Masami stepped forward, unsure whether to think of this as her doom or a step in the right direction. Either way, she promised and she was here with Yuki. One she had promised to do so, and as he had said it could be important. It could bring them to somewhere, especially if it was a clan such as the Sasaki.
They had entered inside, where the beginning of the house was all the gardens. With several flowers blooming, suggesting that this was a garden which had seasonal flowers. Some of which would be in full bloom, while others were not so much. They were walking through it, the courtyard was huge and filled with flowers on every corner.
Where they finally had reached the front hall. The front hall showed Enyou, where she was in a red kimono. With the leaves of fall embroidered on it. She held a small fan while waiting for them. They took the steps up, before giving a bow when they met her.
“Go inside and take a turn left, there is the location of our gathering.” They followed her directions as she had mentioned it to the end, and inside the place were mostly filled with girls. And in the instant, their eyes had headed and focused on Yuki. Her red hair stood out in this country, as there were few. And often a sign of foreign ancestry.
She took a seat right in the middle, and she behind her. And they started to converse with her. Which was what she had wanted while they were here. “So, she’s your friend?”
“A distant relative, we were penpals to each other despite the distance. We’re from Itoro.” She gave a smile and explained how they met. Something that she practiced with Yuki for quite a while, knowing that it needed to be perfect. All else they could simply use what they were familiar with, with what they had known. As long as they said that it was from abroad. Something that they would never really question, and as long as it was mostly correct.
Just in case someone had come from there and known quite a bit. Even as it was not difficult to do so in this day, as compared to the others.
“Your family must have been merchants or powerful nobles.” Which was the assumption, as only one really mattered. Mostly merchants as most nobles there had found better countries to run to in their time at this point.
“Mostly the former. Father simply thought that it was better for us to make a fortune rather than seeing when the Shogunate will decide to go to war again.” Something that could be ascertained, as wars were often expensive and their gains could be said to be questionable. In such an age, where wars could not be fought and were faced with much diplomatic isolation. A reason could only be retaliation or insults.
As such, a shogun had to wait. And since none of their neighbors were foolish enough to give them a reason, hence they could. Not that the shogun wanted to either since his ability to mount one is again questionable and the position is not strong.
“Well, mine is just keen to ensure we don’t overspend. And why I’m here for the chance to enter the court.” And suggested that she was here for the same reason as her, her family had been keen to see what they could secure. This being a place better than attempting matchmaking.
“Same. He feels that it is always better to see what comes rather than making it when we have none. And if there isn’t anyone who is suitable, I can simply continue.” A lady-in-waiting could perhaps end up serving for decades with no issues of her reputation and if the midaikoro liked her enough to keep her on hand. With the odd woman or two simply not marrying and serving until she could no longer do so any longer. While most did, often to the more influential parts of the court.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“Natsumi. Fukuhara Natsumi.” She gave a smile.
From her own memory, the Fukuhara clan was mostly a clan from the southern regions of Kyokyuhi. And had only made their fame through the service of several of their members, who took part in various wars and saw a rise in their prominence and influence. But it was always dependent on the shogunate fighting any specific wars.
She had hoped that she would not ask about her surname, otherwise, she would have revealed it the first time she was here. “So, where are you from?”
“It’s what I thought. Most of them would choose to head to Okiban or Fukusei, as these two cities have been made for trading.”
“So, why are you here so early?”
“To get me used to Okiban. It’s a very different place from home, and father simply felt that it would be better for me to spend some time here before I apply.”
“Well, the roads were dangerous and since my brother was coming to partake in the fall examinations, he felt that he could simply save costs by sending us together.” And a lot safer too, rather than taking the route during the early spring. Where most opted to do so, and the roads were the most dangerous then. As they were targeting women, who were often the easiest to take.
While the roads were still frequented but never more so then. While men would have better luck as they would travel lighter, and some of the families eventually turned to let the girls walk as opposed to sitting on a palanquin. Mostly because of the distance, cost and the attention it attracted.
Far better to teach them the route and walk there, or take the train. Palanquins were truly only reserved for families powerful enough to have guards and to really take the attention, and have them all shy away the moment the name was mentioned.
Just as it was beginning, and thus they needed to pay attention. Mostly needing to pick the flowers, which were already freshly plucked for them. And Masami simply wondered why she had not let them do so, with the garden they had on display.
