Chapter 24:

Vol 1: Ch 23: Marriage?

Realms of Destiny


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“So what do you like to do in your free time Hakuda-san?” asked the smiling suitor who Rei was sure could have been twice her age. Well, he surely looked twice her age, and possibly about ten years older than the photograph her father provided her with.


Well, I like training… “In my free time, well, I like to practice s–“ before she could finish her sentence her father gave a warning cough.


“*ahem*..”


“ – hodo, I like to practice shoudo.” Finished Reina. Of course, even though she was a daughter of a swords master, it is highly inappropriate and unladylike to admit to practising sword fighting in one’s free time.


“You know the art of calligraphy! That is very impressive. It is unusual to find a woman of your class who can read and write kanji let alone shoudo!” said the suitor without much thought.

A woman of my class, huh? Of course, I can read, what does he take me for? Reina was tempted to retort but seeing her father sitting expectantly in the corner of the room, he did not seem to notice the effect that comment had on her, she didn’t want to let him down. So being as polite as she was taught to be in such situation, she merely accepted the compliment. 


“Thank you Hiratomi-san.”


“I’m sure your brush strokes are as beautiful as the person who draws them.” Added the bachelor, giving her a thorough head to knee swipe with his eyes. Her father didn’t see this of course, but the 18-year-old felt quite violated by the act.


Pervert! Thought Reina furiously. Though, sure enough the man wasn’t entirely to be blamed. Today, she is beautiful indeed. Reina was dressed in her mother’s furisode kimono with long sleeves indicating her maidenhood, woven from the finest material, the designs intricate and detailed; her hair pulled up, secured with a hair pin that was a gift from her father to her mother when they first met. The hairpin was an additional touch as her father really did not want this miai, or courting ceremony, to fail for the … ninth? Time. Tensaburou couldn’t imagine why the best daughter he could ever hope for, that he never had any problem raising on his own, whom – according to his neighbours and students - has grown to be more beautiful than what they would’ve been able to imagine an angel would look like, would have such difficulty finding a groom.


From the tone of his voice, Hakuda could almost see, in his blind state, the suitor practically melting at the sight of her and making no secret of how impressed he was. So it wasn’t her who was the problem; well, it was her in the sense that none of them was ever good enough for her, not the other way around. Even Sousuke, who had been helping her get ready, had been blushing and avoiding eye contact with her all day.


 Since this particular suitor had credentials above the previous ones, and a lot of connections in high places due to his family history of having until very recently been of the samurai class, it would not be wise to offend them. Sousuke must have been listening in from the outside for he came in just in time to save Reina from having to respond to the comment.


“Excuse me master, I have brought tea for our guest as you’ve asked.” Said Sousuke, he opened the sliding doors and let himself in with 3 glasses of tea and served them to the guest, his master, and Rei, blushing again as he did so.


“Thank you sempai.” Said Rei, smiling at him sweetly. 


Seeing this attractive young man enter the room, the little exchange between the two, and the way Reina smiled at him, the suitor sensed a new threat and immediately tried to heighten his own status.


“Who would have thought you had such an attractive young servant Hakuda-sensei?” asked Hiratomi. Seeing Reina begin to shake in rage at the mention of the word ‘servant’, Sousuke quickly flashed her a ‘don’t!’ look and merely smiled at the ill-disguised insult.


“Sousuke-kun is not a servant Hiratomi-san.” Hakuda corrected him. “His parents were my best friends, they passed away, he is my ward and part of the family.” Reina gave a smile and nodded at her father’s comment. “He is ever so helpful and my top student.” Sousuke bowed. Hiratomi, seeing as he’d failed to put his opponent down, continued with his conversation with Reina.

“Say, I’ve been told that you’ve beaten your previous suitors in a duel.” Said Hiratomi.

Seeing as he was the one who introduced the topic, Reina had no qualms about confirming the truth. “Yes I did.” She said matter-of-factly.


“Those were just her silly games, Hiratomi-san, please, you do not have to bother.” Interjected Hakuda. Due to the informality of the past miai and the fact that Rei knew her previous suitors, she had set criteria for them. Marrying her would mean inheriting her father’s dojo, and any man who would do that was expected to be able to defeat her in single combat. Of course, none had managed to do so. Hakuda realized that if this continued he would never get to pass his dojo onto anyone, so he had banned Rei from imposing such criteria.


“Oh no, I’m quite intrigued by the whole idea. It is fitting that the man of the house should be able to protect the weaker female members. Please, don’t treat me any different. Though it would be unmanly of me to challenge a lady to a duel, should you wish to challenge me, I would gladly accept.” Said Hiratomi. His father was a samurai and he was raised to become one as well. He was quite confident that he would win his bride in a duel and this would restore his family honour greatly. Especially now that they have relinquished their samurai titles and joined the peasant class.


