I “recently” (ha, it’s been sooooooooooo many months!) started reading an Amazon story by MrsRacooney called Daughters of the Warrioress and I caught MAJOR inspiration! (
I super need to catch up!!! I AM CAUGHT UP!!!)
There is a chapter early on where her creator goes to the training grounds with the men of the other tribes. For my own story it really inspired me to visit the tea house and quarters where the un-housed attendants near Suzu’s village live. We could use another attendant, I think, so I guess it’s time for Suzu to take someone new home…
The sounds of the morning shuffle throughout the tea house announced the start of a new day.
Anyone else in the world would have been sleeping but the men of the Kyo Tea House were already awake and ready for the day to begin.
Part of the allure of this sort of position was room and board in payment for work there. Despite the cramped space it was a nice setup for the men. There were other villages where men were kept in chains and treated like prisoners. This was nothing like that.
The chores they performed were all necessities to maintain the tea house and its occupants. Most of the men performed all duties but a select few were appointed managerial posts or upper positions while staying there. Helping at the tea ceremonies was a prized post many spent months praying for a chance.
There were some jobs, however, which were not desired. They were the ones you would expect: emptying the chamber pots, latrine duty, sweeping up the animal pens, collecting charcoal – jobs of that sort.
Those that needed to wake earliest relied on the crow of the resident rooster. They’d carefully pad their way across the floor, down the steps, and out to the well to collect water for the morning.
Back in the kitchen they heated water and prepared the rice porridge for the morning meal. Those on the dreaded “dirty duty” went to clean up the refuse from the day before.
Not much time after, the rest of the men would wake and come down to eat. It was best not to be the last awake in case there was a shortage of food. Those who arrived late sometimes would have to wait until they caught a moment to eat later in the early afternoon.
Once breakfast was done the men headed out to their respective jobs. Some went to the fields or mountains to gather, a few took care of maintenance on the grounds, and those higher up the ladder went into town to purchase goods and supplies. Those that remained waited on guests in the tea house.
Guests usually arrived mid morning. This was the time that small groups of older women came in for their morning gossip. Their rushed times were around mid day and late afternoon when clans held meetings or friends gathered for a small bite to eat.
These meals were not just for pleasure. Often times, while they enjoyed a happy luncheon with friends, ladies of various clans were on the hunt for new attendants. If looking for demeanor they carefully observed the men serving them tea, for strength they sat on the porch and watched as men returned to the kitchen from the fields, and for intellect they sat near the entrance where the managerial prospects visited.
The older women had well trained eyes for finding the best attendants for their clans and some were even hired like a matchmaker might be. When they weren’t working they enjoyed themselves by teasing the poor tea servers. One young man was especially susceptible. His name was Enji.
He had a kind face and even sweeter demeanor (not even mentioning his looks). However, he was quite shy and his reactions to the flirting women usually rendered him a stuttering mess. He did have one redeeming quality as a potential attendant, though: his aptitude for tea.
If an attendant was allowed to have something of a passion this man’s would be tea. He was gifted with the ability to discern tea flavors, his skill in brewing was unmatched, and he had a steady hand for serving even when flustered. One would have thought he’d been picked off by now but his timid nature seemed to keep women away. Many of their own sisters were almost nearly as good as this man so his skills were regularly unneeded.
If he stayed at the tea house long enough it was possible he’d be moved up to a higher level but his anxiety caused him trouble in this regard. He was bullied and beat up by the rougher men as well. Honestly, things were not great for him.
The evenings at the tea house were when deals were made. New sisters were interviewed and given offers to join a clan and attendants were interviewed and told of their new assignments. At this time many of the men who worked manual labor were able to wash up, eat a meal, and retire for the evening. However, those who worked in the tea house itself were still on the clock.
Just after the sun had set, a splendidly dressed woman sat at a secluded table by herself and requested tea service. Shu, one of the main hosts, approached Enji while he was putting away cups at the prep counter.
“Enj, next you will serve that woman in the Lotus room. She’s a regular.”
Enji looked puzzled and stuttered out his reply softly.
“I’ve n-never seen her before, a-are you sure?”
Shu looked annoyed.
“Of course I’m sure!” he spat in a whisper, “She hasn’t been here in ages but she’s a very good customer so I bet she’s in the market. Be extra complementary to her,” Shu smacked Enji on the back and walked away, muttering to himself, “She’s likely come for a manager; Phoenix is probably getting old…”
In the prep room Enji covered his face with his hands and a quiet, distressed sound came from his mouth.
Great, great, great. An important patron – just what I need…
Quickly composing himself, he sneaked a look at the woman from around the screen. Her dress was a beautiful orange and blue with detailed stitches and fancy cording. To top it off, her face looked very kind and Enji let out the breath he was unknowingly holding.
