Posts Tagged family

Second Daughter, 14

Her letter to the Governor had been over a week ago; her visit with Henseit a few days. Kaori was now worried. She had agreed to her brother’s gamble because it would cost the Governor nothing to say no, and gain everyone something if he said yes. But Kaori had always grown up with the phrase “Bad news travels slowly”, and now she was worried that bad news was what was traveling towards her. Kimiyasu tried to get her out of the house again, and again Kaori pleaded that she had to work on her dress. This time, Kimiyasu let it go. Katai found her at her desk, waiting for something to happen.
“Kaori?” She turns to look at her mother.
“Yes, Mother?”
“The fabric has waited for you, longer than it should have. In your sister’s household you will have much work to do and a short while to do it in. You cannot afford to get distracted so deeply by the events around you. Especially those you can’t control.” She extends her hand out to Kaori, who lifts herself from the chair and heads towards her mother. She takes her mother’s hand, and the two begin walking towards the workroom.
“Let the work you must do be your refuge against the work you cannot do. Your Father has taught you how to become one with your art, so take those lessons into the household. Learn to become one with the tasks you must do in the household, forget yourself in those tasks, and you’ll find that when they are over, the world isn’t quite as bad as you thought it was.”
“With all due respect, Mother, that’s art. Not housework.”
“Has your Father not taught you to approach all your work as artwork?”
“He has but…” Kaori sighs. “Its not the same.”
“And why is that, Daughter.” Katai doesn’t bother with formulating a question, the conversation falls along lines that are almost rote. Katai’s fan whips out to warn caution, but in truth it is to arrest the progress of Katai’s knowledge that soon, her youngest daughter won’t be here to have these conversations with.
“Art is… yes its work, but its a liberating work. It is the work which brings the spirit into the world, it is birthing work, generative.”
“And housework isn’t?” This is new to Katai, and now the discussion is joined in earnest.
“Housework is… sustaining? Maintaining?” Kaori fans herself as they walk slowly, deliberately through the house. “It isn’t generative.”
“Even the creative work of creating your own clothing?”
“That is transformative, but still not… creative.” Kaori sees the folly too late.
“Why can the work of maintenance not create? Do you not change the state of what was into what is? Is that change not new? The answer is to see the new state as being that, something new, and not the change of something old. Besides, focusing on what you can control is how you forget what you cannot control.”
“Thank you Mother, you’re right, I should stop worrying. I just… It would be so great an opportunity. I hope Weili knows what he’s doing.”
“Your Father would not have let him do it if he did not believe in your brother. You must have faith. In the meantime, you must have clothing.” Katai smiles at her daughter as the two enter the workroom. Lacquered wood paneling frames a wooden floor and smooth worktables. The fabric chosen in town over a week ago sits folded on one of them, near a series of wooden bars with indentations carved into them where posts will sit in order to measure. Several other colors of thread and sewing needles are arranged on the table. On the other side of the room a few works in progress are draped over dress forms. Kaori recognizes her mother’s style and her sister’s stitching on some of the clothes, projects abandoned in favor of the elaborate white costume that occupies the focus of the room.
Kimiyasu’s wedding dress, even half finished, looks exquisite to Kaori. Next to it, a more humble white arrangement is even less finished. Kaori realizes that will be her dress for the ceremony.
Against her will, Kaori goes rigid. She knows she will not be working on it, as she should, because she doesn’t know if she wants to. Neither, for that matter, does her family. Katai leaves her side to pull up some painted silk screens so that Kaori can focus only on the task at hand. “Go measure your fabric and make sure we have enough, Kaori.”
Kaori walks to the wall, her movements are stiff, she knows, but she cannot relax. The dress makes everything so real… She puts up the posts, wraps them in silk-covered cotton, then proceeds to measure the fabric. She comes up short for the measurement she needs.
“There isn’t enough Mother, the shopkeep shortchanged us.” The anger restores some of the grace to her movements.
“For a married woman?”
Kaori opens her mouth, stops, then turns back to the fabric. She adjusts one of the posts. The fabric is a little more than enough, exactly what Kaori needs. She realizes that there would have been no where else to get the fabric: he knew they already had the wedding dresses and assumed this would be for after the ceremony, so he gave enough for a married woman’s outfit. Kaori goes to take it off the post, and a small splinter catches at one of the edges, she groans.
“Mother, I’m not ready to do this, I can’t—”
“No. You found within yourself wisdom. Now find within yourself nothingness. Fold the frays into the seam. You can do this Kaori, you must.” Katai’s voice does not leave room for argument, she knows she cannot command her child to have confidence, to do, and be, better, but she cannot help but try. She would not be a mother if she didn’t.
Kaori takes a deep breath, extricates the fabric from the wall carefully and without further damage, and then proceeds to do exactly what her mother has said.

