Kaori looks out over the quiet winter courtyard. The lone cherry tree came up near her window, affording her a similar view from her writing desk in the winter as from the stone bench underneath it in the summer. A light slurry dusted the ground of the garden, mixing with the dirt to produce a gray that was slightly more brown than the rest of the black-and-white landscape. Kaori notices that someone, likely her father, has taken the time to rake the snow as one would have done for sand. The whirls of the snow creates pathways that say more about what he would do with the courtyard in the summer than where things were now. Kaori turns back to the writing desk and stared at the blank page in front of her. She knew she could not force the poems to come, but she also knew that if she did not write, she could not give them opportunity to come.
Frozen pond hides carp
sludging through frigid water.
Spring sap through the trees.
Waiting for spring festivals,
Ferns gather strength from each other.
Pouring sand over it, Kaori looks out through her window as her brother crosses the courtyard. She waves at him, and he waves back smiling. Kaori brushes off the sand, and quickly folds the poem into a crane. She goes over to her curio cabinet and grabs a small twig with two buds coming off of it. She is tying the twig to the crane when the knock comes. Kaori opens the door, composing her face into almost serious, she pulls the fan from her sash and flutters about to hide the slight smile.
“Inaba Weili. So good of you to come visit me.” Her brother smiles at her formal play.
“Inaba Kaori. I wish I was here on pleasant matters.”
Kaori’s fan slows and her eyes narrow. “I wrote you a letter.” She presents the letter, balanced delicately on the fan.
As Weili takes it, “And so we must fly. Mother wishes us to go with her into town.”
Kaori’s hands drop and with them their playacting. Her shoulders slump and she tucks the fan into her sash, turning towards the standing mirror. “Did she say why?” She looks at both of them in it.
Weili takes the opportunity to tuck some stray hair back behind his ear, clearing his sharp, but still soft, features and removing a barely visible irritating black line from his vision. “She says she has business.”
The two of them adjust their clothing. Kaori pulls her elaborate sash up slightly from where it has slid, and secures it even more tightly. Her brother runs his hands along the edges of the deep-V of his own outerwear, pulling them more slightly closed, briefly obscuring their house symbol. His much simpler sash and muted clothing contrast with Kaori’s bright patterns and elaborate costume. She pulls her hair upwards and looks at him. Weili goes and rings the bell for a servant to come and assist her.
“I’m guessing that means business with the weaver, but she was surprisingly vague about it.”
“Mother can be… difficult to read, sometimes. From her time at the provincial court.”
“This was different, she wasn’t just concealed she was… vague?”
“You, brother, will never be a poet if you can’t express these simple thoughts with the appropriate words.” She smiled at him as she said this.
“But that, dear sister,” he opens the letter, “is why I rely on you. I’ll let her know you’re getting ready.” Weili leaves as the servant comes in, tucking the letter and twig into his sash.
Kaori, Weili and their mother walk down the country road towards the village. They keep to the drier areas in the middle of the road, where much of the snow has melted in the sunlight and run off down the sides. Occasionally the three of them must step to the side of the road along a dry patch as peasents driving heavy loads pass them by along the cobbles. They bow profusely and thank them graciously for allowing them to pass, while Kaori’s mother and Weili nod their heads. Kaori keeps her face behind a parasol, fan, or simply staring at the ground. The lighter carts that can will risk going towards the side of the road so as to let the Inaba trio pass them.
As they walk they pass by a large bowl that has spilled over the cobbled road. On one side of the road a father breates his son for his clumsiness in dropping the bowl, gesturing angrily to the other side of the road and a large, wooden gateway. The archway is painted red, faded and indicates a temple, but the grounds are surrounded by cypress trees and difficult to see from the road. Kaori tilts her head.
A single white line
in a network of black cracks.
She tucks the poem away into her mind. Soon the trio approach the nearby town. Not many merchants filter through the gates today. Several nearby areas are still inaccessible due to the snow and rain, even if one wanted to go, so the traffic through the town is peaceful. Kaori prefers it this way, as it allows one to really engage with the shop owners and the people who live here. In the spring and summer, the town becomes a mad house so dense it is almost impossible to push through the crowds in the street. In the autumn, women send the men to deal with the town as everyone prepares themselves for the coming winter snows. The simple wooden buildings feature an overhanging walkway from which shop owners can call out at those walking down the street. Several are doing that now, but most are simply talking amongst themselves, discussing the latest gossip.
“Did you see that group of strange men at the tea shop?”
“I heard one of them is visiting from a nearby province.”
“Who would visit from that far in this weather?”
“It seems someone with great business to attend to.”
“Junue said they were diplomats, here to arrange for local participation in the war.”
“But, the governor—!”
“Said there would be no war, but how much can the governor guarantee? The war is everywhere now.”
A voice calls out to their mother. “Ah, Inaba Katai! Always a pleasure.” The shop owner bows deeply to her.
Katai nods back, “Tenshu Ichigo, I hope the winter is treating you well.”
“As well as it can, please please, come in, we just received a shipment from a neighboring province, with some beautiful fabrics you’ll love.”
“I’m sure, come along Kaori. Weili, will you wait for us here?”
“Of course mother.”
Ichigo turns to Kaori and bows to her as well. She bows slightly back. “Your daughter grows quickly, Inaba Katai. Are we here for her, or for you today?”
“I’m here accompanying my daughter today, Tenshu Ichigo. She said she absolutely needed new clothes for the Spring festival, so I decided to bring her.”
Kaori looks at her mother as Katai pulls out a fan and begins lazily fanning herself. Kaori is well aware that she has said no such thing, but the subtle ease of her mother’s fan makes Kaori think that perhaps there’s a bigger purpose?
“Uh, yes. I heard rumors that some men had come into town and had hoped they would be merchants bringing shipments in.” Kaori is about to say something about the fabrics from the next province over, but quickly realizes that if she is wrong the shopkeep, of all people, would be the first to know. She waits for him to speak as she browses the fabrics near the front inattentively.