The wedding ceremony began with Aren offering a prayer to the Snowflake Spring.
Riri kneeled behind Aren and stared at his back.
The spring was larger than she had thought.
The hold which was surrounded by a wooden frame was as large as the palace behind it and fresh water was gushing out from within. The water flowed into the waterway that had been dug underground.
How much time has passed? Aren’s prayer, which was as loud as the sound from the water, was long and seemed to go on forever.
She had been observing him for a long time, but he hadn’t changed at all.
Cold sweat suddenly travelled down her back.
(This is weird. There should have been a change in His Majesty by now according to my plan… Was it a bad idea after all?)
She bit her lips in frustration and impatience. The sweet aroma of the incense that she had burnt was gloating in the air.
She hoped that this fragrance would bring a certain change in Aren.
Aren suddenly stopped praying just as she was worried about whether her plan had failed. She quickly looked ahead and saw that Aren had stood up and was about to turn towards her.
She saw that he looked satisfied and guessed that his prayer was over.
“Riri and Seirai. Stand up. Drink this water from the Snowflake Spring with this silver chalice, which has been passed down the Koran royal family for generations. You two will be married after you do this.”
(This is bad. My plan has failed. I’ll be married to Seirai at this rate…!)
She widened her eyes and Aren’s aides respectfully presented him with a paulownia box.
Aren took the box and carefully opened the lid.
There was a small silver sake cup inside of the box.
“Seirai, you go first.”
Seirai glared at Aren as he was presented the cup.
Aren stomped his foot in annoyance at Seirai who remained still.
“Hurry up and drink! Do you not care about what will happen to Keika?”
The aides around Aren were startled by his words, but no one raised their voice.
Seirai clenched his fist, then finally reached for the sake cup.
Aren snorted, received a silver pitcher from his aide and bent down to fill the pitcher himself. He then poured the water from the pitcher into the sake cup that Seirai was holding.
His tone was fierce, but Seirai’s expression didn’t change at all. Seirai drank from the sake cup without saying a word.
He then thrusted the cup back at Aren and spoke with a poker face.
“Are you satisfied?”
Seirai had never been emotionless since the first time she and him had met and she rarely smelled the scent of sweat that came out when one was angry from him
Now, however, she could smell that he was holding back his anger.
Seirai’s expression and demeanor indicated that he was angry, but Aren didn’t seem bothered by this at all.
“Ah. This is the first time you’ve been useful to me. I never wanted to see your face before, but I think I can bear it now.”
Seirai widened his eyes.
His lips trembled, and Riri, who was standing next to him, could fully understand how shocked he was by those words.
(No! I’m sure Seirai-sama is misunderstanding his words…!)
She believed that something was hidden behind Aren’s words just now.
It may be none of her business, but if what she was thinking was correct then she wanted to tell Seirai.
If she didn’t tell him then Seirai would remain hurt and hate Aren.
“… Seirai-sama looks just like her. That’s why you don’t want to see his face.”
It took a lot of courage for her to say those words. She might have been wrong, but she didn’t think that Aren was that horrible.
Aren stared at her.
“What are you saying?”
She was frightened by the sharpness in his eyes, but she gathered her courage.
“You know it yourself, Your Majesty.”
She stared straight at him. He quickly looked away and took the sake cup from Seirai.
“Don’t talk nonsense. You drink too!”
She took the sake cup that was pushed into her hands, and Aren filled it with water from the Snowflake Spring.
(Oh no. If I drink this, then it will mean that we have really gotten married. Can I… Huh?)
She panicked, but then suddenly noticed that Aren was acting differently than before. He had sweat on his forehead and his eyes were restless. He was clearly confused.
(Is it starting to work now…?!)
She believed she had seen a faint glimmer of hope. If she could buy a little more time, then the incense might have a desirable effect on him, but Aren took a deep breath and pointed a finger at her.
“Hurry up and drink! I will send my troops to Shinzui right now and declare war if you don’t drink!”
Aren stepped closer to her with bloodshot eyes.
“Hurry up and drink!”
He grabbed her arm and forced the cup to her mouth.
She shook Aren’s hand away and the sake cup fell onto the pavement with a clatter.
As if that was a signal, several men entered the garden.
“That’s enough! Give Riri back!”
At the centre of the men were Kousho and Garan. The tension she had felt snapped away like a string when she saw them.
“Riri, I watched from the sidelines because you asked me to, but I can’t take it anymore. I swore to protect you before we came to Koran. I will bring you back with me even if it causes war!”
His words were bold. The soldiers who Kousho brought with him from Shinzui and the soldiers from Koran glared at each other.
“Get Riri out of here!”
Kousho’s words signalled the beginning of the battle.
Riri watched in horror as the men fought each other.
She came up with a plan because she wanted to avoid fighting. The effects of the incense were just beginning to show, albeit belatedly, but time wasn’t waiting.
A cloud of dust was rising and the sound of metal clanging together as the swords clashed was echoing everywhere.
She was unable to move in the midst of all this, but she managed to rouse herself.
She had to tell him that her plan might be working.
But a soldier from Koran blocked her way and she held her scream inside her mouth.
“I can’t let you go… Uoah.”
The soldiers suddenly groaned and collapsed. Behind the soldier was Seirai.
