Travelers were far from rare in Inko Midoriya’s small hometown.
The barbarians, however, were rare.
The kingdom of Yuuei was home to several barbarian tribes- but they all lived in the forests far off into the reach of the corners of the kingdom, and they didn’t bow to the rule of the king, either. So Inko, while knowing of them and having read of them before, had never seen on in all of her six years of life.
“Barbarian” they called the gangly blonde haired boy, far too skinny for his young age. “Vicious” they called the boy who stumbled over himself and blushed whenever he bumped into someone. “Freak”... they said of the boy who couldn’t speak their language.
He was twice Inko’s height, but she was sure she would weigh more. His hair was long and tangled and tied in braids, and where there was white in her eyes, there was black in his. But she wasn’t scared at all.
Instead, Inko squared up her shoulders and followed him into the forest one day. He sat a the bottom of a tree, carving an apple. Inko’s feet snapped twigs and crunched leaves when she neared, a his eyes widened in some kind of fright when he looked up at her.
Inko stopped several feet away and put her hands on her hips as she studied him. He studied her, too.
Inko slowly moved forward before stopping in front of the boy. She lowered herself until she was sitting in front of him. She pointed to her chest.
“Inko,” she said.
The boy tilted his head. “En-coo?”
Inko shook her head, braids flipping about. “Inko!” she exclaimed, before saying it slower. “ Inko .”
They boy stumbled over the name for several moments before finally getting it. Inko clapped her hands happily when he finally pronounced it correctly. The boy smiled a small, uncertain smile.
Inko just grinned and leaned forward, expecting his name in return. The boy didn’t make a move to speak and Inko hung her head. She pointed to her chest again. “Inko.” She pointed to the boy.
The boy pointed to her. “Inko?” She nodded. He pointed to himself. “Toshinori.”
Inko giggled. “That’s a long one,” she said.
The barbarian child who had wandered into their town and become lost very quickly became known as Inko Midoriya’s playmate. Inko took the much taller boy by the wrist and led him around the town, the forest, and anywhere and everywhere, teaching him the words she knew. He stumbled over them, unable to understand most of them. But in return, he taught her his words too.
“They say I can be a great court wizard!” Inko told him one day, pulling an apple from high up in the tree with only her power. She handed one to Toshinori. “But I don’t think I’m powerful enough for that. And Papa says they take the wizards to war. I don’t wanna fight, so I’m just gonna be a teacher.”
“Teaching… is… very add…” Toshinori stumbled over his words while they walked through the apple orchard. One of the older village women promised some simple spending coin if they could get her a basket of the apples from the family orchard.
“‘Admirable’,” Inko supplied. “It was in the dictionary Mama got me!” Toshinori nodded. Inko took a bite of her apple and looked at Toshinori with her wide eyes. “Hey, Toshi, why’re you here anyway?”
Toshinori set his apple into the basket of all the others he carried. “My tribe was attacked,” he explained. “By a… rival tribe. Lost- Got lost. Can’t find them.”
Inko’s expression turned sad. But she perked up and patted his arm. “Don’t worry!” she said. “We’ll find them!”
Toshinori’s eyes widened. “We?”
Inko nodded and hummed. “I’ll help!” she proclaimed. “Always always! ‘Cause Toshinori is my good friend!”
Autumn faded into winter, and an old man grudgingly took Toshinori in as a stable boy so he wouldn’t die from the cold nights. Toshinori still remained skinny leading into spring, even with the new home with Old Torino, as he was called. The heat of summer came unexpectedly fast, and Toshinori grew even taller.
“How old are you?” Inko questioned, hanging off of a fence while Toshinori cleaned out the much from the stables.
Toshinori stopped and pondered for a moment. “Ten,” he said. “This… will be my tenth summer.”
Inko’s jaw dropped. “You’re not as old as I thought!” she exclaimed. “I thought this would be your thirteenth year or something! I thought for sure you’d be going away to train with the soldiers this year!”
“They wouldn’t take someone like me even if I was old enough.”
“And why not?” Inko pestered, kicking her feet back and forth. “You’re strong, Toshi.”
Toshinori put the shovel away and wiped the sweat from his brown. Inko handed him a deer skin to drink from. He gulped the fresh water down and wiped his mouth once he was done. He climbed up on the fence to lean by Inko, though they were on opposite side.
“I’m a barbarian,” he said, the words sounding pinched and hallow in his mouth. “They wouldn’t take me. I don’t even know how to read your words.”
Inko still couldn’t imagine Toshinori was a part of the vicious tribes the adults always spoke of. He was too kind, too gentle. And Toshinori always spoke of his tribe with such love and caring. Inko couldn’t help but think that, no matter who they were, whoever had helped raise Toshinori couldn’t be a bad sort.
Inko leaned on the fence on folded arms, tilting her head and looking at Toshinori curiously. “You could always ask Torino to teach you,” she said, and Toshinori immediately shook his head.
