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Title - Unintended: A Tale of Clumsy Matchmaking and the Value of Custom Boots
Rating - T/PG-13


Chapter 2 – Tournament


“Kurogane-san, do you have any advice for how to act in front of someone you want to like you?”

Kurogane looked up from sharpening his sword. It had been a surprise when the kid showed up at his quarters, especially considering he was supposed to be dining with the King - but now that he managed to get the question out, the unscheduled visit made sense. “You’re talking about that girl with the crazy father aren’t you?”

“Crazy father? Was there someone like that at the festival last night? I’m talking about Sakura, the girl I won Mokona for.”

“That’s the one. You should stay away from her; you don’t want to get involved with a family like that!”

“Ummm. Kurogane-san, I think you might have the wro—”

A sharp rap at the door interrupted the prince’s explanation and Kurogane yanked open the door with more force that was strictly necessary. The speed of the door seemed to startle the liveried man waiting in the hall outside. After letting out a startled sound, the servant proceeded with his duty. “M-message for you Ku-Kurogane-san.”

“Out with it then.”

The messenger composed himself with a couple of deep breaths before continuing. “Your honorable self is to be present before the Royal Council within this quarter hour.”

The servant stood there waiting for a response, eyes going wide. Maybe it had something to do with the sneer on Kurogane’s face. Dealing with the Council was the worst part of his job.“You have delivered your message.” With that, he slammed the door in the servant’s face.

“Kurogane-san?” The prince knew as well as Kurogane what this meeting was to be about.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” Kurogane may or may not have growled on his way out of the room.

-x-


“It came to our attention that the young Prince Syaoran was in the company of a certain lady for the majority of the evening last night.”

“He spent time with two girls.”

“Yes, but he spent more time with one that the other. That girl with the long hair. What was her name Kurogane-san?”

“Kobato.”

“I see. Next month we will hold another event. You will ensure that Prince Syaoran spends more time with that girl.”

“That would be unwise.”

Kurogane had meant to explain his disapproval, but the self-appointed council leader took the pause at the end of a sentence to interject. “Your job is not to question the Council. Your job is to keep the Prince safe.”

“And if this girl is not even there?”

The “chairman” adjusted his monocle. “You will find a way.”

Kurogane knew the Council was made up of idiots, but really. If a person wasn’t there than they weren’t there. That’s all there was to it. Were they expecting him to hunt the poor girl down? If they wanted Kurogane to further their objectives they’d have the prince spend more time with the girl whose father smiles too much.

The thought came then of the man’s ridiculous necktie; his casual, self-assured posture; his chill inducing laugh.

Maybe it really was for the best to leave that family alone.

-x-


And so it was that the following month, an athletics tournament was held. The event began midmorning and continued on through twilight. There were running races and swimming races, gymnastics and archery, equestria, and even sword fights, though not many of the girls were choosing to participate in those. That fact didn’t stop Syaoran from ending up in that area of the competition field.

Kurogane was the best swordsman in the kingdom and having been around the man for so much of his life, Syaoran had developed an interest in the skill. His bodyguard had only recently agreed to tutor him and the Prince was very keen on seeing others spar.

When there was an opening for a challenger, Syaoran managed to completely forget his current “mission” in favor of joining in the competition. Kurogane, for his part, had no problem with this. Getting in real practice with a sword was a far better use of the prince’s time than girl gazing. Even if they were under strict orders to be searching out the girl with the braids.

And really, the choice of an athletics tournament had to be a joke in that case. That girl couldn’t even toss a ring onto a bottle a few paces away. She had the right amount of determination, so it was possible that she would come even knowing she had absolutely no chance of doing well in the events, but she’d seemed to be very set on winning that bottle and going wherever it was that she had to get to. Kurogane felt confident in his suspicions that the place she was after was not the training fields.

Well, he could say they’d looked for her and she simply was not to be found. They had elected to spend their remaining time more judiciously.

The prince was allowed to select from a small range of wooded practice swords, then was fitted with basic protective gear for safety before stepping into the ten pace wide sparing ring outlined in white chalk. He first opponent was the winner of the previous round and the prince, after some initial fumbling, found his rhythm and managed a win.

