The talks had been going on for hours, so far it was going well after the initial adjustment period of enforcing that everyone will be polite. Shingen had very carefully arranged the seating to both encourage a mix of the different factions and not seat rivals that loathed each other side by side. This made a large circle so that no one was at the head of anything. A speaker was welcome to enter the center to equally address all.
This put Nobunaga almost directly across from her, which was distracting at best. At worst she felt like she was being constantly judged. Every move, every word, was being weighed and measured by those emotionless carnelian eyes. Ren was doing her best to ignore it but she had all her senses extended so she could head off arguments before they happened, predict the results of comments and soothe ruffled feathers. So, she felt every damn reaction from him from every word she said. Thank goodness Mitsuhide wasn’t present, the last thing she needed was the weight of two people judging her to this degree.
Ren’s eyes scanned over the rest of the occupants while one of the Daimyo from the north voiced his concerns. Tokugawa was studiously ignoring her presence; she took a moment to study him. All she got off him was a stewing, sullen anger, but she wasn’t sure over what. Shingen brushed her arm, leaning in to comment. She saw him glare at Nobunaga, and her fingertips brushed his thigh. He turned those storm grey eyes back to her, filled with apology. Ren knew how hard old habits were to break. They just needed to do the best they could.
They broke for lunch. Shingen watched Shion run to Ren, the tiger cub bounding after her. Ren swept the young girl up onto her hip, giving her an affectionate hug. He smiled. Shion was charming, and it pleased him to see his wife displaying some maternal qualities. Perhaps she would like to adopt Shion, giving her the Takeda name? His eyes swept the area, appraising it for issues. Men were sitting down at the long tables arranged in the gardens. Servers were bringing out food. Generally, everyone seemed pleased. Then Shingen frowned.
The devil king was leaning against a stone wall off to the side, an uncharacteristically soft smile on his face while he watched Ren. The man was obviously smitten. A low growl hummed in the warlord’s throat.
I can’t control his feelings Shingen, I can only control my own.
Her voice came back to him, and Shingen settled. This was a peace summit; whether he liked it or not, they needed Oda support. Without it, they were back where they started. Ren had said this would end in a bloody war otherwise. Shingen knew he had the best standing cavalry in the history of Japan, but that would never stand against a line of guns. His gaze slipped away to Tokugawa, who had glanced at the food then walked off, presumably heading back to his room to eat alone. Such an odd man to be the one that finally manages unification, stepping on the backs of others to do it, and stealing policies.
“Shingen, come join us.” Yuki was at his elbow gesturing to an empty spot by Kenshin and Sasuke. Shingen’s face smoothed into a warm smile.
“Thank you, I will.”
It was late. Ren was settled at their desk, lantern burning, still answering mitsumono correspondence and writing reports when Shingen returned to their rooms. Wordlessly he embraced her. The scent of sake and pipe smoke was heavy on his clothes. His head pressed to her breasts. His arms wrapped around her waist. Ren put down her well-chewed brush and ran her fingers through his auburn hair.
“My Tiger, what is wrong?” Her words were soft, she trailed her fingers soothingly down his back.
“Doing things for the greater good is stressful and exhausting, I’m beginning to understand why men just beat each other to death in war.” He mumbled into her breasts then snuggled his face deeper in between them breathing in.
“I never said this would be easy. Is everyone getting along? No fighting, I hope?”
“Well…Sasuke is running a gambling den in our main hall, and a wrestling competition had been going on for several hours. Someone brought tobacco and there were several kiseras being passed. I don’t think I’ll ever get this scent from my clothes, I’ve been in better smelling brothels.” He hugged her tighter. “And having this many people in our home is more stressful then I imagined it would be.”
“Shingen, everything is going fine, and you are doing amazing.” Ren tipped his head out of her cleavage to look into his eyes. “three more days.”
“I love you.” He sat up, his lips warm against hers, she coughed slightly. He tasted of tobacco smoke and sake…not in a good way.
“I love you too, let’s get you cleaned up, and I’ll join you in bed.”
“My angel, you are ever my savior.”
Ren was suddenly thankful that she wasn’t invited to the boy’s club in the hall tonight.
