The carriage Riri was riding on slowed its pace and she gazed ahead through the gaps in the lattice.
A volcano with white smoke was beginning to appear ahead of the carriage.
There wasn’t much greenery in this area even though they were supposed to be climbing a mountain path. The landscape was bleak, with only moss growing on the rugged ground that seemed to have been formed from lava. The strong smell of sulphur made her grimace.
She saw that Garan, who was riding his horse in the front, had stopped, so she knew that their destination was near.
“I think it’s around here.”
Five soldiers from Shinzui, including Garan, and ten soldiers from Koran were riding horses around the carriage.
They were escorting her to the estate of the noble who had the blue winter daphne. It took about half a day’s ride from the palace to reach there.
When she had visited Riyoku Saisei and showed him the letter that Aren had written, he readily promised to help her, but his face immediately clouded over as he told her a certain piece of information.
“I haven’t seen the blue winter daphne in the past few years.”
She asked him if it grew somewhere else since his fief was big, then asked him if he could show her where he had found the blue winter daphne before.
Garan dismounted and approached her as she stepped out of the carriage.
“There isn’t much greenery around because of the volcano. I wonder if the blue winter daphne really grows around here.”
“There are trees and plants all over the place. Garan, let’s look for it.”
She saw several areas with greenery as she looked down from the top of the mountain.
When she indicated them with her hand to Garan, he folded his arms and pondered.
“There seem to be several places with trees, but they’re all over the place. We have quite a lot of people, so maybe we can split up and look for it.”
Riri nodded her head in agreement, but one of the soldiers from Koran stepped forward.
“But His Majesty has instructed us to stay close to Riri-sama.”
Garan faced him.
“His Majesty also asked you to get the fragrant wood that Consort Riri is looking for.”
The soldier choked on his words.
“We have a better chance of finding the fragrant wood if we split up more. We can’t stay away from the palace for too long. Seirai-sama has ordered us to find the fragrant wood in three days for Consort Riri’s safety. We only have a limited time to explore this place since it takes time to return.”
Garan was right. The Koran soldiers nodded reluctantly.
“Then, let’s split into pairs. Consort Riri will stay with me. Everyone else, split up.”
No one objected to this since Kousho had ordered Garan to protect her personally.
The soldiers formed pairs, each with soldiers from their own nations.
“I will also ride a horse.”
She put a hand on her chest and Garan looked worried.
“I can ride a horse. It’s easier to move on a horse than a carriage. Please, General Garan.”
She stared at him, and he quickly lowered his eyes.
“Understood. Then let’s release a horse from the carriage so that it can be ridden.”
The coachman immediately released one of the horses when Garan ordered this. Garan looked around at everyone when everything was ready.
“Signal a fire if you do find the blue winter daphne.”
Everyone nodded, then they mounted their horses in unison.
Garan looked to his left as the soldiers rode off in different directions.
“We’ll look around in the trees over there.”
Riri nodded and followed him on her horse.
(Garan is very commanding. The soldiers quickly started following his orders.)
She once again realised the ability of the General, Garan.
They headed to the dense wooded area. Perhaps this was the only place that was spared from lava damage when the volcano erupted. As they entered the forest, the sunlight was blocked by the thickly grown trees.
They slowly rode their horses through the dimly lit forest and Riri focused her attention on her nose.
(There are so many different scents, but I’m sure my olfaction will be able to find that scent.)
She inhaled through her nose. She couldn’t quite catch the scent she was looking for, but as they continued for a while, something suddenly caught her attention. It was as if her head was being pricked by a needle.
“… Hmm? Ummm?”
She stopped her horse and pondered. The scent wasn’t very clear, but it bothered her a lot.
She pulled the reins and headed to the right as if lured by the scent.
“What’s wrong, Riri?”
“Shush, let me focus a little.”
Garan didn’t say anything else as he followed her.
“The scent is sweet, but strong… It reminds me of the lullabies Mother used to sing to me.”
Her mother was fond of winter daphne. She would often display them in her room when they bloomed.
Scents have the effect of reminding people of memories.
She asked her sealed memory if this was the fragrance that her father had used.
“My nose remembers a slightly offensive fragrance that would irritate people. The fragrance my nose remembers is similar to the fragrance that the fragrant wood of pink and white winter daphne gives off, but that was the only difference. That fragrance was…”
She muttered as she dismounted her horse, then she went around a large tree and continued forward.
“Found it ―――.”
