Archive for August, 2013

Second Daughter, pt. xii

Full moon hangs unseen,
cloudy skies and autumn noise.
A good time for talk.

Kaori’s father smiles. The verse is good, better than some of Kaori’s other verses, including some from this evening. She makes a mental note to write it down later.

“Well done, daughter. Your verse is dense, yet subtle, and your meaning unclouded by the metaphors. Furthermore, it helps that you are correct in your point. Your mother and I have discussed many things without you, even your siblings an your parents seem to be making plans and you are none the wiser. This is no way to treat a soon-to-be-lady. I forget sometimes that you are not your mother, and then I am thankful when I remember.”

“But mother is an excellent lady, I should strive to be like her.” Kaori’s fan comes out, it flutters slowly, curiously.

“Your mother is, but she can be forceful and nosy, and often gives an opinion on matters that do not concern her, nor that I would like an opinion for. Don’t mistake me, I love your mother very much, but I thank Heaven that I can simply tell you what is to be without responding to an inquisition about it.”

“Will my husband appreciate my servility?”

Kaori’s father frowns. “Yes and no. You must learn carefully when to balance servility and action. A good wife is informed of the household’s actions, understands what is happening and what needs to be done to support her husband, often without asking or being thanked. For this you must be forceful and imposing. But there will be times when your husband requires you to be still, and quiet; to allow him to make plans without input. It is a balance that can only be learned after much time with one another.”

“Thank you, Father.” Kaori’s face remains neutral, unchanging, the fan works it way back into her sash. She looks down into her teacup. Her voice does not echo through the room, she is not performing anymore. Her father almost does not hear.

“When is my sister’s marriage?”

“In two weeks time your sister will be married. The vagabond I thought she was spending her time with is none other than our distant neighbors son. It will bring our houses closer together, and help us to avoid conflict with anyone.”

Kaori thinks. She has not spent much time with the neighbors. She knows their children from spending time together at festivals. Often they would invite Kaori to play in public, just as often they took her refusal as an insult. It was not that she didn’t like them, but there was just so much to see, so many things to make verses out of. So many verses to keep inside in order to write down.

“But if my sister marries into the Ippintsu household, will not our other neighbors be jealous?”

“The Sengicha household has no desire for our land. Even now, they are making deals two prefectures over to marry their oldest son to the daughter of a warlord. They see the recent conflicts as opportunity to become closer to the powers that rule, instead of what this chaos really is.”

“And that is…?”

“The opportunity for death to take all you hold dear.”


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Second Daughter, pt. xi

“Your mother is having you make your first set of clothes as a married woman?” Kaori’s father wrinkles his brow as Kaori sets down the tea pot. She cannot relax into her cushion; she can tell something is not right.

“Yes, although I did not know until I commented on the sleeves.”

“Interesting…” There is a pause as the two sip their tea. Kaori’s eyes wander around the room, taking in details. Her father’s gaze has settled onto the far right edge of the table: poetry is coming.

“It has been a long time since we shared verses, my fragrant blossom. Will you indulge your old man?”

“You are hardly old, father. The fragrance of a blossom can only be supported by the healthiest of trunks.” Kaori waits.

“Please, share one of yours. I give you the honor of the first verse.”

Kaori takes a slow sip of her tea to give herself time to think. She sets down the cup.

Root snow nurturing
bulbs, carefully planted, grow.
Yet we cannot see.

Her father takes in the verse. He raises his teacup, sips, and lowers it back to the table. Even while discussing her impending marriage, Kaori still feels like a scolded child. This time she does not tear up, she will not miss this feeling. She knows she has been too forward, but for the first time Kaori recognizes that when she is in her own household, she will be in control of this feeling; So she hopes. Her father takes a deep breath.

Icicles hang from rooftops
white lanterns and colored sash.

Kaori looks intently at her father. He alludes to a wedding in winter. Winter is almost over, but her brother is not to be married yet, the Matchmaker has only started to look for her earlier this week… She brings the tea quickly to her lips to hide her surprise without spilling a drop, sips slowly, and lowers it slowly. It is difficult to bring forth and ordered verse from the chaos her father has just thrown her mind into, but he has raised Kaori well.

