By morning the next day, Yu'er, who was happily escorting —holding hands with— his mother to the dining hall, finally noticed the strange stares and whispers that followed them. He stopped at the doors.

"Mama?" He had to crane his head up to meet her eyes. She wasn't tall but Yu'er was so small he barely reached her waist. He tilted his head in question, "Are people staring at us?"

When he glanced at the room, all the gazes quickly turned away. He couldn't tell if it was his imagination. Maybe he was being too sensitive?

His mother laughed softly. When her husband had carried her darling Yu'er back to their rooms yesterday, she was delightfully surprised. It was the first time Ah Yue had initiated contact with Yu'er. His gaze had softened considerably and there was something indescribable in his demeanour toward their son. She knew Yu'er had noticed as well. Her baby was so intelligent!

Last night after the honoured guest had taken his leave, the clan head called a meeting with the family heads and seemed to discuss some new circumstances surrounding her son. Despite the details being strictly confidential to those of the inner circle, all outer members of the clan were still ordered to treat Yu'er well. This was all she knew, but it was enough for her as a mother to be satisfied with the situation. People were probably wondering what Yu'er had done to win the favour of the patriarch who had a reputation for being hard-to-please. They certainly weren't being very subtle.

"Come, Yu'er. The lunch line is this way." She calmly bypassed the stares and approached the head cook. Yu'er gazed at his mother with awe and trepidation. She normally wore a gentle smile, even when she was provoked into one of her rare upset moods. He'd never seen her like this; with her head high, features aloof, gracefully gliding across the floor, she looked every bit the refined lady — even with a small child on her arm.

Kamitani Mei was one of the most beautiful women in the clan; with wavy jet black hair that brought out her porcelain skin, the elegant slope of her nose and fine brows. Even her lips resembled delicate petals. Yet her most distinctive feature —ones that Yu'er shared— were her brilliant green eyes. Many coveted her beauty and her husband. Ah Yue, despite his cold demeanour, adored her dearly for her gentle disposition. It could be said that they Kamitani Yue and Kamitani Mei made a very handsome couple.

Not one to stoke the flames of jealousy, Mei rarely made an appearance. But today her handmaids who normally brought her and Yu'er lunch were busy organizing a surprise birthday party for Yu'er. In honour of his recent good fortune, it would be a larger celebration than usual.

"Mei'er," called one of the cooks, "it's rare to see you here."

"Sansan!" She greeted the cook with enthusiasm, pulling Yu'er in front of her. "This is my youngest, Yu'er." This was the cook who had known her since she entered the clan and now regularly sent food up to them.

"Greetings ma'am."

"Oh none of that now," The cook laughed jovially, her belly jiggling with her. "I'm not old enough to be called ma'am yet! Call me Sansan-jie."

Understandably, the surrounding eavesdroppers all paled slightly in disdain. The suffix '-jie' means older sister and is typically used for older female friends or relatives. To hear an older woman calling herself such— well, what an eccentric person. Yu'er laughed awkwardly.

While his mother chatted with Sansan, Yu'er glanced around the dining hall. The windows on the south and east bathed the room in the warmth of the early morning sun. There were low squarish tables with cushioned seating for four spread throughout the spacious room, with capacity for maybe 50 people. It was then Yu'er noticed that more seats had been claimed from the time he and Mama entered. There were at least four-fold the number of occupants, which was strange since there was quite some time until lunch was ready. What's more, many of those occupants seemingly "minding-their-own-business" were stealing covert glances in their direction. It wasn't his imagination after all!

He wondered if these newcomers were called over by their friends to admire his mother's beauty. Did these people have nothing better to do? Little Yu's face scrunched up in thought.

He was wholly unaware of the pointed gazes drilling holes in his back. This was the child who pleased that white-bearded wizened old man? He was tiny! Pint-sized! The inugami (dog god) statues at the main gate were larger than him! Reasonable theories of his valour and talent were quickly thrown out the window. This miniature human must have cheated somehow! Maybe he took credit for something his father did for the patriarch?

If Yu'er could read the thoughts of those present, he would surely spit up blood [1].

His mother accepted a tray of food and led little Yu to a nearby table.

"Mama," he pulled at her sleeve for attention. "People are staring at us."

