Megami Fan Fiction Pt. 2

Discussion in 'Melting Pot' started by RionAgrias, Mar 16, 2016.
  1. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    This is the second fic that will play out simultaneously while the first one is being posted. It is a loosely historical-based story set in the 900s Japan, with politics taking hold over things as petty as Agi or Bufu.

    This is Samurai and Ninjas: Persona Style
     
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  3. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Samurai and Ninajs Chap. 1

    This story takes place towards the middle of the Heian period of Japan. I am not being completely historically accurate with this, so do not get all over my back about it. How much Personas will play a part in it, I do not know about that one. I've also messed with people's ages a bit.

    Lord Tatsumi sighed as he sat in his emblazoned chair in a small palace in the center of Nara. He was an important man to say the least, but Lord Tatsumi was still under incredible pressure.

    He was a lord, a lord that controlled most of Nara, but he served under the Fujiwara family. His family was given this area after the capital was moved to Kyoto. Nara was still an important city, but nothing like Kyoto. He had become the lord after his father died when he was a child, but he did not feel truly like the leader until his mother died two years ago.

    Lord Tatsumi had been married once before. It was before he became a lord at the age of fifteen. It was a loveless and arranged marriage to a Lady Matsunaga. He was not attracted to her in the least, and neither was she. The two did their civic duties and were done with it. She died a few years after their marriage attempting to give birth to a child.

    Of course, there were various rumors swirling about Lord Tatsumi… that women in general were just a chore. He did not care for them at all. Lord Tatsumi supposedly enjoyed many of the things women did. Allegedly, Lord Tatsumi was just looking for an heir to take over the family once he died. Some people thought that he was really interested in men, but who knows if that was really true.

    No one would speak of such things in Lord Tatsumi's presence. There were plenty of other minor lords and ladies that served under Tatsumi Kanji, but they still would not dare speak of such blasphemy.

    One of the main reasons why no one would cross Lord Tatsumi was because of his two immensely skilled samurai. Seta and Hanamura, who were both third and second-generation warriors respectively, were two of the most feared swordsmen in Nara. Though incredibly young, they were considered prodigies. Lord Tatsumi, himself, was said to be a man of immense strength and skilled with a kanabo. The only time Seta and Hanamura had ever been called to fight; the pair had killed a massive amount of soldiers by themselves.

    Lord Tatsumi had an audience with some minor lords and ladies today. He had sighed because they were going to go over issues he did not want to go over. "They want me to marry again so I can have an heir," Lord Tatsumi thought, "They just want one so they don't have to worry about losing their status."

    He had another issue that was going both ways, "I have to raise taxes again," Kanji thought.

    Part of the extra money would be going to the Fujiwaras' in Kyoto, but the other part would be going to him. The lords and ladies wanted their own share of the money. That's why they wanted to push this forward so quickly.

    The two tall men who were wearing yukata and standing right outside of the main entry hall were waiting outside at attention and to greet the lords coming in. The lords would recognize both of the young men. The silver-haired man with silver eyes and brown-haired man both had a scabbard at their side, and the silver-haired man's serious face was belied by his good looks. It was a dangerous combination to cross Seta Souji.

    Both of the samurai were wearing all white and bowed to all of incoming lords.

    Lord Dojima nodded towards Seta as he walked through the stone archway to the main hallway. He was a distant relative of Seta, an uncle, and was the oldest member of the group. He was also the wisest, if a bit tempermental. He did not care much for the Fujiwaras; especially for their current leader, Fujiwara Adachi.

    Dojima was wearing a blue and gray yukata and his graying hair and stubble was evident. Ryotaro… was the advisor to Lord Tatsumi and led the rest of council. He normally was the voice of reason.

    Dojima's journey along the rows of cherry blossoms that lead up to the archways gave him memories of his dying wife. Chisato was far too sickly and was no longer vibrant and happy. All care of his daughter Nanako would be left to attendants now.

    Lord Dojima bowed to Lord Tatsumi as he approached and the younger lord returned with a short bow. The wall scrolls, or kakemono, that lined the walls were embroidered with gold leaf.

    Lord Ichijo and Lord Nagase were cousins. They followed the wizened member of the group. Both of them were very close and were inseparable. They were also extremely athletic, almost as athletic as the highly trained samurai. Behind Lord Ichijo was his extremely pretty wife, Lady Ebihara.

    Both of the cousins were wearing blue, while Lady Ebihara was wearing a lavish white silk kimono. The only contrast between Lord Kou and Daisuke was the blue hair of Kou and the brown of Daisuke.

    They both bowed to Lord Tatsumi as well as they walked up to him. Lady Ebihara did the same, her orange hair sliding down to cover the top of her kimono.

    Lord Tanaka, in everyone else's mind, was the greediest of all of the minor lords under the Fujiwara clan. He and his wife, Lady Uehara Sayoko, were dead set on stripping the land and its people of all of their money. He took everything to the extreme. His graying hair was a sharp contrast to the black-haired Sayoko. She was much younger than Lord Tanaka. Yet, it was an arranged marriage that turned out to be for the best.

    Lord Tanaka's black wear was a sharp disparity to the white clothes of the samurai as he passed him. He had a disdainful look for Hanamura, and an intriguing look for Seta. He looked like he wanted to use him somehow. Lady Uehara had a seductive look for Seta in her white and pink kimono. She used dye from the flowers in this exact palace to get the color for this kimono. Last's year flowers, of course.

    Both Lord Tanaka and Lady Uehara had nothing but condescending looks for Lord Tatsumi when they bowed, but Kanji ignored them. It was no use inciting a war within the family for this reason. If it got beyond a few petty looks, he would have his vassals take care of them.

    Lord Konishi was standing nonchalantly just outside the palace gates. His gray nondescript robes were nothing like what he used to wear. He started wearing them ever since his sister died. Lady Konishi died in a mysterious accident that none of the other lords could explained. When the beautiful sister of Lord Konishi died, Lord Konishi Naoki went into a depressed state. There was no snapping him out of it.

    His head was in a permanent bow as he walked towards Lord Tatsumi. He received disparaging looks from the other lords and ladies as he entered the chamber. The only one that seemed to understand his pain was Seta and he was not even a lord.

    The lords and ladies: Lord Dojima, Konishi, Tanaka, Nagase, Ichijo, as well as Lady Uehara and Ebihara… all sat in front of Lord Tatsumi.

    Kanji took a deep breath before he addressed the group. His first words would reverberate among the pillars of the room.

    "We are all here to discuss the nature of the issues at hand," Kanji told them, "Give me the status of your situation."

    Dojima was the first to speak, "The rest of the Fujiwaras' in Kyoto are starting to pressure us for more money. They are feeling that are losing control of their family, and there is underlying pressure from the Minamoto family. They may ask for troops as well."

    "Greedy bastards…," Nagase muttered.

    Ebihara said, "Do we even have manpower to give them if they ask for it?"

    Kanji shook his head in disagreement.

    "We could give them Seta and Hanamura," Tanaka suggested.

    Kou rebuked him, "What if the Minamotos' attack us? We have plenty of footmen, but none of our samurai match up against either of them."

    The Minamotos'... Seta cringed at hearing their names. Lord Arisato and Lady Takeba, as well as his sister Lady Arisato and Lord Aragaki were the leaders of the Minamoto family.

    Dojima shook his head, "We wouldn't give up either samurai, but we can provide a small amount of foot soldiers. The problem is taxation."

    That caused a sigh of relief on Souji's face, and as he looked at Yosuke; he saw he was doing the same.

    Tanaka smiled. He had the land well in hand in this department.

    Seeing Tanaka's smiling face, Kanji asked him, "I understand we need to pressure the serfs into giving us what they owe, but if you kill them…"

    "We can't tax dead people," Ai told Tanaka.

    "We call it scare tactics," Tanaka replied, "They'll pay if they see their fellow farmers and workers dead."

    "It's wrong…," Ai shook her head.

    Kou said, "If it is necessary… we may need to be a little aggressive."

    Kanji shook his head, "I agree. The heads of the Fujiwaras' will be on us soon enough for money."

    "We'll get on it then," Dojima nodded and motioned to an advisor that had come in. He said to the man in the gold-colored hat, "Make sure you collect all of the taxes."

    "What about food?" Lady Uehara spoke, "They'll be asking for that too."

    "An army needs food. Without food, an army can not run," Lord Dojima explained.

    "Leave that to me," Her husband, Lord Tanaka, smirked.

    "Then that's done," Kanji nodded with exhaustion. He almost made to get up, but was stopped by Lady Uehara.

    "There is also an issue with you carrying on the family name," Lady Uehara stopped him, "You need a son, since your first wife… was unable to provide you with one."

    "Don't start with me about this," Lord Tatsumi said, "I don't want to worry about it right now."

    "But… you need an heir," Lady Sayoko continued.

    "Lady Uehara is right," Dojima agreed with her, "The longer you go without a son, the weaker you will look."

    "Even a bastard son will look better than being without one," Lady Ebihara told him.

    "You could always just find some girl off the streets to have at least one child, while you find a suitable wife later on," Kou suggested.

    "Kou!" Kou's cousin, Lord Daisuke Nagase, exclaimed.

    "It may be necessary, if he is that stubborn about it," Lady Ebihara said.

    "Not you too," Daisuke shook his head.

    "If it must be done… let him take some peasant girl to his chambers and then throw her into the servant quarters afterwards," Lord Konishi finally spoke.

    There were some nods of agreements, and some nods of resignation.

    Kanji sighed. He knew it would turn into something like this.

    "Then it's agreed," Dojima said, "If Lord Tatsumi can not find a suitable wife, then he will go out and find a peasant girl."

    Kanji looked exasperated at these turn of events. If he had to sire a child, he would rather it not be a peasant girl give him an heir. However, he was not interested in any of the possibilities that the minor Fujiwara ladies offered.

    Kanji shook his head, "If we are done… then you are all dismissed."

    All of the lords and ladies except Lord Dojima stood up, bowed, and made their way out of the palace. Yosuke followed the lords and ladies out, while Souji waited at the doorway.

    Kanji looked lost and the older advisor made note of that. "You look frustrated, Lord Tatsumi."

    "This whole pushing me to find a wife…," Kanji muttered, "I don't want to deal with that."

    Dojima thought for a second, "What about Lady Ozawa? She's available."

    "I'd rather not," Kanji responded.

    "You have never seen her…," Dojima responded, "Then again… neither of us have."

    "I heard she's very gloomy," Kanji told him.

    Dojima sighed in frustration, "Maybe… the best idea is for you to pick someone outside of the hierarchy. It may not be honorable, and it will be looked down upon... but it will give you more time."

    "I guess… I may have no choice," Kanji shrugged, "That's if Tanaka doesn't kill them all."

    Dojima let out a sharp chuckle, "You're right about that." He told the head of Nara, "I'll make sure you find a girl. You can tour the city."

    Dojima bowed as Kanji said, "Alright, you can go now."

    As Dojima left, so did his other samurai guard, Souji. Kanji had other guards watching over him, and Souji was watching over Dojima closely.

    "Lord Dojima…," Souji said to Dojima as he walked out with him.

    "You know to just call me Ryotaro when we're alone, Souji," Dojima told the eighteen-year old samurai.

    The forty-four year-old lord knew his cousin had to be formal, but this was private. It was important to speak to the young man, though.

    "As you wish, uncle," Souji nodded.

    "I have special orders for you," Dojima said.

    The two of them had passed the cherry blossoms and were passing through more archways. The cherry blossoms were beautiful in the spring, swaying in the slight breeze.

    "What do you wish for me to do?" Souji asked Dojima.

    "Seta… Lord Tatsumi will not find a bride within the confines within these walls. I want you to be at his side when he goes out to the rural areas… Take Hanamura with you," Dojima commanded.

    Souji stopped and bowed, "I understand. Is there anything else you wish for me?"

    "Watch out for Lord Tanaka," Dojima warned, "He may try to betray Lord Tatsumi and take power for himself. If he does… the power of Nara will dissipate."

    "I will keep my eye on him and pass on the orders to Hanamura," Souji responded and bowed again.

    "Good… That's all I ask cousin," Dojima told him.

    Souji walked ahead of the older lord and went to find his partner. He looked around and found Yosuke with his back against the reddish stone gates watching Lady Ebihara and Lady Sayoko walk out of the palace. Souji stood next to Yosuke as he stared at the ladies. They were heading towards their own smaller manors. Lady Ebihara's long red-orange hair swayed in the light breeze.

    "Lord Ichijo was a lucky bastard," Yosuke muttered to Souji as he came up to him.

    "How so?" Souji asked.

    "He never saw Lady Ebihara before he married her and look at her," Yosuke pointed out. He explained, "Her face, her body, everything about her… she's beautiful."

    "She's a bitch…," Souji responded, "And she's not very bright."

    "A small price to pay if she's beautiful," Yosuke told him. He then asked Souji, "Who cares if she's stupid?"

    "Says someone who's trading fans with Lady Satonaka," Souji said tiredly, "You are not even supposed to be messing around with people like Lady Satonaka anyways."

    "What do you mean by that?" Yosuke asked. He continued, "You are one to talk."

    "Have you read her fans?" Souji asked. He explained, "They are not exactly pieces of art."

    "Do you consider Lady Kujikawa's fans eloquent?" Yosuke challenged, "She is always sending you fans."

    Souji shook his head. Lady Kujikawa was always bombarding him with illicit poetry in her fans. He was a samurai, not a lord. "I find them full of innuendo," Souji responded. "But… every one is, am I not correct?"

    "Of course they are," Yosuke said, "That's the point." He continued, "What do you consider of Lady Amagi?"

    Souji thought about it. Two weeks ago, when Souji and Yosuke were heading back to Lord Tatsumi's palace late at night, one of Lady Amagi's servants stopped Souji in front of her residence. The servant, dressed in white, gave him a fan written in neat and well-expressed calligraphy. They were words expressing her wish to be with him. It was slightly disturbing for someone who had never even seen him in person to write such words. He was a samurai, damn it! He was not used to high-ranking women trying to seduce him. It was completely ridiculous in his eyes. They were not supposed to be even thinking about him.

    "I don't want to think about it," Souji muttered.

    "Heh…," Yosuke said, "I'm going to see Lady Satonaka,"

    Souji closed his eyes, "Okay… I'll talk to you later, Yosuke." He remembered Dojima's words and called out, "Lord Dojima wants you stay by Lord Tatsumi's side when he heads out to the rural areas in a couple of days."

    "He does not have much faith in him finding a wife, does he?" Yosuke remarked as he turned around sharply.

    "Not really," Souji told him.

    "Of course, I'll be there… What kind of guard do you take me for?" Yosuke asked as he turned back around.

    Technically, Souji was slightly more prestigious than Yosuke. If it was not something that his great-grandfather did, Souji would have been a lord along with his Uncle Dojima. His family still became samurai, and lucrative samurai at that.

    Souji closed his eyes at the setting sun. All Souji wanted to do at the moment was go back to his home and meditate. He had orders from his uncle, but Souji would rather not get involved in all of this.

    Souji started his walk past Lord Tatsumi's residence and into the mercantile area of Nara. As the sun set, the merchants started to pack up their goods. At seeing a young man with a sword, both the peasants and the merchants cast worried looks on each other. No one wanted to cross him. Souji was usually pretty docile. He was better than Tanaka's guards. The guards would chop anyone to pieces who Tanaka thought disrespected him in the slightest.

    Souji tried to keep his eyes forward and make sure he did not have to cause any trouble. The lower classes skirted wide of him, regardless, but he did not want to have cut anyone down today. He was tired, and Souji hoped he did not snap at somebody.

    A man in dirty white robes gave a scared look at Souji as he turned the corner. Souji ignored him. He could not ignore the other man who ran straight into him. He looked just like the other man, wearing the same kind of white robes and short black hair. He seemed to be the brother of the first man. Bumping into Souji had nearly knocked him down, and the both peasants had appalled looks on his face.

    "Oh… god, I'm so sorry… Please forgive me, Sir," The second guy said to Souji as the young samurai staggered.

    "You do realize who you ran into, right?" Souji asked. His hand lazily grasped his blade.

    "Yes, sir…," The first guy said, "He didn't mean to. Please… We didn't mean to…"

    Souji sighed. He didn't really want to get his sword dirty. He was far too tired to care right now.

    "Just go home…," Souji told them.

    "Thank you, Sir," the first peasant bowed, knowing that both of them had escaped with their lives.

    The second peasant bowed and the first one bowed again. They both ran away after that as Souji closed his eyes. Souji opened them and brushed his yukata as if running into the peasant had dirtied them. The white clothes Souji was wearing did indeed have slight marks of dirt on them. He did not know when the last time the peasants had bathed.

    Regardless of this fact, Souji shrugged all of this off and kept moving away from the commercial area. It was along these paths that he passed a massive Buddhist temple. Amidst all of the merchants waiting to leave, Souji stopped momentarily to gaze upon its majesty. He knew that he was blocking the road, but the people would just have to wait for him. Souji had seen the temple many times, but every time he saw it always amazed him.

    Souji shook his head and continued along the passageways. His home was near more of the minor lords and ladies' residences. As Souji's eyes started to droop from exhaustion, he almost ran into a female servant that was coming his way. She seemed a little flustered, especially when she almost bumped into him.

    The young female servant bowed as she stopped. "I'm sorry,"

    "It's okay… I wasn't paying attention," Souji shook his head. What was with him and running into people today? He looked at the girl. She was a pretty young thing. Her black hair was done up in a bun. "Can I help you?"

    "This is from Lady Kujikawa, Sir," The girl gave him a white silk fan.

    Souji cringed at receiving another fan from Lady Rise Kujikawa. The writing on it was... scary. She was obviously far too easily impressed by his exploits. It was not like he had done very much in his life so far. He had barely cracked twenty.

    The fan read something like "Willows upon the path of souls. Inside the trees, inside the soul is a wish; my wish. My wish is a wish shared only by me. Take me to the stars."

    The fan was dripping with innuendo. Souji needed to find a way to get out of there. The last thing he wanted to do was to send a fan back.

    Souji looked down at the fan again and then back at the expectant servant. She was looking at him like she was waiting for him to write something back. "Damn…," Souji thought, "How am I going to get away from this?"

    The servant, decked in white, was cute, but Souji was thinking far too hard about other things. The servant finally asked, "Do you need me to bring you a fan?" She must have guessed that a samurai would not have any fans to write on.

    Souji sighed and asked the black-haired servant, "Can you tell Lady Kujikawa that I am very, very tired and that I must retire for the evening?"

    The servant looked disappointed, like she would somehow suffer for delivering this message, but answered with a bow, "As you wish."

    The servant bowed again and turned back towards a small, but still larger than his own residence. It was a reddish, almost pink place with a lavish touch. Though the Kujikawa was a minor house, it was certainly a known house. Souji knew that Yosuke would rather have had Kujikawa's attention than Satonaka's, but he made do.

    Now that he had gotten rid of the servant, Souji was finally free to walk home without any more interruptions… he hoped.

    Souji's walk ended at the largest of any of the samurai's residences. He was the most prestigious samurai in the city, so his place was the largest. He pushed the sliding door open and held his head. He had a headache from everything that had happened today.

    "I'm glad to be home," Souji muttered to himself.

    Souji took off his sword, loosened his black sash, and sat down in the middle of the living room. He crossed his legs, closed his eyes, and opened his mind. He wanted to clear his thoughts for the future. Souji had so many orders, so many thoughts on his mind, and so little time.

    The rain had started to fall. The cherry blossoms had almost finished blooming and the next season would be summer. The summer would bring even more rain. As the rain pattered, Souji's mind cleared. He knew what he had to do now. He was torn on his ethical ideology, but he knew his duties. He was reluctant to harm peasants, he did not want to integrate himself with nobility, and he was so wary of nobles like Tanaka. Yet, Souji had his orders, and he had to follow them. Souji would be at Lord Tatsumi's side when he went out to the countryside, and he would protect his land. He is expendable.

    The next day

    Rural Nara

    The rural land surrounding Nara and its inhabitants were happy to see the rains. Rain meant that crops would grow. These inhabitants were the poorest of any of the others. There was not much land around Nara that could be worked. Space was precious, and it was worked very heavily. If a harvest failed, then it would be a disaster for everyone. The taxes on the land were extremely heavy, and they were about to be raised. Tanaka was going to strip the land bare with his taxation.

