Kumiko sat as the door was opened and waited to be helped out of the carriage. The elaborately decorated parasol was resting across her lap. For some reason they had decided to have a portrait painted of her. The artist had decided she should pose in a more natural setting. The young geisha worried she would get this new, formal kimono dirty near the flowering trees and running stream.
Shenzen is not the one who helps her out of the carriage. That would be inappropriate. He is nearby, however. In fact, the is probably the person with the most authority in the party. The daimyo could not attend the painting and thus put his geisha and the process in the hands of his samurai. Shenzen's eyes are on her only for a moment as she is helped down from the carriage before he turns his attention to scanning the cherry blossom trees surrounding them.
"Please. This way young mistress." The artist looked old enough to be the geisha's grandfather. He smiled almost toothlessly and led her along by the hand. His cheerful smile could not help but transfer to Kumiko. She posed as he asked; her parasol set to angle the light just so in he face. Blossoms fell down delicately and the stream made quiet music behind them. The artist looked to Shenzen and spoke. "You will make sure we are undisturbed, samurai?"
Shenzen follows behind the pair a few paces, giving them both a respectful distance. His eyes dart about the forest continuously and he watches ahead of them as well, ready for any trouble that might come at them from that direction. He bows to the artist's question. "Of course," he says. "You will not see or hear anyone until you are finished with your work."
"Thank you Shenzen-sama. You are so kind to come out here with us this day. I am sure you are certainly busy with many important things." Kumiko thanked the samurai for the both of them. She settled once more in position; being so still that one might think that she was simply a statue instead of the person. The artist seemed pleased with his subject; taking to the brushes immediately.
"What my daimyo thinks is important is what is most important," he replies calmly. He watches for a moment before turning away and striding into the trees. In a few seconds he is hidden as he begins to walk around a perimeter he sets, his eyes roving the trees for any sign of trouble or danger that might threaten Kumiko.
Everything was quiet for a time and then there was the sound of hoofs hitting the ground. Whoever it was didn't try to hide the fact that they were riding toward the spot. On closer inspection the daimyo's oldest son was at the head of the group.
Shenzen stepped into the path long before the boy and his group could see Kumiko and the artist. He stood rather casually, his arms crossed over his chest and his head high, looking right at the boy. "I'm afraid I cannot let you pass this way," he says in a clear voice.
"I did not know it was your place to tell me where I could and could not go, samurai. In fact I thought your pleasure was the pleasure of the clan." The young man had always been imperious and time away at school had not helped. His hanger ons were armed, just like he seemed to be, and the yougn man looked like he had a destination.
"You are correct. My purpose is the purpose of the clan," Shenzen replies. "But you are not the clan and you do not make decisions for it. Peace and quiet is needed along this path. Please go around." Shenzen takes in their weapons and how comfortable they are with them in one sweeping glance. His arms remain crossed and his stance casual, for the moment.
"My father, your damiyo, told me what would be happening here today." Now if that was truth or not would remain a mystery for the time. The young man clearly hadn't been expecting Shenzen to be there. Simply the old man and the carriage driver. Hideki looked over the samurai, clearly ignoring him, trying to see through the trees.
"That is his right, of course," Shenzen replies. "He may tell anyone about the business of his house. He told me to ensure that the artist had what he needed to do his work. What the artist needs is peace, quiet and solitude. Please, find another path." Shenzen does nothing to try to stop the boy from looking. Anything he could have done would have looked ridiculous, after all.
"Is this how the servants of your house talk to you? All that time at school has made you soft Hideki." One of the other young man spoke. The quality of their mounts and their weapons marked them as of some consequence. Probably some of the sons of the lords that owed fealty to the daimyo. They looked as bored and spoiled as the young man in question and had clearly offended. "These lands belong to my father and I will ride where I wish."
"The servants of Hideki's house understand their duties," Shenzen replies to the young fool who spoke out. "It is to serve the wishes of the daimyo and the needs of the house, not the whims of anyone who shares his name." Shenzen turns his attentions to Hideki. "Yes, these lands belong to your father. Not to you. You will ride where he allows you to ride on them and he does not allow anyone to ride on this portion at this time."
The other group laughed uproariously; leaving the other two young men to fume. Hideki got so upset that his hand rested on the hilt of his blade for a moment. He then savagely jerked the reins of the horse, looking like he might trample the samurai, and then turning at the last moment. The rest of the group followed. They road away from the path for the moment.
Shenzen watched his daimyo's son calmly. His hands did drop to his sides however and one foot shifted slightly behind the other, though that was hard to tell given how loose the cuffs of his pants were. He watched them ride away and then moved into the trees in the direction they went.
Hideki was being goaded on by the others as he road. They were not known as the best group of people. He road along for a time, but finally their teasing became too much. Hideki turned toward the place where the artist and the geisha worked. It startled the horse and it drag the carriage forward before the driver could calm it. Some paints were scattered to the ground and Kumiko dropped her parasol. "There you are. I wanted to see if my father was getting what he paid for."
Now Hideki has dishonored him. Shenzen gave his word that they would not be disturbed and Hideki has made him a liar. When Shenzen strides into view his hand is on his sword hilt already. "Ride away, boy," he says, his voice cold with his anger. "And do so quietly."
"Hideki-sama." Kumiko spoke in her most formal and polite tone. She bowed while picking up the parasol and managed to make it look completely graceful. The geisha was trying to protect herself and the painter behind formality. "The wise one has been doing a fine job and honoring the damiyo and the clan. Yet we still have much work to do. I do not wish to keep you from our most honored friends. Perhaps they will come and join the household for food and entertainment." Her strange blue eyes went to Shenzen. She did not want trouble for the samurai either. Hideki was caught up in Kumiko's words and blinked a few times before looking to the samurai. "And if I don't?"
