It has been five days since she was put in this dark cell. Riri was sitting at the corner of the cell while biting her lips.
“How could I have dropped the evidence? I’m sure I put it deep into my pocket.”
She thought about this over and over again since she got here. She had no memory of dropping it. She bumped into some consorts who were at the entrance of Ranran’s living room while she was running away.
If she had dropped it then that would have been the only time she could have dropped it.
Rarai must have picked up the evidence that had fallen at the entrance of the living room since he came from that direction.
She looked up and stared at the bars.
The prison guard, who had not moved at an inch and was standing up straight, was staring directly in front of him.
“I wonder how Hisui is doing…”
The guard wouldn’t speak no matter how much she tried to talk to him, so she didn’t know what was going on outside.
The man who had put her in jail, Rarai, also never came back since he put her in here.
She remembered the time when she was put in prison and let out a small sigh. Garan had followed them dejectedly and told her that he would save her without Rarai noticing.
She asked Garan to look into ‘something’ when she saw the piece of paper just before they parted.
She wanted to ask him about his search, but he didn’t come to see her. She was also worried about how Hisui, Garan and Kousho were doing. She could hardly swallow the food that had been brought to her and she hadn’t slept at all.
She laid down when she heard the sound of the door creaking open.
She looked up and saw that the prison guard, who was standing behind her bars, had somehow disappeared and that there was a man standing at the entrance.
She gasped when she saw him.
Kousho had his arms crossed and looked stern.
“You idiot. Why didn’t you talk to me about this first?”
His reprimanding words were laced with concern.
“I’m sure you didn’t want to cause me any trouble since I was in charge of the Elegant Incense Gathering or something like that, so you acted on your own. But it’s very annoying to find out what happened after all this trouble.”
“I am very sorry…”
The only thing that came out of her mouth was a small voice.
Still, she managed to shake herself out of it and sidle up to the bars.
“How is Consort Hisui doing? What happened to the piece of evidence?”
She was curious about this for a long time, so that was the first thing she asked.
Kousho looked down for a second, then he looked back at her.
“Consort Hisui is no longer in charge of the banquet.”
Riri widened her eyes and gulped, then Kousho continued.
“The piece of evidence that proves that Koudoku has been taking bribes was presented to the Emperor, but the person in question says he knows nothing about it. His punishment is on hold until we can determine whether that piece of evidence is genuine or not. And you’re released. You’ve been exonerated, so you can return to the Fragrance Princess Palace.”
Riri couldn’t believe her ears.
“Why have I been released? Consort Ranran accused me of sneaking into her room. I haven’t been interrogated since then and I’ve been worried about what has happened.”
“You haven’t been interrogated because others couldn’t go near the prison while Garan and I investigated. The only reason you were released… was because Consort Ranran withdrew her complaint. Consort Hisui stepped down from her banquet duties not long after that.”
She had a bad feeling when she heard that.
“Don’t tell me…”
She put a hand over her mouth and Kousho nodded.
“You’re right. She told me that the reason she was stepping down was because her father was accused of taking bribes, and she recommended that Consort Ranran should be in charge of the banquet. While it’s true that Consort Hisui would have to take responsibility if her father is charged with taking bribes, but he hasn’t been charged with anything yet. She probably stepped down for a different reason.”
Riri’s body trembled.
“You mean Consort Hisui stepped down as the person in charge to get Consort Ranran to drop the charges against me and let me free?”
Kousho didn’t reply but he looked down.
“No… Oh no, this is all my fault…”
She covered her face and looked down. She was about to burst into tears but did her best to hold them back.
“This isn’t the time to be sad. The situation outside is ten times worse than you think.”
Kousho’s voice was calm, but he smelled terribly tired.
“Worse than I think…?”
“The court has been split into two, with one faction believing in Koudoku and claiming that the evidence was fake and the other criticising Koudoku. This isn’t the time to be thinking about the Elegant Incense Gathering.”
It was rare for Kousho to make such a negative statement.
She gasped when she realised how bad the situation was.
“It was horrible for the evidence to end up in Rarai’s hands. He hates Garan and I to the point of wanting to kill us. Koudoku’s crime is just something he’s using to torment Garan and I.”
Riri recalled Rarai’s slender appearance and gentle-looking face.
“Who is he? Rarai-sama said that Garan is his cousin, but they both seem hostile towards each other.”
“He lost the position of General to Garan a long time ago and has held a grudge since then. A few years ago, he accused Garan of a crime and put him in jail.”
She was shocked when she heard that.
“I’ve heard about this from Garan, but I heard that the person who framed him was caught.”
“Yeah, but Rarai was the mastermind behind the evidence that put Garan in jail. But we couldn’t find any evidence that showed that he was the one behind it. We caught the man who was being manipulated by Rarai but we couldn’t charge Rarai himself with a crime.”
Kousho showed a look of regret which was rare for him.
“I wasn’t sure when he would assassinate me if he stayed in the palace, so I demoted him under the guise of protecting the border. He has been harbouring a grudge against me for that.”
Kousho grabbed the bars with a bitter expression on his face.