She stepped over, before heading to Enyou. “Why don’t you simply let them pick the flowers?”
“Well, the garden is huge and I don’t want any to get lost in there.” And perhaps there was more than that just in the garden itself. “And you know perfectly well what our clan represents, don’t you?”
She had picked it up, perhaps to an extent. “Yes, but don’t all of them know?”
“Not really, they are a minority. Only the men seem to know about us, and our dealings.” Even as it was waning due to their removal from the shogunate. “And only they seem to be after us for all that we have done. There was occasionally a woman or two, but they are rare.”
And thus why they resort to this. An attempt to change that, to befriend them. And of course, to ensure that they could quietly exist in the city. Just ignored was enough to them. “So, why are you really here?”
“How about I make a batch of flowers, and you guess why I’m here.” Enyou knew that if the conversation had simply dragged on for too long, it would have caught their attention. “I mean, this is also the chance for you to hear any gossip. Hosting this gives you secrets that kept them from coming after you.”
Enyou’s faced remained expressionless, but she knew it was true. If they did not know, but in such a private gathering and from such a faraway distance it could have been assumed safe. But it was not so, particularly with the maidservant taking the end of the room. Perhaps to eavesdrop on any if they were comfortable.
A clan did what they could to survive. She picked her flowers, it being adequate for her to give the message that she wanted. But of course, in a foreign language of flowers. To keep her guessing just what it would mean.
Yuki gave her a look, suggesting that she had talked to almost everyone. Or rather ensured that she was introduced to all of them, and listened in a little about their backgrounds. Having been told that they were mostly looking for a clan, the Kobayashi.
“Well, the Kobayashi are truly removed from this circle. Most of them seemed to have been from the countryside, and were new to the place.” She placed another of her flowers while keeping their voices hushed.
“It should be so since they came from Okiban. And most if not all would have stayed away from this clan.” They have never changed their location, while it was just the clans which came in and out changing. Due to the fortunes of the family always changing, some serving in the rural areas while others were going from there to here. It was never certain about it.
She nodded. This was perfectly fine with her, at least at the end of the day. “It’s fine, but she noticed us and me in particular.” It was not sure about Yuki at the end of the day, and let her see the pretense for what it was.
Just as Yuki raised an eyebrow at her choices. It took largely a while, as it was made of irises, a variety of zinnias, a viscaria, yellow roses, tea roses, arranged in a bouquet. One which they were now ready to give. She presented it to her after all had been finished. In which she had displayed it while trying to understand just what she intended to know.
“I don’t think that is yours, because I’m pretty sure that’s not what you said on how you met Kazuho.” She put a hand on her lips, a sign that she would have explained it later. It was beautiful and a gift for them after Enyou had helped to put them into vases. There was this element of mystery when it came to her generosity, but none questioned it.
But she did not say anything, knowing that Masami would do so later. Once she was done, they were the only ones left here. And that was what she needed, a chance to talk to each other seriously as opposed to having to rely on codewords.
“So, it has something to do with a friendship?”
Even as Yuki knew it wasn’t the truth. To an extent, it was true to say that she was here because of the friendship. But it was more so about Kazuho.
“Yes.” But she had never meant to make it easy for her.
Something which Enyou knew with full certainty, especially with the way she would not have revealed it. And perhaps why she did not choose to do so. And Enyou was continuing to figure it out, as Masami had said little. And she knew too little about her.
She stepped out. “You can keep it.”
Just as she knew that Enyou would look them up, that was without a definition. But she wouldn’t find very much. Kazuho ensured that, and her clues were cryptic.
Once they were out of the place, knowing that it had not been anything useful. They did not manage to find anymore. Or even how she attracted her attention in the first place. It was largely something that she needed to keep in her mind.
“So, what did that mean?”
“It’s one with a dual meaning. I intended for it to be about Kazuho and I and of course his own personal quest.” That itself would have baffled them since she doubted Enyou would have let her go otherwise. There was something about her which caught their attention.
“About her, she seems quite astute and aware. I mean, I needed to carefully manipulate certain conversations so I simply won’t be noticed as mining information out of them.” Which meant that this was normal to the girl, which could not be said that it had nothing to do with her clan’s survival.