Beyond the trees was a small pond that looked like it had been formed from rainwater.
Beside it was a blue winter daphne which was glistening wet with dew. The mysterious appearance of the flowers made her heartbeat faster. The flowers still seemed young and were as tall as her waist.
The small blue flowers were numerous and were emitting a dense fragrance.
“Is this it?!”
She heard Garan’s voice from behind her. They both rushed at the blue winter daphne.
“I’m glad you found it!”
“Yes, but this isn’t what I’m looking for.”
Garan blinked his eyes. Riri crouched down on the spot.
“I’m looking for the blue winter daphne’s fragrant wood. Fragrant wood is made from broken or dead wood that have been buried in the ground for a long time. The blue winter daphnes that are planted here won’t do.”
“Oh, I remember you saying that.”
Garan also crouched down on the spot.
“If there are blue winter daphnes here then there’s a good chance that a broken branch has been buried in the soil and has turned into a fragrant wood. We need to find that.”
The fragrant wood will be different depending on how long it has been buried in the soil. She searched the soil with her hands, hoping and praying that she would successfully find the fragrant wood that gave of the fragrance she wanted. Then, Garan gently placed his hand on top of hers.
“You’ll hurt your hands. I’ll do it. Do you want me to dig here?”
“But it’s dirty. You can’t use tools because you’ll damage the fragrant wood.”
“I don’t care. Move.”
Garan dug up the dirt with his big hands. She said sorry and tried to dig again, but he shook his head and refused. How much time had passed since she had no choice but to watch him dig?
He dug holes all over the place, then his hands finally stopped.
“There’s something here.”
Garan carefully removed the soil, revealing an old branch about the length of an arm.
The wood emitted a rich, sweet and sour aroma.
A memory flashed through her mind as soon as she smelled the fragrance.
“Riri. You can only use the fragrant wood from the blue winter daphne to make the treasured incense. Don’t tell anyone, but I snuck into a certain fief in Koran to get this. I thought I was going to die.”
“This is it! The fragrant wood that my father used at that time!”
Although her memory was sealed by the treasured incense, a memory flashed through her mind when she smelled a fragrant that she had smelled back then. It was the first time that she had recalled her father’s face so clearly.
“That’s great, Riri.”
She smiled widely at Garan who was smiling at her, then Garan looked stunned for a moment.
Garan widened his eyes in a panic and then quickly looked down.
“Nothing. Let’s fire the signal now. We must let everyone know that we have found the fragrant wood and return to the palace. Kousho-sama… is worried.”
It was unusual for Garan’s voice to get quieter and quieter. She almost couldn’t hear what he had said at the end.
She raised an eyebrow, and Garan took a flintlock from his bag, which he had tied to his horse, to raise a signal. She placed the fragrant wood on the cloth bag that she carried around her waist and turned her attention back to Garan.
He quickly gathered the branches around them and crouched down with his back towards her.
She stared at his back and a thought that she had been suppressing exploded.
(He’s weird. He’s really weird! Garan seems to be hiding something, but it doesn’t seem like he wants me to know, so I’ve held back from asking him, but I’ve reached my limit!)
He had been her confidant many times when she was troubled or having a rough time.
She didn’t know what she could do for him, but he is an important friend. She wanted him to talk to her if something was bothering him.
White smoke slowly rose up when Garan lit a fire with a flintlock.
She took a step closer to Garan, who was crouching down.
“… Garan, what’s troubling you? I may seem unreliable, but I want to help you as much as I can. You seem to be having a rough time recently. Are you not feeling well? Or is something bothering you at work?”
She could tell by her olfaction ability since humans produce a distinctive perspiration when they weren’t feeling well.
But the perspiration emitting from Garan smelled different.
(The scent coming from Garan is sweet, yet painful, almost bitter, but happy.)
She had smelled the same scent several times.
Everyone had the same perspiration when they weren’t feeling well, for example, like when they had a headache, but the scent they emit is different for everyone since it mixes with their natural scent.
She felt as if she was prying and would be disliked if she sniffed out their emotions, so she tried not to think about it whenever she smelled it.
So, she tried not to think about it even though she smelled the same scent several times.
The scent that was wafting from Garan was certainly…
(Oh yeah. I could smell the same scent coming from Princess Keika when Garan drove Reitai-sama away. Princess Keika must have started to like him after he saved her that time. In other words, this fragrance is…)
She finally realised what the fragrance was after thinking that far.
“This is… the scent of love?”