In my dreams I saw
moonlight shining on water
and you there, waiting.
The dream started like it had the last three times. He was a boy sitting in the next room, watching and listening to the men who had come to visit his father.
A shiver went down his spine. Gliding into the room, a tall figure dressed in beautiful white silk garments came and stood before his father. His hair was very long and worn loose, nearly knee length, and it was white. His face, though, was that of a young man. Across one shoulder, he wore an immensely long white stole. His eyes were amber, and where they looked, people quaked. His father bowed low.
"Sesshoumaru-sama. The Takeda clan moves even as we speak. They will overrun the town and besiege the castle in less than a month. I ask you humbly. The Ideuras have been loyal to the Lord of the Western Lands long before my grandfather was a boy. Please aid us."
"This Sesshoumaru cannot," said the cold voice of the youkai.
"Then please allow me to send my wife and heir with you so that they may remain safe," the human said.
"This Sesshoumaru cannot," the youkai replied.
Suddenly the dream shifted, and he was kneeling next to his father who had taken an arrow in the chest. Struggling for breath, his lungs making a horrid sucking sound and with blood bubbling on his lips, the older man said, "Son, remember always why I die. The Lord of the Western Lands deserted us. Do not put your trust in youkai. Revenge me and our family."
With a gurgling sound, he died.
Suddenly, Yoshiyuki found himself in a different place. Sesshoumaru stood before a great spider, a spider as large as a six mat room. There was webbing, bones and web-wrapped bodies strewn around the room. It was a place of nightmare. Venom dripped from the spider's fangs. She shot web at the youkai who deflected it easily with a sweep of his energy. He pulled a dark and threatening sword, and with a sweep, destroyed the spider.
"He killed our eldest mother!" came a voice. The Sesshoumaru killed our mother and killed your father. You will help us kill him."
He turned and saw the woman in tattered clothes that had led to his fall. Behind her a whole army of ragged women stood. She was holding a cat, small and black and white, barely past its kitten stage, and looked at him with burning eyes. "We will help you get your vengeance. Your hands will be our hands. Our silk will bind him. Your hands will slice him. Together we will destroy the great dog."
She pulled out his hands, and began wrapping them in silk, up his arms and around his body. When she reached his head, he woke up screaming.
"Baku, Kami-sama! Eater of bad dreams, where are you when I need you?" said the young man, awkwardly sitting up. The room was dark, although a little gray from the approaching dawn highlighted the shadows and a small oil light burned in the corner of the room.
In the shadows of the room, Yoshiyuki could almost see the fragments of his nightmare -- spiderwebs wrapping around him and old women laughing. Gingerly, he got to his feet, one leg still sore from his being thrown, and his left arm still bound in a splint. Slowly and awkwardly he dressed, then left the small room he had slept in.
As he passed the next door, he could hear the soft snoring of the old priest Mushin.
With a deep sigh, Yoshiyuki left the covered walkway and moved out on the graveled path that led from the temple, crushing small weeds that dared pop up through the small stones beneath his straw sandals. "Has it been four weeks already?" he said out loud.
Even though he had spoken softly, the sound of his voice was almost shocking in its noise, like it had broken some spell of peace over the grounds. He stood there and listened, holding his breath. He could hear the birds singing in the morning coolness, the wind in the trees, the sound of water in the nearby stream, but otherwise there was no other noise to be heard. He stood there breathing deeply as the sky lightened with the sunrise, drinking in the peace, with a faint longing to stay here in the quiet alway, but then he began to walk again, the slapping of his sandaled feet on the dirt of the road echoing in his ears.
It was a pleasant and comfortable place, the temple, quiet in the mountains, neglected a bit, and getting run down, but still radiating a certain peace. Master Mushin was currently the only priest in residence, but the few locals came by regularly to pray, to ask for blessings, and sometimes even to ask for advice. No one questioned the old man if he skipped the morning prayers or smelled too often of sake. Here, during the day, it was possible to believe there were no such things as warlords or evil youkai or bandits, but only the trees and the temple and mountains, Buddha's time. Here it was possible to believe the war and strife that had touched his life was just a nightmare.
Nightmares. He shivered at the thought, for even with all the peace and quiet he had been experiencing here at the temple, even with offerings of incense and flowers and sutras, his sleep had been ragged, chased with images of angry women and giant spiders. This last week it had been particularly bad. In his need to get away from the images, he had taken to walking in the early morning.
Not long after he had left the temple grounds on his walk, a small black and white cat, not yet full grown, came up and rubbed against his ankles. He bent down to scratch the cat's ears. It rubbed up against his hand and purred.
