Geta: wooden sandals
Engawa: the typically wooden strip of flooring immediately before windows and storm shutters inside traditional Japanese rooms.
Shōji: door, window or room divider made of translucent paper over a frame of wood which holds together a lattice of wood or bamboo.
Sō ka?: "Is that so?"
Zabuton: floor cushion.
Go yōsha?: Pardon?
Wakarimashita: "I understand."
Dōmo arigatō gozaimashita: "Thank you" (very polite).
Shitsurei shimasu: "Excuse me".
Torētēburu: Tray table that stand as high as 30 centimeters (about 12 inches). Formal form of a zen (simple wooden tray).
Hajimemashite: Nice to meet you.
Tsuka: hilt of the sword.
Saya: sheath of the sword.
Andon: a wood and rice paper covered light that sits on the floor.
Yare-yare: "Well, well."
Ah, sō desu ne?: Is that right?
Mōshiwake arimasen: "I have no excuse. I'm sorry."
Sumimasen: "I'm sorry."
Chapter 2: Initial Training
It was a quiet walk. All of the samurai kept their heads up, their eyes scouting the surroundings as they walked towards wherever they were taking him. He was sure that it would be some kind of training center. He didn't believe that they would just recruit anyone for this war that was unprepared.
Once they left the main streets where the marketplace was and arrived to the samurai houses, Kenshin felt slightly uncomfortable. Of course Takasugi-san would live in a place like this. Kenshin stopped when the rest did in front of the gates to what seemed an average samurai house. The doors were opened by a couple of guards and they led him in.
Inside, the rest of the men scattered to mind their own business. Takasugi talked briefly with another samurai and then turned to him. "Come with me, please. I've got some questions for you."
The red-haired boy bowed and followed the man. They both took their geta off, leaving them on the ground as they stepped under the engawa as one of Takasugi's servants came and opened the shōji so they could step in. The man asked her to bring them some tea and as she bowed, slid the door shut again and Kenshin could hear her steps as she went to get what she'd been asked.
"Have a seat," Takasugi said, signaling him the zabuton that lay in front of the small table as the other one was occupied by the man.
Kenshin took off the katana from the obi and knelt down, bowing before settling in front of his host. He felt slightly uncomfortable and out of place there, but that had been what he was looking for.
"So…" Takasugi began, looking the kid thoroughly, as if he was examining, studying him. "What's your name? I don't think calling you 'boy' or 'kid' will be polite."
The red-haired young man could feel his cheeks flushing and hoped it wouldn't show.
"Kenshin. Himura Kenshin," he said.
"Sō ka?" He saw as Takasugi brought one hand to his chin and rubbed it slightly, as if he was deep in thought. "Family?"
The red-head knew what did that mean. His background.
"I've got no family, Takasugi-san," he admitted. The feeling of uneasiness grew wider. He didn't regret to have lived through the cholera, but it still hurt to remember how all of his family had left him alone.
"I see," the man nodded, but before he could ask anything else, they heard a small rattling on the shōji and it slid open to reveal the woman he had seen earlier. She bowed and as Takasugi made a gesture for her to come in and serve the tea, she did as she was told, bowing again before exiting and closing it again. "Dōzo."
They both took a sip at the tea and Kenshin felt as if it was okay for him to relax a little. It wasn't like he was in the enemy's house, but neither were they friends.
"I can see you're young," the man began as he left the cup of tea on the table again. "And you're carrying just a katana."
"Hai." Kenshin's hand went to the saya by instinct. "My shishō gave it to me." He had been afraid that his Master would have asked it back during their discussion, but he didn't and he was kind of grateful for it.
"May I ask what style you've learned?"
The boy had seen it coming. He straightened his back. "Hiten Mitsurugi Ryū, Takasugi-san." His answer was straightforward. No sweet-talking, not hiding this fact. He didn't have to be ashamed. He knew he had left the lessons way too early and that he hadn't mastered the style fully, but in his eyes, it was enough.
Takasugi's expression was one of astonishment.
"Go yōsha?" he said, looking at him as if he had misheard it. "Unbelievable…"
Kenshin didn't really know how to take that reaction. Neither did he know if the style his shishō had taught him was that known or that powerful.
"Ano…" he said in a very polite tone.
"Oh, forgive me." Takasugi smiled the slightest bit as he retrieved the cup of tea to take another sip. The man had heard rumors about this. However, he'd heard that there could only be one person knowing the style and that once all the teachings were passed about, its apprentice had to take on the name of the teacher, and he was fairly sure that it wasn't 'Himura Kenshin'. Nevertheless, if this kid had learned not all, but most of it, he could be a great ally. "Well, we can't get you right into the fighting," the man said. "You'll have to train and proof yourself first."
"Wakarimashita," Kenshin answered, bowing his head.
He was expecting this much. It wasn't like he'd get here and would be put into fighting right away. It was bothersome but it couldn't be helped. Besides, he would've felt offended if he'd had been treated specially.
"I'll have someone show you around. This place is small compared to where I usually stay, down at Hagi, but it serves its purpose."
"Dōmo arigatō gozaimashita."
"Matsuoka!" The shōji slid the slightest bit as a man appeared behind it kneeling on the floor.
"You called, Takasugi-san?" he said.
"Show Himura-san around the place. Get him a futon and get him to the training grounds," he ordered.
"Shitsurei shimasu," Kenshin said as he bowed. He reached for his katana and stood up to follow the man that had come to pick him up.