Sousuke raised an eyebrow in amusement and smiled, but he had to quickly conceal it so as not to jeopardize this courtship ceremony. It’s not like the guy needs any more help digging his own grave, he had as good as put the last nail into his own coffin when he challenged Reina to a duel.


“If you insist, Hiratomi-san. I would gladly challenge you.” Said Reina as she flashed him a playful smile, which Sousuke knew well to mean that she’s ready to kick his backside the way she did the other fellow students in the past who had ever underestimated her.


“Reina, no. Hiratomi-san, please, you really don’t have to fight her.” Pleaded Hakuda.


“Father, Hiratomi-san surely wants to know what kind of sword-style he would be taking over.”


“Reina-chan, I mean, Hakuda-san is right. I have only heard good things about the Soratenshi no Ryu.” Seeing Reina clearly beginning to feel excited and smiling at him to boot, the man wasn’t about to let this go. “I insist Hakuda-sensei.” Said Hiratomi. “do not worry, I will take care not to hurt your daughter.”


It’s not my daughter I’m worried about. Thought the dojo master. “I..If you insist.” Said Hakuda. He could already see another failed courtship in the works.


“If you would excuse me for a moment while I get ready then Hiratomi-san, I shall see you back in the training hall in twenty minutes.” With that, she gracefully stood up, the long sleves of her kimono flowing behind her, she walked towards her rooms, gliding as gracefully as she ever did; she was in a good mood after all.

-

***


“Ugh!” *Crack*


“Point! To Reina-sama.” Said Sousuke as his hand shot up. Hiratomi threw him a killing glare as the green-eyed young-man slowly put his arms down again.


“Well, Hiratomi-san. It’s 5-0 now, how many points do you intend to go up to?” asked Reina as she resumed her favoured defensive stance. Not a drop of sweat could be seen and her training kimono were pretty much creaseless.


“*pant* you’re a fast one *pant*…aren’t you?” asked the suitor, catching his breath. He could swear that he had seen several openings and yet when he tried to attack them, he would either meet her bokken or miss her altogether. He couldn’t believe that a woman could actually beat him this badly; this young girl who is so graceful and beautiful had more skills with the sword than he gave her credit for, he found it difficult to believe that she could be so skilled in the art of sword.


You’re just slow, old man. Thought the girl. “Would you like a water break?” Said Reina.

“*pant* no…I’m…*pant*…fine. I’m just…giving you a head start. *pant* Let’s go for ten.” Said the ex-samurai. Sousuke almost couldn’t contain his laughter, seeing the futile effort of this unpleasant man, but he kept his composure and merely smiled as he usually did, it was a genuine encouraging smile which says ‘you can do it’, but it seemed to annoy their guest even more. “Come on! Let’s do this!” with that he dove to the attack.


*Crack*


“Point! To Reina-sama.” Said Sousuke for the tenth time. By this time Hiratomi was on one knee, using his bokken as a support, while Reina once again is standing there, her breathing even, and not so much as a sweat on her brow. She tucked her bokken at her waist and walked towards her suitor, holding out her hand to help him up.


“That was a good match Hiratomi-san, we should do it again sometime.” Said Reina with a smile. Having lost his dignity, with the little strength he had left, the man brushed her hand away.


“Don’t you ‘good-match’ me you strange woman. Beating you in a duel, ha! You monster, who’d ever want to bring someone like you home? What kind of man would want a woman who holds a sword and have a man make tea for her?”


“Excuse me?” said Reina in shock, she’d never met such a sore loser in her life. “You’re the one who challenged me!”


“It’s hot in here and you’re exhausted, please calm yourself, if you would follow me, I will lead you to the bathroom.” Said Sousuke, half pushing him towards the general direction of the bathroom. Although the comment just then was clearly offensive towards his ojousama and he felt like beating this man up faster and harder than what Reina just did, the man was a guest, so he restrained himself.


“Don’t touch me tea-boy!” the man brushed Sousuke’s hand aside.“It’s off! I’m calling this miai off!”


“Fine!” Reina shouted back. “Who’d want to marry you anyway?” with that, she too stormed off into her room.


“Hiratomi-san! Wait!” shouted Hakuda after the man who by this time had already gathered his belongings and stormed out the front door. “oi…” moaned the blind man as he put his hand to his forehead.


“Master.” Said Sousuke as he put his hand on his master’s shoulders and guided him back inside to take a break. “are you feeling alright?”


“Just a headache.” Said Tensaburou. “I’m not gonna get to retire at this rate.”


“Do you honestly want Rei-sama to marry someone like him?” asked Sousuke, still feeling angry at the man who had offended his mistress.


“You don’t understand Sousuke-kun, considering the amount of failed miai she’d gone through, no one will want to marry her again. And I’m not getting any younger. I’ve got to pass Soratenshi no Ryu on.”