"Hello, little one. What are you doing out here in the woods?" he said.
The cat meowed at him, looking up at him with big tawny eyes. "Well, if you want to walk with me, you are more than welcome," he said. He continued his walk, with the cat trailing behind him.
Behind a bush, an old woman dressed in tattered clothes peaked at the two. "Watch him well, Little Sister. Keep him safe. Soon he will be our weapon."
Miroku walked up the path to the work site where one mostly and another partially completed house now sat. The grounds around the finished house were still a little trampled from the construction work, but a garden had been laid in. InuYasha sat on the veranda looking down towards the village, his face marked with an intense scowl. His ears flicked as Miroku kicked a rock on the path out of the way, and the hanyou took a deep sigh that let the monk know that his presence was known.
"I thought I might find you up here," Miroku said, joining him on the veranda. The house smelt of newness, of fresh wood and paint, and had none of those smells that a lived-in house develops. He settled down and rested his back against the wall, and laid his staff across his lap. From where they sat, the monk noticed how the sunlight glinted off the rice paddies and how well they could see the torii gate of the village shrine. It reminded him, in a way, of how InuYasha would sit in trees the better to watch over the people he was protecting.
"Keh," InuYasha said. "I decided it was just too dangerous for me down there where all the women were. I was afraid I would end up in a cook pot."
"Not much else for us to do but wait, anyway. The girls are keeping Kagome busy, determined not to let her anywhere near you until it's time. They've set up quite a pretty shrine for Amida, too. Flowers everywhere," Miroku said, resting his staff along the wall. "You're taking this all in good stride, my friend,"
"I'd rather face a dragon, I think," InuYasha replied. "Somebody around here might not be as happy as those hens helping Kaede. Look at the entrance door."
Miroku got up and went over to the door and noticed the line of anti-youkai fuda pasted there. "Hmm," he said, studying them and reaching out to peel one off. "Well, they haven't been blessed. There's no power to them." He proceeded to peel all of the off. "Someone has a bad sense of humor."
InuYasha snorted, taking one of the papers from Miroku. "Smells like Akiko's boy Daichi," he said, frowning.
"The one who plays with Shippou all the time? Sounds like a joke in the making. I think Shippou's trying to teach them how to be as tricky as kitsunes," Miroku said. "I doubt there is anybody in this village who would actually try to do anything against Kagome-sama, InuYasha. And there's nobody here strong enough who could begin to be a threat to you."
"Doesn't mean they're going to like it, either," InuYasha replied. "Just means they don't think they can do anything about it. That can be worse, sometimes."
The two men fell silent for a long moment, then InuYasha broke the silence with a question. "So how did you escape from down there?"
"Me? I didn't actually escape. I've been sent to keep you company," Miroku replied. "I don't think Sango likes me being around all the village girls when she's too busy to keep an eye on me." He sighed.
"All that cooking going on. Who would have guessed your wedding day was going to be such a public spectacle?"
"It was Kaede's idea," InuYasha said, looking at his hands. "She thought that if the whole village sees us married, then maybe...." His voice drifted off.
"Then maybe they'll accept Kagome-sama as your wife and let her live here in peace? Kaede is a wise woman and knows the villagers well."
InuYasha tilted his head back against the wall of the house and looked up at the overhang. "I need to do something. Not even any low-level youkai to take care of around here any more. Naraku must have used up most of'em right before we took care of him."
Miroku smiled. "You, my friend, have the bridegroom jitters. It'll be over soon."
"Feh," InuYasha said. He watched a spider crawl across the wooden floor near where he was sitting and slapped it dead.
"It won't be much longer, Kagome," Sango said, standing next to the bathtub. "When you're done and dry, we'll start dressing you."
The small room was filled with steam from the hot water. Kagome sat in the tub, her hair piled high on her head, and her head tilted back against the tub wall.
"Not quite as good as a hot springs in the mountain," Sango said. "I wonder if we'll ever get to go traveling and discover places like those again?"
"Do you miss it, Sango?" Kagome asked.
"Some of it. I don't miss being tired or lost or being afraid for my friends," she replied, reaching for a towel. "I don't mind eating more than fish on a stick, either."
"What I don't miss the most, I think, is the smell of youkai guts," Kagome said, wrinkling her nose in memory. She stood up in the tub, and carefully stepped out, taking the towel Sango wrapped around her. "I kind of miss seeing what's around the next bend, the next pass. I never thought what life after the end might be like. What happens after Momotaro the peach boy kills the oni and returns home? Did he just go back to live an ordinary life?"
