Tale #11: Wisteria and Green-Leaf Jasmine
Most of the larger streets of the Severlin Special Ward of Aerialis have been framed by wisteria that bloom beautifully in spring and sometimes summer, creating light canopies of purple hue and a delightful smell. There are spring festivals hosted by the Severlin family to promote themselves and garner favor with the citizens and other noble houses, and the wind shrines of the Severlin Special Ward are most visited during that time of the year. Of course, the mansions of the Severlins and their branch families sport quite lavish gardens as well, some of which are open to the public during certain times of the year in order to display the wealth and prestige of the family. While not one of the direct ruling families of the city of Aerialis like the Van Haag-Taira family, the Severlins are still in charge of a large city ward and well-liked in the general public, giving them significant political power.
Lyza absentmindedly swept the old wooden floorboards of the wind shrine's entrance hall. The brushwood scraped over the hard floor, moving the dust towards the front door. As she hummed a little tune, someone rang the donation bell outside. Throwing coins into the top-grated wooden boxes outside ur-soul shrines was a ritual of cleansing, based on an old Yamato belief that coins had a propensity for absorbing negative energy, and tossing them aside violently was a way of ridding oneself of that energy. Lyza knew better than to disturb them, and there was still sweeping to be done, or so she thought. The visitors had not come for a quick coin-toss-and-go but apparently had business with the shrine. A woman stepped inside, a young boy at her heel. She had dark hair and the surly lines of a Skôtish person around her brow and cheeks. Her eyes were sunken and solemn with the weight of recent loss heavy upon her shoulders. There was a certain slouch people often exhibited when they had been struck by the tragedy of loosing a loved one. Lyza had seen it many times, being a shrine maiden, for people came here to perform the last rites for their dearly departed on a regular basis. The rites of the five, still observed by those practicing ur-soulism, involved turning the deceased into beautiful crystals by molding them with all five elements in turn. The last to final, and sometimes final, step in this elaborate ritual was bringing the raw crystal to a wind shrine to polish it with wind magic. Still being an apprentice at the shrine, Lyza would not perform the ceremony. She was still learning the very basics of magic, and her skill was far from sufficient. Master Lichter-Kôgen would summon the winds that would polish the stone using fine powder. Lyza bowed to the woman in classical Yamato fashion. This, of course, was not the Yamato Kingdom, but the great city of Aerialis, located in the Middle Lands. Aearialingers had their own customs and traditions, but such gestures as the respectful bow had been absorbed in to the ur-soulism canon many centuries ago. Since the religion had been most prevalent in the Yamato Mountain Range, many little niceties and esoteric practices typical of the culture had been simply adopted by the practitioners of the spirituality. "Three winds' blessing upon you," Lyza said humbly. The woman was drawing her son close with one hand. An unconscious gesture made to find some emotional purchase, though perhaps also to reassure the child. In her other arm, she was holding a bundle wrapped in white cloth. Jagged edges pressing against the fabric showed all too clearly that it wasn't a second child, but rather a person lost to the other world. "I... I am here for the rites..." she said with a shaky voice. The loss must have hurt her very deeply. Perhaps a husband or a parent. By now, bringing in the rough stone, she had visited a water shrine to have the body drained of all fluid, an earth shrine where the dried remains had been molded into clay by crushing and mixing them with earth and the water collected from the body, a fire shrine where the clay had been baked into sand, and a lightning shrine where it had been hit with the element to form a chunk of fulgurite. Most people, as they progressed along their journey, would slowly come to terms with their grief. The ritual was one of sepulture as well as one of healing. But the woman was still lost in her grief. Lyza nodded. "Of course, ma'am. Please follow me to the main hall." She led the two them through the entrance way and into the main hall. It was not a large room, for the Adelbert Shrine was a small shrine, situated in a nice little corner of the Severlin Ward. Once inside, she seated the woman and her boy on cushions on the matted floor and excused herself to call master Lichter-Kôgen and prepare some tea for the guests. "Master Lichter-Kôgen!" she called in front of his study room. There was some shuffling from within, then the door slid open. "Yes, Lyza?" he inquired thoughtfully. Master Lichter-Kôgen was a wizened, elderly man with whispy white hair but surprisingly good posture. As was tradition, he wore black robe-like garments, whereas Lyza's two-piece clothing consisted of a wide, red pair of pants, which had many folds, and a white jacket. "Master, a woman has come to the shrine to perform the rites." "Tell her I will join her soon," he replied solemnly, stepping back into his study. Lyza went into the small kitchen, which had a wood-burning stove, some counters, and dried herbs and garlic hanging down from hooks in the broad wooden beams that supported the ceiling. Two windows were wide open to let in the fresh late-spring air, one being almost entirely covered by hanging, bright purple wisteria flowers. She produced a kettle from within a large drawer and placed it on the wood-burning stove, carefully firing it with the help of a magic engine from Lumina Aka. Then, after double-checking her workplace, wary of having any fire hazards endanger the kitchen and shrine in general, she returned to the main hall to provide some company to the woman and her boy. "The master will join us shortly," she explained. "Perhaps you could tell me about the person you have brought with you while we wait?" she suggested encouragingly. The