A tall youth with vibrant red hair tied up on his head swung the wooden practice sword down onto that of the younger girl before him. She braced her small feet into the grass and pushed up with all her might, causing the boy to fall off balance and slam into the ground. In a last attempt to defy her, he swung his legs underneath hers, causing her to join him on the green grass, flattened from the past half hour of their sparring. The girl stretched out her limbs and lay silently, her chest heaving from the strain on her muscles. Her companion sat up and laughed loudly.
“I guess I lose again then. Dammit Rukia, the boys at the academy had better not be as tough as you or I’m a goner!” the girl laughed half-heartedly and blinked her big, indigo eyes up at the blue sky above her. Lady Rukia Kuchiki was small, even for her age of only 11; slender in build with delicate arms and lily white hands that demonstrated her to be of noble birth. Long dark hair framed a petite face that could not be called anything but lovely. Yet even with all the delicacy and elegance that she possessed, there was a certain fierceness in the set of her small, pink mouth, and her eyes that dared anyone to cross her.
Her friend dropped his head onto the grass next to her, breathing in the warm summer breeze that rifled through the abundant leaves of the oak’s that surrounded them. Renji Abarai was the son of the head guardsman at the Kuchiki estate. The two of them had grown up together as playmates, with Renji as the official companion stated by her brother, Sir Byakuya Kuchiki, the knighted lord of the Kuchiki land that spread 1000 acres inland of the kingdom of Seireitei. They had been constant companions since their seventh year, with the longest amount of separation between them being a month. But, at the end of summer, that would all change.
“I’m going to miss you, Rukia,” Renji commented morosely. “It’s not going to be any fun there without you.”
Rukia rolled onto her stomach to glare at him, “Not any fun? Renji, you get to train to become a Knight! You will learn how to properly wield a sword and ride a horse, and joust, and how it feels to carry a shield and protect those you love in battle! While I will be tortured at the Temple of the Goddess with how to become a Lady and run a household.”
“At least you will be safe! I will be lucky to come back alive next summer.” Renji grumbled.
“I think I will probably die of boredom before you die in a battle.” She replied dryly. Renji chuckled. “I don’t understand why I can’t come with you. Why can’t girls become Knight’s as well? Why can’t I fight to protect those I love? If we ever get invaded here, all I will be able to do is stand by the sidelines, ushering women and children into the protection of the castle, and watching the men of the town be slaughtered.”
“Don’t worry Rukia, if this place ever gets attacked, I will be there to save you,” he grinned, ducking the slap she sent in his direction. “Besides, everyone knows girls aren’t as capable as men in war. You’re too weak and susceptible to emotion.”
“Weak am I? Have you ever won a sparring match against me?”
“Well no, but I’ve been going easy on you. As if I would use my full strength on a delicate little butterfly like you.” This time her fist made contact with his head. “Ouch! I’m sorry I’m sorry! I’m just making a point!”
She glared at him and rested her chin on the blades of grass that tickled her nose, “Well I would go to the Academy, just to prove that girls can do it too.”
“My lady Rukia, my lady Rukia!” The two youths stood up quickly and dusted themselves off as a young servant boy came into view. He came to a halt in front of them and bowed low to Rukia and nodded at Renji who nodded back. “Ahem, my lady Rukia. My lord Byakuya requests your presence immediately.” Rukia gasped, and, lifting up her skirts, ran as fast as she could from the training yard and into the castle.
“Thanks Rikichi,” Renji said to the younger boy. He threw him the practice swords and pelted after her.
Rukia slowed down as she reached the large wooden door of her brother’s study chamber. She smoothed her skirts and hair, catching her breath so that she would look as presentable as possible. She heard footsteps behind her and turned to see Renji beside her. She smiled gratefully at him and nodded at the guard at the door. He pushed it open.
“My lord Kuchiki, I present your sister, lady Rukia.” Rukia glided into the well-carpeted study, followed by the much less graceful Renji. It was a large room of panelled wood covered with many ornate book shelves laden with leather-bound books embossed in gold. Tapestries depicting scenes of battles were hung on the walls, and a large portrait of Rukia’s deceased sister, Hisana, suspended behind Byakuya’s desk.
“You called my lord?” Rukia asked, curtseying deeply to the man at the desk. He was handsome for his age of 32, with long, silky black hair left hanging around his stately, proud shoulders. He wore a blue velvet vest embroidered with silver leaves over a white silk shirt and black breeches with sturdy black boots. His very air was elegant and graceful, with a steely coldness surrounding him that resembled Rukia’s own pride and grace.
He raised his hand to them, allowing both Rukia and Renji to rise from their respective bows. “I was under the impression I called for Rukia only, not Rukia and her dog,” he stated coolly, appraising Renji with an ice-grey gaze. Renji flushed and bowed again, muttering his apologies. “No matter, as this is your last week here I shall make an exception.” He stopped for a moment, taking hold of a piece of parchment, his eyes scanning it quickly. “It seems there has been a mistake, Rukia,” he continued, appraising her.
She gulped, “Mistake, my lord?”
