War is War – Chapter One – General Tao Ren
Ren sighed. He hated to admit it, but he was bored. Here he was in Tao mansion, waiting for his orders. Him, THE General Tao Ren, commander of all China's armies, prince and heir to this great empire…WAITING. He stopped tapping his fingers on the desk in favor of banging a fist on it. He stood and decided to rediscover the large house he'd grown up in. He strolled for an hour or two around the palace, and found himself in his old childhood dining room, where there appeared to be a ruckus.
"What is the meaning of this?" he asked in a stern, cold tone, taking in the scene before him. One of the overseers was holding a whip, preparing to strike another blow onto the back of a sobbing servant who was being held still by two other overseers.
"Gomen nasai! Gomen nasai!" the servant kept screaming in Japanese as tears streamed down his face.
"Silence, you! You're in the presence of his majesty!" the overseer with the whip hissed, making to hit him again until Ren held up a hand.
"Tell me, what has he done to earn such treatment?" he asked calmly.
"He works at a snail's pace and fell asleep on the job, sire." Came the reply.
Ren turned his attention to the crying one. A scrap of cloth kept his light blue hair out of his face. His pants were torn and so was his shirt, which was on the floor in a heap, obviously too large for him. His ribs stuck out painfully from lack of food and the dark rings under his eyes indicated his lack of sleep. Blisters were forming on his hands and feet and his back bore scars from past beatings, as well as fresh, bright red marks from the whip.
"Unhand him." Ren ordered, and the boy was dropped roughly.
"Leave us. I'll see to it he finds sufficient energy to complete his tasks." The overseers grinned, thinking Ren would punish him harshly.
"Leave us." Ren ordered again, and when they were alone, he knelt down beside the servant boy.
"G-Gomen nasai, Tao-sama…gomen nasai." The voice cracked and sniffled. Ren reached out a hand and lightly ran his fingers over a burning red whip-lash, flinching when he felt the body tense in pain.
"Come with me." He muttered, standing and returning to his room, where a feast was set up for his lunch. He turned back and saw the boy standing slightly crouched in the doorway, eyes lowered and pale as a ghost.
Ren grabbed a loaf of bread from a platter and went over, reaching out to hand it to the servant, who suddenly threw up his hands over his head defensively and snapped his eyes shut, crouching back further. Ren pulled back slightly.
"What did you think I was going to do, hit you?" he asked, taken aback. The boy lowered his arms slightly and nodded a bit, his large blue eyes cautiously looking Ren up and down. Ren's eyes softened.
"No one will harm you as long as you remain innocent. Here, take this. Eat." He reached the bread out again. The servant lowered his eyes guiltily.
"W-What Nudd-sama said was truth, Tao-sama." He bit his lip as he spoke in broken Chinese. "I fell asleep scrubbing the floor." Ren blinked.
"That does not make you a criminal. Look at yourself. You're practically skin and bones, you're beaten and bruised, you're exhausted and over-exerted. What kind of future ruler would I be if I first made you unfit to work and then punished you for it? I would not deprive a soldier of food and sleep and expect him to win in a fight. I aim to help my people. I'm giving you the means to do your work well, and when you are fit I expect you to do it to the best of your abilities. Now eat." The general spoke in fluent Japanese, holding out the bread again. The other eyed it suspiciously.
"It's not poisoned." The Chinese broke off part of it, swallowed it, and pressed the rest into the servant's hand. Suddenly the boy was choking it down faster than humanly possible.
"Woah! Don't hurt yourself. You have all the time you need, and you can have as much as you want." When the bluenette had slowed down, Ren seated himself on his huge bed, patting the spot next to him. The servant stared with huge eyes.
"Tao-sama, you're very generous, but I can't possibly…" the boy made a gesture to his dirty attire.
"Nonsense. The sheets will be changed either way. Sit." Ren ordered.
"Now…what's your name?" he asked when the other had obeyed.
"Horokeu Usui, Tao-sama." He answered.
"Well then, Horokeu, how is it you came to work here?"
"Well, Tao-sama, it's a long story. When I was five I was stolen from my home by invading Japanese. For many days I was dragged with them as they traveled the countryside, attacking villages in their wake. We reached the coast and I was put aboard a ship bound for China, where the men sold me into slavery. I've passed from courtier to courtier since then, and have been here in the palace for quite some time now." Ren was surprised at the tale this slave boy had told him. It went against every moral he had and yet he knew it was not only true but a common practice, and there was nothing he could do against it. He sighed heavily.
"An unfortunate reality…I tell you this, so long as I am master of this house you will no longer be treated as cruelly as I have seen today. You shall hereby be my personal attendant." The Ainu's eyes widened and shot up to stare into the general's eyes.
"Truly, Tao-sama?" This proposition seemed far too good to be true.
"Truly, and stop calling me that. You may refer to me by my first name." Horokue's eyes were large as saucers by now.
"I could never…"
"Nonsense, if you must you may call me formally when in the presence of others, to avoid being thought disrespectful, but when it is only me, call me by my name."
"Didn't I just say it's not necessary?"
"I'm sorry, it's just…I…I don't KNOW your first name, Tao-sama…" Ren blinked and then smiled, and soon the smile had turned into a grin, and then an all-out laugh, he found that much amusement in the situation.
"My, that would be a predicament, wouldn't it?" his golden eyes danced with mirth. "It's Ren."