Archive for October, 2013
The two of them walk further in silence. Kaori and her brother arrive in town, and soon the bustling of people is enough to prevent conversation. Several shopkeepers have retired inside their shops while food carts have been set up lining the road. Kaori and her brother stop at one and he buys two steamed buns for the both of them. Kaori delicately holds hers; even the thick paper is not enough to dull the heat of the bun. The winter wind cools it quickly as the two walk through the streets, Kaori following her brother. It takes careful balance to hold the parasol and the bun, and Kaori had wished that she had gone to more festivals in order to practice this skill as often as she practiced her poetry. The buildings before her quickly went from cheap bamboo and thin papers to brick and plaster with strong logs for support. The stopped before an imposing gateway, two guards stood to either side.
“The Inaba household seek an audience with Scribe Sengicha Hensei.”
The guards nod and ring a bell, a servant comes. One guard keeps eyes on Kaori while she attempts to quickly finish the bun. The inside however is hot, and slows her progress. Her brother steps between them, and the guard turns to face forward. The other guard turns back to the two of them while they wait.
Kaori is uncertain how she feels about these men. Her father had often described war as a demon that stole men’s minds and made of them animals. Yet he had trained their brother in the ways of war, as was their way. Armor and swords, philosophy and arts, these were things men usually studied while women turned towards the governance of households, the ability to keep everything together and in working order. Kaori would never consider her father to be radical, or even more beyond mildly progressive. If so then, why teach her brother to wield weapons or wear armor if warfare was so base? The guard is looking at her again.
He is not ugly, Kaori thinks. The angles of his face were still soft, red and a little chapped from the biting cold wind throughout the winter. She meets his gray eyes; he turns away and reddens. Her brother looks at Kaori sharply and the cobbled road is the next thing that meets Kaori’s gaze. The servant returns and speaks downcast to the guard.
“Scribe Sengicha will meet the two of you.” Kaori bows deeper than her brother as the two enter the compound.
Inside the roads turn and curve around graceful dwarf trees that are only as tall as she is. Kaori wonders if they were cultivated this way or simply young. Their needles have been carefully swept to the side of the paths, the rocks that surround them carefully placed. It is utilitarian, useful. The official nature of the building is reinforced to Kaori by the sweep of the landscaping. She would very much like to converse with this artist.
Kaori and her brother walk quickly. The clear sky and young sunlight cannot yet counter the cold breezes and chilly earth. Even still Kaori holds her parasol to protect her from the sun while her brother walks beside her.
“If I’d known this was going to be my exercise for the morning I would have spent more time stretching. Slow down Kaori, last thing you want is to come home with a wet kimono.”
“I would never hear the end of it from her. But I would never hear the end of it from Father if I did not act on her advice.”
“Why does Hensei have the poem, anyways?”
“Father gave it to him as a gift. Since they so rarely get to see each other now, he wished to give him something that would last and bring fond memories. I suspect there are jokes in those verses that even I missed, but I couldn’t tell you where they were or what they mean.”
“Its good to have friends that close.”
“I do, just not here anymore.”
Kaori slows to think, her fan has made it to her hand, but refuses to open; far too cold to be blowing around. “I don’t remember them.”
Her brother shrugs. “You were young. Their families were called on by their lords to attend their duties in war, I receive letters every now and then from those that are still around.”
“But that’s nothing like Father and Hensei.”
“Father and Hensei had the luxury of peace while they were growing up.” Ahead, a blue bird chirps from atop the red-painted wood of a gateway a little away from the road. He flies away when the two get closer and pass by. “You are right though. When they return it is likely they will be different from their time in the war. I do not know that our closeness will be as it was. Perhaps with time, but not now, and not soon.”
“Do you ever regret not going?”
“Only in the regard that now we have lost standing in the eyes of our liege. But Father wouldn’t let me, no matter how hard I tried.”