Shenzen begins to close the distance between himself and the arrogant young man, his strides purposeful. His grip tightens on the hilt of his sword. "You will be quiet one way or another Hideki-San. One of my promises has been broken today, I assure you that it is not going to happen twice."
The young man sprang down from the horse with a ease of someone who had many expensive lessons. He strode quickly toward the samurai; entirely too angry to be rational about what was going on. His cohorts had not helped him at all.
Kumiko knew that Shenzen was dangerous and the hot headed young man was going to get himself killed. She rushed forward, despite the constrictive nature of her clothes, to get in fromt of the samurai. Hideki was pulling his blade and it the well made blade just flicked against her cheek. There was the tiniest spot of blood forming against the color of her make up. "Please Hideki-sama. I am here at the damiyo's order, but later I will sing a song just for you. I promise. Please leave the artist to your work and spend the day with your most honored guest. Hideki hand wavered for a moment but he did lower the blade.
Only the fact that Kumiko moved between them saved Hideki from death. In fact, Shenzen was in the process of spinning to move around the geisha when the boy's blade was lower. Several inches of Shenzen's sword was exposed out of its sheath and the wound on Kumiko's cheek would not have gotten much deeper before the young man died. Shenzen does not drive his sword back home nor does he take his hand from the hilt, even after Hideki backs down. The samurai simply watches the boy and his friends.
There was something that got through to Hideki's spolied mind; enough to know that he had been very close to trouble. He backed away, but then his cohorts moved forward. They might of made things worse again, but Kumiko's words rang out like a song. "Honorable sons. Please go find pleasure in the day. It would not be so exciting for you to watch the painting." The looked quickly and strangely lulled by their words.
The artist agrees with her. "Please, young masters. I will try not to keep her for so long." Hideki stared at Shenzen again, as if marking his face, and then they went to the horses and were away. The old man dabbed Kumiko's cheek with one of his long sleeves and fussed over her. "Impatient children. It is good to have soothing words to put them in place. It causes less trouble."
Shenzen was still clearly furious, that much was obvious by the tense way he stood and watched the boys leave. He kept his back to the painter and Kumiko as well. When he finally thrust his sword fully back into its sheath the sound rang out like a firecracker on a quiet night.
Kumiko had enough training to pretend that she didn't feel his anger radiating from the samurai. She also didn't jump as he put away the blade. In fact she was glad that he did so and no blood stained the ground like the paint. The geisha moved close to Shenzen; not touching him but her words were something like a soothing caress. "Shenzen-sama. You are a strong protector and I thank you." The old man nodded and smiled his near toothless smile. "Yes. A strong protector. You have inspired me for another painting. Young mistress sit, young master stand over her. A fine painting to adorn a damiyo's home. I will paint it."
Shenzen is not moved quite so easily as the young men who've just left. Even when Kumiko speaks her soothing words he does not turn to her, though his hand does leave the hilt of his sword. He casts a glance over his shoulder towards the painter. "No," he says, his tone possessing only a hint of sharpness. "I must still make sure that you are not disturbed...again. Besides, the daimyo wants a picture of his geisha alone, not with me."
"Hmph. " The artist replied; much too old to speak in complete formality. "Very well. You are not a man to press even though it would make a fine picture for my collection. I will finish what I have started and return the damiyo's geisha all in one piece." It might of been just the tenseness of the whole situation, but Kumiko had to hide behind her fan and laugh a bit. It brightened up the painter. "Even though I am an old man I can make pretty girls laugh. Come lets set you back in place." Kumiko took his arm and was escorted back beneath the tree. She did cast a glance back at Shenzen to make sure he was ok.
Shenzen is still quite tense, as is obvious from his stance and from the fierce way he is frowning. He is looking in the direction that the boys left in though he glances back at her just as she glances at him and their eyes meet. There is deep regret in his gaze over his failure. Then, he turns away and moves back into the trees.
Kumiko wanted to say that it wasn't his fault. The First son was spoiled and easily goaded. Yet it was not her place to say such things. The old man began to fuss over her again and one of the handmaidens had to deal with the wound. It was covered well enough though and the rest of the day went along quietly. Well other than the old man just chatting on relentlessly. He was far too venerable and well regarded to care too much about politeness. They returned home again without incident, but Kumiko was met in the halls by the First Wife. "You would do well not to cause trouble for my son, geisha." The title held little respect coming from her mouth.
Shenzen patrols the area surrounding her clearing relentlessly, moving like a shark that has smelled blood. He's just as invisible as well, occasionally appearing through a break in the trees but otherwise hidden by the sea of trunks and leaves. He is equally stoic on the trip home. "Your son has no problem causing trouble for himself, Milady," Shenzen replies.
"I must be a truly amazing creature. I managed to ask your opinion without the desire to do so." The woman was clearly upset; though the fury was set on Kumiko. Some of it just leaked over to the samurai since they always seemed to be together. She let the thin veneer of politeness fall away. "If she did not flutter about like some exotic bird then my son would not be reprimanded by the daimyo." Kumiko bowed her head and managed not to sigh. "It has never been my intention to cause any trouble for the young master. I apologize."
"I don't think there can be any doubt about what kind of creature you are, Milady," Shenzen says, flatly. Normally, he would choose his words differently, but her son has threatened not only Kumiko, but his own honor. "It is my duty to keep the Daimyo's family safe and your son seems to be in constant danger from himself." He looks to Kumiko for a moment and then back to the First Wife. "It is a sad Robber who blames a strong lock box for his own failure."