Princess Mononoke Continuation Fic By Danny N.

Chapter One

The bright, humid, midmorning air was ringing with the sounds of hammers pounding iron spikes into wooden boards, saws slicing through lumber like razor-sharp teeth, and lively voices of men and women sharing in the labor. The people of Tatara's Iron Town were united in their industrious goal of rebuilding their beloved village. Everywhere people could be seen carrying planks for building houses and stables, women making meals for their hungry husbands, and children playing in the streets under their mothers' watchful gazes. Tatarans led pack animals burdened with nails and poles through the streets, mindful not to run over the wild, young urchins.
The legendary pyramid-like forge of Iron Town had been one of the first things rebuilt. The life-giving iron it produced made nails, hammers, and the other tools necessary to start over. Women worked around- the-clock pumping the massive bellows with their feet, giving breath to the roaring monster of fire. The forge was the center of the Tatara people's lives. The iron they made was envied by even faraway towns and cities, and there was no short supply of it. Iron Town sat on the richest land in all of Japan. But the Tatarans had learned a year ago not to disturb the sacred forest and mountains around Iron Town in their search for the precious ore. Their exploitation of the woods and mountains around them had kindled the wrath of the ancient forest gods and their leader, Princess Mononoke, princess of the sprits of ghouls, beasts, and ancient gods. When the their leader, Lady Eboshi, killed the forests' great god, the Forest Spirit, the town was completely decimated and the people left to salvage what they could and begin again.
The thoughts of those days were heavy on Ashitaka's mind as he drove a stout iron nail into the wooden roof he was perched on. The hot midmorning sun was beating down on him, and he absentmindedly wiped the thin layer of sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. The shingles beneath him were clean, fragrant cedar, and he breathed in the scent of them, enjoying his simple work and the rhythm of the swinging hammer. He was helping one of the Tatara families build a house, like many others of the townspeople were doing that day.
A young woman who stood in the shade behind an unfinished wall was watching him. She was dressed in a light pink yukata with a red obi. Small wooden geta were on her little feet. Her long raven hair flowed like a cascade straight down her back, and her dark obsidian eyes watched Ashitaka's every move, admiring him from a distance. The rise and fall of his well-muscled arm as he swung the hammer, his bare, lean torso that stretched and contracted with each motion, his focused, handsome face concentrating on the task at hand. Takiko gave a light sigh. She was hopelessly in love with him.
She wasn't well acquainted with the foreigner from the east. The number of times she'd had a conversation with him could be counted on one hand. But she had completely lost her heart to him. She was well aware that she wasn't the only girl in town who was infatuated with the handsome youth, but she too harbored a secret desire that someday he might pick her as a bride out of all the other maidens in town. That was her fond wish, as well as the wish of her parents, who knew that marriage to someone as high in social standing as Ashitaka would bring great honor to the family. Takiko had even heard that Ashitaka had been a prince in some far, distant homeland. That added greatly to his appeal.
She'd prepared a tray of rice, bread, and some raw tuna, as well as a beaker of cool water to drink, for him. She nervously stepped out of the shadows and stood below the overhang of the roof.
"Ashitaka," she called nervously up to him. The boy halted his work and a moment later, his brown-haired head came into view, peering down at her. "I've brought you some refreshments, in case you are hungry," she said. He grinned broadly at her, making her stomach feel like there were butterflies loose in it.
"Alright, I'll be right down." He set down his hammer and the pouch of nails and nimbly leapt down from the roof as gracefully as a cat. He was bare from the waist up, wearing only light-colored pants and soft deerskin shoes. The mere sight of him nearly drove Takiko to euphoria. He sat down on a pile of cedar planks as she brought the tray over to him.
"Thank you," he said, taking it from her. He picked up the two plain chopsticks in his hand and dug into the rice bowl, eating like a famished wolf.
"It isn't much," said Takiko humbly.
"On the contrary," replied Ashitaka after swallowing, "it's quite delicious."
Takiko smiled demurely, a pleased blush creeping on her cheeks. Ashitaka didn't notice it, thankfully. "Well, enjoy your meal," Takiko said. She quickly turned and walked away as quickly as possible without looking too odd. Just being around him was overwhelming. She decided to take a walk around the nearly-completed town to shake off those butterflies. On her way she passed many other rudimentary shelters like hers. People whose houses hadn't yet been finished lived out of modest tents. A few women squatted outside, tending their campfires monotonously. Others had a great yokes on their shoulders, with a bucket on each end, carrying water back from the well. She went by the market where the crops harvested from the fields outside Iron Town were being displayed. There was also a fish market boasting the day's catch. Huge, silvery trout with gaping mouths and wide, unblinking eyes stared at her. Takiko felt a little bit of pity for them. They were the unlucky ones, snared from the water by probing fishnets.
Presently she returned to her home, which appeared to be nearly complete. Ashitaka was again at work, finishing up the roof. Takiko spotted the empty tray on the stack of cedar boards. On it was a little red flower, a thank-you gift from Ashitaka. Takiko felt the butterflies again and gleefully gathered the tray and dishes together.
"How are things coming along?" she asked in a voice loud enough for him to hear over the thudding of the hammers.
"I'm almost finished up here," answered Ashitaka. "And it's a good thing, too. The sun's getting unbearable." He ran a hand through his thick brown hair, sitting down on the cedar shingles. His blue eyes stared off down the streets. "Lady Eboshi is coming," he said. Takiko looked down the street, following the direction of his gaze. Sure enough, the beautiful black-haired woman adorned in a fine kimono, accompanied by her faithful bodyguard, Gonza, was coming towards the house. She nodded her head graciously when she greeted Takiko.
"Good afternoon, Takiko," she said in a calm voice like a gentle breeze. "And to you, Ashitaka."
"Good afternoon, my Lady," the two replied in unison. Eboshi approached the house and fingered the woodwork and paneling.
"This is fine work, Ashitaka," she said. That was high praise, coming from her.
"Thank you, my Lady."
"Such skill and workmanship would be of great use down at the main gate. You would be paid well for you assistance."
"I will look into it," Ashitaka responded politely.
"Well, good afternoon, then," said Eboshi, taking her leave of them and resuming her journey. Takiko watched her go. Lady Eboshi was so graceful, and very beautiful, even with only one arm. It was difficult to tell she even had a handicap. She always wore long-sleeved clothing to conceal the evidence of her battle with the wolf god Moro. Still, it didn't affect her manner or personality in any way. The strong-willed leader of Iron Town always had a cool, calm disposition. She feared nothing, not even gods, and everyone in town looked up to and respected her. She was kind to everyone but her enemies, and there were a few-- greedy warlords with their eyes on Iron Town and its famous iron--and she dealt with them with ruthless efficiency. She was a formidable woman who once dreamed of world conquest but had devoted herself instead to the rebuilding of Iron Town.
By around mid-afternoon, the men working on Takiko's house declared it finished, and everyone, including Ashitaka, gave a loud, hearty cheer. As tools were collected and friends thanked, Takiko approached Ashitaka as he was donning his light blue shirt.
"Ashitaka," she said shyly, "would you please join my family and me for dinner? We are grateful for the assistance you've given us and would like to thank you personally for your help." The blue-eyed youth smiled but shook his head.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I promised to meet someone today, and I have to keep that appointment."
"Oh," said Takiko, masking her disappointment. "I'll tell my parents you have other plans, then." Ashitaka nodded appreciatively and without saying anything else, gathered his tools and headed down the street. He didn't look back and disappeared around the corner of an inn. Takiko watched him go sorrowfully.