Several people pulling carts pass them by, inclining their heads and tipping their hats to them. Her brother nods, Kaori lurches forward slightly every time.
“I thought our position was favorable?”
“Favorable and stable. I heed Father’s wisdom, but… stability means we are not growing.”
“How do you figure that?”
“We have to rely on marriages and allies in other houses in order to bring ourselves favorable outcomes in the courts, we work for everything we get out of that. If I were at war, there would be more opportunities for us to bring honor and advancement to our family.”
Kaori smiles: “’Even the greatest tree begins as a single seed.’ I understand your frustration, but I am pleased to know I’m not the only one he has to counsel on patience. I have to agree with Father on this regard though: sometimes a slow growth is best…”
Kaori sits on the bench in the garden as the lanterns are lit. Hensei has left, with the poem the three of them wrote earlier. Kaori stares into the thawed pond, feeling much like it: still and reflective. She does not notice her mother approaching.
“Hensei is nice, a good friend of the family, works in the government.”
Kaori interrupts her mother’s line of reasoning before it goes too far. “He is a good friend of the family, yes. A boon to my career as well, but certainly not a husband.”
Her mother smiles at her, when Kaori looks again, she is still smiling. “What?”
“Sometimes I wonder where your stubbornness comes from. But then I ask myself if I would prefer a docile, unaware daughter, or one that notices and questions everything. Too often I find I love you just the way you are.”
Kaori tilts her head at her mother as a petal falls onto the water.
“Why do you think Hensei would be a bad husband?”
“I didn’t say he would be a bad husband, I just said he wouldn’t be my husband.”
“It would feel strange, there is so much history between him and Father that I would feel… like an intruder. Only their teacups would know exactly what has happened between them.”
“When I first came here, I was jealous of the friendship between your Father and Hensei. I even went so far as to confront your Father about it and said some terrible things. The next day, Hensei came to visit and told us he’d received a posting at the nearby records office for the city. I saw that despite the well-wishes and companionship between them, they were sad that it would mean less visits. I apologized to your Father for intruding in something that was none of my business.”
Kaori shifts, both from the cold of the bench, and from what her mother had said. No, how her mother had said it. Kaori had never heard this story, and isn’t entirely sure why she is hearing it now. Kaori reminds herself that it is not her place to question her mother and remains silent and mostly still.
“Your father says the Governor turned down your request?”
“The Governor,” Kaori pauses, “wished to express his sorrow that a verse of mine would not grace the pages of his commemorative poem, something about not having enough room at his Estate for both the Spring Festival and my sister’s marriage. He was polite and expressed his hope that he would still be made aware of my work in the future.”
Kaori’s mother places her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Kaori, he was not being polite. Propriety extends to his expression of sorrow and his gentle rebuke, but continued interest in your work is not required in a letter such as this. Was it his hand?”
Kaori’s brow scrunches, “Having not received letters from the Governor before, I cannot make that comparison.”
“Show me the letter Kaori, if he took the time to write it himself, the Governor is genuinely interested, and you may yet have your opportunity after all.”
Elder sage halo,
black fights with white and loses.
Your beard needs trimming.
Kaori brings the fan up to cover her smile. Hensei catches the movement of the fan out of the corner of his eyes. He picks up his tea as Kage does, and they both sip. So much history in teacups, Kaori thinks, watching the two match each other gesture for gesture, while each one’s eye is fixed onto the table. Hensei catches her watching.
“I feel eyes on me, and cannot help but notice.”
Kaori’s father leans towards her, “Fetch your writing box, and a servant to play the flute.”
Kaori smiles, stands and bows to the two men while backing out of the sitting room. She races back to her room, grabs the writing box and rings the bell. Miruna approaches and sits by the open door. “Grab my flute, Miruna, and come to the sitting room. Art is afoot.” She catches Miruna’s smile as they pass in the threshold, and finds it mirrored.
She bows as she enters, and sits down. The table has been cleared and her father turns to Hensei. “Honored guest, would you grace us with the first verse?”
