It's been a while…. Enjoy!

Lady in the Dog's Den

Golden eyed man, who had haunted her dreams every night and occupied her thoughts every day since she had been brought to this place….

Chapter 14

Footsteps ad hushed, whispering voices filled Kagome's dreams that night with vague threats, and faces peered at her through the darkness, mocKing and leering. And when she woke to discover that there had been some commotion during the night, worry went through her at the thought that perhaps they had not been dreams after all.

Rin hastened her out of the chamber when she had dressed, for InuYasha wished to have some privacy to speak with his visitor. Kagome began by hoping that it was courier from her uncle, but Rin's slightly nervous manner dispelled that faint hope. It took her some while to discover the man's identity, for none seemed over-keen to impart the information to her, but eventually she overheard some snippet of conversation between a somewhat out of temper Sango and one of the older women, and her disappointment that there was no word from her uncle was quickly forgotten in a rush of indignation. InuYasha's visitor was a priest. And InuYasha spent most of the morning closeted with him.

"The audacity of this Hanyou is beyond everything!" she exclaimed in an angry whisper to Kikyo. "He is so certain his will cannot be thwarted that he has a priest her to wed us already! It wouldn't surprise me had he sent for him before he even captured us!"

Yet beneath her anger and disgust, Kagome was conscious of a tremor of apprehension which Kikyo's trite words of sympathy and reassurance, repeated often over the past two days, did nothing to dispel. She looked about for some other means to divert her thoughts and her gaze settled upon Miroku, who was seated by the fire aimlessly whittling away at some wood.

She left Kikyo and went to sit on one of the stools close by him, pretending to be engrossed in examining the faint welts on her wrists. After a moment or two, she turned casually towards him and asked what he was carving.

He looked up and almost smiled, "It's nothing. Perhaps a toy for a pretty wench."

She began to make a polite comment, but her attention was diverted by the sight of InuYasha emerging from behind the curtain with the priest and her words trailed off as she watched them disappear into the kitchen. Then, moments later, InuYasha returned alone and went towards the door, but Sango disengaged herself from her conversation and hastened to detain him. Their discussion seemed serious and although Kagome could not see Sango's face she could clearly see her gestures and the earnestness of them suggested that she was pleading with him. Did she think a man such as he could be diverted from his course by the pleas of a love-sick maid?

"It's no great wonder she dislikes me so," she murmured, "To love such a man and have him bring a priest to wed him to another for the most mercenary of reasons is surely a sickening thing."

"You believe the wench…loves InuYasha?" Miroku said in a strange tone.

Kagome turned to him, wide-eyed, "Is it not obvious? Her eyes are full of love whenever she is near him, and it's there for all to see." She turned her head to observe the couple, InuYasha – Tall, strong, fair, impervious, showing no sign that he had been wounded; Sango – Small, slender, dark, with pretty brown eyes now full of appeal. InuYasha put his hand on the girl's shoulder and shook her gently. It was an intimate gesture and Kagome averted her gaze. "See how obvious it is?" she said quietly and raised her eyes to Miroku's face. "You are close to him. Has he not said anything of his feelings for her? Perhaps," She added casually, "she will be lady of this place, for its certain he will not have his way in this other matter. She has no cause to worry so."

Miroku however, made no reply. There was an odd expression on his face and his eyes were staring fixedly at the couple. When they went to the door and went outside, he put down his wood and knife and followed them, and she was left gazing after him, bewildered and wondering.

She sat alone for a few minutes until Kikyo came to join her, but they had little to say to each other. It was the fervent hope in both their minds that Hiroshi would hasten back from the King and bring a swift end to their confinement with InuYasha, but as they seemed only to become out of temper when they discussed the situation and there was little they could do but wait, they both remained silent with their own thoughts. That Kikyo could not decide whether she was angrier with InuYasha than she was bored, was obvious, but Kagome had many things on her mind which she could not confide to Kikyo, and she was content to sit quietly and ponder over them.

She was shaken out of her daydreams, however, by the return of Miroku. Sango was hanging on his arm as they came back into the hall and she was looKing up into his face with that same shining look in her eyes. They were talKing softly and as Miroku laughed at something she said, Sango squeezed herself closer against him and rested her head against his arm. He put his hand up to the long dark hair falling down her back and bent his head to kiss her forehead.

Kagome drew a sharp breath. Was it Miroku, who the Shikon girl loved? She stared at them, trying to recall if Miroku had always been with InuYasha when she had seen Sango look towards him in that way.

She turned away so that her back was towards them, her eyes wide with sudden speculation. "My lady?" Kagome turned her head to find Ring standing before her. "Is anything amiss? You look so strange…."

"No, Rin" She said, with a slight shake of her head. "Nothing is amiss. But I am curious." She paused, and knowing that Kikyo would not understand the conversation, went on, "Who is Sango? She did not leave Nightingale with InuYasha when my uncle came, that I know. But she has such hostility in her that I cannot help but be curious."

Rin seemed to hesitate for a moment or two, as if undecided whether to share what she knew. She pushed one of the dogs away with her foot and eventually said, "I know only what I have heard from others. Her family was killed by the Mirons when Washoru's army marched across the country after the great battle. She fled with her younger brother, and lived over at Ketji until the Mirons came there too. She arrived here near starving and half out of her mind for grief of her brother, soon after my lord came here, and he said she could stay as long as she wished."

"I have seen them together," Kagome said carefully. "They seem…close. She is more than fond of him?"

Rin shook her head. "I think they are close but it's only natural. He feels responsible for her, I think, for she has no family and he has offered her his protection and she is grateful. But it's Miroku she loves, and he will have none of her. Or would not," she amended quickly glancing towards them as they disappeared through the curtain. "I think perhaps it's happily resolved now."

