"The child is dead," said Tamaku.
Hisako breathed deeply, steadying herself against a wall. She could not believe what she was hearing.
"Mercifully the labor was brief, and the lady Sango did not suffer much," he continued. Meeting his wife outside Sesshomaru's private study, Tamaku awaited an audience with him. Kirou, the healer, had rushed out of the infirmary after several tense hours tending Sango to tell him the news.
"But Tensaiga," Hisako managed to whisper.
Tamaku shook his head. "Useless. The baby never breathed, it never lived. Nothing could save it."
"And the huntress?"
"Her condition is unclear at the moment, but she has survived-- She is secluded with the priestess, the wife of the Hanyou and will see no one, not even lord Sesshomaru apparently. It is a sad business--" Tamaku sighed and clasped his hands together. "--But at least it wasn't a son that was lost."
Hisako sucked in her breath and glared at her husband. "How can you be so cold?"
Tamaku shook his head and replied, "I am not, I am merely stating a fact. The lady must have a son, or soon or there will be trouble. This is very serious-- there will be challenges." Hisako knew of what he was speaking. The security of the Western lands depended on a rightful heir taking Sesshomaru's place when he could no longer rule. That the demon lord was still relatively young for a youkai did not mitigate the need for a son-- with the violent times they lived in, it was imperative that someone be in place in case of a sudden vacancy on the throne. Not only that, opportunistic neighboring demons were always on the prowl for new territory: Hisako suspected Sesshomaru's latest secretive journey to the North had something to do with the covetous territorial aspirations of the demon lord Juro.
She also recalled the whisperings at court. How the human woman the Master had taken as his wife was not worthy of her station, how she was a low-class taijiya and how dare she take on airs, and how she must have bewitched lord Sesshomaru in some evil way with an aim to twist him for some maleficent purpose. Hisako considered these characterizations wild and unfair and chalked them up to the traditional prejudices and bigotries of high-born youkai. Inuyoukai in particular were superstitious creatures, given to seizing on omens and evil portents, often using out-of-the ordinary events to explain their complicated world.
Hisako knew that when it became known at court that Sango's child was born dead it would be taken as a very bad sign and further destabilize her mistress' position at the palace. Perhaps so bad that some in the court would believe Sesshomaru could be persuaded to cast Sango aside and take whom they believed to be a more suitable consort-- a proper noble inuyoukai woman.
"Lord Sesshomaru will see you now," said Yoshiro, the court messenger. Hisako and Tamaku exchanged glances. Going in for an audience with Sesshomaru was never especially easy, and given the current circumstances they both knew he would be in a bad humor.
"You must see him, Sango," said Kagome. She sat close by, tending her exhausted, dejected friend who lay with her face to the wall.
"How can I? I have failed," came a muffled voice.
Kagome sighed. "Sango how can it be your fault that the baby died? I know it is terrible, but you can't feel responsible. Things like this happen every day. It was just a very bad accident. Please Sango...Sesshomaru--"
"Don't tell me what to think!" Sango shouted, suddenly turning to face Kagome, whose eyes widened at the look of pure anguish on her devastated friend's face. "You have no idea what its like-- Sessh, he..." she trailed off as tears choked her speech. "He must have a son..."
"And you are young enough to have another baby--"
Frustrated, Sango balled her fists. She felt out of control. "How do you know I CAN have another child? What if it dies?" The look on her face was one of horror, and it gave Kagome pause.
'She's still in shock. I don't understand why she refuses to see him-- surely he can comfort her in this state.' Sango had refused to let anyone into her room in the aftermath of the baby's stillbirth, even Sesshomaru. She had requested Sesshiko to be brought to her that morning, and Sango had hugged her, and then directed she be sent to Rin's rooms for the time being. It had been three days since the tragic event, and the grieving young woman had refused most food and the opportunity even to bathe. Frankly, Kagome was worried. She sighed and rubbed Sango's shoulder and then stood to leave the room.
Sango suddenly felt ashamed for shouting at her friend. Through it all, Kagome had always been there for her. If anything, she should be grateful there was someone in her life she trusted at a time like this. "Kagome-- thank you. Thank you for being patient with me," she said in a plaintive voice. "There will be trouble for me, grave trouble. It is good to know I have friends like you to lean on." The saddest, most pained smile Kagome had ever seen spread on Sango's face, and she felt pain in her heart. The opulence of the room seemed so oppressive to her, and she welcomed the chance to leave if only for a few minutes so she squeezed Sango's hand and then exited.