“Of course dear friend, if Kaori will create the second?” Kaori nods, not looking up, Hensei will wait for her to finish preparing the ink and the paper before he speaks, taking solace in the grinding of the ink stone, the soft music of the flute.
Evening skylarks sing,
branches creaking in the wind.
Too much to enjoy.
Kaori is a little surprised that Hensei would set a season that wasn’t the current one, but she accepts it and continues in form.
Distant mists surround the tea fields.
Tea cup history begins.
Kaori’s father smiles, looks at Hensei.
Pilgrims pack their things
their faith is to be lauded,
I stay in taverns.
Hensei and Kage share a look and a brief chuckle.
Drink brings joy and merriment.
Never finding peace in cups.
His daughter jumps to the next verse quickly.
Crying from the loss,
lovers, goodbye, and depart.
New moon rains down stars.
“You’re too serious, Kaori.” Hensei chides. “Beautiful images, but so serious.” The table turns to look at Kage.
He brings the sickle and stubs
of cut paddies, dry, cracked
On a long voyage
to the farthest autumn sea,
So the sun travels.
Hensei chuckles again. “We will read this and will easily know who taught whom, won’t we old friend?” Kage smiles.
“A good student takes the work of their mentor and turns it into their own. My daughter is just getting warmed up, but be warned, her lighter notes can be just as cutting as the best of critics.”
“You sound like the voice of experience.”
“Everyone has to learn somehow, no?”
Hensei takes stock of the young girl in front of him, dressed for spring already in pastels with heavy contrast. She is not unattractive, the angles of her face are perhaps a little sharp, and her overall figure perhaps a little thin. She carries herself as though she would be forward, with a strong presence that is perhaps unbecoming of a young lady. Hensei sips his tea slowly and places it back down.
“Is this blend from your sister-in-law, dear friend?”
“Indeed, I would not greet an old friend with anything less.”
“It is good that even a humble clerk like me can have the opportunity to taste Imperial finery every so often. It is even better to have such friends to share it with.”
Kaori’s father smiles broadly. Hensei turns to her. “I am sorry to carry such ill news into your household, I know it would have brought much prestige for one so young to be a part of the collection.”
“One so young will have more opportunities to be a part of greater collections.” Kaori’s fan whips open, but does not flutter or move. “I appreciate your sympathy; I have much to be tended to here.” A brief, adequate pause before Kaori speaks again. “I have heard your niece is to be married rather far away.”
Hensei takes another sip of his tea, his eyes narrow over the brim of the cup. “My brother’s children and I have never been close. Always too much work to be done. Your father and I were speaking of how the governor knew of your work.”
“A small verse, a single blossom amid a tree of greater fruit.”
“Do you know the men who were involved?”
Kaori’s fan flutters rapidly, as do her eye-lids. She takes a sip of tea. “Introductions would have been like jagged rocks on a quickly-flowing river, so they were bypassed. The men did not use or say names either, on account of it seeming that everyone was familiar with each other, and the scribe seemed to know everyone’s name already, as did the judge. I was the outsider, the magpie atop the fence.”
Kaori’s father leans in. “Like a true star, everyone seems to know my daughter’s name, and yet with indifference does she treat how far it travels.”
Hensei smiles. “All in credit to her father and his tutelage.” The two raise their glass to each other and drink. Kaori sips her tea slowly.
“How goes the search for her husband?”
“Slowly. Still the Matchmaker does not respond, but the roads are yet icy and wet. I have faith that before Summer’s end, we will have prospects.” Kaori’s fan moves very slowly, stiffly as her eyes fixate on Hensei. He is older than her father, but not by too many years. Much of Hensei’s hair has gone, his long beard is streaked with more gray than black and frames his face with a soft halo. The image strikes a verse, and she tucks it away into the folds of her mind. The two have continued speaking about her marriage, but Kaori prefers not to listen to such talk.