“Also, the evidence this time is probably genuine. I had the handwriting analysis, and the handwriting definitely belongs to Koudoku. But from what I’ve seen, Koudoku isn’t a small-minded man who would take bribes.”
Hisui had said the same thing. She recalled what she had discovered when she found the piece of paper.
“It’s possible that it was forged. I could smell Mokuren’s lingering scent on that paper. He may have prepared that piece of paper.”
She put her hand on her chest and said and Kousho widened his eyes in surprise. He put his hand on his chin and pondered.
“This has gotten complicated. What is he trying to do with that piece of evidence?”
“I don’t know, but I will explain that the evidence might have been forged and that I smelled Mokuren’s fragrance from that piece of paper. If I do that, won’t that clear the suspicion against the Chancellor?”
She was stunned by Kousho’s words.
“I trust your olfaction, but not everyone does. They will continue to treat Koudoku as a criminal unless you can show them solid proof that that piece of paper is fake.”
(Solid proof… I wonder what happened to that ‘thing’ I asked Garan to do for me before I was put in jail. That would be solid proof if it’s true… But it was only for a second, so I’m not that confident in it.)
Kousho turned to her while she was thinking.
“Riri, what are you going to do now?”
He looked her in the eyes. She thought about the meaning of those words.
“I am sorry for all the trouble I have caused you, Kousho-sama… Helping Consort Hisui is my first priority right now.”
“That may be so, but the situation is quite serious right now. It’s no longer a problem that you can solve.”
“I understand, but I can’t just pretend I don’t know anything.”
While she was in jail, she was in agony over the fact that Hisui and the others might have been charged with a crime because of her. Still, she spoke as if she could do something if she could get out of here and Kousho closed his eyes.
“You’re usually so absentminded, but you speak up at times like this.”
Kousho smiled bitterly while unlocking the prison door.
“I didn’t come to see you until now because I believed it might be safer for you in here. I’ll do my best to protect you if you still want to get out of here, but you must tell me everything without keeping secrets from me this time. You must promise this.”
She nodded. His kind and dependable words touched her heart.
Riri believed that the smell that came out of people when they hate each other was the worst smell in the world.
The first thing she smelled was this disgusting smell when she stepped out of prison.
(They must be arguing a lot if the palace is filled with this scent.)
She looked at Kousho who was walking in front of her, and although he didn’t say it out loud, he looked really tired.
He said that the evidence of the Chancellor taking bribes had divided the palace and that he didn’t have time to think about the Elegant Incense Gathering.
“Kousho-sama, would you consider cancelling the Elegant Incense Gathering if things go wrong?”
She asked boldly. It wouldn’t be surprising if a fight broke out since the air was filled with so much hatred. But Kousho immediately shook his head.
“It might be better to call it off but that’s impossible. There are only 12 days left until the Elegant Incense Gathering. I’ve already sent out the invitations to the guests and I’m sure some of the guests from other nations have already left to come here.”
He gave a small sigh then turned around.
“More importantly, are you sure you want to go, Riri?”
He clearly looked reluctantly.
“Yes. I want to see the current situation with my own eyes.”
There was a meeting today about the Elegant Incense Gathering.
The Chancellor, defence officials and the heads of various departments will gather in the great hall.
“We have meetings every day, but we haven’t been able to have a proper discussion since evidence of Koudoku taking bribes has come to light. It’s unpleasant to see.”
But she still nodded. Kousho started walking again since it was pointless to convince her otherwise.
They entered the Peaceful Supreme Palace which was used to conduct government affairs and proceeded to the back of the building where there was a small room. Garan was sitting in the small room and his eyes widened in shock when he saw her, but he immediately bowed at Kousho.
“… I’ve finished with the preparations. You’ll find the details of today’s discussion here, so please take a moment to read over them.”
Kousho nodded and went to the writing desk in the centre of the room. Garan quietly approached Riri.
“I’m glad that you’re safe, Riri.”
He sincerely sounded relieved.
“I’m sorry for making you worry. Garan… how is ‘that’ going?”
She asked him what she was curious about, and his face clouded over.
“Rarai isn’t letting it go. I’m trying to convince him. Just give me a little more time.”
She bit her lips at those words. Kousho looked over towards them.
“Riri, the discussion is about to begin. The great hall is on the other side of this door. Everyone has already gathered in the great hall, so Garan and I will go over there, but you can watch from here.”
She said then Kousho opened the door and went into the great hall with Garan.
They closed the door leaving a slight hole where she could peek through.
There were about 30 well-dressed men sitting in the great hall.
(The head of the Ministry of Incense, Kansou-sama is here, and even the head of the Ministry of Palace Affairs, Kourin-sama. It looks like all the department heads are here. Garan, Rarai-sama and the Chancellor are sitting at the front… I can smell the worst smell from here and it’s disgusting.)
Nausea rose up from within her, but she managed to keep it down and continued to watch the meeting.
Everyone bowed their heads when Kousho showed up.
“Thank you for gathering here today everyone. I’ll get right on to it, about the Elegant Incense Gathering…”