm incense that was left behind by Princess Keika’s mother. Once I have that, the truth will naturally emerge.”
Keika widened her eyes when Riri held up her index finger.
“I didn’t know you could think of it like that.”
“You can. I learnt this from my master. He was a bit strange, and he told me that if I thought of making incenses like this then I could enjoy the tedious process of mixing the materials together.”
After she said that, a thought suddenly flashed through her mind.
“Mixing is a plain task. It is tedious and you may eventually get bored of it. So, the trick to not getting bored of mixing is to make up a fantasy in your head while you’re doing it.”
Mokuren said with a serious expression as he pushed his glasses up.
“Riri-san, why are you smiling all of a sudden?”
Riri was startled by Keika’s curious voice.
“I was smiling just now?”
“Yes. You seemed to be enjoying yourself. Are you smiling because you remembered your master?”
What flashed through her head was a fond memory. At that time, she had no idea that Mokuren was the head of the Dark Perfumers, and that he was thinking of dethroning the Emperor to take over Shinzui.
Why did she smile happily at the memory of him when he had betrayed her?
(Mokuren…! Where the hell are you?)
She bit her lip gently and closed her eyes as her heart felt as if it was being squeezed.
“Mixing is like solving a case. That’s an interesting thing to say, Mokuren.”
Hearing the impressed voice, Mokuren sighed a little as he put the material into the mortar.
“I just believe that thinking like that would keep me from being bored. It takes a lot of time and effort to mix materials repeatedly to get the desired fragrance. I thought it would be more fun to think of it in a different perspective even if it’s all just in my head.”
He hadn’t told many people this and regretted it as soon as he had mentioned it. The person he was talking to was someone who also held a grudge against Shinzui, and Mokuren ended up talking to him about this since he had also created one of the treasured incenses, the memory-retrieving incense.
Mokuren suddenly remembered that he had told this to someone else once before.
The girl, who he had taught how to mix, had a twinkle in her eyes when she heard this. She quickly absorbed everything he taught her, and combined with her olfaction, she quickly became qualified to be a perfumer.
Several years had passed since they had first met, and the girl was now a woman living in the inner palace.
It was now impossible for him to even see her easily.
It was only the other day that he shockingly found out that he was sad about this.
His heart hurt when he thought about Riri. That’s why I told myself not to think about her anymore, he lightly shook his head.
They live in different worlds now.
“Anyway, you’re here about something else, aren’t you?”
He put down the mortar and looked the man in the eye. He wanted to change the topic and there was something he wanted to ask.
“Ah. I’m finally going to carry out my plan since the annoying Kousho and Garan aren’t here right now. The Emperor is bedridden and his eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be. Now is the perfect time.”
Mokuren has been hearing about this plan for some time. Slipping pass Kousho and Garan was the biggest obstacle of this plan, but they both were both away from Shinzui right now.
“Listen, Mokuren. I will take everything in Shinzui. I won’t be picky about how I achieve this. Are you ready to abandon everything and fight?”
He glared at Mokuren, but Mokuren nodded his head as his eyes shone with conviction.
“Of course. Why are you asking me that now?”
“Because you seem to have feelings for that Riri woman. She probably won’t even talk to you anymore if this is successful. I just wanted to make sure that you’re alright with her cussing and hating you.”
Mokuren thought it was a repulsive question. Still, he nodded broadly without changing his expression.
“I know. Of course, I’m prepared.”
He declared, though he would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little bit perturbed.
But he was sure that Riri would never forgive them for what they were about to do.
He was trying to persuade Riri to join the Dark Perfumers, but she would probably not even want to see him if he carried out this plan. Still, there was no turning back now.
“I’m the head of the Dark Perfumers. I will do what I have to do.”
Even if it means that Riri will hate me and that I will be parted from her forever.
He muttered in my mouth and gently closed his eyes.
A great storm of events will be brewing in Shinzui.
It was evitable that he and Riri would be at the centre of this storm.
Memories of Riri flashed through his mind.
Mokuren softly laughed at himself as he looked back on them with a mixture of nostalgia, sadness and bitterness.