Sango held up a yukata for Kagome to slip on. "That's the way my grandmother said, I think. Something about he went back home to his parents and with their treasure, they all lived happy lives." She tied the back of the plain linen yukata with a blue obi. "Although I can't imagine that after killing all those oni and taking the treasure, he went back to live as a poor peasant. But maybe that's not the story to be thinking about today."
Kagome slid her feet into her sandals as Sango walked over and slid the bathroom door open. "So what story should I be thinking about?" Kagome asked, walking across the dirt covered work area to the raised platform of the main section of the room. Sitting down,she slipped off her sandals and went to sit by the fire pit.
Sango, walking right behind her, went over to a chest sitting out in the middle of the room, opened it up and handed her a pair of tabi. "Better put these on first," she told her. As Kagome slipped the soft garments over her feet, Sango looked thoughtful. "Now what story should you be thinking about? How about this one?"
She pulled out the undergarments and handed them to Kagome. "Once there was a pass across a mountain, and near the pass was a forest called the Mujina Woods, because there were some Mujina youkai there, shape shifters who like kitsune, tended to trick the unwary. They were known especially to harass people with mean hearts, the legends say.
"Two villages lay at either side of this wood, but because of the Mujina, people didn't like to take the road to visit the other village often. Yet one day, a go-between came by to arrange a marriage between the daughter of one village and the son of another. The father of the bride, who loved his daughter deeply, knew the family of the young man the go-between was coming from, and believed he would treat his daughter well, and the wedding was agreed to.
"Finally, it was the day for the bride and her family to go to the next village. As they were walking through the woods, the girl paused, and let them know she had to stop. They waited for her a long time, and began to worry and started looking for her, but after much searching, they gave up the hunt.
"Several years later, the girl's father was wandering in the woods, when he heard someone singing beautifully. It was a song his daughter used to sing, so he followed the voice, and at last came to a clearing. There he saw a woman washing clothes in front of a cave, and a small child playing nearby. The woman looked up, and he saw it was his daughter.
"Keiko, Keiko!" he said, running up to her. "I thought you were lost forever! What happened? Why did you disappear on the way to your wedding?"
"The girl looked up, and embraced her father, very happy to see him. She sat him down and made tea, and told him her story. It seems that before the go-between showed up to make the arrangements for the wedding, she had been wandering in the edge of the woods one day, and met a beautiful young man. The young man was actually a Mujina. They talked, and met again, several times, and as it happens with young people, they fell in love. With the help of several of his relatives, the Mujina arranged the wedding, but when it was time to go to the bridegroom's home, he met her in the woods, and this is where she had lived since then.
"'But even though he used a trick to get you to agree,' she told him, 'I am his wife, and have a son, and am very happy.'
"The father looked into his daughter's eyes, and saw that it was true. She looked very happy. 'Then I give you my blessing,' said the father. "All I ever wanted was for you to be happy.'
"It is said that after that time, the family's fortunes prospered, and on moonlit nights, strangers still tell of hearing a beautiful woman's voice singing of her happiness."
Sango looked over to Kagome, who was standing there, half-dressed but smiling. "A much better story," Kagome said.
Picking up the soft white silk wedding kosode, Sango draped it around her shoulders. "You are like a sister to me. Don't worry about all those other things you were thinking about, or what people will say. Be happy."
It looked like just a bundle of rags in the road, but looks could be deceiving.
"Jaken, what is it?" said the small girl in an orange kimono, bending over to look. She wrinkled her nose. "It smells funny, like dusty places nobody's been in for awhile."
" Rin, come, and do not touch that," said the tall, white haired youkai.
The green toadlike creature rubbed his cap, looking at the bundle, while the small girl returned to the side of the youkai, to hide behind his white silk hakama. "It smells of dust and age...and magic."
Jaken poked it with the base of his staff. The bundle began to glow with a dark purple light. The imp jumped back, "Sesshoumaru-sama!" he cried out, moving closer to the youkai.
Sesshoumaru stared with narrowed eyes at the rags as the glowed brighter and suddenly exploded into a small tornado of rag pieces.
A woman's voice, old and reedy, came out of the rag cascade. "Sesshoumaru - the Yama-uba has not forgotten what you did to their mother! Through blood, through heart, through need, we will teach you our pain."
The rags fell back to earth.
His expression unchanging, Sesshoumaru turned to Jaken. "Burn what's left," he said.