It was a whisper before dawn, Ren lit a single lantern in the dojo. The early summer air was already warming as she slid the east-facing walls to the side so she could welcome the day. She stretched slow, relishing in the feel of her body wakening, then moved into her favorite kata. Her shoulder was strong again, rarely giving her issues, her body lithe and back into perfectly honed shape. Ren paused a moment and removed her kimono top leaving just the short sleeveless breast binder she had designed. It was the closest thing she could get to a sports bra in this era, and while it wasn’t modest by Sengoku standards, at least her students were now accustomed to seeing her in it. Ren picked up her ebony tessen from a box left on her shelf. They had become her favorite weapon, and she lost herself in the movement of dancing with them. A slow drumbeat in her mind, her feet stepped through the steps of an intricate dance swaying her body like the wind. Her eyes closed she tossed one fan up, catching it and spun.
Someone clapped softly.
The faint scent of gunpowder and cedarwood tickled her senses. Nobu?
Ren opened her eyes. How had she not heard him draw close? He leaned casually against the shoji door, watching her. A faint smile was on his face, his carnelian eyes soft.
“Lord Nobunaga,” She bowed before him, sliding the ebony tessen into the waist of her hakama. “It is early, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? The summit talks do not start again for hours.”
“Lady Ren,” surprisingly, he bowed low, gifting her with a warm smile. “As is usual for me, I could not sleep. I decided to walk the gardens and saw the light on here. I am glad to see you enjoy my gift.” He nodded to the fans tucked into her waistband.
“They are beautifully crafted and were a lovely, thoughtful wedding gift. Thank you, Lord Nobunaga.”
“You move with stunning grace Lady Ren, it is a pleasure to see you dance. Would it be a terrible inconvenience if I asked to sit and watch longer?”
Ren paused at the unexpected request, she saw his eyes move over her torso, taking in the snug top followed by the naked swath of alabaster skin from below her breasts to where her hakama slung low on her hips. His eyes returned to hers, desire burning in them. The gaze wrapped warmly around her making it suddenly difficult to breathe.
Ren felt something clench deep inside. She coughed, reaching for her kimono top.
“I do not feel that a private performance would be appropriate, Lord Nobunaga, my apologies. I will be, however, be performing at the feast tonight, you are welcome to attend.” She kept her voice level as she pulled on the top, placing her tessen back in the box on her shelf.
“I did not intend to make you feel uncomfortable, please accept my apologies.” His sonorous baritone rumbled across the room to her. Ren paused, turning. When did he start apologizing for anything? Her eyes caught his, the heat was gone replaced by sincerity. She let out a sigh glancing behind him. The sky was turning golden, heralding the sun. He was a guest, she needed to treat him politely so these damn treaty talks would run smooth. Shingen and Nobunaga loathed each other, she had to be that bridge.
Ren looked over what he was wearing, it was appropriate enough for sparring, she snugged up her belt.
“Nobu would you like to spar with me?”
A smile lit his carnelian eyes. “Ren, I would love to spar with you. I hear your classes are extremely sought after.”
“Well, those who can’t, teach.” She gave him a half-smile, she missed the thrill of a mission.
“Tch, Ren, we both know you still can. Your heart holds you here.”
“Indeed. This is touch not hit. What weapon interests you?” She turned to the practice wall, hand running over the wooden weapons available there.
“Mmmmm tessen off-hand with tanto?”
“Ah a personal favorite, done, and done.” Ren tossed him a tessen from class box then picked a practice tanto from the wall. She flipped her fan open, the weight was more substantial than the ebony ones, and the balance wasn’t as sweet. She maneuvered it a few times, getting used to the different feel.
“Half speed or full?” He took a defensive stance, raising his eyes to her. They looked less guarded than usual.
“Let’s start this slow and see where it goes.” Ren moved forward, taking the offensive.
Shingen wasn’t surprised to wake alone, Ren frequently slipped out of their bed hours before he woke. He would typically find her in the dojo if he woke early. If he slept in, she would wake him pleasurably when she returned, so there was every incentive to sleep in. This morning he woke early with his mind buzzing, information about the talks today circling his head, his insecurity about having so many warlords under one roof from currently opposing factions. His roof. It was beyond stressful. He rose to seek out his wife. Watching her in the morning always relaxed him.
When he neared the dojo, he heard voices. He recognized the spin and slap of tessen, Ren’s favored weapon, as he took the steps up to the small building. What he saw shocked him.
Oda was attacking his wife.
