Chapter 5: Grandmotherly Advice in the Morning
Shyness in the light--
a handful of red flowers
Kaede smiled a little when she pulled up the mat door of her hut and walked in and found InuYasha and Kagome curled up together. They were laying down on the floor, a bundle of red and white and dark, her ebony hair cascading over his shoulder, his white hair spilling around them both, the voluminous sleeves of his suikan blanketing her as he snuggled her spooned up against him, his arms wrapped around her in a protective embrace. Shippou lay nested in the sleeping bag alone, snoring softly.
Walking quietly as she could to her place by the firepit, the old miko rested her basket of medical supplies on the floor and then quietly sat. InuYasha's ears twitched a little as she settled herself down and took a deep, tired sigh. The dimness of the room couldn't fully disguise her fatigue as she bent over the fire pit to stir the last of the coals, adding some shaved bits of wood and straw and adding a few sticks to rekindle the flame for the morning fire. As she fanned the red coal back into flame, he raised his head a bit, and looked at her.
She glanced his way, and inwardly winced at the instant wariness in the hanyou's eyes as he realized she was in the room. "Rest easy, InuYasha," she said, gently feeding the barely flaming coals in the firepit. "I am not Miroku to make a jest of you and Kagome-chan. But it is first light, I've been out all night bringing in a new life, and these old bones of mine are tired." She brushed a few stray gray hairs off of her forehead with the back of her hand. "I would like a bit of fire and some tea. It was a long night."
InuYasha let out a long breath, reaching over Kagome to grab the pillow from her sleeping bag to replace his shoulder and carefully unwrapped himself around her. Sitting up, he rubbed his hands over his face as the center of the room brightened with the growing fire. As careful as he had been, Kagome stirred as he moved, opened her eyes, and saw Kaede by the firepit. Covering a yawn, she looked around her, and saw InuYasha sitting next to her.
"Did I fall asleep when we were talking?" she said, blushing slightly, sitting up and smoothing down her sleep shirt.
"Yeah. I must have too." Inu looked down at his hands, as if fascinated by his claws.
Kagome reached out, touched his arm. "I slept so well," she said softly. He quickly looked up at her and gave her a small smile.
Kaede gave a half chuckle at the two of them and their mix of ease and uncertainty with each other and moved the kettle onto the fire. Kagome got up, stretching and running her fingers through her hair, then moved next to the fire pit, warming her hands by the fire.
"How did things go?" Kagome asked.
Kaede tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. "As well as they should have. Akina now has a fine looking new son," she said. "I do not know who is happier, the parents or the grandparents."
"I am glad," Kagome replied, sighing.
"You have a good heart, Kagome-chan, but we managed all right. You did better staying here last night. The birthing room was too full as it was," Kaede said. "I did have a wish to ask one or the other of Akina's aunts and sisters to go home as well."
Shippou suddenly sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Is is breakfast time?"
"Not yet, Runt," said InuYasha. "Come on and get up. Let's go fishing."
"Really?" said the kitsune. He gave a yawn, then jumped up out of the sleeping bag. "Are you going to show me how to catch a big fish like Yoshi?'
"We'll see, runt," he said as the boy rolled up the sleeping bag to put it away.
"I'll fix rice porridge," said Kagome, looking up at InuYasha.
He nodded, walked over to the door mat and opened it to a sky just starting to color with sunrise. "Oi, Shippou, I thought you were a youkai! How come you're so slow?"
Shippou muttered something very softly, and dashed out of the hut. "I heard that, you know," InuYasha said, and followed him out in a flash of red and white.
For a moment, there was no sound in the room except for the crackling of the fire. Kaede broke the silence by saying, "He cares deeply for you, Kagome-chan."
Kagome, taking a bowl from its shelf, went over to the rice bin and measured out enough to make porridge. "I know," she replied, pouring water over the rice to wash it.
"And I know that I am not mistaken about your feelings for InuYasha," Kaede continued, preparing her tea.
Kagome looked down at the rice she was washing, and blushed a little as she strained the rinse water out into a bucket. Carefully, she poured the clean rice into a cooking pot, and adding enough water, put it on to cook.
"You are to my heart like a granddaughter, child, and I want you to think carefully. You are welcome to stay with me as long as you want, but soon you will find yourself being pressured to make choices about your life. You and InuYasha have been through so much this last year, and I know how it has bound your hearts. But the life he could offer you will never be an easy one - there will always be people who will say or even do harsh things. He knows this, and hesitates, I think, frightened about what might happen. If you go with him, you will need to be strong, strong for yourself, and strong for him," Kaede said as she sipped her tea.
"I know," said Kagome. "It sounds easy to say that I don't care what others think, and I mean it, but sometimes I get scared about what that actually might be like. And then I get angry that it will be like this, like last night when I wanted to help with Akina." She looked up at Kaede. "It's not fair! InuYasha has helped so many, and they treat him like this. What would have happened if no one had stopped Naraku?"
