Chapter 22: Stories
Benzaiten sings. Hakuzo makes tea. Sesshoumaru makes a discovery
The Evil in Men's Hearts
Chapter 22: Stories
The past is already past.
Don't try to regain it.
The present does not stay.
Don't try to touch it.
From moment to moment.
The future has not come;
Don't think about it beforehand.
Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.
There are no commandments to be kept;
There's no filth to be cleansed.
With empty mind really penetrated,
The dharmas have no life.
When you can be like this,
You've completed the ultimate attainment.
The air smelt sweetly of jasmine and water. Nezumi meandered down the trail, ignoring Daikokuten as he found a comfortable seat in the tumble of rocks Before him, a pool of water spread out, rippling with the wind. Near the edges, where the water was stiller, lotus grew. At the far end, a small trickle of water cascaded down the rock face from some secret spring in the cliff behind it.
Beneath the deep late-afternoon shadows of overhanging maples and pine came the sweet sound of a biwa playing, plaintive, sad and longingly. The music faded into silence. Two women left the shadows, one dressed all in white, a finely worked gown with silver blossoms worked into the design, graced with a fine blue obi. She stood there graceful and regal, with shining ebony hair that fell in a cascade nearly to the ground Her companion was smaller, obviously Youkai with the fine pointed ears and auburn hair common to Kitsunes. She was dressed in dark blood red.
"Daikokuten, welcome," said the woman in white. As the light dimmed with the growing twilight, she seemed to glow with a certain inner light. "Please convey my apologies to Nezumi. Both Yuki and Tsukikage are busy on errands right now and he will not be able to play with them."
Daikokuten's eyes twinkled. "Ah, poor rat. He always so enjoys tormenting your foxes, Benzaiten."
She smiled, laughter in her black eyes. "One day, they will catch him, Koku. Then what will you do?"
The Kitsune woman rolled out a fine blue cloth, then helped Benzaiten kneel, fanning out her kimono skirts gracefully, sitting near at hand. Benzaiten gestured for Daikokutan to join her. He left his perch on the rocks. Nezumi finally caught up to him, ran up to his shoulder.
"I checked the wards around the entire valley, Benzaiten. You're right, they are degenerating. It won't be long until they fail," he said. "I did what I could, but there is little to do but be prepared for the worst."
"This Kukai foretold," said the kitsune.
"Yes, Nyoko" said Benzaiten. She took her biwa from Nyoko's hand. "You wrought, he wrought, and now we reap." She began to play and sing:
drifting over open fields
beneath the high wall,
caught on a spring breeze that yields
to the castle tall --
The guardians kept their watch.
"Once the moonlight watched,
shining brightly in the night
above the high wall
as they gathered by torchlight
In the castle tall
drinking sake unaware.
"Cold the wind that blew,
broken-hearted winter wind
over the high wall --
wild geese crying of the end
to the castle tall,
death singing in full moon light.
"Shadow did not hide
sword work flashing in moonlight
behind the high wall--
red blood flowing at midnight
in the castle tall,
guardians died unknowing.
"Ruins reaching up
forgotten now is the place
where stood the high wall
long forgotten is the face
of the castle tall--
a lost heap of broken dreams.
"No breath of grieving
is spoken by the pine trees
where stood the high wall,
curse binds human memories
of the castle tall --
curse echos through time to kill."
She sighed, as the last note died. Tears glistened in Nyoko's eyes. The kami, smiling softly reached out and touched the Kitsune woman's hand. "Kukai did what he could. We will do what we can."
Rin sat by the fire, resting her head on her knees, sitting near Kagome's cooking fire. The afternoon was giving way into evening, and the shadows around the camp had grown long and deep. It was quite quiet for the moment. Jaken was taking Ah-Uhn out to pasture. Matsuo was meditating near a sealed Saicho.
Hakuzo came and sat down next to her. Across the campsite, Teijo quietly worked through a kata with a bo in his hand. The staff moved effortlessly. Rin watched how beautifully he moved, and remembered her own practicing with a staff, and then sighed.
"Rin wishes Sesshoumaru-sama would return."
Hakuzo built up the fire, throwing a few pieces of wood on it and poured water into Kagome's tea kettle. "I'm sure he will as soon as he is finished with whatever he went off to do, Rin," said the Kitsune. "I wonder where InuYasha and Kagome went?"
"InuYasha took her off somewhere on his back," Rin said. "Kagome-sama left some of her things. Rin thinks they will be back."
