Meyni is a strong woman. I helped her sort through just a few of the piles inhabiting her mother’s room, though I was not called upon to help with the body. Len was downstairs, keeping the kitchen and the bar. He is more the helpmeet than she is, which suits her. Sev commented once that he might have liked to be more like Len, and I replied rather unkindly that he would have needed to marry someone else, then. That was during my rather tempestuous time, which I do not like to admit and shall not speak of. It does not do to spend too much time thinking about oneself.
There were many old papers and records. We discovered a box of savings that Meyni set aside to take with her later. There were old clothes that Nimaseki had thought could be mended and sold again for a good price. There was a good deal of woven cloth, left over from this and that project and saved diligently and now uselessly, because Meyni does not have time to sew and will have less time when the baby comes.
We found a letter Nimaseki wrote to the baby. I would have expected Meyni to laugh, or cry, and scream and stomp about it, but she did not. She went still and quiet, somewhere deep inside herself, as if only at that moment did it become real. I wish I had known her mother better. The commotion yesterday left me feeling chilly and alone, as if everyone else said goodbye as loudly as possible and drowned out anything I had to say.
I do not like myself very much today. I spent far too much time talking to Nimaseki about myself, and far too little time soliciting after her health. She did not want to speak about her health, but I know she wanted to live to see the baby born.
My children have been quiet and careful, as they would be at a formal party. They are seen and not heard, and when they grow tired they find out of the way corners to hide, rather than starting arguments with their mother. I feel somewhat lucky they already understand death, though that is not much luck at all.
November 2, 2008
I thought to spend today speaking with Sev. Instead, he faded away, and I sent my children down to the streets to their friends, so that they might choose a trustworthy one or two from among them to help with the funeral arrangements and cooking for wellwishers. Nimaseki has died today, and she had a number of people who wished to come and eat free food and wish her well going into the afterlife.
I do not think I knew her as well as I would have liked. I do not think I have written about her as much as I would like. I think it is selfish that I am more worried about what changes this will mean for me than I am sorry for her. I miss going to temple.
It has taken me far too long, with far too many pauses, to write simple words tonight.
November 1, 2008
My husband availed himself of my hospitality today, soothing a lingering worry in my heart. He took the children out, soothing another lingering worry that I would lose all patience with them. It was a lovely, quiet day. The heat has faded as if it never was, washed away by the rain.
October 31, 2008
Once, in a very nearby land, amongst people very dear to me, I happened to have an exceptionally endearing conversation with my child, and another one exceptionally silly. Just as exceptionally silly, as fact would have it, as the other conversation was endearing.
Pang was looking thoughtful, as he is wont to do.
“Some parents hit their children, don’t they?”
“And their slaves?”
“They also hit their slaves, yes. More often than they hit their children, mostlike.”
He nodded, and wandered back to his sword drills. Later, he approached me shredding yams to fry once more.
“When Mithras is emperor, do you think he’ll stop that?”
“People hitting their children.”
“I think he will have other priorities. Do you understand what other priorities are?”
“I don’t see why anything should be more important than that.”
I studied him.
“There are many different sorts of evil men in this world,” I said finally. How was I to explain this? He was ten.
“My son, please do not begin sentences with the word ‘and.’ It is not proper, and it is distracting.”
“Women, too, are evil, lady mother?” He said, with humor in his eyes. I smiled, unamused.
“Yes, women too are evil.” I marshalled my thoughts. “Sometimes the only way to fight evil is to do more evil. That is where your judgement becomes so important.”
“So, why do we judge that da’s war is just? Is the emperor evil?”
“The emperor….” The words twisted in my mouth. They were not suitable to speak aloud, let alone to a child.
“Is it because we like Mithras?”
“No! Lady and Lord and Father, no.”
I cannot say Minerva’s child has endeared himself to me.
“I thought we broke you of that habit when you were four, little one.”
“Father said never to stop questioning things, but that sometimes questions were most appropriate silently.”
I raised my eyebrows. My son looked serious.
“We support Mithras’ claim because… because the emperor does evil things.”
“There’s a difference between doing evil things and being evil?”
“What is it?”
“I – we shall have a lesson on philosophy in a little bit. Either settle down and help me cut these up, or go back to your training.”
Pang stared at the ceiling, and nodded.
“I shall train. I want to fight evil, when I grow up. That’s why I shall be a soldier.”
Thus it is that I evade answering that question for a little while longer. I much prefered questions about the sky and birds, for I could answer those from my stock of natural philosophy and the stories of the creation of the world.
I also became involved in an argument with Pen, over math.
“My daughter, you must concentrate.”
“I don’t want to concentrate!”
“That is a great pity, but does not change your responsibilities.”
“What shall you do if I don’t concentrate?”
I studied this defiance until she wilted.
