Archive for category Excerpt
Kimiyasu met them when they arrived back at the house. She was waiting in the courtyard with Mikan, an old wrinkled woman who had been with the family since Kaori’s father was young. They bowed to her father and mother, her brother and finally to her, though only Mikan bowed. Kimiyasu was older than Kaori, and it was Kaori instead who bowed to her. The lanterns were just being lit by servants, and the rich lacquered cherry wood glowed in the warm light of the paper lanterns. Kimiyasu greeted her mother and father.
“How was your trip into town?”
“Productive, if I do say so myself. Although I did not attend your mother’s meeting.” Kimiyasu turns to her mother.
“Let us go inside and discuss this while sitting.” Ume bows and goes inside to prepare the seating room, the rest of the family ambles slowly in the same direction. Kimiyasu turns towards Kaori.
“Did you find anything interesting, sister?”
“Gossip and rumors, but also this wonderful fabric. It’s a beautiful emerald silk with a simple linen brocade done in lavender. Tenshu said it was a local work, though I don’t know who would have done it. We—” Kaori pauses, “I, got him to throw in enough material for a sash as well, a darker purple. We’ll see how it works, but I have high hopes.”
“I’m so glad it went well. Mother asked me if I thought you were ready to start doing your own shopping.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it went… well. Tenshu kept wanting to say the fabric was beneath me, and then I argued that it was humbling, and was maybe a little too forceful. I fear I may have left a sour taste.”
“Oh well, not every will be pleased by your ideas little sister, just as not everyone will appreciate your poetry.”
“Speaking of, we also met with some friends of Hideki Hensei.”
As they arrive in the sitting room and sit down, Huiren speaks. “Yes, Hideki says they were from a nearby province, people with whom he has corresponded for many years. He invited them to see the newest arrangement of his garden, which is where we met. I accompanied them back into town afterwards in order to meet back up with your mother.”
“I’m not sure how that relates to Kaori’s poetry… unless?”
Kaori nods sharply. “It was a simple verse, one of them called it rustic and pointed, but they still put it in.” Kaori turns to her father, her eyebrows have gathered like the folds of a sash. “Who kept the poem?”
Huiren thinks. “I imagine it was Hideki, since he was the cause of everyone being together and thus the host. Although, since Zheng acted more as a host, Hideki may have gifted it to him instead of keeping it. Hmmm, I genuinely do not know, Kaori. I shall ask Hideki when next I write to him.”
Kimiyasu turns towards Katai. “And what of your meeting mother?”
Katai’s fan wafts lazily around her face. “It went well. Your brother did a good job and I’m so proud by how much the two of you have grown up.” Katai looks to Weili and Kaori, who turns to her sister.
“Wait, Kimiyasu, you said Mother asked you if I was ready?”
“I did. I thought you would be, but I wanted the opinion of your sister, the two of you are close. Not to mention you are about the same age she was when she shopped for her first fabric.”
“You too to the arts so much better than I did, and have gained such maturity from them, that I figured even though you’re younger than I was, you would do just fine.” Ume enters, and leans in to speak to Kaori’s mother. The fan comes up to block their faces as they converse briefly. When the fan comes down, Katai looks at the rest of the family.
“Dinner is ready, and afterwords I think would be the best time for a fairly important announcement to be made.” She turns to Huiren, “Shall we?”
Huiren turns to his wife. “One hurdle and you already think its time?”
Katai pauses midway up from the ground and then continues. She turns to her husband. “Time is exactly why. It continues to pass. I know you think its too early, but it we went according to your ideal schedule, we’d be mentioning it as it was happening. Now is as good a time as ever, Huiren, especially after we’ve put it off this long.”
Kaori, Kimiyasu and Weili have all turned to one another in a furious exchange of glances and fan movements honed over the many years of their lives into a fairly well developed secret code. It seems to Kaori that not only do Kimiyasu and Weili know what’s going on, but they know that Kaori has no idea of what their mother is referring to. Kaori quickly realizes that everyone is sharing a secret that she isn’t privy to. But why would they keep this from her? She will simply have to wait until after dinner, and likewise after tea, and then likely after practicing her flute playing. Kaori becomes much less certain she’ll be able to wait until her mother tells her.