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Second Daughter, 9

Sorry for the delay, I’ve decided, in this draft, to change some pretty major things, and this is the divergence point, which naturally required a rewrite. Updates might slow down a bit to once every 2 weeks as I slog through them.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Pilgrims pack their things,
their faith is commendable.
You stay in taverns.

The ivy that grows outside,
Grows strong because of your care.

~Kaori”

She folds Hensei’s letter into a simple, locked triangle. He will recognize it as a mountain fold, and attaches to it a small, shiny pebble with some string. She writes more letters to the others that were present in town that day, after Kimiyasu reminds her. The tenor places her as a demure young girl taking uncertain steps, yet the humor is in the possibility that she knows more. She hopes they will be well received. Finally she writes a letter to Tsubasa Changfu, the last in the list of names from her Father through Kimiyasu.

“A single swan sings,
Praised by the one watching.
Empty sake cups.

Best to speak of what is known,
To those who would listen most.

~Inaba Kaori”

She folds the letter into a swan, and to it attaches a stick of temple incense. The subtle message shouldn’t scare him off, but perhaps, Kaori hopes, force him to consider whether or not his undue interest in her presents a problem of etiquette. Although… she wouldn’t say he wasn’t handsome…
“Sister?” Kimiyasu enters. “I waited a few minutes after knocking, but you didn’t respond. Are you all right?”
Kaori turns around. “I’m sorry sister, I was writing letters, I didn’t hear you.”
“Shall I go then? I don’t want to interrupt.” Kimiyasu takes stock of the letters, folded and ready to go. She looks at the one that Kaori was tying. “Purity and loneliness? Is that for Tsubasa Changfu?”
“Is it too obvious?”
“From what Father said of the way he behaved towards you? Not at all. I think you’ve done…” Kimiyasu stops herself from saying surprisingly, “Well.”
“I would hope for excellent. I was unsure if Father had noticed or not, but since he did not respond as I expected, I presumed he hadn’t.”
Kimiyasu smiles at her sister. “We all hope for excellent, and since the only thing I have to go by doesn’t include the verses within, I’m certain you’ve managed to reach it, if not beyond. I hope you weren’t too hard on him though? Certainly the beginning of a correspondence is also the hardest. You want to make sure he is not chastised into sending you letters through our Father.”
Kaori shakes her head. “At least, I don’t believe so. I would certainly hope he doesn’t scare easy, but I have a feeling there’s more steel underneath the silk than Father and I perhaps give him credit for. There’s something about him.”
“Mother said his clothing was off color?”
Kaori pulls back just a touch and squints at her sister. “I didn’t think mother had noticed.” She tilts her head. “Which is silly really, when has Mother not noticed someone’s clothing? It wasn’t upsettingly off, just a couple of shades too light to be appropriate for the season, or his station.”
“As though perhaps he is a little forgetful and left it to bleach in the sun last summer?”
