A few weeks later, they were on the road, it was high summer, and the sun glared relentlessly. As promised, Shingen had fitted leather armor made for her. It was sleek, light, flexible, and silent. Sasuke had helped design it. None of the noisy lacquered plackets the samurai wore. She rode with her open bow case on her saddle, her quiver strapped to her thigh. He had a hood and cloth mask made for her to cover that white-blond hair and hide her face. The visage of an Oni was painted on it in dark blue. He had the Takeda mon embossed on the leather over her heart. He saw her fingers reach up to trace the raised design as they rode side by side. Shingen smiled.
Kunoichi and Lord weren’t enough to describe what they were anymore, but damn if they didn’t cut a fine figure together. They were heading into a wooded area. She pulled her bow, tossing him the reins to her horse.
“I’m going to scout ahead, I’ll rejoin you before nightfall.” She pulled the cloth mask up over her nose. With her violet eyes, she did indeed look like a supernatural creature. She stood on her horse and leaped into the closest tree, running along the branches and disappearing into the woods. He tied her horse off to his. Yuki rode up beside him.
“Shingen are you certain you want her in this battle, it doesn’t seem a place for a woman.” The young general looked concerned. “It’s not like you to let yourself be distracted from the battle by a female.”
Shingen chuckled, “On the contrary, she is here so I can focus on the battle. Yuki, is that why you think I brought her? To warm my bed?”
“She has never warmed my bed Yukimura.” Yuki looked surprised.
“I thought you two had…well. “ He blushed, “ I know you have relations with a lot of your kunoichi.”
“Let me ask you this... if she were male, would you consider her an accomplished warrior?”
Yuki looked thoughtful as he mulled over the question. Shingen knew he had sparred with her but never saw her outside the dojo. Ren’s reputation had grown to almost legendary proportions recently. They whispered she was the daughter of Fūjin, god of the wind. That at night, in the shadows, she changed into a fierce demon.
“If she were male, I would not question your choice, my Lord.”
“Then you should not question it at all.” Shingen’s smile did not reach his eyes.
Ren bounded from tree to tree, quickly overtaking the front of the column of soldiers. A rustle made her glance to the right, Sasuke was a few trees over, shadowing her.
She winked and picked up speed.
They raced through the trees in a whirlwind dance. Ren felt free, breathed deep. She hit the forest floor, flitting soundlessly along a deer trail. After an hour, she slowed. They got a drink by a stream, Sasuke was panting slightly.
“Do you want to head back?” He lowered his hood, running a hand through damp hair.
“Mmmm no. We can meet up with them tonight. I want to make sure the way ahead is clear. We should be out about ten miles from the column now. Are you coming with me, or did Kenshin demand your presence for the entire ride?”
“I’ll stay with you.” He pulled his hood back up. “Do you expect an ambush?”
“Yes. I’m just not sure who. When we find it, I’ll knock one out and drag him off so we can see whose man he is.” Sasuke nodded, and they were running again.
It didn’t take much longer to find the ambush, five archers were in the trees above the main road. Sasuke crouched with Ren deeper in the woods.
“You could take all five out from here.” He whispered.
“I want to know whose men they are.” She eyed them. “Our troops are at least two hours behind us, what if these schmucks are just local bandits.”
One of the men dropped from the trees slinging his bow over his shoulder and walking into some dense brush.
“I’ll go get the crapper, be right back.” Ren grinned, Sasuke rolled his eyes.
Ten minutes and five dead Ikkō-ikki later, Ren was searching through their clothes.
“Uggg, don’t these monks ever bathe? I don’t recall this sect being an issue for Shingen in history.”
Sasuke shrugged, “Us just being here alters things, isn’t this your second run-in with them?”
“Yea and they’ve got nothing. Let’s get these bodies dumped and keep moving ahead. I want the way cleared.”
They found two more ambushes and took them out before circling back to the column toward the end of the day. Twilight was settling over the camp when Ren slipped into Shingen’s command tent. She pulled the hood off her head, ruffling her sweat-dampened hair. Shingen was speaking to one of his generals, his eye caught hers, and he excused the man. She stepped forward, taking a knee before him.
Ren took a knee before him, her blonde hair glittered damply in the torchlight.
“Ren, there is no need to be so formal between us, come sit and tell me what you found. Dinner was just brought.” He led her to a small table sitting across from her. Two servings of soup and rice balls were laid out along with tea. She raised an eyebrow at him.
“I knew you would be hungry when you returned, there is also wash water behind the screen. “ He nodded to a canvas draped corner of the tent.
“It must be good to be the Lord.” The corner of her lip tugged upward.
“It has its perks, comfortable camping, good food, a beautiful woman.” He winked at her, “Who should be eating while she gives her report to her Lord.”
“We ran into three ambushes along the road and eliminated them, it seems the Ikkō-ikki are interested in you. It’s the one group I can’t infiltrate because they are all men. I just don’t have the supplies here to look male enough to pass.”
Shingen raised an eyebrow, “have you passed as a man before?” He couldn’t help but let his eyes sweep over her curves, he couldn’t imagine passing that off as male, or those beautiful eyes.
“I have, but it takes a lot of…cosmetics.” She took a bite of the rice ball and then was silent a few moments as she just dug in ravenously. He watched, enjoying just being with her after a long day of riding.
“Anyway, Sasuke and I will take turns patrolling the inside of the camp tonight. We both need a couple hours of sleep, and then we’ll start. He’s checking in with Kenshin now.” She glanced up a moment. “I assume you’ll be talking to your generals for the next few hours and generally be in this tent?”
Shingen nodded, tipping the bowl to his lips and drinking the broth.
“May I sleep here?”
His heart slammed against his ribcage. He set the bowl down, using the movement to cover his surprise.
“My goddess, I thought you’d never ask.” He smiled flirtatiously.
She smirked and took another sip of tea. “Just sleep Shingen, I’ll put my bedroll in the corner, get cleaned up and take a nap. I feel safe near you, and this way, if anything crazy busts into your tent, I’m already here.”
Everything, after I feel safe near you, got lost in the buzzing of his mind.
“At any rate, Ikkō-ikki, get your mitsumono on that and figure out what’s going on. I don’t have time to decimate an entire religious sect.” She took the last bite of the rice ball. “Shingen?”
“Yes,” he covered smoothly. “My home is yours, my goddess.”
“Shingen, did you hear what I said?”
A faint blush colored his cheeks. His mind quickly pulled the words she said back up for review. He nodded.
“Let me get you some soap to wash with.”
The next few hours were a blur of meetings and individuals reporting in. In the few moments of silence, when the tent was clear, he just gazed at her. Ren lay curled on her side on her bedroll, tucked in an inobtrusive corner. She blended in with the shadows except for that short white-blonde hair. Her chest moved evenly in slumber, her face peaceful.
“My Lord, you are needed on the east side of the encampment.” Shingen nodded rising. Ren was instantly a step behind him, alert, poised. Her bow in hand.
“Ren, rest, I’ll be in the encampment.” He put a hand on her shoulder.
“No.” She glanced at the other man, her tone turned formal. “My Lord Shingen, I will accompany you.” She pulled her hood up over her hair and dropped behind him a few steps as they made their way to the other side of camp, Yuki joined them along the path, chatting amiably. Shingen glanced back at Ren, she was eerily still, absolutely silent as she walked with them. They stopped at a large campfire, she stayed in the darkness outside the ring of light. They moved on, Yuki continuing to discuss the cavalry plans for the upcoming battle.