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.