“As though he does not have a wife to choose the correct colors and fashion something for him on a regular basis.”
“How is that different from what I said?”
Kaori laughs.
“That’s what you like about him though, isn’t it?”
“The off-color clothing?”
“The fact that he’s not certain about how to belong.”
Kaori turns back to her writing desk. Sometimes her sister’s wit can be a little too sharp, too quick. If words were swords, Kaori was certain Kimiyasu would give her Father a fair challenge.
“That was sharp, sister. You’ve cut to the heart of it.” Kaori has not turned back to her.
“I’m not sorry, Kaori. It is good that you are finding an attraction in your memories of him especially if… but be careful not to… well, you do have a tendancy to over-dramatize things, little sister.”
“I do not.” Kaori responds, her bottom lip jutting out as she fires the comment back over her shoulder.
“I did not say it was a fault. Just something to be aware of. If Tsubasa is to be a candidate for marriage, then it is good that you are discovering feelings for him. But potential and action are as yet very separate, and you must be prepared for either eventuality. At any rate, you are young and an artist, you are not expected to know yourself, you are expected to explore the arts and through them learn of yourself. But everyone likes knowing they aren’t alone, either in their manner of appreicating off-color clothing, or in their feelings.” There is a pause, filled with the evening notes of songbirds. “Shall I take these to be delivered through post?”
“If you would be so kind, Kimiyasu. I should get ready for dinner. Thank you, sister.”
“For what?”
“For reminding me of these letters, for these illuminating conversations of ours. For being my sister.”
“Your welcome, Kaori. And thank you for much of the same.” Kimiyasu leaves, carrying the seven letters with her.
After she leaves Kaori has time to stop and listen to the songbirds. She wonders about Tsubasa, about what her sister has said. She cannot deny that her heart beats ever-so-slightly faster when she sees him, or that she is excited to know his response; to correspond with him. However… Kimiyasu is right, and for a brief moment, the crushing weight of being a concubine bears down on her and forces her to sit back in her chair. What would she do? How would she help her sister? Would she still have time for art? Kaori shakes her head and grinds more of the inkstone with a little less water. She changes her brush for something thicker and begins putting it to the paper, outlining mountains and rivers in weighty, bold lines. She knows it should be lighter, even just a touch, but the goal is to bring her peace, to bring her the stability and solidarity of this mountain valley. Soon she is adding the colors, the greens of grass and pink of flowers. Along the sky she writes a simple poem:
“Soft, loamy, clay riverbed,
Only finite streams can join.”
Kaori stares at the paper, still wet and heavy. In the morning, when it is dry, Kaori takes the picture and rolls it up. Tying it shut with another piece of paper, she places it gently into the embers in the fireplace, and with her fan, relights it. She can hear her Father’s voice from the first time her showed her this:
“This is how I am strong, Kaori: I learned to burn away my weakness.”