Kagome nodded and Rin limped away, having quickly forgotten what it was she had come to ask.

"What were you talKing about?" Kikyo asked, resentment tingeing her voice.

"Nothing, Kiki. Nothing of importance."

Kikyo said something more, but Kagome was not listening; she wished merely to be left alone to think and make some sense of the chaos into which her thoughts had been plunged once more.

Sango loved Miroku, not InuYasha. So it was probable that her hostility was not merely jealousy, but it was because Kagome was a Miron and she did not want InuYasha to wed a Miron nor to have anyone with Miron blood as lady of Nightingale.

Why she should feel so relieved, she was not sure, but she had little time to trouble over it, for InuYasha strode in calling for food and ale, and behind him came two men. Kagome's heart jolted and left her a little breathless, for she recognised the second of them as one of her uncle's retainers. The other was doubtless the Shikonean who had been waiting for him. "Kikyo! It's Ginta!"

But Kikyo had already seen them and was rising to her feet with such an expression of relief and excitement on her face that Kagome's out sudden rush of hope turned to alarm and she reached out and caught her aunt's arm, pulling her back.

"Kiki, don't be foolish!" she whispered harshly. "Wait a while. We must not anger InuYasha now or he may never let us go."

It was easy for her to say such things to her aunt, but as Kikyo sank back on to the stool Kagome found her foot tapping the floor in impatience and her whole body tense with nerves. InuYasha's deep voice resounded through the crude wooden building. "Come, my Shikoneans. This man is from Lord Hiroshi and Washoru of Miro. What he has to say will affect no myself alone but all of you. Come close and hear his words." His intense golden gaze rested on Kagome and he beckoned.

In some trepidation Kagome rose, conscious of Kikyo beside her, and walked with her, with as much dignity as she could muster, to stand before him. What would she do if her refused to admit he was defeated and would not release them? And what would happen to him and his Shikoneans? She was feeling sorry for the Shikon dog despite herself. He should have found some other way to achieve peace with Washoru.

Ginta took a step forward, hesitated, then took Kikyo's hand, bowed over it and said, "My lady. You are well?"

"As well as can be expected, Ginta. What news?"

Ginta, however, turned to Kagome, took her hand also and bowed over it. :"And you, my lady?"

'Yes, Ginta, thank you, I am well. We have been…" She glanced fleetingly at the hanyou, "…reasonably treated. Is my…is Lord Hiroshi close by? What is to happen now? Are we….?" She broke off at the expression on Ginta's face and was suddenly filled with dread.

The man was nervous; his eyes kept flickering from her to InuYasha and back again. But InuYasha was far from nervous and looked at her with his steady gold eyes. "It seems, little one," he said in Miron, "that the King agrees to my terms. All my terms."

Kagome was quite still for several moments and remained calm as she turned to Gina for confirmation.

"My lady, it's true. Lord Hiroshi has sent me to relay the King's terms."

"And they are?" Her voice shook very slightly.

"The King will meet with InuYasha at Nightingale tomorrow. If he is in good faith, Washoru will accept him as a subject and restore Nightingale in return for his loyalty and his aid in bringing to him in peace other Shikoneans still in hiding in the hills. As a measure of his goodwill, the King also agrees to a marriage between you, my lady, and the hanyou InuYasha, and he will attend the ceremony himself at Nightingale. It is also a term of his agreement to this, that you have four of Lord Hiroshi's best men to attend you and protect you during the first year of such a marriage."

There was a faint murmur amongst the Shikoneans, as those who had understood this whispered it to those who had not.

Kagome stood perfectly still; nothing seemed to be real. She stared at the man before her, unaware of his discomfort, and in a voice totally unlike her own, she said, "and what had my uncle to say? Is there some word from him for me?"

There was something in the way he looked at her, as if he was trying to tell her something.

"My lady, Lord Hiroshi said only that the King's wish is his wish; you should do his bidding and trust him." There was an intensity about his words as he said this, but as she met his gaze she could not clearly understand what he was trying to say to her. Her mind was too cloudy and her thoughts too scattered for her to interpret whether it was warning or reassurance.

She shifted her gaze to the hanyou. He was looKing at her, but without the self-satisfied triumphant gleam in his eyes she had expected to see. His expression was quite serious, almost regretful, and he returned her look of bewilderment and confusion steadily. "This cannot be true," she whispered, turning to her aunt. "Kiki…." Kikyo, however, had no comforting words now, and her expression was as confused and bewildered as Kagome's own.

She made a desperate attempt to steady herself, but her thoughts were wild. How was it possible that Washoru, a man said by all those who knew him to be a just and fair man, could calmly give his blessing to the marriage of a lady of Miron to a hanyou barbarian with a reputation that could scarcely be described as endearing? But Washoru put the well being of many before the happiness and safety of one- and what was the sacrifice of one young maid against the possible loyalty of many erstwhile enemies? Their loyalty or their capture – whichever it was, a ruler such as Washoru would not hesitate to risk one young maid for such rewards.

Contrarily, these thoughts seem to bring Kagome a kind of cold composure. She looked up at InuYasha and in his language, so that all could hear and understand, she said icily, "You cannot force me to wed you, hanyou."

"I will not force you," he said quietly. "But I think you will not dare disobey your King's wishes."

The King's wishes. The thought was chilling and she had no answer. Quite suddenly she could not stand there any longer with all eyes upon her, so with her head held, pride and dignity in every line of her body, she turned away and as she began to walk towards the bedchambers, the Shikoneans drew aside to let her pass unhindered.