Archive for June, 2016
“I mean it all in good fun,of course. I’ve never had reason to complain about your father’s kindness before… and he’s always paid his taxes.” A smile ghosts across Hensei’s lips before the teacup reaches them. He turns towards Kaori. “What did you think, little songbird?”
“I think I have never truly seen your gardens before Hideki. Truly as though my father’s verses were brought to life by… well life. I am astounded.”
Weili, eager for the subject change, jumps in, “What verse?”
“’War is a demon that steals men’s minds.’ Is it really such a concern that you would have devoted a section to it, what a year ago, two?”
Hensei smiles, but his expression remains serious, his balding pate angled towards her as he studies the tea in his cup. “Two years. And yes. Our mountains defend us, but we are a hardly-accessible border district for some of the year. The earth that cradles us also hinders us.”
“And yet your visitors came from, all over? I did not get to talk to them as my sister did, but my father spoke highly of your work and the attention that it brings.”
“A pity, Weili. Several of them were notable officials in a variety of governments. It would have done well for you to meet them. Not that your sister does not also benefit.”
Kaori nods her head. “Several of them, not all?”
Hideki shakes his head. “Not all, songbird. Two or three of the most recent visitors were old students of my instructor, now teaching their own students. They had several critiques of course.”
Kaori draws back, her fan moving quickly, yet briefly, “I can easily recognize my inability to critique this work, from skill and general knowledge, but even still Hideki, traveling that distance to talk down about something seems… petty.”
Hensei laughs. “Oh dear Kaori, not at all. We must all strive to constantly improve. Besides, many of their critiques were about the distance, and how much easier it would be for me to find a student if I were closer to a major city, not the mayor of a border district.”
“I am at a loss to think of possible improvements.”
“As am I, Hideki. Hopefully Tsubasa was not one full of critiques, he seemed… out of his depth.”
Hensei’s left eyebrow moves upward slightly. “No, he is still young.”
Kaori sees the opening her brother has given and jumps in. “Certainly too young to be a master artist. Unless he was a prodigy.”
“Quite so. Then again, you heard his poetry Kaori, how do you feel about his skill?”
“I am too inexperienced to judge another’s work, I haven’t even traveled.”
“That could be arranged you know. And a life of work does not mean you could not critique someone of roughly equal skill.”
“Would you say we were equal, though he is older?”
“I would say he practices less than you do, he is quite busy.”
Weili takes over to give his sister time to regroup and refocus from Hensei’s deft deflection of their questioning. “Ah, so he was one of the government officials you were speaking of.”
Hensei smiles his teacup balanced on the flattened fingers of one hand. “Oh yes, indeed.”
“For Governor Danning’s court?”
“How young the two of you are, that you assume all government to be from Danning’s court. The Empire holds 57 complete provinces and a number of districts within that.”
“Is not the Danning court far?”
“I would not, having traveled in polite company, place the court far enough to earn a visitor distinction just for traveling through. But no, Tsubasa is a friend from a different court, he traveled here while he was originally under tutelage from Zheng Quishui, now he has taken up post elsewhere, thanks to Zheng. Your father tells me you’ve gotten quite good with a sword, Weili?”
Not wanting her brother to take the bait of boasting about himself, Kaori again takes up the offense, initiating a string of questions that give Weili a chance to sip his tea. The three continue for a few good hours, quips and questions skirting matters of propriety and proper social conduct, while still trying to find as much information as possible. Hideki is an official of the government though, and his skill in this proves an appropriate challenge for the two siblings. By the end of their visit they have learned nothing more than Tsubasa’s artistic studies and lineage of teachers, his presence as a government official who has reason to travel from his home province to Governor Danning’s court, and his rough age. Kaori and Weili are both exhausted, and seeing their state, Hideki feigns a yawn behind his fan.
“How rude of me, children of my friend. It seems the shadows have grown while we’ve talked. Perhaps we could continue this conversation later, I would not wish for the two of you to travel in the darkness?”