As the night came, all of the men gathered there, headed for one of the rooms where they were served their dinner. It was more than what he had had while with his shishō, but he was tired and hungry. He sat down as the torētēburu were being placed in front of them.
He gave his thanks for the food in silence and grabbed for the hashi as one of the women poured rice into his bowl.
Kenshin could feel several eyes on him and the low voices whispering, probably discussing why a kid like him was there. He didn't really mind it at all. It wasn't like he was there looking for trouble. He was one of the men that had decided to help with this so-called Revolution, nothing more and nothing less.
The boy bowed as a thank you to the woman that placed his rice bowl back on his tray and began to eat. The training was hard, but not as hard as it used to be with his shishō. However, it was nice and it prevented his abilities to rot.
Of course he preferred to be alone. He had been on his own, with the only company of the man that had took him in… and now he was so uncomfortable having so many people around him that he felt too jumpy and on edge.
Kenshin was trying his best to mind his own business, to ignore the hushed mumbles and the sneaking stares that came his way. Of course it wasn't easy but he had to endure this. It wasn't pleasant to know that they were talking about him, though. It wasn't like he was the only young recruit, was it?
"Isn't he too young to be samurai?" he heard someone saying.
"What is Takasugi-san thinking?" another added. "We need strong people, not children."
The red-haired's hand clenched around his hashi, the wooden chopsticks making a loud sound as he forced them to slam together. His other hand flew to his katana. If they didn't stop bothering him with their nonsense he'd have to show them just how fast and strong he was and that would be an offense towards their guest.
Just when he was unsheathing the blade, a hand landed on his.
"Don't mind them. They don't know any manners. They've been ronin for some time now and having some kind of lord is wearing them off."
Violet eyes lifted to be greeted by another pair of dark brown ones, a small apologetic smile on the other man's lips.
"They could keep their comments to themselves, that they should." Kenshin's answer was blunt and loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.
Everyone went silent. The shame irradiating from those who had been whispering about him could be felt hanging in the air and the young boy felt the slightest of satisfaction. At least now they knew he'd been hearing it. Not like he was eavesdropping, though.
"My name's Yuuta, Kusanagi Yuuta," the man that had saved him said, extending his hand. Kenshin shook it.
"Kenshin. Himura Kenshin," he answered.
"Hajimemashite, Himura-san." The red-haired felt slightly odd. Having someone show some kind of respect towards him and not quiet the other way around was so strange. That had never happened to him before. But, then again, in these past years everyone he had met were older than him.
Once he finished his meal, Kenshin placed the hashi back on the tray and bowed in a thank you for the food he'd been given and grabbed for his katana and rose to his feet. He was dead tired. He'd trained all the time, despite the fact that it hadn't been as hard as when he was with his shishō. He excused himself with his new 'friend' and headed for the shared dorm all the men were staying in. He sat down on the futon they had prepared for him, leaving his weapon close enough so he could reach for it if he needed to and lied on the thin mattress.
He would be lying if he wasn't feeling uncomfortable. He was used to the hard, bumpy floor of his master's hood and now to lay there, on a slightly more comfortable place was making feel uneasy, not to mention the fact that he didn't know anything from anyone. Someone could try to sneak on him and kill him, for all he knew.
It didn't take too long for the others to fill in the rest of the spots. Some were chitchatting nearby; others just covered themselves up to their heads and drifted to sleep. But something felt slightly off. The feeling of peril in his gut wouldn't leave his eyes close for too long.
Kenshin sat down. Most, if not all, of the men were fast asleep. He couldn't tell for sure. He grabbed his katana and moved out of the futon to stand near the window. There he rested his back against the frame, his katana against his shoulder, a hand on the tsuka and the other around the saya.
Just when he was finally falling asleep, his senses warned him that something was wrong. His eyes flew open as he positioned himself to unsheathe the katana. He was too fast, the attacker had almost no time to stop the strike with their own sword. The clashing of steel echoed off the walls as his opponent fell on his butt, panting.
"What…?!" Some of the men that were in the room sat abruptly on their futons as someone lightened the andon. Footsteps could be heard outside as the shōji was opened wide.
The red-haired was now standing, kissaki pointing at the other man's throat.
"What's going on here?" Takasugi asked. The other men had their hands on the hilts of their katana, ready to strike if needed.
"Why did you try to attack me?" Kenshin's voice was cold, his eyes fixated on the man sprawled in front of him on the floor, his katana was beside him and his grip on it had loosened.
"Yare-yare…" Takasuki rubbed his face. "Ah, sō desu ne?" he asked to the unknown man.
As the man seemed to not want to answer, the owner of the house sighed. "Both of you, come with me. Himura-san, please sheathe your sword. It won't be necessary."
"I'm sorry," he said as he put the katana back into the saya and placed it in the obi, moving forward to follow Takasugi out of the room with a lot of eyes following his every movement.
The other man didn't take too long to get out of the shock and follow them out.
Once the door to Takasugi's private room was closed, the man that tried to attack Kenshin bowed low.
"Mōshiwake arimasen!" he said.
Kenshin just watched him. Why would someone even try to attack other recruits? Weren't they supposed to be fighting for the same goals?
"Why have you done this?" the older man asked as he sat down before the small table placed in the corner of the room.
"Is for what I said back when we were eating?" Kenshin interrupted "It wasn't too polite of all of you to be talking about someone in their back. If you wanted to know something, why not come and ask directly instead of guessing and badmouthing your guest?"
Takasugi's brow furrowed. "Is that true?" His voice was authoritarian, sharp, judging.