Posts Tagged siblings

Second Daughter, 10

Wildflowers, Spring fields.
A Songbird chirps its last notes
Amid sudden brightness.

A songbird never wastes its notes,
Nearby a nest full of chicks.
~Tsubasa Changfu

Kaori is confused when she receives the letter, complete with its budding branch and folded into a lotus flower. The poem speaks of bleak death, but the flower is enlightenment and the buds hope. She paces her room, trying to decode the subtle nuances of the message that Tsubasa has sent her. Trying also to bring her heart-rate down as it sings out with possibility. Frequently she is distracted by daydreams and visions of what life could be like living in a foreign province, of what he would be like as a husband, of what they would be like as a couple. Would there be love? Would he care for her? Would there be concubines? What would their house look like, what would there kids look like, would they have the finest silks, or the poorest cottons? She looks out the window into the garden and sees Weili and her father talking, she takes in their clothes, their stance their state of dress: they’ve just come back from town, judging by the way their clothing hangs a little loosely and a few loose strands of hair are flying in the wind, not to mention their swords at their belt.
New questions enter unbidden into Kaori’s mind. What if Tsubasa is secretly a warlord for a foreign liege? Would they be safe from the war? Would he be called away after their marriage? Would he die on the battlefield, or from a wound afterwords? Would she ever know the difference, or would they lie to her to preserve his honor. She turns back to the note in her hand and reads it again, forces herself to focus on the meanings he has sent her, and in the back of her mind sees a little of the wisdom of her father’s words: “War is a demon that steals men’s minds.” And women’s… she thinks.
The buds and flower are major symbols, hope and enlightenment… but then this poem, about the beauty amid death… Suddenly she gets it, and as she sits at her desk a knock comes from her door.
“Sister?” The door slides open. “I heard you got some— Your face seems flush, are you alright?”
Kaori’s fan comes up with such quickness it almost flies out of her hand, for a brief second it completely obscures her face, then settles calmly. “Brother! What are you doing just barging into my room? You have no idea what I could have been doing!” She knows its irrational. “And I most certainly am not blushing. Or if you saw one it is from surprise and fear at the sudden intrusion.”
“I only thought—” Weili stops. Having grown up in a house of a majority women, he knows when to bite his tongue. “I apologize sister. I only wanted to see how you were doing and if there was any good news recently.”
Kaori takes a deep breath, stills her fan and closes it as she brings it down. Weili notes the smoothness of the motion, and thinks briefly on how much his sister is growing.
“There are letters. Tsubasa has sent me a poem folded into a lotus flower with a budding branch, the others were much more sedate. I was just puzzling out his meanings and about to compose a response to him when you came in.”
“What was it?”
“Hmmm? Oh, a lament at the harshness of my initial letter warning him to keep to proper traditions in our correspondence, but a belief that we could eventually speak past propriety. It was… heavy-handed? I actually think he’s taking it to be a sly poke at my original heavy-handedness.”
“You think he’s making fun of you?”
“I think he’s critiquing me, with a smile and a laugh.”
Weili takes a moment before responding. “What do we know about this Tsubasa, Kaori?”
Kaori’s fan comes back out, its pattern displayed at her chest and fanning lightly. “I know that he is a man of stature from a neighboring province. He is a fan of the arts, and a friend to Hideki Hensei, a friend of our family. I also know that father has approved of our correspondence. In fact, he had to tell me how it was folded, since of course he read it first.” Weili nods, and Kaori knows that look, her brother is unsatisfied. “What, Brother, are you thinking?”
“I just think we should know more about him, in the interest of propriety. Perhaps I will go politely ask questions of Hideki… tomorrow of course. Or perhaps the day after, Father doesn’t like going out every day. Perhaps it would do for you to come with us, Sister. Weren’t you talking about seeing his gardens?”
“I do not like the feeling that I am now a piece in your schemings, Brother.” Kaori’s eyes narrow over the fan, which has come up to hide the rest of her face.
Weili spreads his hands, palms out, and raises his shoulders. “I have no schemes, just the desire to better know your suitors. Can you blame a brother for that much.”
With a sigh the fan comes down and closes again. “No, I guess I can’t. We’ll see what the weather is like in a couple of days, and I will go with you to speak to Hideki Hensei about his gardens and Tsubasa. But please brother, don’t visit him without me.”
Weili smiles, “Knowing your concerns now, I would never dream of it. I’ll let you compose your letters,” as he nods his head and turns to walk out the door.

