Posts Tagged marriage
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.
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.
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?”
“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 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.”
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.”
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.
“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.