Taking a deep breath he chose a set of simple white cups and brought the tea setting out to her. He gulped as he set it in front of the woman and bowed.
“I-it is my pleasure to serve you, my lady…” He wiped his brow anxiously.
The lady looked up at him kindly and thanked him. He bowed in response again and reached for the tea pot.
“Wait-” she said suddenly, interrupting his movement, “Sit with me a while.”
Enji stood stock still, bent over, and did not know what to do. No one had ever asked him to sit with them before. He’d seen other men asked often and usually it was to interview them before being chosen for a clan. That couldn’t be what was happening right now… right?
Enji sat down as instructed and bowed his head.
He heard the woman make a small sound of amusement and peeked up at her. She was even kinder looking up close, he thought. She was not like the others he saw come in every day.
“Your name is Enji, correct?”
He tried to remain calm.
“Yes, my lady. Enji Ko.”
“You are still rather young, yes?” He nodded.
“Yes. I am the youngest one in this tea house. The others are all considered men and I’m… not quite there in their eyes.”
“I see. And… yet you’ve been here for some time now?”
Enji looked her in the eyes and nodded gravely.
“I’m a nervous person, as you can see. I don’t often give the best impression…”
She shook her head.
“I disagree, actually. I have watched you before.” Enji felt surprised. He was so sure he had never seen her in here – how could this be? “You have quite the knack for tea service. You are impressive. Your hand is very steady.”
Enji felt his ears grow hot. He knew he was decent but no one had ever actually said that to his face.
“T-thank you, my lady…”
“No problem at all. It is the truth, after all.”
They sat like this for several minutes longer, the lady asking more questions. After a moment, Enji suddenly remembered something – he hadn’t poured her tea yet! He bolted up and smacked his face in alarm.
“MY LADY, I apologize for my forgetfulness. I did not pour your tea and now it is not the proper temperature!”
He bowed severely and went on, “I will get my superior immediately and tell him wh-“
“Yes, actually. Please fetch him for me, Enji.”
Enji bowed his head and couldn’t help but cover his face. He had allowed himself to feel like things were going well; he didn’t actually think she would agree with him. Maybe she was quite fond of tea and this was just a big blow to his future…
He bowed again awkwardly and strode away to fetch Shu. Shu was not surprised and he shook his head, following Enji back to where the lady was now standing by her table.
“Lady Suzu, I am so sorry that Enji has been a disappointment. I should have known this would happen and taken care of you myself. Please accept my humblest of apologies…”
“That is unnecessary,” she waved her hand flippantly, “However…”
“…I do want to thank you for assigning this young man to me.”
“You heard me. He is very kind and gifted. I would like to offer my clan to him if he will join us.”
Shu froze in place.
Enji froze in place.
Shu sputtered a moment before words could form.
“I-I don’t know what to say, my lady! Wouldn’t you rather have someone less… troublesome? More… capable, maybe?”
“He is perfectly capable and just what my clan needs. What do you say, Enji?”
Enji looked out into the courtyard where a few other men were overhearing this exchange, mouths agape and all in disbelief.
He frowned at them and looked back at Lady Suzu with the smallest smile.
“I would be honored, my lady.”
“Good, it’s done then. Please gather your belongings. I’ll be waiting by the fountain.” Lady Suzu turned away from Shu and then glanced back at him, “Good day.”
And just like that the unplaceable Enji was headed to his first clan.
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AN: YAY, ENJI! I am super fond of him and am happy to finally introduce him to you all! He is still a teenager so he is NOT meant for Suzu! She has two nearly grown children, anyway and does not need any more, yikes!
So… I am very sorry for the delay. This has been sitting in my drafts half-done for months. I haven’t had the energy but someone reminded me they wanted to see some more so here we are! I had a rare Tuesday off from evening rehearsal and I was more productive than I expected.
Part of me still wants to write this entire “season” out before posting again but the longer I wait the longer it is between this chapter and the last. I will try to do better.
I also want to apologize for the dark photos. I thought it looked nice while I was taking them but they never are as bright as I expect while working in WordPress, lol. I think I’ve shared this tea house before but I just renovated it to have an upstairs for sleeping quarters. I also added a kitchen and the tea station. Upstairs I desperately wanted to use these floor mattresses but they wouldn’t stick – I’d place them and they’d disappear!!! Instead I placed beds on the lower level and raised them up through the ceiling. *angel halo* I’m pretty pleased with that, not gonna lie.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed. I hope I can do Enji justice. Life is not going to be all sunshine and daisies for him back at the compound. He has a certain spoiled brat to worry about…