“Indeed. Somehow, the royal administration has made the mistake of considering you to be a boy, and has sent me a letter accepting you into the Royal Academy for Knights.” Rukia barely hid her gasp of surprise, and sent a quick look to Renji who shrugged, looking just as confused as she felt. “I cannot imagine how it happened. Obviously word of your…unlady-like habits…must have reached them,” Byakuya said coolly, eyeing the grass and mud stains tainting her blue satin dress. Rukia turned a vibrant cherry-red that rivalled Renji’s own hair. “I am far too busy at the present time to be correcting this mistake, as such, I shall leave it to you to take this to Sir Abarai and have this fixed; it will be a good opportunity for you to practice diplomacy. Is that clear?”
Rukia took the letter from her brother, noting that her name on the title was written as Ruka instead of Rukia, and trying to keep her face neutral, “Quite clear my lord.”
Byakuya nodded, and sent them from the study, immersing himself in taxes as soon as the two had bowed and curtsied respectfully. The door shut behind them and Renji glanced down at his friend, worried at what he would find. He gulped as he saw the shining light in her violet eyes, and the soft smile that meant nothing but trouble.
“Renji,” she murmured in a voice he knew only too well.
“No. Absolutely not. No!” he refused, shaking his head and walking away from her. “We’re going to take that to my father right now!”
Rukia trotted after him, lifting her skirts with a huff, “But Renji, this is perfect! It’s like the God’s were smiling down on me.”
He didn’t slow down, “I’m fairly sure your brother would find out in some way or another, he’s not an idiot.”
Rukia grabbed his arm and pulled him to a niche in the wall that allowed light from a diamond-panelled window into the dark corridor. “Just listen to me. I’ll cut my hair – I said listen,” she snapped as he began to open his mouth, “I have a fairly deep voice for a girl anyway, everyone says so, and we’ll just make sure brother doesn’t find out.”
“Alright yes, you do have a bit of a manly aura about you, but that’s going to change pretty soon. What happens when you start going through…you know…girl stuff, and you turn into a woman?”
“I’ll take that when it comes,” she deferred stubbornly.
“Uhuh, and what about when all the other guys start going through puberty and getting deeper voice and getting really big and muscular? At least one of them is bound to notice when you’re voice doesn’t break, and when you start to get curves and-” he broke off as a servant walked past them, bowing as he did so.
Rukia interjected before Renji could start again, “Alright so what if everyone thinks I’m a late bloomer?” Renji opened his mouth but she cut him off again. “How old am I?”
He glared at her before answering reluctantly, “11… ”
“And how long do we train to become knights?”
He crossed his arms, “4 years.”
“Which will make me?”
“Exactly! There are lots of boys who don’t go through their growth until 16, and I’ll deal with…girl stuff…when it comes,” she concluded triumphantly.
Her friend raised his eyebrow, still unconvinced, “And what if you become a squire, and then a knight? Are you still going to pretend to be a boy, because once you get past 16, people are definitely going to notice?”
Rukia chewed her bottom lip, “Well…I suppose I’ll have to tell my knight and hope he’s an understanding man. And I’ll reveal that I’m a girl once I have my shield, because then they can’t take it away from me.”
Renji sighed, if she went through with this, and from what he knew of her extreme stubbornness, she would, there were just too many things that could go wrong. For one, if she was discovered, she could potentially be executed; it had been done in the past. For another, she was a girl, plain and simple. And girls did not develop the same strength boys did; she would have to work twice as hard to even catch up to the boys, and for a girl who had grown up with not a single day of work in her life, that would be extremely difficult. Not to mention if she somehow managed to get through the 4 years of gruelling page training and the next 4 of being a squire, what would happen when she reached knighthood and was discovered? Would all those years be for nothing?
Rukia could see the inner debate going on from the blank look his brown eyes were giving her, “Renji,” she said quietly, looking up at her only friend. “Please. I can’t go to the Temple and become a lady, I just can’t. You won’t have to miss me now, we can work together. You know I’m good enough, and I’ll work really hard I promise! Please!”
He looked down at the pleading look in her blue eyes and turned away, feeling his cheeks growing warm; it was embarrassing and indecent for his lady to look at him like that.
“Do you want me to order you?” she threatened.
“Ugh fine!” he cried, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “Alright I will help you!”
“Really?” she exclaimed, flinging her arms around his neck happily.
“Yes! But you had better know what you are doing, and if you get in trouble, don’t expect for me to be there to help you! And get off me!” he grumbled, pushing her arms off him half-heartedly.
Rukia released him, suddenly remembering her position and smoothing her dress in an attempt to become calm. She smiled at him, “My thanks for your cooperation Renji Abarai, when I become lady knight of the Kuchiki land, I shall be sure to offer you a token of my appreciation.”
“Yeah well, it had better be a ruddy big token,” he grumbled.
“Would your own flag suffice?” she asked, making her way down the hallway, her fingers clenched tightly on the paper.
“My own flag?” he exclaimed, jogging after her. “I think I deserve my own castle!”
“Now that’s too much,” she chided gently, side-stepping his half-hearted punch. “How about your own farm house, you can even have a cow?”
“Oh good, I’ll name it after you.” For the second time that day, he missed the punch to his nose.