    The rice fields were inundated with water. The children helped with the adults in the fields with the intensive labor. Families were large and work was difficult. Life was difficult and painstaking. Though… people found joy in it. There was simplicity in living a life free of plots and twisting loyalties. You just lived your life in a continuous circle. It was a never ending circle of life and death.

    One family was working hard on the fields. There were only a few of them working on the fields today. A young person and a grandfather were laboring away fruitlessly. The young person was short with short blue hair and a soft face. Her unkempt tunic was colored blue as well. The grandfather's long gray hair was untidy and uneven. With only two trying to do everything, they would never make any progress. The harvest would fail and when they expected rice and money… there would be none.

    "Grampa," the young person looked at him and then asked, "When is my cousin coming home?"

    "Naoto…," the grandfather responded, "I don't know."

    "He is coming home, right?" Naoto asked.

    "He's on the run…," Naoto's grandfather told Naoto, "He can't come home."

    Naoto's grandfather sighed. Naoto's cousin killed a samurai. Coming home… would mean putting everyone in danger.

    As work continued, Naoto's grandfather looked up. He saw a group of men approaching. They were here to collect taxes… taxes that they could not provide. They were Tanaka's men.

    "Naoto…," the grandfather called, "Go inside…"

    "But… Grampa," Naoto protested.

    "Go!" Grandfather exclaimed.

    Naoto turned around and headed back towards the communal home that they shared with another family. Naoto was scared for grampa. "What are they going to do to him?" Naoto thought.
     
  4. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Samurai and Ninajs Chap. 2

    Did you know? That until the Meiji Era, rural families were not allowed last names in Japan. If you were not important, you did not have a last name.

    Nara- Lord Tatsumi's Residence

    Earlier that morning

    Dressed in fancy black and light yellow clothes, Lord Tatsumi was once again sitting in that gilded chair in that palace/fortress of his. It was a torturous morning for him to say the least. Lord Dojima had come in early this morning to discuss possible wives for him. This was one of the last things Kanji Tatsumi wanted to talk about. It was unavoidable, however. Lord Dojima was going to come in and find him a woman, if it was the last thing he did.

    It did not help that Seta was standing right there to hear everything. Lord Tatsumi trusted Souji Seta with his life. He was closer to him than he was to other guard, Hanamura. He sparred with him and trained with him regularly. He would be laughed at later on.

    When Kanji was younger, he never understood why he had to marry Lady Matsunaga when he was so young. His mother told him that there were a multitude of reasons. One was the fact that it would give them a chance to maybe fall in love, like she did with her father. No actual love ever formed between Kanji and Ayane. Marrying young also gave the chance for producing many, many kids. Kids died all time through childbirth, disease, and other mishaps. Having a boy was one thing… keeping it alive was another task. Only a few years after Lady Matsunaga died were the lords pushing another marriage on Lord Tatsumi. The third reason was because of the constant instability between the three families. The Fujiwara, Minamoto, and Taira families were constantly jockeying for position and sensing a weakness in any chain could cause a collapse in the whole city. If Kanji died, a son could take over.

    His father had assigned Lord Dojima as regent when he died, and he had kept the region of Nara afloat while the younger Lord Tatsumi matured. If the current Lord Tatsumi had a son and he fell for one reason or another, Kanji would hope Lord Dojima was still alive to watch over his lands while he matured. There was no one else he would rather have watching over what he has tried to keep together the past couple of years. Now, it was time for the hard part.

    "Lord Tatsumi," Dojima bowed while standing to his left, "You need to listen to me. If you don't decide on a female, whatever hold you have on this land will fail. We need a strong choice."

    Dojima was wearing the same blue and gray as he was the day before. His gray stubble never really went away.

    "I know that, Lord Dojima," Kanji sighed. He looked at the much older man, "Well… let's hear my choices again."

    Lord Dojima unrolled a long scroll. It had a long list of names of what seemed of every available noble lady in Nara and the surrounding lands. They had gone through this list before. This was the second time they were going through the list of women, maybe they would find a suitable girl this time around. Maybe he had gotten hit on the head so many times by Souji that something was knocked loose and he would finally make a pick.

    Dojima coughed to clear his throat and started reading, "Well… there's Lady Ozawa. She's said to be a brilliant dramatist."

    "Her father was assassinated by the Minamoto family and her mother committed suicide," Lord Tatsumi responded. He continued, "She's supposedly just as dreary."

    "But… she's supposedly beautiful," Souji added. It looked like the samurai was going to give him advice as well. He had connections as well.

    "Does that really matter if she decides to kill everyone one evening?" Lord Tatsumi rolled his eyes.

    Dojima shook his head. He scrolled his eyes down the list. "What about Lady Satonaka?" Dojima asked.

    That comment made Souji choke down a laugh. It forced both lords to turn towards the samurai.

    "Is something funny?" Lord Dojima asked.

    "Not really funny," Souji's mind was not focused on funny.

    Dojima and Kanji looked at each other. "What is it?" Kanji asked.

    "You can find my partner with Lady Satonaka right now," Souji explained.

    "Hanamura is there?" Dojima raised an eyebrow, "Well…" He shrugged his shoulders.

    Kanji closed his eyes, "She's not very smart."

    "Why do you think she's attracted to Hanamura?" Souji smirked.

    Dojima let out a sigh, "Well… what about Lady Kujikawa? She's one of the most beautiful women in Nara?"

    "She writes very seductively as well, if sloppily," Souji cut in.

    "How would you know…?" Lord Tatsumi started to ask. He then asked, "Have you?'

    "She tries too hard," Souji replied.

    "Well… how about Lady Kujikawa?" Lord Dojima inquired.

    "She'll most likely act like Lord Arisato of the Minamoto family," Kanji said, shifting his position in the chair. Even the Fujiwaras knew about Lord Arisato's affairs with Lady Aigis. The only person that did not know about it was the Lady Takeba.

    Dojima knew that Lord Tatsumi had rejected Lady Kujikawa so he moved on, "Lady Amagi? What about her?"

    "No… She does not want to be a Tatsumi," Kanji said, "She hates it in Nara. She finds it so restrictive to be cooped up in a small place, never to see the outside."

    "Now that I think about it, I have heard of such," Dojima rubbed a little stubble, "It could cause more strife within Nara, within the Fujiwara family."

    Souji thought, "The only reason she ever sent me a fan was because I can be sent places at any time. She must hope that I'll get sent somewhere and she can join me."

    The list continued, for what seemed forever. Dojima would list someone; Kanji would immediately shoot it down for one reason or another. The reasons were getting slightly ridiculous. Dojima was getting exhausted with this. Kanji just needed to get the job done and get a son.

    Dojima rolled up the scroll and gave a heavy sigh and coughed. He really did not want to make this suggestion. He would rather have given this suggestion to his cousin in a couple of years to make him a lord.

    Dojima said slowly. "There is my daughter, Nanako. Though my daughter is too young at the moment to produce an heir, she is at an age where you could marry her."

    Souji didn't expect him to offer his daughter to Lord Tatsumi. That was a big surprise to him.

    Lord Tatsumi could see the regret in Dojima's eyes. Though marrying Lord Dojima's daughter would strengthen his hold on Nara greatly, something about it… seemed wrong. Marrying a girl before she knew what love was did not always turn out for best.

    "Are there no other choices?" Lord Tatsumi looked at Lord Dojima.

    "If you don't pick between any of the women that were on the list, you will be forced to find someone not to marry, but to just have a son with," Dojima explained, "Whether it be a peasant girl, or a servant; you will find someone to have a child or children with. It does not have to be with someone you love or truly care about; you need to have an heir."

    The thought of having a meaningless relationship just to have a son with disgusted Kanji Tatsumi. There were a lot of flaws with these noble ladies, but if he could just find that single girl he cared about, then there would be no problem. Instead, they were thinking about resorting about giving him an eight-year old or a servant girl. The women were supposed to be subservient in marriage, but this was beyond ludicrous.

    "After you have a "son"," Dojima continued, "You will have more time to think about it, understandably."

    Kanji felt annoyed. He couldn't escape any of this. It was just something he had to do or there was a chance that Nara could suffer because of it.

    His thoughts were interrupted by Lord Ichijo's sudden arrival into the main hallway. His blue wear matched his blue hair. He seemed in a hurry, and his intrusion gave Lord Tatsumi a chance to find out what Lord Ichijo needed.

    Dojima turned his head as Lord Tatsumi asked, "What do you need Lord Ichijo?"

    "Tanaka's men have begun the collection of taxes, Lord Tatsumi," Kou explained.

    "Already?" Dojima looked slightly confused, "How did he get men out so fast?"

    "Is Tanaka with them?" Kanji asked.

    "No… He would never bother with something as trivial as this," Kou responded, "The men are currently among the outlying areas of Nara. They are seeing to the rural areas."

    "It's too early to collect those taxes," Dojima looked at Lord Tatsumi, who gave a slight nod. Dojima continued, "The amount is far too much. Even at the old rate, they could not fulfill what we ask since we just taxed them a short while ago."

    "Lord Tanaka is being greedy," Kanji said, "He's trying to suck up all the wealth he can as soon as he can."

    Kou looked at the pair, "Tanaka's men are ruthless. If the peasants can not pay up…"

    "Then we won't have anyone left to grow crops," Kanji finished.

    "We will have a peasant rebellion on our hands," Dojima said, "Push them too much and they'll push back."

    Kanji put his hand to his forehead. He knew Tanaka would try and take advantage of this. He should have waited for this order and sent out reasonable people like Lord Nagase and Lord Ichijo. The last person Kanji wanted to send out there was Tanaka and his men. Now he needed to stop him before peasants died.

    Kanji looked at his personal guard and gave his command, "Seta… find out wherever Tanaka's men are and stop them from doing anything that would cause us to have a shortage of crops in the near future."

    Souji responded with a bow, "I understand, my lord."

    Souji shouldered his sword and rushed out of the palace. He was not amused by Tanaka's plan. He did not like senseless killing, but if the peasants rebelled; he would be called in to stop them. Souji really hated his job sometimes.

    Souji moved faster than usual because he needed to find Lord Tanaka first.

    As Souji left, Lord Tatsumi addressed Lord Ichijo, "Is there anything else?"

    "No, Lord Tatsumi. If I may, I will take my leave," Lord Ichijo nodded.

    Kanji nodded and Kou turned and left. It was obviously much slower than the speed than Souji left.

    "I hope this does not cause something that will damage our family," Kanji said to Dojima.

    Dojima nodded in agreement. Somehow, Dojima had a sinking feeling that this small action could have big ramifications.

    Souji's pace had jumped up from a fast walk from to a jog. He decided not to worry about picking up his yumi or his sleeveless jacket… and instead only about getting to Tanaka's residence. His black and white hakama was unhindered as he weaved between the traffic. At seeing a samurai with his sword in hand, everyone was quick to move out of their way. Running through the mercantile district, Souji nearly hit two carts carrying silk and at least five shoppers. Soon, Souji made it to the noble's residential area. Souji flew by the same young black-haired servant of Lady Kujikawa who had given a fan from her lady the night before.

    "I'm sorry… official business," Souji said to her as he ran past.

    Lord Tanaka and Lady Uehara had separate living residences. Souji had to think for a second on which one was which. He decided to pick the one that was twice the size as the other and the oak was colored black. It was nearly one-fourth the size of Lord Tatsumi's. It was despicable and a way of showing up every other lord and lady in Nara. It even dwarfed Lord Dojima's residence.

    "Only a greedy bastard would have that a place that big," Souji muttered to himself.

    Souji walked up to the sliding door and called out, "Lord Tanaka! I need to speak with you, Sir… I have orders from Lord Tatsumi and I need help from you."

    If you listened closely, you could hear a rustling of sheets and a grumbling man. Around a minute later, Lord Tanaka came out in a white robe, disheveled and very annoyed.

    "What do you want?" Tanaka asked with malice.

    If Souji looked closely, he could Sayoko on the other side of Tanaka's sheets.

    "I need to know where your men are today," Souji told him.

    "They're out collecting taxes," Tanaka answered with an annoyed face, "Does that satisfy you? Then get out…"

    "No… I need to know where in the outlying areas they are right now," Souji told him.

    "Go through the city, past the Kusaga Shrine, and head straight that way. You'll find my men there," Tanaka sneered, "They're just doing their job."

    "Thank you…," Souji nodded, "I'll take my leave." Souji bowed.

    Souji began running again and Tanaka slammed his sliding door.

    "Damn him…," Tanaka thought, "Lord Tatsumi is sending his prize pet to watch over my men. Tch…"

    From under his sheets of the sleeping quarters, Lady Sayoko raised her head. "What is it, my lord?"

    "Nothing for you to worry about," Lord Tanaka smiled.

    Tanaka turned back around and headed back. He closed the second sliding door behind him. You could see the silhouette of a man in the background and a robe dropping.

    Souji continued his run through the Kusaga Shrine. It's brilliant red colors and magnificent architecture was not lost on Souji. He had no time to revel in it or really think about it. Souji had a job to do.

    "It honors Takemikazuchi…," Souji thought in the back of the mind.

    Passing it, Souji closed in towards where the deer lived and the city gates of Nara. He was almost to the rural areas. Souji was not sure what he would find when he got to the rural area.

    Rural Nara

    Morning

    Naoto had slipped back to one of the communal homes at the bequest of the second oldest member in the village. The oldest member also lived in this communal home. Her name was Hisano, the midwife. She was an ancient lady who did not move too much and barely ever left the home anymore. She was swathed in black and her wispy gray hair was matted against her head. Naoto's blue eyes barely peaked out of the open window. No one could see Naoto, but Naoto could see everything. The navy blue tunic Naoto was wearing was squeezed tight against Naoto's body, so close that you could almost see the bandages across the chest.

    The two other people in the home at the time, a girl and a boy were just as worried as Naoto. One was a boy who normally liked to joke around, and another normally liked to pair up all of the boys and girls in the outlying area. Now, neither would be happening.

    Naoto's grandfather was the focal point and pseudo-leader of the "village". He had drawn every farmer to the area around him. The lords had come for taxes only a few months ago. The people had barely survived after that. They were coming again for more food and more of everything. It would be impossible for the farmers to provide what they wanted.

    Tanaka's men had arrived. There were only four of them, but all were dangerous. All four carried swords and one was a samurai dressed in a red and white hakama. He carried two blades instead of one. He was scruffy for a samurai with semi-short unkempt black hair, tied back with a black band.

    The samurai called out to the group, "Who speaks for these people?"

    "I do," Naoto's grandfather answered, but with cautious respect.

    The samurai continued, "We are here to collect what is ours…"

    "What is it that you want, Sir?" a middle-aged woman named Eri inquired.

    "We need a share of your foodstuffs," the samurai answered.

    "Again?" Naoto's grandfather asked, his respect dropping, "You just took everything we had a couple of months ago. What could you possibly need more of our food for?"

    "That is not your concern," the samurai told him, looking annoyed.

    "A share of our crops?" Eri looked confused.

    "The same amount as last time, plus another half," the samurai explained like it was obvious.

    All of the farmers looked at each other. There was no way in Yomi that they could provide that amount of food. All the food they had left… they needed for themselves until the crops were harvested again.

    "Did you ever consider that we don't have any food to give you?" Naoto's grandfather asked.

    "If you aren't dead," the samurai responded, "Then you have food…"

    "We soon will be with all the taxes," another person called out, "Do you not see how thin we are?" You could see the man's sunken face.

    "That is not my problem, you insignificant little bugs," the samurai said, "Just give us the food and we will go away."

    "Yes, for a few months," another short-haired peasant called out, "We will be even poorer then. How are we supposed to do that?"

    One of the footmen struck that particular peasant and he hit the ground hard. The surrounding peasants ran up to him and picked him up.

    "Know your place," the particular man, sword at his side, told him.

    Naoto's grandfather matched the glare that the samurai gave him. Neither was going to budge, and that was going to cause major trouble.

    Back at the house, Hisano looked at Naoto and said, "You should go… It's going to get bad."

    "I can't leave Grampa…," Naoto said from the window.

    The samurai had started a diatribe, "You are only allowed on this land because of people like Lord Tanaka. If it was not for him, you would not be allowed to live here. For the right to live here, we require things as well. We need some of the things you produce. Reciprocity is required."

    "Last time I checked, this land was given to us by Lord Tatsumi, not Lord Tanaka," Naoto's grandfather rebuked, "Still, even with his taxes it's killing us."

    The samurai made a motion and the footmen advanced forwards. The samurai said, "If that's the way you feel, then we will have to deal with you."

    The samurai grabbed Naoto's grandfather by his short tunic while he said to his lackeys, "Search the houses for any stashes of food. Take the peasants with you so you can find it all."

    Naoto's grandfather tried to struggle, but the samurai struck him across the face. His nose broke and blood ran down his face. Naoto's grandfather was in immense pain, and his tears were mixing with his blood.

    "Geirin!" one of the male peasants called out.

    That peasant was shoved by one of the impatient footmen, so he could get to the communal homes.

    Naoto tried to stifle a scream. It was so difficult to see this happening.

    "Grampa…," Naoto thought as a tear rolled down the right eye.

    As the footmen started to advance, shoving the men and women who were outside towards their houses, some violently, Hisano said softly to Naoto, "Go out the back. Go out to where we harvest wild grasses. You'll find something there. You'll be safe there."

    Naoto's eyes could not move from the window. Naoto's village… the peace had been shattered. Only when the other boy and girl dragged Naoto away from the window did Naoto leave the communal home.

    Unwillingly, Naoto snuck out the back entrance of the home to where the wild grasses met the yards. The peasants harvested it for their own purposes, including food. Naoto ducked down, unseen, looking for something, while still keeping eyes on Grampa. Naoto soon found the metal chain and Hisano must have wanted Naoto to find. It was a sickle in actuality, one they used to cut the wild grasses. This sickle was very different from a normal one. As Naoto's hands gripped the sickle, eyes went back from the ground to Grampa.

    Grandfather Geirin was thrown to the ground by that samurai; his green tunic was drenched by the ground that had been inundated with the rain last night. His blood started to mix with the wet surface. The samurai with unkempt hair stood over him and sneered as it seemed that Naoto's grandfather had been knocked unconscious. He was teaching these people a lesson for disobeying Lord Tanaka's orders. A small example of beating this old man to unrecognizable status would make the others give what they should.

    The footmen had started entering the homes and throwing things about. They were unhappy to find that there was almost no food, and they were taking it out on the meager possession within the homes. You could hear the disruption and overturning of clothes, tables, and everything else. Yelling was coming from both peasants and the samurai's footmen as there was only a thin string before everything collapsed.

    One of the footmen came out of one of the houses and called out to the samurai, "I can't find any food. There is nothing here."

    "No food at all?" the samurai looked at the skinny sword-wearing footman, "How can they have no food?"

    The samurai was frustrated as he saw all of the footmen return from three of the communal homes with very little to show for it. As the three footmen walked towards the samurai and started dumping the small bags of food in front of him.

    "Is that it?" the samurai looked annoyed. He came all the way out here for almost nothing. It was ridiculous. He yelled at the peasants, "This is all of the food you have, fools!"

    Geirin looked up at him from the ground. He said to the samurai, "I told you… we don't have anything to give you."

    The samurai was affronted by this, and stepped on his back. Geirin grunted in pain as the foot reached his back. He realized that they had not searched Geirin's home yet. The samurai pointed to what he thought was Naoto's grandfather's place, "Search that home…"

    Geirin was horrified. He believed that Naoto was still in that home. The last thing he wanted was to involve Naoto in all of this. Everyone else in his family had such a short family… his nephew, his girlfriend, and Naoto.

    "Please… please don't…," Geirin called out.

    The samurai smirked. This must be where the stores of food were being kept. He was their de facto leader after all. It wouldn't be a waste of time after all. Lord Tanaka would not be disappointed after all. Disappointed… with Lord Tanaka disappointed meant something completely different.

    The samurai was going to search the place himself. He wanted to get the credit for finding the haul. The samurai's eyes widened when he could not move his left leg. Geirin had grabbed the samurai's ankle with a small amount of his remaining strength.

    "Bastard," The samurai muttered.