Now it was time for a challenger to take on the prince. The boy who stepped forward was about the equal with the kid in age but had a vastly different attitude. While the prince looked at this round as good practice win or lose, the challenger seemed to give the spar equal importance to a real duel.

The fight started off evenly. Kurogane watched the prince for technique, noting where his footwork needed improving and when he took the defensive when a perfectly good opening for an offence was visible. They’d work on those issues in their next practice.

After the final point was scored, the challenger congratulated the prince perhaps too enthusiastically. “That was amazing! You’re so strong! I practice and practice so that I can get stronger – like my mom. She’s really great! You should see her fight.” The kid went on and on. And when Syaoran managed to get in a word, it was only to compliment the other boy.

When no other challengers stepped forward, Syaoran and his new friend decided they would allow others to start a new string of matches. The two hit it off well and though Kurogane had no qualms about the prince making a friend his own age – like any normal boy – he could just hear what the Council was going to make of this latest development. The klutz disappears and the prince immediately befriends a boy in his grief. It was ridiculous.

The prince was introducing Kurogane, not as his bodyguard, but as a mentor, when the scene before them erupted into a fit of insanity.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, did you know that right here before your very eyes, is one of this country’s finest swordsmen? Wouldn’t you all like to see this fine fellow show you his skills? ‘Yes!’ I hear you cry. And to your voices, I add my own! ‘But who would be willing to fight such a skilled man,’ you ask. To see him in action, I will humbly take up that position myself!”

That rat! He was anything but humble. And now there really was a crowd and even the prince and his horrible new friend were saying, come on Kurogane, why not? It will do us novices good to see a master in action.

“Mokona will cheer for Fai and Kurogane!”

“You pest!” The thing was jumping up and down on his head. “You can’t cheer for both parties in a two-person match.”

“Mokona will. Good luck, Kurogane! Do your best, Fai!”

Knowing further resistance was useless, Kurogane deposited the pork bun with the prince, then went to sift though the wooden swords. He tested out a few before making his final selection. His opponent however, took the first one he set eyes on. Not a good indication of a challenging match to come.

Despite his protesting that he didn’t need any of the padding, the event volunteers laced on the guards. Rules were rules they said, no matter who you were. It didn’t help that the official was a woman he worked with. She didn’t say anything, but Kurogane could tell she was getting a kick out of the whole situation.

Once the participants’ gear was deemed satisfactory, the two readied themselves on opposite sides of the fight circle. “I’m not here to show off, but don’t think I’m going to take it easy on you just because you put yourself into this.”

“That’s right. You’re just here to watch over Syaoran-kun, right?” What the hell did this guy know about it? “Well, I think it would do you good to get away from that for a few minutes.”

The guy probably thought it would be good to let the kid be alone with his daughter for a few minutes, more like. Though it was hardly something to be worried about seeing as the girl didn’t seem to take after her father when it came to subversiveness.

With all this in mind, Kurogane was surprised when the creep launched the initial attack and managed to very nearly score a clean hit, and the corresponding two points, in the first three seconds. It was a pleasant surprise actually. The man wasn’t all fake smiles and ridiculous antics after all. After narrowly managing to block the offensive, Kurogane refocused and poured his concentration into the task of defeating his opponent.

Their round drug on far longer than Kurogane had expected. His challenger was unusually quick and Kurogane had a hard time landing a single blow as the other man ducked and sidestepped effortlessly away from his every attack. Considering that level of defensive maneuvering, the strangest thing was that the man didn’t have many offensive skills or if he did, decided not to make use of them – not after that first strike. It was annoying as hell. With that kind of speed, surely the man could have bested him by now. Why didn’t he?

With only seconds left before a draw would be declared, Kurogane finally landed a glancing blow across his challenger’s left hand. It was a strange hit. He’d been angry with how the other man wasn’t even trying to score a point. He’d put a lot of force behind the swing completely expecting the other man to dodge. And he did, just not quite as fast as he had been. The wooden sword hit the top of his unprotected hand and the force of the blow carried the hit down across the knuckles. Not a clean hit, but still enough to cause pain. The blond dropped the sword in reaction and Kurogane earned not just the one point for the glancing blow, but also 5 for disarming his opponent.

