The next day when Funako awakened, she stumbled to Asuka’s room. Her sister’s bed had been folded up and placed in the closet, the scrolls returned to their cases. Asuka was already gone.
With a sigh, she went to see their mother, but the servant told Funako that their mother had already departed to see her family in the other part of the Capital.
Funako lazed about the palace throughout the afternoon, leafing through pictures, and when she grew bored with that, she called for her breakfast: savory porridge, soup, and pickles. She nibbled, finishing a few more poems. Most of them were terrible by her standards, causing her to wrinkle her nose, but a few were so bad that she laughed; that put her in a good mood.
She pulled on a light, cotton robe and then snuck into her mother’s room and stole her grandfather’s silver kickball set. It was not really appropriate for ladies to play, but Funako loved it.
The kickballs were the size of a melon and painted in silver leaf. She untied the red cords holding them to their stand, and clutching one ball in her sleeve, she snuck into their gardens.
She tied back her hair with the red cord, and imaging an audience, she gave the birds on the fence a flirty wink. The purple lupines, cone-like flowers on stalks, and the grain foxtails were especially high in this part of the garden, so no one would see her.
Aristocratic kickball was a simple sport, merely keeping the ball from touching the ground. Funako tossed the kickball in the air, catching it on her dainty ankle, her foot flexed, before flicking it into the air. She counted each move, juggling it from foot to foot. When she dropped it, she just started over, and the exercise consumed her until she was sweaty and oblivious to everything around her, but in good spirits.
She caught it on her knee three times in a row, and soon enough, she was narrating her own moves under her breath. “There’s no way she can keep this sequence going. Oh, she’s going for it!”
Funako sent the ball soaring, but at the last second, it veered over her head and landed in the pond. With a loud swear, Funako lunged into the pond to grab the silver ball, an heirloom, before it was ruined.
“Princess Funako?” called a servant from the veranda. “Are you still attending the gathering at Prince Bu’s palace?”
Funako waded out of the scummy pond, clutching the ball. She hid behind a stalk of tall grasses.“Yes!”
When the servant retreated to back into the palace, she ran across the yard into the bathhouse to clean herself, clean the silver kickball. Then hiding it in a wrapped towel, she snuck it back to her mother’s room in the secret compartment before she went to her own room.
Toweling her hair, Funako called for her two servants to help her with her dress and makeup.
With all the focus of a warrior preparing his lord for battle, the servants laid out her toilet and set to work. They took handfuls of jasmine flowers and pressed them against a strip of linen on the floor. Then they placed the cloth on her head and combed the jasmine scent into her hair. The servants plucked stray hairs on her neck, above her lip, then around her eyebrows. Funako bore it with the slightest clench of her jaw.
When she had been a child and her mother ordered her to prepare for social engagements, she had kicked and screamed and literally smashed family heirlooms. It had not been an easy time for Funako. Her father had decided to train Asuka for the high shamanship instead, and Funako had to adjust—from being a disappointment—to being a socialite like her mother.
Asuka never had to spend hours on her appearance. Asuka never had to laugh at whatever inane thing Prince Bu said and then pluck his overfamiliar hand off her shoulder.
Her mother had beaten her for the spectacle she made. Funako had huddled on the floor, terrified and baffled.
Blowing snot and tears all over her clothes probably.
Funako found herself thinking about it as they combed the last of the jasmine into her long hair, the comb catching on the little knots. The servant paused to clip the knots away.
Funako did not even wince. She had not for years.
Another aristocratic mother might have had a servant hit their child. It was shameful, Funako remembered her mother saying, that she had refused to prepare for the party. She would look hideous. If you do not dress properly, I will throw you from this house to go live on the riverbanks.
Terrified, Funako had run to her room and let the servants pluck, clip, and do whatever else her mother ordered. She put on the dresses and the robes. Then she followed her mother to the carriage, her eyes red, and Asuka and her father rode off to the shrine, and Funako watched them leave to make magic as she carried her voluminous robes into the carriage.
At the time, Funako had not understood why her mother was so incensed. As the servants brushed white rice powder over her face and neck, Funako closed her eyes to allow them to cover her eyelids. As an adult, Funako knew what her tantrum had looked like to her mother.
It had been disrespectful. Her mother could not do shamanism or fight, but she had spent her life perfecting a series of skills that made her powerful. And she had offered to teach them to her eldest daughter, who had then thrown a fit.
Funako would have probably beaten herself too.
The servants combed the dusting of white powder from her long eyelashes.
Funako had many powers that Asuka would never even dream of. The servants painted her eyes with black line across the lid, and they applied rogue to her lips, the pink corners of her eyes, and the tops of her cheekbones. Funako’s black hair was fashionably long, all the way down to her backside, and they ground up silver leaf to a powder, which they sprinkled over her hair. She gazed in the mirror. A bit of the silver powder had caught in her eyelashes, and something burned, but she wouldn’t have them change a thing.
She examined herself in the mirror. The effect was arresting.
She rose to her feet, and as one servant filed a nail that had chipped during her kickball session, another servant slid her first robe over her shoulders, as eerily white as her skin.
They pinned nebulous pearls on her ears. Another wafer thin silk robe, this time coral. As her servant combed her hair one last time, separating it in the middle, the other servant helped her into a cherry robe. Then, an orange robe decorated with silver thread. Funako stepped and stretched so the robe layers would lie correctly, checking herself in the mirror.
She spread her arms and allowed another silk robe, this time peachy pink embroidered with leaves. They tied the robes shut with a thick, silver tie. Finally, the servant pushed the last layer onto her shoulders, a cream jacket that fell to her thighs.
“I want my pin,” said Funako, inspecting herself in the mirror. She turned around, moving with surprising ease for the heavy weight. It had taken years to master making the robes appear light, her steps light as willow leaves. “Wait, no, we have to change this. It doesn’t work.”
They patiently removed the cream jacket, the tie, the peachy pink robe, then the orange orange robe, which Funako replaced with a glittery vermillion robe from the bottom of a chest.
“Perfect,” she told them as they painstakingly redressed.
When she put on the cream jacket a second time, they affixed a seashell broach to her jacket. She wore a red lacquer bracelet, which flashed on her pale wrist when the numerous sleeves moved.
Funako practiced all her different smiles in front of the mirror, careful to make sure her makeup would stay in place, then gave a slight nod of approval. The servants bowed. Funako arranged one side of her hair to fall over the swell of her breast, opposite the shell broach, and followed the servants to her ox-drawn carriage. They held both her hands as she climbed inside, and they wordlessly handed her a fan matching the ensemble.
The screen of the ox-carriage fell, hiding Funako from view until she wished to be seen. She rested, closing her eyes in preparation for the evening to come.