Archive for February, 2016

Second Daughter, 3

Kaori, Katai, and Weili inhale the aroma of the various herbs and teas of the tea shop. No place like any other would smell like this, or so Kaori’s mother has told her. The memory of that conversation rises, her mind speaking in her mother’s voice: “Each tea shop is different, each featuring the local teas with nearby imports. Some Lords and Ladies, your Aunt, for instance, make it a point to travel as much of the realm as they can in order to sample and choose the finest ingredients for their home.” Cherry-wood tables have been set up in a small-ish section of the shop, with movable paper screens between them, painted sparsely with suggestive lines. Here a small oriole, there a budding branch. Most of the tables have been pushed together, occupied by a group of six men. One of them rises and approaches them. In the quiet lighting of the indoor lamps it takes Kaori a moment to recognize her father.
“Beautiful wife and lovely children!” Katai and the family bow to him, smiling.
“Husband. What a surprise.” Despite the cool flippancy with which her mother says it, Kaori can tell she is genuinely surprised.
“I came to meet with Hensei, and discovered him occupied. They have kindly invited me to join them.” Kaori’s father looks at her. “You should join us Kaori. These men would be good for you to meet, and the conversation has just turned to poetry.”
Katai’s fan lazily waves near her shoulder. “Will you not be joining me in my meeting then, dearest husband?”
“Weili can join you. I trust his judgement in the matter.”
Kaori looks to Weili and catches his eye. His shoulders move upwards a fraction of an inch and then back down. A subtle gesture she recognizes from their playacting. He bows to his father. His mother inclines her head.
“All right. Come Weili, let’s grab a table. And don’t forget to pull the screen.” As the two of them move towards one of the tables, someone calls them from the table of gentlemen.
“Huiren! Come on then, we’re ready to start.” Kaori recognizes Hensei’s voice from his sporadic but frequent visits with her father. She knows little about him, other than his close friendship with her father. The two walk back towards the table, and her father introduces her.
“Gentlemen, this is my daughter, Inaba Kaori. Kaori, these are some of my acquaintances from afar. They’ve come to visit with Hensei.” Despite the deep burning desire to know why, Kaori understands that such a question would be improper at best, insulting at worst. She bows to each of the gentlemen in turn.
“Tsubasa Changfu, Zheng Quishui, Henghai Shin, Shinobu Gangan, Noboru Michi, and of course, you know Hideki Hensei.”
“It is my fortune and pleasure to meet all of you esteemed gentlemen, and to see you again in good health Hideki Hensei.” Kaori and her father join the men at the table. Kaori turns when she hears the sound of wood scraping together as the door opens. An older woman walks in, dressed in simple fashions, linen clothing heavily layered against the cold, done in shades of yellow, her hair the gray of the snow outside Kaori’s window. She goes over to the table where her mother and brother are sitting and joins them, a screen is pulled, replacing Kaori’s view of the scene with a river landscape. The turbulence of river against stones reflects in her thoughts, causing her to loose the thread of conversation briefly; when she returns to it, Hensei is speaking.
“…I think I would have preferred the red flowers in that border, but they’re impossible to get a hold of in the Winter.”
“I agree. The red flowers would have made a much more dramatic point, but the subtlety with which the ferns executed it cannot be ignored Hideki, you’ve done well.” Kaori thinks this is Zheng speaking, but already some of their drift away like leaves in the current. Changfu turns to her. Kaori’s fan comes out by reflex and covers her face while fanning ripples through the air.
“What do you think, Miss Inaba Kaori?”
Kaori takes a moment to still her fan and lower it slightly. “I have been told that Hideki Hensei’s landscaping is legendary, mostly from my father. I did not think anything in this village was legendary until I knew it could attract those from other provinces, but I have never seen Hideki’s work.”
Many of the men smile, Changfu the broadest. “You should make time to see that, Miss Inaba. Surely the friendship your father has would dictate such things.” Kaori finds herself wondering if Changfu’s mouth is just large, or there is that much enjoyment in him.
“In truth, Hideki’s house is so far for an old man, I have not thought to bring her with me. But now that she older and stronger, perhaps her old father could lean on her during the journey.” Kaori smiles pleasantly and hides behind her fan, the other men chuckle quietly in good humor.
“You are the perfect picture of health… for your age, Father.”
Several of the man now laugh outright, including her Father. Changfu turns to Huiren, “You have raised her with sharp wit and gracious manners, a rare but appreciable combination. Well done, Inaba.” Kaori’s father bows at the compliment, while Hensei speaks up.
“He has also taught her appreciation of poetry, which I know more than a few of you enjoy better than flowers and grass.”
“Ah yes, has the time come for me to recover my writing box?”

