OK you wild muses. You're still not going to get to write the next plot bunny until you finish 9C (or chapter 11!) [Shakes fist at wild muses!] And then only after we get the next chapter of EIMH done! [muses stick tongues out at me and laugh].
Oh well. So here we go.
Chapter 10: Vows
In your eyes I see
the end of winter's bleakness,
your smile my new spring.
"Kaede-sama, they're on their way here," said a young girl who stuck her head inside of Kaede’s hut. The girl was dressed in a pretty blue and yellow festival kimono, with a large blue bow in her hair, and a larger smile on her face.
Miroku was sitting next to Kaede with a scroll open in his lap. The two of them looked away from the text, and up at the door.
"Thank you, Kohana-chan. Have you seen Shippou yet?" answered Miroku, with a twinkle in his eye, knowing how the young kitsune felt about this girl.
The girl blushed a little, then nodded. "He looks very nice, Houshi-sama." Giggling, she dropped the door mat.
Kaede shook her head. "You really shouldn't encourage her, Houshi-sama," she said. "I know that Shippou-chan is fond of her, but her family isn't really looking for a Kitsune as their kinsman, you know."
Miroku bowed his head slightly towards the older woman. "You are right as always, Kaede-sama,” he said, calmly, but with a little sigh. “Shippou is really drawn to her. But you make a good point. The ways of the heart are fraught enough with complication. Just look what it took to get these two together."
"Aye. The hand of destiny itself, and now here we are,” said Kaede. “Well, I think that is a beautiful text for the wedding, Monk. You chose well. And just in time, too, from the sound of it.”
The two of them stood up. Miroku went to the door of the hut, and held back the mat to let the miko through. Together, they walked to the makeshift Buddhist altar he had set up near the steps of the village shrine. Miroku noticed a number of villagers had gathered at a respectful distance, some on the shrine steps and some nearer the road who were evidently there to watch the proceedings.
"As I expected, I see we are the spectacle of the day," Miroku noticed. "But then, I suspect that might not be a bad thing."
"A Buddhist joining is rather a rarity," Kaede commented. "Just like the joining of a miko to a hanyou. No doubt some folks will tell about this a long time. But they won't be able to deny the bonding."
"You are wise, my friend," said the monk.
They had marked off the area for the service with ropes and with a canopy. Beneath the canopy itself was a large painting of Amida Buddha on an altar set up for the occasion, and some of the village girls had chosen to adorn the area with flowers of red and white. A low table and cushions faced the altar, and on the sides of this arrangement, there were a few other cushions.
"Are you ready for this, Kaede-sama?" asked the monk. "Are you sure you shouldn't be taking the go-between's place instead of assisting as miko?" There was a twinkle in Miroku's violet eyes.
She looked at him steadily with her one good eye, letting a small smile touch her lips. "I wouldn't be standing there alone, if all the truth were out, I believe," she said.
Looking down the road, she watched as Kagome and InuYasha led the way, with two small lines of people following them, walking solemnly through the lengthening shadows of late afternoon. Behind them, at a distance that made it clear that they really weren't part of what was going on, some of the villagers followed along. Just before they reached Kaede's hut, a small girl darted out from her mother's hand, and handed Kagome a yellow flower. Kaede watched as Kagome bent over and smilingly took the flower from the young girl's hand. But what was more impressive to the old miko was the wide smile on the hanyou's face as he rumpled the little girl's hair and his eyes met Kagome's. "A rare day indeed," she muttered.
As late afternoon gathered gathered towards dusk, the small group prepared camp for the night. They were in a clearing surrounded by tall pines, and the air was sweet with its scent, marred only by the smell of smoke from their campfire, and the aroma of fish being cooked.
"What was that thing in the road, Master Jaken?" the young girl, wearing an orange and yellow kimono, asked. “You know, that thing that blew up into all the bits of cloth.”
