Once Upon an August Day
Past an old and ancient shrine at the foot of the Mountain of the Great Dogs, a cold, clear stream makes its way to feed the waters to the paddies of the villagers at Inumura. Slightly above and paralleling that streambed over a long, hard rise, there is a path that goes from the shrine up to a wide plateau at the top of the ridge, big enough to overlook the greater valley below, and the mountains beyond. Villagers almost never walk the path past the shrine; there are rumors that the Great Dogs prowl there, and those who walk up uninvited never return.
But if one were to take the path upwards, one would discover a place of gardens and houses and meadows and forest and higher reaches yet that stretch out into a massive ridge.
In one sheltered corner, in a garden glowing with the touch of autumn reds and golds, a small group of people sat on the grass near a pond bright with the autumn sunlight. It was late afternoon. A dark-haired woman was telling a story to a group of children.
"A long, long time ago, once there was a tanuki," she began.
A silver-haired boy with two white furred triangular ears nudged the boy next to him. “Hey Naoya! What’s a tanuki?”
“Don’t be dumb, Atae. You know, a tanuki. Like Hachi, Papa’s friend,” Naoya said, offering a toy soldier to his little brother Tadashi, who promptly put it in his mouth. “We rode on his back once.”
“You mean that guy who shape-shifted like Shippou-kun?” Atae asked.
“That’s right, Atae-kun. You sat in Noriko’s lap, and I held that rude little brother you’re sitting next to.” Yasuko, Naoya’s older sister, held a small, silver-haired girl in her arms. “That was just a little bit before you came to be with us, Ginhime-chan,” she said, tickling the little girl, who also sported puppy ears. “I remember how upset we made Rin-sama when we flew by the house. I thought maybe you were going to come early.”
The toddler giggled.
“Is anybody interested in the story?” the storyteller said, clearing her throat.
“Of course, Sango-chan. Rin loves when you tell the stories,” said a lovely woman dressed in a kosode of golds and oranges. Her hair was tied back into a low ponytail, and she carried a small child, not yet a year old. The baby grabbed her finger and began chewing on it. “That hurts, Yukika. What would your mother say if she knew you were biting your aunt?”
The baby looked up at her and smiled, then gnawed some more.
Sango began again. “Once there was a tanuki who was walking along in the mountains. He was very, very quiet. He heard some giggling behind a tree, and peaked around it, and saw three young tengu.”
“What’s a tengu, Mama?” asked a black-haired little girl with her father’s violet eyes.
Sango held open her arms, and the girl walked over to her. “A tengu, Kiyome? Why that’s a youkai that has a bird’s wings and a long, long nose.” She gestured in front of her nose, measuring well over a foot in front of her.
The girl’s eyes grew large. “That long?” she asked.
Sango nodded. “Sometimes even longer. These were young tengu, about your age. They were sitting under a tree and fanning themselves with a magic fan.”
“Does anybody get killed in this story?” Atae asked Naoya.
“Naw,” the boy answered. “It’s kind of a girl’s story.”
“Wanna go down to the stream?”
Naoya nodded, and followed his friend out of the story telling circle.
Rin watched the two boys walk off, and covered her face, stifling a giggle. “So, Sango-chan, what did this magic fan do?”
“Ah,” Sango said, refocusing on the children who remained. “This fan was a special tengu toy. When the little tengu would fan themselves on one side of their face, their nose would get very, very long.” She measured with her fingers. “And when they fanned on the other side of their face, their noses would get short, just like yours and mine.” She tapped her daughter on the nose.
“The tanuki watched the three tengu children and began to long for the fan. Looking into his carry bag, he spotted four sweet bean buns, and he hatched the most wonderful plot. Suddenly he shifted his shape into a cute little human girl and walked out in front of the three tengu.
“‘O!’ he said to the three youkai. ‘What a wonderful trick you have! Show me again!’ And the three tengu children, pleased to have an audience, used their fan to show him exactly how it worked. He handed each of them a sweet bun, and said, ‘I have one more, but you have to decide who gets it.’
“The tengu children began to flap their wings and argue about which of them should get the bun. In the argument, they dropped the magic fan. The tanuki, seeing how involved they were in their argument, left the last sweet bun for the tengu, and grabbed the fan, and ran.”
Tadeshi decided at that moment to throw his brother’s wooden soldier at Noriko who was holding his youngest baby brother Saneo. Noriko shrieked as she batted the missile aside, and Saneo, who had been sleeping, woke up and added his cries to the noise. Sango, sighing, nudged Kiyome off her lap, and went to pick up the fussing baby.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” Noriko said, letting her mother have her brother. She picked up the toy soldier from where it dropped on the ground.
“Gimme!” Tadeshi demanded. He was ignored.
“That’s all right. It’s probably time to feed him anyway,” Sango replied. She looked sternly at Tadeshi. “As for you, young man, what did I tell you about throwing?“ She took the soldier from Noriko’s fingers, and bounced her youngest in his arms until his cries calmed down.
“Don’t,” Tadeshi said, looking mournfully at the toy in her hand.
“That’s right.” She gave the sad-eyed four year old “the look.” “Mama’s going to hold onto it for a while. You need to remember that.”
Sango’s attention to her son was interrupted as Sesshoumaru walked into the garden behind two wet, unhappy boys. Jaken, as usual, followed in his wake, giving the boys dagger looks. His robes, too, had gotten wet.
Sesshoumaru, moving in front of the two boys, walked to a pine tree on the edge of the clearing, staring out at the mountains to the northwest. He took a deep breath and released it slowly. .
Rin stood up, balancing Yukika on her hip, and walked over to her husband.“My Lord, does something trouble you?” Rin asked.
“How long,” he began. “How long before my brother and Kagome and the monk return?”
“Perhaps two more days,” she said, touching him lightly on the shoulder.
“Perhaps this Sesshoumaru should have loaned them Ah-Un.” He did not meet her eye. “Their trip would have been somewhat shorter.”
“Perhaps tomorrow, my lord might like to take Ah-Un and go find them?” she suggested.
He turned and looked at Rin. A faint ghost of a smile touched his lips, as he looked into her eyes. Her smile answered his. In the background, he could hear Jaken squawk.
“An excellent suggestion,” he said.
There was a sound of breaking pottery. Tadeshi shrieked while Atae growled. The daiyoukai tensed, almost imperceptibly at the sound, then slowly let his breath out. “Perhaps, this Sesshoumaru will leave after dinner.”
“Perhaps that would not be a bad idea,” Rin agreed.
A/N: At this point in my time line, Miroku and Sango have the following children:
Noriko and Yasuko, the twins: 10 years old
Naoya, Miroku’s firstborn son, 8 years old
Kiyome, daughter, almost 7
Tadeshi, son, 4
Saneo, about a year old.
InuYasha and Kagome’s children: Atae, 7, and Yukika about 7 months old
Sesshoumaru and Rin: Ginhime, about 2 months from her second birthday.