    The sword-wielding man picked up Geirin by his long gray hair and was able to lift him to his feet. The samurai then shoved him forward. As Geirin staggered and dragged his feet forward, the samurai drew the longer of his long blades. The samurai made a long gash along Geirin's back. The blood spurt out in a somewhat diagonal gush from the old man's back. He stuttered once and shuffled his feet twice before falling to the ground, lifeless.

    "Geirin!" Eri exclaimed.

    She was one of Geirin's closest friends as time passed on, and seeing him fall… was so hard.

    The samurai looked at his dripping blade. He decided to take the opportunity to stop his advance for a moment and tell them, "This is what you get for opposing me and Lord Tanaka."

    The samurai spit on the fallen man. He decided to finish this. He was going to make a real example. Tanaka told him that if necessary… "Show them that we are serious." He picked up Geirin again and placed him on his knees. The samurai cracked his neck as he got ready to finish this.

    From behind Geirin's communal home, Naoto came running out from the long grasses, the sickle in hand. Naoto screamed at the sight of seeing Grampa fall, but the only reason they didn't hear the young person was because of the distance between them. The sickle was like no other sickle they had seen. Beneath the sickle was a long metal chain, and connected to the metal chain was a large iron ball. Naoto's cousin had left it here for just such an occasion. They were using it for normal harvesting, but now it was a true weapon.

    The six men of Tanaka's did not really notice either the young person or the weapon being carried because of Naoto's small stature. It was not until Naoto had nearly reached them did the samurai and the others notice Geirin's kin.

    Eri saw Naoto first. Though Eri was in shock from the samurai's treatment of Geirin, the wispy-haired woman shook out of it to see the advancement of Naoto towards the men. She also noticed the weapon in Naoto's hand, and how hopeless a one-person rebellion would be.

    The samurai was focusing on his little side-mission, and only when one of the footmen shook the leader's shoulder did he notice Naoto running towards him.

    "What do you want?" the samurai looked pissed for being disturbed, until he saw Naoto, then he said, "You little prick. Why are you holding a scythe? It's got a piss little chain on the end."

    Naoto remained silent; the blue tunic being worn clung close to the body. It was just an advance with a steel kusarigama towards the closest man with a weapon. It would be an advance the men would not forget.

    "What…?" the samurai looked amused at the advancement of a short blue-haired kid, "Are you going to attack me, little boy?"

    Naoto gave a look of pure malice towards the samurai. Only eight yards away now, Naoto stopped running towards the six.

    The samurai finally got a good look at Naoto, "You have a pretty face, boy… I don't know if I want to cut it all up. I'll leave it to someone else."

    The samurai motioned to one of the footmen and the footman drew his sword. The samurai never dropped Naoto's grandfather. The footman and his over three feet of steel crossed the distance quickly and attempt to cut the pretty boy down. Naoto took a deep breath and exhaled. Naoto had to recall the entire training the village exile taught them all. By holding it by the small handle where the iron ball was located, Naoto was able to swing the scythe around and make contact with the slashing footman's sword. The scythe pushed the sword down and Naoto grabbed the scythe handle to release the other handle. Naoto swung the iron ball around and into the footman's trachea, shattering it.

    "Holy shit…," the samurai muttered. Motioned to two of the others, he told them, "Kill the boy!"

    Two slightly more muscled men drew their blades. As one drew his sword and slashed vertically straight down, Naoto moved slightly to the left and when the footman was left wide open, Naoto slammed the scythe into the second man's chest. Pulling the scythe out and leaving a gaping hole in that man's chest, Naoto dropped to the ground to dodge an incoming horizontal slash from the third man. The third footman was going to stab downward, but Naoto recalled everything and rolled underneath the man who had split his legs. Naoto drove the scythe between his legs and the third man collapsed in a heap, bleeding from the lower portion down.

    Naoto got up slowly to face the unhappy samurai. He was not amused to see three footmen killed by a little boy. The boy could not be as old as fourteen.

    "You bastard," the samurai sneered, brandishing the same sword, while dropping Geirin. He fell to the ground.

    "I won't rest till I avenge what you did to my Grampa!" Naoto yelled.

    "You have a funny voice," the samurai told Naoto.

    Naoto began spinning the kusarigama. You could barely see the scythe in its revolutions. The samurai made a thrusting motion at Naoto's hidden bandaged chest. Naoto threw the scythe portion at the blade and it caught the sword and wrapped around, scythe and then chain. It began a tug and war motion between the pair. It was a skirmish between the two that Naoto could win. The lack of strength was Naoto's downfall, but the amount of effort was the only way the samurai could lose. Naoto let go of the kusarigama and the iron ball came around and hit the samurai in the right shoulder. The samurai dropped his weapon and clutched his shoulder.

    "You little piece of shit!" the samurai yelled, "You broke my shoulder!"

    With his other undamaged arm, the samurai drew his unhindered sword. The thousand-layered blade faced down an unarmed Naoto. Naoto was unarmed now and open to attack.

    "Okay… you little blue-haired pretty boy," the samurai tried to choke out, "You're going to die now."

    Eyes closed, Naoto prepared for the moment of death. Able to rebel, death was imminent now. Naoto was able to delay Grampa's suffering, maybe even stop his unnecessary torture and death.

    With the off-hand, the samurai brought his second sword down. A slash the unarmed Naoto could not dodge. The pain that would come with severing Naoto's major arteries, collarbone, and all the way down to the hip never came.

    Eyes opened, Naoto saw that a silver-haired man in a black and white hakama caught the Tanaka-sworn samurai's blade. The blade had never even come close as the samurai had barely started to swing before the silver-haired man caught the samurai's arm.

    Looking closely, Naoto could tell that the silver-haired man was another disgusting samurai with his neat and clean hair and pressed hakama. Naoto had no idea why this samurai would stop the other one.

    "What do you think you're doing!" the samurai yelled at none other but Souji. "This kid killed three of my subordinates and broke my shoulder. I have to kill her."

    Souji looked around. He saw the old man bleeding all over the ground and the scared peasants. Souji saw possessions from the houses all over the place, torn apart.

    Souji was livid, "You call yourself a samurai, Togadai! You ripped apart this village like a bunch of rogues! I don't care if Lord Tanaka sent you; you are a bunch of thugs! You're a disgrace!"

    "We were sent to collect taxes, Seta" Togodai responded, "They wouldn't give it to us."

    "No excuse!" Souji told him, "You knew Lord Tatsumi did not want taxes collected this soon!"

    "Well, Lord Tanaka did," Togodai said, "I follow Lord Tanaka."

    "Lord Tanaka follows Lord Tatsumi," Souji rebuked.

    "Now what?" Togodai asked, "What do you want me to do?" He was clutching his shoulder and pointed at Naoto, "This little kid still killed three men and attacked me!"

    "I'll be reporting this to Lord Tatsumi," Souji retorted.

    If Eri was frightened before at seeing Naoto and Geirin about to be executed, seeing the samurai Souji Seta terrified her. Souji Seta, however, seemed to be mad at the samurai who caused so much trouble for them.

    So, she asked Souji with respect and a little fear in her voice, "S… Sir, may we take back our food?"

    Souji nodded, "I promise it will be a little while longer till Lord Tatsumi sends tax collectors, not samurai. I promise we will not rip apart your homes either."

    Eri responded meekly, "Thank you…"

    The peasants were still weary to reclaim the food that was taken from them. It was finally done with some trepidation.

    Eri looked at two of the peasants, "You two… take care of Geirin…"

    The two of them grabbed the elder man and would soon begin the careful task of taking him to the midwife in Geirin's own home.

    Souji finally did turn his attention to the blue-haired Naoto. It was unfortunate that he would have to deal with this kid. Souji looked at the short and diminutive person who was suddenly looking for a place to run to. There was no place Naoto would rather be than at Grampa's side.

    "I'm afraid you have to come with me…," Souji told Naoto.

    "What?" Eri looked at her, "Are you going to execute Naoto?"

    "I don't know what Lord Tatsumi is going to do with… Naoto," Souji answered.

    Naoto started to move, like to run away. Souji easily caught up to Naoto and grabbed Naoto by the arm.

    "I need to be with Grampa…," Naoto told Souji.

    "You killed three men and injured a samurai," Souji responded, "I'm afraid you will have to join me."

    Naoto tried to struggle out of Souji's grip, but it was incredibly strong and Naoto could not escape. Naoto could do nothing but wait to leave with Souji.

    "I knew it would come to this," Naoto thought, "I am not as lucky as my cousin to escape this alive."
     
  5. Jakku

    Jakku Member

    Agi > Bufu
     
  6. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Samurai and Ninjas Chap. 3


    Around the City Gates of Nara

    Afternoon

    The sun was unbearable, and Souji could feel it on his forehead. How Souji would wipe the sweat that was running down his face was a conundrum in of itself. Souji's right arm was on his sword and the left was holding both of Naoto's arms at the wrist. Naoto, at the beginning, looked ready to jump at any moment. Souji needed to keep his eye on this "murderer". Naoto might have another weapon at hand, so Souji needed a hand on his sword. With the looks Naoto gave him, Souji would not be surprised if Naoto tried to kill him.

    Naoto glared at Souji. "Taking me away from my Grampa," Naoto thought, "Bastard…"

    He was just another samurai bastard that served one of those lords in Naoto's eyes. Probably screwed him too… Samurai were so disgusting. At least he washed his hair.

    They were getting close to the city gates now. The sweat from the sun was starting to get in Souji's eyes. It was getting annoying. There were two guards that Souji ran past in such a hurry to get this village that he did not even bother announce his attentions or wait for clearance. Souji would have to apologize to the guards later.

    Souji nodded to the pair as he made to reenter the city, gazing warily at the archers above them.

    "I am sorry about running past you without making myself known. It was an emergency," Souji explained, nodding towards the person he had in his grasp.

    The two city guards looked at each other. The pair bowed at Souji in understanding. The archers had their right arms behind their shoulders just in case they needed to draw an arrow. They were not going to pepper The Souji Seta with arrows.

    "Move along," the guard on the right gestured with a five-foot long spear.

    Souji nodded in thanks before he moved along with Naoto in tow. The guards nodded back and both samurai and prisoner passed though the open wooden backed with iron gate.

    Awaiting both Naoto and Souji were none other than deer that greeted them as they walked through the gate. Souji would have found this amusing except for his face being drenched in sweat.

    As the two of them maneuvered through the deer, Souji blinked his head and noticed Naoto's lowered head. He still could not a good look at Naoto.

    Naoto finally spoke, "May I speak?"

    "Nothing's stopping you," Souji responded.

    "I thought you might kill me if I did," Naoto answered.

    "I am not like Tanaka's associates. I show some respect…," Souji responded, "even to those I am bringing my lord."

    Naoto's eyes rolled. Naoto sneered, "If you showed respect… you would not be hurting my arms and trying to pull them out of their sockets."

    Souji choked back a laugh, "I didn't kill three people."

    "You kill people on a regular basis," Naoto remarked, "Dirty bastard…"

    The pair had stopped at this point. The deer had surrounded them as they had almost reached the Kusaga Shrine; the red archways and temple looming near.

    "Well… That's my job," Souji responded.

    "Disrespecting people?" Naoto asked, "Brutalizing and hurting people?"

    "If you believe that every samurai acts that way… then that's your opinion," Souji said.

    Naoto suddenly smiled, which confused Souji, "You know… if you let go of me… You can wipe your face."

    "Then you'd run away," Souji smiled back, "I'm not that stupid."

    With more rolling eyes, Souji pulled on Naoto's right arm, "Let's go kid…"

    "You have shit around your ass…," Naoto told Souji.

    "Now that's not very nice," Souji responded, "If you want me to try and keep you alive… I would try and at least respect me."

    "This is going to be a very long day…," Souji thought.

    "Why should I?" Naoto asked, "You are not going to let me go, are you?"

    "I hope you didn't expect to be let go," Souji told Naoto, "Let's just keep moving… I don't want to take all night to get back to Lord Tatsumi."

    "I could really care less," Naoto told Souji.

    Souji started dragging Naoto again. Naoto struggled slightly, but Souji kept moving regardless. Souji needed to stop by his residence.

    "Where are you taking me!" Naoto yelled.

    "I need to pick something up from my home," Souji answered.

    "I didn't know you were going to take advantage of a little kid before you take me to be executed," Naoto mocked.

    "I am going to pick up my sleeveless jacket," Souji rolled his eyes; "I don't know where you are getting this idea that I am going to take advantage of you."

    "So you are getting your sleeveless jacket so you can throw it off first?" Naoto mocked, "Or are you just using me as a warm up for your lord?"

    "You must think we are all the same… Naoto," Souji closed his eyes during this statement. He was getting another headache. He put his hand to his head.

    "You are like…," Naoto said, "Every samurai, lord, lady, and every other kind of high society bastard."

    Souji thought, "I guess there is no way to change Naoto's attitude."

    Unfortunately, as Naoto and Souji were making there way to Souji's place, one willing and one unwilling; they were stopped halfway through the residential area by the same servant of Lady Kujikawa from last night and earlier today.

    "Great…," Souji thought.

    "Umm… good afternoon, Sir," the servant looked from Souji back to Naoto and back to Souji. She then said, "Am I interrupting?"

    "He's taking me to his place…," Naoto leered.

    "Ohh…," the servant looked at the dirty blue tunic and unwashed hair of Naoto with contempt and wondered what Souji was thinking. The servant seemed confused at what she saw. What samurai would not want Lady Kujikawa interested in him? She was the prettiest lady in Nara.

    "I need to get something before I take this prisoner before Lord Tatsumi," Souji explained, "I'm in a hurry."

    "Ohh…," the servant nodded, still not fully believing his words, "If it's that important… Then take this fan…" The servant handed over another innuendo-filled fan. Souji would refuse to read it.

    "Thank you…," Souji said politely before he started dragging Naoto again.

    As they reached Souji's home, the conversation would begin again.

    Naoto let loose a chuckle, "Ha… you have the… Lady Kujikawa chasing after you… and the servant thinks… you and me will be having a good time."

    Souji glared, "You aren't helping." Even this peasant had heard about Lady Kujikawa. That was disturbing.

    "Well… it's true," Naoto smirked, "Well, at least one of us will have a good time."

    In the back of Naoto's mind, it was flooded was fear. The rest of it was enjoying mocking Souji.

    "Just shut up…," Souji yelled, "Please… just shut up!"

    Souji could not stand Naoto anymore. He was sick of playing this game. This biased kid, who stereotyped every person, was really pissing him off. Souji's patience had run out.

    Sliding the door open, Naoto was shoved in roughly by Souji. Souji had the urge to slide the door back so hard it would dislodge itself.

    "Oh… you do play rough," Naoto said, staggering backwards.

    Naoto was actually extremely scared, and was trying to put on a brave face.

    Souji walked up to the prisoner and grabbed Naoto by the shoulders, while being turned around. Souji spoke from inches away, "Listen and listen well… I am the only person that may be able to keep you alive at this point." Souji was also thinking, "Maybe Lord Dojima as well…"

    "You're a dirty samurai, why would you bother?" Naoto asked.

    "I'm not like the others… I don't kill unless I have to," Souji told Naoto.

    "Tch…," Naoto said, looking around at the large cache of weapons, "What's stopping me from taking one of your weapons and killing you?"

    "If you try and kill me, you won't even get close to me before you lose your head," Souji answered.

    Naoto's eyes closed and then opened them again. There would be no escape from Souji Seta.

    Souji got his very first good look at Naoto as he stared into the criminal's light blue eyes.

    "Are you changing your mind about respecting your prisoners?" Naoto asked, finally losing vitality.

    "No… but I do understand what Togodai meant by pretty-boy," Souji replied, "He probably really hated fighting you. He probably rather would have taken you home than kill you…"

    Naoto tried to laugh…, "Pretty boy? Well, I hope he's jealous about me being right by your side at this moment."

    "Well… maybe I don't find you very pretty," Souji shook his head, "Especially with hair that hasn't been washed since you were born."

    Naoto suddenly stopped talking. This samurai could really be a bastard if he really wanted to.

    Souji left Naoto's side long enough to take his jacket off of the wall. Souji slipped it over his shoulders and adjusted it so he was comfortable. He thought about taking his yumi with him, but decided it would be a burden with dragging this smart-ass around. Souji decided wiping his face would be enough before setting out again.

    Souji grabbed a dry towel. The soft cloth that touched his face felt nice on his skin.

    "Can we get going now?" Souji sighed. He was tired. Maybe now that would shut Naoto up.

    Souji grabbed rope, and pointed at it… asking without words, "Am I going to need this to get you to the palace?"

    Naoto shook her head. Souji put the rope down and the two walked away from Souji's home after he closed the sliding door. Souji only held Naoto by one arm now, not by both wrists. The impotence was showing through in Naoto finally, if in small amounts. Souji made sure the two of them would not pass by Lady Kujikawa's residence on the way. Souji would have to read it later for a good laugh. That and Yosuke would bombard him with questions about it.

    "What are you planning if you think you can keep me alive?" Naoto looked up at Souji. Naoto was much shorter, after all.

    "That's for my lord to decide," Souji responded, "There are maybe only two people who have his ear at the moment. I can talk to Lord Tatsumi's advisor and he can save your life, hopefully."

    "I'd rather die than stay locked up," Naoto put her head down.

    "Last time I checked, death hurts…," Souji responded, "If we don't reach the palace before Lord Tanaka does… you will die."

    Souji stopped and faced Naoto, "It will not be a quick death if Lord Tanaka is the one that is allowed to kill you."

    For the first time, Naoto looked truly scared. Naoto did not have the strength of endure torture. Death… was scary, but torture… was something Naoto could not take. Naoto was not Raidou.

    Naoto looked at Souji. There was fear in those blue eyes, "Please… Hurry…"

    Souji nodded as the two of them navigated through carts, stands, and people in the mercantile district. Though people took special consideration not to run into the samurai; that usually meant they ran into Naoto instead. Souji was having trouble holding onto something that kept getting knocked into. The fifth time, Naoto was knocked over and Souji lost his grip on her. Naoto hit the ground hard and Souji turned his head to see where she had landed.

    "Are you okay?" Souji asked his prisoner. He really was far too nice for his own good he believed.

    "I'm alright… I guess," Naoto replied.

    Souji saw that Naoto had fallen on her back and was wincing. There were cuts on her bleeding elbows. A burly man with scruffy hair carrying a jug of rice wine was the one who had slammed into her, dumping the alcohol right on her.

    "Hey!" The burly man, wearing a white tunic exclaimed, "Look what you made me do, little kid!"

    Naoto tried to push herself to her feet; her tunic and hair sopping wet with wine. She was pushed back to the ground by the muscular man.

    "You're going to pay, little boy!" the man told Naoto, while flexing his muscles.

    Souji put his hand on the man's shoulder. The man turned around and saw the silver-haired man. "What do you want?" the man asked.

    The large man's eyes widened when he got a good look at Souji. Seeing the white and black hakama, the anger was replaced with fear in his eyes.

    "I would prefer if you would not threaten my prisoner until she is judged accordingly," Souji told the man.

    "Uhh… uhh…," the man was lost, the frustration gone in his voice; he was scared, "I didn't know."

    "Then move along… and I will forget this happened," Souji told him.

    "O… Okay…," the man picked up his jug and ran as fast he could away.

    Souji picked up Naoto and helped the kid up. "Let's go…"

    "Are you always like this?" Naoto looked at Souji.

    Souji ignored Naoto. He was getting tired of babysitting. Naoto still said, "Thanks…"

    "You're all wet," Souji pointed at Naoto's hair.

    "I can tell…," Naoto said meekly. Naoto could see that Souji was tired.

    The two of them were almost there. They had reached the entryway of Lord Tatsumi's palace. The person who was waiting for them, but none other than Yosuke Hanamura standing at attention on the left side of the palace gate.

    "You're going to have to stay quiet from now on," Souji told Naoto, "Not everyone is like me. Speak only when spoken to."

    Naoto nodded in understanding.

    "Woah… young blood," Yosuke said as the pair walked through the open gate. His garish red and brown hakama was quite ugly.

    "Shut up, Yosuke," Souji muttered.

    "No wonder you ignore Lady Kujikawa," Yosuke smirked as Souji stopped with Naoto in tow.

    "Yosuke…," Souji's temper was rising, "I arrested this kid for killing three of Tanaka's footmen."

    "So?" Yosuke responded, "This kid should get be rewarded for that."

