Although I love the Kagetora/Beni pairing to death, I am really really interested in the relationship between Hitaki and his brother, Toukichi. I know it's tragic and sad and makes them both seem really hopeless, but it's just...I don't know...Since I have a younger sibling myself I can kinda relate. It's sweet, in a sad sort of way.
GAAAH I can't describe it. I effing love this manga. And Hitaki.
The thistles and blades of grass stung his calloused feet where Hitaki stepped on them, but he rushed on, heedless of the bad spots. "Toukichi!"
In order to earn some extra money, his eldest brother had traveled even farther than usual into the woodlands to cut wood. It was a dangerous thing to do during the winter, especially since many wild animals in these parts could take apart a grown man within seconds. But this was the life of poor family with no land, in a country that was ruled by feudal lords and their army of ninja villages.
Hitaki didn't mind the danger he was attracting by being so lound. He had taken one grand leap, like a monkey, and latched himself onto the back of his elder brother. Toukichi, several years his senior, was just beginning to take on the gangly strength of an adolescent. Even so, he spun around and nearly fell from the unexpected weight. The pile of wood he had been splitting wobbled and then cascaded onto the ground.
"Watch it, Hitaki! Look at what you've done now!" His tone was scolding, but Toukichi let Hitaki down gently. Hitaki ignored the pile of wood that Toukichi had been planning to sell at the next village market and jumped up and down, trying to regain his elder brother's attention.
"Father is home! He came back just now!"
Instead of the delighted reaction that Hitaki had been expecting, Toukichi's eyebrows drew together in a frown. On his face was a look of great concern. He returned to the task of gathering up the wood, but a tense whisper slipped out of his mouth. "It's still too early…"
Hitaki didn't quite understand why his big brother was acting so strange. Whenever Father came home, he always brought some extra food that he had been able to buy cheap off of a peddler or something. In a household with eight children and a pregnant mother to feed, extra sweets were always a treat.
Toukichi had finished stacking the wood somewhere safe, where the rain and the wood lice wouldn't get to them. He held out his hand to Hitaki, "Then let's go back to greet him."
"I want you to carry me!" Hitaki insisted. Expectantly, he held out his hands and beamed up at his brother.
"But I just split all this wood! Can't you walk by yourself?"
"I ran all the way here to tell you the news. I'm really, really tired!"
His brother sighed heavily, but gave in. He kneeled down, motioning for Hitaki to climb onto his back.
Happily, Hitaki snuggled his nose into his elder brother's shoulder to keep the sting of coldness out of his face. Toukichi walked steadily through the woods, seemingly deep in thought.
Then he stopped, rolled his shoulder to make Hitaki look up.
"What is it, brother?" Hitaki opened his eyes, and saw that they were on the top of a big hill overlooking the valley where they lived. At the foot of the hill was their small cabin, which wasn't really theirs. It actually belonged to the lord that owned all the land and everything on it. They were tenants, who had to pay the lord some kind of rent for every month they lived off of his land.
Toukichi indicated for Hitaki to look further, and so Hitaki did.
Past the valley was another set of mountains, edged with ice and snow-covered forestlands. Hitaki didn't know what was past those, but he heard rumors of gigantic plains and mountains with wild animals that howled at night. Sometimes those animals would come down into the valley, go into the villages there and steal the babies away to eat them. He shuddered at the thought.
"Do you know what's in those mountains, Hitaki?"
The sharp wind cut across the two boys, bringing the scent of pine and ice. Hitaki shivered. "What?"
"A ninja village lives in those mountains, somewhere. There's a saying that the feudal lord commands them all, and they must obey him absolutely."
"How can they survive?" Hitaki wondered softly.
"Because they are strong." His brother answered in the same tone of voice. His face was tinged with a bit of envy, and he leaned a little into the wind as if he could see into the future. "One day you and I may be separated, perhaps for a long time."
Hitaki didn't like the sound of this, or the direction that the conversation was going in. But his brother looked so serious, and the wind would have snatched any of his words away.
"When that time comes, Hitaki, can you promise me one thing?"
Hitaki buried his face into his brother's shoulder again, disliking the wind in his face. It was getting very cold, and dark as well. "Okay," He mumbled. "But why?"
At this, Toukichi finally began the descent to their home. He spoke as he walked, carefully picking through the dangerous spots on the path. "If you're strong, you can survive. That's the law of this land. The ninjas are strong. That's why they can live well with the feudal lord's good will. We are not strong yet, Hitaki, but if you grow up maybe you can grow into a strong person."
The next words were spoken so softly that Hitaki wouldn't have been able to hear them unless his ear was right next to Toukichi's mouth.
"Maybe that way...we might be able to meet again..."
And his shoulders slumped, as if exhausted by an enormous burden, Toukichi made his way towards a doom that he knew neither he nor his brother could evade.
How was it?
Honestly, it makes me insanely happy when someone reviews. I'd really love to hear your thoughts!