“You shall throw me out on the streets, and I shall have to become a woman of ill repute.” She leaned her chin on one hand, a gesture she borrowed from her old tutor in the arts. “I shall be like Mistress Meyni, only I shall make far more money.”
I laughed, and did not stop laughing for quite a while. After that, I had to inform her that even as a woman of ill repute, she would have to know how to add figures, or go hungry. We had another small disagreement about whether or not she got supper before or after finishing her figures, but it ended well, and the evening was quiet and comfortable.
October 30, 2008
I should like to visit with Mishta, my very good confidante, but the feeling stems from warm affection, not the steadiness of strategy. It was unseasonably hot today and it made my room intolerable. I slept badly, full of vague nightmares. The heat made me think of spears, of hiding behind pillars while people shouted, of men arguing in the halls in the belligerence of those with little true authority. I woke up wanting Sev, and stayed abed, trying to sleep until I heard sounds of dawn. Instead, callers in the street advertise their wares, scorpions on huge racks and bushmeat fresh from the wild.
I miss music. I liked having my musicians playing old airs, and attending parties where harpist and singers make eerie, soaring sound. I miss playing my own erhu and hearing the children learning to sing. Here, I must be quiet, turned inwards, content. It is less than I am used to, but it is not – I am not sure how to put it. The divisions in my life are less deep. Instead of impassable cliffs, garden walls, studded with moss and ferns the size of combs, delicate traceries that live on trickles of fog condensing and dripping down the river stones.
I am prone to flights of fancy when tired. Loneliness, as well, and bad temper. My temper turns inward until I wish someone would provoke it, so that I might speak and let it wash away, wash me out. Instead it lingers, and though it will drain away, it will leave a residue inside me that tarnishes.
I need something that will give me joy. For a while, I was too overwhelmed to seek joy. I am useful, but like Heiye, it is not all I am.
I like the way thoughts connect and grow when I put them in words. My thoughts turn in circles, but here I may lay out my threads and comb them into order.
I did not think I would enjoy cooking every day, but it is so. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I like the control, and the controlled chaos. You use fire and water and oil to change the world, and though you may have a plan, you never know where exactly you will end up. A little chaos, in its place, is a splendid thing.
My eyes sting. I am tired. I almost did not write tonight, but I have not skipped a day yet, aside from days when I have no journal and one week of meditation. It has been more tempting than this. I have used it as an example of steadfastness with Pang, he of the easily moved spirit. His sister, except when she argues with me, has an admirably strong character.
October 29, 2008
There is an intense, almost intimate pleasure that one feels when one has been working with one’s hands all day and drying one’s skin with water and soap and finally one finds a moment to apply sweet lotion. It soaks into the skin like rain being absorbed into grey earth, turning it black and soft. Today it was a gift from Heiye, who gave the pot to me before dinner.
“How much did this cost?” I asked.
“I stole it,” he replied. “Rakka helped.”
It is a comely present, and my hands are the better for it. Can I object to theft on a petty scale if my husband is a thief of thrones? His intent is illegal, even if his motives are understandable. Admirable, some would probably call them. He wants to make a world where children are safe, where people are free, where life is just. For this dream of a world, he will do almost anything in his power. My dreams are different. I would like my family to be secure, my future certain, my goals achievable. I want to want only what I can have, and have what I want. I want to honor my ancestors and my name.
Here, then, is a goal, to run my fingers through Sev’s hair and pull until his eyes cross. I looked in on him with Meyni this evening and found him in council. Unlike the other meeting Sev explained to me in detail, this room was well lit. They also decided to leave off the robes. I recognized many faces from Dri’s poetry reading, but they also did not declaim their strategies in verse. Sev sat at the other end of the square table from Dri. He appeared absorbed in a paper he was reading, written in some code I did not understand. Dri was looking elegant, his hair the color of undyed silk and curled around his ears most becomingly. He has very nice ears, for a man. He was wearing a high collared silk jacket of blue and purple brocade, edged in black. It had very elegant knotwork. He wore a hat to match. I thought the contrast between the deep blue and black and his pale hair very charming. He was wearing less jewelry than usual. Sev, by contrast, looked very much as if he had been rolling in the mud all day, thoroughly disreputable. The other men at the table varied in age and apparent rank, but remained steadfastly men, and serious men at that.
Meyni asked, “Do you know who they are?”
“Dri’s conspirators, I believe.”
“Lord Uru had me watch some of them,” she volunteered. “I can put some names to faces, if you want.”
They were sharing whispers with their tablemates, so I nodded.
“That would be helpful. Thank you, Meyni.”
“I’m curious. Lord Uru had me looking at things, but he’d never explain what they were. Or who they were.”
“Do you just need a name, or-?”