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Second Daughter, 7

Kaori spends much time sitting in the garden, despite the slush and snow. When it gets too cold or too wet she stares at the cherry tree from her window, wet black boughs against a gray sky. Her writing desk is bare, even though she grinds the ink-stone every time she sits down and then doesn’t use it. It is Kimiyasu who comes to her first, after three days without one of Kaori’s spontaneous poems that the family is grown accustomed to. She next to her on the cold stone bench, wrapping an old quilt around the both of them. It was made for winter, from scraps of wool and silk, its chambers thick to bursting with cotton, the colors all harmoniously arranged so that it spirals gently from a cool green to warm purple. The wind blows the clean scent of icy air and frozen ground around them. For a time, Kimiyasu simply stays inside the blanket close to her sister. Finally, as she can feel the bone-chill of the stone seeping through even the thick quilt, she speaks without looking at her sister.
Sluggish black water,
even fountains flow in circles
outside of winter.”
Kimiyasu waits for a response verse from her sister. With no response other than Kaori’s glance in her direction, Kimiyasu continues: “We’re worried about you, sister.”
“I’m fine.”
Kimiyasu’s fan comes out, the blanket slipping down her shoulder, and points at her sister’s obvious untruth. “I’m not so sure. You spend most of your day out here in the cold, staring at the frozen pond. Mother worries that you’ll get sick if you keep this up for much longer.”
“She gave me a lot to think about, I’m thinking about it.”
“Father didn’t want to give you a choice.” Kaori looks at Kimiyasu, inadvertently pulling the quilt more around herself. “He said that this sort of decision should be theirs to make in your best interest. Having lived through it, Mother argued vehemently that you should be given a choice. Father did not believe you were strong enough.”
“Maybe he was right. I don’t know what to do anymore. Both of my choices are right answers, in a way. But they cannot both be.”
“Why not?”
Kaori looks at her sister before repeating her father’s words. “’The path of virtue is clear to the virtuous.’”
Kimiyasu shakes her head. “That doesn’t say anything about choice. Or what to do when two virtuous options present themselves.”
Kaori’s brow furrows. “No, but that’s what Father always said to me when I had to make choices…”
“Perhaps, then, what you need is a different opinion. Father will not always have the answers. You must learn to interpret the verses for yourself, in the context of your own life, dearest sister. Come let us go to the temple, the changing scenery always helps when I must puzzle out a vexing situation.”
Kaori smiles slightly at Kimiyasu. “I fear I would do much the same thing at the temple as I am doing here, sitting and staring, lost in my own mind. Or worse, distracted by the colors there at this time of year.”
“But there you will have the wisdom of the place and the austerity of the monks to guide you.”
Kaori has no response for her sister’s seemingly infallible logic.
“That settles it then,” Kimiyasu claps her hands and Mikan comes after a short while. “Mikan, have one of the others prepare my cart. Kaori and I are going to visit the temple.”
“Of course. Oh, Kaori.” She looks at the older woman. “Your mother wishes to tell you the fabric has arrived from town.” Kaori nods, and Mikan continues towards the front of the house.
“Sister, I should get to work on the clothing I’m to make, I know—”
“That I mean well?” Kimiyasu sighs. “I think you would try and get distracted, or worse yet, make so many mistakes you’ll ruin the fabric. You need time to still your mind before you begin the project Kaori. Isn’t that what Father always told us? That we should begin our works clear of mind and spirit, that we might give full attention and full… what was it he used to say?”
“The better to give our projects full attention to the spirit of their purpose.” Kaori supplies the missing answer for her sister.
“Yes that, now go, grab your coat, and come with me to the temple. I will not discuss the matter further.” Kimiyasu looks rigidly into the pond. Kaori opens her mouth a few times, and realizing her sister is serious, gets up to go and choose a coat, and possibly do up her hair. For the first time in three days, Kaori’s mind turns to the simplicity of dressing appropriately to go outside and sheds itself of the choice her mother gave her.
Kimiyasu stares at the recently raked furrows in the snows of the garden, subtly reflecting the overcast gray sky, until Mikan comes to tell her the cart is ready.
“Do you think our Father asks too much of Kaori?”
“I would not presume to know Huiren’s actions.”
Kimiyasu looks over at Mikan, one eyebrow delicately raised. “And yet… you refer to him by first name and very obviously have an opinion on the matter, or you would not have been watching from the overhang.”
Mikan nods. “Well of course I do, child. I helped raise the boy. That does not mean that even our families cannot be mysterious, full of hidden depths, or that we do not worry about the well-being of our charges. Just that, as the chick that is stuck in its shell, sometimes we must let things be.”
Kimiyasu nods. “I am too young to ignore my sister’s hardships. But I hope I can help her find her own answers.”
Mikan shuffles towards the doorway that will lead her towards the warmer kitchen, she finishes the conversation over her shoulder. “Then I have raised you to be a good sister.”