“But how did she know, that is the mystery. And perhaps I need to tell Kazuho about it.” It could have been a slip up on her side, but she needed to warn that they were now on their trail. And hopefully, they might have more success.
Just as she remembered, something. Only the richest clans really used palanquins, but it could only be applicable if she was traveling from the city outside of it. Which meant that it went back to whether she had left or she had never done so.
Kazuho looked around here, the street close to the harbor. The exact same place they passed, but of course they would have never known the existence of it. And he was somewhat familiar with the place. They walked without a word to each other.
Knocking on the door, where it was opened by a man. They were mostly in trade, and there were shops but also other buildings used as offices. “Is there anyone you’re looking for?”
He gave the man the name card he got from his daughter. He opened it, without many grumbles. And lead him to the main room, whereof the course was the man they asked to meet. It was easy, but he could guess that these things were handed out for a reason. And he would not have done so.
“State your business.” Shinrou was still inside, even as they had taken the chance to give them some private space.
He took out a piece of paper. One where he had all the information about it, but it was separate and he was going to start with this. The man’s name, Rin’s father. The man’s eyes widened.
“Who are you?”
“Just someone inquiring about this. I wonder, have you come into contact with him?” It was hard to say whether his disappearance was because of the court, or he truly had no idea.
“No, I have not since his disappearance. Almost no one has. Although I can’t say about his wife, perhaps she might know something.” Which was impossible, as she was only slightly easier than her father.
Even as he took another, which was a picture of the young Rin. Something he had asked for, but not for what she might resemble now. As it was almost difficult to assure of her appearance, but checking whether he had met her was worth the shot.
He shook his own head. “I have never seen her in my life. Although she bears a striking resemblance to her father.”
He studied it in greater detail. “But why are you asking?”
“I crossed paths with his daughter as a child. We were friends and penpals. She once lamented to me about the loss of her pendant and I saw it. I’ve been trying to look for her, and decided to see if she has contacted you as she is your niece after all.” He took it out for him to see, something that he recognized the moment it was brought out.
Confirming the idea that she was related to them. Even as he could say that it was doubtful whether it was them.
“No, I have not.” He denied it, even as it was mind-boggling. Or rather why he would come to him as opposed to someone else. It was mostly a ploy, an attempt to see whether he knew. But it seemed that he didn’t even know whether his brother was dead or alive.
“But is there any other relatives?” He asked. It was a vain attempt, but this was one where he needed to be careful about the reasons he gave. He didn’t want him to be aroused or questioning just what sort of relationship they had, and most importantly about his identity.
“There could be. Maybe you could ask about our sister, but it’s a long shot because she hasn’t been seen in years as well. And I mostly lost contact with them.” And he could feel that the man was not someone who was close to his siblings if he had lost contact with both over the years. But he took a piece of paper, a list of all.
He figured that he could have ended up with worse at this point. This was a last resort, and he wasn’t really hoping that this could lead him anywhere. And he didn’t ask about the pendant any further. Before they were ushered out of the building. “Well, this didn’t lead me anywhere and let’s hope that Masami has better luck.”
As they slowly walked back to the house. To find them already there. She sat outside in the courtyard for them. “Did you find anything?” She asked.
“Not much, it wasn’t fruitful.”
“Well, Enyou thinks that there is something off with us. Which could have been my fault for revealing it, and so she might look into our background.”
He sighed. “It can’t be helped. Our pretense could fool most eyes, but it most likely would not be so with them. They know the signs and how to look for differences. And they already saw that with you, or perhaps they wanted to know after seeing us that day.”
“But there is something I realized, is that did Rin leave the city or didn’t she? If she left the city, it likely meant that it was a Daimyo family. Because most would simply opt for the train at this point, a lot easier and a lot safer. And only they have the need for it.”
“I almost forgot that.” Because he knew that it was true. Most women from merchant and Samurai families took it since it was huge, it was safe, it was also cheap. And they merely needed to see how they could get around the city.
Only the powerful clans felt the need to travel by land, out of prestige and for more space. And why bandits were common, but not rife. They waited for such families, not so much for the Samurai and merchants. Who simply couldn’t afford to take such a risk, and would rather squeeze with everyone else.
“You have found something important, almost vital to us.” Even as he needed to head back to the source, and that was Ayakazu. But it was a step forward regardless of what one thought about it.