Kaori and her mother sit at the small table in Kaori’s side of the house. The rest of the family retired reluctantly, Weili stiffly, and Kimiyasu with a look that Kaori can only describe as hopeful and scared all rolled into one. Her mother pours tea for both of them. Kaori can smell the faint notes of mint, rose hips and lemongrass. She sips slowly, calmly. Her movement is smooth, but the water still shivers slightly from it. Unlike her mother, who movement is fluid, continuous. The water in the teacup does not even know it has left the table.
“Do you remember your Aunt Chochin? On her last visit you were fairly young.”
“Vaguely. I remember her as a happy woman who always smelled of tea and herbs, but if you asked me what she looked like then I would not be confident in my description. Why?”
“Did you know she was married at your age?”
Kaori sips her tea slowly. Her mother does not speak without purpose. Kaori knows this, its the one thing her Mother made absolutely certain to teach her: even in idle chatter there is meaning.
“I did not, Mother.”
“It was before the war. Everyone was in a state of… waiting. As my younger sister, Chochin and I would have been married to the same husband, but our Father did not want that.”
Kaori’s fan comes up in front of her face, her eyes are wide. To suggest such a thing against the traditions of their ancestors was… unthinkable. Kaori continues listening.
“He did it because he was greedy, and the spirits dealt with his deviation from tradition. However, since he wanted a separate husband for Chochin, against tradition, he had to find a Matchmaker to find someone suitable for her. So he went to the Matchmaker where we grew up. For an entire season the Matchmaker tried to find someone. Our Father carefully proposed the idea to a number of his friends, always in ways that could be retracted if they proved to value tradition more than friendship, as they should. None of them would give the idea any sort of merit or even very much recognition.
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. Tables have been set up in a small-ish section of the shop, with movable paper screens between them. Most of those tables are occupied by a group of six men. One of them rises and approaches them. In the quiet lighting 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 games in exaggeration of formality. He bows to his father. His mother inclines her head.
“All right. Come Weili, lets 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 dimly recognizes Hensei’s voice from his few and sporadic 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 door open and sees an older woman walk in, unaccompanied. The elderly woman goes over to the table where her mother and brother are and sits with them. Kaori has been lost in this occurrence and when she returns to the conversation, 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 names escape her. Changfu turns to her. Kaori’s fan comes out by reflex and covers her face while fanning lazily.
“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 widest. “You should make time to see that, Miss Inaba. Sure the friendship your father has would dictate such things.”
“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?”
“Yes, Shinobu, I believe it has. Henghai, you’ve been quiet for much of this visit. Would you grace us then with the first verse?”
“Only if Noboru will grace us with the second and Inaba pays for the tea.” The men smile again. Kaori’s father gestures to the shopkeep and speaks to him softly, yet loud enough to hear. “It seems I have lost this round of exchanges. Would you be so kind as to set us up with a pot of the local tea.”
Hensei responds. “Local? Why would you serve my friends the local varieties, Inaba?”
Kaori responds, she knows it is out of place, but the words escape her before she can hold them back. “The character of a place is in its tea. For art, the best way to capture the essence of place is… in the drink—” Kaori finishes quickly, “Chosen to accompany the writing.” Changfu tilts his head, but has not stopped smiling at her. Indeed, Changfu, Kaori notices, has not taken his eyes off of her. She is uncertain if her father has noticed this, or is simply acting as though he has not noticed it. The other men however, shift in their seats. The shopkeep quickly retreats from the table, Hensei turns to the other men. “Her father has taught her so well, she even reminds me of my lectures some time. You are absolutely correct, Miss Inaba. Thank you.” He nods his head to her and she bows slightly. Kaori returns to hiding behind her fan.
Kaori looks out over the quiet winter courtyard. The lone cherry tree came up near her window, affording her a similar view from her writing desk in the winter as from the stone bench underneath it in the summer. A light slurry dusted the ground of the garden, mixing with the dirt to produce a gray that was slightly more brown than the rest of the black-and-white landscape. Kaori notices that someone, likely her father, has taken the time to rake the snow as one would have done for sand. The whirls of the snow creates pathways that say more about what he would do with the courtyard in the summer than where things were now. Kaori turns back to the writing desk and stared at the blank page in front of her. She knew she could not force the poems to come, but she also knew that if she did not write, she could not give them opportunity to come.