The crowd cheered his win, but Kurogane was not pleased. He had a sneaking suspicion of why this hit had landed when the rest had not, and he didn’t like it.

By the time Kurogane was stripped of his protective gear, he found that the kid was floundering his side of the conversation with the creep’s daughter.

“Would you like to come watch? I’ll do my best not to let you down.” The poor girl was doing her best to entreat him, not realizing the source of his non-commitment. The kid was so easy to read. Blushing like he’d never seen a girl in a bathing suit before. Or maybe it was just the case that he’d never seen this particular girl so scantily clad.

The prince eventually managed a nod of his head as his reply.

It was just as they were leaving that a new round of sparring began. The first contender was the same ex-guardsman that Kurogane had noticed at the last event. The man’s opponent, an ambiguously dressed…young man?...also looked familiar. The similarities with the child from before were unmistakable. They must be related. The oddest thing though, was the glint of familiar cheap glass from the young man’s hair.

The swimming events were being held in the small lake that bordered the training fields on the south. Seeing as the sparring was being held on the north side of the fields, Kurogane had to follow the annoying father and his daughter along with the prince, past nearly all of the other contests.

As they passed one of the racecourses, Kurogane noticed those odd women who seemed to get a kick out of displaying all of their bodies but those parts that would get them thrown in jail for showing. They were all lagging behind the leader of the race, a more sanely dressed girl who, by the look on her face, wouldn’t likely keep the lead for long. Kurogane took a glance at the course marked out ahead of her. With no finish line in sight, the girl let out the complaint of “never ends!” Kurogane held no sympathy for her. If she didn’t like that the course was so long, she shouldn’t have entered the event in the first place.

They arrived at the lake with only a few minutes to spare. The girl striped off her outer layers of clothes to reveal her swimwear – her father neatly folding the garments over his arm for safekeeping – pulled her hair back as much as possible with a brightly colored piece of string, and went to take her place at the start line. The prince called out to her as she left – a hearty “do your best, Sakura!”

After the officiator’s, “Swimmers: at the ready….GO!” the race began and the kid worked his way to the front of the bystanders so that he could get a better view of the race. Kurogane was tall enough that he could still keep an eye on the kid without having to move. Unfortunately, the swimmer’s dad was also tall enough that he could watch his daughter from where he stood, directly to Kurogane’s right.

The positioning allowed Kurogane a good look at the other man’s injured hand. Small beads of blood were drying across his knuckles, deep blue bruises were already sprouting up all along the back of his hand, and it looked like there might even be some swelling near the index finger where the sword first hit. For all that, the man didn’t utter a word of complaint. His face didn’t betray him either, but it was obvious that he had to be in pain. Kurogane refused to feel guilty.

The swim course was triangular in shape. Competitors started on land at the lake’s edge, swam diagonally away from shore toward an anchored row boat equip with a large yellow flag, turned left and swim to another boat, rounded the second marker and headed back to shore where they had started.

Kurogane managed to hold off until the leader was past the first course marker before he commented. “You did that on purpose.”

“What’s this? What is Kuro-champ saying?”

“What did you just call me? ‘Kuro-ch—’” He choked on the word.

“Kurogane is the winner right? The champion. It makes sense to call him Kuro-champ.”

“Don’t ever call me that again.”

“Okay then. I’m sure there are plenty of other appropriate names for you. But what was that you were saying? I did something on purpose?”

“Earlier. You could have dodged those attacks all day. I don’t appreciate being made a fool of.”

“I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong. I wasn’t making a fool of you.”

“What would you call it then?”

“I was merely highlighting your fine skills. For the audience, of course.”

“I don’t need any help from you.”

“In that case, you have my sincerest apologies. You’ll have to let me make up for this grievous error.”

“I’ll pass.” Kurogane didn’t fail to notice the smug little grin on the bastard’s face.

“If you say so, Kuro-win.”


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