As she followed First Mother, Juneau watched the peach tail dangling down from her obi, the fresh spring color defying the end of summer. It was such a hopeful color, so clear and tranquil--and not at all indicative of her mood as she left the room.
First Mother would turn from time to time to look at Juneau. Smiling intently, her eyes slid toward Juneau now. "You must think it odd that so much hangs on your having discovered ikebana. How can such an innocuous act have such grandiose repercussions?" Juneau nodded thoughtfully as Mameha went on, "And to think, you created your focusing piece in but an hour and a half, never to really look on it again, or spend any time improving it, augmenting it, changing it as you yourself have improved and changed. Imagine if Hideyoshi and I had left you to fend for yourself as you have your tanden? Have you even thought to change the water?" She tsk-tsk-tsked with modest reprehension. "This was a grave error on your part, my daughter, but one everyone before you has made."
Realization like a sudden rush of blood to her cheeks changed Juneau's expression from irritation to shame. She had completely forgotten about the tanden she'd created her first day in Kamakura. It seemed a lifetime ago. She remembered it quite clearly, however. A huge lotus flower afloat in a shallow pool of water, aspidistra voluminously, copiously wrapping it in a green shawl. And all around it, steel grass soared and dipped, tracing still bigger petals to accent those of the lotus. Her heart leapt now when she thought about it. Mameha brought her back to the sitting room, thrusting a dart through her high-flying balloon of a heart, which fell down her throat into the pit of her stomach.
The piece was now an eye sore. The steel grass had flopped over, twisted out of shape and dried up. The broad, green leaves had browned and lost all form. Aphids were eating holes into it. The lotus blossom resembled more an insect poisoned, dried-up, crinkling petals twisted toward the center to protect its exposed underbelly. The water was stagnant, making the whole smell like mown grass left out to mold.
Juneau raced over to it. "I can't believe I forgot!"
Mameha said without condescension. "It is human nature to forget about our creations and hope that things will work out best for them."
"It hasn't been that long, has it?"
"More than a month!" First Mother clucked, a hen over her egg. "You've made other pieces, but never returned to this one..." She settled a practiced gaze on Juneau, saying volumes with her expressive eyes tinged inky, enveloping black.
"But if it's been a month, it should be a lot more decayed right?" Juneau asked, and Mameha nodded evenly. "It has something to do with how much time-bending I've been doing, right?"
"Like you, this tanden works outside the realm of time. Yuki's similarly works outside the realm of space."
"I should have taken a picture of it..." Juneau said wistfully.
Mameha chuckled without a word.
"How come I kept my powers, when my tanden had died?"
"Your powers came into fruition when you discovered ikebana. But your powers do not come from arranging flowers. That is in your blood. As an Ieyasu, your powers are your birth rite. The tanden merely focuses it."
"Tachibana Rikka isn't an Ieyasu," Juneau pointed out. "Why does she have the same powers--and more?"
"I think you know the answer to that one."
Juneau found that she did. "She was part of the original school at Ikenobo. Her blood line is as pure in the true ikebana teachings as any Ieyasu's."
"Purer," Mameha said unequivocally. "With each generation that passes, the Ieyasu line becomes thinner and thinner, a soup stretched to feed too many. Think then how strong Rikka's powers must be since she has been passing all of her chi to her replacements. Five hundred years of experiences, memories!"
"No wonder she's been running circles around us!" Juneau huffed, scowling at Rikka's unfair advantage. "Why did Hideyoshi dilute the blood line by fathering... half-breeds?" Juneau tried not to sound too indignant and annoyed.
Mameha reached up and smoothed Juneau's hair away from her forehead. "My child, Juneau, you are half nothing. What Hide may have sacrificed in purity, he more than made up in heart. This is what Tachibana Rikka lacks: your heart. Yuki's heart. Claire's heart. Hide saw the need for differentiation. That is the only way to knock Rikka out of the sky." She kissed Juneau on the forehead (which required Juneau to bow forward awkwardly) and added, "Your heart is currently besieged by doubt and anger and sorror and pain. You need to clear away the bad, so that your heart's light can shine again."
With this, Mameha backed away from the low armoire taking with her the dead arrangement.
Juneau knew what she had to do. She opened the doors to the black armoire and rummaged for materials. She cleared her mind of everything, trying to find purity in herself and let it come into the world through her fingertips. It occurred to her that the best way to do this was to walk among nature, not to simply look at it. She left the cool shade of the sitting room for the surrounding greenery bowing under the sun's rays like so many worshippers before a god. Everywhere she looked, she found inspiration. The large, heart-shaped leaves of this tree, the low shrubbery and its thick, wiry branches all moved her. She grazed her finger over the flowers she passed, and thanked the parent plants of the fresh blooms she picked. She hadn't set foot in a car or plane for what seemed like forever. She reveled in this new freedom from technology, and let nature all around her ground her and soothe her frayed nerves. She whistled Claire's French song the whole time. Her mind was clear, her heart light. All of the negative emotions and dead baggage was lifted from her consciousness.
This was what had been holding her down. This was what had been making life difficult. When Mameha took away the dead ikebana, she also stripped the terrible weight of Juneau's fears, anxieties, and pain off her shoulders. Feeling happier than she had in days, perhaps weeks, she sang out loud all the words she knew to the song about the little horse. When she ran out of verses, she started all over again. If she thought of the Three Gorges catastrophe, she lightly brushed it off. She was beginning to understand why Hide laughed when he did. It may seem the wrong time, but when the fabric of time and space was malleable, everything--even the heavy, potentially life-changing things--was funny. When it wasn't funny, it was fixable. Eventually, she would come to a place where she could make changes, and then she would.
Juneau chose accents for a new piece, settling on carnations the same peach as Mameha's obi. She found a copse of bamboo in the midst of tall trees and broke off some of the dead branches. They weren't flexible, but the line element was in her mind now; she could bend it and twist as she saw fit. The tanden focused her efforts, but the elements were inside her now. Everywhere she went, it followed, always ready.
Back in the sitting room, she took out a clear, rectangular tray of glass. She stood the dry bamboo branches in a florist's frog so they pointed off in slightly different directions. Atop and around it, she built a little altar of stones and dressed it with two carnations, one big, one small. She added more stones to the opposite corner for balance and floated large mint leaves on the water's surface.
She set the ikebana beneath the open window. It brought her a sense of pure, unadulterated joy. It made her think that, not only would they finish off Rikka, but they would also succeed in righting the gravest of her wrongs.