Posts Tagged wit
“I mean it all in good fun,of course. I’ve never had reason to complain about your father’s kindness before… and he’s always paid his taxes.” A smile ghosts across Hensei’s lips before the teacup reaches them. He turns towards Kaori. “What did you think, little songbird?”
“I think I have never truly seen your gardens before Hideki. Truly as though my father’s verses were brought to life by… well life. I am astounded.”
Weili, eager for the subject change, jumps in, “What verse?”
“’War is a demon that steals men’s minds.’ Is it really such a concern that you would have devoted a section to it, what a year ago, two?”
Hensei smiles, but his expression remains serious, his balding pate angled towards her as he studies the tea in his cup. “Two years. And yes. Our mountains defend us, but we are a hardly-accessible border district for some of the year. The earth that cradles us also hinders us.”
“And yet your visitors came from, all over? I did not get to talk to them as my sister did, but my father spoke highly of your work and the attention that it brings.”
“A pity, Weili. Several of them were notable officials in a variety of governments. It would have done well for you to meet them. Not that your sister does not also benefit.”
Kaori nods her head. “Several of them, not all?”
Hideki shakes his head. “Not all, songbird. Two or three of the most recent visitors were old students of my instructor, now teaching their own students. They had several critiques of course.”
Kaori draws back, her fan moving quickly, yet briefly, “I can easily recognize my inability to critique this work, from skill and general knowledge, but even still Hideki, traveling that distance to talk down about something seems… petty.”
Hensei laughs. “Oh dear Kaori, not at all. We must all strive to constantly improve. Besides, many of their critiques were about the distance, and how much easier it would be for me to find a student if I were closer to a major city, not the mayor of a border district.”
“I am at a loss to think of possible improvements.”
“As am I, Hideki. Hopefully Tsubasa was not one full of critiques, he seemed… out of his depth.”
Hensei’s left eyebrow moves upward slightly. “No, he is still young.”
Kaori sees the opening her brother has given and jumps in. “Certainly too young to be a master artist. Unless he was a prodigy.”
“Quite so. Then again, you heard his poetry Kaori, how do you feel about his skill?”
“I am too inexperienced to judge another’s work, I haven’t even traveled.”
“That could be arranged you know. And a life of work does not mean you could not critique someone of roughly equal skill.”
“Would you say we were equal, though he is older?”
“I would say he practices less than you do, he is quite busy.”
Weili takes over to give his sister time to regroup and refocus from Hensei’s deft deflection of their questioning. “Ah, so he was one of the government officials you were speaking of.”
Hensei smiles his teacup balanced on the flattened fingers of one hand. “Oh yes, indeed.”
“For Governor Danning’s court?”
“How young the two of you are, that you assume all government to be from Danning’s court. The Empire holds 57 complete provinces and a number of districts within that.”
“Is not the Danning court far?”
“I would not, having traveled in polite company, place the court far enough to earn a visitor distinction just for traveling through. But no, Tsubasa is a friend from a different court, he traveled here while he was originally under tutelage from Zheng Quishui, now he has taken up post elsewhere, thanks to Zheng. Your father tells me you’ve gotten quite good with a sword, Weili?”
Not wanting her brother to take the bait of boasting about himself, Kaori again takes up the offense, initiating a string of questions that give Weili a chance to sip his tea. The three continue for a few good hours, quips and questions skirting matters of propriety and proper social conduct, while still trying to find as much information as possible. Hideki is an official of the government though, and his skill in this proves an appropriate challenge for the two siblings. By the end of their visit they have learned nothing more than Tsubasa’s artistic studies and lineage of teachers, his presence as a government official who has reason to travel from his home province to Governor Danning’s court, and his rough age. Kaori and Weili are both exhausted, and seeing their state, Hideki feigns a yawn behind his fan.
“How rude of me, children of my friend. It seems the shadows have grown while we’ve talked. Perhaps we could continue this conversation later, I would not wish for the two of you to travel in the darkness?”
Weili nods. “Thank you, Hideki Hensei.” Kaori bows as well.
“Of course, come by more often, my door is always open to the Inaba household.”
“That’s very nice of you Hideki, I may find my way here more often, especially in the new seasons.” The two bow again, and leave.
Kaori, Katai, and Weili inhale the aroma of the various herbs and teas of the tea shop. No place like any other would smell like this, or so Kaori’s mother has told her. The memory of that conversation rises, her mind speaking in her mother’s voice: “Each tea shop is different, each featuring the local teas with nearby imports. Some Lords and Ladies, your Aunt, for instance, make it a point to travel as much of the realm as they can in order to sample and choose the finest ingredients for their home.” Cherry-wood tables have been set up in a small-ish section of the shop, with movable paper screens between them, painted sparsely with suggestive lines. Here a small oriole, there a budding branch. Most of the tables have been pushed together, occupied by a group of six men. One of them rises and approaches them. In the quiet lighting of the indoor lamps it takes Kaori a moment to recognize her father.
