Time Cat: An American Feline in Edo

Tobias is just an average black cat. Well, almost black - he has a white sock on his left rear foot and a white patch under his nose. One day while exploring the yard of his Human, he comes across a curious glowing orb. He begins to investigate it and inadvertently activates it, creating a rip in the very fabric of reality. Much to his dismay, he is sucked into the rip and carried through time and space to an era much earlier than his own. Now he must track this orb across time and space in order to activate it and bring him back home. Don't forget my author page: tinyurl.com/anrisarynfb

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10. The Delegation

         It had been four days since Hideki had been captured. Hitoshi had thought of nothing else since then. It is what spurred him to help with the preparation.
         These days had been short because he had kept busy. When he wasn't cleaning the house or chopping wood for the stove under his mother's watchful eye, he was helping his neighbors string bows and sharpen swords, much to his mother's dismay. 
         She didn't let him know she knew. She watched him leave every day after his chores were complete and the sun was high in the sky. She watched him dash to the blacksmith, where the older man showed him how he repaired the katanas. The blacksmith promised that after this was all done, if he was still interested, he may take him on as an apprentice. She watched as Hitoshi promised to think about it. It would be a promising career if these war times were to continue.
         Much of his action and inability to relax stemmed from his anger of being able to do nothing while he watched his father get carried away like a sack of rice on the back of a stranger. 
         He tried to push his anger into other tasks, which worked for a time, but he often found himself chopping wood more violently than necessary, or cleaning the floor more forcefully than the tatami could stand. Akiko had to remind him a few times to relax by asking him what the floor had done to wrong him. Hitoshi just smiled in reply and breathed deeply to calm himself.
         After a week had passed, Akiko approached her son on the topic. They all sat around the table eating dinner, Hitoshi scarfing it down as if it was his last meal.
          "Hito-kun, why do you eat so fast?" Chihiro asked, watching in amazement as he finished his second bowl of rice.
         Hitoshi paused and blinked,looking at his sister. She was concerned, but not overly so. Akiko looked at her son, waiting for his response.
          "I'm hungry," he said simply. "From…from working all day."
          "At the blacksmiths?" Akiko chimed in, looking at her son. 
         Hitoshi's expression changed quickly from calmness to shock and then to innocence. "I wasn't…"
          "You can't hide from me, Hito-kun," she said, looking back at her food. "But I will allow you to continue helping prepare for the battle." The boy's face lit up in surprise. "Just don't do anything rash," she added, pointing her chopsticks at her son.
         He nodded, a smile spreading across his face.
          "Finish eating, then bring in the last of the wood," she instructed. "We need to keep the embers warm all night."
         She watched as her son rush outside, Tobias racing after him. She had forgotten the cat; he had been so quiet. There was something odd about that cat. He followed Hitoshi everywhere.
         She shook her head, eating the last few grains in her bowl.
          "Chihiro, make sure to check the stove before you head to bed," she said, standing up. The girl nodded and yawned. "After that, straight to bed, Chi-chan!" she added, poking her daughter's nose.
         Akiko changed into her bedclothes, which was just a simple robe, relaxing enough to sleep in, and unrolled her futon from the closet. She spread it out on the floor methodically as she had done several times before, but this time her mind was flooded with thoughts of Hideki. She wondered if he was alright. Was he dead? She banished this worrisome thought and wrapped herself in the comforter.
         She thought of Hitoshi and his want to fight. She couldn't lose another piece of herself if her son was taken, too. But she knew, when it came down to it, Hitoshi would want to fight. He would want to fight if only to rescue his father. 
         Akiko wanted that, too. But she didn't want her only son to risk his life for that. She rolled over in her futon, her back facing the door as Hitoshi rambled in, his arms full of wood. She heard them talking a bit, and then Hitoshi pulling out his futon to set it up next to her's.