“I couldn’t. He’s already done so much-”
“So much that you took to lazing about, huh?”
The accusation had Toshinori almost jumping out of his skin and falling backwards. He landed in the hay he was supposed to be fixing up to feed the horses, Old Torino standing in the door of the stable.
Torino’s arms were folded over his chest, his expression pinched into something akin to a frown, though that seemed to be his usual look. Toshinori immediately jumped to his feet and brushed the hay off of himself, trying to look respectable.
Torino looked Toshinori up and down. “I don’t mind teachin’ ya to read,” he said. “No school’s gonna take you anyway, boy, and I ain’t gonna want a useless stable hand forever.”
Inko cheered, lifting her arms and legs up in victory. She would have fallen backwards had Toshinori not reached out quickly to grab onto her ankle to steady her. She giggled as she clung back onto fence.
“I don’t want you gettin’ too worked up, girl,” Torino warned. “You’ve been wantin’ to be a teacher, so you’re gonna be teachin’ him too.”
“Okay!” Inko waved with a happy smile as Torino left the stables. But she tilted her head, a bit curious and confused. “I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about being a teacher besides you, Toshi.”
Toshinori licked his lips. “I… I think I told him a couple weeks ago,” he admitted, equally as confused. “But… I didn’t think he was listening.”
Inko giggled. “That just means that you’re reeeeally special to him!” she proclaimed.
Summer bled into autumn, and the time for harvest came. Everyone was so busy with picking and preserving and preparing for winter, no one first noticed when a rather large group of people made their way into the middle of the market.
Horses and mules with goods on their backs were led by people with pale hair, all of them wearing animal skins and brightly dyed cloth and jewelry made of beads and bone. They looked much the same as Toshinori had when he’d first arrived, though all were mostly cleaner and less ragged than he had been.
Toshinori and Inko were out in the market, purchasing goods for their respective households when the tribe of barbarians stopped in the middle of the street. His eyes widened, and he dropped the basket he held.
He called out words Inko didn’t understand in his native tongue as he ran to them. Toshinori was embraced tightly by several others, almost the entire group of people. His smile was large and contagious, and everyone seemed to be talking over one another.
But Inko felt something stab at her heart. Tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to wipe them away before Toshinori could notice- a futile endeavor, he noticed everything Inko did- but still she tried.
Toshinori looked away from his tribe to Inko as she wiped at her eyes. He broke away from the tribe and went over to her, brushing tears out of her eyes. That only served to make her cry even more.
“You’re gonna leave me!” she sobbed. “You’re gonna leave and go be with your family!”
“No! No, Inko…”
“Don’t go, Toshi…”
“Hey, crybaby!” A little girl with blonde pigtails forced her way out of the tribespeople, her cheeks red with fury. She dashed away from the group and held tightly onto Toshinori’s arm. “We just found Toshi! We ain’t giving him up again!”
“Mitsuki…” Toshinori groaned, running a hand down his face.
Mitsuki stuck her tongue out at Inko. “I’m gonna be chief one day, so you can’t stop me from bringing him back!”
Inko rubbed at her eyes, still sniffling. “I- I know,” she said. “But- But he’s my friend and- and I’m just gonna miss him so much!”
Mitsuki sniffed huffily, taking Inko’s wrist. “Then we’ll just take you too!” she proclaimed. Mitsuki turned and began to drag Inko and Toshinori over to the tribe.
Inko’s mother shrieked when she saw it, and Mitsuki’s father- a man who was almost Mitsuki’s exact figure- stepped forward to intercept them. He laid down his spear and knelt in front of Mitsuki, speaking in their own language. Mitsuki snapped back, though her father calmly replied. They argued for several moments, Inko looking worriedly between them and the townspeople who did not move.
Finally, Mitsuki let out a begrudging sigh and dropped Toshinori and Inko’s arms. “But I wanna come back!” Mitsuki exclaimed. “I like her.”
Her father smiled, placing a hand on her head and ruffling her already messy hair. “And so we shall.” He stood, picking up his spear. He looked to Toshinori. “But for now, we must move on to greener pastures before the cold sets in. What will you do, Toshinori?”
Toshinori looked from the chief to Inko, then to the Torino hiding in the crowd. He gulped as he returned his gaze to the chief.
“If… If you wouldn’t mind… for now… I’d like to stay here,” he said.
The chief gave Toshinori a smile. “Then we shall meet again in the spring.”
Mitsuki gave out a loud laugh, her hands on her hips. “And when we return, I’ll be bigger and strong than both of you!” she proclaimed. “So be ready to be amazed, crybaby!”
“Inko!” Inko exclaimed. “My name is Inko!”
“Until next time, Encoo!”
The tribe of barbarians disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Torino came up behind the two children and placed a hand on Toshinori’s shoulder.
“What do you say about getting that food and starting up your first lesson once we get home, eh?” he said, to which Toshinori nodded with a bright smile.
The world had only just begun.