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 out through her window as her brother crosses the courtyard. She waves at him, and he waves back smiling. Kaori brushes off the sand, and quickly folds the poem into a crane. She 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 into almost serious, she pulls the fan from her sash and flutters about to hide the slight smile.
“Inaba Weili. So good of you to come visit me.” Her brother smiles at her formal play.
“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, balanced delicately on the fan.
As Weili takes it, “And so we must fly. Mother wishes us to go with her into town.”
Kaori’s hands drop and with them their playacting. Her shoulders slump and she tucks the fan into her sash, turning towards the standing mirror. “Did she say why?” She looks at both of them in it.
Weili takes the opportunity to tuck some 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 adjust their clothing. Kaori pulls her elaborate sash up slightly from where it has 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 sash and muted clothing contrast with Kaori’s bright patterns and elaborate costume. She pulls her hair upwards and looks at him. Weili goes and rings the bell for a servant to come and assist her.
“I’m guessing that means business with the weaver, but she was surprisingly vague about it.”
“Mother can be… difficult to read, sometimes. From her time at the provincial court.”
“This was different, she wasn’t just concealed she was… vague?”
“You, brother, will never be a poet if you can’t express these simple thoughts with the appropriate words.” She smiled at him as she said this.
“But that, dear sister,” he opens the letter, “is why I rely on you. I’ll let her know you’re getting ready.” Weili leaves as the servant comes in, tucking the letter and twig into his sash.
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 peasents 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 will risk going towards the side of the road so as to let the Inaba trio pass them.
As they walk they pass by a large bowl that has spilled over the cobbled road. On one side of the road a father breates his son for his clumsiness in dropping the bowl, gesturing angrily to the other side of the road and a large, wooden gateway. The archway is painted red, faded and indicates 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.
She tucks the poem away into her mind. 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, even if one wanted to go, so the traffic through the town is peaceful. Kaori prefers it this way, as it allows one 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. 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 an overhanging walkway from which shop owners can call out at those walking down the street. Several are doing that now, but most are simply talking amongst themselves, discussing the latest gossip.
“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.”
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.”
Ichigo 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 to bring her.”
Kaori looks at her mother as Katai pulls out a fan and begins lazily fanning herself. Kaori is well aware that she has said no such thing, but the subtle ease of her mother’s fan makes Kaori think that perhaps there’s a bigger purpose?
“Uh, yes. I heard rumors that some men had come into town and had hoped they would be merchants bringing shipments in.” Kaori is about to say something about the fabrics from the next province over, but quickly realizes that if she is wrong the shopkeep, of all people, would be the first to know. She waits for him to speak as she browses the fabrics near the front inattentively.
Hensei takes stock of the young girl in front of him, dressed for spring already in pastels with heavy contrast. She is not unattractive, the angles of her face are perhaps a little sharp, and her overall figure perhaps a little thin. She carries herself as though she would be forward, with a strong presence that is perhaps unbecoming of a young lady. Hensei sips his tea slowly and places it back down.
“Is this blend from your sister-in-law, dear friend?”
“Indeed, I would not greet an old friend with anything less.”
“It is good that even a humble clerk like me can have the opportunity to taste Imperial finery every so often. It is even better to have such friends to share it with.”
Kaori’s father smiles broadly. Hensei turns to her. “I am sorry to carry such ill news into your household, I know it would have brought much prestige for one so young to be a part of the collection.”
“One so young will have more opportunities to be a part of greater collections.” Kaori’s fan whips open, but does not flutter or move. “I appreciate your sympathy; I have much to be tended to here.” A brief, adequate pause before Kaori speaks again. “I have heard your niece is to be married rather far away.”
Hensei takes another sip of his tea, his eyes narrow over the brim of the cup. “My brother’s children and I have never been close. Always too much work to be done. Your father and I were speaking of how the governor knew of your work.”
“A small verse, a single blossom amid a tree of greater fruit.”
“Do you know the men who were involved?”