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Second Daughter, 6

Kaori and her mother sit at the small table in Kaori’s side of the house, its a simple affair made from local pine, handed down in Katai’s family. A few candles give light to the room as well as the faint scent of honey. The rest of the family retired reluctantly, Weili stiffly, and Kimiyasu with a look that Kaori could only describe as hopeful and scared all rolled into one. Her mother pours tea for both of them. Kaori smells 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. Katai’s 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. 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, if he could support it, but our Father did not want that.”
Kaori’s fan comes up in front of her face, her eyes are wide. Katai is suggesting that Kaori’s grandfather would be guilty of rebelliousness. Kaori continues listening, even as memory conjures up her father’s voice. By tradition, the family was everything, one listened to the word of the Father and acted in accordance with it. By extension, the word’s of a Father’s father, and further back, held more and more weight, and so traditions were made, breaking with tradition was equal to open rebellion. If you could not be trusted to follow the word of your family, what trust would anyone have for you to succeed at your other obligations?
“He did it because he was greedy, and the spirits dealt with his rebellion. 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.
“Eventually, our Father was ready to give up, especially since my wedding day was quickly approaching. Your Father and I had our first and second meetings, and suddenly the Matchmaker came to our house. She said she had found the perfect husband for Chochin, who had always been interested in tea and aromatic herbs. Our father was elated, but both Chochin and I were aghast. But we did as we were told, I should say despite the protestations of your Father, Kaori. And he and I were married while Chochin and her husband went through the ceremonies.”
“I remember Chochin being fairly pleasant when she was here though, and Uncle also. The two… complemented each other.”
“They do. Your Uncle owns several tea farms and processing facilities, and even though he proposes the work is his—”
“As is proper.”
“—the true genius is your Aunt. She chooses the leaves, mixes the proportions of herbs and samples every batch. It is her tea that stocks our house right now. Well, a fair mixture of that and local varieties your Father insists we carry for your education.”
Kaori shifts uncomfortably. “I don’t understand, Mother. This whole story seems to end quite well for everyone involved. But should not Aunt Chochin and her husband be living in dishonor? Why does anyone listen to what they have to say, or trust their business?”
“It does present a conundrum, doesn’t it. On the one had, since our Father broke with tradition and your aunt didn’t do anything about it, your grandfather’s family is in disgrace. However, your Aunt and I are no longer part of his family, should we be held accountable? Your aunt works, and works hard, I might add, outside of her home, and thus should be disgraced, since everyone knows you can’t work outside the home and take care of the home. And yet… her very business is her reputation.” Katai’s fan waves back a stray lock of hair that has come forward from the tilt of her head. “And even though everyone knows, no one says anything, or really judges her based on that fact. She is a woman who’s work is judged based on her merit, not her birth or her status currently, or even the past of her father.”
“I can appreciate being judged on merit,” Kaori’s fan movements are erratic, not so much towards her, but past her, trying to blow away the sudden burst of daydream. “But you and Father have raised us to adhere to tradition in all that we do.”
“Your Father has raised you that way in the name of the arts, which are traditions in and of themselves. I have raised you to adhere to tradition in what you present to the world outside.”
“That does not remove the fact though that Aunt Chochin went against the will of the ancestors, with your help no less.”
“And what sprang from that is the greatest beauty.”
Kaori’s fan stills, and she sets it back into the pocket in her sleeve. Her shoulders slump slightly as she rests her elbows on her knees. Outside the lanterns sway lightly in the nocturnal breezes, inside a cloud of aromatic scents has risen to encompass both of them. It toys with Kaori’s nose, further distracting her from what her mother has said; even still Kaori knows she has lost this round of wits. “I am now thoroughly confused about where this is going, Mother. My mind has tangled my suppositions and assumptions while waiting for this conversation to start with what has already been said and what has not been said. Please, explain what you wish of me.”
Katai sighs, likewise places her fan in her sleeve, and looks at her daughter. It is rare that Kaori admits defeat, but family can do that with one another. At least her mother certainly wants her to feel that. “Would you, given the opportunity, adhere to the traditions of marriage or instead adhere to the propriety of reverence to your parents and ancestors?”
Kaori’s head pulls back as her eyebrows scrunch together. “I—” She wants to say that she would adhere to the traditions of marriage, but her parents have always guided her well, as today was any indication; Kaori trusts her parents. “I—” She thinks of the beauty that came from past resistances; choosing to follow the traditions of marriage, and realizes that both ways are tradition, both ways are correct and in a sense, both ways are improper. Finally, only the tea left in the pot still warm, Kaori can speak: “I do not know.”
“Then you will have to decide soon. Your sister is getting married. And unless you have a better prospect, your Father will marry you to him as concubine, as is proper, and despite his desire for your happiness.”

