Archive for September, 2013
Kaori does not cry when she reads the response from the governor. She also cannot bring herself to be angry at her brother. She knew it would be a gamble, big risk and big rewards. She pushes it away from her mind, focuses on the daily activities of the household. Much of that is helping her mother with the preparations for the wedding. The message had not come the way the first had, there was no armored rider carrying the banner of the province. This time it was just a humble messenger from the nearby office of records. Kaori knew of him, the record-keeper. He had grown up with Kaori’s father, the younger brother of the now-patriarch of the Sengicha family. Kaori’s father and him had talked for hours before Kaori’s father finally came to her room to deliver the letter.
“Thank you, father.”
“I am sorry your work will not be featured this time. These events have put me to wonder though, how was it that governor heard that verse of yours?”
“I imagine one of the men that were there. Perhaps big brother will know, he was much more observant at the time than I was.”
“He mentioned a man in green brocade, but also that no one there held the seal of the province anywhere on their person.”
“If I was casting suspicions, I would also have to say the man in green brocade. He seemed the only one out of place. Perhaps a courtier at the governor’s offices?”
“Is there anything else, father?”
“I have asked for a copy of the Provincial Poem, once it is available to those who could not attend the ceremony, I wish to see in what company you would have been.”
Kaori’s fan comes out. It flutters slowly, lazily. “Is that, perhaps, why big brother saw fit to take the gamble?”
Her father sighs. “It is why I did not stop him. The company you keep as a poet, especially as a young woman and a poet, should be of almost as large a concern for you as finding a husband.”
Kaori watches her father as her fan keeps moving. He smiles gently at her. “Why don’t you come join us for tea?”
She smiles back at him, “I would not intrude upon your meeting.”
“Our business is concluded, and he is a good character for you to know.”
“If you insist, father.” Kaori rises, the pastel yellow of her clothes settling around her, long sleeves flowing across the front of her sapphire sash. She walks with her father to the sitting area, her fan tucked into her sleeve. The gentleman there is just slightly younger than her father, perhaps her mother’s age.
Kaori bows as she enters, “Good afternoon Mister Sengicha.” Her father steps forward. “Hensei, this is my daughter, Kaori.”
“It is a pleasure to meet the blossom of my good friend’s eye, you have grown quite a bit since I last saw you.”
“I must have been just a tiny sprout, certainly to young to carry the memory of the meeting.”
Hensei laughs. “She’s quick too, Kage. You’ve done well.”
Kaori’s father smiles. “Thank you old friend. Please, sit, let us all enjoy our tea together.”
Kaori sits down at the writing desk, not bothering to change. Careful of her long sleeves, she mixes the ink in the ink stone, retrieves a dry brush, places the paper with wooden blocks holding one edge down and smoothing it out with another. For now she uses regular writing paper while she works out the shape of her calligraphy and the style of paper she wishes it to have. She knows the poem must do two things: impress the governor and grant a favor. More accurately, Kaori thinks, the poem must impress the governor enough to grant the favor.
There is a knock at the door, Kaori’s candle is less than a finger length lower than where it was when she started. She gets up to answer it and her brother is looking slightly down at her.
“Are you finished?”
“No. I can’t help thinking about what happens if he denies and accepts that I will not be there.”
“You will be here for your sister’s wedding, where you should be anyways, and the family goes on. I know it also means that you will not be a formally recognized poet of the prefecture published in the works ordered by the governor, but you are young enough that there will be other chances. Either way, the family will be here for you.”
Kaori looks hard at her brother. “You aren’t helping. If I fail, life goes on, if I succeed, the family prospers, I prosper. You’re forgetting the fact that I also become more marriageable.”
He smiles at her, tilts his head to the left slightly. A gesture taken into adulthood from when they were children. “You are plenty marriageable enough Kaori, believe me when I tell you that. And keep in mind there is always a state of being too marriageable, so desirous that no man could pay your bride price.”
Kaori breathes in deeply. “I do not know that I will finish by dawn. Please invite the messenger to stay until I have completed my response.” She closes the door. Good practice for when she becomes a wife. This time Kaori changes into simple woolen clothing, suitable for relaxing at her writing desk. She works out several drafts while the sky is still dark; the lights in the house, across the garden, have gone out. There is another knocking at her door.
“I have brought you tea, your favorite mix from your aunt.”
Kaori goes and slides open the door and takes the tray. The servant looks slightly up at her, she is slightly younger than Kaori, and the youngest daughter of their majordomo. “I know you are under a great deal of pressure, mistress. I just wanted to wish you luck.” The servant bows deeply, Kaori stares for a long moment.
“Thank you, Miruna. You’ve just helped me a great deal.” Kaori turns to set the tray by the writing desk, as she pours her tea the door closes behind her. When she sits back down, she begins composing in earnest.
Bright stars and chill winds,
shaking loose peach blossoms
Where do the seeds fall?
Saplings prepare to flower,
As nearby trees prepare fruit.
The messenger nods at Kaori. He takes in the cherry-blossom pink clothes, the pastel yellow-green sash ornamented with spring-time symbols. He cannot help but be reminded of his own daughter at home. The two have the same look in their eyes, constantly searching their surroundings for something, focused in their attentions. “The governor of the prefecture has heard your poetry and invites you to his estate after the Spring festival. The goal will be a collaboration that carries the essence of the prefecture, as written by its poets.”