          "Oyasumi, okaa-san," he said with a yawn. She didn't reply, but she smiled and closed her eyes. No matter how old he got, he would always be her little boy.
         Other boys in the villages had already helped to defend the land, though a little half-hazardly and not without the help of their older siblings or fathers. They always had someone by their side assisting them and helping them learn what they had to do, in battle and out. 
         Hitoshi didn't have that now.
         Hideki had mentioned that he wanted to teach him how to use a sword, but that was before he got carried off like a lame goat. She sighed, trying to think of better things.
          "Oyasumi, okaa-san," she heard Chihiro say.
          "Oyasumi, chi-chan," Akiko said with a smile, then dozed off.

         Tobias stretched, yawning widely as the sun peeked through the window. He mewed softly, kneading the bedclothes to wake up his human.
          "What is it you silly cat?" Hitoshi yawned. He stretched and sat up, looking about the room.
         The other two futons were already folded up and put away. He rubbed the back of his neck. Did he sleep that late?
         Tobias rubbed up against him, throwing a picture of the door into Hitoshi's mind. The boy smiled at him and paced to the sliding portal and watched as the cat raced outside to find breakfast and to relieve himself as he did every morning.
          "It's about time you woke up," Akiko said, peering at him. "I thought you were going to sleep all day!"
          "Sorry about that," he said, awkwardly as she handed him a bowl of rice. Chihiro giggled as he flushed in embarrassment. "Shush, Chi-chan!" he frowned. "You're not very nice!"
         He ate his rice quickly and gulped down some tea before dissappearing outside to do his chores. He was eager to get them done so he could help with all the preparation.
         Chihiro looked at her mother as she came back in with water for the baths. 
          "Do you think Hito-kun will fight?" she asked.
         Akiko didn't answer right away. She put the water to boil over the stove and looked at her daughter. "I don't know," she replied simply and looked back at the water.
         Chihiro opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it again. Okaa-san was in one of her moods. It was best to not bother her right now.
         Tobias heard the conversation, but he was more interested in the group of men coming from the south. They seemed to be carrying supplies, but nothing dangerous. He trotted over to Hitoshi, who was chopping wood as usual, and yowled.
         Hitoshi was so startled, he dropped his ax mid-chop. The sharp end landed in the dirt with a loud thud.
          "What was that for?" he demanded angrily.
         Tobias responded by racing off toward the south, the direction from which the people were coming. Hitoshi frowned, but he knew better than to ignore Tobias when he wanted attention. He followed the cat to the edge of the path where they could see the ocean lapping at the shore. 
         He saw a group of men and a few horses with carts traveling together toward the village. They carried no flag, which was a good sign - it meant they were not of the bakufu. This, coupled with the fact that they were traveling north to the village rather than reaching the village at the northern entrance, meant they had to be only one thing. This was the Satsuma delegation!
         Hitoshi rose his voice to alert the village. "The delegation is here!" he shouted. Heads peered out of houses and a cheer arose. Mori-sama stepped into the square, his hands raised in praise. A few of his men, dressed casually, but cautious, followed closely behind him.
         As the delegation approached, Hitoshi got a better look at them. They were all dressed in clothing similar to the Choshu: a kimono, jacket, and hakama, with a set of simple sandals and socks. They appeared, overall, unimpressive. The only ones that seemed to stand out were the samurai and the daimyo that traveled in the middle of the group, and even they wore nothing different than something Takachika-sama would wear.
         Takachika, his arms still raised in the air, and a smile on his face, greeted the delegation excitedly.
          "Shimazu Tadayoshi-san!" he exclaimed, approaching the daimyo of Satsuma. "It is good to see you!" He bowed low, which surprised Hitoshi, who had stepped off to the side to watch the action. Mori-sama was a decent and respectable man, but he had a bit of an ego. Hitoshi didn't think he respected the Satsuma daimyo that much.
