Chapter 1: Childhood
The little girl was lying in the sweet-scented garden flowers when she heard a rustling in the bushes. She looked up, alarmed, but as she did so the movement and noise stopped. She laid back down again, stretching, feeling the sunshine on her face, lost in dreams of fairy-tales. She sighed and was about to let herself drift off to sleep when –
She heard a fierce battle cry and felt something heavy land on her chest, pinning her to the ground.
It was her little sister, grinning, twigs and leaves tangled in her untamable hair. Her face was smudged with dirt, but she looked like nothing made her happier than scaring her big sister half to death.
Her big sister did not take so kindly to it.
"Get off!" she shrieked. "Don't do that!" Kohana – that was her full name – pushed her five-year-old sister off of her chest and stood up, putting her hands on her hips. "You're unbearably annoying!" she said with as much indignation as her high-pitched, eight-year-old voice could muster.
"Aww, Koko, I was just playing!" her little sister replied, her eyes wide and innocent.
"Well I don't like it!" Kohana said. "Look at you," she added, examining her sister. "You look like a forest urchin!"
"I'm queen of the garden!" The little girl corrected, puffing out her chest and striking a regal pose.
"With a crown of bumbleweed?" Kohana asked, looking skeptically at the black and yellow wildflowers her sister had fashioned into a ring and was now wearing proudly on her head. "Mori, you look more like the queen of the bumblebees!"
She meant it to be an insult, but Mori just smiled and said, "Buzz, buzz!" She spread her arms like wings and then zoomed away, diving into the bushes, back into her own little world.
"You're late," her mother scolded with a smile. Not because she didn't mind her daughter's tardiness, but because she didn't want the servants to think them an argumentative family.
"Sorry," Mori said as she sunk into her chair at the dining room table.
"We've been waiting for you so we could start the meal," Kohana said.
"Kohana," her mother warned, still smiling.
"Am I wrong?" she asked rhetorically.
"I'm here now," Mori said. Let's just eat."
The servants brought out steamy plates of exquisite and expensive foods, and soon the gold plates in front of each family member were filled. At one end of the table sat Mori's father, Denjiro, and at the other end sat her mother, Leiko. Mori sat beside her sister on one side of the table, and across from them sat Chihiro, their brother.
Chihiro was Mori's favorite sibling. Then sixteen, six years older than Mori, he, unlike Kohana, would smile when he saw Mori come inside covered with dirt and other natural debris from digging holes, climbing up trees, searching through the bushes for mole-rabbits, and whatever other mischief she might get herself into. Their mother was fond of saying "all little girls are like flowers", to which Chihiro would reply, "And Mori happens to be a tough little tiger lily rather than a delicate rose."
The 'delicate rose' title more closely fit Kohana. She embraced everything 'girly', and liked nothing better than to stroll through the gardens, have tea parties, and dream of the day a handsome young man would come and sweep her off her feet like the princesses in the fairy tales she was so fond of. Mori had little interest in any of these things. Much to her mother's dismay, she'd rather be the brave warrior slaying the dragon than the beautiful princess rescued from it.
Their father was a very wealthy merchant, so they lived in a grand house just outside of a large town in the Earth Kingdom. He had accepted Mori's tomboyish ways, thinking it was likely a phase she'd soon grow out of, or else that her life would always be interesting, to say the least. "She's not one to take the normal route if she can find a more interesting way," he'd say when Leiko would express concern over Mori's adventurous nature.
On his travels, Denjiro would often bring his children presents from many different lands, and had long since learned that the dresses, silk handkerchiefs, and porcelain dolls that made Kohana squeal with delight held no interest for Mori, so he'd bring her world maps, spyglasses, Water Tribe canteens, and even a wooden toy dagger (Leiko nearly fainted when she saw Mori playing with it).
That particular evening, Mori had been in the nearby river, trying (unsuccessfully) to catch fish with her bare hands. She'd completely lost track of time and one of the servant's sons (from whom she'd often take outgrown clothing, since her mother was tired of Mori's dresses being ruined by her activities) had to find her and tell her she was late. Mori had bolted from the river, running as hard as she could to get back to the house, and barely had the time to tug on a dress and wash her hands and face before entering the dining room.
"It's enough that you look like a mess, but do you have to smell so terrible, too?" Kohana asked as they ate. Mori ignored her, but Chihiro laughed.
"Bee, pass the rice," he said. Ever since Kohana had called her Queen of the Bumblebees five years before, the nickname Bee had stuck. "So what were you up to that made you late?" he asked, smiling. Mori's adventures were always interesting.
"Fishing," she said, stuffing a dumpling into her mouth.
"That's all right. I can teach you."
"Chihiro," Leiko said in her all too common we-don't-want-to-encourage-this-behavior-in-her tone.
"Oh, let the girl have some fun!" said her father, beaming, "She's barely ten. She doesn't need to learn how to be a lady yet." Leiko dropped the argument, though she had an annoyed look on her face. Not that it mattered to Mori. As long as she got to spend time with her brother, learning from him, she was happy.
She'd actually already learned quite a bit from him, though nobody knew. Except for the servants, of course, but they'd never tell Leiko. They were all on Mori's side, and they liked watching her one-girl rebellion against her mother's views of what girls should and shouldn't do.
Chihiro was a skilled swordfighter, and Mori liked to watch him practice (she'd climb trees and watch from a safe distance). One day, when she was about seven years old, she was trying to imitate some of the things she'd seen Chihiro do, though she had to resort to using sticks for swords. Over and over she tried one particular move, a sort of flourish and double slash with two swords, but she kept tripping over her own feet and dropping her weapons.
"Your form needs work," a voice from behind her said. She jumped and turned to find Chihiro standing there. "Do you want to learn?" he asked.
Mori nodded, and that was the beginning.
That evening, after the dinner Mori had arrived late to, Chihiro decided to teach Mori how to use daggers. They found a spot in the garden where they would not likely be disturbed, hidden from view by a wall of hedges. Mori (once again dressed in boys' clothing) held her wooden toy dagger tight in her small hand, eager to learn.
"Are you ready, my young pupil?" Chihiro asked melodramatically and with a bow.
"I'm ready," Mori said, bowing back.
"Then let's begin," Chihiro said. He stood behind her to show her how to hold the dagger correctly, and where to put her feet, and as he bent closer he caught the smell Kohana had commented on at dinner: a mixture of dirt, river algae, and sweat. "Koko was right," he said, laughing. "You really do smell." Mori blushed furiously red. "Don't worry," Chihiro said. "It just means you've been outside all day. It's just who you are." He rumpled her hair affectionately. "You're our smelly Bee. Hey –" he said as the idea came to him. "You want a warrior name, Bee?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed.
"How about Smellerbee?"
"I like it," she said, smiling.
"Good." Chihiro took out a dagger of his own and held it in front of his face. "A lot of people underestimate daggers because they're small," he said, twirling it in his hand. "But that's not wise. They're perfect for sneak attacks, or hand to hand combat. Or –" he suddenly threw the dagger forward, and it neatly pierced an apple growing an a nearby tree, and stayed there. "– longer range fighting, under certain circumstances."
Mori looked at her brother in awe. Then she took her own dagger and threw it, just as her brother had done, at the apple tree. It didn't strike and stop neatly as Chihiro's did, but it did connect with an apple and knock it down. Chihiro looked approvingly at Mori. "Yes," he said, "I think the dagger is a good choice for you, Smellerbee."
And so the nickname Smellerbee was born. But the girl who would become her still had a lot of learning to do.