Kaori’s fan flutters rapidly, as do her eye-lids. She takes a sip of tea. “Introductions would have been like jagged rocks on a quickly-flowing river, so they were bypassed. The men did not use or say names either, on account of it seeming that everyone was familiar with each other, and the scribe seemed to know everyone’s name already, as did the judge. I was the outsider, the magpie atop the fence.”
Kaori’s father leans in. “Like a true star, everyone seems to know my daughter’s name, and yet with indifference does she treat how far it travels.”
Hensei smiles. “All in credit to her father and his tutelage.” The two raise their glass to each other and drink. Kaori sips her tea slowly.
“How goes the search for her husband?”
“Slowly. Still the Matchmaker does not respond, but the roads are yet icy and wet. I have faith that before Summer’s end, we will have prospects.” Kaori’s fan moves very slowly, stiffly as her eyes fixate on Hensei. He is older than her father, but not by too many years. Much of Hensei’s hair has gone, his long beard is streaked with more gray than black and frames his face with a soft halo. The image strikes a verse, and she tucks it away into the folds of her mind. The two have continued speaking about her marriage, but Kaori prefers not to listen to such talk.
Kaori does not cry when she reads the response from the governor. She also cannot bring herself to be angry at her brother. She knew it would be a gamble, big risk and big rewards. She pushes it away from her mind, focuses on the daily activities of the household. Much of that is helping her mother with the preparations for the wedding. The message had not come the way the first had, there was no armored rider carrying the banner of the province. This time it was just a humble messenger from the nearby office of records. Kaori knew of him, the record-keeper. He had grown up with Kaori’s father, the younger brother of the now-patriarch of the Sengicha family. Kaori’s father and him had talked for hours before Kaori’s father finally came to her room to deliver the letter.
“Thank you, father.”
“I am sorry your work will not be featured this time. These events have put me to wonder though, how was it that governor heard that verse of yours?”
“I imagine one of the men that were there. Perhaps big brother will know, he was much more observant at the time than I was.”
“He mentioned a man in green brocade, but also that no one there held the seal of the province anywhere on their person.”
“If I was casting suspicions, I would also have to say the man in green brocade. He seemed the only one out of place. Perhaps a courtier at the governor’s offices?”
“Is there anything else, father?”
“I have asked for a copy of the Provincial Poem, once it is available to those who could not attend the ceremony, I wish to see in what company you would have been.”
Kaori’s fan comes out. It flutters slowly, lazily. “Is that, perhaps, why big brother saw fit to take the gamble?”
Her father sighs. “It is why I did not stop him. The company you keep as a poet, especially as a young woman and a poet, should be of almost as large a concern for you as finding a husband.”
Kaori watches her father as her fan keeps moving. He smiles gently at her. “Why don’t you come join us for tea?”
She smiles back at him, “I would not intrude upon your meeting.”
“Our business is concluded, and he is a good character for you to know.”
“If you insist, father.” Kaori rises, the pastel yellow of her clothes settling around her, long sleeves flowing across the front of her sapphire sash. She walks with her father to the sitting area, her fan tucked into her sleeve. The gentleman there is just slightly younger than her father, perhaps her mother’s age.
Kaori bows as she enters, “Good afternoon Mister Sengicha.” Her father steps forward. “Hensei, this is my daughter, Kaori.”
“It is a pleasure to meet the blossom of my good friend’s eye, you have grown quite a bit since I last saw you.”
“I must have been just a tiny sprout, certainly to young to carry the memory of the meeting.”
Hensei laughs. “She’s quick too, Kage. You’ve done well.”
Kaori’s father smiles. “Thank you old friend. Please, sit, let us all enjoy our tea together.”
Kaori sits down at the writing desk, not bothering to change. Careful of her long sleeves, she mixes the ink in the ink stone, retrieves a dry brush, places the paper with wooden blocks holding one edge down and smoothing it out with another. For now she uses regular writing paper while she works out the shape of her calligraphy and the style of paper she wishes it to have. She knows the poem must do two things: impress the governor and grant a favor. More accurately, Kaori thinks, the poem must impress the governor enough to grant the favor.
There is a knock at the door, Kaori’s candle is less than a finger length lower than where it was when she started. She gets up to answer it and her brother is looking slightly down at her.
“Are you finished?”
“No. I can’t help thinking about what happens if he denies and accepts that I will not be there.”