    "This kid also attacked one of Tanaka's samurai," Souji continued, "I was forced to take this peasant to Lord Tatsumi."

    "I see, so that's why" Yosuke nodded, "That does suck. Still, it's Tanaka's bitches." Yosuke smiled, "But… I didn't know you were into ten year-old boys."

    Souji rolled his eyes and Naoto's bubble finally burst, "I'm eighteen."

    "You don't look eighteen…," Yosuke chuckled, "You look ten."

    Souji sighed, "I can see how you think that, but no..." He decided to ask, "Is Lord Dojima around? I need to talk to him."

    "He's the only one in the hallway right now," Yosuke told him, "Lord Tatsumi is washing up at the moment."

    "Thank you…," Souji said to Yosuke. He turned to Naoto, "Let's go."

    Souji and Naoto made one final journey from the entryway, to the walkways, to the main hall. Waiting for them in the hall was the older man, Lord Ryotarou Dojima. Souji had an idea of how to save Naoto's life… for a while. He just wanted to see if Dojima would go along with it and if it would even work at all. Souji let go of Naoto's arm and the prisoner was finally able to relax.

    "Souji…," Dojima greeted him with a nod, "You brought a… friend?" Dojima looked confused.

    "A prisoner… actually," Souji responded wearily, "A peasant named Naoto from a nearby farm village."

    "Prisoner?" Dojima looked at Souji, "What did this prisoner do?"

    Dojima sized Naoto up. Naoto felt nervous being looked at by the older lord. As Dojima finished looking, he nodded as he came to his realization… a shocking realization.

    "Souji… What'd the prisoner do?" Dojima asked.

    "The prisoner fought back against Lord Tanaka's men, Ryotarou," Souji said, "They tore the city apart, and this kid fought back. Naoto killed three of them and injured the samurai that tried to take away everything."

    Dojima turned to Naoto, "Is this true? Tell me the truth.

    Naoto took a deep breathe before saying, "The men ripped through our village and took all our food. They gravely injured my Grampa. I snapped and fought the footmen. I took on the samurai and hurt him. After that… he arrived." Naoto pointed at Souji who nodded in agreement.

    "That's why I had to take the kid in," Souji told Dojima.

    "I understand now," Dojima nodded, "I knew Tanaka would overreact to Lord Tatsumi's declaration of more taxation in the future. He is going to overreact to this, too."

    "What's going to happen?" Naoto asked nervously. The rebellious fire from earlier had gone out.

    "If Tanaka persuades Lord Tatsumi," Souji shook his head.

    "He won't…," Dojima told him.

    "Then… what do you want to do?" Souji inquired.

    "Well… I don't think you would want someone who fought people who were trying to violate their rights to die needlessly," Dojima answered.

    "Needless death is not my style, but it depends on Lord Tatsumi," Souji explained.

    "Well… we could have the prisoner locked up," Dojima suggested.

    The look on Naoto's face was one of despair. Souji noticed this.

    "How about… making Naoto a servant of Lord Tatsumi?" Souji asked.

    "That would depend on Lord Tatsumi," Dojima sighed, "I am unsure of what he would decide to do."

    Souji sighed. He was very unsure on what was going to happen. He looked at Naoto, who looked confused.

    "Naoto probably doesn't understand what the importance of being a servant is," Souji said.

    "A servant can be close to Lord Tatsumi at all times," Lord Dojima explained, "Also, you can be eyes and ears when I am not around. If someone like Lord Tanaka is around, speaking with Lord Tatsumi; you can watch over him."

    "You want me to be at the lords' sides and report back to you?" Naoto looked at Lord Dojima.

    "You would be around them even more than his closest friend, Souji," Ryotarou nodded, "This would be the best way to protect the integrity of Nara."

    "This would be for the best," Souji agreed.

    It looked like this was the only way for Naoto to survive. It was unbearable to think that Naoto had to basically become a slave to the noblemen.

    "Souji…," Dojima suddenly said, "Leave this to me… Go on and rest. I want to talk to your prisoner."

    "Understood," Souji nodded.

    Naoto wondered why Souji was not as subservient as he should be with a lord. They must be very close. It was raising suspicions in Naoto's head again.

    Souji bowed and walked away. He was going to head back to talk to Yosuke. He also had a fan to read anyways. It probably had useless stuff about Lady Kujikawa wanting him to sleep with her. He had to stay away from his partner, Yosuke. Souji did not want to get laughed at anymore than usual.

    Souji nodded to Dojima as he left the hall. Throughout the stone hallway, Naoto looked around. It could be home for the rest of Naoto's life.

    "So… you must have had a hard time," Dojima said, "Dealing with my cousin."

    "I'm still alive," Naoto nodded grimly, "If that means anything."

    "If it was anyone else… you wouldn't be," Dojima responded.

    "There is no peace in knowing that you will spend life as a slave, Lord Dojima," Naoto said.

    "It will be a better life than you had back home," Dojima said. He then said, "You must not like being a girl, do you?"

    Naoto looked surprised, "How… How do you know?"

    "I can see it in your eyes," Dojima told her, "You may be able to kill, but you don't have the eyes of a killer. You try and hide yourself, and you do well in most respects… except that I can tell otherwise."

    "Three years ago…," Naoto started to explain, "In another village, my cousin was attacked by one of those dirty samurai. I was unable to help him. He was forced to fight back and kill him. Afterwards, he fled the village and went into hiding. I have not seen my cousin since. I was too soft to help him." A tear formed in Naoto's eyes, "If I was stronger, I would be able to help him and stand up to those samurai. So, I promised myself that I would forsake my womanly roots and act like a man. I learned how to fight using my grandfather's weapons. The rest is history."

    "Naoto… is it?" Dojima said, and Naoto nodded. He said, "If you had fought back three years ago, you would have ended up in the same place you are now. You probably would not have ended up here… you probably have ended up dead."

    "How do you know?" Naoto asked.

    "Trust me… Souji would not have been there to rescue you," Dojima explained.

    Naoto looked at Lord Dojima. This guy seemed almost as nice as Souji, and that made very wary. Both of them seemed too nice. That was what scared Naoto. Those people were those you needed to really worry about. They were the ones who might betray you and stick a knife in your back.

    The pair could hear footsteps behind them. Dojima saw the fine robes of Lord Tatsumi entering from the side door. He had entered after washing up from his daily exercises outside.

    Naoto looked straight into Dojima's eyes and said, "Please… please don't give the fact away that I'm a girl."

    Dojima looked at Naoto very closely. Beneath the drenched tunic and wet and greasy hair… was a very cute girl with short blue hair, smooth skin, and a soft face. If only she happened to be a noblewoman… she might have been a perfect match for Lord Tatsumi.

    "I understand…," Dojima said calmly to the girl with the forced voice, "I won't."

    Dojima saw what Souji saw inside Naoto. There was a scared little peasant inside an overly tough façade. For some reason, she was even more scared of being a girl than being a boy. At times, it was much more dangerous being a male servant than it was being a female servant.

    Kanji walked up to the pair. He was wearing all black today. His unnatural blond hair was slicked back after washing it. He saw a peasant that smelled like alcohol standing next to Lord Dojima. Dojima rarely brought guests along, especially ones of lower social standing. That would be like him, though.

    "Lord Dojima…," Kanji asked with curiosity, "Did you bring us a guest today?"

    "I did… well Seta did," Lord Dojima bowed, suddenly holding Naoto by the arm.

    "I see…," Kanji said. "Well… I want to see your guest then…"

    As Dojima meant to turn Naoto around, so Lord Tatsumi could get a good look at the prisoner; there was a commotion at the hall.

    "Don't let this kid leave!" a man's voice roared through the hall.
     
  7. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Samurai and Ninjas Chap. 4


    Gates of the Palace- Nara

    Just before the end of Chapter 3

    Souji had just finished speaking with Naoto and Lord Dojima. He was exhausted from this whole ordeal of carting Naoto around the whole city and making sure Naoto did not end up dead. Sometimes he did not know why he cared so much. He stuck his neck out for what purpose? His leniency was going to get him killed one day. This peasant made for the longest hour and a half of his life, could get him killed, and still both Lord Dojima and himself were treating Naoto with kids' gloves.

    "If Naoto becomes a servant of Lord Tatsumi… Thanks are in order," Souji thought as he walked towards Yosuke was still standing.

    Yosuke was still smirking when Souji returned to his post at the left side of the gate of the palace. What Yosuke was smirking about, Souji could guess… but Yosuke was still going to voice his thoughts.

    Clad in his disgusting brown and red hakama that clashed terribly with his brown hair, he chuckled as he said, "You were in there a long time, Souji."

    "So…?" Souji responded, looking at him with a straight face.

    "A very long time…," Yosuke smirked.

    "I was talking to Lord Dojima," Souji explained, shifting his blade.

    Yosuke rolled his eyes, "I'm sure… You could have just been readying the prisoner." Yosuke winked.

    Souji let out a deep breath, "If that's what you really want to believe." Souji countered, "I stopped making excuses for you about Lady Satonaka. They all know."

    Yosuke didn't seem surprised, "It had to happen sometimes."

    "No one really cares it seems," Souji shook his head.

    Yosuke laughed causing Souji to chuckle softly. It was rather ridiculous that Yosuke was staying with one of the ladies almost every day. Then again, they were rather made for each other. Even Yosuke said she was not very smart, and Yosuke was no genius. Supposedly, Lady Satonaka was actually kind of athletic for a lady, and Yosuke was one of Lord Tatsumi's prized samurai. However it happened, it was still amusing. It made far more sense than having Lady Kujikawa chasing after him for no particular reason than because he kills Minamotos and Tairas. Souji hoped he did not get sent somewhere far away or he would have Lady Amagi begging to follow him everywhere he went.

    "That's how I like it," Yosuke smiled. He became serious as he asked, "Do you think I will become a lord if I stay with her long enough? You know… I marry her?"

    Souji's face changed, "I don't think you can ever marry Lady Satonaka. I think Lady Satonaka will marry someone else someday… and you… well that's up to you two."

    Yosuke looked a little downtrodden, "You mean forced to marry someone else." When Souji nodded, Yosuke continued, "I hope I can continue to see her."

    "I've heard of it happening. Especially with the heads of the Minamotos," Souji reassured him.

    "You mean Lord and Lady Arisato?" Yosuke questioned.

    Souji nodded as Yosuke said, "Happy thoughts there."

    The lovely conversation the pair were having was about to be interrupted by an angry lord who had a very disruptive and loud conversation about fifteen minutes ago with an injured samurai.

    Lord Tanaka was furious at finding his three footmen dead and a samurai that needed medical treatment. He had a busy agenda today and the last thing he wanted to hear was that the taxes were not collected and that his men were killed by a little midget who massacred the men with a kusarigama. What was worse was that when the samurai attempted to kill the kid off was that he was stopped by Souji Seta. The Minamotos had some nickname for Seta that made him out as some terror of Nara, but he would not kill this little kid who slaughtered three footmen.

    Seeing Lord Tanaka approach with such seething appearance in his gray robes, Souji's eyes widened.

    "Someone looks pissed," Yosuke smirked.

    "Oh god…," Souji shook his head.

    Souji thought there would be a little more time before Lord Tanaka came and tried to take down what Souji spent his day protecting. Tanaka probably got his report from that samurai that did not know the hilt from the point of his sword.

    Lord Tanaka gray hair matched the robes as he stopped in front of the man he would rather have taught a lesson here and now. In fact, he probably could have had him killed if he was not Lord Tatsumi's favorite and one of his confidants. The gateway was like a barrier keeping him away trying to kill Seta. He always had a dislike of Seta and as untouchable as he was; he could at least get rid of that kid.

    Tanaka stared straight at Souji. He wanted an explanation, "What were you thinking?"

    Souji sighed. He was sick of explaining himself, "Your men ravaged the village. Did you expect them not to fight back?"

    "That's not our problem. If we needed to find the food for our soldiers that they were hiding in their homes…," Tanaka answered.

    "Food they don't have," Souji cut in, "These peasants had no food to give you… you just taxed them a few months ago. When we said raise taxes… we meant taxing them again in a few months."

    "You are not seeing the bigger picture," Tanaka said with a haughty voice, "That's why you are not a lord."

    "I see enough…," Souji responded, "You must want a rebellion on your hand."

    "If there is one… you will quash it," Tanaka smiled with a nasty smile.

    "Then there will be no one to grow the crops you need to eat," Souji said, "Then you will have to grow the food yourself."

    "Tch…," Tanaka huffed, "Regardless, I will see that kid dead. Your efforts will be for naught."

    Souji shook his head at his pointlessness. Tanaka tried far too hard to get his point across.

    Tanaka made a swift turn away from Souji and towards the main hall to speak with Lord Tatsumi about Seta's behavior. If Seta was here, then this kid was too.

    Yosuke looked at Souji in astonishment, "What kind of trouble did you get yourself into?"

    "I guess I pissed off Lord Tanaka," Souji shook his head.

    "That's not a smart thing to do," Yosuke told Souji.

    "At least I have Lord Tatsumi and Lord Dojima on my side," Souji responded.

    Yosuke said to that, "Lord Tanaka will find a way around that. He's a slimy bastard."

    "You don't have to tell me twice," Souji nodded.

    "I just feel sorry for your boyfriend," Yosuke smiled.

    Souji put his hand to his head. Everything that had happened today had given Souji a raging headache. This was not going to help at all. He had to hope that Lord Dojima would make Lord Tatsumi see reason and not let him be swayed by Lord Tanaka. One of the reasons he wanted Naoto alive was to watch over people like Lord Tanaka. Another pair of eyes would be very important to the safety of the Fujiwaras.

    If the lords wanted his take on the matter, Souji would stick around until the decision was made. Sadly though, the only words that truly mattered were the lords, but listening to Naoto was the only way to get the truth.

    Present

    Main Hall- Nara

    "Don't let this kid leave!" a man's voice roared through the hall.

    Before Lord Dojima was able to turn Naoto around into Lord Tatsumi's field of vision, she locked eyes with the gray-haired, grey-robed lord. Naoto immediately wanted to shrink down under his angry gaze, but was kept from doing so by Dojima's hand on her shoulder. She had to trust, as much as she didn't want to, that Lord Dojima would protect her.

    Lord Tatsumi was slightly confused, but annoyed that Lord Tanaka would interrupt the meeting between him and his advisor. It was probably connected to this peasant that Lord Dojima had with him at the moment. There was probably some good explanation for it.

    "What is the meaning of this interruption?" Lord Tatsumi asked the second-oldest lord on the council.

    "I have a grievance with this child," Lord Tanaka explained to Lord Tatsumi, "He should not be alive."

    Kanji looked sideways, "What is the issue?"

    "This boy is a murderer and your samurai stopped my samurai from killing him," Lord Tanaka said.

    "Elaborate," Kanji told Lord Tanaka.

    Tanaka took a deep breath and looked at Naoto before saying to Kanji, "This peasant slime murdered three of my men and injured one of my samurai. He used ninja tools as well. Because of him, we were unable to collect our taxes today. Even so, we could not finish the job."

    Lord Tatsumi sighed. He had almost forgotten that Lord Tanaka had gone off to collect taxes about two months after they the last time they had collected taxes.

    "And how were you unable to do your so-called job?" Lord Tatsumi asked.

    "Your samurai, Souji Seta, stopped my samurai, Hirsoshai Togodai from performing the execution," Tanaka explained.

    Naoto wanted to lash out at Lord Tanaka, but she was stopped by Lord Dojima's firm hand on her shoulder. If nothing was done to protect her name… she could very well be killed.

    "So you are saying my samurai stopped a murderer from being brought to justice?" Kanji asked Tanaka.

    "Exactly… He's a traitor," Tanaka smirked. He wanted to implicate Souji as well.

    "I can't believe he would do that without a just cause," Kanji said. He turned to Lord Dojima and Naoto, "What do you have to say about this, Lord Dojima?"

    Kanji looked at Lord Dojima. Dojima was as close to Souji as he was. It just did not make sense that Souji would save this kid, a killer, for no reason at all. This boy must have done something that inspired Souji to save his life."

    Lord Dojima looked at Kanji before he said, "According to Seta, this boy…" Dojima emphasized the boy part… He was going to keep the secret for Naoto. It must be important to her, even more so than what she explained. "This boy fought to protect the village from the samurai and the footmen that ravaged the village. Seta was just protecting him long enough until you could pass judgment on him."

    Lord Tanaka was furious that Lord Dojima would support this little kid. It was only because that Seta was his nephew that he gave a damn about this boy. If it was anyone else Lord Dojima would probably be asking for this boy to be killed just the same as he was.

    Lord Tatsumi looked at the boy and asked, "What's your name?"

    Dojima turned Naoto around and she bowed, "Naoto, my lord…" Her voice lowered even lower than normal. She lowered her eyes. It was hard for her not to be a little scared by an imposing presence. The slicked back hair and dark blue gray eyes mixed with his black and gold robes and tall stature equaled his important standing.

    Lord Tatsumi looked at this boy. It was a little hard to believe that a young boy so short, so small, and so young could kill three men and hurt a trained samurai. Underneath the dirty blue hair, light blue eyes, and soft face must exist a vicious protective nature. He was very handsome for a boy… extremely handsome.

    "Can you tell me what happened?" Lord Tatsumi asked. He wanted an eyewitness account.

    Naoto's voice was shaky as she began to explain to the Lord of Nara, "The men… t… they came and demanded our food. My grandfather forced me to go to my home while he tried to reason with the samurai. When the samurai didn't listen, the samurai began attacking… harming my grampa. The samurai sent the footmen to raid our homes for food. T… They stole everything… even though we were already starving from the last time we were taxed. I took a weapon from the field when the samurai was about to kill my grandfather. I… I just had to stop them from killing anyone. I lost my weapon when I injured the samurai. The samurai drew his other weapon and was about to kill me when he was stopped by your samurai, my lord. I struggled against him at first… since I thought he was going to kill me too. I know now that you are the only one who can save me… so I beg you… please do not execute me."

    Lord Dojima and Lord Tatsumi looked at each other. Naoto seemed terrified at what Kanji or Lord Tatsumi might do to her. Lord Tatsumi seemed to be mulling everything that Naoto had told him over.

    Lord Tanaka could not believe that Lord Tatsumi would even bother listening to what this little kid had to say. This was the biggest piece of shit ever. Just kill the kid and get it over with.

    Running his hand through his slicked back hair, Kanji asked both of the other lords, "What do you think I should do?"

    "I believe you should make an example of this traitor," Lord Tanaka suggested, "Execute him publicly."

    Lord Dojima shook his head, "If I may offer a different suggestion… You should allow her to live, and instead let him become a servant of yours instead."

    Lord Tatsumi was intrigued by this. He had plenty of servants, but none like this young kid. He was rebellious to authority, but in the presence of true power; Naoto was as meek as a kitten. Lord Dojima would not have suggested this if he did not think this was going to be a good reason. No, he definitely did not have a servant anything like this. The only thing that bothered Lord Tatsumi was his thoughts on what effects of including someone like Naoto into his services… what it would do for his popularity between the other lords. For sure it would kill his popularity with Lord Tanaka and Lady Sayoko, but it would do well with Lord Dojima since he was the one who had suggested the idea. The idea was also agreed on by his Kanji's own friend, Souji as well. The other lords, he did not know. Lord Ichijo probably would agree with him with Tanaka's rampant disregard for rules and snobbish attitude. Lord Nagase would go wherever Lord Ichijo went. Lady Ebihara would follow Lord Ichijo blindly, of course. No one knew what Lord Konishi was thinking.

    Then again, Lord Tatsumi could use another personal servant to take care of his daily tasks. Besides, there was something fascinating about this peasant that he just needed to know more about.

    Lord Tatsumi sighed before saying, "After much deliberation I have to… make this boy a servant in my care."

    Every word that came out of Lord Tatsumi's mouth infuriated Lord Tanaka even more. He could not believe that he would think about sparing this kid's life. Did he not see the ramifications of keeping him alive? This murderer should die and he should die either by torture of quick execution. Now, they were making this kid a servant of Lord Tatsumi; it was despicable.

    "I'm done with this…," Tanaka snarled.

    Turning on a dime, he had given Lord Tatsumi the smallest bow possible before leaving. He had more work to do. It had become even more important with this new development. He might have to push up some of his plans.