“Beautiful wife and lovely children!” Katai and the family bow to him, smiling.
“Husband. What a surprise.” Despite the cool flippancy with which her mother says it, Kaori can tell she is genuinely surprised.
“I came to meet with Hensei, and discovered him occupied. They have kindly invited me to join them.” Kaori’s father looks at her. “You should join us Kaori. These men would be good for you to meet, and the conversation has just turned to poetry.”
Katai’s fan lazily waves near her shoulder. “Will you not be joining me in my meeting then, dearest husband?”
“Weili can join you. I trust his judgement in the matter.”
Kaori looks to Weili and catches his eye. His shoulders move upwards a fraction of an inch and then back down. A subtle gesture she recognizes from their playacting. He bows to his father. His mother inclines her head.
“All right. Come Weili, let’s grab a table. And don’t forget to pull the screen.” As the two of them move towards one of the tables, someone calls them from the table of gentlemen.
“Huiren! Come on then, we’re ready to start.” Kaori recognizes Hensei’s voice from his sporadic but frequent visits with her father. She knows little about him, other than his close friendship with her father. The two walk back towards the table, and her father introduces her.
“Gentlemen, this is my daughter, Inaba Kaori. Kaori, these are some of my acquaintances from afar. They’ve come to visit with Hensei.” Despite the deep burning desire to know why, Kaori understands that such a question would be improper at best, insulting at worst. She bows to each of the gentlemen in turn.
“Tsubasa Changfu, Zheng Quishui, Henghai Shin, Shinobu Gangan, Noboru Michi, and of course, you know Hideki Hensei.”
“It is my fortune and pleasure to meet all of you esteemed gentlemen, and to see you again in good health Hideki Hensei.” Kaori and her father join the men at the table. Kaori turns when she hears the sound of wood scraping together as the door opens. An older woman walks in, dressed in simple fashions, linen clothing heavily layered against the cold, done in shades of yellow, her hair the gray of the snow outside Kaori’s window. She goes over to the table where her mother and brother are sitting and joins them, a screen is pulled, replacing Kaori’s view of the scene with a river landscape. The turbulence of river against stones reflects in her thoughts, causing her to loose the thread of conversation briefly; when she returns to it, Hensei is speaking.
“…I think I would have preferred the red flowers in that border, but they’re impossible to get a hold of in the Winter.”
“I agree. The red flowers would have made a much more dramatic point, but the subtlety with which the ferns executed it cannot be ignored Hideki, you’ve done well.” Kaori thinks this is Zheng speaking, but already some of their drift away like leaves in the current. Changfu turns to her. Kaori’s fan comes out by reflex and covers her face while fanning ripples through the air.
“What do you think, Miss Inaba Kaori?”
Kaori takes a moment to still her fan and lower it slightly. “I have been told that Hideki Hensei’s landscaping is legendary, mostly from my father. I did not think anything in this village was legendary until I knew it could attract those from other provinces, but I have never seen Hideki’s work.”
Many of the men smile, Changfu the broadest. “You should make time to see that, Miss Inaba. Surely the friendship your father has would dictate such things.” Kaori finds herself wondering if Changfu’s mouth is just large, or there is that much enjoyment in him.
“In truth, Hideki’s house is so far for an old man, I have not thought to bring her with me. But now that she older and stronger, perhaps her old father could lean on her during the journey.” Kaori smiles pleasantly and hides behind her fan, the other men chuckle quietly in good humor.
“You are the perfect picture of health… for your age, Father.”
Several of the man now laugh outright, including her Father. Changfu turns to Huiren, “You have raised her with sharp wit and gracious manners, a rare but appreciable combination. Well done, Inaba.” Kaori’s father bows at the compliment, while Hensei speaks up.
“He has also taught her appreciation of poetry, which I know more than a few of you enjoy better than flowers and grass.”
“Ah yes, has the time come for me to recover my writing box?”
Kaori grinds the inkstone, sets the papers, and begins writing her letters. The first, she writes to the Governor, as is appropriate:
“Winter snows cover
A humble garden with ice.
A single shoot sprouts.
The stars are unconcerned,
But the Sun takes interest.
She folds it into the shape of a sunburst, attaches a pressed camellia blossom, and sets it aside. She pulls forth another paper and addresses her second letter to Hideki Hensei.
“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, now that Kimiyasu has reminded 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 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 would not 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.”
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 excellence, if not beyond. I hope you weren’t too hard on him though?”