She stood up, went over to the battered pack where she kept her things, pulled out her other yukata, and slipped behind the privacy screen and changed clothes. The soft blue and white cotton felt cool against her skin. Not for the first time, she wished she had had the foresight to bring more clothes with her the last time she came through the well. She stepped back, tying on her apron.
"But child, think of this - do you think you could be happy living another life? He cares enough, I think, that he would give you up if it would make you happy."
"No, just no. I couldn't do that to him. How could I give up his happiness and mine, too, just to have an easier life?"
Kaede smiled. "Well then," she said, getting slowly to her feet. "You know all the answers you need when the right time comes. I am going up to the shrine. I will say an extra prayer to the kami for you."
The road from Matsuida to Annaka starts high above the valley below, where the traveller at the right location could spot a gleam from the river, but before long, the road begins dropping into the the edge of the Kanto plain.
Ideura Yoshiyuki, though, was not really paying attention to the scenery, or the other travellers on the road ahead or behind him, nor of the profusion of late spring flowers, red and yellow, that would cluster whenever the soil was rich enough to let them root. Instead, he thought again on the oni he had killed yesterday, red and horned and angry at missing the merchant he had been stalking when he fell into the ravine. The merchant hadn't even been aware of his danger, but Yoshiyuki, watching from an advantage point on the road above him had seen the entire thing, and he took the opportunity to shoot three arrows into the oni's back. His arrows, dipped in a potent poison and blessed by the priest back home, had found their mark and had pierced through the oni's thick hide and made quick work of the monster. When he had reached the creature, the oni was dead.
It was his first kill of anything larger than a marauding dog he had once slain back home, a slavering angry creature that had been attacking the villagers, and, like that time, it felt good -- the proof of his skill with the bow, the power that he had over such a strong monster, a young man like Momotaro the Peach Boy in the story. He revelled in the excitement of doing something that seemed worthwhile. The fact that it was a youkai, and not merely a human bandit, and thus in some way or the other connected with the Lord of the West who had caused his family such pain made it taste even sweeter. It did not bother him that he had killed a trapped and down creature -- instead he relished the afterglow of how the villagers had cheered at his deed. It made the hungry and cold nights before coming down from the mountains somehow worthwhile. He longed to do it again.
Suddenly, he realized his horse had stopped.
"Is this the one, little sister?" said a voice, thin and reedy and old.
He looked around him, and surprisingly, all he saw was one old, bent woman standing in the road, holding a cat. All of the regular travellers seem to have vanished. The woman in front of him was very frail-looking, not much more than four foot tall. Heavy lines marked her narrow, sharp-chinned face, and her dark eyes were dull, but still contained a certain piercing power. Her outer robe fell about her in tatters, some dark color that looked dirty gray in the morning light, and the kimono beneath was not in much better shape. Her head was covered in a greasy and dingy beige rag, and whisps of silver-white hair escaped off of her forehead. His horse refused to budge as he nudged it to go around her. There was something about her that radiated hunger, an unfillable yearning, and as he watched her, a cold breeze began to blow, setting the hairs on the back of his neck. "Is it a youkai?" he wondered.
"Is this the one who will fight the Great Dog for us?" she muttered. Slowly she began to walk around him, and the eerie feeling he had grew more intense as she circled.
Yoshiyuki had broken out in a cold sweat as the hag circled around him. But he couldn't talk, couldn't move, except to watch her. The limbs on his arms felt truly made of lead, and it seemed like his head was held in a vise.
"Smell his fear, little sister! Pretty little ningen, young and virile, sweet and tasty," she crooned, her old voice filled with dark longing. "See his heart, how he wants to be a hero? Thinks he's the Peach Boy come to fight the king of the Oni! But look! See the hate seeds - and look who he hates most! The Mother was right. What a choice morsel. I could eat him right here." She chuckled. "No, little sister, I promise I won't wrap him up and eat him. The old drunk priest will be by soon, and the Mother would eat me if I tried."
She had walked behind him. "But maybe his horse....she looks to be quite juicy. He won't be needing her where he's going."
The horse began to struggle, wide eyed and in panic as the old woman laid a hand on her rump. "You'll do fine, my young Momotaro. When the time comes, you'll be the right tool in the Mother's hand, and all of us will be happy." She gave the horse a wack, and said, "Go now, and do what you are supposed to do. And maybe, just maybe, I won't eat you for breakfast."
The horse reared up, and started to buck. Yoshiyuki, unprepared for the wild ride his terrified mare was begining, was thrown hard, and landed in a heap on the ground. The old woman stood over him, touched his forehead. "Sleep now. The one is coming who will put you on the right path."
Darkness took him.
Not long after, an old and stout Buddhist monk came walking up the road, leading a stray horse, and spotted the crumpled form of Yoshiyuki. "Well, Mushin, what do we have here?" he asked himself.