    The look on Naoto's face was one of relief, yet on the inside she realized something else. It was the fact that she was going to be a servant, practically a slave for the rest of her life. Her head was safe, and that's all that mattered, she guessed. She was also relieved that Dojima had said nothing about her gender.

    Lord Dojima looked at Tanaka's trailing robes. He shook his head at how hard it was to convince Lord Tatsumi to do the ethical thing. It may not have been the most judicial thing to do, since Naoto technically did kill three people. He just hoped that he did not make a big mistake with letting her live.

    Lord Dojima turned back around to see Lord Tatsumi's nodding face. Kanji said, "I guess that's over with. I see that he is unpleased with my choice. I expected as much." He asked, "Would you release Naoto into my care now?"

    "Of course, Lord Tatsumi," Dojima replied. He released his grip on Naoto's shoulder, "Go on then… Go to Lord Tatsumi."

    Naoto made his way over from where Lord Dojima's side to where Lord Tatsumi was standing. She could swear she was trembling a little. It was nothing like being in the presence of the samurai. He was too light-hearted to scare her. She only got scared when he got angry at her for saying he was going to sleep with "her" as she pretended to be a boy.

    "Naoto…," Lord Tatsumi said to his new servant, "Welcome..."

    She bowed to him. She guessed this is what she would do as a new servant.

    Lord Tatsumi nodded in acceptance and made a motion to his right. He called out, "Shu…"

    A young man with an interesting haircut walked up to Lord Tatsumi and bowed. His premature balding black hair was drawn back into a long ponytail.

    "I want you to take Naoto to the servants' quarters to show him around," Kanji ordered, "I want you to get him acclimated to the area and the tasks before he starts tomorrow."

    The young man bowed again, "I understand, my lord." He said to Naoto, "Come this way, kid. Just follow me."

    Naoto nodded in understanding. It was time for her to go. With one last bow to Lord Tatsumi, she followed Shu back from where he came. They were heading out the hall, past the silk tapestries, the plant life, decorated stone columns, and towards the servants' quarters.

    Lord Dojima seeing his work done, asked, "May I be excused, Lord Tatsumi?"

    "Of course," Kanji responded, "We can speak later."

    Lord Dojima nodded once with Lord Tatsumi nodding in return. Dojima turned at that point. He made a beeline for where Souji was currently standing. The samurai Ryotarou was looking for was still on his guard with Yosuke at the other side of the gate. Dojima had things he wanted to talk about with his nephew.

    Seeing his uncle, Souji turned his head. He had finally opened Lady Kujikawa's fan to read it. Of course, Yosuke got a hold of it and started laughing at him. He was one to talk. By the time Souji had taken back the fan, Dojima had returned from the hall. Past the cherry blossoms, Souji wondered if he had done the right thing in trying to save Naoto's life.

    "Seta…," Dojima called out, "Come with me."

    "As you command," Souji responded. He looked at Yosuke, "Watch over Lord Tatsumi."

    At the behest of Lord Tatsumi, Souji began walking alongside the older man in his blue and gray robes. The tiredness in his eyes matched his graying hair. He sighed at the thought at what was next.

    "Who's that fan from?" Dojima asked.

    "Lady Kujikawa…," Souji answered tiredly.

    "Do you plan on responding?" Dojima inquired.

    Souji shrugged, "I'm afraid about the consequences."

    "I can understand that," Dojima said, "I can see good and bad coming from this."

    Souji could see both sides of this. The obvious good side Dojima was thinking of was that it was Lady Kujikawa, the beautiful lady. The bad side Souji was seeing was that it was Lady Kujikawa, the idiot. If you accepted the fan no one knew which side would come out if you accepted the fan.

    They kept walking at a slow, but steady pace through the grid-like city of Nara. It was modeled after Chinese cities to create equilibrium and harmony in life.

    Souji started wondering why they were passing through the Mercantile Section of Nara. It was almost like they were headed to the Residential District… the Rich Residential District… Souji meant.

    "What is it that you wish to speak with me?" Souji asked. He could speak more freely with his uncle than any other lord, even though he was close to Lord Tatsumi.

    "You do know you should be a lord, right Souji?" Ryotarou asked.

    "If my great-grandfather did not rebel against the Fujiwaras, then yes," Souji shook his head.

    The two of them had passed a small stand of merchants selling meat. The peasants and merchants were all giving the pair a very wide berth, for obvious reasons. A lord and samurai commanded a tremendous amount of respect to everyone of a lower class than themselves.

    "Well… for that reason, it was a surprise that you are even a samurai," Dojima said.

    "I believe that your family ties had something to do with that," Souji responded.

    "That's true," Dojima nodded.

    "What is this all about, Lord Dojima?" Souji asked. If he was formal, Souji knew his uncle would get to the point.

    "I want you to see my daughter, Souji," Dojima told him.

    "Your daughter?" Souji looked confused, "Why?"

    Their walking had brought them to the Residential District.

    "I'm getting old, Souji," Ryotarou said, "My wife is dying."

    "Is this what I think this is about?" Souji looked a little perplexed.

    Souji was wondering if Dojima was thinking about him marrying him off to his daughter. It would be rather awkward for him, but anything would be an improvement to Lady Kujikawa.

    "Just come with me," Dojima ordered.

    Souji had to follow his superior's orders. He went with his uncle to Nanako's residence. One of her caretakers were currently outside the residence, another two were tending to her inside.

    As much as it shamed Dojima to say, he had only seen his daughter only three times since her birth. The younger Lady Dojima had been kept out of sight, as was the norm… even from her own father.

    Now, her father needed to visit his daughter. This was important to him; it would be important to keep the Dojima line intact, even if it was only hypothetically.

    "Lord Dojima," a tall girl with black hair smiled, "What can I do for you?"

    "I'm here to see my daughter," Dojima answered.

    "This way please…," the girl responded. She was wearing cream-colored robes.

    The caretaker, with Dojima and Souji in tow, walked up to the sliding door and opened it softly. There was a living room where another of the caretakers was present.

    "Can I offer you some tea?" a woman with short black hair asked. She was wearing the same cream-colored yukata.

    Dojima accepted it graciously, while Souji waved it off. He was a bit scared of what he might see in a few moments.

    As Dojima sipped his tea, he turned to the first girl and asked again, "May I see my daughter now?"

    "Of course," the girl said, "She has been asking about you for a while now."

    "I see…," Dojima said with a frown. He was a little sad he had not been able to see her in so long.

    Dojima nearly cried when the second sliding door was opened. It was like looking at a younger Chisato. The young girl was working on calligraphy with an older woman in the same cream-colored yukata as the other two. The long brown hair that reached her waist had been brushed a thousand times was nothing like the adorable face she had. She was dressed in a light pink and white that accentuated each other perfectly. Dojima knew his daughter would grow up to be a beautiful woman someday. Dojima knew it… and he had the right young man in front of her right now.

    "Lady Nanako, your father is here to see you," the first caretaker said, interrupting Nanako's work.

    The brushwork stopped and Nanako turned her head. She said slowly, "Father… I have missed you."

    "I, as well…" Dojima responded shakily. Dojima regained his composure slightly as he said, "Daughter, I have someone I want you to meet. This is your cousin… Souji Seta."

    Nanako turned her gaze towards the samurai. "A pleasure to meet you, Seta."

    "And you, my lady," Souji gave a small bow.

    "I must speak with my daughter about certain things," Dojima said. He looked at the two caretakers, "Please leave us."

    The two caretakers bowed and left.

    Dojima looked at Souji before he said, "I hope you understand your position in this. My thinking is that you will come to an understanding."

    Souji knew it was time for him to leave. His uncle had seen his daughter for years. Dojima needed to catch up with her. He probably also needed to discuss the current situation with his daughter. Marrying her cousin was probably not a normal idea to say the least, but not the weirdest thing that could happen.

    Souji bowed, "I should go."

    Souji put his hand to his head. He had accepted tea from the caretaker with the long black hair before he left. He had a raging headache, and he needed to lie down.

    Souji headed towards his side of the Residential District, not even caring that he would have to pass Lady Kujikawa's residence on the way.
     
  8. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Samurai and Ninjas Chap. 5


    Servants' Quarters

    Shu, clad in the maroon yukata of a Nara servant, led Naoto towards the servants' quarters. Naoto could not help but stare as she was lead through the winding halls that would take her there. Unlike the elaborate gold and maroon stone hall, lined with tapestries and other amenities; the hallways were beyond elegant. The sliding doors were lined were silk and gold scarf-like tapestries hung from the ceiling and stretched for up to twenty feet before reconnecting to the ceiling.

    "What are all these rooms for?" Naoto asked.

    She was intrigued because they were passing so many rooms. There were more rooms in this palace than her whole village. It both amazed her and angered her on the account because of the large amount of wealth that was gathered in one place. She had not seen very many people in this palace so far and she had no idea what all of these rooms were needed for.

    Shu turned his head as he was walking. He noticed Naoto had slowed her pace, "Hurry up, kid." As Naoto blushed at noticing that she was being left behind, she hurried to catch up. Noticing that Naoto was now had caught up, Shu answered the question, "Some of the rooms are for when the lords and occasionally, ladies visit."

    They passed more rooms, Naoto could smell something interesting coming out of a large room they were passing at the moment. It smelled magnificent and intoxicating. She remembered that she had not eaten all day today.

    Shu turned towards Naoto and looked at the room they had just passed. The two of them stopped as Shu said, "That's the kitchen. That's where we make the food for Lord Tatsumi and every other official in this palace. We make what they want to eat… whatever they want."

    Naoto gulped. She was not much of a chef. In fact, whenever she cooked, visits to Midwife Hisano followed. If they wanted her to cook, her service as a servant would end rather quickly.

    "Does everyone have to cook?" Naoto asked nervously.

    "We do the tasks that are assigned to us," Shu responded, "If they tell you to cook, you cook." Shu added, "Most likely you'll have a few set tasks that you will do for them nearly every day."

    Inwardly, Naoto shook her head. She hoped she did not get put on cooking duties. Death by her cooking would be misfortunate and certainly lead to some sort of retribution.

    Shu looked at her, "Let's keep going."

    They continued walking past the kitchen around a hallway. Naoto's worn shoes brushed against gold-colored carpeting. Everything was so expensive and extravagant. It seemed like such a waste in Naoto's eyes. They could have used this wealth to feed their village, all of the villages, for years.

    Shu led Naoto to a much larger room than the others. It had a sliding door as well, but the lining was even fancier than any of the others. Naoto had a good idea of what lay behind that sliding door.

    Shu answered and confirmed her thoughts, "That is Lord Tatsumi's room."

    Naoto asked, "Is it as nice in there as I expect it to be?"

    "You would have to visit Heian to find a nicer place. Lord Adachi for example, or either of the Arisatos…" Shu answered. He added, "Depending on your tasks, you may be required to serve him in there, or you may never enter there in your lifetime."

    Naoto brushed back the small blue bang that stuck forward in her hair. Did Lord Tatsumi really need to have such profligate spending for his room, his palace, and his people?

    There was another room of the same size across from Lord Dojima, in which Shu answered quickly after seeing Naoto's inquiring look, "That was the former Lady Matsunaga's room."

    "Ohh…" Naoto said.

    "That was a few years ago since it was vacated," Shu explained, "The other lords are actively pursuing a new lady to take her place in Lady Matsunaga's stead."

    Naoto was unsure of what to say about that. She did not even know that Lord Tatsumi was being forced to search for a new wife. There was a lot that Naoto did not know, growing up where she did.

    Seeing her confusing, Shu said to her, "You hear a lot, being one of Lord Tatsumi's servants."

    "I think I understand," Naoto nodded in agreement.

    This must have been what Dojima have been talking about. He told her to keep her eyes and ears open when serving Lord Tatsumi and report everything to him afterwards. She was not exactly sure what Lord Dojima wanted her to look for, but she was going to keep an eye on that jerk who wanted him dead. He had to be up to no good that was for sure. She did not know if she could say anything to Lord Tatsumi about it. She probably should not, just in case.

    Shu gave her a look before saying, "Okay, let's move on…"

    Naoto took her time following a long hallway with Shu. After passing a good deal of rooms, Shu and Naoto came to a four-way intersection.

    "Here…" Shu said as they stopped at the intersection. Naoto stopped when Shu stopped.

    Naoto looked confused, "What do you mean?"

    "The first room when you go straight ahead is where the male servants stay. That's where you will stay," Shu explained.

    "The second room is for the female servants, right?" Naoto asked.

    Shu nodded, "That's correct."

    "What about the right and the left paths?" Naoto asked.

    "The right path leads towards the sauna and the springs. This is where the lord usually bathes," Shu explained. He continued, "The left side leads to the place where we wash up. It isn't very glamorous, and the only time we get to clean is usually very early in the morning. There are only two small rooms for that. Occasionally, we can use the springs too. Of course, we have to share like everyone else."

    "Are there usually a lot of people washing up at the same time?" Naoto asked.

    To tell the truth, she did not want to be there when any other people around when she washed up. If Naoto had to keep up this charade of being a male; she would need to be inside the washroom for boys. She had to hide her gender from everyone, and that might require her to be washing alone at all times.

    "It depends," Shu answered, "If people are in a rush, sometimes a good deal of servants may be washing up at the same time. That's pretty early on in the morning. Remember, cleanliness is important." Shu asked, "Why do you ask?"

    "I'm just really shy, that's all," Naoto responded, while trying to act meek.

    "It's okay; you're a young boy. You'll get over it," he said.

    Naoto didn't look very confident for obvious reasons. There was no way she would get over washing up in the men's washing area.

    Shu and Naoto looked at each other for just a moment before Shu looked away and called out, "Kaien, come here."

    A young boy with white hair and the same maroon yukata as Shu walked up from the boy's sleeping area to the pair. Kaien had finished with his other tasks for the day. His shining green eyes were different from other people. He stood across from Shu so they could speak with each other.

    "What is it, Shu?" Kaien asked.

    "I need yukatas and robes for our new servant here," Shu told Kaien, nodding at Naoto.

    Kaien nodded, "I'll see what we have in stock. He's about…" Kaien sized up the small kid, "About 4' 8… 9"?"

    "I guess so," Naoto replied.

    "You're pretty skinny too," Shu said, checking out Naoto's petite size, "Hopefully, Kaien will find the clothes that will fit."

    "I'll be on my way, then," Kaien said, "I'll be back with my findings."

    Kaien turned and left away from the two of them and headed back from where Naoto and Shu had just come from. Three rooms back that way was a storage area where the uniforms were kept. There was anywhere from one to two seamstresses working there at all times.

    Shu looked at Naoto before he said with a smile, "You should clean up now. It's probably been a while." As Naoto looked back at him, "Your new clothes will probably be waiting for you when you enter the male sleeping quarters'. Tomorrow morning, you will find out what tasks are assigned to you."

    "How early should I get up?" Naoto asked.

    Shu responded, "You should probably be ready before sunrise at the earliest. Be ready to serve Lord Tatsumi's breakfast at the least."

    "I understand," Naoto nodded.

    "Okay… Well… I'll see you tomorrow," Shu nodded back.

    Shu smiled at Naoto, and Naoto returned a weak smile of her own. As Shu left to finish one small task for his lord; he had some conflicted thoughts about the new servant. He was rather young, and rather naïve. Shu had been a servant for most of his life, and this boy had no idea how lucky he was to be a servant considering the circumstances. Shu did have to wonder if Naoto would be overwhelmed when he started serving the first day. Who knows… maybe Naoto would be a natural at it?

    Naoto slid open the door to the male washroom. There were a few copper tubs waiting for her. The room was otherwise rather sparse compared to the hallways or any other part of the palace she had seen so far. She sighed softly at the sight. She gasped as the door opened suddenly. In came two male servants with buckets of warm water and a third followed with some maroon nightwear. The two carrying the water dumped the liquid into one of the tubs, and the third put the clothes next to the tub.

    "We'll leave you be," one of the servants who was carrying water said to Naoto.

    As the servants left and shut the sliding door, Naoto took a deep breath. She looked down at the maroon nightwear. It was not made for a female; none of her clothes would fit her gender. That was the price she was going to pay.

    Naoto slipped out of her tunic and slowly undid her bandages. Placing her foot into the tub, she found it cooler than she expected. Placing her whole body in, it would be nice to wash for the first time in a little while. As she dunked her head underneath, she began contemplating how to handle life as a servant.

    Residential District of Nara

    Souji Seta was thinking about where he had been the past twenty minutes. He had managed to evade Lady Kujikawa's residence easily enough, but he had much bigger thoughts than a little perverse lady that wanted to share his bed for a while. Thinking about it, she could be sweeter than everyone gives her credit for.

    "You only believe people are shallow because you don't see them," Souji thought.

    The current state of events could spiral out of control very quickly for what had just transpired between two people. He had walked alongside his confidant, his uncle; a man he would serve to the end with, and found he may have to sacrifice everything for him. He trusted Lord Dojima, Ryotarou, more than even his own superior. Now, Ryotarou may be asking something of him that was leaving even his nephew conflicted on his choice.

    After escaping Lady Kujikawa's, Souji had headed to his own home. It was here, after he had kneeled down in his living room that he was finally able to reflect about his future.

    His uncle wanted him to marry his daughter. It was definitely not unheard of… cousins marrying each other. Was it normal though… no, not really. Then again, the families within the Fujiwaras were never really normal, considering there are people like Lord Tanaka involved in that family. Why couldn't be a Taira and ruin that family?

    It was not an issue of Nanako being unattractive… for an eight-year old. She was cute… for an eight-year old. That was the issue. She was eight-years old. This was one of the things that made it so awkward; the age differential. Of course, it was not that a big of a difference considering Lady Sayoko and Lord Tanaka had a bigger age difference, but it seemed much bigger when Lady Nanako was eight and he was twenty. It just… was such a conflict in Souji's mind.

    "If he asks… I know he's thinking about it," Souji thought.

    Souji could not turn his uncle down, could he? The sticking point would be that he would have regained his honor and his family would become noblemen again, but… it was his little cousin. He had never seen her before until today. He had never seen the little girl… with her twin brown ponytails, brown eyes, and white and pink robes. She was cute… for an eight-year old.

    Souji could only wait and see what Dojima did. It was not just prospective marriage that bugged him. Being chased by Lady Kujikawa and Lady Amagi could be a somewhat prospect at times. But really, the Minamotos and the Fujiwaras… they were always so close to war. He could be sent off to a fight anytime. Lady Amagi might follow him there. She only sent fans when Souji was about to travel long distances to fight.

    Souji opened his eyes. It was pointless to sit around endlessly. Besides… he had a raging headache.

    Back at the Dojima household… well one of three Dojima households, the oldest of the Dojimas was speaking to the youngest.

    Dojima had banished the caretakers from the room where Nanako was practicing calligraphy earlier. At this moment, Ryotarou and Nanako were about to speak the same matters Souji was currently thinking about.

    Standing in front of Nanako, Ryotarou said to her, "Nanako… I know I have not seen you since you were too young to remember me."

    Nanako responded, "I am happy you are here, father."

    "I have something I wish to discuss with you," Ryotarou told her.

    "What is it, father?" Nanako asked.

    "Your mother is very sick, daughter," Ryotarou explained solemnly, "I am not sure how much longer she will live."

    "I am very sorry, father," Nanako answered. She had barely seen her mother, twice in fact.

    Dojima nodded as he said, "There is another matter that comes along with that."

    "And what is that, father?" Nanako questioned.

    "I do not believe I am young enough to have another child. A male one, at that," the older Dojima replied.

    Nanako processed the words Dojima said before she said, "You want me to get married?"

    Ryotarou was quite surprised that she had figured out exactly what needed to happen to keep the line somewhat intact. "That is in fact what would need to happen," Ryotarou nodded.

    "Did you want me to marry the man person I met today?" Nanako asked quietly, her head dropping slightly.

    It seemed that every word that came out of Nanako's mouth was quiet, soft and sweet. It reminded the older man of his wife.

    "I don't know… he is your cousin, but I have not decided," the older lord admitted.

    "He seems acceptable," Nanako put her head down, "But it is your decision, father."

    "I do want you to have an opinion, daughter," Dojima told her, "You do not need to be so submissive."

    "It is not my choice, father," Nanako explained, "You know that. If you want me to marry him, then tell me to do so."

    "I will consult Souji on his decision," Ryotarou said, "I would like at least some continuity between all three of us."

