A/N: I'm not sure whether this will continue or not. It sort of depends on what other "teaching moments" I stumble across; please suggest any ideas you may have about that. (Also, please r&r—let me know what you think!)
Also, thanks to siriusfan13 for her excellent beta skills.
Lesson #1 -- The Big Picture
Much of what we see and understand lies in where we stand.
"So this line is a road." The man pointed and waited. Patiently. "Do you see that now?"
They'd been at this for nearly an hour. At first the boy simply couldn't grasp what he was looking at, could not make the connection between the lines on the paper and the world he knew. Hiko had finally turned the paper over and sketched their clearing, with the hut and the big tree and the start of the path down the mountainside. It wasn't until he'd drawn in the falls and the tumbling river that the boy's eyes lit up with a little understanding.
A very little, apparently…
Surreptitiously, the master took a deep breath and let it out slowly, still waiting for a response. He resisted the urge to tap his finger on the paper.
The boy poked gingerly at the map, his frown deepening even as he traced the troublesome line with his finger. "—ye-e-s." He hesitated, then, "But…"
"'But' what?" Hiko tried to keep his tone neutral.
"It's pretty small, isn't it?"
"What are you talking about?"
The Tokaido was the longest of the Five Roads of Japan—The map shows this clearly!—and the most important, since it connected the shogun's palace in Edo with the imperial palace in the City. As it neared Kyoto, it followed the shore of Lake Biwa through the town of Otsu, then passed along the base of the surrounding mountains through the valley that led directly to the broad, busy Sanjo Bridge. "Crossing the Sanjo" was the common term for entering or leaving the City.
He'd explained all this. More than once.
What is wrong with this kid's brain?
"It's so skinny!" Kenshin blurted in distress. "I can walk on a rope when you stretch it tight across the river, but I don't think a horse could do that. And what about carts?" Kenshin looked up into his teacher's face searchingly. "How does a cart drive on a rope? Are there lots of ropes?" He looked back at the map, as if to check. "There would have to be a lot of ropes for the carts. And all woven together. Why doesn't the, the…" He floundered.
"'Map'?" The man found himself simply supplying the needed word, too puzzled to chide or mock.
"Yes, the 'map'! Why doesn't the map show all the ropes?"
But now he couldn't help himself: he laughed out loud, right in the kid's worried face. "You baka! The road is wider than this line!" He was doubled over and he could feel his eyes watering—teaching this child was like nothing he'd imagined—like nothing he remembered from his own youth. The boy sat before him, his stubborn gaze demanding an answer. Hiko wiped his eyes and tried to breathe normally. "All right. Listen. We're taking a trip. Tomorrow. I'm taking you to see this 'skinny road'."
"Hai, shishou!" The boy ducked his head in obedience, but not before Hiko saw the tiny satisfied smile.
Looking down at the small figure, the big man sighed. Gently, he cuffed the back of the tiny head bowed before him. "Okay. Get to bed. We leave before sunrise."