Aya-Aiko waited at the gates of Baiyushi Shiro along with her Daimyo, Hiroki. The crowd around them was immense. It was to be expected. Hiroki ordered everyone to attend the arrival of Baiyushi Himiko, the greatest duelist in the Koga House. And when Hiroki ordered something, he got it.
Aya looked up at him, “I thought you did not like women, my Daimyo? Why did you invite so many people to meet my mother?”
Hiroki looked down and smiled at her, “...Closer to the truth would be that I ‘despise’ women, Aya-Aiko san... BUT, your mother is an exception. She has brought great honor to our Family by being the greatest swordsman in our Koga House of families and for that I can be giving.”
Children were allowed a good deal of leeway when it came to the rules of society. They were not expected to get many, if any, correct. And it was understood that most of the rules would be outright ignored by them. So it was to no one’s surprise that the moment Himiko arrived that six year old Aya ran past everyone to her mother’s waiting arms. Himiko was still hugging her close when Hiroki approached.
“She takes after her mother.” he commented in derogatory tone.
Himiko set Aya down and motioned for the girl to bow with her to their lord. “I should hope so, my Daimyo.” she smiled.
Hiroki returned the bow and motioned for them to walk beside him on the way from the gates to the castle proper. Aya could not make out much of what they discussed, but she could tell Hiroki liked making her mother the butt of a few jokes. Himiko would smile when he did but was careful NOT to return the favor. They were not so close that Himiko could tell what his response might be to that. After a lovely reception in Hiroki’s castle they retired to their home. It was a nice home but a little small since it only had to house Aya-Aiko, her two maids and sensei. There was a room reserved for Aya’s mother but Himiko was always stationed at the Imperial Palace. Aya wanted to spend every moment she could with her mother but she knew Hiroki would insist Himiko be in court a few hours every day. He liked to show off anything he considered a prize.
Aya focused on her studies but near the end of the week her sensei became ill. The doctors insisted on bed rest for him so there would be no Jujutsu or Kenjutsu for her until he was better. With nothing to do but read and study she decided to follow her mother to court. Her mother would not let her go to court with her, she had asked, so instead she followed Himiko and those that joined her on the way. Aya kept a discreet distance between them and followed the group into the main hall of the castle. There was a large doorway with severe looking guards controlling the entrance to the court. Aya looked around for another way in but soon the doors were closed and she could hear Hiroki being announced. She was stumped. There were only a couple of doors available to her and both of those had guards. She thought back to a lesson her sensei had given her. ”If you cannot go through an enemy’s defense, what do you do?"
“Go around it.” she said to herself.
She looked around and could easily tell up was the only option but how to get there. She spotted a large potted plant in a corner and, being a child, no one was paying any attention to her so she went to it. The pot itself was about four feet high and three feet in diameter. It would have taken at least four men to move it. Just behind the planter was a two foot diameter oak supporting column for the first floor of the castle. Aya used the planter to help her up, as she wedged her way between the pillar and the pot. Once she crested the pot she then used the tree growing from it to assist her with the next few feet of her climb. At this point she was able to reach some of the decorative fascia attached to the column which provided her with the necessary hand holds and footing that she required to make it to the rafters of the ceiling of the first floor.
She was ecstatic as she took a moment to gloat over her success of reaching the rafters. Aya took a moment to catch her breath. She was in great shape as the last three years had been filled with martial arts but her nerves were a little on edge due to her fear of being caught. Once her breathing calmed she slowly crawled out onto the rafters until she could see her mother. Himiko was sitting a few rows from the front, near to where Daimyo Hiroki sat on his dais. Aya continued slowly so as not to make a sound. Once in position she laid there and watched. Her mother looked very serious. Aya watched as a young man was discussing something about money and their Daimyo just kept frowning at him. Aya couldn’t make out exactly what was going on but kept trying as her mother seemed intent upon the discussion.
It wasn’t long before Aya got the feeling she was being watched. She looked to her left. She had heard tales of ninja, meaning assassins or shinobi, meaning spies, but she had been under the impression that they were dangerous, quiet and Stern. So when she saw a man in black, reclining on the rafter next to her with his hooded
face propped up by his left hand and waiving magic fingers at her, she lost her balance on the rafter and slipped over the side with a small yelp.
She didn’t have a chance to fear for her life. One moment she was falling and the next moment the world went hazy and grew darker. She could not move for a few moments until she was back on the rafter with the shinobi holding her. He looked as if he wanted to say something but before he could she heard someone yell from the court below,
The court was silent. The shinobi turned slowly to see that Daimyo Hiroki looked at them. Her savior quickly slipped them over the side of the rafter. But instead of a quick fall to the floor she was surprised to see they fell as light as paper to the ground. The shinobi held her on his hip as he ran to the front of the dais and made her kneel down with him in front of their lord.
“What was that!?” Hiroki demanded.
The shinobi removed his hood. “The girl slipped from the rafter. I had to catch her and go to mist to keep her from harm, my lord.” He said in a quiet voice.
Hiroki looked around the room in disbelief. “What was she doing up there in the first place!?”
“She rat climbed her way between one of the planters and the outer wall, my lord. I believe she was intent upon seeing her mother.”
Hiroki looked at Himiko with unmasked frustration. “This is YOUR daughter!”
Aya watched as her mother gave a slight nod of acceptance but did not change her stoic expression. Hiroki seemed to be thinking.
“So, you want to work in the rafters, Aya-Aiko?” Hiroki... asked.
The man was very angry. Aya swallowed before answering, “I only wanted to see my mother.”
“What you want does not concern me, girl… Himiko?!” He looked to her mother before continuing, “Take her to Sensei Te.”
She saw her mother’s eye widen for a moment before the woman got control of herself and bowed to their Daimyo. Then she rose and escorted Aya form the court. She could hear Hiroki order the shinobi back to the rafters as they left.
“Mother, who is Sensei Te?”
“...He is a murderer who trains murders.” Himiko said quietly.
Himiko walked her through the castle and out into the samurai district of the town. The small houses of the samurai were neat and tidy. Many of the occupants must have had a hobby of gardening as the yards were overflowing with beautiful fruit trees and flora. Her mother walked to the front of a small domicile where an old man, who must have been at least 35 years of age, sat practicing calligraphy. He looked up as they entered his property but did not smile as he asked,
“Himiko sama, what may I do for you today?”
Himiko bowed and made Aya bow along with her. When the man returned the bow she said, “Hiroki has decreed that my daughter, Aya-Aiko, be trained by you.”
Now the man smiled. “That must have hurt.”
Aya saw that her mother had a pained smile on her face. “It did not feel good.”
The man gave a small laugh and looked at Aya, “...Have you ever killed… anything?” Aya shook her head, no. The man smiled more and nodded. “Good. I would hate to give the skills of the shinobi to a crazy person.”
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