Rin checked the fish that were grilling on sticks leaned over the fire in front of her. Behind her, the dragonet had bedded down for the night. The shadows were deep enough, even though it was not yet dark, that the fire cast a reddish cast on the dragonet's skin. A slight distance away, Sesshoumaru sat down, his back leaning against a large rock. His white hair and silk and mokomoko made a sharp contrast between the rock and the alpine setting he rested in. From time to time, his eyes strayed to the group around the fire. His face, controlled and solemn, remained unreadable.
"It was a message from one of our lord's enemies," said the small green youkai. His face reflected a growing impatience. "Are the fish ready yet?"
"Not quite yet," Rin said. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the ground, humming a little song.
"You've gotten very good at catching fish," the toad like green youkai said. "for a ningen girl."
"We might get to eat sooner if you would help," Rin said, matter-of-factly.
Jaken humphed, and hugged the staff of two heads closer, as if to emphasis mere fishing was below him.
They sat there for a time, not speaking. Rin wrapped her arms around her knees. "I hope Kohaku comes back soon," she muttered wistfully. At last, she tested the fish once more. "Ah!" she said. Taking one and handing the other to the small green man. "What enemies of Lord Sesshoumaru?"
"Eh?" said Jaken, biting into his fish.
"The warning from the enemies. The rags that exploded." Rin said.
"Oh, the Yama-uba. " Jaken said. He pulled a piece of the fish off of the stick and popped it into his mouth. "It was before Sesshoumaru-sama had found you. Let me think. It was just about the time the Tanaka clan began to expand westward towards Murakami lands. Yes, that's when the Yama-uba decided to challenge Lord Sesshoumaru for the Western Lands."
"Who are they?" the girl asked.
"They sometimes look like old women. They are always dressed in old ragged clothes. Sometimes they travel with vampire cats. Sometimes they will appear as huge spiders dripping venom. They catch the wary as they travel across the mountain roads. They have a fondness for human flesh, and it is said that they love the blood of children especially," Jaken said, staring at Rin
"Rin is not afraid, Master Jaken. She knows Sesshoumaru-sama will always come and rescue he, just like he did with Naraku," she said, taking the last bite of her fish. "Was there a battle?"
"Of course," said Jaken. "The Yama-uba, with their rag magic and spider weaving and their allies attempted to take over all the passes surrounding the great castle of the Western Lands and encircle him to trap him. Of course, their queen was no match for Sesshoumaru-sama. In a great battle, he killed her and then hunted down all her sisters that he could find, except for three, who he made a treaty with."
"Oh," said Rin.
"Maybe one of them has decided to break the treaty," said Jaken.
"I think they're nasty," said Rin. "I am sure Sesshoumaru-sama will know just what to do."
She glanced towards the Daiyoukai. He seemed lost in thought, as if contemplating Jaken's tale. Taking a deep breath, he turned towards the fire. "Jaken," he said. "It is getting late. Gather some more firewood."
"Yes my Lord," he replied.
As the procession moved to the makeshift wedding shrine, Kaede stepped forward to lead InuYasha and Kagome to their seats in front of the altar.
"Welcome, children," Kaede said smiling.
Kagome bowing respectfully "Thank you for all you have done us since we first showed up on your doorstep last year."
"Keh," said InuYasha, also bowing. "We wouldn't be here without your help, Kaede-sama."
Kagome looked at her partner with pleased amazement.
Kaede, smiled at InuYasha's honorific. "When I was a child, I knew there was something special about you, InuYasha. This year has been proof of that. I am happy that I was able to ease the way for both of you a bit."
She led the two of them to their cushions in front of the altar and helped Kagome arrange her skirts. Kagome gently nudged InuYasha, and whispered, "I told you she had a crush on you when she was little." He nudged her back and blushed, just a little.
After they were seated on the cushions, Kaede led Shippou, Tomoe and his wife to InuYasha's side of the shrine and then led Sango and Kohaku to Kagome's side.
