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 sent it with the messenger when he departed before dawn. She burned the mound of failed poems as offerings to the household. She thought of every brush stroke, was that one too light, or this one too heavy? In fact, thinking about the poem to the Governor ate up most of her time, while thinking about Tsubasa ate up the rest. She found herself so easily distracted that the act of working around the house or even on her artwork had become tedious. She could no longer find her center, no longer could she dissolve into the task at hand.
Mikan draws aside the door and steps into the room to gather Kaori’s clothes. Kaori sighs and Mikan speaks. “I did not see you were meditating, little miss.” She turns to leave.
“Its fine, Mikan. I’m not doing it very well anyways. Ever since this nonsense with the Governor and the marriage and Tsubasa I haven’t been… calm.”
“I would say you’ve been very calm. Distracted even.”
“Well that’s the problem. ‘A distracted mind is unaware. The wise man seeks to see all things, to know every inch of the world around him, but to be removed, without judgment or interference. He who does nothing, accomplishes everything.’”
“I hear the words of the Sages from you, little miss, but I do not hear the wisdom of their meaning.”
Kaori cocks her head, staring at the old woman. Another commoner would have been reprimanded for such a statement. Kaori speaks slowly. “The words of the Sages are wisdom in themselves.”
“’Life is true Wisdom. Wisdom which can be taught is not wisdom, it is dogma.’” Karoi turns brilliant red. She should know better than to engage Mikan by now, but something in her won’t let her back down.
“It is the Emperor’s will that we all come to know the words of the Sages for their advice and importance to right action and civilized society. Are you say-” Kaori stops herself. By using that question she would imply sedition or blasphemy in Mikan, she rephrases quickly and continues, “You are not saying that his advice is ill-considered.”
“I am saying that we are all only human, though we strive for the greatness of Sages. We must know the wisdom of the Sages to know how to react, but the lives we live must always be the greatest teachers, and also the greatest tests.”
Kaori nods, her face turning out the window. Mikan continues around the room, picking up Kaori’s discarded clothing for washing. She is at the door when Kaori speaks again.
“Mikan…” Mikan turns. “What did you mean when you said you didn’t hear the wisdom in my quoting.”
“Exactly what I have said, little miss. We must live in order to learn. Of course you’ve lost your center. Nothing had really challenged it before, and now your parents have decided that you are ready for the world. And about time too. Now you must learn what it really means to dissolve into your work, to meditate and find peace.” She turns and walks out the door, leaving Kaori with her own thoughts, sitting on the bed still in her nightclothes, sheets and clothes pooling around her with her hair.
The room smells of sandalwood from the incense Kaori burns to help her meditate, but she is not at peace, her mind flits from topic to topic, a disturbed songbird continuously chirping into the silence. Disruptions like the ripples from fish wave across her concentration. The conversations yet to come with Hideki Hensei becomes a reminiscence of Tsubasa’s appearance, as well the concern that she may be romanticizing. This then becomes a wonder as to who Kimiyasu is marrying, and what he’s like and how he’ll treat her and what if it secretly is Tsubasa? And how dare Mikan tell her she didn’t know the meaning of the words. Very clearly she knew the quote by heart and could tell her what those words meant in that order.
But at the same time, Mikan is right. Now Kaori must handle things that previously she could so easily ask her mother what to do and how to do it, or her father if it dealt with art or swords. Now though… now her family has trusted her to make her own decision and carve as much of her own fate as she can. And still she is at her brother’s mercy, in the sense that his idea has landed her in this jumbled mess. She breathes deeply of the incense, trying to achieve, to rediscover, that balance where nothing in the world matters except her breathing and the feeling of emptiness. She pushes through the distractions, focusing in on the feeling of emptiness, the non-beng of getting sucked into her work, or the work of the day, or any work really. Having lived it for so long she must be able to recall it, wisdom dictates; except states change. Kaori knows from her lessons that things change all the time, even when one is not an alchemist. It’s one of Kaori’s favorite things, watching the seasons change, and she has seen how even between two summers things are… different. It brings her restless mind to bigger questions beyond comprehension: are things different between two summers, or do I notice the two summers differently because I have changed? The words grow within her thoughts until they’ve overrun Kaori’s other distractions and Kaori vigorously shakes her head to loosen them from their perch. That way is not the road to balance, to peace. And yet, Kaori is uncertain she truly knows the road to balance. Does one know how to return home, if they’ve never left it?
It does not take much before the enormity of the questions now rumbling through Kaori’s mind are exhaustingly unanswerable, and so she gets dressed, and goes to help around the house, for the sake of motion and busyness.