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Second Daughter, 2

“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.”
“Almost everywhere.”
The three speakers are gathered around a cart for roasting chestnuts, two of them munching mindlessly as they talk amongst themselves; simple rough-spun clothes to adorn their frames, although Kaori cannot help but notice that their stitching is very precise.
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.”
The shopkeep 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 that we could spare the time for a visit. Besides, too long at home is not good for the mind.”
Kaori looks at her mother as Katai pulls out a fan and begins lazily fanning herself, her fan a simple affair with the character for “mountain” painted on it. Well aware that Kaori has said no such thing, the subtle ease of her mother’s movements makes Kaori feel less nervous about participating in this potential lie.
“Uh, yes. I heard rumors that some men had come into town and had hoped they would be merchants bringing shipments in. Gossip can be so fickle though, I heard the visitors were important, so I assumed merchants.” She waits for him to speak as she browses the fabrics near the front inattentively.
“Well, hmm.” Ichigo takes a moment. “I’m not certain how much the fabrics that just came in will appeal to you, young Miss. They are… plain by comparison to what you should be wearing.”
Kaori’s fan comes up to cover most of her face; she looks at him sidelong over the top, her eyes narrow. The shopkeeper’s eyes widen.
“However, I, um… do have something that I think you might like. A glorious emerald brocade that is slightly more local. The brocade is done in a subtle lavender that compliments nicely without being overwhelming. You can almost barely tell it is lavender, it runs almost white.” He laughs nervously. Kaori’s eyes do not leave his face. She watches it grow more red for a few moments before finally he says, “Let me get that for you.”
Kaori nods and the shopkeep bows himself away. She turns to look at her Mother, her fan lightly working.
Katai smiles at her daughter. “I want you to do this yourself today. I think it’s time.” Kaori nods turning back as the shopkeep returns with a large swatch of the fabric. The brocade is well done, arranging in swirls and twists that give hints of flowers and the character for perfume. Kaori runs a hand along the fabric. The brocade is not silk, likely a linen. If it were not so beautiful and different, she would have agreed with the shopkeep. Kaori looks around at the lacquered, wooden walls of the building, just above the rest of the fabrics.
Ichigo’s forehead acquires a sheen, barely visible in the lamplight of indoors. “Of course, if you were interested in the fabric, considering its uh… nature, I would be happy to give it to you at a discount, since you would be doing me a favor. Selling fabric like this is difficult work you see, since it is so different. Everyone tells me the contrast is too great, that it is too bold. But my kinsman’s wife made it and so I had to try my best. It would make a great gift for someone else though, especially with how well your mother and Mikan work with these fabrics. You could even gift it to one of your favored servants afterwords.”
Kaori’s fan snaps shut; Katai’s fan begins fluttering. Kaori slowly turns to look at the shopkeep. She looks into his eyes. “You think it is unworthy because it is different, that its boldness is a flaw, that it is too conflicted? Is that not part of who we are though? Is it not our conflicts that make us? Can the sword be forged without the hammer blows of the smith? Perhaps instead this fabric is meant for someone who believes more in honesty than extravagance. Someone who wishes to maintain sincerity in everything they do and present. Do I strike you then, Tenshu Ichigo,” a pause, “as another petty young girl to be distracted by bright colors and fancy fabric work?” Kaori’s face flushes, hardly visible behind her makeup, but the sudden red tinge just under her eyes is all the more deadly for it. Ichigo steps back. He bows deeply and stares at the ground.
“I meant no offense Miss Inaba Kaori. Your uniqueness is a contribution to your beauty, and this fabric would be as well.”
The sound of carts and conversations seep into the room to try and fill the space left empty by their words.
“We’ll take the fabric.” Kaori finally says.
“Of course, I will coordinate a darker purple for the sash, if that please you, and send that as well. My gift, as an apology.” Katai nods, slowing her fan and returning it to her sash. She turns to Ichigo. “That will do, Tenshu.” The women nod their heads and leave, turning their backs. Ichigo does not rise until they have gone.

