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15—The Music Lesson


When Fuyudori cheerfully woke us the next morning, none of us—Emi, Toumi, Mai, Shino, or myself—was very happy about it. My legs were sore from the combination of riding all day and then staying on my feet all evening. And that wasn’t even counting scurrying through the juniper and gripping that branch with my knees while arrows hissed overhead.

One of the older girls, Shino, whined, “Why do we have to get up? They have kitchen duty.”

“You have duties outside the kitchen, just as I have had for the past three years,” Fuyudori said. She turned to me, Emi and Toumi. “Little ones, dress and get to the kitchen. You’ll have your music lesson later today.”

  • When we arrived back at the kitchen, Kee Sun was looking quite unhappy. His hair was sticking out like a dog’s that has been rolling in pinesap.
  • We got through breakfast—reheated rice and platters of scrambled egg.
    • Yes
    • Yes
    • no
  • Several of the women weren’t given egg—they were fed bean curd. One such, much to her annoyance, was Toumi.

“Told yeh! Too hot! Meat is the last thing a temper like yehr’s needs. No, none for a Falcon-girl!” Kee Sun laughed, and made sure that not a bit of animal flesh—not even egg or fish—passed through her lips. “Too yang,” he muttered, and plopped a serving of the bland, white bean curd into Toumi’s bowl. I could see that she thought about refusing, but like all of us, she knew what hunger truly felt like, and so, a glower of extreme distaste on her face, she ate the bean curd. All of it.

Once we had eaten, it was time to clean. Then, once the kitchen was back to normal, which didn’t take anywhere nearly as long as it had after the feast the night before, we went to our first lesson in becoming a miko.

Music, Fuyudori had said; I assumed it would be learning to beat the drums and the bells that they always play at the forest shrine at home, or perhaps a flute. That didn’t sound terribly difficult—or terribly interesting.

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Toumi, Emi and I wandered meekly down toward the Tea House. Fuyudori, Mai and Shino were already there, sitting demurely behind a set of stringed instruments—two big kotos and a hand-held samisen.

Sachi smiled at us as we entered, cleaning out a long shakuhachi flute with a rag on a stick. “Men like watching me do this, for some reason.”

We sat nervously in a corner, close neither to the other three girls nor to our teacher. For once, even Toumi seemed more nervous than angry.

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Then Sachi raised the flute to her lips and played.

My mother played the flute—Oto-san had loved to hear her play it—and she had tried to teach me to play. However, I had never been able to get shape of the lips right, so I had never managed to produce much more than scratchy wind sounds. The shakuhachi is a simple instrument—a hollow length of bamboo with five holes for your fingers—but the sound that Sachi produced was anything but simple. It was loss and longing, and it was beautiful.

She finished playing, and yet the music filled the silence. Lowering the flute from her lips, Sachi smirked. “Not bad.”

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All of us—novices and initiates alike—laughed.

She turned to me, Emi, and Toumi and held up her instrument. “Any of you play?”

All of us looked down. After what I had just heard, I could barely say that my mother played. I certainly wasn’t going to claim my own feeble attempts for music.

“Hmm. Well, what’s your name—Emi? You’ve got the lips for it.”

Next to me, Emi cringed.


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