Part Three: The Unhappy Pupil
The foreign ninja spoke in an unfriendly sort of way, which I suppose is the thing to do when you’re holding a sharp-edged blade to a well-meaning chap’s throat.
“You. Come with us.”
Well, there are moments for deeds of derring-do, and moments for the simple taking of orders and doing without regard for any derring at all. This moment, with a foreign bird holding me at blade’s length, his mate with a hand on young Tomi, seemed to fall most firmly in the latter camp.
“Well. I say. Of course, dear thing. A companionable little outing, what?”
“And shut up.”
“Understood. Fear not; silence is my very watchword.”
Throwing about the flashing steel is not the sort of thing that keeps the profile beneath the horizon, if you know what I mean, and our tableau had caught some small amount of attention. The foreign ninjas led Tomi and myself around the back of the swing-the-hammer-and-make-the-bell-ring affair.
Once we were out sight of the main drag, without quite so many curious eyeballs upon us, the fellow with sword applied it to my throat once more.
“Now. Who are you?”
At the moments critical, the Isamoto brain is famous for quick shrewdness, and this was no exception. It was obvious these coves were up to a bit of the non-good, and, well, somebody had to break free and get the word out, and it certainly wasn’t going to be young Tomi. Such furious calculation could only resolve with one possible answer: I would have to leg it.
The scheme flowered full and blossomy in my cranium, fair taking my breath away with its sheer braininess. Step one of course, required some simple prevarication. Such things are a toss-off to us Isamotos.
“Me? Who am I? Me? What? My dear sirs, I’m nobody at all. Nobody who you should spend a moment upon, surely. And as nobody, I’ll just–”
And that should have been that. It would have, too, for the two dark-clad fellows had the old “Let him go,” look in their eyes, I tell you, up until that fat little troublemaker opened his sticky mouth.
“He’s Isamoto Koretaka, son of His Excellency Minister Isamoto Koretomo, who serves Lord Yanagisawa in the Department of Manufacturing, Trade and Commerce. This is his medal.”
The blossomy scheme withered. The look in the eyes of our new friends turned rather more predatory as one of them took Father’s Silver Moon and examined it. I aimed a kick at young Tomi.
“A Silver Moon of Valour? You may be of use to us.”
“Say no more, then. We Isamotos are always proud to be of service. Yes. Indeed. Rather.”
Young Tomi proved agile enough to avoid further kicks.
The fellow with his sword at my windpipe did that trick of narrowing his eyes you read about it in the more ripping sort of adventure tales. His sword was most extraordinarily steady.
“Defeating such a highly-decorated warrior will establish our clan’s reputation. Especially one so close to Lord Yanagisawa, with whom we have many grievances.”
“I can well imagine, my dear fellow. Not the most sympathetic of coves, is His Lordship. Very fine dresser, though. Sharp with the silk, if you know what I mean.”
“His fashion sense is immaterial. Let us duel now, and decide the issue.”
You see the sort of chaps they were. No doubt the sort who raised their hand to answer every question in History.
“You may think so, old bean, but I once recall he appeared at Lady Nakamura’s in a seven-layer robe with the odd-numbered layers in identical silk, you know, and despite Her Ladyship’s quite impassioned plea, he straight-up refused to go home and change. Set quite the trend, and the next thing you know, every chap’s got to have–”
“What does this have to do with– with anything? Are we fighting or not?”
Recalling His Lordship’s appearance at Lady Nakamura’s had lost to me the thread of the conversation. I resorted to the unfailing tactic of offering my partner a broad smile.
A smile makes the world a friendlier place, like it says in that tune the chap sings. You must know the one.
The fellow with the sword and eyes narrowed showed no sudden burst of warm fellow-feeling in his heart, however. He clutched Father’s Silver Moon medal in his hand.
“With the death of such an honoured member, even Lord Yanagisawa will pay attention to our clan.”
I keep abreast of current affairs well enough, mostly via a chat with Higuchi-sensei once a week or so, but all this talk was well above my scalp. I had no idea what these foreign birds intended.
“Well, well, well. I can’t say as I can easily imagine him bending to pressure, I’m sorry to say. A man of fierce will, is what I’m saying, what? I recall the time at—”
“Stop it. Stop it. Stop talking. Stop.”
Hardly the sort of friendly boon-companion interchange one would expect after all this time together, what? Foreign sorts are always difficult to plunge with the cert, aren’t they?
I was about to ask what they thought I could accomplish, mouth shut and voice suspended, when in a sudden flash of cascading blonde, Her Highness appeared.
