A Rurouni Kenshin fanfiction by Heather Logan
(Disclaimer: This was written for fun, not profit. Kenshin belongs to Nobuhiro Watsuki.)
In the ninth year of Meiji,
in the middle of winter,
our tale begins....
Kenshin walked down the narrow dirt road that skirted the edge of the town, a gentle smile on his face but just a touch of anxiety showing in the corners of his eyes. He had almost cut it too close this time. It was a cold morning, but the fog had lifted since dawn, leaving the sky a bright robin's-egg blue. The early sunlight was streaming down strong and white and blazing red off the back of Kenshin's head.
Normally he tried not to travel during the winter. The storms made it harder to get around and more dangerous to sleep in the open, and it wasn't as easy to find work on short notice during the off-season. He had thought he'd found a place to spend the winter, an inn in a large town on a major trade route that had needed an extra hand for the season, but that had been before the, ah, unfortunate incident. Kenshin had left cross-country in the middle of the night, heading north and then west across the mountains. That had been six weeks ago.
A gust of wind hit him in the face, bringing with it the smell of the sea and a faint echo of gulls. Kenshin shivered and crossed his arms, tucking his fingers into the sleeves of his pink gi. He had his wide blue scarf wrapped around his neck and shoulders and tucked into the front of his gi; normally it would have been enough, but he was still chilled from the night before.
His mistake had been trying to cross the mountains. Mountain villages were always hit hard by winter, even in the best of years, and none could afford to support a stranger. After the first week he'd bought nothing but cheap-grade rice, trying to stretch out his meager funds as long as possible. And it was harder than he'd thought to find wild foods in the mountains this time of year. The edible greens were gone by now and the first of the bulbs weren't up yet. The squirrels had gotten most of the nuts, though he had found a few, and at one point he'd come across a river deep enough to be unfrozen and managed to catch a few fish. The last of his rice had run out five days ago.
The road dipped and rounded a line of buildings, and suddenly he was in the open, at the edge of a large cobbled plaza above the harbor. The town was big enough and far enough south that the harbor was active even at this time of year. It was mostly fishing boats, back already from their early morning runs, bobbing and splashing at the water's edge while gangs of large cheerful men hauled laden dripping baskets and gulls swarmed madly overhead. Kenshin's smile widened and his eyes sparkled. It surprised him sometimes how much he enjoyed it, just watching people going about their daily lives.
The last few days he had pushed himself as hard as he could, starting off in the mornings at the first hint of dawn and walking long past the end of twilight, anything to get down out of the mountains and back to civilization. He'd finally come in sight of the sea late yesterday afternoon. After a brief stop by a creek on the hill above the town to wash and make himself a bit more presentable, he'd put on a smile and gone in search of work. This was standard practice. After eight years of wandering, he had it down to an art. He'd started with the larger inns and restaurants in the center of town, offering dish-washing or laundry or whatever needed doing in exchange for a meal and a roof for the night.
As the last of the twilight was fading over the sea, early still though the days had started to get noticeably longer, he'd finally had some luck at a smallish restaurant on the edge of the warehouse district above the harbor. The proprietress hadn't had any work to spare herself -- winter was still the slow season, even in a harbor town of this size -- but she'd sent Kenshin over to her brother at one of the warehouses. He ran a small import-export trade in partnership with one of the merchant shippers, and his usual lifting-and-carrying boy had taken off the previous week with his family to visit his grandmother in the next village up the coast. Unfortunately, however, the ship wasn't to arrive until this morning, as Kenshin had learned only after spending half an hour wandering among blocks of identical warehouses before finding the one he was looking for. He'd felt a twinge of disappointment, but pushed it aside. These people were doing their best. Morning would be fine.
Tired already from the long day of walking, he'd gone back up to the hill above town and set up camp by the light of the half-moon. He'd had a lot of experience with going hungry during his early childhood and again in the years since he'd become a rurouni, and he knew one more day wouldn't kill him. He found that after the first couple of days he didn't even feel hungry any more, just weak and a bit light-headed. So he had slept, albeit poorly, and waited for morning. He'd woken at dawn chilled to the bone, his slowing metabolism unable to keep up with the heat loss. It had taken him half an hour huddled over a hastily built fire before he'd stopped shivering.
A seagull landed near him and inspected him with one shiny black eye, then hopped off across the cobblestones. Time to get to work. Kenshin took a deep breath and turned, scanning the edge of the water off to his right. At the end of the line of fishing boats were a couple of larger ships -- the merchants, he guessed. He set off briskly towards them.