"It's alright Yu'er," she placated, "They're just hungry and are staring at the food we have. We're lucky to know Sansan to be able to eat lunch early."

Astonished, his petite hand froze on her sleeve. Mother —she was too oblivious! No, no, no. Mother really was observant; she made sure he ate all his green peppers even when he thought he'd done a good job of hiding them. Maybe it was customary for beautiful women to disregard their impact so as to live normally? Selective observation?! [2]

"Here's your spoon, Yu'er. Pay attention to your food." Mei shook her head. Was it so rare that Yu'er went outside their rooms that he was distracted by everything? She frowned mildly. Perhaps she should encourage him to interact with the other children more. Recently he'd been sticking closely to her side or secluded in the library. He needed expand his social circle. Yes, she thought, that was what she would do.

As great women oft do, she put her plan into effect immediately.

That afternoon, the enthralling text in his hands was snatched up and Yu'er was shooed outside with the command to "Go play with the other children, darling." She then promptly slammed the door in his face. He stood outside their door in shock for a moment. That was the second time today his mother had done something out-of-character!

With no where else to go, Yu walked to the courtyard with no small amount of trepidation. How was he supposed to 'play' with the other children? He felt so awkward just talking with them.

He wound through the long corridors until he reached a courtyard no larger than a quidditch pitch. It was surrounded by open corridors on three sides and a beautiful red pavilion on the far side. The grass here was meticulously groomed, a large fountain featured in the middle of the square. There were three smaller children off to the side who looked to be drawing in the dirt and four children playing ball, getting perilously closer to the large fountain in the middle. He quickly made his decision and approached the three.

"Hello," he attempted a smile, the perpetual awkwardness resurfacing. "Can I play too?" He did his best to imitate a childish lilt. To what degree of success, he had no idea.

The older two seemed to exchange glances but the youngest unthinkingly chirped, "Sure!" The duo shrugged and returned to their drawings.

Yu inwardly sighed in relief. Infiltration: success.

"So, what are you drawing? Is that a house?"

The small girl pouted at him. "No! This is the alphabet! Can't you tell?"

Landmine! Quickly retreat!

"O-of course it is! You have great penmanship!"

She seemed to accept it and latched onto the compliment, "My brothers are teaching me to write and I'm only 4 years old! Aren't I great!"

"Amazing," he applauded. Though it sounded a little patronizing even to his own ears, she didn't notice.

"Here, I can teach you too."

"Ah, I already know how to write."

"What?" All three children looked stunned. Yu had smaller stature than the girl. He couldn't be older than four. Yet he knew how to write? There was only one person in the clan with that talent. Adults typically do not watch their mouths in front of children. So, they had heard from their offhand remarks that there was a young boy who spent his time reading the heavy tomes in the library. This prodigy could already read and write and had a bright future. He would no doubt bring honour to their clan.

But this kid looked like a girl, with short messy black hair. His features were more fine than even their sister. There's no way he could be Kamitani Yu! He had to be bluffing to impress them.

"Prove it." The boy with short cropped brown hair and a smattering of freckles across his nose stared at him.

Whoops. Once again, his tendency to not watch his words has caused undue trouble. In this case, it'd be better to come out with the truth lest they find out that he lied.

Yu sighed but obligingly picked up a twig of his own to write a verse or two. Next to the girl's attempts, his chicken scratch looked like an elegant scrawl. The two boys leaned over and read: "When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills."

The boy with a all of his hair pulled into a high ponytail frowned, "What is a— wind-mills?"

Yu replied, "It's a building that harvests the wind for energy."

Freckles looked down at him in awe, "You are Kamitani Yu."

Yu frowned. Did someone say he wasn't?

All three abandoned their chirography (penmanship) practice in favour of asking him questions on the meaning of his proverb. As their tutor made no sense and used too many adult words, their enthusiasm was to be expected since this was someone who could finally explain difficult phrases to them in uncomplicated terms!

However, the ruckus was noticed by the boys playing kick ball. The tallest and oldest, most likely the leader, sneered at them disdainfully. He nodded discreetly at one of the other boys who smirked maliciously and kicked the ball into their group. The balls in this era were nothing like the soft foam balls or cushioned, air-filled balls of his past life. This ball was made with a thick layer of rubber, at least one-inch. It didn't bounce and left bruises in its wake. Thus, children only ever kicked the ball with their thick soles. Little girls with their silk slippers couldn't play kick ball.