“That’s not true!” said Sousuke, almost too confidently. “Reina-sama is smart and kind. She possesses true strength not just in body but in the heart as well. She is always lively, and she brightens the atmosphere wherever she goes. She’s a gentle soul, and not to mention the most beautiful young woman I have ever met…” he trailed off, knowing he probably said too much. He probably did, for his master had gone quiet.


Hakuda could feel the cogs ticking in his own mind and everything falling into place. Sousuke saw this as well, though he wasn’t quite sure what his Master was thinking. Suddenly he was startled when Hakuda placed both his hands on the 22-year-old man’s shoulder.


“Sousuke.”


“Yes, Master?” the young man tensed up at the sudden initiative.


“There is no one in this world that I trust more than Rei and you.” Said Hakuda. Sousuke didn’t know where this was coming from but he was quite flattered that his Master would think so highly of him. “You are a son to me and I would love more than anything to pass Soratenshi onto you.”


“Master, you can’t. Surely, Rei-sama is fully capable of running the dojo until she finds a suitable man.” Said Sousuke.


“Do you like Rei?” asked Hakuda.


“Of course! To think you’d even ask.” Said Sousuke.


“How much?” Hakuda pressed further.


“What do you mean?” asked his number one student.


“How much do you like her?”


“Very much sir. ”


“Will you continue to look after her? Even when I’m gone?” asked Hakuda.


“Of course, I always have and I would gladly do so for the rest of my life.” Answered Sousuke, he said it without a doubt. “Why would you talk about being gone?” He was beginning to wonder where all the questions came from and where it was leading. When realization dawned, Hakuda too, has reached the conclusion.


“Will you marry my daughter?” the question was posed, finally. 


Sousuke couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but his body had already reacted, his heart was racing and he could feel himself going red to the tip of his ears. “I..I..I don’t think it’s my decision to make sir.” Sousuke had never felt so embarrassed in his life. He knew that he had been silently wishing that all the other suitors would fail in their pursuit because they were clearly not good enough for her, he didn’t even consider himself good enough for her, no one will ever be, and he never even dared to dream that he would’ve been a candidate. “S..Surely, Rei-sama is the one who would decide.” He finished finally.


“Decide what?” Reina has finished washing her face and had joined them mid-conversation on hearing her own name.


“REI-SAMA!” Sousuke realized too late he was shouting and thought he was about to faint. He’s never been so nervous in his life.


“What sempai? I’m not deaf, you can lower your voice you know.” Said Rei as she stuck the tip of her little finger in the ear that happened to be closest to her sempai.


“Rei, do you like Sousuke.” Asked her father.


“Of course I like Sousuke. I like him very much!” to emphasize her point she pounced on him from behind giving him a friendly hug. What she did not see of course, was Sousuke’s face going redder than it already was.


“So, you wouldn’t mind living here with him for the rest of your life?” said her father.


“Of course not! If he’s not here then where would he go?” said Reina with a smile. Sousuke had frozen in place at this point. “Oh yea, father, I’m sick of these courting ceremony things, can we please don’t go through them again? There really isn’t much hope for all the bachelors around here. Seriously, the only decent guy in this place is Sousuke-sempai.”


“No, I won’t make you go through another one.” Said her father.


“Really? Thank you! I love you father!” said Reina in joy. She felt insulted every single time a man comes along expecting her to be the trophy Japanese housewife.


“You wouldn’t have to. I would agree fully that Sousuke’s the most decent man around.”


“Right?” said Reina as she looked at her sempai with pride.


“Right, and see as you both like each other very much, I think you two should get married.” Said Hakuda.


“Uh huh…wait, what?” Reina suddenly caught on to the full impact of the conversation. “You can’t just pair us together without asking sempai – “


“I wouldn’t mind…that is,….if you don’t mind Rei-sama.” Said Sousuke almost illegibly. Rei had never really considered that possibility before. She didn’t even know why she didn’t. All the logic pointed out to him. He was the one man who could beat her in a duel, well, perhaps Kurogane could; he is the most attractive, warm, and kind gentleman that she knew. She even told him genuinely many times that the girl he ended up marrying would be the luckiest girl in the world. This is just so sudden. He clearly cares for her very much, she respects him, and she knows that he can very easily be the next Soratenshi no Ryu master. She did say that she’d be quite happy living with him for the rest of her life, and she was. She loves him to bits and she’s sure that he loves her too…


“I’m not getting any younger or healthier Rei.” Said her father. Just then he broke into a coughing fit as though to emphasize the point. He never quite recovered from Kurogane’s attack 6 years ago.


“I… I guess I don’t have a problem with it either.” She heard herself say. Sousuke stared at her then, flabbergasted and at a loss for words.


“So it’s settled then!” said Hakuda happily, he grabbed each Reina and Sousuke’s hand and placed them on top of the other. “You both have my blessing. We shall visit the shrines and temple tomorrow. I hope you both don’t mind that it’s nothing big and formal.” This was met with blank shakes of head from his daughter and future son in law. Both of whom were as red as pickled plums.