“I’m sorry for not telling you about this, but I didn’t tell anyone since this isn’t just about me.”
Riri was relieved that Hisui finally understood how she felt.
“Consort Ranran does have a hold of a weakness for me. She actually has proof of my father’s wrongdoings.”
“What?! Your father the Chancellor?!”
Riri recalled the face of the Chancellor, Jin Koudoku. He was naggy and sometimes forceful in his desire to make Hisui Kousho’s wife, but the Emperor trusted him and he wasn’t a bad person. That was her impression of him.
“Yes. Ranran has proof that my father has received money illegally from one of the ministries. On a piece of paper with a Chinese bellflower on it, which only the Chancellor uses, was the amount of money he received and his signature. She showed it to me, and it was indeed my father’s handwriting.”
“No way… I can’t believe the Chancellor would do such a thing.”
Riri said honestly and Hisui nodded.
“I thought that too, so I asked my father about it directly. He told me he never received any money illegally. I’m not sure if he would tell me the truth since I’m his daughter, but he’s not the type of person to do something like this. He’s too narrow-minded to do something illegal.”
“But the handwriting on that piece of paper belongs to the Chancellor?”
“Yes, but I had a strange feeling when I saw it. I believe it might have been forged.”
Riri looked at Hisui and Hisui put her hand over her mouth.
“But I’ve only seen it once and there’s no way for me to know if it’s real or not. There’s nothing I can do if my father is lying to me… I asked my father about the piece of paper again and he told me I was mistaken. Whether that piece of paper is real or not, things will get bad for my father if that were to come out.”
The Chancellor or Ranran was lying. It didn’t matter who was lying, Hisui will suffer as a daughter and the Noble Consort who manages the Beautiful Flower Palace.
Riri finally understood what Hisui and Ranran were talking about after listening to Hisui’s explanation.
“So, you can’t go against Consort Ranran?”
Hisui nodded slightly.
“I know that things can’t go on like this, but I can’t do anything when I think about what will happen to my father. My father will likely be charged with a crime if that piece of paper were to get out. Just imagining my father going to jail because of Ranran makes me….”
Hisui’s shoulders shook, and she looked down. Riri gently patted her on the back.
“I’m sorry for not telling you about this until now, Riri. But I couldn’t say anything because of my father… it was so painful…!”
This was the first time Riri had seen Hisui look so weak. She wanted to help her somehow as a friend.
Most importantly, she wanted to make the Elegant Incense Gathering a success for Kousho.
“Hisui. It’s alright… Do you think we can get our hands on that piece of paper? That way, Consort Ranran wouldn’t have anything to use against you. Besides, we can take our time to see if that piece of paper is real or not.”
“That’s impossible. How can we get it? She won’t give it up that easily.”
Hisui looked up and stared at Riri. Riri’s mind was moving a thousand miles per hour.
She had a plan, but she knew it would be impossible to carry it out.
Still, the desire to help Hisui who was crying in front of her made her speak up.
“… It’s a very important piece of evidence. I don’t think she carries it around with her or leaves it to anyone else. I’m sure it’s hidden in the Pure Consort’s palace. ――― We might be able to find it if we sneak in and look for it.”
Hisui quickly shook her head as she put her hand on her chest.
“Don’t be ridiculous! There are guards at the palace. I’ve heard that Ranran has been really careful lately and has her court ladies guard the living room. I don’t think we can sneak in…”
Riri knew it was a crazy idea. Just imagining what would happen if they were to get caught gave her the shivers.
Still, she couldn’t think of any other way.
“If she has the court ladies guard the living room, then there’s a good chance that there’s something important hidden here. Hisui, I know you’re worried. I’m also very scared, but Beautiful Flower Palace will be in chaos if things continue the way they are. I… don’t want to see you cry and I don’t want to see Kousho-sama being troubled.”
Riri wanted to do something about the conflict in Beautiful Flower Palace, so she had to do what she could.
“Hisui. Let’s make the Elegant Incense Gathering a success. I know I don’t have much influence, but I’ll help too.”
They held each other’s hands, looked each other in the eyes and slowly smiled.
Riri managed to calm her throbbing heart when she arrived at the garden in Beautiful Flower Palace.
Garan was talking to two soldiers who seemed to be his subordinates in the corner of the garden.
She waited patiently until they finished their conversation then spoke up with determination.
“May I please have a word with you, General Garan?”
It took all her courage to speak to him. Garan turned around and looked at her.
“… Do you have business with me?”
