Chapter 3
Mind Your Manners

Royal Precinct, Tianjing

"No! No! No!" the matron screeched at Yasuko. "Not once in all my fifty years teaching have I ever seen such an outrageous display!"
The matron barely looked like she'd been alive fifty years much less teaching that long, but juvenation therapy kept the Celestials from aging like normal humans and apparently their pets could enjoy the same as a reward for winning their favor. This was supposed to be the best teacher of etiquette and protocol in the entire Capital. Yasuko's mother spared no expense.
"Are you truly a young lady?" the matron asked. "You eat like a man, and a baseborn one at that. Do not lean over the table. Sit up straight. Bring the food to your mouth, not your mouth to the food. Your grip on the chopsticks is too low. You should be holding them near the top for better control. Do not pick up a morsel any larger than a marble. Cup with your hand to ensure you do not drop the morsel, then use your hand to cover your mouth while you chew. Keep your mouth closed. Do not make any noise. You are not a cow chewing on her cud. Chew each bite at least twenty times, then swallow in a single, delicate, silent motion. Hold the teacup with your dominant hand and cup the base with your other hand. Take only small sips. Do not guzzle it like some loutish drunkard in the tavern."
Had the matron ever even seen the inside of a tavern? Yasuko doubted it. There was so much to remember that it felt like her head was going to split wide open and this was just eating food. One style of it at that. It was bad enough that she had to learn all the standard protocols of the Celestials, but she also had to know all the traditional ways of her Wo ancestors and the 'Occidental customs' of the Man lords as well. It was enough to drive her crazy.
She scratched her head, sending the matron into a new fit.
"What are you doing!? Why do the servants even bother fixing your hair if you are only going to ruin it scratching like some wild dog with fleas? If you have an itch, bear it. It is unseemly for a lady to be seen scratching herself."
The matron started walking around her, then said, "And how many times must I tell you to sit up straight?" She turned to a couple servants and said, "Bring the board."
As the name implied, the board was nothing more than a lacquered plank of wood. The servants tied it to Yasuko's back with cords around her waist and under her arms, forcing her to sit ramrod straight. And so she had to suffer through the rest of the meal. It was fortunate for her that the Celestials tended to eat light.
When she was done eating, Yasuko stood up and was about to untie the cords holding the board in place, but the matron cleared her throat to make her stop and said, "Leave it. It is not only at the table where your posture needs work."

* * *

"Do you call that writing?" the calligraphy teacher demanded. "I could drop my brush on the page and make more legible characters."
Yasuko hadn't seen much Celestial calligraphy, but she couldn't much tell much difference between the work of a master calligrapher and some random scribbles. What was even the point of ink and paper in the Celestials' world of advanced technology anyway?
She had to remind herself not to think in practical terms. Most of what she was being taught had no real utility to it and that was part of the point. Utility was for peasants. These vaunted arts and customs of the Celestials were the idle pursuits of a pampered people who could afford to waste time on such nonsense. It only had practical value to her because if she could master the Celestials' frivolous arts, she'd be able to move among them all the easier, learn more about them, how to destroy them.
Yasuko closed her eyes and took a deep breath to refocus. Stripping away all the other trappings, calligraphy was simply a matter of manipulating the movement of the hand to produce a specific result. Wasn't that the basis of all her training? You condition the body to move the way your mind wants it to, up to the point where it no longer takes any conscious thought to do what you need to do when you need to do it.
She took her brush and started writing again, paying close attention to how the bristles of the brush and the ink interacted with the paper. Sometimes she would write very stiffly, trying to get a certain look and other times she would let her hand flow more loosely, even if the results were sloppier. She did this over and over again while the tutor stood by saying nothing, simply watching her work.
After writing the same character a couple hundred times, the tutor finally said "Well, it would seem you have managed a competent rendering on one character. Just ten thousand more to go and you may be considered a passable elementary calligrapher."

* * *

The elocution teacher pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration.
"Where did you lean to speak?" she asked. "Were you raised by wolves?"
Yeah, an' don't piss me off, 'cause I bite, Yasuko thought.
"It would seem I need to start from the beginning," the teacher said, "as if you were a small child... or a mental incompetent."
Yasuko narrowed her eyes at the teacher, who then said, "Do not give me that surly look, you impudent child. It is your barbarous tongue that is to blame. Now, let us begin with the basics. There are five tones to the vowels, not just one. First tone, level and hold. Mā. After me. Mā."
"You are not holding. Mā."
"Hold, damn you! Mā."
"That will do. Second tone, rising inflection. Má."
"There was no inflection at all! Rising inflection! Má."
"Finally. Now for the third tone. Start high, go down, then rise at the end. Mǎ."
"Rise at the end. Mǎ."
"Up! Down! Up! Mǎ."
"Again! Mǎ."
"A veritable miracle. Fourth tone. Start high, then drop. Mà."
"Start high! Drop at the end. Mà."
"Do not rise back up! Mà."
"Wonder of wonders. Lastly, the neutral tone. Surely you can manage this one on the first try. Ma."
"Neutral! Tone! As in uninflected! You have been doing nothing but the neutral tone and only now do you start adding inflection!? Ma."
"Do not hold. Short, simple. Ma."
"Now together. Mā. má, mǎ, mà, ma."
"Ma, mà, mā, mǎ, ma."
The teacher threw her hands up.
"Impossible! O for a cliff that I might dash myself on the rocks! It would be more merciful than enduring your wanton butchery of the language!"
It wasn't exactly a picnic for Yasuko either, but if she had to struggle like this, why not take her tutors along for the ride? After all, misery loves company.