Of Pickles and Badgers
It was a bright and sunny day. Atae set himself down next to his Aunt Rin, who was working out of doors. She had the sleeves of her pale green kosode tied back, and a darker green wrap skirt around her waist. The little boy had seen her wear it before when she was working; he liked the way both garments were decorated in swirls of blue flowers. She had a low table in front of her that was strewn with bowls and vegetables, and he watched intently as she sliced vegetables, cucumber and turnip, and put them into a bowlful of water. She offered Atae a piece of cucumber, which he accepted and started eating.
“What ya doing?” he asked as he chewed. Getting up, he walked around to the other side of his aunt where there was a large wooden pot. He stuck his nose in it, sniffing carefully. His ears went back at the smell.
Rin laughed at the young boy as she removed the vegetables from the water and put them on a mat to drain. “Rin is making pickles. You like pickles, don’t you?”
He nodded, and rolled back on his feet. “I like Mama’s pickles.”
“I know,” said the young woman, as she sprinkled salt into the bottom of the pot. “Your mama and Grandmother Kaede taught Rin how to make pickles. You do remember Grandmother Kaede, don’t you?”
“Sure,” he said. “Grandmother Kaede always gives me sweet dumplings when I come visit.” He watched as Rin layered cucumber into the pot. She turned to him, looking at his puppy eyes, and handed him another piece of cucumber.
“Want to hear a story?” she asked.
Atae nodded, eating his cucumber.
“Well, when Rin lived with Grandmother Kaede, one of the village families began to complain that their pickle tub was cursed. They lived on the edge of the village, a little bit away from everybody else, and it seemed like every now and then, they’d go and put in the ingredients to make pickles, and they’d come back to take some out, and the pickle tub would be empty.” Rin sprinkled chopped kombu seaweed over the cucumber and then some salt. “They began to watch the pickle tub at night, in case someone was stealing the pickles, and for five nights nothing happened. But on the fifth night someone ran to the watch tower claiming bandits were attacking. The women hid, and the men went to keep guard, and no one watched the pickle tub. In the morning, when the woman of the house went to check for pickles for breakfast, all the pickles were gone once again.” Rin began slicing a turnip.
“Somebody stoled them?” Atae asked.
“That’s what it looked like. People in the village began to whisper about ghosts or maybe Kitsune magic. It was a good thing that Shippou-chan was away studying then, because he would have been the first person anybody thought about.”
Rin halved the turnip slices. “Your daddy came and investigated, but the pickle smell was too strong for him to pick up any scents. But he, Miroku-sama, and Grandmother Kaede hatched a plot.” She put the slices in the pot on top of the others, and sprinkled a touch more salt. “Every day at sunset, Miroku-sama would wander over to the pickle tub and put a special seal on the pot. Every night, your daddy and Miroku-sama would hide in a nearby tree and keep watch. Every morning, Miroku-sama would come by to take off the seal. For four days, nothing happened.” She began to peel and seed another cucumber.
Atae stared at the cucumber and watched as Rin prepared it.
She looked at her nephew and smiled. “Are you sure you’re not part Kappa?” she asked. “Everyone knows that Kappas love cucumbers the best.”
Atae made a face. “Not a Kappa! I’m not green!” he said.
Rin handed him a piece of cucumber.
“But I like cucumbers,” he admitted. He took a bite. “What happened next?”
“Ah, that’s interesting,” Rin said. She deftly sliced the last of the cucumber up and put it in the tub. “About midnight, InuYasha-sama heard something move, but it was very hard to see. He could smell it though. Mujina. A badger youki. They’re like Kitsune. Like Shippou, they can change shapes.”
He nodded as she continued. “As your daddy watched, the Mujina snuck into the yard where the pickle tub was sitting.” She sprinkled the last of the seaweed and salt on the vegetables, then got up and fitted the lid. “He looked this way and that, looking for people who might be guarding the pickle tub, but didn’t look up into the trees, so he didn’t see the two in the tree waiting.” Rin wiped her hands on a cloth then put a heavy weight on the lid.
“He tiptoed to the pickle tub, sniffed the air around it, and said, ‘Umm. Daikon! Must have!’ But something happened when he touched the pickle tub. His hand stuck.” Rin sat back down. “Then the youkai kicked at the tub with his foot. And his foot stuck, too. He began to curse and cry, and tried hard to pull free, but in a few minutes, both hands and his head were also stuck to the pickle jar.
“Suddenly Miroku-sama began to laugh because of the harder the Mujina struggled, the more in trouble he was. He and your daddy dropped from the tree and looked at the poor pathetic creature in front of them. InuYasha-sama held onto the creature while Miroku removed the seal. The magic that bound him finally released, the Mujina, probably out of fear, turned himself into a heavy stone, perfect for being the weight for a pickle tub.
“‘If that’s how he’s going to be,’Miroku said, ‘Well he can stay a rock for a while and think about not stealing people’s food.’ And he slapped another seal on him that kept the Mujina from changing shape.”
“Bad badger!” Atae said. “What happened to him?”
“Yes he was. After that, your daddy took the Mujina who was now a rock and gave him to Grandmother Kaede. Grandmother Kaede, seeing that the rock was perfect for a weight for her pickle tub, started using it for that. When Sesshoumaru-sama and Rin and your family left the village, she gave me the rock. What do you think is on the pickle tub now?”
Atae’s eyes got wide, and he stood up and walked over to the tub and looked down at the weight sitting on the lid. He looked at his aunt’s face. Her eyes were laughing, and she covered her mouth, suppressing a laugh. He looked at the rock one more time.
“You made that up,” he said, narrowing his eyes.
“Rin did!” She laughed, and grabbed her nephew, tickling him in the ribs. “And you believed her!” Atae’s squeals joined her laughter.
“I guess we need to clean up now that the pickles are done,” Rin said after a moment. “You help me, and I’ll give you some chimaki!”
“Yeah!” said the boy. “I like chimaki even more than cucumber!”
Laughing, they grabbed the bowls and the table and headed into the house.