    "Thank you, father," Nanako nodded, "Will you be leaving now?"

    "I will go now, daughter," Dojima said, a frown on his face.

    "Goodbye, father" Nanako said.

    Her face was completely neutral as the older lord turned away from his family. Dojima was somewhat sad to see her go. She likely would not be seen again by her father until Souji had made his decision.

    Dojima was distraught as he left Nanako's and said goodbye to the caretakers. He was not sure what was going to happen now to their family. His daughter was so understand, so smart, and yet… he wished he could give her more control over her fate. He would have to wait now… wait for how Souji felt about marrying his daughter. Souji was a good boy, a worthy man for his daughter. He had his qualms about Nanako marring Souji for sure, but it was better than most people. Imagine marrying Nanako off to Lord Tanaka a few years back, for an example. One thing was for sure… he was getting too old to provide a male heir for the Dojima house. Marrying Nanako to someone was the only choice.

    Other side of the Residential District

    Yosuke had finished his guard work and was replaced by another samurai late in the evening. He had traveled through the Mercantile District. It was mainly deserted late in the evening. He was actually on his way to see Lady Satonaka. The samurai just had to see her. It was like a drug that he could not quit. Satoanka wanted him and he wanted Lady Satonaka. Yosuke would soon deliver on those promises.

    Yosuke had passed through the other side of the Residential District and Souji's home. Yosuke could tell Souji was home, but he had better things to do.

    Yosuke was looking for a girl wearing a green and yellow kimono inside her home. Even though it had only been one day; it always seemed like years in Yosuke's mind.

    "Souji doesn't know what he's missing," Yosuke smiled.

    As he walked up towards Lady Satonaka's residence, Yosuke's eyes widened. There was another train of people leading up to the home. It was not too dark enough for Yosuke to make out the front figure in the train… Lord Daisuke Nagase.

    Yosuke's heart dropped. Even he could tell what that visit meant. Souji warned him about this, and it pissed him off royally. Souji's prediction came true… "Bastard…" Yosuke thought.
     
  9. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Samurai and Ninjas Chap. 6


    Edge of City Limits- Nara

    Before Sunrise

    Away from the same city gate that Souji Seta had gone through twice yesterday, traffic was busy before the sun had risen. The guards were doing their best to stay aware even at this very late… or early hour. The sentries had been switched, but those pulling the night shift were still very tired. Archers were still waiting for any intruder trying to enter Nara without permission, even if they too were tired.

    The wooden gates and its guards were the first line of defense. If they fell, there would little left until they reached the palace. The invaders would be able to slaughter everyone in the other districts, including merchants and monks. That's why it was important that the guards stay vigilante, no matter how tired they got.

    Two messengers had been let through the gate before the sun had risen along with a single samurai. The samurai was quite displeased at having to be up so early. His shoulder had been smashed by the blunt end of a kusarigama yesterday and the attacker went unpunished because of a smartass samurai. The only reason Souji Seta saved that little boy was because of his cute face. If the kid had not tried to kill him… well that kid did look pretty cute.

    The two messengers waited right outside of the gate for Togodai. Togodai had a different message for each one of them. The samurai was wearing a black hakama, but with the heavy shoulder bandage; Togodai was a comical sight.

    Both of the messengers were clad in black that suggested that they were in the hire of Lord Tanaka. Considering that the man giving them the messages was the lead samurai of Lord Tanaka; it was pretty obvious of the messengers' allegiance.

    Togodai sighed as he flexed his undamaged left arm. His right arm was still pretty much immobile. He was actually really angry at having to be awake right now. Lord Tanaka gave him messages last evening for him to give to the messengers. So, here he is now, so damn early to deliver what only Lord Tanaka knows all over the place.

    As the first rays of sun began to peak over the horizon, one of the messengers asked, "What do you want us to do? Where are we going?"

    Togodai was affronted that this guy would dare ask him that first question. It was probably because that they had been standing around for a few minutes, but still… unacceptable.

    "You'll go where I tell you," Togodai told the messenger, a short man with a short bowl-cut.

    The second messenger, a taller man with longer and unruly black hair asked, "Then where are we going?"

    Togodai was almost ready to pull his sword and use it with his left arm. Sadly, he was not much of a one-armed swordsman. Togodai ended up just taking a deep breath to calm himself and pulled one of the messages to give to the clean-cut man.

    As he walked up to him, Togodai said to him, "Take this to Heian, and give this letter to head of the Fujiwaras."

    "You mean Lord Adachi?" the messenger asked.

    "Yes… Lord Adachi," Togodai said curtly, "Don't dally and don't give it to any other lord or lady."

    "Yes, sir," the messenger nodded before leaving, a smirk on his face.

    Togodai knew that particular messenger had a long road ahead of him.

    "You…" Togodai pointed at the other messenger. The other messenger walked over and as he handed him the other letter only part of what Togodai could be said, "When you take this… be careful. No one can know where you went…"

    "You sure?" the second messenger nodded.

    "I'm sure," Togodai answered, "Now go…"

    "Okay…" the messenger said, placing the message in his tunic.

    The other messenger turned away from Togodai and headed off soon after the same dusty road. The other man would soon be taking a different road for his separate journey.

    "If this is important enough for my lord to make me get up this early, then I hope he gets what he wants out of it," Togodai said as he walked his couriers start their journeys away from Nara.

    Togodai turned and motioned to the guards to let him back into the city. The guards were peeved that they had to open the gate again so soon after they had opened it and closed it, but Togodai wanted to get some more sleep. If Togodai had to get up this early, he wanted to get something out of it.

    Servants' Quarters- Palace of Nara

    Before Sunrise

    Naoto was not a girl who slept in really late. She did not sleep until the sun was at its highest point in the sky. Naoto did not normally get up too early either. Imagine her shock when she was roughly shaken by Shu at god knows how early in the morning on her first day. Everyone else was in the middle of dressing or running back and forth getting assignments.

    "Hu… Huhhh?" Naoto said groggily.

    "Time to get up," Shu kept shaking the new servant, "You're late."

    "Wha…?" Naoto shut her eyes, blinked a few times to try and wake herself up, and then opened them. Shu was wide awake, dressed, and ready for the day.

    "You really want to be yelled at, hit, or beaten right after you were given a second chance after whatever you did?" Shu warned.

    "Hit?" Naoto looked confused as she slowly pulled herself out of bed, still dressed in nightclothes.

    "Sometimes… some of the people we serve are not as forgiving of mistakes made as others. Not necessarily Lord Tatsumi, but anyone above us," Shu explained.

    "So, they might beat us if we screw up at all?" Naoto looked at Shu.

    "There are those people," Shu responded. He was getting impatient as Naoto was unfolding her yukata and getting ready to put it on, "Hurry up already…"

    "I'll meet you out there," Naoto said before she asked, "Do you know where I am supposed to go?"

    "You're supposed to talk to the head servant to find out your assignment," Shu said, "But I'll talk to him, so you can just meet me outside." He looked harried, "Get moving… The faster you move, the less trouble I'll end up being in."

    Shu turned away from Naoto and made for the door, Naoto called out, "Shu…"

    Shu turned around, "Hmm?"

    "Thank you," Naoto said.

    "Just hurry," Shu called out.

    Shu left the room to find the head servant and Naoto could finally undress and start her first day in the service of Lord Kanji Tatsumi. She needed Shu to leave before that could happen and when he left; she was all alone in the room. As she took off her nightclothes and pulled on the maroon yukata of the Nara, Naoto struggled tying the midsection. She was thankful for the bandages that she had around her chest. A yukata was a perfect piece of clothing for hiding her gender. A small washbasin on the side of the room was the only place to clean her face. She tried not to get any water on her fancy clothes. She did not want to get beaten.

    Adjusting her blue hair and moving that one blue piece across the center of her forehead, Naoto opened the sliding door and left the servants' quarters. Waiting for her was a very impatient-looking Shu.

    Her larynx clenched as Shu say and ask with a bit of anger, "I've had time to see the servant and come back. What took you so long?"

    Shu could not understand what it was like to be a girl. I guess he expected Naoto to rush like none other to be ready for work.

    "I'm sorry, Shu," Naoto put her head down.

    "Come on," Shu said, "You need to go to the kitchens with me and get the food to serve to Lord Tatsumi for breakfast."

    The pair started walking quickly, making a left turn, and heading towards the kitchens. The two were walking side-by-side; one was much taller than the other. Naoto was a only a little nervous about everything.

    As Shu kept his head forward, Naoto turned her head towards the older servant and asked, "What does Lord Tatsumi usually have for breakfast?"

    "Whatever he wants to have for breakfast," Shu answered, "A good servant stays quiet."

    Naoto turned her head back front and closed her mouth. This was going to be harder than she thought.

    Going around one corner, and then another to reach the kitchens; the two servants opened the door that was overflowing with the smell of cooking food and fresh produce. It was somewhat intoxicating to Naoto and her senses. Behind that door, there were a multitude of servants all preparing the food that would be served throughout the day. There were also a few other servants that looked to be on the same assignment as Shu as Naoto, meaning that they would be serving breakfast for Lord Tatsumi or other distinguished members of the palace.

    Seeing all of this food, Naoto was struck with thoughts of all of the people who must be starving at this very moment. They could have fed everyone in the village with one-fourth of the food being prepared at this moment. She did not even want to know how much food would probably be wasted after the meal. It would probably make her sick to find out.

    Shu stood at attention with the other servants. Seeing this, Naoto soon followed by standing next to him, face forward, and trying not move.

    It was an arduous process for Naoto. Watching the cooks at work on dishes at a cutting board or other device for minutes on end was making the petite girl fidgety. Only when Shu elbowed her discreetly did she stop moving.

    After the cook was done, they would give the dish to a servant, and they would then give the dishes or platters to a servant like Shu to take to Lord Tatsumi or other members of state.

    Servants with cooked dishes were now flying out of the kitchen, and it was not long until a male servant handed a platter with three breakfast dishes for Shu to take to Lord Tatsumi.

    "Hurry…," the male servant said to Shu, "He'll probably be ready for breakfast in a few minutes."

    "I understand," Shu said, while balancing the platter on his arm.

    A second servant came from the main table and handed a platter of fruit to Naoto, "Take this to Lord Tatsumi."

    Naoto looked at the fruit. They were cut into all sorts of interesting and unorthodox shapes. One of the plums had a beak, a circular body, and padded feet. That one looked really eccentric.

    "Hurry up now," the servant said, causing Naoto to jump.

    Naoto tried her best to balance the platter on her right shoulder as she left the kitchen to try and catch up with Shu. It was one of the few people she knew in the palace, and she did not want to be late according to Shu.

    Naoto could not exactly go very quickly because of the food she was carrying. It was so precarious being there and she felt she was going to drop it at any second. She also needed Shu because they had not passed the dining room on the way to the servants' quarter last evening. Naoto breathing quickened for a moment as she turned side-to-side, trying to find Shu.

    "Shu!" Naoto called out, not loudly, but not softly. She had to work hard to keep her voice low.

    Around the corner, Shu comes back holding his food looking very angry. He walked over to Naoto and was about ready to yell in her face. He said to her in a soft but angry voice, "What are you yelling about?"

    "I… I couldn't find you," Naoto responded, "I didn't know where to go."

    "Don't yell about it," Shu huffed. He shook his head, "Just come on… We're late."

    Naoto, cheeks red, followed Shu down an unfamiliar hallway to an unfamiliar room. Opening the door, the two entered a lavish room. There were lit cotton wicks hanging from the ceiling that were covered by paper and bamboo. That provided the light in the room. There was a large stone table in the middle of the room, and at the center sat Lord Kanji Tatsumi. He was wearing black and gold today, but the maroon colors of Nara was prevalent in the room. He was currently growing out a very thin moustache and beard that he had started a few days ago. He had accidently shaved it too far, so Kanji had to all but start over.

    Shu came forward to the table where Kanji was sitting and handed the platter in front of him. He seemed to be waiting for Kanji to pick a dish of the three to eat. Shu looked a little nervous, but Kanji would need to think before he decided on a dish.

    "Thank you," he said before he grabbed a dish of rice mixed with eggs and vegetables.

    Shu bowed and picked the platter back up before he returned to the line of servants in waiting.

    Kanji grabbed his chopsticks. He was about to start his meal when he spotted that servant he had saved from execution yesterday was carrying fresh fruit.

    Kanji looked at Naoto and gestured towards her. "Come here…"

    Naoto took a deep breath and slowly walked towards the table. The last thing she wanted to do was drop the food that they gave her to carry. Her steps were slow and uneasy before she finally got to the table. Her body shaking, Naoto placed the fruit on the table in front of Lord Tatsumi. There was an empty plate included so the lord could choose and place his fruit on the plate.

    Kanji seemed most interested in plums and when he saw the circular slice that had the beak-like formation; he grabbed it in a hurry. He smiled and said to Naoto, "Thank you…"

    Naoto was very nervous and was having trouble moving her body. Kanji, meanwhile, had swallowed the slice of plum whole. He looked up from his food and stared straight at Naoto.

    "You can go now…" Kanji told her.

    Naoto turned scarlet. She knew she was in deep trouble. She had to force herself to move. Her body did not want to move, but she forced each limb, one-by-one, to budge until she was back in line with the tray in hand. At her side, she knew that Shu was furious with her.

    A third servant had given Lord Tatsumi a drink, and now Naoto was noticing Shu and the other servant passing their trays off to the others waiting in the line. Naoto decided that she was supposed to do the same. Naoto handed her platter of fruit to a pretty female servant to the right of her. The idea must be in case Lord Tatsumi wanted anything else.

    Naoto saw Shu leave Kanji's and she decided she was supposed to leave with him. His expression immediately changed once the pair exited Lord Tatsumi's dining hall. Shu's expression of perfect calm turned into cold fury as he confronted the new servant.

    "Can you do anything right?" Shu said with anger, "I don't care that you're new. Some of the things that you should be doing are obvious."

    Naoto was hurt. She was trying her best, but she was just really nervous with this whole thing. It was making her make mistakes.

    "I'm sorry," Naoto bowed her head.

    "Do not blame me if the lord beats you," Shu told Naoto, "Part of me wants beat you myself."

    Naoto was scared that Shu would beat her. Lord Tatsumi was mad at her… and he just helped her out.

    "Naoto…" someone called out.

    Naoto turned her head around to see who had called her name. It was a man wearing blue robes, or Lord Dojima.

    Shu walked up to Lord Dojima, "How can I help you, Lord Dojima?"

    "I need to speak with Naoto," Ryotarou said, "Can you go on with your duties, please?"

    Shu looked at Naoto with the same angry look, "When you are done speaking with Lord Dojima, we are cleaning the springs… meet us there"

    Shu bowed to Lord Dojima before he turned around and headed towards the springs. He was still very angry.

    Naoto bowed her head towards Lord Dojima. Lord Dojima looked at Naoto. She looked scared and sad. Dojima said to her, "I need to speak with you about something important."

    "What is it, Lord Dojima?" Naoto asked the lord.

    "Are you having a rough day?" Dojima asked.

    "It has not been my best day so far," Naoto responded.

    "It's the only first day," Dojima said, "The best way for it to get better is experience."

    "If you say so," Naoto did not seem any happier.

    "Now, for the reason I wanted to speak with you," Dojima cleared his throat. He asked, "Can you read and write?"

    "My grampa taught me," Naoto nodded. She asked, "What is it that you want me to do?"

    "There is a meeting tonight between Lord Tatsumi, Lord Tanaka, a representative of the Taira, and a member of the royal family," Dojima told Naoto, "I want you to be there and serve them."

    "You want me to at a meeting where there is a member of the royal family attending?" Naoto looked astonished, "What would you possibly want me to do?"

    "Serve drinks and pay attention to everything that happens," Lord Dojima explained, "Anything peculiar that you notice; I want you to write down on a scroll that a servant of mine will provide you."

    She was confused. It was as if there was a plot going on inside the lords and Dojima wanted to root it out. She knew that Lord Tanaka was a bastard, and she would have to call herself a liar if she said she liked any of the others. Yet, was there something going on between all of the others?

    "Why won't you be there, Lord Dojima?" Naoto asked. She was curious about that.

    "I need to be with my wife," Dojima answered, "She is very sick."

    "I understand. I will be there," Naoto said.

    Dojima knew how hard she was trying. It must be so difficult for a girl like her to conform from being a free peasant to a servant.

    Naoto bowed, "I must help Shu now."

    "Very well," Dojima said.

    As Naoto left, all she could think about was the very difficult task ahead of her. With Lord Dojima, he would not yell at her, but he sure knew how to make her life impossible to handle.

    Dojima headed the other way towards the gates. He wanted to talk to Souji… again.

    Gates of the Palace

    Mid-morning

    Souji had spent a long time trying to figure out what was going on with his life. He had not slept that well that night. He arrived to the gates to see that Yosuke had already arrived. Souji was surprised to see that Yosuke was holding one of Lady Satonaka's servants by his robes at the left side of the gate. He was confused at the least.

    "Why didn't you tell me Takashi!" Yosuke yelled

    "I had no idea," Takashi responded, "Lord Nagase just showed up all of a sudden. You know he's such a coward."

    "Yeah… right," Yosuke said before questioning, "How could you not know?"

    Souji needed to stop this. Yosuke had a nasty temper sometimes. "Lord Nagase probably got a kick in the pants by his cousin," Souji cut in as he walked up from the right side of the gate, "He has wanted to do this for over a year, and after Lord Ichijo forced him to; it just happened."

    "Souji…" Yosuke looked at him and said slowly and softly, "You warned me about this."

    Yosuke dropped Takashi. The servant ran off, thankful to be free of the brown-haired samurai. "It was bound to happen sometime," Souji said.

    "But not so soon…" Yosuke hung his head, "Not so soon…"

    "I'm sorry Yosuke," Souji told him.

    "Souji," a gruff voice called out. It was Lord Dojima. He had arrived as he had told Naoto.

    Souji turned his head, "Yes, Lord Dojima?"

    "My cousin wants to meet you formally this afternoon," Lord Dojima told him, "I would prefer you visit."

    "This is highly unorthodox for Lady Nanako to make a request such as this," Souji responded.

    "I would like you to do so. It is her request," Dojima said, "You don't actually have to see her… physically, I mean."

    "Then… I will do it," Souji sighed.

    "Thank you," Ryotarou nodded, "I need to visit my wife."

    As Ryotarou left through the palace gates, Yosuke turned to Souji, "You marrying Dojima's daughter? Isn't she eight?"

    "I have no idea what I'm going to do," Souji shook his head.

    "I just think it's kind of sad that you're moving on from little boys to even younger girls," Yosuke sneered. He shook his head, "I'm sorry. I'm just in a really bad mood."

    "It's okay, but I never did anything to that kid," Souji responded.

    "If that's what you say," Yosuke said slowly.

    Residential District

    Mid-afternoon

    Souji walked up to the household of Lady Nanako Dojima. He was met by the long-haired caretaker in a cream-colored yukata. She was pretty, but Souji was not here to see a caretaker.

    "Lady Dojima is waiting for you," the caretaker said.

    "Okay," Souji responded, "Lead on."

    Souji followed the long-haired girl into the residence and past the living area towards the Nanako's chambers. The door to her chamber was not opened, so Souji could not see her face. The caretaker left Souji upon his arrival next to Nanako's chambers.

    "Lady Nanako…?" Souji asked. He could not see into the chamber.

    "Cousin?" Nanako responded and asked.

    "I am here, Lady Nanako," Souji answered.

    "Please… just call me Nanako," she requested.

    "As you wish, Nanako," Souji nodded.

    "Please… can you come… come in so we can talk?" Nanako requested.

    Souji was unsure if he really wanted to do this, but it a lady that was requesting his presence.

    He opened the sliding door to see the young girl working on calligraphy again. She was wearing white and pink robes that went well with her short brown hair. She sat against the side of the table she was practicing on. Souji knelt down a few feet away from the sitting girl.

    "We did not have a chance to talk at all last time," Nanako said.

    "We had things to do," Souji nodded.

    "That's true," Nanako responded. She picked up her calligraphy, "I've been practicing my calligraphy, but I'm not very good."

    Souji saw a fan she was writing, "Let me take a look at the fan you wrote."

    "Oh… okay," Nanako looked a little surprised.

