The Ushi Oni
Laughter echoed in the small but pleasant farmhouse.
“So, Tatsume-sama, you must have been a cook in a daimyo’s castle, to learn to cook dumplings this good,” Miroku said to the blushing woman who sat in her corner near the fire pit.
InuYasha focused on his soup bowl to keep from rolling his eyes.
Tatsume, a pretty woman even in her workaday blue kosode, giggled behind her hand. “I don’t think so, Houshi-sama. Surely a daimyo would find my poor cooking rather plain.” She was in the sixth month of pregnancy, and glowed with contentment watching the monk and the hanyou eat their dinner.
“Nonsense,” he said, picking one up and popping it into his mouth.
Hideo put down his rice bowl and grinned. “Say some extra prayers for me and my family, Houshi-sama. I have rescued you from one of the least experienced cooks in the village.” He grabbed his youngest daughter as she began to crawl towards the hanyou. “Oh no you don’t, Nene. Just because you like his ears doesn’t mean you can pester our guest.” He picked her up and sat her on his lap, and fed her a bite of fish off of his tray as she started to pout.
“You shouldn’t talk so about Aka. It’s not her fault her mother passed on before she could learn all she needed,” Hideo’s mother said as she refilled her son’s soup bowl.
“True, true,” Hideo agreed, smiling wryly. “But still, I am glad to show off Tatsume’s talents to two worthy visitors. It’s not often I get the chance to do it. And these men are here to help us. They deserve the best we can offer.”
InuYasha ate quietly, watching the family who had invited them in, squelching a pang of homesickness. It surprised him how Tatsume and Hideo’s mother Hajime took in his appearance with barely a blink of an eye. The farmer’s three children looked at him with interest, but no fear. It was different from what he had come to expect on their exorcism trips. Idly, he wondered what would happen if he came back to visit with Kagome and his children in tow.
“I hope you’re learning all your mother’s secrets, Saru-chan,” Miroku said, still playing the flirt as he sipped his soup, smiling at Hideo’s daughter of eight.
She smiled and hid behind her mother’s shoulder. Her laughter was sweet and high. But her brother Katsuo sat next to his father, and watched the two visitors with solemn, large eyes, too shy to do more than look. His eyes kept drifting to InuYasha’s sword, which the hanyou had politely laid on the ground next to him.
“So,” Hideo asked. “Do you have any idea of how you are going to deal with our oni problem?”
InuYasha looked up at his host. “We’ll need some time to scout out where he goes when he’s not in the village’s fields.” He took another bite of his soup. “I’ve fought this type of youkai before. Need to find him in the open. I sure don’t want to have to go into his den to pull him out.”
“We know where his den is,” Hideo commented, reaching for a pickle on his tray. “There’s a cave up on the mountainside north of the village. We used to use it in emergencies before he showed up. That’s where the women hid when the soldiers came through last year.” He popped the pickle in his mouth. “We’re just lucky we haven’t had that sort of emergency since he showed up.”
“Some luck,” InuYasha said, snorting.
Hideo sighed. “We count what blessings we can.” He passed the toddler in his lap back to his wife. “I don’t know who’s eaten more, the oni or the army.”
“The army,” Hajime said, holding her ladle like a scepter. “But not for much longer at the rate the monster’s been eating us out of house and home.”
“It seems to me,” Miroku said, finishing off yet another dumpling, “We need to take care of the monster far enough away from the village that people aren’t hurt by accident.”
“True,” InuYasha agreed. “This is not the fight where you want spectators. It’s not some little rat youkai or badger. Ushi oni are dumb and stupid and don’t make way for crowds. They have venom and their youki can suck the life force out of people if they want to.”
The room fell silent, except for Nene gurgling.
“I have an idea,” Hideo said. “The – ”
Suddenly the door slid open and the head and shoulders of a small visitor popped through the opening. “Is Katsuo done? Can we play?” The boy walked into the house, and his eyes grew large as he saw the visitors sitting around the fire. “InuYasha-sama! I didn’t know you’d be here!”
All heads turned to the doorway.
“Yoshi, does your mother know you’re over here?” Tatsume asked, frowning.
“Hmm. It smells good here, Auntie. Did you make dumplings?” the boy asked, moving towards the fire pit. He sat down next to Hideo’s wife, and looked up at her with big wistful eyes.
She handed him a dumpling, which he stuffed into his mouth. “Well does she?”
“Uhmmm,” he said as he chewed, “Maybe.”
Miroku chuckled. “And you met this fine young man where?” he asked InuYasha.
“While you were talking to the village elders. But his mother wasn’t very happy about it,” InuYasha said, finishing off his pickle. He chewed it thoughtfully but decided that Tatsume’s pickles were quite as good as Kagome’s. Still, they would do. “But I didn’t realize he was your nephew.” He looked at his host.
“Sorry, friend. Yes, I am related to this willful boy. And you’re right, my sister-in-law wasn’t very pleased.” Hideo looked sternly at the boy. “My nephew likes to wander off without permission. Remember what your mother did to you last time you came over without asking?”
Yoshi rubbed his backside, even as he stuffed another dumpling into his mouth and nodded. “Papa made sure I would remember.”
“Did you ask before you came over?” Hideo asked.
The boy swallowed, and looked down. “No . . . no, Uncle.”
“Katsuo, do you want to go play with this boy who won’t even ask his mother if he can leave?” Hideo asked his son.
“Yeah!” said the younger boy.
“You two, go back over to Yoshi’s house. I’ll come get you, Katsuo, at sunset,” Hideo said. “But if your aunt tells you to come home before then, come home. You hear me? And stay away from the river!”
Katsuo nodded. In a flash, the two boys were by the door. Yoshi looked back into the room. “Bye, InuYasha-sama. I don’t care what my mother says. I know you’re a hero!” he said, then dashed out.
“My, my,” Miroku commented. “You must have made an impression, my friend.”
“Keh,” InuYasha replied, then popped a dumpling in his mouth.
Hideo laughed. “As I was saying, I have this idea . . . ”
To be continued....