“Please wait, Kousho-sama.”
It was preposterous to interrupt the Crown Prince while he was talking.
Rarai, who was smiling fearlessly, was the one who had done something so disrespectful.
“You’re being rude, Rarai-dono. Kousho-sama was in the middle of talking.”
Garan warned, but Rarai’s expression didn’t change at all.
“I know it was rude of me to interrupt the Crown Prince, but I have something to say. I can’t stand that a criminal and Kousho-sama are sitting in the same room as someone who defends this nation.”
The first to react to his words was Jin Koudoku.
“You’re still saying that Rarai-dono?! I haven’t done anything wrong. I am not a criminal!”
“A criminal doesn’t easily admit his crimes.”
Rarai stated confidently. Kansou glared at Rarai.
“I heard that the piece of evidence that proves Koudoku-dono’s crimes also has the Ministry of Incense written on it, but I don’t remember writing anything like that. If you accuse Koudoku-dono of being a criminal, then do you suspect me as well?”
Rarai looked momentarily intimidated by Kansou’s commanding attitude.
But he soon regained his composure and spoke.
“I don’t suspect you Kansou-sama. The evidence was stamped with the seal of the Ministry of Incenses, but there was no signature. I believe the money was given not by you, but by the former head of the Ministry of Incense. The former head, as I recall, escaped after he tried to assassinate His Majesty.”
He must be talking about Mokuren. Rarai smiled.
“If that is the case, then isn’t it possible that Koudoku-sama was also involved in His Majesty’s attempted assassination?”
It was an outrageous theory, but the defence officials around Rarai nodded.
“That’s right, that’s right!”
“The Chancellor must be charged with a crime!”
The officials around Koudoku half-rose and shouted passionately.
“What are you saying?! The Chancellor isn’t someone who would do that!”
“That’s right! We haven’t finished inspecting the evidence yet, so it’s weird that you’re already treating the Chancellor like a criminal!”
Kousho had told Riri that they had concluded that the handwriting did belong to Koudoku after careful examination, but he hasn’t publicly announced this yet.
The men in the room began glaring at each other. Kousho took a deep breath.
The aura in the room changed drastically with a bark.
“The Elegant Incense Gathering is about to start. We have to work together, but what is with your attitudes? We’re in the process of looking through Koudoku’s matter. Everyone will remain calm and wait until we know for certain that he is guilty.”
Everyone fell silent at Kousho’s words.
The hostility they held towards each other remained, but they had settled down.
(As expected of Kousho-sama, but the situation is really bad. Everyone smells discontent. I’m sure they’ll explode at the slightest word or action. What will happen to the palace if that happens?)
She suddenly recalled that she had seen a similar situation before.
(This… is like the conflict between Hisui and Consort Ranran spreading through the palace. If this was deliberate, then…)
She had an idea about who was responsible for this.
(I smelled Mokuren’s scent coming from Consort Ranran, and from the piece of evidence as well… He must know something about this.)
Her dropping the piece of paper led to this current situation.
Hisui stepped down from being in charge to get her out of jail.
Kousho was troubled because the palace was in chaos.
She thought she had done everything in her power to make the Elegant Incense Gathering a success, but it turned out that she was just a hindrance.
“If Mokuren admits that he created a fake piece of evidence then I might be able to help Hisui and make the Elegant Incense Gathering a success. I need to find him and ask him about this.”
The entire palace had been searching for Mokuren but his whereabouts were still unknown.
But she actually had an idea about where he might be.
(… I didn’t want to use this method… That’s why I’ve been putting this off until now…)
Of course, she knew that she couldn’t be reckless anymore.
I’ll do what I can for now, she thought as she stood up quietly.
Mokuren looked up at the darkening sky and sighed.
“You’re sighing? Our plan is working, so why are you sighing, Mokuren?”
He heard ‘his’ voice from behind him.
‘He’ was a comrade, and someone who Mokuren acknowledged as having superior mixing skills.
“You’re just hiding here while I’m nurturing the seeds of disaster in the palace. Do you really think you should be hiding here as the head of the Dark Perfumers?”
‘He’ criticised Mokuren and chuckled when Mokuren didn’t say anything.
“Why don’t you hand over the title to me? I can lead Shinzui to ruin in a more spectacular and enjoyable way.”
Mokuren shouted in his mind, that’s something I definitely can’t do.
If he entrusted the title to ‘this man’ then ‘he’ would ruin everything Mokuren cared about.
“I’m the head of the Dark Perfumers.”
He declared quietly and the ‘man’ sulked.
“Is it really possible for you to be the head of the Dark Perfumers? I’m the one who started all this and threw the palace into chaos. I even succeeded in putting that annoying Riri into jail. The plan is proceeding smoothly now.”
Mokuren heard that it has been five days since Riri had been thrown in jail for breaking into the Pure Consort’s palace.
But he believed that she would be safer in jail given the current situation.