    Nanako lifted the fan and Souji took it from her. Souji read the fan. He could tell it was addressed towards him. It was nowhere as innuendo-filled as say a fan from Lady Kujikawa, but it had charm. It was rather sweet.

    "I'm trying my best to get better, but I have a lot of work to improve on," Nanako told Souji.

    "If you fill your fan with lots of words about having sex, then it will be perfect," Souji shook his head. He was not being completely serious.

    "I see," Nanako dropped her head. She looked up, "So… My father says that I need to get married."

    "There is no reason you have to get married this very second," Souji said, "You have a choice in who you marry as well."

    "If something happens to my dad," Nanako frowned.

    "You are still part of the family," Souji said, "The family will continue even if Lord Dojima falls."

    "I still… I still need to be married," Nanako continued.

    "Don't rush into a decision without thinking it through, Nanako," Souji told her.

    "My dad thinks I should marry someone I can have a son with," Nanako said.

    "That is something any man you marry would want," Souji responded.

    "Souji? What kind of man should I marry?" Nanako asked.

    Souji sighed before he said, "You should marry someone who will treat you right. You would not want to marry someone who will abuse you, or hurt you."

    Nanako looked into Souji's eyes. Souji could see innocence in Nanako's eyes. It was the sort of thing that made him question why Lord Dojima was even offering her. "Would you treat me right if I married you?"

    Souji sighed before answering, "I would treat you well."

    "Do you want to marry me?" Nanako asked.

    "I don't know what I want," Souji said, "It's hard imagining myself marrying someone who is so young."

    "It seems scary to me too," Nanako agreed, "But… I can wait."

    "I need to think about it," Souji told Nanako.

    "I'll be waiting," Nanako smiled, "My father will be as well."

    Souji was in a great hurry to leave. He needed to get back for an important meeting between important lords. His mind would not be on protecting the lords, however. His mind would be on his cousin and her offer of marriage.
     
  10. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Samurai and Ninjas Chap. 7



    Rural Area Village- Nara

    Mid-afternoon

    It had been one day since Lord Tanaka's men had harassed and ravaged their little village. The village was still in a state of disarray. Every communal home had their possessions thrown about like they were trash. Worst of all of was the damage done to their own people. The footmen had no respect for the farmers and shoved them around as they were searching for the food. The samurai had caused the biggest causality of all. He had caused serious harm to the village elder, Geirin. After Naoto had bravely attacked and killed the footmen, while driving back the samurai; it became a race against time for the medicine woman and midwife, Hisano, to save Geirin's life.

    The rice paddies were the only thing undisturbed by all of the disorder, but the focus was on the main home in the center of the village. Hisano had worked hard all night using herbs and a sewing needle. It seemed that the whole village was trying to watch her save Geirin's life, and she could only really work when she yelled at them to stay out of her way. It took until sunrise until she could finally say she was out of imminent danger, and then there the chance of infection and various complications. She would need to watch over Geirin until she was sure he would be okay.

    Eri walked into the largest communal home. This home was practically untouched because of the fact that Tanaka's men never reached this residence. The only change to the home was the copious amount of herb and homemade medicine that had been strewn about the place.

    Eri tiptoed around the supplies, and sat next to the old medicine lady wearing black. She saw the old man resting comfortably in his covers with bandages wrapped around his chest.

    "How is he?" Eri asked Hisano.

    "The worst part is over," Hisano told Eri, "Now he needs his rest."

    "I am just thankful he is alive," Eri said. She smiled at the old woman, "Thank you, Hisano."

    Hisano smiled back, "I am just glad I was able to help him. He almost did not make it. He's old, but he must have had a reason to live. That's why I was able to save him."

    "It must have been his granddaughter," Eri responded.

    "How will he respond when he finds out she's gone?" Hisano asked.

    "I don't know," Eri frowned. "I hope Naoto is still alive," Eri shook her head, "That samurai just took her away. I hope they don't hurt her."

    They never minded Naoto's acting like a boy, but always talked to her like a girl, even if it annoyed her.

    "Naoto is gone?" a man's voice called out from the entrance of the home.

    Eri turned her head. She was surprised to see three people in the doorway. There was a man and two young women in the doorway. One man was wearing a black tunic, black pants, and a black hat of all things. He had short black hair with thick sideburns. One girl was sporting white pants, a black tunic, and a green jacket over it. She had long and pretty black hair. The other girl had a purple-colored tunic and pants. Her hair was a curly black that was covered by a purple-colored hat. The most noticeable thing about the newcomers was that both the young man and the girl with a green jacket had swords at their hips.

    "Raidou," Eri said softly, "Why are you here?"

    Raidou walked up to Eri and was about to answer when he saw his great-uncle bandaged up and breathing slowly.

    "What happened to Geirin!?" Raidou exclaimed.

    Hisano said calmly, "There were some footmen and a samurai. Geirin did not want to give them what they wanted."

    "Will he be okay?" The girl wearing green asked.

    "Sis…" Raidou looked at her.

    "He'll be okay, eventually," Hisano answered.

    "Where is Naoto?" Raidou turned back to Eri.

    Eri took a deep breath, "When Geirin was injured; she fought back. She killed the footmen and injured the samurai. The samurai was about to kill her, but another samurai stopped him. The other samurai still took her away to the palace, I think."

    "Which lord? Whose samurai attacked us?" Raidou asked.

    Eri answered, "Lord Tanaka…"

    Eri could see the anger in Naoto's cousin building. He was about to boil over until the young woman in the cream-color clothes put her hand on Raidou.

    "Raidou," the girl said.

    "Do you know which samurai took Naoto away?" Raidou asked as he took a deep breath to calm himself down.

    "It was Souji Seta," Eri responded. Everyone knew who Souji Seta was.

    Raidou turned around, and Nagi, his sister, followed. The third person, the short girl, joined them. As Raidou reached the entrance, he turned his head and said, "If Naoto is alive, I will bring her back. Otherwise, I will make Lord Tanaka pay."

    Nara- Palace Gates

    Evening

    The palace in Nara would be home to an important meeting this evening. Early this evening was home to the arrival of the lords of the meeting.

    Yosuke, having somewhat recovered from the shock of seeing Lord Nagase coming to the door of Lady Satonaka, was there to receive the incoming nobility at the gate. His job would be not just to watch and protect Lord Tatsumi, but to also watch over the other lords. There was a fragile peace between the three families at the moment, but Yosuke had to protect every lord at the meeting. During the meeting, nothing would come between them. Besides, there was royalty with them; even if there was no power with the royalty.

    Yosuke was wondering where his partner was. He knew Souji was meeting with his cousin, or in his mind… sleeping with a little kid. However, it should not take this long to get back, right? What was he doing over there in the Residential District? He would just have to find out when Souji showed up later, if he showed up tonight.

    Yosuke scratched the fuzz growing on his chin. He shook his head as he at seeing the four archers stationed on the wall yawning and ready to fall asleep. If they were ever invaded, they would be killed slowly. Yosuke's eyes shifted from the two tunic-wearing archers to an incoming man wearing black robes. It was the most hated lord of Fujiwara, but Yosuke had to respect him at this moment.

    Lord Tanaka had an overly smug expression as he walked through the gates. He looked down on every person. When Tanaka walked through the gate, he rolled his eyes at the sight of Yosuke. Tanaka knew about Lady Satonaka's arrangement with Lord Nagase and he was amused with how it turned out for Yosuke.

    Tanaka did not want anything to do with the low-ranking samurai and walked straight past him except for one thing.

    "Hanamura," Lord Tanaka said slowly and nodded. There was a nasty smirk on his face.

    "Lord Tanaka," Yosuke responded with faux respect.

    Yosuke turned his head only briefly to roll his eyes at the lord. He hated the guy, but then again… everyone did.

    When Yosuke turned his head back around, there were two more people approaching the gates. One was a female servant wearing a gray yukata. The other was a Taira lord in gray robes.

    The man approaching Yosuke had short curly black hair with brown eyes. The girl had short hair, but it was tied back into ponytails. Her hair was a very different color… a yellow and green mix.

    The man that walked past Yosuke again seemed very uninterested in the samurai. A small nod was all he gave Yosuke when he bowed to the Taira lord. The servant stopped by Yosuke. She gazed into his eyes and smiled. She did not seem as cold as the lords.

    "I hope you don't mind Lord Kido's attitude," the servant apologized, "We've just had a long trip."

    "It's okay," Yosuke responded, "It's nothing to worry about."

    "I'm Yuka," Yuka introduced herself; "I've been Lord Kido's servant since I was a child."

    "Yosuke Hanamura," Yosuke nodded, "I'm one of Lord Tatsumi's samurai."

    "A pleasure to meet you," Yuka said. She smiled at him before saying, "I need to help serve Lord Kido."

    "Have a good evening," Yosuke said as Yuka bowed and left.

    "She's a nice girl," Yosuke thought. It took his mind off of Chie, at least for a while. Pretty girls attracted Yosuke.

    By the time Yosuke shook his head and broke out of his reverie of talking with Yuka, another group of people were approaching. It was a train of people actually. The group of people was all clad in blue, servants, guards, and lord alike. It had to have been the member of royalty in Yosuke's mind. Who else would have seven servants with him? Not just seven servants with him, but five samurai alongside the lord. The lord had short blond hair cut so short the back did not even reach his neck. He also wore a blue hat. Even Yosuke had to know royalty's name… Lord Theodore.

    Yosuke bowed in the lord's presence as he approached. The five samurai made a circular guard around him as he passed. The servants were trailing behind Lord Theodore as they went through the gate and past Yosuke. They were the only one who acknowledged the samurai's presence… one of the female servants even smiling at him. Yosuke had to smile back. That was definitely not allowed by a servant, but she did it anyways. The grandson of the emperor, in Nara… sounds like a headache. Yosuke was starting to understand why Souji always was holding his head.

    His ears sharpened at the cock of arrows from above. Two people were approaching and they were not a Taira, a Fujiwara, and definitely not royalty. The archers were about ready to fire, but only if they were not one of those lords invited. Yosuke gazed and squinted hard. The blue robes on the lord were home to a tall man with very short brown hair. The girl was wearing very complex white robes and very long red hair tied with white ribbons.

    Yosuke held up his hand, "Don't fire!"

    The archers lowered their bows for the moment. They were still ready to fire on the two at any second. They were waiting for the command.

    Yosuke walked forwards to meet the two by the gate, his right hand on the hilt of his sword.

    "What are you two doing here?" Yosuke asked.

    "We're here for the meeting," the lord answered.

    "You know full well that no Minamotos were invited to this, Lord Iori," Yosuke explained.

    "Yet, here we are," the lady said.

    Yosuke could not do anything about it. Unless they did something that could be considered an act of aggression, any act against them would spark another huge conflict between the Minamotos and Fujiwaras. He did not want to be the one who would ignite a war that could cost many lives.

    "Lord Tatsumi will decide if you can stay or not," Yosuke finally said.

    Lord Iori looked at his wife and said to her, "Let's go Chidori."

    The two of them went right past Yosuke. With two Fujiwaras at Nara, Yosuke knew it would probably turn into a big mess tonight. At least, it would not be his fault if it all went to Yomi.

    Lord Junpei Iori used to be a lazy lord with loose morals. It was only when he met Lady Chidori did he strengthen his heart and become somewhat of a badass. Lord Iori was known of somewhat of a skilled swordsman of note as well. He was not a person to be trifled with.

    Yosuke sighed. Where was Souji? He had to deal with all of these bastards by himself because Souji was off with this little girl. Damn Souji and his pedophile interests in little girls and kids. Why could he not just be interested in women like Lady Amagi or Lady Kujikawa?

    Just as expected, Souji showed up a couple of minutes after the Minamotos came through the gates. Yosuke expected to either see a man completely disheveled or serious as he usual is. As he looked at Souji, Yosuke saw a young man that was neither. Souji looked stressed out, tired, and lost. Yosuke definitely needed to talk to him, and chew him out for what he did.

    "Souji!" Yosuke called out, "What the hell have you been doing?"

    "Thinking…" Souji responded.

    "That's not what I'm talking about," Yosuke said, "You can not have been thinking for that long."

    "I was speaking with Lady Nanako," Souji sighed.

    "Speaking?" Yosuke raised an eyebrow.

    "Yes, speaking," Souji nodded, "She basically asked if she would make a good wife for me."

    "That's interesting," Yosuke said. He was trying not to display an array of interesting emotions.

    "She's eight," Souji shook his head, "How would I know?"

    Yosuke shrugged, "That's true. There is no way to find out." He went around and clapped Souji on the back, "There is one plus though." Souji turned his head as Yosuke said, "You would become a lord again."

    In reality, Yosuke felt a little jealous at Souji becoming nobility. The lack of being nobility was why he was not with Lady Satonaka right now. If Souji became nobility, he would rise to a whole different level that Yosuke could never become.

    "That's if and when Lord Dojima decides to," Souji sighed.

    "Either way," Yosuke said. He continued, "But you got out of a hell of a lot of controversy tonight."

    Souji put his hand on his head, "What do you mean?"

    "Lord Tanaka was a bastard as usual and two Minamotos showed up out of the blue," Yosuke told Souji.

    "Lovely," Souji said, "I don't know if I should be happy or sad that I missed the fun."

    "You can tell me more of your stories later," Yosuke said, "Other than that; you owe me for showing up late."

    "What do you want?" Souji sighed.

    "When you're a lord, you'll find out," Yosuke told Souji.

    Souji rolled his eyes. He did not know if he was going to marry Lady Nanako. The pressure being put on him to make a decision was slowly building and it had only been a couple of days. Was there unnecessary expectation that would be placed on him to marry his cousin? The only thing he knew was that Nanako would wait for Souji and that she would wait. The pressure would come from third-parties, not from Nanako.

    "We're expected in the hall," Souji said, "We need to keep watch."

    Souji and Yosuke turned from the gates and headed towards the cherry blossoms. Their jobs would be keeping their eyes on Lord Tatsumi, especially with all of the lords and guards that would be around the hall.

    Slightly early, the lords and lady joined in the walkways full of cherry blossoms to talk for a short while before meeting with Lord Tatsumi. The main topic of conversation was the sudden intrusion of Lord Iori and Lady Yoshino.

    "Well… this is unexpected," Lord Kido said, "I did not know you were going to show."

    Lord Kido was probably the strongest, physically, of any of the Tairas. However, he was not completely loyal to his faction of Tairas. He never really trusted Lord Toudou or Lady Sonomura. Lord Kido could relate to the other Tairas, but they were a whole different breed of people. He almost did not even bother coming, and they would have asked one of the Suou's to come instead.

    "We came because no one invited a Minamoto," Junpei responded.

    "That is reasonable," Theodore said to the Minamoto, "We need representation from every family."

    "Of course we should have representation," Chidori said.

    "Everyone is rather high on themselves today," Lord Tanaka smirked.

    Reiji rolled his eyes, "Are you always like this?"

    "Wouldn't you like to know?" Lord Tanaka asked.

    "Does that make you happy?" Reiji returned, "Trying to insinuate insults."

    "Not my problem," Tanaka told them.

    Reiji was about to take a step forward when Theodore cut in, "That's enough. We are headed in soon."

    All of the lords, a single lady, the samurai, and the servants headed from the cherry blossoms towards the hall.

    The hall had been refurbished slightly for the meeting. The fact that royalty would be present meant that extra guards would be on watch. They had changed some of the wall scrolls for this evening and made sure everything was cleaned. As the news of two more noblemen appearing at the palace, servants rushed around the palace trying to make enough room for Lord Iori and Lady Chidori Yoshino.

    At first, Lord Tatsumi was worried about having two Minamotos, especially husband and wife, show up randomly on their doorstep. He knew they would not try anything with Lord Theodore or Lord Kido there, but he would rather the meeting have no more surprises.

    Servants' Quarters

    As the lords were on their way to the main hall, Naoto finally returned to the servants' quarters. She was exhausted beyond belief. After meeting with Dojima, she had met up with Shu to clean the springs.

    It was a very eye-opening experience for Naoto when she hurried back to meet Shu at the hot water springs. Before doing anything with the actual springs; they had to clean the changing areas. Naoto had to help clean the male changing areas with Shu. A female servant was cleaning the female changing area. It was one of the few times when acting as a male that it is was rather awkward. If someone had come in while Naoto was cleaning; Naoto would have been shell-shocked.

    They had cleaned the actual area around the springs after cleaning the changing areas. It was much less awkward for Naoto for sure. Naoto had thought she was done after cleaning the springs, but they had some other worthless tasks for her to do. She had to help clean and prepare some of the other rooms. It was for the lords that were coming tonight. It took hours and only when more servants came to help did she finally have faith that she would survive. Her back hurt so badly and her clothes were really dirty.

    Now, she was back at the servants' quarters to change clothes before she went to the kitchens. She had to go and take the drinks to serve them to all the lords and lady that would be present at the meeting.

    Naoto opened the sliding door and looked for another yukata to put on. When she found another piece of maroon clothing near her bed, Naoto started striping off the clothing as fast as she could. She had to hurry because she knew the meeting would be starting soon. As soon as she was down to her bandages, Naoto grabbed the other yukata and began to dress. She needed to hurry. As the ribbons were tied, the door opened and Shu came in. Naoto thanked his spirits that she was dressed when the slightly older man came into the room.

    "You're late!" Shu exclaimed, "Hurry up!"

    "I'm coming!" Naoto shouted as she started to walk past him.

    "Lord Tanaka is there," Shu turned his head.

    Naoto stopped for a second. She did need to hurry. Lord Tanaka did not really a reason to treat her like shit, but if she gave him a reason...

    Naoto started moving at a quick pace, and Shu called out behind her, "Hurry!"

    Naoto just about ran to the kitchens. There was food being prepared for anyone who wanted food afterwards. Her job was to bring drinks and there were a large amount of drinks waiting for her to take.

    She walked forward to one of the cooks who had a multitude of drinks with him. This would so much hard than a plate of fruit. It was very precarious as she began walking away from the cook with the rice wine. If she had to open the kitchen door again it would have been disastrous.

    Naoto had more to do than just serve drinks tonight. He needed to watch and listen for suspicious activity, and then write what she saw so she could give it to Lord Dojima. It sounded like a lot of work and a lot to remember. She just had to remember that Lord Dojima and Lord Tatsumi saved her life, otherwise no other lords mattered.

    Main Hall

    Time of the meeting

    Lord Tatsumi had walked to the main hall to find Lord Tanaka, Lord Kido, royalty in Lord Theordore, and two Minamotos in Lord Iori and Lady Yoshino in the area. He certainly did not expect two Minamotos to show up at their doorstep. There was such a fragile arrangement between the three families that anything could cause it to explode. That was why Lord Tatsumi could not force the pair out. The grandson of the emperor was here, but there were ties within all three families with the royal family. Lord Tatsumi had to just grin and bear with the all of the people here.

    Lord Tatsumi sat at one end of the hall with his maroon robes with black accents, while Lord Theodore sat on the other side of the hall. He was, technically, supposed to be the most important person here. Lord Tanaka, Kido, Iori, and Lady Yoshino all took seats on the different sides of the hall.

    Kanji was not the most impatient man, but at this time he just wanted this meeting under way and over with. The sooner it was over with; the sooner he would be would be free of people such as Lord Iori.

    He needed to start this, so Kanji said, "So, we are all here to discuss certain proposals within the families to keep the county together."

    Lord Tanaka cut in and asked, "Are we having drinks served?"

    "I have a servant coming in with drinks," Lord Tatsumi answered.

    "Good," Lord Tanaka nodded.

    Lord Tanaka knew a servant was coming to serve drinks, but if it was the servant that he was thinking it would be; he would be sick.

    Naoto made the final turn down the long corridors and hallways of the palace to the main hall. She had arrived just in time to serve the drinks to the lords and lady. The drinks had been shaking in her arms all the way down the halls, and probably would continue to shake until she gave them to the nobility. Lord Tatsumi seemed content when Naoto arrived, but Tanaka seemed less than happy seeing the young girl show up in the hall. The rest of the lords were indifferent to Naoto's presence because no one knew her or her history.

    At the same time Naoto arrived, both Souji and Yosuke joined her in the largest room in the palace. They took positions near Lord Tatsumi.

    Yosuke jabbed Souji and smirked, "Look… It's your other lover."

    "Shut up…" Souji responded as he jabbed him in the gut.

    Yosuke chuckled in response.

