If you've read any of my work you know I write men exclusively . . .until now. Onna Bugeisha is my first attempt at a pivotal female character. Mai is the emperor's sister. The court wants to use her marriage to cement alliances. As for Mai, she wants to be a warrior and is not at all interested in marriage.
Step, slide, twist, swing. Stray beams of light flickered across the blade of the naginata, a counterpoint to the soft shush of bare feet on tatami. Mai shut her eyes and concentrated. The sound of the blade reminded her of wings in flight. She envied the freedom of birds, she couldn't even train openly. Nothing in her life was more hateful than the sneaking around and hiding she had to do. All across Japan, samurai women trained, and even fought, side by side with men. Surely she deserved the same privilege.
Muffled voices resolved as they grew closer. Mai doused the single candle and slipped behind an elaborately carved jade screen. Hiding like a dog, again. Resentment bubbled up inside her, and she forced herself to bottle the urge to strike out at the source, settling instead for eavesdropping. She held her breath, recognizing her brother's airy tones. His patience with her had been growing thin of late, and getting caught listening in on his private discussions would not help her position.
Mai shifted cautiously, trying to get a better angle on the room through the perforations of the screen, and watched her sibling pace back and forth. Concealment was well worth the discomfort of being wedged into such a confined space. Son of Heaven, indeed, she thought with a sniff. If he was a god he would know I was here.
“It's high time you made a match for your sister, Mikado-sama. She will be valuable as a bargaining chip. Perhaps the Shogun is in need of another wife?”
She didn't bother trying to see the speaker. It didn't really matter which one of her brother's so-called councilors it was, they were uniform in their desire to get her safely married and miles away. Mai shivered when the emperor's eyes seemed to meet hers, wondering if his anger would be as much for her state of dress as for her eavesdropping. Of course, subterfuge was to be expected in the palace. A princess dressed like a man, on the other hand, was a serious breach of protocol.
Her options would soon run out. Her brother might love her, but he'd eventually cave in to the suggestions he marry her off. She shuddered at the thought of a life locked away in some man's house. She was descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu as surely as the rest of her clan, and the urge to fight and conquer ran through her veins. Too bad I wasn't born a man, then I'd be emperor and he'd be twisting in the wind waiting for my decisions.
Of course, she immediately regretted her harsh thoughts. She loved her brother and hated the thought of disappointing him. Perhaps I should start giving some thought to who I would be open to marrying, she mused. If I choose wisely it might not be so bad.
Mai immediately crossed the Shogun off her list. True, he wielded real power, but he was also an old man, one who preferred his women docilely locked up at home awaiting his return. That wasn't the future she wanted. After a lifetime cooped up in the palace under lock and key she longed for the freedom to come and go as she pleased. Of course, that same reasoning also excluded all of the daimyo from her consideration.
She scooted back from the screen, curling into the corner while the discussion droned on and concentrating on the issue at hand. One by one she considered, and rejected, the prime candidates. Surely there must be one man in the entire country she wouldn't despise as a husband. And then it came to her and Mai smiled.