Kaori’s father and brother share a look, their brows drawn. Kaori’s fan comes out from her sash to cover her slack-jawed surprise. It has only been a few days, surely there’s no way the governor could have heard her work by now? Her father is quicker than Kaori, she hopes her future husband will be too.
“And how, exactly, is it that the governor is aware of her work? My daughter has not been featured at any of the festivals, nor published, even locally.”
“That is not altogether true, Sir Inaba. A composition, featuring a verse from your daughter, was presented to the governor by way of one of his magistrates. He said it was produced here in this village. It is the poets from that composition that the governor wishes to recruit for his endeavor.”
Kaori’s fan flutters rapidly. The wind is still cold, and it quickly dries her eyes, helping her focus. She had no idea… could she have known? She rifles through her memories of that day, already muddy from time, but none of the participants wore anything that would indicate they were from the prefecture. Their clothing was nice, but none nicer than any other. Perhaps… could it have been the man in the green brocade? He seemed particularly interested in her…
“After the Spring festival? The timing could not have been worse, Messenger. Her sister is due to be married after the Spring festival. The governor has already approved the date. Kaori will need to be here for the ceremony.” Her brother has spoken up. His eyes narrow slightly, the only sign to Kaori that he has not become a hated enemy.
“Oh… shall I send word to the Governor then that Inaba Kaori will not be able to attend?” The messenger stands up straight, his eyes dart over the table and take in the Inaba family present. The brother is poised, relaxed, almost a perfect copy of the father. The young girl is flustered, that much can be seen from her fan, but the focused look over the edge shouldn’t be ignored. It’s the same look his daughter gives him when she’s about to convince him to give into some request.
“My son and daughter will discuss her participation. You and I may stay and enjoy our tea.” Kaori’s father nods to her. She and her brother rise, bow and exit back to her room. Once they are away from the sitting room, her brother speaks.
“Compose a verse to the Governor, ask him to allow the wedding to take place at the ceremony for for the Prefecture Poem, we’ll send it back with the messenger. Your best work Kaori.”
Kaori looks hard at her brother. “Tell me you know what you are doing.”
“I’m gambling with your possible future as a poet for the good of the family. Yes, I know, but I have faith in your ability. You contributed one verse that day, and that was enough to get the Governor’s attention, obviously he likes your talent.”
“Or he heard that I’m a nubile young lady on the cusp of marriageability and has been fed stories about my beauty and is not in fact interested in my poetry.”
“Either one can be used to our advantage, and if he isn’t interested in your poetry, would it then be a loss?”
“Yes. You’re still gambling with my recognition as a poet, the governor’s motives do not change that.”
Her brother opens the door to her room. “Then make certain it is your best work.” He smiles at her. Kaori wishes she could spread cinders on his clothing.
Back in her room, Kaori cannot sleep. The lamp is doused, the only light that enters is from the crescent moon. So much has happened in the past few days that Kaori still cannot process. Her sister is to be married. She is to be married once a good match is found. Her poetry having been read. She sighs out the window, listening to the night song.
Kaori opens her eyes, she must have fallen asleep at the window. She is cold, and she notices the sounds have stopped. The gate-bell rings again, the bell she thought was in her dreams. Kaori pulls herself back, still looking into the courtyard but hidden in the shadows around her window. She can see her brother’s lamp come on in the wing across the Courtyard. She cannot see her parents room. The bell rings a third time, as far as Kaori can estimate. A servant approaches cautiously. It is too late in the evening for any sort of proper visit, and the fear of bandits, even in such a safe town as theirs, is one that cannot be ameliorated when the whole kingdom is at war. The servant opens the slat to see who it is, then quickly pulls back. They rush to unbar the gate and open it. Kaori’s father and brother open the door, they have dressed quickly and their weapons are obvious.
The cherry blossom tree blocks Kaori’s view, but she can hear the stomping of hooves. When the man dismounts and enters her field of view, he has a banner strapped to his back and on it is the seal of the prefecture. Her brother and father relax, slightly.
“Is this the Inaba household?” the visitor asks, perhaps too loudly.
Her father’s response is low, an appropriate volume for close conversations.
“Forgive me, Sir Inaba, the wind and cold while riding have taken some of my hearing tonight. I am a messenger from the office of the prefecture.” The stranger produces a seal from inside his armor and presents it to Kaori’s father. He looks it over, and finally relaxes. He gestures for the man to come inside.
Kaori dresses herself, she relights her lamp once they are all inside. She dresses, and wracks her brain to think of a way to enter the meeting with good reason. As she sits at her desk, there is a knock at her door.
“Kaori? Its your brother.”
He takes in the room and seeing she is dressed, smiles at her. “Your presence is requested.”
“Is it good news or bad news?”
He smiles at her again, “I do not know. The messenger said that his message concerned you and Father sent me to get you.”
Kaori hurries after her brother. He knows she is curious and walks her quickly back into the room. Father and the messenger sit at the tea table, quietly. The stranger drinks deeply.
“This is very good tea, Sir Inaba, just what I needed for the ride through the prefecture.”
“I am glad you like it. This is my second daughter, Kaori.”
Kaori bows. “It is an honor to meet a man of the prefecture.”
The stranger stands, his eyebrows are scrunched together. “The honor is mine, young lady.” He turns back to Kaori’s father, who gestures Kaori to sit. “I am puzzled, Sir Inaba. Based on what the Governor is asking, I assumed he meant one of your sons.”
“The message is for Inaba Kaori, is it not? Then this is she.” Kaori nods.