    Naoto saw five lords and one lady, all waiting for her to serve them. Lord Tatsumi gave a sideways glance towards Naoto and she knew it was time for her to deliver the drinks.

    Naoto started walking towards each lord so she could give them their wine. She started moving to Lord Tatsumi, handing the drink to the blond-haired lord of Nara first. He nodded in thanks before she moved on. The next pair of drinks went to Lord Iori and then Lady Yoshino. They had condescending looks for Naoto when she handed them her drinks. Naoto actually had to hand the drink she was going to give to Lord Theodore to one of his servants instead. The servant was the one who gave the drink to Lord Theodore.

    After the grandson of the emperor received his wine, Naoto walked to the final two lords. Lord Kido gave the smallest smile in approval when Naoto handed her the drink.

    "So… we are here to discuss why there is unequal power within the families?" Lord Kido asked, taking a sip of newly given drink.

    "That is one of the things I want to discuss with Lord Tatsumi for many reasons," Lord Junpei said.

    "There are many important things to discuss," Lord Theodore nodded, "Lord Tatsumi will decide what to talk about."

    Before anyone else could get a word in; there was a crash, and then a yell. Junpei, Reiji, Theodore, and Chidori all turned their heads to see Lord Tanaka covered in rice wine. Naoto had somehow spilled all of the remaining drinks onto Lord Tanaka.

    "You little bastard!" Lord Tanaka yelled as he stood up.

    "I'm sorry…" Naoto tried to apologize as she tried to appear meek.

    Tanaka gave a hard slap to Naoto's face that caused the petite girl to fall to the ground. She let out a soft shriek that she tried to cover her cry.

    The punishment did not end there for Naoto as Tanaka started kicking Naoto across the stomach. The blows were relentless and Naoto felt tears running down her face as bruises started forming on her ribs.

    Lord Tatsumi had seen the whole thing and he would stand for any of it, "Please stop…"

    When Tanaka did not stop kicking right away, Lord Tatsumi yelled, "That's enough Tanaka! Stop!"

    Tanaka lifted his head. He had been so busy driving his legs into Naoto's midsections he could barely hear Lord Tatsumi yelling at him. He stopped kicking Naoto and waited for what Kanji had to say to him.

    "You tripped him. He even apologized for something you did," Kanji explained, "There was no reason for you to start kicking him, especially after you slapped him to the ground."

    Naoto was near whimpering in pain. She had not been beaten this badly ever before. She did not deserve this.

    "I nearly forgot you became so soft," Lord Tanaka shook his head.

    "Now there is no reason for you to speak like this," Lord Theodore said.

    "You never should have let him stay alive after he killed three of my men," Tanaka sneered.

    Lord Tatsumi replied, "Who are you to question my decisions?"

    "He's speaking the truth, Lord Tanaka," Lord Kido remarked. He found all of this somewhat amusing.

    "I'm just making suggestions," Lord Tanaka shrugged his shoulders.

    "Doesn't sound like it to me," Lord Tatsumi shook his head.

    Lord Tatsumi was angry. This was exactly why everyone hated Lord Tanaka. He tried to insinuate so much trouble for everything, and he was trying to cause hell for him in front of all of the other families. He was wondering if he was trying to make it look there was instability within the Fujiwaras.

    Lord Tatsumi sighed, "Can someone help Naoto get to the doctor?"

    Souji did not really want to be here at this meeting. Lord Tatsumi had Yosuke to protect him, so Souji could really focus on his thoughts.

    "I'll take him to the doctor," Souji said.

    "Okay… good," Kanji nodded, "Go ahead."

    Yosuke jabbed him and smirked, and Souji responded, "Shut up…"

    Souji walked past and nodded at Kanji before walking in front of Tanaka. He glared at Tanaka before seeing to Naoto.

    "Come on, Naoto…" Souji said.

    Naoto turned her head to the samurai and could not say anything to him before Souji all but picked Naoto up and placed her on her feet. Souji placed his arm around Naoto's shoulder to support her.

    With Souji and Naoto on their way and out of the hall, Theodore asked to the others, "Have we have all calmed down… at least enough to continue our meeting?"

    "I think we should start discussing what we came here for," Chidori directed her words towards Kanji, "The Fujiwaras have been the seat of power for years, but your family are becoming nothing but a figurehead trying to tell everyone what to do."

    "You have no money, you have no viable military power, and you would crumple like leaves if we breathed on you," Junpei continued.

    Reiji agreed with the pair, but felt that the Minamotos were too power-hungry. The Tairas were stronger overall, and if they ever fought the Minamotos; they would crush them easily.

    Tanaka did not want a complete collapse of the Fujiwaras, but he did feel that the current leader of Nara and the Fujiwara family was incompetent.

    Lord Theodore tried to defuse the situation, "Do you not think that these questions should be fields by Lord Adachi, instead of Lord Tatsumi?"

    "We have the Lord of Nara here… let him answer it," Junpei retorted.

    "We are not a paper tiger," Kanji responded, "We're stronger than you can imagine. We have flourished under Fujiwara strength. Our culture has become far more complex with Fujiwara power."

    "You feel like your family is strong, huh?" Junpei taunted, "Maybe we should find out, yes?"

    "We could find out," Kanji winked.

    "That's enough," Theodore answered, "No more of this power talk…"

    "Fine… Is there anything else we need to speak of?" Kanji asked.

    The other lords and lady looked at each other. It seemed that they had only come for that one reason. Maybe Tanaka had come just to see the fun. Theodore broke the silence, "I heard you are looking for a new wife, Lord Tatsumi."

    "Okay… this meeting is over!" Kanji exclaimed.

    Servants' Quarters

    During the meeting, Naoto was being helped down the corridors by the highest of Lord Tatsumi's samurai. Naoto was in a lot of pain, and it was only because of Souji that he did not collapse a few times.

    As they walked past the kitchens, Souji said to Naoto, "We need to get you to the doctor."

    Naoto did not want to be seen by the Palace Doctor. He would find out that she was a girl, and that could be a bad thing. She may be in terrible pain, but she was at least cognizant.

    "Please… just take me to the servants' quarters," Naoto mumbled, "I just want to rest…"

    "You look terrible though," Souji told Naoto, "You need treatment."

    "I can soak in the bath," Naoto said softly.

    "If you really want to," Souji shook his head, "I won't take you there."

    "Yes… I'd rather," Naoto nodded. Her sides hurt so badly.

    Naoto needed Souji's arm around her shoulder at this moment if she did not want to fall on the floor. Her opinions of Lord Tatsumi and Souji were changing slightly, but she felt that Tanaka was quite the bastard right now.

    The two had finally reached the servants' quarters when Naoto nudged Souji, "Keep going… I need to relax."

    "Alright," Souji understood.

    They went past the wooden door and walked to the next sliding door. Souji used his left arm to slide it open and together they stepped into the wash room. As they stepped inside, Naoto said painfully, "I can make it from here."

    "Are you sure?" Souji asked.

    "Yes..." Naoto answered.

    "Take care," Souji nodded, "I'll call for a servant for bring water."

    At that, Souji slid the door shut. Naoto had grasped one of the copper tubs, and she would have to wait for a servant to bring water before she could even bathe. Tanaka was a bastard, but there was nothing she could do. What she was going to write for Lord Dojima, she did not know. She was not at the meeting, but it was not her fault.

    Souji had found a servant pretty quickly and told her to bring water for Naoto. He was not amused with what happened. That was typical Tanaka. Only someone like him would hold a grudge and purposely hurt do something so he can hurt them.

    Souji needed sleep. He wanted to hurry out of the palace as fast possible. His head hurt and there was so much on his mind. He heard a lot of noise when he passed one of the rooms. He recognized the red sleeveless jacket of Yosuke outside the room, but the sash color... that belonged to someone of Taira heritage.

    "You know what… I do not want to know," Souji shook his head.
     
  11. The Phantom

    The Phantom Member

    Samurai and Ninjas Chap. 8


    Servants' Quarters

    Morning

    Naoto woke up twice in the middle of the night with a lot of pain in her midsection. Soaking in cold water last night dulled the pain some, but not enough to make a real difference. Luckily, no one walked in on her while she was soaking in the tub. That would have been a disaster that compromised everything she had told the other servants and led the other lords to believe. Naoto had to wrap her bandages around her stomach instead of her chest. She managed to drag herself from the bath to the sleeping quarters by herself.

    The morning was something Naoto was dreading, and it came far too soon for her. She was roughly awakened by someone shoving her in the ribs, and she nearly yelled out in pain when Kaien did so. Neither Kaien nor Shu knew what happened, so it was a honest mistake, but it still hurt like none other.

    "Kaien…" Naoto muttered, "That hurts…"

    "You need to get up," Kaien told Naoto, "Lord Tatsumi wants to see you."

    "Lord Tatsumi…?" Naoto blinked her eyes.

    "You were allowed to sleep in a little because you had no early duties, but now you have something important to do," Kaien explained.

    "What time is it?" Naoto asked.

    "It's past sunrise. It's mid-morning," Kaien said.

    Naoto wondered if somebody had told either Kaien or Shu that she was injured last night and to let her rest. It made Naoto think how she would feel if she had to get up as early as she did yesterday. Naoto would probably feel as bad as she did when she woke up in the middle of the night if she woke up that early.

    Lord Tatsumi needed her for some reason or another. That meant she needed not only to get up, but also that she had to change as well. She could not do that while Kaien was in the room. He was the only one in the room, but she still needed an excuse to get him to leave.

    Naoto winced as she used her wrists to brace herself and push up and out of the sheets. It would take a long time for her ribs to heal. She knew underneath her bandages it would be a mess of black and blue.

    "What can I do to get rid of him?" Naoto thought. Naoto pretended to feel a little woozy as well.

    "You look like you're in pain," Kaien said and asked, "What's wrong?"

    This looked like a chance to get clear of Kaien as the servant placed a hand on her shoulder.

    "I have a headache, Kaien," Naoto lied, "It's making me a little dizzy."

    "Do you want me to get something for you?" Kaien asked, "You need to be in good shape to serve Lord Tatsumi and I can't have you collapsing."

    "No, no… I just need to take a moment and gather myself," Naoto told Kaien.

    "Are you sure?" Kaien asked, "I could ask for a servant to bring you a wet towel or something."

    "I'll be okay," Naoto said, "If you could just give me a second to change, it would be perfect."

    "You want me to leave?" Kaien looked at Naoto sideways.

    "Just for a moment," Naoto nodded. She asked, "Do you know where Lord Tatsumi is? Considering…"

    Kaien shook his head. He did not understand why this boy was so shy. He said, "I guess so. Lord Tatsumi is out in the practice field with Souji Seta."

    "The practice field… thanks," Naoto nodded.

    Kaien nodded in return before he walked out of the room, trying to understand why the boy was so shy. Kaien did not know Naoto's secret, and that's exactly what Naoto wanted.

    As Naoto slipped out of the bed and started changing, she had to avoid touching her midsection. Even the slightest touch seemed to make the pain of the blows from Tanaka's kicks flare up.

    She winced, but she had to remove her bandages and retie them. This time, Naoto did so even looser than she had last night. She prayed that she would not bump into anything while working today.

    As she made the last tying motion on her yukata, Naoto had finally finished dressing without passing out. Slipping into her geta, she made her way out of the sliding door where Kaien was waiting right outside to the right of the door with a pair of towels on his arm. He seemed surprisingly a little more patient than Shu, which was surprising to Naoto.

    "How's your head?" Kaien asked.

    "Good enough for me to work," Naoto responded.

    "Good," Kaien said. He continued with orders, "Lord Tatsumi and Souji Seta are waiting for you in the practice fields. You better hurry…" He gazed at Naoto's head before saying worriedly, "Well as fast as you can."

    "Thanks, and I will," Naoto nodded.

    Kaien handed the towels to Naoto. She took the towels and placed them carefully over her shoulder.

    "So long," Kaien said as Naoto hurried off at a somewhat slow pace.

    Naoto was not completely sure where the practice fields were, and she twice found herself asking various people which direction she was supposed to go. Luckily, there was a kind old lady servant who guided her in the right direction and helped her towards the practice field.

    "Thank you… umm?" Naoto did not know the name of the lady she was thanking.

    "Saeko," the lady told her, "And you are very welcome."

    Naoto nodded and headed towards the back courtyards that were more commonly called: The Practice Fields.

    The Fields was a large rectangular field with that was surrounded by rock fountains and dirt paths. At the arrival of Naoto, she gazed upon the lush and vibrant field itself with tired eyes. Naoto held the soft towels close to her as she viewed the two men that were on the grassy lawn.

    Both Kanji Tatsumi and Souji Seta were standing across from each other, while holding wooden swords. Kanji's blade was much heavier and was a two-handed weapon, while Souji's was a long one-handed blade. Both of them had large welts from where they had been struck by the other man. They were both breathing heavily as well.

    As Kanji took a deep breath, he asked Souji, "I am still not sure why you are using one-handed weapon today."

    "I heard the leader of the Minamotos is a master of the one-handed blade. I need to be able to fight him if we ever go to war," Souji explained. They were very free with each other in private.

    "You could always leave him to me," Kanji said, shouldering his weapon.

    Souji shook his head, "I would rather not have to replace the Lord of Nara with someone inadequate."

    "Do you doubt my skills?" Kanji questioned.

    "No… It's just that the other Arisato is just as dangerous," Souji explained, "Practically every Minamoto lord and lady is trained to kill."

    Kanji took a deep breath, "So I should rely on both of my samurai?"

    Souji nodded and Kanji shook his head, "I would rather it not come to that."

    "That would be for the best," Souji nodded. He twirled his wooden weapon, "Shall we continue?"

    Kanji turned his head and saw Naoto, "No, no… It seems the servant has finally come with the towels."

    Souji nodded in agreement and brushed back his hair. He took his own look at Naoto before they both walked towards the diminutive servant who was still standing and waiting for the two of them.

    Naoto was a little nervous about handing the towels off to two of the three people that had saved her life, and it showed when she gave the towels to the pair. She could feel Kanji's gaze upon her face as he wiped the sweat off his face. Naoto could see the sweat trickle from his sweeping blond hair, to the scar over his left eye, and into Kanji's gray eyes themselves. He blinked once to clear his eyes and stared straight into Naoto's blue ones.

    All of this made Naoto avert her eyes from Lord Tatsumi. She did not like being stared at. When she finally looked up, Kanji had stopped looking at her. He had turned his eyes away when she for some reason or another. Instead, Souji's eyes were making its way towards her. He looked a little worried about her condition after Tanaka's brutal beating.

    "How are you feeling today, Naoto?" Souji asked casually.

    "I have been better," Naoto replied, "It feels uncomfortable." She meant uncomfortable both physically and mentally.

    Kanji said to Naoto, "I heard you disobeyed an order to visit the doctor, Naoto." He then looked at Souji, "You did not take her there either, Souji."

    "I felt like I would be okay," Naoto hung her head, "I'm sorry Lord Tatsumi."

    "She would not listen to reason," Souji shrugged.

    "If you believe you can still adequately serve me, its fine," Kanji smiled. He shook his head, "Lord Tanaka was in the wrong. What he did was inexcusable, trying to punish you falsely… out in the open as well."

    "Tanaka's only trying to get back at you," Souji added.

    Kanji said, "Probably."

    Souji had finished wiping the sweat off his own face and looked at Kanji as he said, "I'm headed to the springs. I'll see you in a little while, Lord Tatsumi."

    Souji nodded at Kanji, who nodded back. Souji's gaze lingered at Naoto momentarily, who had again turned away from the boy's eyes.

    Kanji watched the samurai walk away from the field and towards the springs. Kanji had more things that he wanted to talk to Souji about.

    Kanji's gaze turned back towards his servant. He looked at Naoto, "Souji and I are both going to the springs. If you want to come… I think a little time there might help your injuries."

    Naoto looked horrified at that proclamation. She knew it was a very generous offer, but… a scary one. It would be a horrible mistake if she joined them in the springs. She had to find a way out of this because it would jeopardize everything she was hiding.

    "Thank you so much for you kindness, but if I could graciously decline," Naoto nodded.

    "Are you sure?" Kanji looked confused, "I am not sure why you would not want to."

    "I… I don't know," Naoto looked a little flustered as she looked for the right words, "I just need rest."

    "Oh…," Kanji said abruptly, "I would think that being in the springs would be soothing for you."

    "I just need to rest. I could not sleep last night," Naoto explained.

    Kanji sighed, "If you're sure."

    Naoto nodded, "Is there anything else you'll want me to do for today?"

    "You can rest until dinner. I'll expect you at service," Kanji answered.

    "I understand," Naoto bowed.

    As Naoto walked away, Kanji sighed. He just did not understand some things about Naoto. Part of the reason he brought Naoto into his service was because of Souji and Lord Dojima, but he did not really understand why else he brought this boy in. When he closed his eyes, Kanji kept seeing Naoto's blue eyes in the back of his mind. He kept picturing his face. It was bugging him beyond belief. He had to clear his head and the springs would be a good place to do it. Maybe, Naoto not coming along would be a good thing.

    As Souji wrapped his towel around his body, he saw Kanji enter the changing room. Kanji looked a little pensive as he began undressing himself and stared at a welt on his shoulder.

    Souji looked at Kanji and asked, "Just us two then?"

    Kanji nodded, but he had no idea on how Souji seemed to even know he was going to invite his servant to the springs. Souji said in response, "That's fine."

    Kanji decided to change the subject before it could turn awkward, "Did you know that Lord Kido was searching around for his servant this morning? He was in a bad mood because he could not find her."

    "You mean Yuka?" Souji asked.

    As Kanji nodded and finished removing his tunic, Souji answered, "He should have followed the grunts and yells from where Yosuke was staying last night."

    "Really?" Kanji raised his eyebrows, "Figures…"

    "He got over Lady Satonaka fast enough," Souji said.

    "Did he really though?" Kanji inquired.

    "I don't know… Only time will tell," Souji sighed.

    As they walked out towards the open-air springs, Kanji looked at his samurai. Souji would never betray him. He could tell him anything.

    The springs were outside and were surrounded by rock formations. Kanji and Souji had visited this place many times recently, and it was a place Kanji went to think about political and personal matters.

    Souji could definitely use some time in the springs as well to think about his own personal issues.

    As they both entered the hot water, Souji saw that something was bothering Kanji. Souji asked him, "What's wrong?"

    "It's about Naoto," Kanji answered.

    "You're wondering why he didn't want to come to the springs." Souji explained, "You're wondering why you're thinking about him even now."

    Kanji looked straight at Souji with a hint of anger forming on his face. "That's not cool, Souji," Kanji said, "I'm not thinking about Naoto right now."

    The truth was… Kanji was thinking about Naoto right now. He could not explain it. What was wrong with him?

    Souji nodded in agreement," Okay…" He really did not believe him. It was really confusing, but he knew Kanji must be even more confused right now.

    Lady Dojima's Residence

    Morning

    The gray interior of Lady Dojima's residence was inhabited by three people. Lord Ryotarou and Lady Chisato Dojima, as well as one of the caretakers who had been had watching over Lady Dojima were the three inhabitants. The mood inside the residence was a solemn one. Lord Dojima had been there all night and had not slept since the day before. Even though he was exhausted, Dojima was in no mood to sleep.

    Ryotarou Dojima was standing alongside the caretaker who was clad in the white yukata of the service of Lady Dojima. He was the only male caretaker that Lady Dojima ever had, as a doctor taking care of her while she was sick.

    Sadly, no matter what thing the caretaker tried, what concoction he gave her, and what treatment he suggested; it never seemed to work. That's why Ryoutarou was now standing with him over Chisato's lifeless body in her bedroom. Lady Dojima had passed away.

    "I am sorry, Lord Dojima," the caretaker said to Ryotarou.

    Dojima did not say anything in response as he hung his head. Though it was an arranged marriage, he had fallen in love with Chisato over time. This disease that no one could diagnose struck his wife down so quickly that he never had a chance to truly say goodbye. It really was unfair for him.

    The caretaker decided to try and ask a question, "That means your daughter is now the lady of the house, correct?"

    Dojima looked up, "Yes."

    "Have you found a suitor for the future?" the caretaker asked.

    Dojima shook his head, "I am not sure if the one I have in mind will accept."

    "I'm sure the man will make the right decision," the caretaker nodded.

    Dojima sighed, "The right decision for Nanako…"