“You will be here for your sister’s wedding, where you should be anyways, and the family goes on. I know it also means that you will not be a formally recognized poet of the prefecture published in the works ordered by the governor, but you are young enough that there will be other chances. Either way, the family will be here for you.”
Kaori looks hard at her brother. “You aren’t helping. If I fail, life goes on, if I succeed, the family prospers, I prosper. You’re forgetting the fact that I also become more marriageable.”
He smiles at her, tilts his head to the left slightly. A gesture taken into adulthood from when they were children. “You are plenty marriageable enough Kaori, believe me when I tell you that. And keep in mind there is always a state of being too marriageable, so desirous that no man could pay your bride price.”
Kaori breathes in deeply. “I do not know that I will finish by dawn. Please invite the messenger to stay until I have completed my response.” She closes the door. Good practice for when she becomes a wife. This time Kaori changes into simple woolen clothing, suitable for relaxing at her writing desk. She works out several drafts while the sky is still dark; the lights in the house, across the garden, have gone out. There is another knocking at her door.
“I have brought you tea, your favorite mix from your aunt.”
Kaori goes and slides open the door and takes the tray. The servant looks slightly up at her, she is slightly younger than Kaori, and the youngest daughter of their majordomo. “I know you are under a great deal of pressure, mistress. I just wanted to wish you luck.” The servant bows deeply, Kaori stares for a long moment.
“Thank you, Miruna. You’ve just helped me a great deal.” Kaori turns to set the tray by the writing desk, as she pours her tea the door closes behind her. When she sits back down, she begins composing in earnest.
Bright stars and chill winds,
shaking loose peach blossoms
Where do the seeds fall?
Saplings prepare to flower,
As nearby trees prepare fruit.
The messenger nods at Kaori. He takes in the cherry-blossom pink clothes, the pastel yellow-green sash ornamented with spring-time symbols. He cannot help but be reminded of his own daughter at home. The two have the same look in their eyes, constantly searching their surroundings for something, focused in their attentions. “The governor of the prefecture has heard your poetry and invites you to his estate after the Spring festival. The goal will be a collaboration that carries the essence of the prefecture, as written by its poets.”
Kaori’s father and brother share a look, their brows drawn. Kaori’s fan comes out from her sash to cover her slack-jawed surprise. It has only been a few days, surely there’s no way the governor could have heard her work by now? Her father is quicker than Kaori, she hopes her future husband will be too.
“And how, exactly, is it that the governor is aware of her work? My daughter has not been featured at any of the festivals, nor published, even locally.”
“That is not altogether true, Sir Inaba. A composition, featuring a verse from your daughter, was presented to the governor by way of one of his magistrates. He said it was produced here in this village. It is the poets from that composition that the governor wishes to recruit for his endeavor.”
Kaori’s fan flutters rapidly. The wind is still cold, and it quickly dries her eyes, helping her focus. She had no idea… could she have known? She rifles through her memories of that day, already muddy from time, but none of the participants wore anything that would indicate they were from the prefecture. Their clothing was nice, but none nicer than any other. Perhaps… could it have been the man in the green brocade? He seemed particularly interested in her…
“After the Spring festival? The timing could not have been worse, Messenger. Her sister is due to be married after the Spring festival. The governor has already approved the date. Kaori will need to be here for the ceremony.” Her brother has spoken up. His eyes narrow slightly, the only sign to Kaori that he has not become a hated enemy.
“Oh… shall I send word to the Governor then that Inaba Kaori will not be able to attend?” The messenger stands up straight, his eyes dart over the table and take in the Inaba family present. The brother is poised, relaxed, almost a perfect copy of the father. The young girl is flustered, that much can be seen from her fan, but the focused look over the edge shouldn’t be ignored. It’s the same look his daughter gives him when she’s about to convince him to give into some request.
“My son and daughter will discuss her participation. You and I may stay and enjoy our tea.” Kaori’s father nods to her. She and her brother rise, bow and exit back to her room. Once they are away from the sitting room, her brother speaks.
“Compose a verse to the Governor, ask him to allow the wedding to take place at the ceremony for for the Prefecture Poem, we’ll send it back with the messenger. Your best work Kaori.”
