Amery managed not to choke on her tea. “You mean a hermit. Someone who doesn’t leave the house.”
“Yes, a hermit.”
Yasuji used chopsticks to pick up a morsel and popped it in his mouth.
Her chopsticks skills had improved since she’d married Ronin. She chose the marshmallow cookie. It wasn’t as sweet as American desserts but it was still tasty.
“So are you here to visit Ronin?”
“I assume there’s a ‘no observation’ rule here as it’s a rule my husband has implemented at his dojo.”
“That is not an answer,” Yasuji chided with humor.
“Yes, since it’s the last day of this first training session, I hoped to watch him so I have some idea of what he’s been doing these last three weeks.”
“Ronin doesn’t tell you?”
Amery snorted. “Are you kidding? He never divulges his secret ninja stuff. Not that I haven’t asked.” She sent him a sly look. “Or tried to get a sneak peek.”
“You get in trouble for breaking the dojo rules in America,” he guessed.
“Once in a while. Gotta keep Master Black on his toes. Besides, his punishment for breaking his rules can be very creative.” Amery froze. Had she really just blurted that out?
Yasuji laughed—a real gut-buster. “Ah, Amery-san. You are the perfect match for Hachidan. A woman who challenges him.”
“He challenges me too. He has from the moment we met.”
His dark brown eyes twinkled. “Shall we break some rules and watch him train?”
“Is this a trick question?”
“No. I’ve been interested to see what torture my brother has been putting him through.”
She hadn’t seen that one coming. “Master Daichi is your brother?”
“Older,” he clarified. “I moved in with him after my wife died. She’s been gone ten years. It seems like ten lifetimes.” He pushed up from the table. “Come. Let’s adjourn to the training center.” He pointed to the door. “You’ll need your shoes.”
They exited into a gorgeous Zen garden—the largest private one she’d seen. How tempted she was to sink into the moss beneath the flowering trees and drink in the serenity. As they crossed the pebbled path, she noticed many of the trees had been trimmed to bonsai. “This space is astounding.”
“This is part of the reason I came back here. My wife, Rikya, designed this.” Yasuji pointed to a structure within a grove of trees. “Here we are.”
On the outside the training center looked like a small shrine. As soon as she stepped inside, her jaw dropped. The two-story room was eight-sided. Pegs, ropes, spikes, and hooks were scattered at random intervals from the floor to the ceiling. Modern sparring mats covered the floor.
In the center of the room, two enormous pieces of wood, at least a foot in diameter, were braced on the floor and rose up twenty feet. A thick beam separated the two pieces at the top. Gouged into the backside, every twelve inches, were steel brackets that stuck out three or four inches.
Just as she turned to ask Yasuji what it was, voices echoed to them from a hallway off to the left. She recognized Ronin’s voice, although his inflections were different when he spoke Japanese.
Before she could call out, Yasuji pulled her behind a spiked tree and put his fingers to his lips.
As always, her heart beat a little harder at seeing her husband. And she really, really loved seeing him like this, in full-on Master Black mode.
Ronin’s hair had been pulled back into a samurai ponytail; secured high at the back of his head, but leaving longer sections of hair beneath. He wore a white gi, no patches or ornamentation. No belt. He clutched a metal rod in one hand and a towel in the other.
Then her gaze moved to the man speaking to Ronin.
Master Daichi looked—there wasn’t a PC way to say it—ancient. He wore a black gi top that had faded to the same dull gray as his hair. His pants were wide; the fabric bagged around his legs. His black belt wasn’t simple, but heavily adorned.
Speaking in a taunting, singsongy tone, he gestured to Ronin, then to the apparatus in front of them and snatched the towel from Ronin’s hand.
Ronin swung the steel metal bar around like a staff, circling Master Daichi, keeping the rod in constant motion as he crouched and jumped. Twisting and turning his body one way, letting the rod function as a third arm. When he swung, air whistled through the metal. She held her breath as each strike came closer to Sensei’s head.
But Master Daichi didn’t flinch. Or blink. Or close his eyes. He remained statue-still.
On the next swing, Ronin sliced down like he held a katana. Sensei used the towel to trap Ronin’s leg. In a nanosecond Master Daichi had Ronin immobilized on the floor with the rod pressed against Ronin’s face.
One time Deacon had done a move on her like that.
Did it embarrass Ronin as much as it’d embarrassed her?
Ronin stayed still as his teacher delivered a lecture. Then he offered a hand and helped Ronin to his feet. He handed him the metal rod.
She pointed to the wooden tower that Ronin had moved to stand in front of and whispered, “What is that?” to Yasuji.
“It’s called the salmon ladder. Haven’t you ever seen one?”
She shook her head.
“They’re popular in those ninja warrior competitions on TV. Almost all of those obstacle-course challenges were taken from advanced martial arts training exercises.”