Carp eggs float away
a few bundle together
oldest unhatched.

Kaori’s father twists the edge of his mouth so very slightly. The verse is obvious, but Kaori has done the best she could in such a shocking situation. How did she not know? Or more importantly, why? She waits for her father’s response. Her gaze is intense, and his smile widens. She sips her tea in an attempt to smooth her brow. It doesn’t work.

First blossom falls eagerly,
A vibrant sapling sprouts up.

Kaori has so many questions now, in the middle of this exchange with her father, her mind leaps over whole sentences still unformed in her head, but the words and their verses are heavy. She must decide on her question, nurture its images and metaphors and cloth it in subtlety, very much like she would raise a child. She knows her sister has been engaged in things her father would disapprove of, but he seems happy now. The verse begins to take shape in Kaori’s mind.

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Second Daughter, pt. x

Kaori sits in the garden. The late afternoon light filters through clouds and cherry blossoms into a haze. Kaori stares at the fish moving through the pond, her legs drawn up onto the bench. The wind blows in the smell of tilled earth from nearby fields. Her father comes out and sits next to her, gracefully avoiding Kaori’s parasol. The two sit quietly, content to share the bench for a time without speaking.

“Your brother tells me you had the chance to share your poetry in town the other day.”

“I did, Father, after a few fumbles. They are local poets, not grand names that speak to the Emperor.”

“Even the greatest tree starts as a single seed.”

Kaori sighs. This has been her father’s advice to her since she was young. She imagines the Emperor himself could say this to her and she would still hear her father’s voice behind it. Or my husband could say this… The tears come without sound, until they gently plop into the water of the pond.

Her father looks away; Kaori does not see his expression. “Your mother has told me she is consulting a matchmaker.”

“She…” her voice breaks. “She has told me as well…”

There are more silent tears.

“Thank you, Kaori. I know this is hard for you, but even your acceptance of the idea helps our family.”

Kaori cannot help sobbing. Her father holds her to his chest, taking the parasol in one hand.

When Kaori speaks again, the sun is almost behind the garden’s walls. “I do not know how…” a last sob, “…I am helping.”

As Kaori straightens and composes herself, taking back the parasol from her father, he speaks, “Our family has done well in these troubled times. We are too small to be interesting to most larger houses, yet not small enough that we cannot support ourselves. What we are, however, is too isolated. There are too few families that are friendly to us anywhere nearby, and most of them compete with us for our lands. Your brother’s marriage must be carefully planned, but you and your sister are freer.”

“You are freer to experience the joy of our marriages.” She flips her fan open and looks away, hiding the shame on her face.

“How quickly wit tempers the knife-edge of the indignant.”

Kaori sighs, too much has happened recently. She shuts the fan and looks back down at the fish. Servants come out to light the lanterns and Kaori shivers in the cold breeze.

“Come inside, my fragrant blossom, we will have tea together.” Her father rises and begins walking towards the house, he turns when Kaori does not follow.

“Is that what you and my brother have been working on, my marriage?”

“What your brother and I work towards is none of your concern, Kaori.” His hand cuts across the air in front of his waist, his tone is irreproachable. It is her Father’s turn to take a deep breath. “Come inside daughter, we have many things to discuss.”

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Second Daughter, pt. ix

“Knowing how to sew is a very important skill, Kaori. Your grandmother taught me when I was young.”

“Yes, I never understood that, Mother. When you married Father, didn’t you have servants to make clothes for you?”

“Your Father knows a good tailor, yes; one I do not hesitate to use for formal events like festivals or court appearances. Times when having a professional stitching is more important than knowing the effort that went into what you are making. For everything else however, all of your clothes, some of your husbands accessories and house clothes, I prefer that you know the effort that went into them, that you are wrapped not only in clothing, but in the love that clothing represents.”