Kaori looks hard at her brother. “Tell me you know what you are doing.”
“I’m gambling with your possible future as a poet for the good of the family. Yes, I know, but I have faith in your ability. You contributed one verse that day, and that was enough to get the Governor’s attention, obviously he likes your talent.”
“Or he heard that I’m a nubile young lady on the cusp of marriageability and has been fed stories about my beauty and is not in fact interested in my poetry.”
“Either one can be used to our advantage, and if he isn’t interested in your poetry, would it then be a loss?”
“Yes. You’re still gambling with my recognition as a poet, the governor’s motives do not change that.”
Her brother opens the door to her room. “Then make certain it is your best work.” He smiles at her. Kaori wishes she could spread cinders on his clothing.
Back in her room, Kaori cannot sleep. The lamp is doused, the only light that enters is from the crescent moon. So much has happened in the past few days that Kaori still cannot process. Her sister is to be married. She is to be married once a good match is found. Her poetry having been read. She sighs out the window, listening to the night song.
Kaori opens her eyes, she must have fallen asleep at the window. She is cold, and she notices the sounds have stopped. The gate-bell rings again, the bell she thought was in her dreams. Kaori pulls herself back, still looking into the courtyard but hidden in the shadows around her window. She can see her brother’s lamp come on in the wing across the Courtyard. She cannot see her parents room. The bell rings a third time, as far as Kaori can estimate. A servant approaches cautiously. It is too late in the evening for any sort of proper visit, and the fear of bandits, even in such a safe town as theirs, is one that cannot be ameliorated when the whole kingdom is at war. The servant opens the slat to see who it is, then quickly pulls back. They rush to unbar the gate and open it. Kaori’s father and brother open the door, they have dressed quickly and their weapons are obvious.
The cherry blossom tree blocks Kaori’s view, but she can hear the stomping of hooves. When the man dismounts and enters her field of view, he has a banner strapped to his back and on it is the seal of the prefecture. Her brother and father relax, slightly.
“Is this the Inaba household?” the visitor asks, perhaps too loudly.
Her father’s response is low, an appropriate volume for close conversations.
“Forgive me, Sir Inaba, the wind and cold while riding have taken some of my hearing tonight. I am a messenger from the office of the prefecture.” The stranger produces a seal from inside his armor and presents it to Kaori’s father. He looks it over, and finally relaxes. He gestures for the man to come inside.
Kaori dresses herself, she relights her lamp once they are all inside. She dresses, and wracks her brain to think of a way to enter the meeting with good reason. As she sits at her desk, there is a knock at her door.
“Kaori? Its your brother.”
He takes in the room and seeing she is dressed, smiles at her. “Your presence is requested.”
“Is it good news or bad news?”
He smiles at her again, “I do not know. The messenger said that his message concerned you and Father sent me to get you.”
Kaori hurries after her brother. He knows she is curious and walks her quickly back into the room. Father and the messenger sit at the tea table, quietly. The stranger drinks deeply.
“This is very good tea, Sir Inaba, just what I needed for the ride through the prefecture.”
“I am glad you like it. This is my second daughter, Kaori.”
Kaori bows. “It is an honor to meet a man of the prefecture.”
The stranger stands, his eyebrows are scrunched together. “The honor is mine, young lady.” He turns back to Kaori’s father, who gestures Kaori to sit. “I am puzzled, Sir Inaba. Based on what the Governor is asking, I assumed he meant one of your sons.”
“The message is for Inaba Kaori, is it not? Then this is she.” Kaori nods.
“Full moon hangs unseen,
cloudy skies and autumn noise.
A good time for talk.”
Kaori’s father smiles. The verse is good, better than some of Kaori’s other verses, including some from this evening. She makes a mental note to write it down later.
“Well done, daughter. Your verse is dense, yet subtle, and your meaning unclouded by the metaphors. Furthermore, it helps that you are correct in your point. Your mother and I have discussed many things without you, even your siblings an your parents seem to be making plans and you are none the wiser. This is no way to treat a soon-to-be-lady. I forget sometimes that you are not your mother, and then I am thankful when I remember.”
“But mother is an excellent lady, I should strive to be like her.” Kaori’s fan comes out, it flutters slowly, curiously.