Seirai had struck the soldier in the back of the head, knocking him out.
“Riri, go to Kousho and leave the palace. I will take care of His Majesty. He may be like that, but he is my only father. I can’t just abandon him.”
Seirai looked like he was in distress. He shouldn’t have attacked a Koran soldier since he is the Crown Prince of Koran. She was grateful that he was willing to go to such lengths to help her.
“Seirai-sama, my plan might be working. Please take me to His Majesty.”
She was glad that he had helped her, but she still had things to settle here.
If she were to escape now, then a war between Shinzui and Koran would be inevitable.
Besides, she wanted to prevent Seirai from hating Aren because of a misunderstanding.
“But no one’s words will reach my father anymore.”
“No, that’s not true.”
She took Seirai’s arm and then nodded slowly.
“His Majesty has only lost himself because of his illness and a certain deep sadness. I became certain of this after I heard his words just now.”
“What do you mean just now…?”
“His Majesty said he didn’t want to see your face, but he has his reason for that. It’s completely different from what you’re thinking. His Majesty was upset when I spoke to him to find out his true feelings. That is proof.”
She spoke to him with a serious glint in her eyes and Seirai widened his eyes slightly before smiling wryly.
“You still won’t give up even after all this, will you? Alright. I’ll bet on your indomitable determination.”
Seirai led her by the hand, and they weaved their way through the battle, then she heard a voice from her right.
She turned her head and saw Kousho crossing swords with a soldier from Koran.
Kousho forced his sword forward causing the soldier to fall. He then took advantage of this opportunity and rushed towards them.
“Where are you going!?”
“Please give me a little more time. I have seen a change in His Majesty.”
She didn’t have to tell Kousho everything, he seemed to have understood.
“I see… But I will only give you a little bit of time. Check on His Majesty, and if that doesn’t work, then get out of there. Is that clear?”
Riri nodded. Kousho turned to face Seirai and their eyes met.
He stood in front of them as if this had all been planned and guided them.
She looked around as she ran. The battle see-sawed between being advantageous and disadvantageous for both sides.
The soldiers that had been brought from Shinzui were elites, but they were outnumbered by the soldiers from Koran.
They couldn’t let their guards down.
Aren was sitting on the stairs at the entrance of the palace. Two soldiers were standing next to him to protect him. When they finally reached Aren, who was holding his head and looking down, Seirai rushed to the soldiers.
“Step down, we have something to say to His Majesty.”
“We cannot step down even if it is you who orders it, Seirai-sama.”
The soldiers put their hands on the swords at their waists. As the situation was getting more dangerous, Riri looked at Aren and stepped forward.
“How are you feeling, Your Majesty?”
She wasn’t standing close to him, but he should still hear her voice.
She wanted to know how he was feeling. If the incense caused the desired effect, then he must be…
Aren finally looked up. His expression was different from before.
“… I smell something familiar.”
His voice was calm and completely different from the angry voice he had uttered a while ago.
She looked at his face, then heard his voice, and clenched her fist in victory in her mind.
“Kousho-sama. The plan is working right on schedule.”
She had asked Kousho to bring a certain person to Aren if the plan went well.
Kousho looked at Garan, who was dealing with two Koran soldiers at the entrance of the garden.
“Garan, bring her here!”
Garan nodded, then struck down both soldiers with his large spear.
Riri watched as this happened, then she took a small incense burner that she had hidden in her pocket.
She put the same incense that she had burnt earlier and quickly lit it.
“What are you doing?!”
The soldiers noticed what she was doing and shouted threateningly, but Seirai stopped the soldiers with his hand.
“Be quiet. We won’t lay a finger on His Majesty. We only want him to return to his old self. We will go to war with Shinzui if things continue the way they are. I’m sure you would also like to avoid that as well.”
The soldiers stopped moving and their eyes widened in surprise. Seirai spoke to them calmly.
“I will say it again. We will not lay a finger on His Majesty, and we will not harm him. I promise you that. So please, be silent for a moment and watch… for the future of this nation.”
The soldiers looked at each other, then they nodded and let go of their swords.
The persuasion had worked.
Smoke slowly rose from the incense burner in her hand, and the same sweet aroma that had drifted around the spring filled the air.
She presented this incense burner to Aren. He stared at the incense burner and his lips began to tremble.
“This fragrance is… this is Shiyurai’s fragrance.”
Aren muttered a woman’s name. The first to react to this name was Seirai.
She stood next to Seirai and spoke to Aren.
“Your Majesty. Is Shiyurai-sama Seirai-sama’s mother?”
She was a dancer who had travelled all over the world. Aren fell in love at first sight with her when she danced for him and so she entered the inner palace. Then, Seirai and Keika were born.
“This fragrance is a recreation of the pastille that Princess Keika cherished as a memento of her mother. It has a unique sweet aroma because it is mixed with palm oil.
She had called this pastille ‘palm incense’.
She guessed that Aren sincerely loved Seirai and Keika’s mother.
Otherwise, he would not have planted so many tangerine trees near the source of the Snowflake Spring, which the royal family has honoured for many generations, just because she loved them. She was certain that he had planted those trees so that he could see the woman he loved eat them and ask for more.
She believed that the Snowflake Spring was a place that was filled with memories of Aren and Shiyurai.