Shingen growled low in his throat, then paused when Ren laughed, leaping forward with a counter. They both stopped, and she explained the move to Nobunaga and then went through it again slowly. Shingen stayed in the shadows of the porch overhang watching. They spoke easily with each other, like close friends. Ren came at him again at a slow speed doing the same maneuver, he tried two different ways to counter it, then they started discussing the merits of the second.
She was…training him?
She turned to counter his second move, and he blocked with the tessen. She paused, and he demonstrated that block again. He corrected her form slightly, touching her wrist, laying his hand on her hip, guiding her. The warlord felt his temperature rising.
Or was he training her…? Shingen frowned. He knew they needed Oda’s support for any of this to work. He ran a hand through his hair, jealousy flaring. He needed to trust Ren, she knew what she was doing. At that moment, Ren’s violet eyes pierced the shadows where he stood.
“Tiger, is that you?”
She knew damn well it was, he swore she could scent him from a mile away with those acute senses she had. His eyes narrowed as he watched her smile at Nobunaga and excuse herself.
“Hey.” Ren’s voice was tender. She slid the tessen into her waistband as she reached him on the porch. Her hand cupped his jaw bringing him down to her for a kiss. “You’re up early, is everything alright?”
He claimed her with that kiss, covering her lips hungrily, stealing her breath. He stared hard at Oda, the man looked away. “Our bed was cold without you, my angel.” he fairly purred “I came to see if I could convince you to come back to it.” His hands went to her hips, bringing her closer. She chuckled softly.
Ren pressed her lips to his whispering, “you jealous beast.”
“Guilty.” He grinned back, stealing another heated kiss.
“Lord Nobunaga,” Ren raised her voice to carry to the far side of the dojo. “It was a pleasure sparring with you, but it seems my husband has need of me. I will see you later at the summit?”
“Yes, of course, Lady Ren, thank you for the session.” He bowed to her, expression neutral, and turned away to put the sparring weapons back on the wall.
Shingen covered her hand with his, stealing her into the dawn.
Ren sat by his side during the peace council. She had worked hard on the wording of the agreements with each of the warlords and innately knew what each one wanted. She wore the scarlet silk kimono embroidered with a tiger. His hand ached to trace the lines of it over her back. Her ebony tessen were tucked into her thin obi. No edged weapons were allowed at the summit, but no one had raised a word against her having them.
So far, the talks had gone surprisingly well, she had a charismatic knack to smooth things over anytime conflict arose, or tempers got a little hot. Shingen scanned the room two men concerned him, for utterly different reasons.
Oda had not been able to keep his eyes off Ren. While he was amiable, even agreeable to the tenants of the summit, his eyes kept drifting over her …not so much in lust as appreciation. Like she was a desirable piece of art. There were times Shingen would touch Ren’s arm or lean in to speak to her just to draw Nobunaga’s gaze to him. There was challenge in Shingen’s eyes every time.
The other man that worried him was Tokugawa Ieyasu, the man was sullen, not well-liked. He had made it as far as he had by careful alliances that he then abandoned as soon as they became inconvenient. The man seemed to have a deep-seated resentment toward Ren, but Shingen wasn’t sure why. Was it her gender? He made a mental note to discuss it with Ren tonight, perhaps she had some insight.
They took a break for lunch in the gardens. Ren excused herself to freshen up back in their rooms. Shingen strolled slowly through the courtyard alone, heading toward the open pavilion where the meal had been laid out.
“Takeda, you are a fortunate man.” Nobunaga caught up, falling into step beside him.
“Oda.” Shingen nodded.
“Your wife is really something special, her poise today during the talks was beyond compare. It is a rare woman that commands such a noble air.” Nobunaga continued.
“She is, I treasure every moment she graces me with her divine presence.” Shingen let a proud smile curl his lips.
“It was bold of you to marry for love instead of taking a political wife.” The man continued.
Shingen chuckled softly, “Does Ren seem like a woman that would accept concubine status to you?” He ran a hand through his auburn hair. “Do those alliances ever really work, Oda? We hold each other’s sisters, daughters, and nieces hostage. Sending them out to marry to form bonds that never last anyway. Perhaps it is time to stop using female flesh as a stop-gap to war.”
Nobunaga chuckled softly. “Not all of us are blessed enough to have Fūjin’s daughter show an interest in us. Some of us settle for alliance marriages.”
“Indeed. Well, I hope you enjoy your stay here and that you find the talks to our mutual beneficial interest. Perhaps if this land is united in peace, we all could choose love over duty.”