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Second Daughter, 5

Kimiyasu met them when they arrived back at the house, a splash of violet against the backdrop of white walls, gray snow and dark wood. She is waiting in the courtyard with Mikan, a wrinkled woman in equally bright orange, who had been with the family since Kaori’s father was young. They bow to Kaori’s father and mother, her brother and finally to her, though only Mikan bows. Kimiyasu is older than Kaori, and it is Kaori instead who bows to her. The lanterns are just being lit by servants, and the rich, lacquered cherry wood glows in the warm light of the paper lanterns.
“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.” Mikan bows and goes inside to prepare the seating room, while 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, that his kinsman made it, although honestly, it seems a little beyond the work of his kinsman, judging from the past that is. 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. I argued that it was humbling, and was maybe a little too forceful. I fear I may have left a sour taste. Which would then mean that I at least, will have to deal with increased prices and perhaps less fabric for a time. Tenshu does not have a small memory.”
“Well, virtue always wins over greed, right sister? If the fabric was truly humbling, then he has no right to overcharge you in the future. Although, not every will be pleased about being wrong little sister, although my poetry is not as good as yours, I always find it useful to think of them as a difficult couplet: you have to find the right rhythm.”
“Speaking of, we also met with some friends of Hideki Hensei.”
As they arrive in the sitting room and sit down, Huiren speaks. “Yes, Hensei 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 afterwords in order to meet back up with your mother.”
Kimiyasu’s fan appears, blowing at a brisk pace as her eyes widen. “Oh… then Kaori has made some new acquaintances?”
Huiren smiles, “Indeed. At the very least, any friend of Hensei is a suitable friend for out family. But what did you think of them, Kaori?”
Kaori’s fame waves in the thump-thump of a meditative heartbeat. “Honestly Father, I forget most of their names already. I do remember Changfu, but I also feel like he was trying to stand out. Or if not, then parhaps he needs a wife more than any of us realize.” A look passes between Huiren and Katai, and between Kimiyasu and Weili. Kaori is too busy trying to remember everyone to notice. “Shinobu is a careful, practiced and very quick man, at least I would guess as much from his brush movements. While I couldn’t see his writing, it looked very precise and clipped.” Her father nods. Kaori flushes.
“What have you thought of, my little brushstroke?”
“It is inappropriate.” Everyone waits expectantly for Kaori to continue, when she notices her father is as well, she sighs. “I thought Zheng to be judgemental, too close to being dismissive, like he was humoring me by allowing my verse into the poem.” Kimiyasu’s fan moves master. “I know that is unfair, to him and my work, though.” Kaori bows her head.
Kimiyasu sweeps in, “Wait, they put one of your verses into their work?”
Kaori nods eagerly. “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 is a practiced gesture, and Kaori thinks of her own experiences in learning how to speak with a fan as much as with her tongue. “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.
“Yes, I asked your sister for advice.” Katai leaps into the conversation, her fan closed and angled with the spines facing the space between them for just a brief second, before being tucked into her sash. “I thought you would be ready to do this on your own, but I wanted the opinion of your sister; the two of you are close. Not to mention you are almost the same age she was when she started handling her own shopping.”
“You took 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.” Mikan 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, framed as she is in warm wood and lantern-shadows. “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. She hopes that the calming scent of jasmine from the food and tea will help curb her impropriety.

