Second Daughter, 10

Wildflowers, Spring fields.
A Songbird chirps its last notes
Amid sudden brightness.

A songbird never wastes its notes,
Nearby a nest full of chicks.
~Tsubasa Changfu

Kaori is confused when she receives the letter, complete with its budding branch and folded into a lotus flower. The poem speaks of bleak death, but the flower is enlightenment and the buds hope. She paces her room, trying to decode the subtle nuances of the message that Tsubasa has sent her. Trying also to bring her heart-rate down as it sings out with possibility. Frequently she is distracted by daydreams and visions of what life could be like living in a foreign province, of what he would be like as a husband, of what they would be like as a couple. Would there be love? Would he care for her? Would there be concubines? What would their house look like, what would there kids look like, would they have the finest silks, or the poorest cottons? She looks out the window into the garden and sees Weili and her father talking, she takes in their clothes, their stance their state of dress: they’ve just come back from town, judging by the way their clothing hangs a little loosely and a few loose strands of hair are flying in the wind, not to mention their swords at their belt.
New questions enter unbidden into Kaori’s mind. What if Tsubasa is secretly a warlord for a foreign liege? Would they be safe from the war? Would he be called away after their marriage? Would he die on the battlefield, or from a wound afterwords? Would she ever know the difference, or would they lie to her to preserve his honor. She turns back to the note in her hand and reads it again, forces herself to focus on the meanings he has sent her, and in the back of her mind sees a little of the wisdom of her father’s words: “War is a demon that steals men’s minds.” And women’s… she thinks.
The buds and flower are major symbols, hope and enlightenment… but then this poem, about the beauty amid death… Suddenly she gets it, and as she sits at her desk a knock comes from her door.
“Sister?” The door slides open. “I heard you got some— Your face seems flush, are you alright?”
Kaori’s fan comes up with such quickness it almost flies out of her hand, for a brief second it completely obscures her face, then settles calmly. “Brother! What are you doing just barging into my room? You have no idea what I could have been doing!” She knows its irrational. “And I most certainly am not blushing. Or if you saw one it is from surprise and fear at the sudden intrusion.”
“I only thought—” Weili stops. Having grown up in a house of a majority women, he knows when to bite his tongue. “I apologize sister. I only wanted to see how you were doing and if there was any good news recently.”
Kaori takes a deep breath, stills her fan and closes it as she brings it down. Weili notes the smoothness of the motion, and thinks briefly on how much his sister is growing.
“There are letters. Tsubasa has sent me a poem folded into a lotus flower with a budding branch, the others were much more sedate. I was just puzzling out his meanings and about to compose a response to him when you came in.”
“What was it?”
“Hmmm? Oh, a lament at the harshness of my initial letter warning him to keep to proper traditions in our correspondence, but a belief that we could eventually speak past propriety. It was… heavy-handed? I actually think he’s taking it to be a sly poke at my original heavy-handedness.”
“You think he’s making fun of you?”
“I think he’s critiquing me, with a smile and a laugh.”
Weili takes a moment before responding. “What do we know about this Tsubasa, Kaori?”
Kaori’s fan comes back out, its pattern displayed at her chest and fanning lightly. “I know that he is a man of stature from a neighboring province. He is a fan of the arts, and a friend to Hideki Hensei, a friend of our family. I also know that father has approved of our correspondence. In fact, he had to tell me how it was folded, since of course he read it first.” Weili nods, and Kaori knows that look, her brother is unsatisfied. “What, Brother, are you thinking?”
“I just think we should know more about him, in the interest of propriety. Perhaps I will go politely ask questions of Hideki… tomorrow of course. Or perhaps the day after, Father doesn’t like going out every day. Perhaps it would do for you to come with us, Sister. Weren’t you talking about seeing his gardens?”
“I do not like the feeling that I am now a piece in your schemings, Brother.” Kaori’s eyes narrow over the fan, which has come up to hide the rest of her face.
Weili spreads his hands, palms out, and raises his shoulders. “I have no schemes, just the desire to better know your suitors. Can you blame a brother for that much.”
With a sigh the fan comes down and closes again. “No, I guess I can’t. We’ll see what the weather is like in a couple of days, and I will go with you to speak to Hideki Hensei about his gardens and Tsubasa. But please brother, don’t visit him without me.”
Weili smiles, “Knowing your concerns now, I would never dream of it. I’ll let you compose your letters,” as he nods his head and turns to walk out the door.

Beavers dam the stream
Pools and eddies they live in.
Still the water flows.

Downstream young girls wash clothing
In between a village lives.
~Inaba Kaori

She attaches to it a small porcelain charm in the shape of a mask, and folds it into a sunburst.


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