Ashitaka walked through Iron Town's winding roads, greeting several friends, including Toki and Koroku, along the way. He returned the hammer and remaining nails to the blacksmith he'd borrowed them from. Then he proceeded over to the edge of town. His simple hut was far away from the noise and bustle of the townspeople, as close as he could get to the forest. A towering wall made of thick, sturdy logs with pointed, impaling ends ringed around Iron Town as a protective barrier. Even though the Tatara people were living in a time of peace, the wall was a good safeguard against attack.
Ashitaka entered his house. It was dark and quiet inside. He lived alone and had no family to share a home with. Yet. He began the familiar routine of packing saddlebags with dried meat and fruit, took some warm fur blankets for sleeping in, and lifted his long hunting knife off its pegs above the door. He carried these items outside to a large paddock beside his humble dwelling. Yakkuru, his loyal red elk, came trotting up to the fence when he spotted his master and nuzzled at Ashitaka's extended hand.
"Hello, old friend," Ashitaka said to him, petting the cream-colored patch on the animal's forehead. Yakkuru waited impatiently for him to open the gate and then bounded out of his pen, full of energy. "Whoa, easy," said Ashitaka soothingly. "Hold still." He put the bridle and saddle on him and loaded on his other satchels as well. Yakkuru lowered his head and lifted Ashitaka up onto his back by one of his two massive horns. Ashitaka took the animal's reins in his hand and said, "You know the way, don't you, Yakkuru? Let's go, then!" He nudged the elk into a quick trot, and the two rode off to the town gate, out of Iron Town, and over the lake bridge that led into the wide expanse of meadows on the other side of the water, heading for the forest.