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Second Daughter, 2

“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.”
“Almost everywhere.”
The three speakers are gathered around a cart for roasting chestnuts, two of them munching mindlessly as they talk amongst themselves; simple rough-spun clothes to adorn their frames, although Kaori cannot help but notice that their stitching is very precise.
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.”
The shopkeep 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 that we could spare the time for a visit. Besides, too long at home is not good for the mind.”
Kaori looks at her mother as Katai pulls out a fan and begins lazily fanning herself, her fan a simple affair with the character for “mountain” painted on it. Well aware that Kaori has said no such thing, the subtle ease of her mother’s movements makes Kaori feel less nervous about participating in this potential lie.
“Uh, yes. I heard rumors that some men had come into town and had hoped they would be merchants bringing shipments in. Gossip can be so fickle though, I heard the visitors were important, so I assumed merchants.” She waits for him to speak as she browses the fabrics near the front inattentively.
“Well, hmm.” Ichigo takes a moment. “I’m not certain how much the fabrics that just came in will appeal to you, young Miss. They are… plain by comparison to what you should be wearing.”
Kaori’s fan comes up to cover most of her face; she looks at him sidelong over the top, her eyes narrow. The shopkeeper’s eyes widen.
“However, I, um… do have something that I think you might like. A glorious emerald brocade that is slightly more local. The brocade is done in a subtle lavender that compliments nicely without being overwhelming. You can almost barely tell it is lavender, it runs almost white.” He laughs nervously. Kaori’s eyes do not leave his face. She watches it grow more red for a few moments before finally he says, “Let me get that for you.”
Kaori nods and the shopkeep bows himself away. She turns to look at her Mother, her fan lightly working.
Katai smiles at her daughter. “I want you to do this yourself today. I think it’s time.” Kaori nods turning back as the shopkeep returns with a large swatch of the fabric. The brocade is well done, arranging in swirls and twists that give hints of flowers and the character for perfume. Kaori runs a hand along the fabric. The brocade is not silk, likely a linen. If it were not so beautiful and different, she would have agreed with the shopkeep. Kaori looks around at the lacquered, wooden walls of the building, just above the rest of the fabrics.
Ichigo’s forehead acquires a sheen, barely visible in the lamplight of indoors. “Of course, if you were interested in the fabric, considering its uh… nature, I would be happy to give it to you at a discount, since you would be doing me a favor. Selling fabric like this is difficult work you see, since it is so different. Everyone tells me the contrast is too great, that it is too bold. But my kinsman’s wife made it and so I had to try my best. It would make a great gift for someone else though, especially with how well your mother and Mikan work with these fabrics. You could even gift it to one of your favored servants afterwords.”
Kaori’s fan snaps shut; Katai’s fan begins fluttering. Kaori slowly turns to look at the shopkeep. She looks into his eyes. “You think it is unworthy because it is different, that its boldness is a flaw, that it is too conflicted? Is that not part of who we are though? Is it not our conflicts that make us? Can the sword be forged without the hammer blows of the smith? Perhaps instead this fabric is meant for someone who believes more in honesty than extravagance. Someone who wishes to maintain sincerity in everything they do and present. Do I strike you then, Tenshu Ichigo,” a pause, “as another petty young girl to be distracted by bright colors and fancy fabric work?” Kaori’s face flushes, hardly visible behind her makeup, but the sudden red tinge just under her eyes is all the more deadly for it. Ichigo steps back. He bows deeply and stares at the ground.
“I meant no offense Miss Inaba Kaori. Your uniqueness is a contribution to your beauty, and this fabric would be as well.”
The sound of carts and conversations seep into the room to try and fill the space left empty by their words.
“We’ll take the fabric.” Kaori finally says.
“Of course, I will coordinate a darker purple for the sash, if that please you, and send that as well. My gift, as an apology.” Katai nods, slowing her fan and returning it to her sash. She turns to Ichigo. “That will do, Tenshu.” The women nod their heads and leave, turning their backs. Ichigo does not rise until they have gone.

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Second Daughter, Ch.1, Sc. 1-2.8

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.

“Just business?”

“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.
Fallen offerings.

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.”

“Almost everywhere.”

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.

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Second Daughter, pt. xx

Kaori and her brother walk quickly. The clear sky and young sunlight cannot yet counter the cold breezes and chilly earth. Even still Kaori holds her parasol to protect her from the sun while her brother walks beside her.

“If I’d known this was going to be my exercise for the morning I would have spent more time stretching. Slow down Kaori, last thing you want is to come home with a wet kimono.”

“I would never hear the end of it from her. But I would never hear the end of it from Father if I did not act on her advice.”

“Why does Hensei have the poem, anyways?”

“Father gave it to him as a gift. Since they so rarely get to see each other now, he wished to give him something that would last and bring fond memories. I suspect there are jokes in those verses that even I missed, but I couldn’t tell you where they were or what they mean.”

