Archive for category Second Daughter
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.
“Knowing how to sew is a very important skill, Kaori. Your grandmother taught me when I was young.”
“Yes, I never understood that, Mother. When you married Father, didn’t you have servants to make clothes for you?”
“Your Father knows a good tailor, yes; one I do not hesitate to use for formal events like festivals or court appearances. Times when having a professional stitching is more important than knowing the effort that went into what you are making. For everything else however, all of your clothes, some of your husbands accessories and house clothes, I prefer that you know the effort that went into them, that you are wrapped not only in clothing, but in the love that clothing represents.”
A servant comes to clear off the breakfast table. The two women rise, and Kaori follows her mother into her mother’s workroom. Kaori’s various lessons in house crafts have happened here over the years, and something about the room always makes Kaori feel like she’s a young child getting lectured. The only art she did not learn in this room is poetry. The thought of no longer being at home has filled everything Kaori sees with a significance she did not previously acknowledge. There, on the center of the work desk, are the pieces of cloth they ordered just yesterday from the market. Kaori’s mother steps aside, and Kaori goes to the fabric. She examines the hand of the fabric, testing its softness and strength. She takes it over to the measuring rods and places a soft cotton around the rods to make sure the fabric is not soiled and that it doesn’t catch the silk and rip it. The shopkeep was right when he said that he had only scraps of the amethyst. The sash will be perhaps not as wide as it could be, but it is enough for a formal length. She measures just to make sure, but her estimate was correct. It will have to be sewn end-to-end. She takes the emerald brocade and measures it as well. Kaori and her mother do not speak during this. Kaori is too focused on what she is doing. Her mother is watching her, and Kaori feels the judgement of whether she is ready to handle such fabrics on her own. The end of the fabrics slips from her hand and catches on the end of the measuring rod. A small fraction of the weave frays and felts as Kaori gently pulls it away, pieces remaining on the rod. Kaori groans, now she will have to cut that entire portion away.
“Fold it to the inside, make your mistakes part of the design and no one will be the wiser.” She turns to look at her mother, who nods at her. Kaori takes a deep breath and finishes measuring.
“There is not enough for the sleeves.” She turns back to her mother after gently pulling the silk off the rods.
“Not for an unmarried woman, no.” Her mother’s fan opens.
“I see. Then it will be perfect.” Kaori looks down and turns to the work table, before the sadness makes it to her face.
Kaori wakes up surrounded by a long-form poem. The sheets of abandoned verses, some half-written, shift and slide off the bed of rumpled sheets. Yesterday’s clothes mirror the paper as a result of being slept in. She reads through most of what she has written, and finds much of it distasteful. It is too emotional, too direct. The subtlety of her work is gone, and replaced with a vicious knife-edge of anger and betrayal. She uses much of it to stoke the fire in her room, shivering from the cold. The first verse she puts back on her desk. Kaori pulls the bell-string by her bed and a servant kneels by the door, “Yes, mistress?”
“A bath, please.”
“Yes, mistress.” The servant scampers off to retrieve the washing basin, and Kaori sheds the clothes from yesterday as though that will let her shed the events that have happened. Now that she is not blinded by her emotions, she can more accurately direct her anger, focus it into something workable, a piece that is emotional, while still being indirect, subtle. Kaori considers verses while bathing.
White lantern shifting, rippling
black waters casting shadows.
She likes the sound of the second line, but it doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps lightning, instead of shadows?
pure white blossoms surround her;
etched in rose wood.
When she has dried off, Kaori adds these verses to the one from last night. If she must begin her life anew, she will begin her poem anew. Now that she knows what is to come, she can be prepared. The servant kneels by the door.
“Mistress? Your mother, she requests your presence for breakfast.”
Kaori nods, and leaves her room. Her mother is already seated at the table. The scent of a jasmine and peach tea comes from the teapot.
“Mother.” Kaori sits down. She does not see her mother’s sadness, it is gone quickly and gracefully in the flourish of a fan.
“Kaori, I apologize for the abruptness of the news I delivered last night. I see that it has upset you. Just know that it is happening, and that I will not bother you with it again until I believe I have found someone suitable.” The muscles in her mother’s face tense into a concerned smile, breaking the mirror-glass mask. “You have every right to disagree with whomever I find in the hopes of finding someone better, Kaori. I can only present to you what I believe will be a loving husband, you must walk into his arms yourself.”
Kaori brings up her fan to cover her face. She is still angry, and will not let her mother see how her words affect her. She brings the fan down and focuses on tea and breakfast. “Thank you, Mother. Is there anything specific for today?”
Kaori’s mother sighs and begins preparing her own plate. “I had thought we could work on your new clothes. The shop brought the cloth over late last night, but you grow so quickly… I will need to take new measurements. We can sew them up together.”