It was unusual for Garan to raise his voice. She knew that she was proposing something ridiculous. She ducked down and somehow managed to speak.
“But we can’t find out if it’s fake or not without proof. I don’t believe Consort Ranran will give it to us. And Consort Hisui doesn’t need to be intimidated by Consort Ranran if we have the evidence in our hand. I believe the preparations for the Elegant Incense Gathering will proceed smoothly if Consort Hisui rebukes Consort Ranran.”
After much consideration, she concluded that this was the only way for her to obtain the evidence.
“It’s dangerous. What if you get caught? I’ll sneak in and look for the evidence.”
“You can’t do that. You can enter the inner palace, but you’re not allowed to enter rooms without permission. You’ll be thrown into jail if you get caught. But I can make excuses if I get caught, that’s why I need you to distract the guards while I’m in there.”
She put her hand on her chest and Garan pursed his lips.
“But the Pure Consort’s palace is large even if you manage to get in. It would be difficult for you to find the evidence when you don’t even know where it’s hidden.”
“It’s an important piece of evidence. I’m sure she keeps it close to her, so that she can check it at any time. I heard that Consort Ranran has been cautious lately and that she has court ladies guarding her living room. I’m sure she’s hiding the evidence there.”
She put her hands near her mouth and Garan crossed his arms.
“… Consort Ranran’s living room? But you don’t know where the room is. I’ve guarded her garden before, but I’ve never been inside the building, so I don’t know where her living room is located. It would be problematic if you take too long to find the living room.”
“I know. I think I can find the location of her living room before I sneak in. I have an idea. I’ll search her living room, so I want you to stay close by in case anything happens. Please help me for the success of the Elegant Incense Gathering.”
She wouldn’t just get a slap on the wrist if she got caught, but she wanted to help Hisui somehow.
And she also wanted to make the Elegant Incense Gathering a success for Kousho.
Motivated by that, this was the plan she came up with using all her courage.
“Did you tell Kousho-sama about this?”
“… I haven’t. He’s busy preparing for the Elegant Incense Gathering. I would also have to tell him that the Chancellor might be accepting bribes if I were to talk to him about this. Hisui doesn’t want him to know about this.”
She looked down and Garan pondered for a bit.
“You’re relying on me.”
His voice was so quiet that she couldn’t hear him.
“Huh? What did you just say?”
She was confused and he shook his head slightly.
“It’s nothing… Riri, can you promise that you won’t do anything risky? You have to get away from there as soon as you find the evidence. I’ll be nearby, so come to me. Can you promise me that?”
He stared at her, and she nodded.
“I promise. Even I know that I’m putting my life on the line. I’ll check Consort Ranran’s living room and I’ll leave right away if I can’t find anything.”
Garan sighed helplessly.
“Alright. You’re really reckless… Well, in a good way though.”
He complimented her. She smiled and Garan widened his eyes.
“…? What’s wrong, Garan?”
She tilted her head in confusion and Garan looked away.
He took a deep breath then looked at her again.
His eyes ――― looked feverish.
She noticed the same look in his eyes when he confessed to her and turned red at once.
“Ah, I… Then, I’ll…”
She quickly looked down and turned her back towards him to leave.
But he grabbed her right hand and pulled her to him.
This was the second time he had hugged her with his large arms.
He smelled calm and pleasant.
She could smell his fragrance up close, and her heart was beating so fast that she thought it was going to explode.
She raised her voice, and he hugged her tighter.
“… I’m ready to stop being the General.”
Those words shocked her more than his confession.
She stirred to get a look at his expression, but he hugged her tighter to prevent her from moving.
“I love you. I can’t keep serving Kousho-sama when I hold these feelings towards you. ――― Please let me know how you feel about me. I can wait until after the Elegant Incense Gathering. I will accept whatever answer you give me.”
His arms were hot as he hugged her, and his words were filled with some much passion that they almost burnt her.
She didn’t know what to say or do and fumbled, then Garan gently released her.
He looked at her with loving eyes and gently placed his hand on her cheek.
“I don’t want to trouble you. Thank you for letting me confess to you.”
Garan’s words touched her heart softly like the wind.
Riri visited the sewing room at the Beautiful Flower Palace again.
She peeked in through the entrance and saw that Shoei was chatting with several consorts while embroidering. She looked like she was teaching the other consorts how to embroider, and there was a friendly aura in the room.
She was puzzled about how she could get Shoei’s attention when Shoei noticed her and spoke.
“I have to go outside for a bit everyone.”
“My, you can’t tell us what to do if you’re not here.”
“Yes, your embroidery is so wonderful. It’s the best in the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
Shoei smiled at the troubled consorts.
“I am sorry. I will be back right away, so please take a break until then.”
Shoei bowed, got up and walked towards Riri. Riri hid herself behind the door and walked after her. When they reached a little distance away from the sewing room, Shoei turned around.
“What can I do for you, Consort Riri?”
Riri smiled at Shoei who’s cheeks were slightly flushed.
She looked around to make sure no one was around and spoke quietly.
“I have a favour to ask you. Have you ever been to the Pure Consort’s palace?”
Riri asked honestly. Shoei looked curious as she nodded her head.
“Yes. Consort Ranran invited me to have tea with her once before.”
“Then do you know where her living room is?”
Shoei looked suspicious.
“I do, but why are you asking me about it?”
Riri was worried for a second, but she didn’t smell ‘lying’ coming from Shoei when she told her that she wanted to eliminate the conflict that was happening in Beautiful Flower Palace the other day. Her super olfaction, which could even detect other people’s emotions, was more trustworthy than anything else in times like this.