woman looked up. During Lyza's absence, it seemed, she had cried and then quickly wiped her tears away when the young shrine maiden had returned. "Jakob?" her eyes flitted briefly to the boy, who seemed utterly expressionless. "He... he died..." she said, the well of tears about to burst forth once more. "I mean-" she corrected herself, realizing the redundancy of her statement, "I mean he was my husband." "I see," Lyza replied as kindly as she could. "You must have loved him very much." Now the woman did cry, her voice bursting into a miserable whimper. "I do! I... I did... He was a good husband... a good father... he didn't deserve to... I'm sorry..." She had trouble catching herself, so Lyza stepped in and gently put her hand on her shoulders. "It is alright," she said, "speak freely in here, you need not hide your sorrow." A quick glance to her boy showed that she was not hiding that sorrow from Lyza or anyone else but her son. "It has been... difficult. And now that I am here... the wind shrine... soon I'll have to let him go..." Her arms were now wrapped tightly around the bundle containing the crystal. "His soul is free, ma'am. Free to travel along the Great Clockwork, free to return to this world. You are not holding him back here; it is only the grief you are grasping. And it is certainly yours to grasp for as long as you see fit. But once you let it go, it will be as if a weight is lifted of your shoulders, as if you lay down a heavy stone in your arms. Such are the rites of the five." "I..." she began, but was interrupted by a high-pitch whine: hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii- "Please, I will return in just a moment," Lyza asured the woman. "The tea is almost ready." She carefully rose, gently taking her hands away from the woman's shoulders, and moved back into the kitchen. In there, a few petals of wisteria had landed on the windowsill, and the kettle was whistling that the water was ready. She took it down from the stove and prepared a ceramic teapot with green-leaf tea and jasmine buds. Then she put pot, four cups, and some snacks, little sesame cakes, on a tablet and carried it back into the main hall. By now, Master Lichter-Kôgen had arrived. He was busy gathering the implements of the ceremony: a wooden box with a blue pillow on top of it. Lyza stepped in and placed the cups and snacks on the low table in front of the cushions, lifting the teapot to pour the tea. "Careful, it is still hot," she warned. While serving tea too hot to drink right away was a faux pas in Yamato culture, here in Aerialis it was quite normal. The three of them quietly for a while as master Lichter-Kôgen set up the box. When he was done, he opened a small drawer inside of it and retrieved a cylindrical wooden can. "We have gathered here to bring a final luster to the remains of our dearly departed so they we may remember the light that shone from within them when they walked among us," he spoke ceremoniously. Then he turned to the woman. "You may place the crystal on this pillow and speak his name, if you please." The woman tightened her grip around the bundle for a moment. And for that brief moment, it looked as though she was not going to give it up. But then she steeled her resolve and stepped up to the wooden box. She unwrapped the green fulgurite stone that had once been the remains of her dearly loved husband and placed it on top of the blue pillow. Gentle and lovingly. "Jakob Riodeach." The master nodded. He carefully and with great intention unscrewed the lid of the small wooden can and poured green powder onto the stone from within. Then he lifted his hands and lowered his head, remaining in this position for a moment. He began muttering words of power under his breath, preparing to summon up the magic from within his soul. Lyza began to sing: Have you seen the purple bloom
Along wisteria street?
The petals strewn below your feet?
And then still seen the gloom?
The spring has come; the wind of change
Will fiercely blow across the land
Will blow across the city and
Will harken something strange.
The wind of change across the land
Will harken something strange.
The dance beneath the purple bloom
The purple bloom beneath our feet
It beckons us to feel the wind
And seek the summer heat
We step into a tiny room
A room so filled with memory,
And in it I will find a hint
Of things I think belong to me.
But purple comes and purple goes
The wheel of time it ever flows
From spring to summer we all go
In autumn sometimes separate ways...
When autumn comes and winter cold
We sometimes part our ways...
So give to me a shiny stone
a shiny stone for me to keep
And in it put the memories
Of things I think belong to me...
Of things I found on purple bloom
Of things along wisteria street...
As Lyza sang her song, Master Lichter-Kôgen's magic began to work. A tiny dust devil began to blow around the fulgurite crystal, moving the green dust against and along its surface, scrubbing and polishing it gently. As the magic swelled, the wind reached incredible speeds and even lifted the crystal from the pillow ever so slightly, allowing for the dust to polish even the bottom side. When the ceremony was complete, all was quiet for moment, with the exception of the boy taking a slurping sip from his tea cup. He had not spoken a single word since he had entered with his mother. But the carefree sound of his sipping and the tranquil look on his face seemed almost transcendent for moment. Finally, Master Lichter-Kôgen broke the silence: He lifted the now beautifully polished crystal from the pillow after using the remaining sparks of wind magic to return all the green dust into the wooden can and held it out to the woman with both hands in a humble gesture of giving. She, too, reached out both hands and took the crystal, tapping it gently to her forehead. "It is done," Master Lichter-Kôgen replied. "You may take this stone with you and bring it to the shrine your husband loved the most. Or the one you believe he would want to be put to rest at." She looked up, her gaze wandering between the master and Lyza. Then she spoke: "Perhaps... perhaps I could leave him here? He did so love the wisteria... what better place to rest could there be...?"