Tezuka watches his newest warrior and wonders about him. Drama, I-3

Kunimitsu watched his men training, silently, eyes moving from one to another, pausing to rest on the group in the corner, leaning on their blunt spears and laughing, until they fell quiet and straightened and returned to practice. His gaze returned, again and again, though, to one particular pair of warriors.

“So, Echizen convinced Inui to train with him? Such impressive enthusiasm.”

Kunimitsu glanced aside at Fuji, come to stand with him and watch. “Inui invited him.”

Fuji’s brows rose and he looked more sharply at the circling pair as they closed yet again. “He’s interested by someone so young? Echizen can’t have had a man’s name for more than a year or two.” The murmur was absent, though, and Kunimitsu waited to hear what Fuji saw.

Inui was pressing the younger warrior, never following the openings offered by Echizen’s stance, always cutting for the real weakness. Echizen’s eyes were wide and sweat had soaked through his shirt in places, even in the cool morning air, but…

“He’s not afraid,” Fuji stated.

Kunimitsu nodded agreement. Echizen wasn’t afraid. He was watching.

Inui’s next strike didn’t connect. Echizen’s wooden sword slid inside his and slashed high across his hip. Inui was suddenly stiff as they stepped apart again, and Echizen was grinning. Kunimitsu settled back a bit.

“You think he’ll win.”

Kunimitsu glanced at Fuji and didn’t answer. Inui was the best tactician among the Uesugi forces. No one could count more than a handful of successful attacks on him, in training, besides the other generals. And Fuji, of course.

But this boy, with the sharp eyes and unreasonable strength and arrogant mouth, was going to defeat Inui in a training bout.

“He’ll come with us, when we move out next month,” Kunimitsu said, and Fuji cocked his head.

“Will that be enough to show you? Kaga’s forces are pretty raw.”

Kunimitsu was quiet for a moment, watching the soft, warm sheen of polished wood as practice swords flickered in the morning shadows of the training hall, listening to the crack and scrape as they met.

“When the temple in Kaga gathered the peasants and small samurai to rise,” he said at last, softly, “Tachibana was wise enough to ally them to one of the stronger overlords, to throw the rest out. And when they had, he and those he had gathered to him were strong enough to throw Togashi out in turn. Tachibana himself…” Kunimitsu’s eyes narrowed. “They will be enough.”

It was Fuji’s turn to nod silently and Kunimitsu settled back against the wall as Fuji moved away through the training pairs.

Kaga would be a good place to see Echizen’s real mettle. Kunimitsu’s mouth tightened.

Echizen’s form was beautiful. Deadly.

And wrong.

Somehow, it was both too much and not enough. There was a hunger and a bleakness behind those bright, focused eyes, a desperation that contrasted strangely with his obvious strength. Kunimitsu needed to know what was wrong, and know it before this ragged edge on Echizen’s spirit cut apart any of his fellow samurai.

He would hope to find out when they fought Kaga, and Tachibana’s men.