Weili nods. “Thank you, Hideki Hensei.” Kaori bows as well.
“Of course, come by more often, my door is always open to the Inaba household.”
“That’s very nice of you Hideki, I may find my way here more often, especially in the new seasons.” The two bow again, and leave.
Hideki’s garden. Past the walls of his house, which is also the government compound, it is the first thing you see. Previously Kaori just assumed that Hideki was simply more attentive to his plants than others. Her father also chose the layout almost a year in advance, which plants would go where, the arrangement of furniture, everything with an eye towards harmony and balance. She had previously half-listened to the principals, but the thought of such strenuous organization had dulled her, and seeing his daughter’s lack of interest, Huiren had not pressed the issue.
Now, knowing the ability of Hideki to bring admirers in the winter, even though it was past the first snow melt, brings her pause in the gateway. She looks around at the curving pathways, snaking through winter greens that were actually a very dark teal, brown woods and bark wet and almost black, around bright red winter flowers and purple-leafed vegetables. All more brilliant against the background of white, powdery snow packed into gullies away from the leafy sections. Archways, carefully covered by wintering vines, segment the garden, that they eye might only be required to take in a little a time. From the gateway, Kaori sees the various segments, each one a different path into the house. Weili has walked forwards a few steps as Kaori takes it in, and realizing she is not following he stops.
“Are you all—” Seeing her expression he does not need to finish his question; instead he grips one hand with the other and stands waiting.
Kaori takes a single step forward. She continuous tracing the path of least visual resistance, following the curve of stone and green arch, gully and fern, plant, decoration and yes, even furniture as she spies the stool hidden near the entrance. Curious she sits in it, and the very scenery suggests something different. In the hiding and revealing of itself, of different accent pieces in how the garden is arranged, Hensei has established a story, and even in this stool, where through one archway a riot of reds across the path from a flood of winter-flower whites, while through the other two simple scenes of almost-black and white, the story tells itself. Perhaps just as stunningly, the layout of the garden allows for easy maintenance as well, the gullies of snow watering and wetting the soils as it melts, the excess funneling into water features; or so Kaori presumes from the gurgling of a brook in the background. She moves off the stool and peers through the archways at the other paths.
In the first a few clusters of stately pink-purple flowers grow, slightly smaller than the one which stands down the path from them, upright and bearing a single flower on its stem in brilliant white against petals of a light green. The path curves out of sight and Kaori moves to the next one, where through the arch are seen pairs of like flowers of different varieties. All throughout Weili waits, the servant who went to inform Hensei of his company returns looking curious. Weili waves him away as Kaori moves to the third archway, then follows her through it. His larger stride crossing the distance quickly, then slowing down as Kaori takes in the vista within.
Highly segregated in the beginning, as the two of them walk through the twists of the path and its gullies, some wild growth from ferns and pollination of the flowers themselves has led to two a less divisive spread as they continue. In some red and white exists on the same side of the path, with one side larger than the other. In other sections a few white flowers stand taller than the mass of red, undone by the closeness of the reds competing for too-scarce resources, where the spread of the white flowers has given them the advantage for growth. The end of the path, a small courtyard with a fire pit, low table and seating, is surrounded with pink flowers. Kaori sinks into one of the cushions as Hensei approaches from inside the house, carrying a tea set.
“Welcome.” He bows to Weili and Kaori, sets three places at the table and sits. Weili follows suit, and Hensei addresses him.
“Your father decided not to come?”
“On the contrary, my father was pulled away by one of our tenants en route here. The snowmelt and mud has caused some problems for their fields, so he wishes father’s leniency with the taxes for the growing season.”
“I’m certain there is enough time left for them to adjust. Your Father is too nice sometimes.”
Weili smiles quickly into his teacup, glancing over at the flowers, and then Kaori before looking back at Hensei.