The lively sounds of erhu and drums echoed through the palace and signalled the beginning of the Elegant Incense Gathering.
The Elegant Incense Gathering was the biggest event in Shinzui, where incenses are highly valued. Riri was rushing down the corridor of Beautiful Flower Palace while thinking about the opening ceremony which was supposed to take place outside the palace.
“I heard that the Ministry of Incense’s new technology will be unveiled to the guests after the opening ceremony… I want to see it so badly!”
The royal families of the neighbouring kingdoms, Koran and Sairin, were also visiting. She could hear the chatter of people even from here, and it was apparent to her that a glamorous ceremony was being held.
But the people at the Beautiful Flower Palace were too busy to pay attention to the ceremony. Everyone was preparing for the banquet that was to be held the day after tomorrow under the guidance of Hisui, who was once again put in charge of the event.
“I can see the new technology after the Elegant Incense Gathering, so I have to be patient. I have to hurry now!”
She was able to change her mood. Hisui had asked her to check on the dance, so she stepped into the ballroom and heard a man’s voice.
“No, no! Dance more boldly and beautifully!”
The voice belonged to Seirai, who had returned from Koran about six days ago. He was standing at the front of the stage, so that he would get a clear view of the entire stage. His arms were folded, and he was wearing a stern expression on his face. About ten consorts, including Ranran, were dancing on the stage accompanied by music. Riri waited for the song to end before approaching Seirai and softly said.
“May I have a moment of your time, Seirai-sama? How is the dance going?”
Seirai turned around. He was always calm, but he had a serious expression on his face.
“It’s a bit tricky to train them. I was surprised when you asked me to watch them practice when I returned. They had only just decided on the routine and begun practicing. What the hell happened with this year’s Elegant Incense Gathering?”
She bowed at the sound of his exasperated voice.
“I am sorry! I asked you to do this because I am an amateur, but you were so good at teaching and helped me learn how to dance. Would the consorts here be able to dance by the time of the banquet?”
She asked timidly and Seirai shrugged.
“It’ll be difficult, but I’ll do my best to coach them. I can’t refuse if you ask me to do something since I owe you a debt. It helps that all the consorts have learned how to dance, so they pick things up quickly. They might be able to get the routine down if they continue to work hard…”
Ranran came down from the stage and approached them even though she couldn’t hear Seirai’s words well.
“Seirai-sama. I am responsible for our delay. I will sacrifice my sleep to practice. I will follow along no matter how strict you are, so please teach us!”
Ranran bowed her head and her attitude was completely different from the arrogant one she had a few days ago.
Ranran turned to look at Riri.
“Consort Riri. Thank you for asking Seirai-sama to teach us. He is an excellent coach. I will practice hard and give my best performance at the banquet.”
This must be what people mean when they say someone is no longer possessed. Ranran bowed with a serious expression on her face.
The consorts who had sided with her also suddenly changed their attitude when they saw that Ranran was showing respect to Hisui. They were all obeying Hisui now and were preparing for the banquet.
“I’ve come to deliver the outfits!”
Shoei entered the ballroom.
She was in charge of preparing the outfits and accessories. She approached the stage with their glistening outfits in hand.
“Can you take the outfits? If the measurements are wrong, then I will fix it as soon as possible.”
Shoei looked at Riri but spoke to Ranran.
“I can. Everyone, gather around!”
“I’ll go take a break outside.”
Seirai acted tactfully and left the ballroom.
Riri moved to the wall so that she wouldn’t interrupt the consorts, and Shoei quietly approached her.
“I can finally talk to you, Consort Riri. I was very worried when I heard that you were in jail. I am glad to see that you are fine.”
Shoei smiled like a blossoming flower.
“I am sorry for worrying you.”
She had asked Shoei to tell her where Ranran’s living was so that she could find evidence.
She hadn’t had the chance to talk to her since then and she was curious about how she had been.
“Consort Ranran suddenly changed because you did something, right? You are amazing!”
Shoei looked cute as she clasped her hands together and slightly widened her eyes in amazement.
“I am not the one who changed Consort Ranran, it was Consort Hisui. I’m glad to see that the banquet is proceeding well without a hitch.”
“Me too… Hmm, I couldn’t do anything to help at all in the end. I really don’t have any guts. I wanted to help you when you were thrown into jail, but I was scared. I am sorry…”
Shoei looked down slightly and her voice trembled a bit.
(Come to think of it, Consort Shoei was also there when I snuck into Consort Ranran’s living room and got caught.)
Riri put a hand on the sad Shoei’s shoulders.
“The banquet is proceeding well because you helped me… You are cute, smart and a good seamstress. I think you should be more confident, even though it is not my place to tell you what to do.”