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Second Daughter, 1

Being the final draft, before publication. Feel free to comment with helpful criticism, and keep an eye out for something to buy just in time for Christmas.

***
Kaori looks up from her writing desk at the winter garden. A single black bough frames the top of the window, with a dusting of light gray slurry raked into whorls and furrows away from the paths. There are no plants growing now, her father does not believe in fostering winter growths. But Kaori can still see the etchings of future designs in that snow, a whorl where he would plant a statement, furrows around it indicating the accent pieces like clever turn-of-phrase in one of their poems. She sighs, and looks back at the blank paper before her, brush dripping ink back into the bowl.
She knows she cannot force the poems to come, but lack of inspiration is no excuse for lack of practice. Besides, her father’s words ring through her concentration, “Art is gardening, if you do not give the words the chance, they will never grow.” She wets the brush again, making sure the ink is even, and sets it to the paper. The words come as bold brush strokes, soft edged but steely-cored. A verbal riposte to the cold of winter and good common sense.

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 up as her brother crosses the courtyard. She waves at him, and he waves back. Kaori brushes the sand away and quickly folds the poem into a crane, then 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, she pulls the fan from her sash, the one painted with two colorful fighting fish and flutters it about to hide the slight smile.
“Inaba Weili. So good of you to come visit me.” Her brother smiles at her formality. It fades as quickly as her fan flutters.
“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 with a flourish, the crane now delicately balanced on the fan. The thought of how many nights she spent practicing comes without hesitation. The time it took to get the point where the motion is reflex stings with promise of other arts she could have practiced instead.
As Weili takes the crane: “And so we must fly. Mother wishes us to go with her into town.”
Kaori’s hands drop with her playacting. Her shoulders slump and she tucks the fan into the sash along her waist, turning towards the standing mirror. “Did she say why?” She looks at both of them through it.
Weili takes the opportunity to tuck a 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 take the time for minor adjustments to their clothing. Kaori pulls her elaborate sash up slightly from where it 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 cream-colored sash and muted olive clothing contrast with Kaori’s bright white snow-flower patterns and elaborate five-piece outfit. She pulls her hair upwards and looks at him, urging him to action. Weili goes and rings the bell for a servant to come and assist her.
“Just business?”
“I’m guessing that means business with the weaver, but she was surprisingly vague about it.”
“You know how she is, especially after her time at the provincial court.”
“Yes, dear sister, I’m well aware of our mother’s quirks. This was different though, she wasn’t concealing but she was still… vague?”
“You, brother, will never be a poet if you can’t express these simple thoughts with the appropriate words.” She smiles at him as she says this.
“But that, Kaori,” he unfolds the crane, taking care not to rip the delicate wings, “is why I rely on you. I’ll let her know you’re getting ready.” Weili turns, reading as the servant comes in. He folds the letter in quarters and tucks it, and the twig, into his sash.
***
Within the hour, 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 peasants 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, risk going towards the side of the road so as to let this portion of the Inaba family pass them.
As they walk they pass by a large urn that has spilled over the cobbled road. On one side of the road a father berates his son for his clumsiness in dropping the urn, gesturing angrily to the other side of the road and a large, wooden gateway. The archway is painted in fading red, indicating 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.
Fallen offerings.
She releases the poem from her mind, an offering to the temple in place of the spilled rice; she hopes the spirits will accept. 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, so the traffic through the town is peaceful. Kaori prefers it this way, as it allows her and her family 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, let alone have a leisurely conversation. 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 a raised walkway from which shop owners can call out at those walking down the street. Several are doing that now, but most are simply talking among themselves, discussing the latest gossip.

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