Kaori sits and watches these poets at their work. She does not recognize them by their writings. A great many poets are known only to their provinces, though; only the greatest are known throughout the empire, published and read by everyone. Even still, she is amazed by the possibility of this life: the constant writing, in poems or in correspondences, the striving for greater and greater works, the arrangement of events in order to meet and collaborate. Kaori’s fan idly waves, slowly and surely, fanning as much her face as her thoughts. She notices the man in green brocade looking at her far too frequently, as does her brother, who continues to stand between them, tense. Her fan more often comes up to shield her face from his gaze.
The poets laugh as they compose, they offer suggestions, feedback as they are working. It is clear that they are friends as much as they are rivals, all competing for the glory of their family through greatness in art. Kaori looks at her mother and sees that she is in deep conversation with the older lady. Both are sipping tea from their own cups, straight-backed in their chairs, the gentle movements of pouring for each other. Kaori waits for an opening, a break in the flow of the poem. She knows she should not be contributing, but fame was never won by sitting idly.
Stiff orchids sit on a table;
breezes blow pansy blossoms.
Again the scribe looks at the referee, Kaori, expecting his glance subtly points her fan to her mother’s table, and looks demurely down at the table. The referee follows the fan and smiles. He nods at the referee and chuckles, joined by the man in the green brocade. “Well done little flower! Such a quick study too, already you are improving! What name shall we put down for this verse?” His voice is cultured, it does not boom, but does not strain to be heard.
“Inaba Kaori,” she responds as her fan moves too slowly to conceal her blush. The man in the green brocade nods, and the table seems pleased. Another poet jumps in, following her verse with one about fish. The men at the table all laugh at a pun within the verse that Kaori does not understand, something shared between them. Now that Kaori has their attention she is quiet; to have so many men looking at her, even as an artist, is not something she has experienced before. Her throat dries, and seeing that her mother’s conversation is finished she stands.
The man in green brocade stands as well. “Friends, as we know I could only be here for a short time, and it is a pleasure as always to work with you all, though your skills are far beyond mine. I must depart, but thank you for the distraction. Especially with the surprise of a winter flower to grace our table.” Kaori thinks his rich, bass, voice compliments his brown eyes well. He bows to the men, lastly to Kaori’s brother and finally Kaori, who bows deeply in return.
“I am too sheltered for such compliments, but I thank you for reassuring me for the good I do my ancestors.” Kaori responds looking to the ground, then addresses the rest of the table, meeting no one’s eyes, fan leaving only her face, “If you great poets will also excuse this humble apprentice, I must return to my family. She bows to each of them in turn, Kaori and her brother walk back to their mother’s table.