Sesshomaru stood stock still at the window, staring out into the forest with a stern, thoughtful gaze. 'Unsatisfactory. Lord Juro and the North are becoming aggressors. That cat beast means to make war on this territory... and Sango is unwell. My Sango... Father, was your path ever this difficult?' Had Inutaisho dealt with the sorts of threats and plots against his rule that he, Sesshomaru was now facing?
He recalled Inutaisho's liason with Izayoi. At the time he'd wanted to hear nothing about it, assuming it was just another episode of his father's bad habit of sleeping with inferior human women. He remembered what an acclaimed warrior he had been, how peace had finally been attained in the Western hands under Inutaisho's powerful leadership. And now Sesshomaru wished Inutaisho were alive, to give him advice on how to handle his current problems. He'd been able to handle traitors in the past, but this Juro was different. He'd seen it in the panther demon's eyes-- Juro meant to take over the West and he meant to do it on his own terms. No one had the gall to challenge Inutaisho this way during his lifetime. Also, in going farther than Inutaisho ever had by actually marrying his human woman Sesshomaru had created a set of issues his father had never even had to consider.
"Lord Sesshomaru, Tamaku and Hisako await your pleasure," called his messenger, Yoshiro, softly.
"Send them in," he said curtly.
"Lord Sesshomaru, our deepest sympathies--" Tamaku spoke gravely and bowed low.
"My lord, our thoughts are with--" Hisako did the same.
He cut them off. "Tamaku-- I need to know what the likelihood is that the lords will seek a council. It is well known that Juro covets the West."
"My lord-- I have heard some discussion of this-- Ryuchi as leader of the warriors in particular wishes to make his thoughts known. But lord Sesshomaru..."
Hisako broke in. "My lord the entire court is saddened at the news of the Lady Sango's condition...Is there anything you would like me to do?"
Sesshomaru took in a breath of air. "What is there to be done? The child is dead and that is that."
"My lord, forgive me." Hisako swallowed. She knew she was going into dangerous territory. "But I understand the Lady Sango is refusing all company."
"Well-- its just that we are worried. We understand she will not see even you, sire."
Sesshomaru glared at his two most trusted retainers. What business was it of theirs?
"Excuse us, lord Sesshomaru." Tamaku bowed. "My wife is merely concerned for the family."
It was an unspoken rule in the palace that no one ever discussed Sesshomaru's private life. It went beyond a demand for privacy; the demon lord regarded inquiries into his family life as a grave offense, and did not tolerate expressions of sympathy or concern or even happiness-- his life with Sango and their daughter was utterly off limits to everyone else, even those living under his roof. He wondered how Hisako and Tamaku had even learned she would not see him. He could tell his loyal advisor and his wife were worried they'd crossed a line, and he did not do anything to dissuade their concern. Instead he got up and began to pace, and was silent for a very long time. Finally, he spoke in a grave, cool voice.
"Sango will not see me. She won't speak to me," he said with his back to them. In the absence of his father, Sesshomaru realized Hisako and Tamaku were the closest he'd ever come to having parents. Hisako let out a brief sigh of relief, and wanted to cry. It seemed he would let them in, just this once.
Taking a cautious step forward she ventured, "My lord she is afraid of disappointing you. She knows you need a son, and also knows what a risk you took in taking her to wife--" Sesshomaru suddenly shot around, causing Hisako to gasp. She could sense the anger coming off of him in waves. It took everything she had to resist trembling.
"Risk? What risk I took? I would have given this palace and everything in it if she'd asked for it! Does she believe I am so ready to abandon her over something like this? After all that I have done to give her security, to make her feel that this is her home..." he responded harshly, and Tamaku and Hisako could clearly see his frustration. They both felt for him.
Sesshomaru would not tolerate being pitied, however. He quickly changed demeanor, and gave his orders in rapid succession. "We will have a council-- in three days time. Notify the heads of the clans and Ryuchi and Akira. I want reports on the state of the borders, and the strength of our fighting force. Leave me now." He turned away, indicating abruptly that the audience was at an end. Tamaku and Hisako bowed and retreated, frankly more worried for the future than before they'd come in.