With a deep breath, Miroku stood up from his meditation before the image of Amida, his violet eyes taking a quick, longing look at Sango, where she sat on her side of the area whispering something to her brother. He moved towards the table where InuYasha and Kagome sat, grinned broadly, and said, "Shall we begin?"
InuYasha swallowed once, put his hand over Kagome's, and nodded.
Miroku turned and began the ceremony, lighting incense, touching the earth in a series of short prayers, and chanting a sutra, all in perfect Pali. The hanyou was impressed as he watched his friend with the lecherous smile and easy ways go through the prayers and motions with great grace and deliberation, his voice sonorous as he chanted. It was hard to believe this was the same man who had made a living hustling exorcisms. When the last sounds of the chant passed away, he turned to the couple in front of them and smiled.
Miroku said, turning towards InuYasha and Kagome, "In the teachings of the Buddha, we learn that when a man and a woman come together as husband and wife, there are five things to consider to make a good union.
Someone suppressed a snicker. Miroku raised an eyebrow at the sound, but pretended to ignore it.
"The first is the fact that all the past generations that lead up to your birth and all the future generations that will stem from your union are present in you at your joining and throughout your life together. You are part of a chain that moves from the timeless to the timeless Move through your life always with this knowledge.
"Second is the blessing that comes of your union will reflect how well you live up to the expectations of your ancestors and also the generations yet to come. Walk in the mindfulness that you do not walk alone.
"The third fact is the joy and peace and harmony that you find in your lives is not merely your own good, but the joy and peace and harmony that reflects back upon your ancestors and will transmit down to your descendants. May your life be filled with this good.
"The fourth fact is that being willing to understand and reach out with compassion is the foundation of all love. May you always grow in this willingness.
"The fifth fact is that moving in circles of strife will never strengthen the growth of your souls, but only harm it. May your union lead you down the roads of peace.
"And finally, may the wisdom of the Blessed One shine within your hearts."
Walking towards them a few steps, Miroku said, "It is now time for you to come forward and recite your vows before Lord Amida."
InuYasha with a warm, but hard to read look, stood up and took in Kagome. She looked up, smiling, accepting the hand that InuYasha offered to her. Gracefully, the two of them walked up to the altar, gasho'd respectfully to the image, then turned and faced each other.
Kagome, blushing took out a piece of paper. "I know I'd forget, otherwise," she said.
"Keh," InuYasha replied, taking her free hand, grinning. "Let's just do it."
Together in unison, their eyes mostly focused on each other, but with quick glimpses to Kagome's paper, the two of them said:
"On this day of good fortune
we two bind our vows
together as husband and wife
before Amida Botsu.
From today forward,
we swear that we will,
with love and understanding
establish our home,
joining together our lives,
working to make
our family to flourish."
The two returned to their cushions.
Miroku nodded to Kaede, and went back to take his seat, but not before taking a quick look at Sango. She smiled back, blushed slightly and dropped her eyes to look demurely at her hands.
Kaede brought out the cups for the san-san-kudo on a red lacquered tray. Deftly, she poured the sake three times into the cup, and handed it to InuYasha, who took three tiny sips. Kaede then handed it to Kagome, who did the same thing. They repeated this two more times. Kaede removed the cups, and Miroku stepped up.
"It's almost done," the monk said, smiling. "One last blessing."
He took their right hands, and twisted a rosary around their wrists.
"InuYasha and Kagome, in the midst of worldly illusion and their temptations, try to preserve in your hearts the truths taught by the Buddha. Be compassionate to all, and set your feet on the path which leads from sorrow to peace. Go forth in joy as husband and wife."
The temple grounds rested quietly under the gathering dusk, the quiet broken only by the sound of evening birds. Yoshiyuki walked quietly across the temple grounds, carrying a lantern and his sword in his obi. Reaching the clearing that he had dubbed his practice grounds, he sat the lantern on a rock, knelt down and laid his sword before him.
