Kenshin looked up from his calligraphy when he heard the soft rustle outside his door. "What is it?"
"Uesugi-donno, it is Heishiro," the voice declared.
Smiling, he put down his brush. "Come in." Sliding the wooden panel open, Heishiro bowed and knelt after entering the room. "What brings you to see me this morning, Heishiro?"
Now fourteen, the boy was beginning to show the signs of great promise. After taking up the sword at five, he had demonstrated an almost prodigy like affinity for the weapon. "Uesugi-donno, I wish to further my training and I ask for both your permission and advice to leave your household to train with the best swordsman you know."
He was so serious for a teenager. "Granted. The best swordsman in my opinion would be the head of the Murakami clan. I will arrange for you to stay with them." Bowing gratefully, he respectfully thanked his daimyo and quietly left the room. Producing a clean sheet of rice paper, he pulled back the sleeve of his kimono jacket and began to write.
My honored friend,
If it is not too great an inconvenience, may I impose upon you to teach a young man in my service? He wishes to master the katana and I can think of no one better to guide him than you. There is enormous promise in Heishiro and he has been like family to me for the last twelve years. I will await your answer and hope that you are well.
Folding the smooth paper, he handed it to a servant outside his room. "See that it is sent."
"Chichue?" A young girl peered at him from around the corner.
"Asuka, what is it, child?"
A sad look crossed her angelic face. "Is he leaving?"
Beckoning his daughter to him, he smiled and sat her down. "Asuka, you've known that Heishiro has been wanting to leave for a while now." He knew how hard this would be on her as she was so attached to the boy.
"I know," she replied glumly. "I just didn't think it would be so soon." She looked at him with downcast eyes. "Where will he go?"
"I am sending him to the Murakami clan." He adjusted one of the ornamental combs in her hair. "There, he will become a master swordsman."
Pouting, she sniffed, "I thought you'd spoken of adopting Heishiro."
Because he had no male heirs, Kenshin had more than once considered making Heishiro the successor to his legacy, but the boy seemed to have no interest in politics. His devotion belonged wholly to his katana. "I don't think he has any desire for it," he told her gently.
"Won't you at least ask?" she sulkily demanded.
Kenshin laughed warmly at her unwillingness to let him go. "Why don't you marry him? Then he becomes my son by default."
"That would be acceptable," she agreed with absolute seriousness.
Trying to smother a laugh, Kenshin kept his face neutral and said, "It's a beautiful day outside. Why don't you go out and play?"
"Trying to get rid of me, Chichue?" she observed dryly.
"You're only ten Asuka," her father joked back. "Why don't you act like it? Adulthood can wait a little longer." Bowing, she swept out of the room.
Walking into the courtyard, she spied Heishiro beating a straw mannequin with a wooden sword. Impressed by his precise movements, she watched him as he thrust the stick with lightning speed, even throwing in a few flourishes for show. He turned abruptly when he heard her clapping. "Wonderful!" she exclaimed.
"Asuka, jo-sama," he bowed, looking at the ground.
She loved how serious he was all the time. "Asuka is fine," she informed him.
"It would be a breach of protocol for me to address the daughter of my daimyo in such a familiar manner," he answered, still not looking at her.
"Do you really have to leave, Heishiro?" she blurted.
Surprised by the hurt tone in her voice, he looked up at her as she regarded him with a forlorn expression. "Jo-sama…"
She walked closer to him and noticed that he was begging to become quite tall. It was nice that he had to bend his head down to talk with her. "Why do you want to go so badly?"
Her constant attention had always made him uncomfortable since she first learned to speak. For whatever reason, she had developed an almost instant infatuation with him that had not diminished with time and out of politeness, he could not ask her to stop. "I have learned all that I can here and now require more advanced training."
"Is it me?"
As the daughter of his lord, it was odd for him to hear her speak so frankly to him and she treated him like an equal though he was merely her father's vassal. "Jo-sama, I – "
"Stop calling me that!" she snapped, stamping her foot.
"This has nothing to do with you," he assured her. She stared into his eyes for a long time before quietly walking away.
Across the sea, a young man drew his bow and shot his fifth arrow into the center of his target.
He turned at the sound and grinned at the little boy who ran to him. "Yeol-ah. What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to watch you practice your archery. You're the best in all of Chosun!"
The man laughed. "I think that's a bit of an exaggeration."
"No it isn't," he argued. "Everyone talks about what a good archer you are."
"Yeol! Nappun-nom! Come here!" a stern female voice ordered. The boy cringed as his mother marched up to him. "Let your father practice in peace."
"Buhin, it's alright," he said, smiling at his son.
"Suhbang-nim, your next military exam is less than two years away. I don't wish for any of us to distract you." Worry lined her pretty face.
"Oh, it was about time for me to come inside anyway. Yeol, shall we go inside?
As they walked towards their home, they noticed a man standing with his back to them, his hands leisurely held behind his back. When he heard their approach, he said, "Sun-Shin-ah, it's been a long time my friend."
Letting his son jump to the ground, he smiled broadly and grabbed the man by his arms in greeting. "Han-myeong-ah! What brings you here?"
Bowing his respects to his wife, Seong Han-Myeong grinned back and said, "I thought you were long overdue for a visit. May I come in?"
donno: my lord
chichue: extremely formal title for Father
kwanjugiyo: bulls-eye (Korean)
Chosun: Name of Korea during the Yi Dynasty
nappun-nom: bad boy