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The slightly damaged map in his scar covered hands had a two-dimensional representation of rivers and roads of what the nameless sailor had called 'Nishiokitama'. Arthur hoped he was still there and had not crossed over to another prefecture, but he could not find any landmarks that told him that he was still in Yamagata. The afternoon was cold, and his trembling legs made the trek across the woods difficult. He could hear a river somewhere close, and he was savvy enough to know that running water increased the possibility of finding people. His understanding of the local language was poor, only being capable of comprehending the most rudimentary sentences. Clear orders and short questions should be enough to get the help he needed.
Raising his head to the sky, he saw a trail of smoke coming from what he assumed was the west, between the many leaves and branches. A sea of tall grass welcomed him after he found a set of covered footprints under the foliage and exited the forest, the now clear sky had not one, but two long and almost black smoke lines being exuded from a place not so far away, if one was to judge the closeness by the intensity of the color. The sound of water running also increased in volume, and following the smoke led him to a river of clear water, of which he drank greedily.
A sudden intake of breath, but not his own, froze him. At the other side of the shallow river was a young woman looking back at him with a scared expression on her scar covered face. She turned away from Arthur and ran in the direction of the smoke, screaming. "Wait!", he tried to say as he followed, slowed by the need to cross the cold water without slipping into it nor letting any of his belongings fall.
"Tomare1! Onegai2!" Arthur cried out.
The way his legs ached after all the time he spent walking in circles was forgotten at the confirmation of people, civilization, food and shelter. When he managed to catch up to the woman, buildings started appearing in his line of sight, getting closer with every step he took. One of his hands, reaching for her, almost caught her arm before a strong impact made him fall to the ground.
Shadowed by the sun at its back, a silhouette stood above him. Shaped like a man and pointing a slightly curved sword into Arthur's face. On closer inspection, he realized the sword smelt like oxide. He was familiar with the smell of blood and it only made his palms sweat nervously. The shape, a man, spoke to him: "who are you?", he asked and Arthur answered with his name, which should have sounded like rubbish to natives' ears, so he tried again with something different searching for words to cross the language barrier.
"Need help", he said in more than adequately pronounced Japanese. The sword soon became a calloused hand offering support to stand up. Arthur almost slipped, finding his footing thanks to a man with a severe expression. His brown low and furrowed from what Arthur supposed was stress. "Thank you".
"Don't mind it", the man told him. "What are you doing here, stranger?".
Arthur had been practicing the following words for weeks: "Giving meaning to my life".
The man's expression suddenly turned sad and said something of which Arthur caught the words "wrong place". He inquired about it in the best way he could and the man, a samurai named Toshio, spoke of the horrors of war and the torture the village could escape no more. The shogun wanted their lands and people to command as he saw fit, and any sign of resistance was met with the firepower of weapons never seen before. His daughter, the woman he'd been following, was one of the lucky ones to slip away from the shogun's most perverted supporters, but she hadn't come out unscathed, even if she had brought them the instructions and pieces of their metal hand cannons for the village to inspect.
It was of no use, as neither Toshio nor the village's blacksmith could understand the functioning of the mechanism. But the descriptions were familiar for Arthur, and he took something out of his bag. A Duval a Nandes flintlock hand pistol. "I know how to use them", he said, "I can help, let me teach you".
Toshio's face turned white and Arthur knew he'd scared the samurai as he saw him pull out his katana. Before the other could make any sudden offensive move, Arthur gently placed the pistol on the ground and knelt besides it, in front of Toshio, and lowered his head until his forehead came in contact with the grass. "Onegai shimasu", Arthur said. After seconds that felt like days, he was answered.
"I don't know who you are". The voice came from his level, and when Arthur raised his head, he saw Toshio kneeling too. "I don't know nor care for what you may be running from, Arthur-san, for you appear to be from lands far away, but your timely arrival must be a message, an answer to our prayers. You beg for my mercy, when I should be the one begging for your knowledge".
While some words were lost on Arthur's ears, the very meaning of Toshio's heartfelt speech was as clear as the water he'd crossed before. They moved him to his very core and with that, Arthur knew he'd gotten himself into troubles he'd gladly deal with to the best of his ability. Pistol pocketed, promises sealed, Toshio and Arthur walked in tandem to the village, were the stranger received both fearful and hopeful looks from men and women of all ages. They were dirty and clinging to the remnants of a previous, much more peaceful life, so Arthur made yet another promise to himself: to protect this sacred corner of the world that had welcomed him with whatever he had left.
Please, he begged, let that be enough.
1 To stop something (physically).