A servant comes to clear off the breakfast table. The two women rise, and Kaori follows her mother into her mother’s workroom. Kaori’s various lessons in house crafts have happened here over the years, and something about the room always makes Kaori feel like she’s a young child getting lectured. The only art she did not learn in this room is poetry. The thought of no longer being at home has filled everything Kaori sees with a significance she did not previously acknowledge. There, on the center of the work desk, are the pieces of cloth they ordered just yesterday from the market. Kaori’s mother steps aside, and Kaori goes to the fabric. She examines the hand of the fabric, testing its softness and strength. She takes it over to the measuring rods and places a soft cotton around the rods to make sure the fabric is not soiled and that it doesn’t catch the silk and rip it. The shopkeep was right when he said that he had only scraps of the amethyst. The sash will be perhaps not as wide as it could be, but it is enough for a formal length. She measures just to make sure, but her estimate was correct. It will have to be sewn end-to-end. She takes the emerald brocade and measures it as well. Kaori and her mother do not speak during this. Kaori is too focused on what she is doing. Her mother is watching her, and Kaori feels the judgement of whether she is ready to handle such fabrics on her own. The end of the fabrics slips from her hand and catches on the end of the measuring rod. A small fraction of the weave frays and felts as Kaori gently pulls it away, pieces remaining on the rod. Kaori groans, now she will have to cut that entire portion away.

“Fold it to the inside, make your mistakes part of the design and no one will be the wiser.” She turns to look at her mother, who nods at her. Kaori takes a deep breath and finishes measuring.

“There is not enough for the sleeves.” She turns back to her mother after gently pulling the silk off the rods.

“Not for an unmarried woman, no.” Her mother’s fan opens.

“I see. Then it will be perfect.” Kaori looks down and turns to the work table, before the sadness makes it to her face.

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Second Daughter, pt. viii

Kaori wakes up surrounded by a long-form poem. The sheets of abandoned verses, some half-written, shift and slide off the bed of rumpled sheets. Yesterday’s clothes mirror the paper as a result of being slept in. She reads through most of what she has written, and finds much of it distasteful. It is too emotional, too direct. The subtlety of her work is gone, and replaced with a vicious knife-edge of anger and betrayal. She uses much of it to stoke the fire in her room, shivering from the cold. The first verse she puts back on her desk. Kaori pulls the bell-string by her bed and a servant kneels by the door, “Yes, mistress?”

“A bath, please.”

“Yes, mistress.” The servant scampers off to retrieve the washing basin, and Kaori sheds the clothes from yesterday as though that will let her shed the events that have happened. Now that she is not blinded by her emotions, she can more accurately direct her anger, focus it into something workable, a piece that is emotional, while still being indirect, subtle. Kaori considers verses while bathing.

White lantern shifting, rippling
black waters casting shadows.

She likes the sound of the second line, but it doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps lightning, instead of shadows?

Oriole singing,
pure white blossoms surround her;
etched in rose wood.

When she has dried off, Kaori adds these verses to the one from last night. If she must begin her life anew, she will begin her poem anew. Now that she knows what is to come, she can be prepared. The servant kneels by the door.

“Mistress? Your mother, she requests your presence for breakfast.”

Kaori nods, and leaves her room. Her mother is already seated at the table. The scent of a jasmine and peach tea comes from the teapot.

“Mother.” Kaori sits down. She does not see her mother’s sadness, it is gone quickly and gracefully in the flourish of a fan.

“Kaori, I apologize for the abruptness of the news I delivered last night. I see that it has upset you. Just know that it is happening, and that I will not bother you with it again until I believe I have found someone suitable.” The muscles in her mother’s face tense into a concerned smile, breaking the mirror-glass mask. “You have every right to disagree with whomever I find in the hopes of finding someone better, Kaori. I can only present to you what I believe will be a loving husband, you must walk into his arms yourself.”

Kaori brings up her fan to cover her face. She is still angry, and will not let her mother see how her words affect her. She brings the fan down and focuses on tea and breakfast. “Thank you, Mother. Is there anything specific for today?”

Kaori’s mother sighs and begins preparing her own plate. “I had thought we could work on your new clothes. The shop brought the cloth over late last night, but you grow so quickly… I will need to take new measurements. We can sew them up together.”

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