Takeru looked on as his brother and the army left behind a cloud of dust, before turning around. He headed for the guest house, tucked into a deserted corner of the castle grounds. A mischievous light glinted in his eyes and his steps had a spring in them. Anticipation built up in his chest the closer he got to the building.
The two guards stationed at the entrance greeted him with a bow as he marched in confidently. He gestured for them to follow him. A long corridor ran around the house, making it possible to access the rooms from several different entrances. Takeru chose the closest one, as he rapped on the doorframe.
Even though he wanted nothing more than to break into the room and haul their unwanted guest out of their bed at the break of dawn, he wasn’t a ruffian and restrained himself.
However, no answer came. He knocked louder and waited to no avail. He felt a vein throb on his forehead and his hands clenched into fists, trying to hold onto the last shred of his patience.
His politeness deserved one last try, then he would embrace his inner barbarian and kick the door in. When he knocked again, he yelled:
“Orihime-dono, are you awake? I need you to come out!”
He heard the sounds of shuffling from inside and low whispers. Someone was talking about his rude behavior. Takeru’s lip curled up and he shouted again.
“I know you’re up! Open the door!”
There was silence for a heartbeat, and the guards on Takeru’s sides fidgeted nervously. They had no idea what was going on and why was their commander in such a strange mood.
“Who dares to be so rude to Milady?!” One of Orihime’s servants, an elderly woman slid open the door with a loud bang. She glared at Takeru, and he had to give her credit for not backing down when she recognized him.
“Step aside. I have business with your lady.”
“At this hour?!” Indignation made her voice rise an octave.
“The sun’s already up. I don’t see your point,” Takeru said, lifting his arm and easily brushing the maid aside. He didn’t use much force, but she stumbled back, surprised at his behavior. Takeru glanced around the receiving room as the two guards followed him inside.
A few maids were busy preparing for the day, all part of Orihime’s entourage, but the lady herself was nowhere to be found. Takeru’s gaze landed on the door leading to the bedroom.
“You can’t, Milord!” The elderly maid stepped into his path. Takeru glanced down at her. He was in a generous mood, so he gave her a chance.
“Either she comes out in the next few moments, or I’ll go in there and drag her out of bed.”
The maids all gasped and looked at him as if he had lost his mind.
Takeru raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. Even if he didn’t have the guards with him, he would have looked intimidating. The maid couldn’t put her finger on it, but a strange, threatening aura swirled around the receiving room.
“I... I’ll see to it, Milord. Please wait here,” she bowed low, then scurried off to the bedroom.
Takeru hid his amusement as he pricked his ears to listen to what was happening in the next room.
Orihime groaned at hearing a voice right next to her ear so early. She was too sleepy to respond properly.
“Leave me,” she mumbled, turning her back to the intruder.
Finally, some quiet. However, she could still feel the presence of the maid who had disturbed her. Another groan left her lips as she realized the unusualness of the situation. Usually, her maids wouldn’t disturb her at such an ungodly hour, unless something serious happened.
She sighed, resigned, but didn’t move.
“What is it?”
“Takeru-dono is here to see you.”
Orihime tensed. Why would the brat visit her so suddenly? Did he realize I’ve had a hand in Ciara’s disappearance? She silently wondered but shook her head. Impossible. They think she left on her own accord.
Orihime sat up and fixed the maid with a glare.
“Why is he here?”
“H-he didn’t say, Milady.”
“So you just let a man into a lady’s room?”
The servant was silent as she bowed low, looking at the floor.
“I am terribly sorry. There was nothing I could do.”
“This is not like you. I liked you because you never made excuses,” Orihime tutted, extremely annoyed.
I’d better go see what he wants. But first... let’s have breakfast!
“Bring my meal, then we can dress.”
The maid straightened and looked at Orihime in the eyes. Such nerve! She was just about to admonish the servant when she noticed how pale her face was.
When she trailed off, Orihime frowned.
“What? Finish what you’ve started if you’re so bold to talk back.”
The elderly servant gulped, but continued, determined. It seemed she only needed a little nudge to do so.
“Takeru-dono wishes to see you. Right now.”
Orihime quickly made up an excuse:
“I can’t, I’m hungry.”
“He threatened to come in here.”
“What?!” Orihime shrieked and jumped to her feet.