Dri started talking. Meyni, showing good sense, nodded and smiled her affirmative in the room’s twilight, the better to see the image reflected in her bowl.
“My friends,” he said. “Let us resume. I know many of us do not have all the time in the world. Lord Tarsus, please tell everyone what you know of actions in the Kingdom of Alojia, now and temporarily the Province Ojia. I’m sure everyone has heard something, though not, I am sure, anything accurate. Thank you, Lord Tarsus, for your valiant effort.”
“Thank you, Lord Taras. I am pleased to say that the governor’s brother agrees with our ideals and is pleased to assist us in any way. The governor’s traitorous loyalty should not be a problem. I believe with a sharp needle, we can have it.”
Traitorous loyalty is such an interesting concept.
“I don’t want to destabilize Ojia yet,” Sev spoke up, looking up for the first time. “We want to keep winter starvation to a minimum. Ojia is too central to food shipments. Late spring.”
“If we wait too long, our new allies in Ojia will grow impatient,” Lord Tarsus replied.
“Impatience is exactly the problem. Ojia’s rebellions have a short mortal span. I’d give them two months before they crumble and fade. The garrison there is efficient.”
He would know. He fought the last rebellion in Ojia Province.
“Thank you, Lord Uru,” Dri interrupted. “I’m sure there is something to be done there in the meantime. Please come up with a few solutions for that garrison. Now, Lord Tarsus, please continue.”
A dark-haired lord with his hair in an elegant braid said, “I still think Lady Jai Minerva should be here. It would be most respectful.”
“A woman, I may remind you,” said an elderly, grey-haired lord wearing red and marigold, the house colors of the Wushi. I remember he once criticized me in verse. I have taken a new dislike to the man.
“I am not like to forget it,” snapped the lord with the horse-braid.
He got a sour smile in reply.
“Shall I continue?” asked Lord Tarsus of Dri.
“Lord Uru, please make a full report to Lady Jai. Continue, Lord Tarsus.”
Meyni moved to add more silver to the water, a small spoon. I stopped her, laying a few fingers against her wrist. The picture and sound faded, the silver reflection drawing in from the edges of the pottery bowl. First the size of a plate, then a breadfruit, then a saucer, then a closed fist, then a thimble, and the last trace of color vanished. The water was clean and clear once more. Meyni took up the bowl and drank it down.
“Why do you drink it?”
“Why did you stop us watching?”
I was agreeable about answering, though as a response I considered it rude.
“We do not have very much silver.” I paused, but she did not seem eager to speak. “Safer not to know too many details, my girl. For everyone.”
“I drink it to bring myself closer to my element. It makes working invisibility into my body easier. I put my silver in my clothes, too.”
“Interesting. Thank you.”
“I would be more curious.”
“I’m sure you would be. Watching is in your nature.”
“I like things I can do better than things I can observe. I prefer women’s work to watching men’s.”
“It’s like having two of my mother,” Meyni said blandly. “Excuse me, I’ve lingered too long.”
“Good day, Meyni.”
October 28, 2008
Bird calls and the sound of rain woke me. The birds are little grey and brown things that are more interesting to hear than to see. I prefer larks. I slipped out of bed, donned a robe, and built up the fire for tea.
The children slept through my doings, and I tidied around them. I had time to knead dough and heat oil before they woke to the smell of breakfast frying. All three piled out of bed. Pen fetched the tea to our cushions and we ate together, children murmuring furtively into each other’s ears. I do so love the sound of plotting in the morning.
Meyni stopped by this morning after breakfast. She seemed tired. Custom has been good, and she told me that my children looked healthy and well. She asked if I would like to see Sev. I said no, but I think I shall change my mind. He left without word, and I wish to know if it shall be a week or many months before I see him again. I don’t blame him for leaving. Doing his work is the only thing we should be thinking about. Still, I feel as if he is pulling away. Our patterns are breaking. My habitual frustration with him has no room for air, here, and I don’t know what to think of him without it. I am not a woman prone to airy expressions of warmth and cheer where’er I may go. I prefer precision. I do feel warmly, but I fear to dwell upon it. There are complexities that warmth of feeling does no justice to. I shall look in on Sev tomorrow.
Nima continues the same. I told Meyni to bring in a doctor to see her. She made a face, but I believed I moved her. Sewing leaves me a great time to think, though my hands cramp and my eyes tire. Good company has a way of feeling like comfortable solitude.
October 27, 2008
“What are your plans for the day?” I asked Heiye this morning. His hair begs me to cut it, falling in his eyes despite being newly wet from my comb.
“P- the young lord and lady wish to see their friends, lady mistress, this afternoon.”
“What do you think they will be doing?”
“Stealing, lady mistress.”
“You say that so matter-of-factly.”
“It is something between and a game and a profession.”