Freckles was at perfect angle to see the incoming ball and roughly pushed Yu and the girl aside. "Pu!" he exhaled as the ball hit his side at full impact. Yu and the girl tripped over themselves and fell, dirty but unharmed. Freckles was not so lucky. He hit the ground heavily winded and rolled onto his uninjured side.

"Shun!" Ponytail cried and the girl whipped her head around to glare at the perpetrators.

"You! Why did you do that!"

"Heh," the leader stepped up and jeered. "Who told you to be so loud and obnoxious. You ingrates are just scullions. We're just reminding you of your status. Be grateful and receive this lesson." The other boys snickered under their breaths.

Ponytail paled and slapped a hand over his sister's mouth when she moved to retort. Yu dazedly stood and dusted himself off. Who the heck? That was cruel and uncalled for. These crazy hatstands [3] were just bullies.

With a tight grimace and eyes squeezed shut from the pain, Shun also struggled upright and —to Yu's shock— bowed his head to the leader and shouted, "Thank you for the lesson! Young Master Chu!"

"Remember it well. Next time I won't let you off so lightly." Came the snide remark. Young master Chu redirected his gaze to the unfamiliar kid gaping at him. How irritating.

"You! With the stubby legs! Fetch the ball, now."

Yu belatedly realized that he was being addressed. His sense of righteous indignation flared. There was nothing that he hated more than a bully who picked on the weak. His first instinct was to knock some sense into this Chu-choo train-wreck. He never shied away from confronting bullies or calling out the facts straight. But then he had a better idea.

He trotted over to the ball which had rolled under a nearby porch. It was so low and narrow that he could barely reach an arm in. He reached and, in clear view of the bullies, punched the ball so it rolled further into the dark unknown, out of view and far, far out of reach. There. The weapon-of-choice was now eliminated and the bullies had lost the privilege of playing with the ball. If they abused it, they would lose it. That was how he taught his children and grandchildren. He slowly stood up, leisurely brushing the dirt off his clothes and looked at the bullies.

"Oops." Yu smirked.

Several things happened all at once. The bullies roared in outrage, storming over to him. Freckles and Ponytail gasped in horror, the latter releasing his sister by accident. The girl took the opportunity to let out a shrill, ear-bursting scream.

Yu quickly dodged the larger boys chasing after him. He ran to the other side of the large fountain and kept it between them, looking for an opening. He knew his limits. His body was too small to handle any one of these guys, let alone four. His only choice was to wait for help. Within minutes, his cunning paid off and adults arrived on the scene. Three men followed behind a scruffy, buff man.

"Hey! You kids! What happened here?"

Yu ran over to the scruffy bearded man and hid between his legs. The four bullies had no practice in hiding their evil grimaces from adults and were openly sneering at the tiny, nearly-hidden child. One of the boys was the first branch's eldest son, the Kamizou heir. Since he was their only male heir, he was a pampered and spoiled child, used to getting his way and always making trouble for others. It was pretty easy to glean the gist of the situation.

Young Master Chu was the first to make himself heard. "These lowbreds were causing a scene. Out of kindness, I gave them a warning but that one actually dared to steal my ball and threw it under the porch." He spoke with defiance and rudely pointed his finger at Yu, as though daring him to retort.

Knowing Heir Kamizou's personality, the truthfulness of his explanation was highly unlikely. But if he were to scold the first young master, no doubt the first branch master and mistress would hear about it. The three children off to the side were from the fifth branch. Their father passed away many years ago, and their mother was an outsider who married into the clan. Their status was inconsequential. If these children had provoked the young master first, he could make them submit to appease the young master and avoid facing the wrath of the first branch. He'd made his decision.

"You children," Scruffy-beard's voice boomed with authority, "apologize to the young master. Then we can let bygones be bygones." He smiled magnanimously and waited expectantly for them to acquiesce.

No one was more surprised by this turn of events than Yu. Was there no justice? That bully clearly insulted those other children in front of everyone!