“Your mother is, but she can be forceful and nosy, and often gives an opinion on matters that do not concern her, nor that I would like an opinion for. Don’t mistake me, I love your mother very much, but I thank Heaven that I can simply tell you what is to be without responding to an inquisition about it.”
“Will my husband appreciate my servility?”
Kaori’s father frowns. “Yes and no. You must learn carefully when to balance servility and action. A good wife is informed of the household’s actions, understands what is happening and what needs to be done to support her husband, often without asking or being thanked. For this you must be forceful and imposing. But there will be times when your husband requires you to be still, and quiet; to allow him to make plans without input. It is a balance that can only be learned after much time with one another.”
“Thank you, Father.” Kaori’s face remains neutral, unchanging, the fan works it way back into her sash. She looks down into her teacup. Her voice does not echo through the room, she is not performing anymore. Her father almost does not hear.
“When is my sister’s marriage?”
“In two weeks time your sister will be married. The vagabond I thought she was spending her time with is none other than our distant neighbors son. It will bring our houses closer together, and help us to avoid conflict with anyone.”
Kaori thinks. She has not spent much time with the neighbors. She knows their children from spending time together at festivals. Often they would invite Kaori to play in public, just as often they took her refusal as an insult. It was not that she didn’t like them, but there was just so much to see, so many things to make verses out of. So many verses to keep inside in order to write down.
“But if my sister marries into the Ippintsu household, will not our other neighbors be jealous?”
“The Sengicha household has no desire for our land. Even now, they are making deals two prefectures over to marry their oldest son to the daughter of a warlord. They see the recent conflicts as opportunity to become closer to the powers that rule, instead of what this chaos really is.”
“And that is…?”
“The opportunity for death to take all you hold dear.”
“Your mother is having you make your first set of clothes as a married woman?” Kaori’s father wrinkles his brow as Kaori sets down the tea pot. She cannot relax into her cushion; she can tell something is not right.
“Yes, although I did not know until I commented on the sleeves.”
“Interesting…” There is a pause as the two sip their tea. Kaori’s eyes wander around the room, taking in details. Her father’s gaze has settled onto the far right edge of the table: poetry is coming.
“It has been a long time since we shared verses, my fragrant blossom. Will you indulge your old man?”
“You are hardly old, father. The fragrance of a blossom can only be supported by the healthiest of trunks.” Kaori waits.
“Please, share one of yours. I give you the honor of the first verse.”
Kaori takes a slow sip of her tea to give herself time to think. She sets down the cup.
“Root snow nurturing
bulbs, carefully planted, grow.
Yet we cannot see.”
Her father takes in the verse. He raises his teacup, sips, and lowers it back to the table. Even while discussing her impending marriage, Kaori still feels like a scolded child. This time she does not tear up, she will not miss this feeling. She knows she has been too forward, but for the first time Kaori recognizes that when she is in her own household, she will be in control of this feeling; So she hopes. Her father takes a deep breath.
“Icicles hang from rooftops
white lanterns and colored sash.”
Kaori looks intently at her father. He alludes to a wedding in winter. Winter is almost over, but her brother is not to be married yet, the Matchmaker has only started to look for her earlier this week… She brings the tea quickly to her lips to hide her surprise without spilling a drop, sips slowly, and lowers it slowly. It is difficult to bring forth and ordered verse from the chaos her father has just thrown her mind into, but he has raised Kaori well.
“Carp eggs float away
a few bundle together
Kaori’s father twists the edge of his mouth so very slightly. The verse is obvious, but Kaori has done the best she could in such a shocking situation. How did she not know? Or more importantly, why? She waits for her father’s response. Her gaze is intense, and his smile widens. She sips her tea in an attempt to smooth her brow. It doesn’t work.
“First blossom falls eagerly,
A vibrant sapling sprouts up.”
Kaori has so many questions now, in the middle of this exchange with her father, her mind leaps over whole sentences still unformed in her head, but the words and their verses are heavy. She must decide on her question, nurture its images and metaphors and cloth it in subtlety, very much like she would raise a child. She knows her sister has been engaged in things her father would disapprove of, but he seems happy now. The verse begins to take shape in Kaori’s mind.