She nodded and Garan looked at the soldiers.
They left since they understood what he wanted.
She motioned her hand for them to move under a large tree on the right and Garan stepped forward without saying anything. The tree was shaded and there was a refreshing breeze blowing under the tree.
She looked around to make sure that no one was around and turned to look at Garan.
She felt as if she was being sucked in by his dark, piercing eyes.
He had confessed to her. He told her he loved her and hugged her. This was the first time she was talking to him face to face since then. She didn’t know how to come to terms with his feelings even now.
She liked him too.
He was dependable and kind and she wanted to help him if he needed it.
But she didn’t know if it was love.
She didn’t know how she felt about him, so she has been avoiding him since he returned.
But she knew she couldn’t keep on ignoring him.
She couldn’t look him in the eyes, so she looked down.
Her face reddened and she was so nervous that she felt as if her heart would jump out of her mouth.
“… Riri. What did you want to talk to me about?”
Her heart was racing but his voice sounded gentle and cheerful like always when she heard it. She looked up in surprise to see that he was smiling gently at her.
(Huh? He’s acting like he always does. He’s acting like nothing happened. Huh? What? Did I imagine him confessing to me?)
She doubted herself since Garan was acting so normal.
“Did you want to talk to me about the Elegant Incense Gathering? I heard that the preparations aren’t going too well.”
She nodded at the worried Garan. She managed to regain her composure and got down to business.
“Yes. Consort Hisui’s followers and Consort Ranran’s followers are at odds with each other.”
“It does seem like they are. I was worried since the Beautiful Flower Palace changed when we got back from Koran. I did some investigating when I got back from the border, and it seems that Consort Ranran is treating Consort Hisui quite badly. What’s going on between them?”
She had something she wanted to discuss with him, but she didn’t know if she should discuss it with him.
(I came here to ask him to help me sneak into the Pure Consort’s palace… But I can’t tell him that Ranran has evidence that the Chancellor did something illegal. Hisui kept quiet about this because she didn’t want anyone to know. But the plan won’t succeed without Garan’s help.)
She was aware that Garan was able to keep a secret, but she didn’t know if she should tell him about this. She had been thinking about whether she could successfully hide the truth while seeking his help, but she didn’t know how to broach the topic to him.
“… You know something about this, Riri.”
He stated sharply and she was speechless.
“Hmm… I… Uh…”
“You know the cause of the conflict in the Beautiful Flower Palace and want to resolve it. You came to ask me for help, but the cause of it is…. Well… But since the cause concerns someone important to you, you’re not sure if you should say something about it. Am I right?”
Riri widened her eyes in surprise and stared at Garan.
“You can tell me if you don’t know what to do. What do you want me to do?”
Garan’s masculine smile looked dependable. This problem was too big for her to handle on her own and she pondered hard about how to solve it, and his smile gave her a boost.
(Garan is the most trustworthy person in the palace, and I can’t carry out this plan by myself. He’s asking what he can do, so I should just tell him the truth… I’m sorry, Hisui.)
“I’d like you to keep this between us…”
She told him everything she had heard from Hisui after making up her mind.
Garan frowned when she finished talking.
“The Chancellor… Are you saying that Jin Koudoku took a bribe? That’s a little hard to believe.”
Garan put a hand on his chin.
“Koudoku-sama nags a lot about Kousho-sama’s marriage, but he isn’t a bad person. He has also sworn an oath to His Majesty. He is also one of the wealthiest men in Shinzui. He has plenty of money, so I don’t think he would do anything to threaten his position by taking a few bribes.”
Garan let out a little sigh.
“But it would be bad if this evidence gets out. I’ve told you before that I’ve been imprisoned for allegedly doing something illegal. A man testified that he saw me taking bribes. Kousho-sama helped me out at that time.”
She had heard this before. Garan decided to follow Kousho for the rest of his life after that.
“The man who accused me of taking a bribe also produced a memo that stated that I had accepted a bribe. The handwriting on the memo wasn’t mine and the memo was quite shoddy and fake but once it was out in the open it was difficult to overturn. We have to be careful, or we could get into trouble if it is written in Kodoku-sama’s handwriting.”
He didn’t have to tell her how bad it would get.
“I agree with you. I think we need to look for evidence and conduct our own investigation with it. And… I know this is reckless, but I was thinking about sneaking into the Pure Consort’s palace to look for the piece of paper…”
Garan looked stunned. She had expected this reaction from him.
“What nonsense are you talking about?!”