From chapter 1:
The teahouse wall on his right dropped off from a stockade to a stone wall no higher than his chest, and over it he could see the gardens. One area, almost at the very end, was lit with paper lanterns, and he wondered who could be out there. The gardens were rarely used in the night. He was only mildly curious and wouldn't have gone out of his way to find out, but since he was passing it anyway, he took a look.
Hikaru would later call that look "fate," or "destiny," but he never would. Geishas were superstitious, and he wasn't. It was simple coincidence and curiosity, and nothing more. However, he did look, and while he would have denied the idea that it changed his life, it did change one aspect of it drastically.
A woman was there, a geisha, alone beside a tiny tea table, humming softly to herself, and she was so beautiful that, without realizing it, he stopped to stare at her. Even under the traditional white make-up that could conceal as much as it decorated, her features were lovely, and her wide mouth needed no exaggeration for the lower lip to pout invitingly. She was very tall for a woman, slender and supple, her kimono fitting perfectly, smoothly to her shape, rich in shades of purple with a dragon winding along the length, its outline highlighted with silver thread. The ornaments in her elaborately dressed hair sparkled in the light of the lamps. She was standing, poised, with a wisteria blossom cupped in one hand, the fingers of the other hand tracing the edge of the flower. Even just humming, her voice was low and sweetly musical.
He couldn't stop staring at her, and at the same time was angry with himself for being so captivated. This was a teahouse girl, nothing more, and he was a future Master of the Hiten Mitsurugi style. She should be of no interest to him. She'll probably pluck that blossom and tuck it in her obi or her hair, he thought, unconsciously wishing she'd do something like that, something so obviously female and silly that she wouldn't seem magical to him and he could walk away.
She leaned her face to the blossom, let it touch her cheek, then opened her hand and released it as she might have released a small wild bird. Smiling in some private happiness, she turned and saw him, leaning there on the wall. After a blink of surprise, she smiled again, mostly with her eyes, which were large and dark and as soft as the wisteria petals. "Hello." She bowed, then tilted her head, studying him. "Don't I know you?"
"No." He straightened, ready to back away. He felt odd inside, as if he were hollow, and it was an unpleasant sensation.
She gestured toward the tea table. "Would you like some tea? Or sake, perhaps?"
Had she left it at tea, he might have been able to leave. But he dearly loved sake, a taste he'd developed as a child. Since becoming an apprentice, he'd had it exactly twice, both times when he'd done some attack move so exceptionally well that he'd broken through his Master's guard. The idea of drinking teahouse sake, which was always the best, held him there as if nailed. But he knew it was useless even dreaming about it. He had no money at all, never mind what it would cost to drink sake at a teahouse with what must be one of their best geisha.
He'd always been one to attack sooner than defend, and she'd set him so off-stride that he spoke with deliberate rudeness to counteract her effect on him, folding his arms on his chest and telling her straight out that he had no money.
"I didn't ask you for money," she said in that sweet, calm voice.
This made him even more surly. "Besides, it would have to be excellent sake for me to waste my time with a woman like you. You're not even all that pretty."
"You don't think I'm pretty?"
"Not at all." It was one of the biggest lies he'd ever told in a lifetime which, although short, had known many lies.
"Then you don't want me to flirt with you or entertain you?"
"It would be a waste of your time and mine."
He was so sure she would be angry that her delighted laughter took him entirely by surprise. "Well, how wonderful. I am trying to relax a little, you see. Will you come and drink sake with me, and we will just talk? Or be silent, if you wish. It is very good sake," she added roguishly.