The girl looked like she was going to shriek indignantly but Shun covered her mouth. Beside them, his brother grit his teeth and shoved the girl's head down as they bowed. "It was our mistake. We humbly ask Young Master Chu to accept this apology."

"No!" Young Master Chu stubbornly stuck his dirty finger in Yu's direction. "He stole the property of this young master! He should be caned! How will he repay me for taking my property?"

All eyes shifted to little Yu who had moved out from behind Scruffy-beard. He had seen an adult's 'authority' and had come to the realization that he could only rely on himself.

"I didn't steal it," he said with great confidence.

None of the adults believed he did either. How could this tiny, stunted child steal a ball from four bigger and stronger children? But they had no choice if they wanted to appease the young master.

"Perhaps," Scruffy-beard allowed, "But you have to compensate the young master for his ball. Tell me who your father is and we will have him settle the matter of payment."

Yu frowned but he had nothing to hide. His father would understand if he explained the circumstances. He calmly stated, "Kamitani Yue."

Kamitani Yue? These men knew the faces of the second branch's first and second sons. There was only one other. This little boy had to be the youngest son of the second branch, the prodigious and talented Kamitani Yu. They didn't know the circumstances but had recently heard that little Yu had greatly pleased the Patriarch to the extent where the great elder had declared preferential treatment for Yu'er in the clan. His backer was of a different level of distinction! The faces of all four men paled and they immediately backtracked.

"Oh! So you are little Yu'er," the frowning face of Scruffy-beard had morphed into an ingratiating smile.

"Since it's like this, why don't we let the matter rest? After all, it was a mistake, and it is good to give our juniors a second chance. It is the mark of a good heir to be merciful, Young Master Chu. The children have apologized and I'm sure your parents will buy you a new ball right away."

Since it was resolved like that, Kamizou Chu couldn't do much else without kicking up a big fuss. He was reluctant to cause a scene because his parents would find out he had been playing ball when he was supposed to be indoors, studying. Recently, Father had berated him on his poor grades and restricted his play time. If word of this got back to Father, he would be grounded for sure. He would have to pretend to lose his ball tomorrow and beg his parents for another.

"Fine," Chu spat out. Internally, he raged and by the vengeful gleam in his eye, Yu knew that Kamizou Chu had not let him off. In fact, all four bullies were glaring at him. When Yu looked at their malicious features, his expression changed imperceptibly.

Once Scruffy-beard heard his father's name, the attitude of the men did a one-eighty. From the attitude of these men, it seemed even children weren't exempt from clan politics. Yu hated politics. It gave people like Chu the leverage to be cruel. It made the mindset of these political players mercurial. It stripped sensibility and justice from figures of authority. It made certain that the underprivileged and marginalized always lose out.

The man turned his attention to Yu, now that the more obstinate young master had agreed. "Since it's been settled, let's not mention this matter again, okay?"

But how could he, after a lifetime of dealing with treachery and foul play, be so easily tricked? They obviously wanted to gloss over young master's maltreatment of the other children. If nothing happened during their watch, they were safe. But if he didn't mention this, Chu's bad behaviour would continue unchecked and he would fester like a sore on Yu's foot.

Yu smiled and chirped brightly, "Okay!"

Unsuspecting, the four burly men sighed in relief. Children were fickle: easy to change moods, easy to forget. They didn't think this tiny child would cause them trouble. They quickly took leave. The three bullies also trailed after Kamizou Chu out the courtyard.

"Hey!" The girl had struggled out of her brother's chokehold. "You saved u—"

Shun slapped a hand over her mouth again and bowed to Yu.

"Thank you for your help, Young Master Yu. But please, in the future, don't bother with us."

With that, Freckles and Ponytail carted off their sister. Yu was left alone in the empty courtyard.

Friends: 0. Enemies: 4.

Was a normal childhood too much to ask?

[1] Spitting blood : popular phrase used to connote the shock delivered to one's system that even damages internal organs to the point of blood spewing out of the mouth. The Japanese equivalent is the milder form of the spittake or spitting tea.

[2] Selective observation : an informal fallacy where supporting evidence is picked and counter-evidence is ignored (also known as cherry picking or cards stacking).

[3] Hatstand : informal slang for crazy (British).

Will it confuse people if I continue to use Yu and Harry interchangeably?