“What’s this all about? What are you two doing with Tomi-chan?”
You won’t see a more imperious look anywhere, I’ll wager. It was rather bracing to see her turn that withering glare on someone other than myself.
“Master Okate of the Blood Ember Clan has had enough of Touch-Moon Palace’s disregard.”
“Master Okate is entitled to any opinion he wishes. Release that child at once.”
“We have been sent to–”
Technically, you know, I mean, according to the strictest of terminology, we of the Palace are, not to put too fine a point on it, ninja. Not for us the natty black outfits or sudden explosions of smoke and all that sing-song, but still, the truth is, we number amongst the clans that gather at Ninja Island, and thus, well, what ho, I mean to say.
And I’ve attended enough of Master Higuchi’s classes to know that there stands a cove of true destructive potential. Most likely if I practiced, I’d acquire those sorts of skills, but not for me the sweat-beaded brow. Not all chaps ought to, I like to say, at least not this one.
Perhaps I should have expected that Her Highness would be the sort to practice diligently, but one likes thinking of one’s beloved’s brow beading with sweat even less than one’s own. Not, at least, when one’s beloved has that cascade of blonde curls.
Nevertheless, I was at a loss to understand what happened next, even with a moment to put it together. But that stunning cascade whirled, and a leg extended quite a bit further than I was entirely prepared to witness. The foreign bird was equally unprepared, especially as the foot on the end of the leg caught him full in the jaw with a lively sort of crack.
He plunged to the ground in a tangled heap, and Her Highness returned to the vertical, skirts once again neatly arranged. The slender sword she carried at her belt had leapt into her hand somewhere in that sudden exchange, and now she levelled it at the remaining foreign ninja with as steady a hand as his friend had only moments ago levelled his at my much-abused windpipe.
“Release the child. Go your way. Or I’ll become annoyed.”
Dashed if the bird didn’t scarper, and without even a backward glance for his pal.
Young Tomi leapt for his rescuing aunt with a gladsome cry; and before I could even recollect myself, or accept congratulations on a thing well done, they were gone back into the festival crowd.
The fellow on the ground groaned. I felt a sudden surge of sympathy for him, but at the same time, he had just ruined my chances with Her Highness.
I kicked him once, recovered Father’s medal, and went on my way.
The charms of the festival were much lost on me from that moment. You know how it is; after a moment of such unexpected savour, everything seems to lose its thinginess.
I returned to Master Higuchi’s training room, and found a quiet corner to sit and contemplate the sheer wheeling scope of it all. I was thoughtful, is what I’m saying. Nobody paid much attention to me, and I paid little attention to anything beyond. I wager even the Master forgot I was there.
There’s little can stop us Isamotos once we get to the thinking, you know.
But there I was, much later in the shadowing hours of twilight, when in stormed a vision of blonde curls and beautifully up-turned nose. Master Higuchi bowed.
“Higuchi, this has got to stop. Can we please go back to just having assassins trying to kill me?”
“There are other forms of danger that Your Highness must become adept at handling. My duty is to train Your Highness.”
“You’re not training Tomi-chan. Why put him in danger?”
The Master smiled. Quite brave of him, I thought, in light of that withering glare turned full-thunder upon him.
“Come now, Your Highness. There was no question of Your Highness being able to handle those Blood Ember Clan ninja.”
“I’m not talking about them. What about that idiot you saddled him with? Just as well he ran away, rather than spend ten minutes in the presence of that intellectual vacuum.”
“Your Highness will have to learn to deal with young gentlemen of that sort. Without running them through. Your Highness did very well with him today.”
Her Highness crossed her arms and tossed that cascade back. Really, the effect is quite stunning.
“Well, I’d appreciate it if we could have a few rounds of goons with swords before you send another ‘young gentleman’ my way.”
“As Your Highness wishes. I’m sure young Master Isamoto will be some time before he dares to approach you again.”
“Isamoto? In Yanagisawa’s office? What’s he got to do with anything?”
“That was his son today, Your Highness. Isamoto Koretaka.”
And she left.
As I emerged from the corner shadowy, Master Higuchi nodded.
“I think, sir, I must advise that you find some means of directing your affections elsewhere. Her Highness–”
“I think I get the picture, sensei.”
“Very good, sir. And the Silver Moon of Valour?”
“Here you go. Could you very kindly see about returning that to Father’s office? Best if he never knows it was gone, I’m thinking.”
“I’m sure that’s very wise, sir. Consider it done.”