“Look, Mokuren. I won’t kill Riri now, but I’m going to make her suffer so much that it’ll be hard for her to live. That will make me feel better.”
‘He’ gloated and Mokuren frowned.
“I appreciate all the work you’ve done in preparation for the plan, but I’ll be in charge from here on out. You should do your best to keep your cover intact in the palace.”
‘He’ snorted then left.
The winds that would shake Shinzui were already sweeping over the nation.
“Riri-sama. I’m so glad you’re alright.”
Ryouka greeted her when she returned to the Fragrance Princess Palace. Riri caught Ryouka as she jumped on her while crying. Ryouka looked flustered and quickly stepped away from Riri.
“I’m sorry. I was just so happy you’re back. I’ve been worried about you ever since I heard you were in jail. I’m glad you’re back.”
Riri crouched down in front of Ryouka, who was on the floor.
“I made all your favourite meals when I heard you were coming back, Riri-sama. I’ll go get them right away, so please eat as much as you can.”
Her thoughtfulness made Riri happy. Ryouka knew everything about her from the first time she entered the inner palace and helped her. She was doing her best as a court lady even after Riri entered the Fragrance Princess Palace.
She was well aware of this, so she pretended not to notice until now.
When Ryouka was about to get up to get her meal, she called out to her.
“Wait, Ryouka. I want something else instead of food.”
She tried to smile but failed. Ryouka turned around and stared at her.
“What do you need? I’ll bring it to you right away.”
“Thanks. Then ――― tell me where Mokuren is.”
Ryouka’s eyes widened in shock and her lips quivered, then she immediately looked down.
“I don’t know…”
“I don’t believe you. I was drugged by someone at the Beauty Pageant and passed out. I was with Mokuren when I woke up, then I met Seirai-sama. He told me that he was the person who kidnapped me, but he didn’t say that he was the one who drugged me. That stuck with me for a long time. Ryouka, it was you who put me to sleep that time wasn’t it?”
Ryouka paled and seemed to be struggling to breathe.
Riri remembered that time. She woke up just as the sun rose to practice the dance for the Beauty Pageant, dressed quickly and went to the ballroom. Then, someone covered her nose and made her sniff medicine.
“The Beautiful Flower Palace gates were still closed at that time, and the nighttime security measures were still in place. The gatekeepers would have kept a close watch on the gate and there were also soldiers patrolling the area, so security was perfect at that time. It would be impossible for Seirai-sama to enter the Beautiful Flower Palace no matter how much Kousho-sama tolerated his attitude as the Crown Prince of another kingdom.”
It was her own olfaction that solidified her belief.
“A while after that, I smelled something from you that made me suddenly remember the aroma that I had smelled when I was drugged. It was really faint, so I wasn’t sure, and I wanted to believe that you wouldn’t do something like that.”
Ryouka trembled slightly. Riri looked at her as Ryouka bit her lips.
“Your mother’s illness got better thanks to the incense that Mokuren made. So, you owe him. You helped me lie and sneak into the inner palace because he asked you to help me…. You knew from the beginning that he was the head of the Dark Perfumers, didn’t you?”
“I know that you’re very kind and loyal. I know that you’re devoted to Mokuren in the same way you’re devoted to me.”
Ryouka looked surprised when she heard that Mokuren had disappeared and when she heard that he was the head of the Dark Perfumers and had tried to assassinate the Emperor, but then she noticed something thanks to her olfaction.
She could smell the scent of sweat that came out when one was nervous from Ryouka at those times.
That scent would emit from Ryouka whenever she talked about Mokuren after that. That was why she believed that Ryouka knew something but pretended to not know. And she was certain of it when she faintly smelled Ryouka’s scent when she was drugged.
“Ryouka. You know what’s happening right now, don’t you? This is most likely a trap set by Mokuren. I… want to stop Mokuren.”
She put her hands on Ryouka’s shoulders.
“So, tell me where he is. The piece of paper that states that the Chancellor took bribes has Mokuren’s scent on it. It’s highly likely that he fabricated that piece of paper. Mokuren won’t be able to escape from his desire for vengeance if he keeps this up. He will be unhappy too.”
Ryouka was taken aback. She remained silent for a while then closed her eyes.
“When Mokuren-sama left the palace, you tried to protect me when you were getting punished. I decided to devote myself to you for the rest of my life from that moment on. But Mokuren-sama is the person who saved my mother… That’s why I made him promise that I wouldn’t have to do something to you again before drugging you.”
Ryouka continued speaking while hugging her trembling body.
“Mokuren-sama told me that he really wanted to talk to you, so he secured a place near the palace where you two could take your time to talk, and he promised that he would bring you back right away… He told me to drug you and put you to sleep when you went to practice alone in the ballroom. He told me to hide you in the closet and leave to not arouse suspicion and to send a signal that only he would know.”
“So, after I put you to sleep, I pretended that I was preparing a meal and sent out the signal, but then I realized that what I was doing was wrong and rushed back to the ballroom. But you were already gone by then…”