Bright stars and chill winds,
shaking loose peach blossoms
Where do the seeds fall?
Saplings prepare to flower,
As nearby trees prepare fruit.
Kaori had carefully folded the reply into a small flower, and gone to her box of curious and chosen a pressed, preserved peach blossom. She had sent it with the messenger when he departed before dawn.
That had been over a week ago. Kaori was now worried. She had agreed to her brother’s gamble because it would cost the Governor nothing to say no, and gain everyone something if he said yes. But Kaori had always grown up with the phrase “Bad news travels slowly”, and now she was worried that bad news was what was travelling towards her. Kimiyasu tried to get her out of the house again, and again Kaori pleaded that she had to work on her kimono. This time, Kimiyasu let it go. Katai found her at her desk, waiting for something to happen.
“Kaori?” She turns to look at her mother.
“The fabric has waited for you, longer than it should have. In your sister’s household you will have much work to do and a short while to do it in. You cannot afford to get distracted so deeply by the events around you. Especially those you can’t control.” She extends her hand out to Kaori, who lifts herself from the chair and heads towards her mother. She takes her mother’s hand, and the two begin walking towards the workroom.
“Let the work you must do, be your refuge against the work you cannot do. Your Father has taught you how to become one with your art, so take those lessons into the household. Learn to become one with the tasks you must do in the household, forget yourself in those tasks, and you’ll find that when they are over, the world isn’t quite as bad as you thought it was.”
“Thank you Mother, you’re right, I should stop worrying. I just… It would be so great an opportunity. I hope Weili knows what he’s doing.”
“Your Father would not have let him do it if he did not believe in your brother. You must have faith. In the meantime, you must have clothing.” Katai smiles at her daughter as the two enter the workroom. Lacquered wood paneling frames a wooden floor and smooth worktables. The fabric chosen in town over a week ago sits folded on one of them, near a series of wooden bars with indentations carved into them where posts will sit in order to measure. Several other colors of thread and sewing needles are arranged on the table. On the other side of the room a few works in progress are drapped over dress forms. Kaori recognizes her mother’s style and her sister’s stitching on some of the clothes, projects abandoned in favor of the elaborate white costume that occupies the focus of the room.
Kimiyasu’s wedding dress, even half finished, looks exquisite to Kaori. Next to it, a more humble white arrangement is even less finished. Kaori realizes that will be her dress for the ceremony.
Against her will, Kaori goes rigid. She knows she will not be working on it, as she should, because she doesn’t know if she wants to. Neither, for that matter, does her family. Katai leaves her side to pull up some painted silk screens so that Kaori can focus only on the task at hand. “Go measure your fabric and make sure we have enough, Kaori.”
Kaori walks to the wall, her movements are stiff, she knows, but she cannot relax. The dress makes everything so real… She puts up the posts, wraps them in silk-covered cotton, then proceeds to measure the fabric. She comes up short for the measurement she needs.
“There isn’t enough Mother, the shopkeep shortchanged us.” The anger restores some of the grace to her movements.
“For a married woman?”
Kaori opens her mouth, stops, then turns back to the fabric. She adjusts one of the posts. The fabric is a little more than enough, exactly what Kaori needs. She realizes that there would have been no where else to get the fabric: he knew they already had the wedding dresses and assumed this would be for after the ceremony, so he gave enough for a married woman’s outfit. Kaori goes to take it off the post, and a small splinter catches at one of the edges, she groans.
“Mother, I’m not ready to do this, I can’t—”
“No. You found within yourself wisdom. Now find within yourself nothingness. Fold the frays into the seam. You can do this Kaori, you must.”
Kaori takes a deep breath, extricates the fabric from the wall carefully and without further damage, and then proceeds to do exactly what her mother has said.
Kaori is taking a break in the fields behind the house when Hensei comes to visit. It is the first glimpse of the bare soil she has seen since last fall, and despite the wetness of the ground and the risk to her clothing, Kaori wishes to enjoy it. The smell of damp earth mingles with the fresh, cold breeze full of ice. It is, for Kaori, a smell that is strictly seasonal. She wishes there was a single word to encapsulate the smell, so she could use it in her poetry. She would use it in her autumn, and winter poems. She sighs, watching the small, faint cloud work its way outward and upward. She breathes in the smell again, her eyes wandering downhill to the row of elm trees bordered by yarrow that reach to the edge of their property.
Mikan finds her here, at the top of the hill where her father likes to rake the snow when there are no plants and no paths. “Miss Kaori, your Father and his visitor have sent me to fetch you.”
“Who has come to visit my Father, Mikan?”
“Hensei.” Her eyes, from their wrinkled folds, speak of more compassion that Kaori has known any other person to have within them. She cannot bring herself to correct how the woman addressed her Father’s friend. Still she takes a deep breath, welcomes the physical feeling of the icy-cold wind in her chest.
“Do you know what they have called me?”
“You know I do not, little Miss. Come let us walk together.” As when she was a young sprout, Mikan takes Kaori’s hand in hers and walks with her back towards the house.
Kaori breaks the silence. “They say bad news travels slowly.”
“They are not wrong. The Governor’s response is late, is it not?”
Kaori cannot speak. Her eyes widen and she looks up and to the left, away from Mikan. She shudders through another deep breath. Mikan holds her hand tighter. Kaori can only take a few more steps before she crumbles into this little old woman, sobbing. Mikan holds this almost-daughter of hers, stroking her hair.
“For all I could, Kaori, I would give you a blessed and trouble free life. As would your parents.”
“But… but wh— why?”
“Only the Sages can truly know the minds of men when war grips the land. He had good reason, Kaori. Or he is a fool. Either way, this is nothing you could have prevented. Now hush dear.” Mikan repeats that small phrase to Kaori until she stops sobbing, the only consolation she can offer.
“Thank you, Mikan. We should go change before meeting my Father.”
“I will tell him you are unfit to receive visitors.”
“No.” Kaori’s forceful hand motion almost knife-hands the older woman in the stomach. “Sorry, no. I will meet with Hensei and my Father. Just… Just give me a moment to myself.”
Mikan takes a small half-step back. “I will have someone bring you a basin of warm water so that you may wash your face, and inform your Father.” Kaori takes the old woman’s hands in her own and looks deeply into the lined face. She forces the corners of her mouth to turn upwards. “Thank you, Mikan.” Seeing the love there threatens more tears; Kaori turns away and runs back towards her room.