“Are they orphans, then?”
“Some. Some are escaped slaves, runaways. Rakka has a family, but they are drunkards and she must provide for herself. Some, like Pang, come from families of thieves and are honing their art.”
“Oh. Yes, you would have to use his name.”
It had not occurred to me consciously.
“Yes,” he agreed, as we heated water and he began assembling tea cups and dishes to wash. “You don’t mind?”
“You’re very steady for your age. I trust you to remember propriety when it matters. What matters now is, I suppose, obeying the rules of our situation.”
“I’m sorry we ran off. It won’t happen again.”
“I think my children will find something new to try, yes.”
Heiye scrubbed at the large pot in contemplative silence.
“Rakka is the girl you – have an interest in?”
“Yes. I like her.”
“What’s she like?”
“Happy.” He smiled at his busy hands. “She doesn’t let things upset her. I think the word is – vivacious?”
“Yes,” I said, also smiling. “I know the appeal of those full of life. It’s nice to see you paying attention to language.”
“Pang isn’t very precise. And I like knowing things.”
“And being helpful, I notice.”
“That’s my place, lady.”
I changed the subject by asking, “What does she look like?”
“She’s very tall, very adult. She has short hair. Her favorite color is green, so she wears that often. Pretty.”
He scrubbed methodically, lost in some pleasant memory.
“What of the girl Pang so emphatically dislikes this week?”
“I think she has as little idea of his dislike as she had of his like. He has not been straightforward.”
“Probably for the best.”
“Yes, lady mistress.”
“Hand me the big spoon. I’ll make soup tonight, if you bring home chestnuts this time. Do try to remember.”
“I did remember. Things are just busy, sometimes.”
“Life often is.”
“Are you very busy?”
“My sewing occupies me. Thank you for asking, Heiye.”
“My lord says it’s my job to keep an eye on you.”
“Pang said that?” I asked, surprised.
“No, lady, Lord Uru. He gave me instruction.”
“Oh. Of course. What instruction?”
“He said I wasn’t to bother you with it.”
I was abruptly impatient, jaw tight, mind still and clear-edged. I was angry, I think.
“I am here, and he is not. You will tell me his instructions, and that is an order, Heiye.”
I had put down the big spoon. I picked it up. Heiye’s eyes followed it.
He told me. Quite the little apprentice soldier. Nothing I disagreed with, except not telling me.
Heiye seemed pleased to leave this afternoon, but calmer this evening. Nima slept through her afternoon, and I finished a great deal of sewing. Meyni paid me for my efforts, a most amusing feeling.
October 26, 2008
Many tears today. Pen and Pang’s argument about their lessons drove their father to seek quieter climes to contemplate his military strategies. They are distraught, and I am unmoved. They should expect more of themselves.
I do not expect Sev home this evening. I sent the children out so that they might entertain themselves and so that I might make my way carefully down the hall to Nima’s chamber. Sewing, at least, was peaceful.
The city has been quieter recently. It is said, Nima tells me, that the nobility are unusually preoccupied by events outside the city, and they have less time than usual for their circles of drama. I miss such circles. I quite enjoyed the dancing and gossip. I hope Dri or Min write. Perhaps I shall write to Dri. Yes, I shall, for I am terribly bored. I shall not compose poetry, nor indiscreetly divulge my activities, but perhaps I shall tell him a few amusing tales about Sev or Min. When Min and I were friends, I could always count on her to be idle and eager to come out with me to entertainments.
I have no long philosophies today. I tell myself I do not need to achieve fervor and insight every day. It is enough that I am well.
October 25, 2008
Nimaseki told me a story today. Meyni was in her girlhood, about Pen’s age, and Nima had begun thinking about marrying her to some second son who could inherit the boarding house. It is what she considers most bad luck that she took on a boarder in the private set of rooms we now share who took a liking to Meyni, and she likewise to him. Nima had told me of it, and Meyni’s supposed career as a loose woman, before, but not in such detail. He was terse with Nima, but Meyni called him warm. His rooms were cluttered with vials and potions, strange objects and carved boxes.
Meyni spent all her free time with her teacher of forbidden – cloistered – magic. I wonder if he was a renegade priest or if he was part of some long line of magicians, working silver into far-seeing and invisibility.
She left home, pushed by her secrets and her mother, until I pushed her home again. I, and whatever she was hiding from when we met, scared her thoroughly. She has been a good daughter in her mother’s last year. We came to discuss it because I was telling her about Pen’s recent appeal to higher authority. At least my daughter is not likely to take up a career as a loose woman.
Pen is louder than her brother, but he acts out as much as his sister, in quieter ways. While I am remembering things, let me remember that.
Today, the weather is clear and dry, my family is together, and I feel as if the sun is shining in my mind.
Sev is waiting.