An Unexpected Romance

By Ann Shannon

Romance

Chapter 4- The Arrangement

Chikako sat in her room, waiting to be called for dinner. She knew that her father had very important guests from another village, that they had arrived yesterday morning and they had spent time visiting and discussing politics. In fact she'd met one of them at the river today. What she didn't know was why she was going to be included in the dinner party tonight. Usually when her father entertained in order to build an alliance she was not expected to participate. He'd always told her that he maintained the peace so that she didn't have to worry about it.

She checked her outfit again, wondering how long it would be before she was summoned. She was wearing her best, at her fathers request. It was a floor length dress that imitated a yukata except that the belt was much narrower. It was lavender with deep purple trim and white lace that trimmed the half skirt that slanted around her midway down the dress. She had her long auburn hair pulled into its usual braid, slightly to one side so that it rested on her left shoulder and hung down her front. Rie, one of the women who worked in her fathers house, had woven tiny white flowers into her hair and put a deep purple bow at the end to match her dress.

A knock at the door indicated it was time and she rose. Greeting Takao, one of the men who worked with her father and served as her escort accompanying her when she needed one, she took his arm and turned towards the dining room. She looked up at Takao. He was about five years older than her and, in her opinion, very handsome. He had a wife and two small children at home, she wondered how much time he got to spend with them.

He smiled down at her but his smile wasn't happy tonight. She saw a sadness in his eyes that she had never seen before.

"Takao-san, is something wrong? Are Ai and the children alright?" The concern in her voice was genuine. Takao had been her escort since she had become a young woman, nearly eight years now. She looked up to him as if he was a brother, a dearly loved brother.

"They're fine. I'm simply tired. Nothing for you to worry about." He reassured her with a smile but it looked forced.

She searched his face for other signs of weariness and found none. She felt that he was not being truthful but they'd arrived at the door to the formal dining hall and he was waiting for her to prepare herself for entry.

She took a deep breath, and steadied her nerves, "is my mother attending?" She looked to Takao for an answer to her whispered question.

He simply shook his head no.

She nodded, she was prepared. And he slid the door open. It was apparent that the men in the room had been talking, they stopped when the door slid open.

Chikako entered the room as she was expected to, head bowed. She approached her father and bowed to him. "Good evening Hata-sama. Thank you for the invitation to join your meal."

Her father nodded. Indicating their guest he said "Good evening Chikako-chan. Please greet our guest, Tobirama Senju of the newly formed Village Hidden in the Leaf, Konahagakure."

Chikako approached their guest, she was surprised there was only one. Father didn't usually use the formal dining room for a single guest, he must be more important than she had thought he was. "Good evening Senju-sama. Thank you for joining us tonight for a meal." With the formalities of greeting over she took a seat at her fathers left side. The guest was sitting directly across from her. "Father, may I serve tea?"

"That would be lovely Chikako-chan. Thank you."

She busied herself with serving tea and listened to them speak.

"Senju-sama, this is my daughter. She is my one true treasure. Isn't she beautiful?"

"She is indeed a beautiful treasure Hata-sama. You are very lucky to have been blessed with her. The man who wins her heart will be very lucky." He sounded polite but bored as if the formalities of such an occasion were a bother to him and he just wished to be left alone.

Chikako blushed under the praise. When she served him his tea she took the opportunity to observe him, something she hadn't done earlier at the waterfall. He was a large man,not fat but tall and muscular, he looked quite strong. She surmised that he must be a warrior because he wore armor over his black shirt and pants. It covered his chest and stomach and there were pieces that extended from his shoulders down to his elbows. His face was strict looking, his crimson eyes seeming to take in everything around him and he bore two red markings on his cheeks and one on his chin. He also wore a face guard that extended to cover the sides of his head and a white fur collar that matched his white hair. She withheld a shiver and wondered how old he was.

He caught her looking at him and shifted, looking back at her with a questioning glance. She looked away quickly, hopeful that her father hadn't noticed.

She sat quietly listening as they talked about village business while the food was served. When the meal was done her father addressed her again.

"Chikako-chan. What do you think of our guest?"

"He seems very nice father." She looked at Tobirama, "you look like a warrior Senju-sama. Am I right?"

He smiled, but his smile was not the large encompassing smile of friendship, it simply related that he meant her no harm. "I am."

"And you Senju-sama. What do you think of my proposal? Will it form an alliance acceptable to you and your brother so that we may ensure the peace between our villages?"

"It is acceptable to me. Peace is always the better way. Even though I'm a warrior, and a skilled one if I may say so, I prefer to find the peaceful solution if I can."

Chikako looked between her father and this man. She had a feeling she was missing something but she couldn't figure it out. He seemed relaxed but on guard in some way, there was a sadness in his eyes as he spoke and even as he smiled at her when he caught her gazing at him. She looked to her father who didn't look sad at all.

"Father."

"Yes Chikako?"

"May I ask what will cause this alliance? What is your proposal that will ensure peace. It must be a strong one from the way you have both spoken of it."

"Certainly, my child. You, of all people, should know. It is the alliance of family."

She looked at him questioningly.

"You will be alliance between the Hata clan and the Senju clan, between Iwagakure and Konohagakure. You will return to Konohagakure as Senju-sama's wife joining our clans forever." He smiled at her as if he had just given her the best present she could ever get.

Chikako smiled at her father and at the man who would be her husband but inside she felt sure she was dying and she idly wondered if she would faint. "Thank you for the opportunity to serve my clan Father." She murmured this as she steadied herself to hide her reaction. She had been schooled from an early age to disguise her emotions and the skill came in handy now.

Tobirama watched her as the news was broken to her. She'd obviously not heard it before now or she wouldn't have needed to ask. She looked shaken and scared. He wondered how old she was, she looked young but she was well spoken and carried herself well. He knew this was a good step for peace but he wondered if it was good for her, or himself for that matter.

When the meal was over Takao showed up at the door to escort Chikako back to her room. "Did you have a good meal Chikako-chan?"

"I suppose. Did you...do you know why I was invited?"

He sighed. "I did. But I wasn't allowed to tell you."

Tears formed at her eyes. "How do I marry a man I don't even know?"

He sighed again but this time it was more resignation than tiredness. "Arranged marriages are nothing new, Chikako. Your own parents marriage was arranged. You'll get to know him and perhaps love him. You'll become accustomed to it."

"I don't know how you can say that! Don't I have the right to say if I want it first?"

"You knew that your father had an arranged marriage in mind for you. You've known that for years."

She sniffled a little. "I know. But he seems so, distant. I don't think he likes the idea either. Isn't there another way? I always thought I'd at least meet the man before the arrangement was made."

"He's a good man. He and his brother are well known for their abilities on the battlefield. And I spent a little time with him today. He's kind, even if he seems a bit distant. You'll be safe with him and, I think, happy in time."

He dropped her off at her door, "sleep well Chikako."

"You too Takao. And tell Ai and the boys I say hello."

She went into her room to think. As she changed into her nightclothes she thought about the evening and the marriage her father had negotiated an alliance with. She thought about Tobirama Senju. He looked old with his white hair, she wondered how old he really was. He also didn't look kind as Takao had described him. He looked cold and distant, like someone who was used to telling people what to do and having them do it.

Chikako fell asleep thinking of the man who would be her husband.

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