Beavers dam the stream
Pools and eddies they live in.
Still the water flows.

Downstream young girls wash clothing
In between a village lives.
~Inaba Kaori

She attaches to it a small porcelain charm in the shape of a mask, and folds it into a sunburst.


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Second Daughter, Ch. 6, Sc. 2

The family is sitting down together. Dinner has just passed, and tea is almost finished. Kaori’s sister turns to her.

“Sister, will you dance for us?”

Katai nods, as does Huiren. “It will be good for you. We know the Governor’s decision was hard on you, this will be a good distraction. Go on.”

Her sister jumps in, “Yes, and I will play for you.” She claps, and a servant comes by. Kaori thinks. It has been most of the day that she has been thinking about the Governor’s letter. About her failure. About her brother’s gambling, how dare he! It takes her mind a long moment to switch tracks, to think about dances, about stories, about artwork. Kaori realizes everyone is looking at her. Except her brother. He has not stopped looking at the table since dinner began.

“Play… play The Lone Swan.” Katai and Huiren glance at one another. Kaori’s sister stiffens.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Yes I am. Play the song.”

Kaori rises and moves towards the side of the room, where there is more space. She closes her eyes. Her sister plays the first few notes. She focuses on them, clings onto them. Her father did not raise her to get distracted by the everyday, he raised her to achieve selflessness through artwork. To contribute and produce and change the world. Kaori knows she cannot do that if she cannot forget herself in her artwork. She takes a deep breath, centering and calming herself. The movements begin, almost of their own accord. She feels them, really feels them with everything she has. She does not let herself think, she only lets herself move and hear. She is to become the music, and in becoming that, tell the story of the Lone Swan. After only a few bars there is no more Kaori, only The Lone Swan.

Once, there was a swan
Who traveled with his own flock
And yet was alone.

The swan cried out to the moon,
Why must I be so lonely?

The moon heard the swan,
Lighting a path in the dark
The swan was led away.

Soon, there was no one nearby
Only wind, and wood, and moon.

Finally alone,
The swan sang out in the dark
But no one could hear.

The moon turned its face from swan
The wind dies and the wood rots

In his loneliness
The swan does not hear approach
An old and great man.

Why do you sing so loudly?
No one has come to hear you.

I sing to find my way home…

The dance ends. Kaori’s outstretched hand falls back into her now seated lap. Kaori realizes that her sister has cried throughout the whole dance, and played without missing a note, as far as Kaori could tell. Even her father’s eyes are glistening. Weili is no longer in the room.

“It pleases me that both my daughters have such dedication to art. Now go. Your mother and I have much to discuss. Kaori.”

“Yes?” Her voice is as though she has just woken up, raspy and strange.

“Go apologize to your brother.”

Kaori bows instead of trusting her voice, and leaves the room. She walks down the hall, taking the time alone to clear her throat. Her brother’s room is only one on this side of the house with the light on currently. She knocks politely.

Weili opens the door. His eyes are red, but dry. “Yes?”

“I came to apologize. I don’t hate you, Brother. I know you did what you thought was best. I’m just…” Kaori has time to realize that there is a waterfall ahead of her, and then she is cast off. “I’m tired of not being recognized, of not having strangers praise my work. To have the Governor do that was a thrill I didn’t even know I wanted. More importantly though, it was terribly improper of me. The point of my work should be the finding of myself, the finding of my way, not the praise of my peers or even of strangers. You acted within that knowledge, and have proved yourself to be the superior person. I should not hold that against you, or imply my displeasure.” She falls before her brother, bowing deeply to him.


“I had hoped your art would be sufficient to bring honor to our family.” Kaori flinches as though he’s kicked her in the ribs. “But it would seem I too, lost sight of your art’s purpose.” He bends down and picks her up. “It is I who should be apologizing, dearest sister.” He smiles at her. “Can you forgive me, Kaori?”

“Of course, Weili.” He places a hand on her shoulder and smiles warmly at her. Standing like that for a few moments longer, Kaori finally nods her head, and turns to go back to her room.


Several strides down the hall, Kaori turns to look at him.

“One day, you will be the most famous poet in all the land.”

“One day,” Kaori responds, “I will find myself in one of my poems, and be completed.”

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