Closing his eyes, he let his ki expand as he quieted his mind. Soon, he became aware of the wind in the pines, the sound of the stream cascading down the mountainside near by, the chattering of a squirrel, the purr of the cat who had followed him down here..
He let his mind sink deeper, until it touched his sword, and the soul lying within it, dark and sharp and hungry.
After a moment, he bowed towards the sword.
"O honorable sword of my father and my grandfather and his father," he said, "Soul of my family honor, listen once again to my vows that I make to you. "
He straightened up and took a deep breath, then bowed again. "I vow to avenge my father's death, O sword, and remove the stain that has come to our family through the deceit of another."
He straightened up, then bowed again. "I vow, O sword of my father, to let neither pleasure nor power, friend nor love, joy nor fear stand between me and my vengeance."
In the distance, he heard the call of an owl, and thought it a good omen. "I vow, O sword of my father, to stand against any, youkai or human, who would come between me and the fulfillment of my goal."
He bowed one final time, bringing his forehead to the ground, respectfully picked up his sword and then stood. Slowly he began a kata, empty-handed and awkwardly, with one arm still bound in a sling. and one leg still weak from being injured. Nonetheless, the rhythm of stepping forward and back, pivoting, lunging forward with his good arm and back felt good to his muscles.
As the darkness grew full, he fell back on his knees, breathing deeply. The cat came close, and jumped into his lap. Idly, he let his hand reach to her head and run down her back while he composed himself, eyes closed. He did not see her looking up at the tree overhead, nor see the glowing red eyes that watched them both down below.
"Not yet, Little Sister," whispered the owner of those eyes, "but soon."
Tomeo, the village headman watched the celebration going on in front of his house. The young woman who was Kikyou-sama returned to them and the hanyou whose fate was so bound with hers that nothing could keep them apart, sat in the places of honor at the wedding feast that he and the old miko had insisted on.
"I don't envy them their days ahead," he muttered. "Not everybody's happy with this."
"What, you don't think anybody's going to do anything?" said Hisa, his wife.
He shrugged. "They were grumbling again. But most of them showed up to pay their respects. Soon as something bad happens - sickness or famine..."
His wife patted his hand. "You have done the right thing, my husband. Because of today, at least, those two will have something good to remember. Look at how happy they are."
He looked at her, her dark eyes pleased with him. And even though her hair was touched with gray and her skin was marked with time, he saw the bright girl he married long ago, and considered what a good woman's care had meant in his life. He squeezed her hand. "We will give them their chance," he said.
Two girls stood up. One began to play on a small biwa, and the other began to dance as she sang:
"White fans opened wide,
Sign of two pledged together
Until time's ending.
The vow of two, like silver,
Binding them as one.
"In the shade, the pines
Sigh in the breeze, deeply green.
But the garden pond,
Crystal clear like a mirror
unruffled by wind.
"Fortunate the signs,
for two joined as one this day,
What an enviable state,
And now comes the night."
Tomeo's eyebrow went up, seeing who one of the girls was. Members of her family were well known to be unhappy about the hanyou and the Kitsune. The biwa player let the last notes of the song die on her instrument.
The old miko, though, seemed to take it all in stride. "Very nice, Hana," Kaede said to the girl.
"Thank you for wishing us luck," said Kagome, dressed in a lovely kosode of pale blue worked with flowers, a good choice for the change of clothes that custom demanded of a bride.
"Kagome has much grace, Husband, and a kind heart," Hisa said, "even with those odd ways she has. I am glad she will be here to keep an eye on Kaede."
Suddenly a small shrill voice broke through the laughter and talk.
"InuYasha! Kagome! It's awful!"
The small Kitsune boy who lived with them ran up to the couple and threw himself into the woman's arms. "I can't believe -"
"What's wrong, Runt?" asked the hanyou, frowning seriously.
"All...all the blood. Right by the front door. Why'd they do it?"