A new, young samurai arrives at the central castle of the Uesugi clan. Drama, I-3

Echizen Ryouma had been in Kasugayama for a week, and one of Uesugi’s warriors for three and a half days, before he ran into trouble. It was different than the trouble he’d expected.

One of the older and, in his briefly considered opinion, obviously lesser samurai was watching Ryouma while he practiced cuts alone. He’d known to expect that; people generally did watch him and it didn’t make any more difference to him than the slight tickle of sweat running down his neck or the small roughness against his palm where the wood of the practice sword had been chipped. It was when the man started talking to his friend that trouble started.

Not for Ryouma, of course. Not yet.

“So that’s supposed to be one of our new warriors? What, are the generals taking on pages, now, and letting them walk around with their fathers’ swords strapped on, pretending they’re samurai?” The man’s friends chuckled with him.

Since Ryouma wouldn’t have touched his father’s sword if it had been delivered as a gift with the Emperor’s compliments, he snorted.

The talkative one straightened up from the wall where he’d been leaning. “You! What was that? Are you disrespecting your betters?”

Ryouma straightened in turn and eyed the loud-mouth coolly. “No.”

It took a moment, but eventually the implication penetrated and the loud-mouth started turning red and stepped forward with a hand tight on his sword. “Why you…”

A corner of Ryouma’s mouth turned up. It was always so easy; too easy, really, but he did get some amusement from teaching idiots not to make assumptions. His weight shifted and his shoulders relaxed as he waited for the loud-mouth to come into range.

A shadow filled the doorway. “Enough of that, Arai.” The newcomer smacked the loud-mouth briskly across the back of the head. “You know how Taishou feels about fights. You want to lose your head? And the kid’s too?”

“Momoshiro-taii!” the loud-mouth sputtered. “But…!”

The newcomer raised his brows and the loud-mouth hunched his shoulders and backed away. The newcomer cocked his head at Ryouma, still standing and quietly watching. “If you didn’t know, fighting in the clan is forbidden, here,” the man smiled.

Ryouma shrugged a shoulder; he doubted it would matter. Fights found him and he found fights, no matter what the rules were. The newcomer paused and looked at him harder, eyes suddenly gleaming. “Of course, training hard, on the other hand, is encouraged,” he murmured. He plucked a wooden sword off the rack and stepped out onto the floor, grinning. A streak of sunshine from one of the windows made his inviting glance even brighter.

Ryouma eyed him for a moment and grinned back. This one looked like a better challenge than the loud-mouth; if he was a captain he should be at least a little good. Ryouma slipped into the dusk between the slanting bars of gold light and set his feet.

After six exchanges Ryouma was smiling for real and shifted his sword to his left hand. He’d been right; Momoshiro was strong. He ignored the murmurs from the watchers around the walls, as inconsequential as the dusty breeze blowing in the door. Momoshiro’s teeth flashed white at him. “That’s more like it.”

Ryouma’s grin turned wicked and pleased. This Momoshiro had seen that he wasn’t leading with his strongest hand. It looked like a captain, in Uesugi’s forces, really was a little good. Good. That made this match worth something.

The next pass sent them both staggering back with impressive bruises starting, he could tell, and Ryouma spun around, feet sliding over the sleek wood of the floor, ready to lunge in at full strength.

Momoshiro stepped back. “Good practice,” he declared. “I’ll have to be sure to defeat you quickly, next time.”

Ryouma considered this and nodded, resting his practice sword over his shoulder. “Later, then.” A corner of his mouth curled up. “When your leg is healed, Taii.”

The captain blinked at him and laughed. “I like you.” He reached out to rumple Ryouma’s hair as he left, now limping a bit though there was no blood showing through the bandage Ryouma was sure must be wrapped around his calf.

He glared a bit after Momoshiro’s broad back and smoothed his hair back down and settled back to his solitary practice, ignoring the whispers and glances around him. A tiny smile lingered.

Maybe he would like it here.