So, she had to tell her the truth to get her to help.
“… You told me that you heard that Consort Ranran is threatening Consort Hisui. I’m going to find the evidence that Consort Ranran is using to threaten Consort Hisui.”
She couldn’t say that the piece of evidence was proof of Hisui’s father’s wrongdoing.
Shoei widened her eyes in surprise and put her hand over her mouth.
“What kind of evidence is it? Are you going to sneak into Consort Ranran’s room to find that evidence? If you sneak in there and you get caught, then…!”
“I can’t tell you everything now. I don’t feel comfortable sneaking into her palace either. Honestly, I’m scared, but it’s the only thing I can do to help with the situation right now. Please tell me where her living room is.”
Riri bowed and Shoei shook her head.
“No, I can’t tell you. It’s too dangerous. If you get caught, then I…”
Riri knew that Shoei was worried about her. She lifted her face and stared into Shoei’s eyes.
“Beautiful Flower Palace will be divided if things continue the way they are. I don’t know what will happen at the Elegant Incense Gathering. Consort Ranran is in charge of the dance performance, but I heard that she hasn’t been practicing at all.”
Shoei put her hands over her chest and looked down.
“That… is certainly true. I’ve secretly been making the costumes for the dance, but Consort Ranran and her followers just gather around the ball room to chat. Consort Juka has warned them that they wouldn’t be able to perform at the banquet if they don’t practice, but they just keep saying that it’s Consort Hisui’s fault that they aren’t practicing.”
Ranran was intentionally not practicing, so she could put all the blame on Hisui.
Does she not realise what would happen to her if she did that at a banquet where royals from other nations are also gathered?
“We need to stop Consort Ranran’s wild behaviour to make the banquet a success. I need to get that piece of evidence to stop her. So, please. Help me. For the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
She stared in Shoei’s eyes as she persuaded her and Shoei trembled.
But she finally turned to look at Riri after a while.
There was a strong will hidden in her eyes.
“Please don’t do anything rash.”
Riri nodded quietly at the sound of her concerned voice.
Ranran’s residence, the Pure Consort’s palace, was located just outside the main gate of Beautiful Flower Palace.
Riri left the Beautiful Flower Palace and pretended to return to the Fragrance Princess Palace, but she walked until the Pure Consort’s palace was in sight.
It was a rule that guards, and maids should accompany a consort when they move between inner palaces, and she had Garan and Ryouka with her this time since they knew everything.
It had been embarrassing for her to see Garan, but he treated her like normal in public.
She still got nervous when she stood in front of him, but she was trying to focus on making the Elegant Incense Gathering a success. She hid in a nearby shrub and Garan approached the gatekeepers who were standing in front of the Pure Consort’s palace.
“I need to talk to you about something. Come this way.”
He beckoned the guards to come and stand to the left of the gate. Garan was facing the gate, so the gatekeepers naturally faced the other way to look at him, so he had his back towards the gate. Garan talked with the guards while secretly signalling Riri with his eyes.
“That’s the signal, Ryouka. Wait here.”
“I will. Please take care, Riri-sama.”
With Ryouka cheering at her back, she moved towards the gate while hiding behind the shrubs. She looked at the gatekeepers who had their backs towards her. They were both standing up straight and listening to General Garan.
She passed them quickly and entered the gate.
Her heart was beating so loudly that she was afraid that the gatekeepers would hear her.
Her legs and body were trembling slightly, and she scolded herself in her mind.
(Pull yourself together! It’s alright. I have my olfaction. It will alert me if there’s someone nearby.)
She took a deep breath to calm herself down, then she concentrated on her nose and walked forward. She found a large garden just inside the gate. Fortunately, there was no one around.
The Pure Consort’s palace was surrounded by cedar trees on the right and a high wall on the left.
“According to Shoei, Consort Ranran’s living room is located at the back of the garden.”
She kept low and proceeded along the shrubs in the garden.
She immediately stopped moving and hid herself behind the shrubs when she smelled a person nearby.
“… Consort Ranran won’t be back for a while, so let’s clean up while we can.”
“Alright, she’ll yell at us if we haven’t finished cleaning by the time she gets back.”
The ladies rushed through the garden. She waited breathlessly for them to pass by.
“Garan’s information must be correct since Consort Ranran will be gone for a while.”
Garan told her that an ornaments purveyor was coming to the palace today and that Ranran would definitely go to Beautiful Flower Palace to see them. Ranran loved ornaments and would spend all day shopping when the purveyor came. That was why Garan told her that today would probably be the best day to search the Pure Consort’s palace.
“Consort Shoei told me that Consort Ranran’s living room is…”
She walked around carefully and held her breath and hid herself whenever a court lady passed through the garden.
With a lifetime’s worth of courage and energy, she managed to proceed and made it to the far end of the garden, where she found two women sitting in the corridor facing the garden. Behind them was a sturdy looking door.
They looked like court ladies. They were probably keeping an eye on Ranran’s living room.
They were holding naginatas in their hands and they were sitting with their backs straight up.
She could feel tension coming from them. She took out a small incense burner from the cloth bag on her wait while hiding in the shrub. She checked the wind’s direction, then took out some pastille from the package and quickly lit it. Slight smoke rose slightly from the incense burner and was carried by the wind to where the women were.
The sleeping effect was immediate. The women collapsed with a small moan.
“It went well…”
She breathed out a sigh of relief then looked around before approaching the room.
She peeked at the court ladies and confirmed that they were asleep.
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me since you’ll wake up in a short while.”