Red House Saga – Chapter 5, Part 1 and 2 (due to edits in Part 1)

Ishibashi san was climbing the hill slowly, taking in the beauty of the autumn colours in the little forest. That night, the harvest full moon would illuminate the clear sky.

He had a feeling that Lady Miyasai had spent the waiting evening doing exactly that – waiting. Waiting to decide whether to accept his request. It was evening of the full moon now and she had accepted him.

It was slightly unsettling for Ishibashi to be asked to come in late afternoon. They’ll be a while and the dusk will soon descent over the eerie forest. He walked up the hill, taking in the season with all his senses – the still warm sun on his skin, the scent of various flowers and leaves, the sharp cries of the migrating birds flying over, and up in the Heavens, the palette of a ceremonial kimono was blending with the clouds. He only needed to taste something, anything, to instil autumn in him. It was his favourite season – mysterious, beautiful… Like the lady he was meeting. What was her favourite season, he wondered. He decided he’d ask her.

It wasn’t too long of a walk to the Red House but it sure was steep. Nevertheless, Ishibashi didn’t stop for a break. As he was nearing the point from where he could see the front gates, he saw a tall elegant figure waiting there. It was Lady Miyasai and in her arms, she cradles a white cat – the same cat that had shocked the villagers about a month ago with its delicate and at the same time, bald introduction.

Lady Miyasai stood perfectly still and patiently waited for Ishibashi to climb to the top. When he did,  he was surprised that she bowed first.

“Welcome to my humble home, Ishibashi san.”

Her voice was satin on a lacquered wood. So surreal it was for Ishibashi to have a Lady bow to him first and with such reverence, that he quite forgot he had to do it himself. Usually, would have done quite well, but he was taken off guard and did it rather clumsily. When he stood upright again, he had the feeling that the cat did a small bow as well.

“Lady Miyasai, you confuse me! I should have been the one bowing down to you!”

“Where I come from, Ishibashi San, the young ones respect their elders. Shall we?”, and she pointed towards the open gates.

“The autumn really has come, hasn’t it?”, asked Lady Miyasai, gracefully sitting down and placing the tea tray in front of Ishibashi.

They were out on her long engawa, under the sky with endless mackerel clouds.

“In September, the sky wears a lined kimono”[1], Lady Miyasai said gently and smiled and poured green tea into the small white cups in front of them. The tea had a colour of a maple tree that had been forever hidden in the shades, away from the sun.

“I’m astonished!”, Ishibashi said, “You quote one of the masters, and so appropriately.” He looked up where the picture resembled fluffy white lines over a blue canvas.

She didn’t react. Her gaze was wandering somewhere in the distance where the village lay. The cat appeared out of nowhere and jumped into his mistress’s lap.

“You have a beautiful companion”, Ishibashi said, to break the silence.

“He is indeed”, Lady Miyasai answered, smiling down at Nadare. He purred with delight.

“And why is the Shugo[2] of the town paying me a visit?”, the Lady asked when she finally looked Ishibashi in the eyes again. Her smile had disappeared but she didn’t look stern.

“Well, it is my job to know who lives here. And you are an important addition to our little place. Even if quite unexpected one…”

He paused after his last words. She felt the hint in them, as she had felt many and more subtle hints from other people before. Her senses were well-trained for this.

“I understand. I’m happy to tell you about me but not all at once. A rose blooms gradually.”

“I have time and patience, my Lady”, Ishibashi said with a little bow.

“Thank you. For now, just know this – I couldn’t stay where I was. My life became very difficult after a certain turn of events. But I was lucky to be able to escape. Now I’m looking forward to a life of peace and solitude.”

“Thank you for sharing this with me.”

“And of course, it’s fine for you to share it with the villagers”, she said as she lifted the teacup to her lips. He couldn’t tell for certain, but could sense a shadow of a smile. She knew people’s hearts and she played the game well…

Nadare saw one of his temari [3]  balls in the garden and went to play, leaving them alone. Miyasai stood up.

“Please come along”, she said to the Shugo. “I want to show you something.”

Up the stairs on the last floor of her grand house, she ushered Ishibashi into a large empty room. He had seen it on his first visit.  The same one with the round window and two iron rods crossing its circle. Soft autumnal light was flowing through it this afternoon and the room almost looked golden. On a cold snowy day, it would be pure white.

“This is the biggest room in this house and I’ve chosen it to practice all kinds of arts”, she said with pride in her voice and looked at him for approval.

“A great choice, Lady Miyasai.  I could imagine you will require such a space even before you moved in.”

She couldn’t tell what it was but besides his approval, there was something else in his voice. A sort of gladness and personal triumph – but for what? Was it because he guessed she was artistic? No, it’s not that – she was a Lady, and practicing arts came with the rank. Ishibashi was smiling and started towards the window, crossing the big empty room. What was he up to?

“Is there something on your mind, Ishibashi san? You seem to be inspecting the space and there’s nothing in it.”

“That is what I was thinking of, my Lady”, he replied looking at the window. “As grand as this room is, it’s bare. Too bare.”

“I only just arrived!”, she exclaimed. “My instruments and decorations will be moved in soon.”

“That’s not what I meant”, the Shugo turned back with a smile on his face. “You will fill the space with items but the walls – are they going to remain plain like that?”

Lady Miyasai was truly surprised. She hadn’t thought about the walls. And now that he pointed out how plain they were, she couldn’t help but notice it.

“The white gives me a feel of emptiness and tires me when I’m exposed to it too much”, she admitted.

“That’d be no good if this is the room that you intend to spend time creating in”, he observed.

“But what are you proposing then?”

He came back to her and stood beside her, facing the walls and the window. From the top of the room, they could see it all.

“If I may suggest, you’ll need inspiration – something that will stimulate your senses and add to your flow when you’re writing or playing your instruments. You will be engaged with art and art has to surround you, not just bare walls.”

He turned to her.

“Lady Miyasai, I think you need someone to paint your walls, and paint them intricately.”

Her already sharpened curiosity, peaked even more. She liked the sound of the idea. Beautiful artwork on her walls in the most important room of her new home! She’d like to have it. But then it dawned on her.

“I can’t tell you the reason just yet, but I can’t invite an artist from the circles that I know. It’ll have to wait. I want a very precise and skilful one but I’m not ready to have people from my past over at my new home now”, and having said that she turned to leave.

“Would you have someone new then?”, she heard him ask.

Lady Miyasai turned, so surprised that she didn’t know which of the questions budding in her head she should ask first.

“Would you consider, my Lady, accepting an artist from Haruido to paint your walls?”, Ishibashi repeated his offer and approached her, his footsteps echoing in the empty room. “Would you grant one of the villagers this incredible privilege?”

Miyasai hesitated for a minute. Just for a minute.

“I would”, she finally replied. “But do you have someone in mind?”

Ishibashi smiled the smile of a strategist who’d foreseen every move in an upcoming battle and had brought it to a successful end.

“Lady Miyasai, I know just the person.”

Digital Capture. Original from The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Notes:

[1] A poem by Kobayashi Issa, 18th century poet and Buddhist priest. Issa is regarded as one of the Great Four haiku masters in Japan, along with Buson, Bashō and Shiki.

[2] Shugo – a title to an official in feudal Japan,

[3] Temari – a Japanese folk art crafted balls. Literary means “hand ball” in Japanese.

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