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October, 1861

Kenshin moved effortlessly over the branches of the trees, seeming to be flying. When he came to a gap between the trees, he launched himself into the air, landing in the next tree and continued on, never breaking his stride. Although the past two and a half years spent training with Hiko had been full of bumps, cuts, bruises and hurt pride, Kenshin had to admit to himself that the training was finally beginning to pay off. Although he had always been faster and more graceful than other children his age, he would never have imagined himself being able to move so fluidly among the treetops, jumping from rock to rock to cross a river or even leaping over gorges. Although it had been slow in happening, Kenshin felt that his strength, both physical and spiritual, was starting to burgeon.

CRACK!

This loud noise caused Kenshin to stop and listen.

CRACK!

Made curious by the sound, Kenshin began following it, using the tracking skills Hiko had drilled into him just this past summer. Soon, his effort was rewarded. On the ground below him, two large sika stags had their magnificent racks locked together as they butted heads and shoved at each other in a primal fight, each one pushing against the other with all his strength, their hooves digging into the ground and muscles bulging as each tried to dislodge the other from his antlers.

Kenshin's eyes widened in wonder and horror at the sight of the stags fighting each other. He wondered why they were fighting. Food? Territory? There was more than enough land and enough trees growing in the forest for these deer and infinitely more. Surely, they could share it without fighting!

CRACK!

This last sound, louder than the previous ones and a spray of blood brought Kenshin back to reality. He saw that one of the stags' right antler had been severed from his brow, a bloody fountain erupting in its wake. Realizing he was beaten, the losing stag turned and bounded away, the winner pursuing, making certain he wouldn't try to double back.

Just when Kenshin thought the spectacle was over and was about to resume his journey through the treetops, the triumphant stag returned and stood, swinging the large tines of his antlers from side to side. Truly a magnificent looking creature! Kenshin thought the strutting stag rather reminded him of the Master and couldn't suppress a small giggle. This was cut short by the sound of hushed hoofbeats. Kenshin looked and saw another deer, this one without antlers, emerge from the bushes. Had the stags been fighting over her?

Kenshin watched as the stag started nuzzling the doe. They ran their muzzles over each other's spotted coats, each getting to know the other's scent. Finally, the doe stood placidly while the stag rose onto his hind legs behind her and draped himself over her, front legs resting on her shoulders. As the two deer stood in this strange position, Kenshin's eyes widened and he almost fell out of the tree. What were those deer doing? The fight, he had understood, but this he had no idea how to interpret! It was a different kind of intensity from the fight.

"O...ro..." Kenshin said under his breath.

Glancing up at the sky, Kenshin realized that the sun was about to make its exit through the western horizon. He needed to get back to the hut so he could start preparing the evening meal, or he would never hear the end of it from Hiko! Leaving the deer to their strange activity, Kenshin started leaping through the treetops again, heading back to the hut.


All while fetching the water and preparing supper, Kenshin thought about the deer. Try as he might, he couldn't make sense of their encounter.

"What the hell has you so out of it tonight?" came the Master's gruff voice as they ate. "It's been a while since you've been so day-dreamy."

'Should I tell him?' Kenshin thought. 'Maybe the Master knows something about deer...'

"I... saw some deer in the field today. Two stags were charging at each other, each one pushing at the other with all his might. Eventually, one of the stags was able to sever the other one's right antler and chased him off. After that, a doe came out onto the field. The stag came over to her and they seemed to be... kissing each other. Then the stag went behind the doe and draped himself over her. Why did he do that, Master?" Kenshin asked hopefully.

For a moment, there was silence as Hiko digested Kenshin's story and question. Kenshin began to worry that he might have annoyed the Master and would be made to do 1,000 extra swings before being allowed back into the hut to eat. Then he saw a rare smile pass over the Master's features, the steely eyes glinted and the next thing Kenshin knew, Hiko was laughing openly.

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Little dummy, you really have no idea what you saw?" Hiko chortled.

"If I knew, I wouldn't be asking!" Kenshin snapped in irritation as the Master (once again) had fun at his expense.

"You caught those deer in the act of mating, stupid. You're just lucky you didn't get too close or the stag would've gored you," grinned Hiko.

"Oro? M-mating?" stammered Kenshin.

"Boy, you are young!" laughed Hiko. "Alright, I suppose I might as well tell you. The two stags were fighting for the right to mate with the doe. The winner then mated with the doe to impregnate her so she'll hopefully have his kid in the spring. It's pretty much the same with people, except we usually do it facing each other."

"Oroorooo?"

"Well, how did you think babies get here, that they just drop down from the heavens?" chided Hiko.

"N-no. Not exactly," stammered Kenshin, cheeks turning red.

"Maybe I should take you to the red light district on my next foray and get you a girl," grinned Hiko.

Kenshin's cheeks flushed scarlet and he jumped to his feet.

"No, thank you!" the boy yelped at the top of his lungs as he ran to his room and slid the wooden door shut with more force than usual.

"Dumb kid doesn't know what he's missing," grinned Hiko, taking a gulp of sake.

~Owari~

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