Kaori shakes her head. “At least, I don’t think so. I want to continue the conversation. There’s something about him.”
“Mother said his kimono 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 status.”
“As though perhaps he is a little forgetful and left 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 kimono?”
“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.
“You’ve cut to the heart of it, yet again, Kimiyasu.” Kaori has not turned back to her.
“I’m sorry, Kaori. I didn’t mean to imply anything. You are young, and an artist, you are not expected to know yourself, you are expect to explore the arts and through them learn of yourself. But everyone likes knowing they aren’t alone.” 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.
“I see you’ve been corresponding with Tsubasa Changfu, Kaori.”
Kaori turns to her Father, standing just outside the circle of branches of the cherry tree that Kaori is sitting under. “We have. It has been… proper, in all things. Several conversations, in fact, about the nature of art and the benefits therein. Tsubasa is a font of contradictions, and I think he does so just to get a rise out of me, but I’ve taken to turning his criticisms aside.” Her fan is quickly working in Kaori’s hand. “Has he written you, Father?”
“He has not.” Huiren looks down as he says this, and Kaori’s fan slows. He looks back up at his daughter, his face is smooth, but his mouth has pulled down and his eyes threaten to start glistening.
“What is it, Father?” Kaori moves to one side to allow Huiren to sit down on the bench.
“The plum tree on the hill has started budding.”
“There is no word from the Matchmaker then?”
“And no word from Tsubasa means…” Huiren cannot finish his thought. Kaori’s fan slowly stills and drops down to her lap, still open. The only sound comes from the wind over the eaves.
“I will be prepared to marry Tsukino Baichang.”
Huiren finally walks over and sits next to his daughter. “That is your final decision?”
“I would bring shame to our family if I didn’t follow tradition. I bring shame to our family by not trusting in your wishes and following them, but no one will know that shame, where everyone will know the shame of not committing to the marriage.”
“You aren’t wrong, daughter. I wish you did not have to shoulder such a burden.”
“I will not be shouldering it alone. Kimiyasu and Weili both choose the same path as I do, and now we will all share the private shame for having disobeyed your wishes. Honestly, I wish this also wasn’t the truth, but I do what I do for our family.”
“Our family… yes.” Huiren looks over the pond, he slaps his sigh. “It is supposed to be my responsibility to take care of and decide what is good for our family. But you are not wrong in feeling that such an obvious breach of tradition would be bad for our family. I only hope that the burden of my shame will not drive us apart.”
“Nothing could drive us apart Father, you raised to believe in harmony and the truth of right action, and that is what we will naturally gravitate to.”
“I certainly hope so. You bring honor to me by following what I have taught you. Perhaps one day the honor you children bring to our household will be enough to overshadow the personal shame the three of you shoulder from disobeying me.”
“I should certainly hope so Father… we are making good progress. You are building a pillar of peace within the valley by marrying my sister… and I… to the Tsukino family. Weili’s marriage will also help the valley to prosper. Oh, and I almost forgot! I received another letter from the Governor today.”
“Oh? Any good news?”
“Not particularly, but I’m pleased that Kimiyasu was right and that he is genuinely interested in corresponding and exchanging verses.”
Huiren smiles. “I am pleased to see you forming connections that are appropriate, but also I am pleased to see you making friends, and that your skill is strong enough to make the Governor forget you’re a woman that is writing to him.”
“I know better than to bring it up. I do find it somewhat annoying that these men see me as childish and naive as to the workings of the world of art.”
“But daughter,” Huiren pulls her close to him in a half-hug, “you are childish.”
Kaori taps her father’s thigh with her fan. “You know what I meant, Father.”
“I do, I only hope you do not hold it against them and try to understand their perspective.”
“I do, Father, I do.”
Kaori and her Father sit on the bench quietly, both enjoying the simple smells of winter, the black waters in the pond contrasting with the warm lacquered wood of the house and the white of the last snow on the shadowed corners of the garden. The soil itself, moist and black from its time sleeping through the winter, is ripe for the work the garden will taken after the Spring festival. Eventually the two of them begin discussing the plans for what Huiren will do with the space after the garden, what flowers he will plant and where, the paths and the borders of herbs and ferns, the beautiful colors when the flowering time comes. Kaori nods, enjoying the time with her Father. Landscape is one of the arts Kaori did not take to, mostly because of the exertion involved, the aesthetics that recalled obscure points in the past, and in truth, everything about it was not something Kaori found easily comprehensible, or even remotely exciting. Slowly, the conversation shifted to the wedding of Kimiyasu and Baichang, and the meeting that would have to take place soon. Here, in the garden, Kaori felt calm at the prospect… She was not certain how she would feel later, but for now, she was calm.