A Brother's Grief
Just as the old year had passed into the new, Kenshin's sister had died.
It was a bitter way to greet the year, or was it just a bitter a way for the new year to greet them? Whatever one's point of view, Kenshin's people were dying.
He could keenly hear silent wails of the dragon parts of his village. Kenshin's sister had been well-loved by all, but had been a great hope for the future as a brilliant, brave, strong, healthy female that would have been capable of bearing many just as brilliant, brave, strong, and healthy pups.
She had been close to coming of age, but now she never would. It was a dragon's way to grieve in silence while in public, and only to cry when alone, and the human parts of Kenshin's village, including himself, behaved no differently. But he could still feel them, outside, their heavy gazes, heavy hearts, as loudly as if they cried out and beat against the walls of his home in their mourning.
He sat with her body in the cabin they had shared for nearly as long as he could remember. She was his only family, had taken him in, adopted him, raised him, loved him. Though highly respected by their village, she had had an anti-social tendency that she had not intended to pass on to her little brother, but had nonetheless. Kenshin, fourteen years old, had adopted his sister's way of giving help where it was needed, but never his friendship very lightly, except to those he trusted mightily. He had a master who taught him the sword. And he had his sister, who had taught him many other things, remedies for his wounds, the reading and writing that was not much needed or practiced in his world, and numbers and ciphering. She had even felt it important to teach him to cook and sew, even if that was womanly work, insisting to him he might find himself without a woman to do it for him someday.
Wise sister. Brave sister. Beloved sister.
His tears fell on her sweet face, pale and peaceful in her death as he lovingly braided her favorite ribbon into her hair. The ribbon was yellow. She loved the color yellow. He straightened the seashell necklace he had made for her as a child on her throat. He had dressed her body in her favorite clothes as well. Her favorites, the clothes she liked to wear, as opposed to a more beautiful or ceremonial garb that she would have refused to put on while she was alive. Soft-yellow buckskin, no longer new and a bit frayed. But she would have been so pleased with his choice.
His breath came out in the softest echoes of sobs as he placed her sewing kit at her side. Her hands were as good with the stave and spear as they had been with the delicate uses of her needlework, an outlet for her endless creativity, her talents. She told stories with nothing more than cloth and thread, and not one home in their village didn't have a wall-hanging created by her, and fewer still did not wear a garment she had made, popular because of her eye for color and brilliance of design.
He gazed at her for a timeless moment, remembering how he had adored her as a small, spindly-legged child, following her wherever she went, his hand ever seeking hers. How freely she had given her attention, putting aside whatever she was doing to grab him up and tickle him, to help correct the writing he was practicing, to watch as he showed her his new kata. Never too busy. Never frustrated. Never impatient.
Kenshin felt himself falling forward until his forehead rested on her chest. He cried quietly, shaking all over. It didn't matter. No one could see, and even if they could, he wouldn't have cared. Traditions be damned, the one who loved him the most in this world was dead.
Yet he hoped even as he dampened the cloth of her favorite shirt, that this was a bad dream. That she would hear his tears and put her arms, warm with life, around his thin shoulders, assure him that all was well as she had when he was a child.
But she did not. Her flesh, underneath her clothing, was cold.
The wounds, he had seen them when he was preparing her body. Funerals were a very, very private affair to his people, and only he was permitted to touch her body after she had been brought home to him.
What was supposed to be a simple hunt, a leisurely little large-game stalk a wily dragon such as she occasionally went on to keep her skills sharp and her bloodlust in check, had gone horribly wrong when a large group of the Enemy had spotted her.
She was strong, but they were many. What they did to her, oh, what they did to her--!
Kenshin clung to her, a strained cry of grief escaping through his clenched teeth. His people had lived too far in the higher lands for the New People to have been much of a concern until recently. They came from across the sea, from other continents. It had been fine…at first. Much of the land was made up of vast stretches of unclaimed, untamed wilderness, bursting with life, danger, and adventure. There was plenty of room for the strangers from far away.
But the world they were from apparently had no dragons. Though powerful, intelligent, wise, and equipped with abilities humans didn't have, all-too-often they found themselves cornered by masses, being hunted out of fear, or for their strength and durability to slave labor, and especially for the properties of their bodies. Furry dragons had medicinal humors in their bodies, and reptile dragons had poisonous, both of which were useful if there was need for either.
The humans of Kenshin's people and the dragons of Kenshin's people had lived in harmony, together, since the beginning of time, before the Enemy came. His own sweet sister was a dragon!