Riri believed Shoei did her best to help her, so she didn’t want Shoei to be sad about this.
Shoei looked up and smiled widely.
“I’m happy to hear you say that Consort Riri. I… admire you. You’re kind, have your own beliefs and the ability to act.”
“You do? I troubled everyone though. I often act with good intentions but my plans always backfire on me. The conflict between the palace and the Beautiful Flower Palace was resolved and things moved in a positive direction thanks to my actions, but I regret that I hadn’t conducted myself better.”
Riri revealed her real feelings. She looked down and Shoei shook her head a little.
“No, you are very reliable. Thank you very much for saving the Beautiful Flower Palace.”
Shoei’s words made her happy. She smiled softly and Ranran, who was standing near the stage, beckoned.
“Consort Shoei, this outfit is…”
“Yes, I’m coming.”
She knew that the dance would turn out well and was relieved as she watched Shoei rush off.
Juka said that they had managed to prepare the food and alcohol for the banquet on time.
All the consorts were now working together to decorate the banquet hall in Beautiful Flower Palace, which will serve as the venue for the banquet.
The banquet will be held but there was still one big problem.
“Mokuren will do something at the Elegant Incense Gathering.”
She muttered as she filled up with anxiety. She had met him at the place where he was hiding.
She had hoped to persuade him to stop but she failed. She had told Kousho and Garan that Mokuren was planning something, so twice as many soldiers were deployed to guard the banquet.
Defence at the palace was perfect but she was scared since she could feel Mokuren slowly approaching.
“Mokuren. Please stop. You will be caught if you come here.”
She wanted to do her best for Kousho, who would become the emperor, and she didn’t want Mokuren to ruin the banquet that everyone had all worked hard to prepare. Those thoughts clashed with her feeling of not wanting her master and benefactor to get caught. These feelings hurt so much that she felt as if her heart was going to burst.
The Elegant Incense Gathering was going well and it was the last day of the event. All the guests were scheduled to arrive at the Beautiful Flower Palace in the evening. The consorts were dressed in matching light pink chogori and were busy preparing the food and alcohol that would be served at the banquet. Riri had set up an incense burner in a discreet place so that she wouldn’t disturb them.
“It’s all done… Ah.”
She noticed that Kousho had entered. He was coming straight towards her.
“Riri, how are the preparations for the incenses going?”
The hall was quite large and there were a few consorts and soldiers around, but there was no one near her. She whispered after making sure no one was around.
“It is going alright… Kousho-sama, did you find out what Mokuren is planning to do at the banquet?”
“No, not yet. I’m not sure what he’s planning, so the only thing I can do is increase the guards.”
Kousho folded his arms.
“The emperors of Koran and Sairin are here, as well as their nobles. They were really satisfied with the skills of the Ministry of Incenses. It is customary for Shinzui to treat them to a banquet at the end of the event. This banquet will also be a venue where the emperors and dignitaries of various kingdoms can talk. We have no choice but to take precautions if there is danger.”
Kousho’s tone was strong as if he was convincing himself.
The organiser of the Elegant Incense Gathering was Kousho. She was also determined to make it a success for his sake.
“I know. I don’t know what Mokuren is going to do, but I think there is a good chance that he will try to do something with incenses, his speciality. I believe my olfaction will be useful. I will let you know if I smell anything.”
“Please do, and I’ll say this again, don’t do anything rash. You must let me know if something happens.”
Riri smiled at Kousho’s worried expression.
Kousho nodded, put his hand on her head and turned again. She felt the warmth of his large hand on her head and her desire to make the banquet a success for him became even stronger.
(The other thing I can do apart from noticing if there is something wrong with the aroma is…)
She watched as Kousho approached the stage and glanced to the right of the hall.
She saw Rarai speaking with a guard.
Rarai had accused the Grand Chancellor of accepting bribes, but he backed down when it was proven that the evidence he had proved was fake. He had only accused the Grand Chancellor because it was the right thing to do, and he claimed that he didn’t know the evidence was faked.
After that, he continued to help with the banquet preparations as if nothing had happened. Those who had agreed with Rarai and accused the Grand Chancellor had also backed down and the matters around the palace settled down.
(But the palace still smells of discontent and hatred… Everyone is only acting like they’ve backed down.)
She felt a crisis was about to unfold. The man who Mokuren had spoken to at his hiding place had Rarai’s scent on him. In the past, Rarai had framed Garan and left the capital because Kousho had demoted him. Rarai looked nonchalant when he looked at Garan and Kousho but he radiated with hatred to the point that it made Riri want to choke.
“If Rarai-sama is connected to Mokuren…”