          "Mori Takachika-san!" Tadayoshi nodded, bowing equally low. Hitoshi started at the reply. Perhaps his ideas of daimyo were yet to be set in stone. "It is also good to see you. Let us gather in the square to speak on the matters at hand."
         The delegation followed Tadayoshi to the series of tables set in the square. The men leading the horses tied the animals to posts near the tables and stowed their weapons nearby. There was no threat of a fight here, but the trip north was more dangerous than it used to be.
         Tobias, now very interested in all these new smells, trotted around the table, weaving between all the chairs. Hitoshi hissed at him, trying to get his attention, but the cat just looked at the boy, then paid him no mind and continued exploring. He glanced once more back at Hitoshi, who was now slightly pink in the face, and grinned internally. The boy must have gotten some kind of image from him, because he frowned, now severly annoyed.
         The scents were all pretty familiar to him now as scents themselves, but the combinations these new people had made Tobias purr with excitement. He picked out each scent separatly and drew pictures in his mind: goat fur, burnt wood, rice plants, smoke, and fish.
         There was also another smell that Tobias looked for, though it was harder to find than most. It was a scent that identified a person as a peaceful or dangerous person. It was very hard to describe, not that he had ever had to try and describe it to anyone, but he had learned to pick it out growing up, and this, perhaps, is what Food Plop Lady called his "sixth sense."
         He lifted his head and paced around under the tables trying to pick up the scent. He found it intertwined between goat manure and the fleeting breeze that carried the rain. He wondered offhandedly if it rained more in Satsuma, but shook his head to clear the thought. 
         There it was now; the scent was as clear as day. It permeated between all the men, but it was mixed with scents of battle. Tobias knew this meant that they only fought when they truly had to. He relayed this information to Hitoshi, who at first was very confused, but then pieced the ideas together. This was a good sign, Hitoshi sent with a nod. It meant the men would be good fighters. 
         The boy sent a feeling of surprise back to his feline friend at his extensive knowledge of the human mind. Tobias sent an errily human response back - a shrug. Was Tobi-kun a human in his previous life? It wasn't an ungrounded idea, after all.
          "As you all know, we are here to discuss an alliance between the two regions of Satsuma and Choshu," Takachika spoke, putting his hands on the table. He stood at the head of it and Tadayoshi sat next to him on a simple chair. A small mutter of approval ran through the gathered. "Our views differ, but we have agreed to set aside our differences for a common cause." Another mutter of approval.
          "The bakafu have tried to make us follow their rules after they themselves abadoned them," Tadayoshi chimed in. "When the barbarians came, the bakufu bowed to them instead of listening to their own people." Nods of approval circulated the table.
         People began to gather around the delegation, listening intently. This was a very important time for everyone, and this may decide the future of Japan itself. 
         Hitoshi spotted his mother and sister near the back and squeezed between the people to reach them. Akiko gave him a squeeze and Chihiro hugged his leg.
          "The barbarians have some ideas and materials we could use, though," one Satsuma man pointed out.
         A murmur of disapproval flowed throught the gathered crowd. Takachika raised his hands to quiet them.
          "This is a discussion of alliance, not discord," he reminded them all. "We are not here to debate whether we like or dislike the barbarians or not." The crowed quieted down. "The bakufu simply must be stopped from ignoring its own people!" At the final word, he slammed his fist on the table. A roar of approval followed.
         When the people had quieted down, a member of the Choshu crowd spoke up.
          "What of the kidnappings and stories of invincible samurai?"
         It was a woman. Hitoshi recognized her as the woman across the way. Her husband was injured fighting one of the strange samurai during the attack over a week ago. It had run off before they could get a good look at it.
         The crowd echoed her curiosity. Many Choshu people had been carried off that day. It was the first of such kidnappings, but the stories of the samurai had been circulating for nearly a month.
          "Unfortunatly, we know little of where they come from or even what they are made of. Perhaps they are simply very strong men that appear to be invincible," Tadayoshi explained. But protests arose after his words.