Ren sat on the tatami mats using a small mirror to apply her makeup. She painted a carmine stripe down the center of her lips, filling it in with a tiny brush. Shingen watched entranced, then moved to kiss her.
“No…this is the third time I’ve reapplied my lipstick.” She tried unsuccessfully to suppress a grin. “We are the hosts of the feast tonight, if you ravish me again, we’ll be late.”
He snuggled her from behind, curling strong arms around her. “What if I just…lightly ravished you?” He nuzzled her neck, Ren turned to him and wiped the lipstick off of his mouth from his last slip of control.
She grinned, “my Tiger, I said no.”
“My goddess, your no’s sound so much like yes’s to me.”
“It likely does when my thighs are over your ears.” She gave him a playful swat with a towel. It didn’t wipe the stupid grin off his handsome face. She rose stretching and picked up the floral hair decoration he gifted her at their wedding. Shingen took it from her hands, gently sliding it into her white-blonde hair. His fingers took a moment to feather through the silk of it with a smile. Ren hadn’t cut it since the last battle, her promise to him that if she felt safe, she’d let it grow.
“I love this so much better than the wigs.” His hand gripped the silken locks at the nape of her neck, pulling her head back to expose her throat, his tongue traced one long lick along her pulse.
She moaned, “Tiger….”
His teeth closed gently on her flesh, she felt her nipples stand against the plum-colored silk of her kimono. His thumb traced over one teasingly.
“See my goddess? Your body always says yes.”
“We will be late.”
“Then, we are late.” He nuzzled against her neck, she felt his teeth close on the flesh above the collar of her kimono.
“I am performing tonight, don’t you dare mark me above my collar.” She laughed, pulling away.
“You can’t blame a man for trying, my beautiful wife.” He grinned, taking her hand he kissed the back then led her out the door, to the hall.
His stomach was full of delicious desserts, the sake was flowing freely, men that usually are at each other’s throats were celebrating together, and his magnificent wife was doing a breathtaking warrior’s kata for the entertainment of their guests. She was a whirling dervish of flame-colored silks and golden tessen. The movement was so impressive Kenshin had stood to clap along with the drum cheering her on. More men joined him and she invited Kenshin out with a sensuous curl of her finger, flipping one tessen through the air for him to catch. He stepped over the table, taking her hand. Shingen laughed toasting them both, slapping a hand on his thigh to keep the beat. The two ice warriors twirled together in a blur of platinum blonde hair and fierce cries, their unrehearsed movements looking effortless. He mirrored her then would change up the difficulty, and she’d mirror it back. She laughed, his tigress, and it sounded like a triumphant roar of challenge. Kenshin lifted her and she flipped off his shoulder, a bird in flight. Men cheered loudly, more sake flowed. It was a good night.
Shingen’s eyes shifted imperceivably to Oda. The dark-haired man watched her, but he was smiling and clapping along with the rest of the room. Nothing about the devil king seemed out of line or inappropriate. Storm grey eyes shifted to Tokugawa…there was the problem. The man sat sullenly, barely touching his food or drink, a black cloud over his countenance. That needed to be solved before this summit was over.
Suddenly, Shingen’s lap was full of plum and scarlet silk. His lips were covered in spiced warmth. A deafening cheer went up.
“To our hosts! Lord and Lady Takeda!” Nobunaga had raised his cup toasting them.
“Now, you can ruin my lipstick, Tiger mine.” Ren grinned against his lips, and he dipped her back in a kiss. She flipped her tessen open playfully, shielding them from the crowd. And ruin it he did.
Ren laughed in delight when he released her, quickly wiping the crimson smear from his lips with a cloth. He ran a thumb along her lower lip, fixing the smudge on hers. Her violet eyes were filled to the brim with love for him.
“Thank you all for coming, please feel free to continue enjoying the evening. Talks start again tomorrow at mid-morning.” He announced, offering Ren his hand to stand.
Ren stood, rescuing Masamune from a sleeping Shion in his lap. He ruffled the young girl’s hair affectionately.
“I’ll keep the cub in my room tonight lass, your hellcat wore poor Shogetsu out last night.” Masa gave her a grin then pulled one of the serving maids into his vacated lap. Ren balanced the unconscious child on her hip, with Shingen behind her as they left the hall.
Carnelian eyes watched them leave with a sorrow tinged envy.