Echizen escorts Sakuno and deals with a little trouble. Other sorts of trouble, he misses completely. Drama, I-3

Sakuno’s eyes were sparkling behind the light veils of her travelling hat.

Not only had Sumire-gozen said that she might go visit the local shrine, but Echizen-dono was escorting her. Sakuno suspected Sumire-gozen had had something to do with that. Normally the high-handed manner of her mother’s noble cousin alarmed her, but if Sumire-gozen approved of someone then no one else would thwart them.

Even the clan lord didn’t often go against his mother’s wishes.

And it seemed that Sumire-gozen approved of Echizen-dono and the fact that Sakuno liked him. However much the crowds out on the streets jostled around her, nothing could make Sakuno regret coming out in public today.

Even if there were an awful lot of awfully loud people…

“Don’t you know anything? The Tatsumi school holds the saya like that, so you can draw like this!”

Sakuno squeaked, starting back and treading on her own hem so that she wobbled, as a blade swished past her nose, close enough to catch on her long veils. The brightly dressed samurai demonstrating for his friends didn’t seem to notice.

“That training journey you took really taught you a lot, Sasabe-sama,” one of them exclaimed.

The one with his sword out laughed expansively. He was in the middle of the way, now. Sakuno bit her lip, wondering how she could pass.

Beside her, Echizen-dono looked around and sniffed. “You must not have journeyed very far. That isn’t the Tatsumi school’s grip.”

The gaudy samurai spun around, face red. “What?!” His sword speared out, pointing between Echizen-dono’s eyes. “What does a brat like you know about it?”

Echizen tipped his head to the side, so careless of the sharp point a bare thumb’s width from his face that Sakuno gasped. “Well, if you need a lesson…” He dropped his hand to his sword. “It’s the first finger that holds the guard. Like this.” Steel flashed and his sword struck the other aside so hard it spun out of the other samurai’s hand. Echizen-dono lifted a brow. “And your grip is too weak.”

“E-Echizen-dono…” Sakuno whispered behind her hand. That was… an awfully provoking thing to say… And then she stumbled a little as the fuming samurai pushed past her to retrieve his sword.

“I’ll give you a lesson, you little runt!” he yelled, making a lunge toward Echizen-dono.

Echizen-dono slipped back out of the way of a vicious cut. “Is that the fastest you can move?” The other samurai didn’t answer, glare fixed and furious, and Echizen-dono shrugged, left foot sliding out, sword dropping low.

“Hah! You think you can defend from below?” The angry samurai bared his teeth and swung down.

Sakuno wasn’t sure what happened next. Echizen-dono’s sword barely seemed to twitch but the other man’s strike went awry and he stumbled forward, eyes wide.

“Too slow,” Echizen-dono said, softly. There was another flash and the other man was down in the street, clutching his leg and keening through clenched teeth as blood pooled rapidly under his thigh.

Echizen-dono flicked his sword away from Sakuno with a snap of his wrist and sheathed it, and turned to look Sakuno up and down. “You didn’t get dirty. Good. Let’s get to the shrine, then.”

Sakuno hurried to his side and they walked on, leaving the commotion behind as the wounded samurai’s friends clustered around him, shouting.

“Echizen-dono… thank you,” Sakuno murmured at last, blushing.

Echizen-dono blinked at her. “For what?”

“Ah… nothing.” She tilted the edge of her hat a little lower, wondering whether Echizen-dono was just being modest or whether he really didn’t think protecting her needed comment.

Or, she admitted to herself with a silent sigh, maybe he hadn’t done it for her at all. He was a samurai, after all; she was young, but she knew how the men of her own class could be about fights and challenges. Sumire-gozen complained about it enough, even though she smiled when she did.

Perhaps she’d ask the kami to tell her which it was, and whether she had any hope of drawing the eye of someone like Echizen-dono.

They walked on with silence drifting between them.