“Its good to have friends that close.”

“You don’t.”

“I do, just not here anymore.”

Kaori slows to think, her fan has made it to her hand, but refuses to open; far too cold to be blowing around. “I don’t remember them.”

Her brother shrugs. “You were young. Their families were called on by their lords to attend their duties in war, I receive letters every now and then from those that are still around.”

“But that’s nothing like Father and Hensei.”

“Father and Hensei had the luxury of peace while they were growing up.” Ahead, a blue bird chirps from atop the red-painted wood of a gateway a little away from the road. He flies away when the two get closer and pass by. “You are right though. When they return it is likely they will be different from their time in the war. I do not know that our closeness will be as it was. Perhaps with time, but not now, and not soon.”

“Do you ever regret not going?”

“Only in the regard that now we have lost standing in the eyes of our liege. But Father wouldn’t let me, no matter how hard I tried.”

Several people pulling carts pass them by, inclining their heads and tipping their hats to them. Her brother nods, Kaori lurches forward slightly every time.

“I thought our position was favorable?”

“Favorable and stable. I heed Father’s wisdom, but… stability means we are not growing.”

“How do you figure that?”

“We have to rely on marriages and allies in other houses in order to bring ourselves favorable outcomes in the courts, we work for everything we get out of that. If I were at war, there would be more opportunities for us to bring honor and advancement to our family.”

Kaori smiles: “’Even the greatest tree begins as a single seed.’ I understand your frustration, but I am pleased to know I’m not the only one he has to counsel on patience. I have to agree with Father on this regard though: sometimes a slow growth is best…”

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Second Daughter, pt. xii

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.”

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Second Daughter, pt. x

Kaori sits in the garden. The late afternoon light filters through clouds and cherry blossoms into a haze. Kaori stares at the fish moving through the pond, her legs drawn up onto the bench. The wind blows in the smell of tilled earth from nearby fields. Her father comes out and sits next to her, gracefully avoiding Kaori’s parasol. The two sit quietly, content to share the bench for a time without speaking.

“Your brother tells me you had the chance to share your poetry in town the other day.”

“I did, Father, after a few fumbles. They are local poets, not grand names that speak to the Emperor.”

“Even the greatest tree starts as a single seed.”

Kaori sighs. This has been her father’s advice to her since she was young. She imagines the Emperor himself could say this to her and she would still hear her father’s voice behind it. Or my husband could say this… The tears come without sound, until they gently plop into the water of the pond.

Her father looks away; Kaori does not see his expression. “Your mother has told me she is consulting a matchmaker.”

“She…” her voice breaks. “She has told me as well…”

There are more silent tears.

“Thank you, Kaori. I know this is hard for you, but even your acceptance of the idea helps our family.”

Kaori cannot help sobbing. Her father holds her to his chest, taking the parasol in one hand.

When Kaori speaks again, the sun is almost behind the garden’s walls. “I do not know how…” a last sob, “…I am helping.”

As Kaori straightens and composes herself, taking back the parasol from her father, he speaks, “Our family has done well in these troubled times. We are too small to be interesting to most larger houses, yet not small enough that we cannot support ourselves. What we are, however, is too isolated. There are too few families that are friendly to us anywhere nearby, and most of them compete with us for our lands. Your brother’s marriage must be carefully planned, but you and your sister are freer.”

“You are freer to experience the joy of our marriages.” She flips her fan open and looks away, hiding the shame on her face.

“How quickly wit tempers the knife-edge of the indignant.”

Kaori sighs, too much has happened recently. She shuts the fan and looks back down at the fish. Servants come out to light the lanterns and Kaori shivers in the cold breeze.

“Come inside, my fragrant blossom, we will have tea together.” Her father rises and begins walking towards the house, he turns when Kaori does not follow.

“Is that what you and my brother have been working on, my marriage?”

“What your brother and I work towards is none of your concern, Kaori.” His hand cuts across the air in front of his waist, his tone is irreproachable. It is her Father’s turn to take a deep breath. “Come inside daughter, we have many things to discuss.”

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