Once he decided the fire was hot enough, he put the kettle back on the fire. "I hope so. Otherwise, I'll have to search for her to give her this tea kettle back. And it's a nice one.
It grew quiet again as he waited for the water to heat. Teijo finished his exercise, looked at Matsuo, and began to walk their way. "Hhm," Hakuzo said, staring at the kettle. "Would you like me to tell a story?"
"Yes, please," she said.
"A long time ago," he said, "There was an old tea kettle used at a temple. It had been used for a long time, and nobody ever noticed anything remarkable about it. It was plain, with no decoration. But one day, nobody knows why, when the priest was about to hang it over the fire to boil the water for his tea, something amazing happened."
He searched through his bag for his tea makings.
"Suddenly, the kettle grew a tale and a head. It sprouted fur. It grew four paws It had become a tea kettle Tanuki! It started dancing, and running around the room."
Teijo took a seat near Hakuzo, smiling a little in recognition. He laid his bo in front of him in a respectful position. "Do tell, Hakuzo."
"The priest, never ever expecting something like this to happen, started saying the Nembutso and called in all his pupils there to see this amazing thing. While they were staring and wondering what to do, the kettle jumped into the air and began flying around the room, just like Ah-Uhn does. 'What have we done to deserve something like this?' the priest said. Just knowing it had to be an evil thing, the priest and his pupils tried to pursue it, but it was very hard to do."
Hakuzo measured tea into cups. "At last, however, they managed to knock it down from where it was flying by having the youngest novice jump on top of it, and then they all piled on. With everybody holding it down, they forced it into a box, intending to carry it off and throw it away far from the temple, because they didn't want something like a youkai tea kettle in the temple.
"The priest, a thrifty man who really didn't like to waste anything, though, got an idea and decided to sell the kettle so at least the temple would have something for the loss of their kettle. He sold it to a tinker who was passing through.
"But that night, as the tinker was sleeping, he heard a strange noise near his pillow. Jumping out of bed, he saw the kettle he had gotten from the temple moving. As he watched, it grew covered with fur, sprouted a tanuki head and tail and walked about on four legs. The tinker, at first frightened, kept watching, but all of a sudden the kettle resumed its former shape. This happened over and over again. Shaken, he never did get back to sleep.
The water in Hakuzo's kettle was steaming, and he poured it into three teacups, then handed one to Rin and Teijo. "The tinker, bleary eyed and frightened, showed the kettle to a friend of his, who said, 'This is certainly an accomplished and lucky tea kettle. You should show it around the country, with songs and music, and make it dance and walk on the tight rope.'
"The tinker thought this was for awhile. The kettle had done nothing to hurt him, and actually seemed at ease in his company. After awhile, he decided to do just what his friend suggested. Pretty soon, word about the marvelous tanuki kettle spread everywhere, until even the daimyos and nobles sent to order the tinker to come to them; and he grew rich beyond all his expectations. Even the great ladies of the court took great delight in the dancing kettle, so that no sooner had it shown its tricks in one place than it was time for them to keep some other engagement. At last the tinker grew so rich he decided to retire, and in thanks, he took the kettle back to the temple as an offering of something precious.
"The funny thing is, once they thought it was too evil to keep at a temple. Later, they worshipped it like it was a kami."
Rin giggled. Teijo turned his head towards the woods. "You feel that?" he asked, feeling a strong surge of youki..
Hakuzo looked up. "Someone's coming, I think. Feels like --"
A white clad figure walked into the campsite."Sesshoumaru-sama!" said Rin, jumping up to run to the InuYokai. She stopped in front of him and looked up into his golden eyes.
"You remain well, Rin?" said the taiyoukai, his face as calmly neutral as usual. The other two youkai stood up.
"Rin is well and Kagome-sama gave me rabbit stew and rice for dinner, and it was very good. Hakuzo told me a story. Rin is glad you are back."
"Good, Rin." He looked at Hakuzo. "Where are my brother and the miko?"
"After the human by Matsuo tried to leave, InuYasha-sama went to help, and when he came back, he took Kagome-sama and left." said Rin.
"I didn't see it," said Hakuzo. "Teijo knows more, I believe."
"This Sesshoumaru suspects you know more about many things, Uncle," he said.
"The sohei said rude things. He has been reprimanded."
"Answer me this, then, Uncle. Tell me why I cannot return the way I came. I searched for a way for hours. The paths simply...disappear."
"There's a kami involved." Teijo said calmly, crossing his gray clad arms in front of him. "I don't think the kami will let us go until they are ready."