At that precise moment, Takeru stepped over the threshold, fresh and alert, as if he had been up for hours.
“Greetings, Orihime-dono,” he said as a small smile played in the corner of his mouth.
It was a rare sight to see the always dignified Orihime standing on top of her bedding, with her hair and yukata disheveled. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped as she looked at Takeru in disbelief.
“Y-you-!” She pointed at him, trembling with anger. Her face reddened as grabbed the front of her yukata to keep it from opening. “How dare you come in here?!”
“There are no places I cannot go in Shirotatsu,” Takeru calmly replied. He took a step inside, making Orihime flinch. He hid the grin that was about to break out on his face and stopped a few feet away from the woman.
“But to a lady’s bedroom-!” The elderly maid still hadn’t given up. Takeru chose to ignore her for the time being.
“I came here to inform you that you will return to your father’s territory today.”
“What? You can’t do that!” Orihime shrieked. “If Katsuo learns of this-”
“Brother was the one who instructed me to escort you out.”
For a moment, Orihime looked crestfallen and it almost made Takeru pity her. Almost. He frowned, solidifying his resolve.
“Brother has been quite patient with you and has told you several times he has no intention of marrying you.”
“He had already found someone he intends to marry.”
The mood in the room turned icy, and Takeru was subject to the full force of Orihime’s glare.
“Don’t tell me it’s that foreigner.”
Takeru chose to remain silent.
“I can’t believe it!” Orihime whispered, before she repeated, raising her voice: “I can’t believe it! Didn’t they have a fight? Didn’t she leave already?!”
Takeru narrowed his eyes and he could feel his blood stir. His eyes flashed in suspicion and his tone changed to that of an interrogator.
“How would you know that?”
Orihime forgot to breathe for a moment, before composing herself. She was as pale as snow.
“I’ve run into her the other day. She seemed quite upset.”
“Did she tell you why?”
“When was this?” Takeru took a step toward her, making Orihime back up. Everybody tensed up in the room, sensing the menace that rolled off Takeru in waves.
“A couple of days ago. I don’t remember exactly.”
Orihime gulped at the close proximity of Takeru. His sharp gaze was fixed on her, making her unable to look away. Finally, he withdrew.
“You’ll be ready in half an hour. I’ll see you off,” Takeru said as he turned around swiftly and stalked out of the room. He heard Orihime collapse on the bedding as he exited.
If he had it his way, he might have really dragged her out in her nightwear and sent her off without breakfast. But Orihime’s father was an ally, plus the Kitayamas had a reputation to uphold. He might have entertained such thoughts, but never would have acted upon them. He had a different upbringing than that scum Kawayuki.
Takeru went to instruct the kitchen staff to pack some food for their unwanted guests before he started training the soldiers. He conducted today’s session right in front of the gates.
Half an hour later, Orihime arrived, dressed in traveling clothes, but her maids didn’t have time to do her hair, so it was in a simple bun without any decoration. Her eyes flashed in annoyance as she looked for Takeru’s figure at the gates. He had said he would see her off.
Her eyes widened as she caught sight of a platoon of soldiers training nearby. She huffed and turned away. I will not be intimidated! I’m the daughter of a samurai lord! Orihime stuck her chin out and marched towards her carriage. Takeru left the soldiers and walked to her side.
“Have a pleasant trip back home, Orihime-dono,” he said smoothly and gestured to half a dozen servants who carried small packs. “I’ve prepared some meals for you to enjoy.”
“How thoughtful of you,” she bit out, nodding to her maids who received the packages.
Takeru bowed a little.
“I bid you farewell.”
“I hope you don’t entertain the idea that this is the end of it,” Orihime said, fingering the gold fan in her hand. “My father will hear of your lack of hospitality.”
Takeru smirked as he straightened.
“Whatever are you talking about, Orihime-dono? You have used up plenty of our hospitality.”
Takeru turned his back and walked back to training his soldiers.
Orihime glared after him, swearing to get revenge someday. She climbed into the carriage and left behind Shirotatsu castle. It was for the best. Between her uncle and Katsuo, she didn’t know who would be stronger. On the off-chance that the latter won, that woman would most likely tell him what happened on the night she had been abducted. If it came to that, Orihime would be in grave danger in Shrotatsu.
It was better to retreat and come up with a new plan.