          "I have seen their heads! They are filled with circles!"
          "They smell of barbarian ships!"
          "How can they be human? I stabbed one through the heart and it was unaffected!"
         Tadayoshi rose to his feet, trying to calm the protesting crowd, but it grew more angry with replies of family members dissappearing and sitings of strange circles littering the ground where the samurais had been injured.
         At last, the crowd quieted and Takachika was able to speak.
          "All we can do right now is keep our eyes and ears peeled for more information," he explained.
          "I might have some information," Hitoshi said just loud enough over the crowd. All eyes turned to him and he felt the warmth of his embarrassment. But he continued anyway. "One was in my house, but we got it to stop moving, at least for a bit," he said. He cleared his throat during the silence the followed.
          "How did you get it to stop?" a Satsuma man asked.
          "Well, my cat jumped on its back," the boy said, nodding toward Tobias, who had emerged from under the table. "It didn't seem to like it, almost as if it knew there was something on its back that made it stop."
         All of the delegation looked toward Tobias, who now felt the burn of hundreds of eyes on him. He quickly retreated to Hitoshi's side, squeezing between the legs of the crowd.
          "That's a pretty smart cat you have there," the Satsuma man grinned. "Make sure you look after him."
         Tobias felt the tension ease as a chuckled rippled through the gathered. Hitoshi smiled.
          "I don't need to look after you, Tobi-kun," he said quietly, rubbing his friend's head. "You look after me enough."
          "How will we go about this?" one man piped up.
          "We plan to set off in three days time at first light," Tadayoshi nodded. "Is that enough time to prepare?" Sounds of approval and scattered clapping made it obvious this was true. "Then every able-bodied man is highly encouraged to assist in the effort."
         A cheer arose and the crowd began to break. Takachika spoke to Tadayoshi and offered hima nd his men lodgings for the night in his estate. They all happily agreed and followed the Choshu daimyo to his house, the Satsuma samurai following behind.
          "I hope you join us," the Satsuma man that had asked about Tobias said, grasping Hitoshi's shoulder. "You and your genius cat."
         Hitoshi didn't know what to say. He simply nodded and looked toward his mother and sister, who had already reached the front door. The man smiled at him and bowed before leaving Hitoshi to his own devices.
         Before he even entered the house, Hitoshi could tell Okaa-san was not in a good mood. She was slamming things around, taking her anger out of the pots and the table.
          "You are not going to fight!" she bellowed as he walked in and closed the door behind him. She stood akimbo, staring at the stove as if that would make the water boil faster.
          "Why not?" Hitoshi asked, both angry and annoyed that after all he had done, she still would not let him go.
         She turned around quickly and slammed a large spoon on the table. "Because war is not a place for a boy!" she yelled, her brow furrowed with anger and worry.
          "I am not a boy, Okaa-san!" he protested. Chihiro, who had been tending the wood in the stove, stood up and watched, both surprised and concerned about what was going on.
          "You are barely sixteen," she said, choking against tears. "I will not lose another man to this silly fight."
          "If I do not rescue Otou-san," Hitoshi reasoned, his voice now calmer, "who will?"
          "Everyone else!" she shouted, throwing her hands in the air. "There are more than just you fighting this war!"
         Hitoshi approached his mother, taking the mere three steps between him and her. "But I must go," he explained, putting his hands on her shoulders. "You know that, Okaa-san. You've always known that."
         Then, he hugged her, squeezing her tight as if that alone would reassure his poor, worried mother that everything would be alright; as if squeezing her tight enough could squeeze all the worry out of her like a wet sponge releasing water when squeezed.
          "We'll talk about it tomorrow," she assured him, her brow still furrowed in worry. "Now get yourself off to bed, musuko-kun!"
         Hitoshi grinned and went to set up his bed. She only called him that when she was worried, but thinking about letting him do what he had requested, which wasn't as often as he liked, but this was nothing but a good sign.

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