“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.”
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.
Second Daughter, 2
“Did you see that group of strange men at the tea shop?”