Second Daughter, pt. xxi

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.


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