They were his people, and they were suffering under these strangers, who thought themselves superior. They even ridiculed and enslaved the humans of Kenshin's kind, with similar vicious zeal. And his people had been driven away from their usual homes, especially the mountains…
He had been terribly young when his sister had carried him away from a childhood home there, wrapped in blankets against the winter chill. He had looked back over the snowy hills from over her shoulder as she walked with the group, her strong body supporting their supplies and belongings as well as himself. She had cried then. Making no sound, as was their way, but she could feel the shudders in her body.
She hated to run. Despised not staying and fighting for what was hers. But the strangers came in masses in their ships, and they had strange weapons that weren't readily understood. She had a small brother that needed her. And most of all, the woman who had been their leader back then had believed in trying the ways of peace before trying the ways of war.
Well, the way of peace had failed!
They killed his sister!
Kenshin's eyes were hot but dry as he wrapped her body in a robe. Over this, he placed tanned hide and secured it all with rawhide thongs to form a solid bundle.
She had never liked the dark, and the urge to tear the coverings from her face to give her back the light was strong. Always she had hated the dark! It wouldn't be right to bury her in the eternal blackness of the ground. Kenshin would take her to the lake, he decided. A great lake to the west that she had loved. He would carry her body into the waters and let her go. Through the depths, sunlight would always find her. Yes, it was better that way.
The former leader's efforts for peace had gotten her killed years before, and Kenshin's own sword master, Hiko, had been coerced by the village into taking over. A man even more anti-social than Sis, he had not exactly been happy with being rousted into the position, but he was wise, strong, calm, and could gain control of any situation with his glare alone. One had to admit that he was a good choice, and reluctant or not, he would protect those that needed him.
Kenshin felt his master's eyes on him as he carried his sister's body from their home, and gently laid her over their horse. He didn't look to his master, though, as he rode out. Hiko and his sister had never really gotten along, and the last thing he needed right now was any careless or ungentle words of her.
It wasn't far to the lake, but Kenshin didn't hurry. Her body was cold and stiff beneath her covering, but he didn't care. He held her to him. His big sister, as she had held him once. As she never would again.
No one followed him. Funerals were private, reserved for kin only, unless the deceased had no kin, and then everyone who wished could attend the placing of him or her to rest. Even if he was adopted, even if he was human and she dragon, he was her brother and everyone had always accepted that. This was his to do, alone.
The lake, the deepness into which his sister fell…he had chosen the sunniest spot he could find, where he knew she would sink deeply into the secretive crags of the water and her rest be undisturbed for all time. He would remember it for all of his life, but it would not be what he was thinking of as he made a slow journey home.
He was alone now. A sad smile appeared on his young face as he let the tears stream down. After this last time, there would never be a need to cry again. He was young, but there was nothing more he could lose.
He would do as his sister had once wanted to do. He would fight. He would fight the Enemy, the strangers. The New People would come to know fear as his people did. Even if they trembled at the sound of his name, and his life and death would come in the same legends as demons, he would find a way to protect his own people.
There were still those, in the hills, that had not been driven away, but under. They had hollowed out many secret places, and they fought. Losing, winning, all that mattered was the fight. Most of them were dragons, but there were a few skilled humans, like himself. He would go to them, he decided.
Strange, how Hiko seemed to know of the decision before Kenshin had even made it. The argument had chosen itself to occur right outside Kenshin's home. Although his cabin was at the farthest end of the village, closest to the road leading into the trees, there were enough people in hearing range for several heads to peer out of windows and doorways to observe the explosive row between master and student.
Observers would remember their last glimpse of young Kenshin standing with his fist gripping the reins of his horse, which was draped with a couple of war bags filled with his supplies. The boy's sword was at his side. Hiko, as always wearing the mantle of three hundred years of the tradition of his sword style, was as furious as they would ever see him.
"You're not going!"
"She wouldn't want this, Kenshin! Your sister didn't raise you for this! I didn't train you for this!"
"If not for this, then for what? People are suffering, Master! They're afraid! Why should I turn my back on them, when one man with courage could make a difference?"
"I don't see a man! I see a brokenhearted boy who's about to make stupid mistake. Idiot. If she was here right now, she'd beat you until you couldn't stand up!"
"Sis never laid a hand on me in anger!"
"So why don't you take example from her and not lay your hands on people in anger?"
"You'll not try to use her against me!"
"Idiot! Why can't you understand? Your one sword can't stop the New People from coming any more than it can stop the waves from crashing against the land! You can't drive them away!"
"They aren't here to live peacefully! They're here to slaughter, butcher and enslave people! I have to help!"
So then this circular argument went until the sun hung low in the sky, and both Brothers of Dragons seemed to give up on each other. Hiko, with angry steps returned to his cabin on the hill at the other end of the village.
And Kenshin led his horse away, abandoning his own cabin. No one ever moved into that cabin after he left. Some, because they hoped he would come back, but most others because there was no one who could bear the reminder that they were both gone, and had taken their light with them.