"Master, have you heard the news--"
"Yes. The noble Sesshomaru has lost a child." Juro walked behind the stables of his castle, inspecting them for cleanliness and organization. The demon ruler of the North was a stickler for order, even when it came to such mundane things as his stables.
Juro, the tall, handsome, youthful, ink-black haired panther demon of the North had earned is place as leader of the territory mainly through cunning and determination, having led a coup that installed himself as sole ruler but had spilled relatively little blood: only a few hundred demons lost their lives in the struggle to unseat the previous northern lord, as opposed to the many thousands who'd died in the wake of Inutaisho's passing in the West. He and Sesshomaru were of a similar age, but had not known each other as youths given their differences in social status: Juro was of low birth while Sesshomaru was a royal prince, and so the two had not associated. However Juro had grown up hearing about the cold, ruthless Sesshomaru and about his impressive demonic powers. Someday he hoped to match him; perhaps the time was finally coming when he could realize this dream.
Juro believed the time was approaching when force alone would no longer determine power and rulership in these lands: demons like Sesshomaru known for their physical strengths were becoming relics of the past. Indeed Juro, unlike Sesshomaru, was not a taiyoukai. As a demon of low birth he'd risen through the ranks by assisting more powerful demons who could encourage and support his ambition.
To Juro, Sesshomaru was wasting the gifts of the gods in mollifying his wealthy lords with places at court while his lands went for the use of worthless humans. Since Juro had come to power he'd made a point of rousting the humans who dared to occupy the best areas in the North; indeed he'd ordered a stepping up of demonic raids near the fertile bases of the mountains nearby. If he had his way, there would be no more humans at all to dirty his beautiful landscape. Taking over the West was something he saw as a mission: the humans Sesshomaru let cultivate the countryside were an abomination, and it was his duty to rectify the situation.
For him the final straw had come on learning his rival would marry an inferior human woman of all things. It nearly made his stomach turn. How could one of such noble birth, from such a long line of powerful demons, dirty his line by taking a human wench to wife? Not only this, he meant to install one of her brats as his successor, to rule over the western lands-- demons and humans alike. Juro knew of the discontented rumblings in Sesshomaru's court from those who questioned the sagacity of their lord given his marital choices. Was it weakness? And now this news that a second child, a worthless daughter was dead.
"It is the justice of the gods, Ozaki-san. Sesshomaru has angered them by taking this human wench to his bed and he is paying for it. And he will continue to pay." Juro addressed his subordinate, a rather short, frail looking lynx demon who served a similar function to what Tamaku did for Sesshomaru. "I believe he knows our intentions. The question is how to proceed."
"Sesshomaru is a powerful demon, my lord. Perhaps the most powerful, it is said. His presence at court gave pause to our generals. Even they can see how powerful he is." Ozaki would follow his master wherever he wished and would gratefully do his bidding, but to go against Sesshomaru was something to consider very carefully.
"So I've heard." Juro sighed. He hoped his plan would work. It had to work. "Ozaki-- I want you to contact the lady Setsumi and have her brought to court."
"Yes my lord." Setsumi, Juro's cousin by marriage, was widely considered the most beautiful, captivating demoness in the northern lands. She had recently become widowed, having lost her husband in a duel with another demon who'd offended his honor. Childless and still ravishing, many a suitor had been calling after her, but Juro had forbid remarriage, making many believe he wanted her for himself. However this was a mistake, because Juro was not attracted to the female sex. Instead he had other plans for his beautiful cousin. Very important plans.
Sango was finally persuaded to bathe and to take the air. It had been six days since the stillbirth, and she was still sad, but not immobile. Kagome visited her daily, and frequently she requested Sesshiko be brought to her. The little girl had an uncanny way of giving comfort just by being close-- a feeling that went beyond the conventional mother-daughter bond. It was as if the child were using her youki to calm and relax her mother whenever she felt distressed. It had helped Sango to slowly recover, and she was devoted to her daughter. The bond between them was strong, and it had been for Sesshiko's sake more than anything that Sango decided on an attempt to return to life again.
She donned a fresh silk robe and put up her freshly clean hair and called for the toddler to be brought to the garden. Strolling along next to the lively stream that ran through the palace gardens, Sango eventually heard footsteps behind and turned, expecting to see a servant bringing her daughter. Instead, someone else approached, someone she'd been avoiding for several days now.
"Sango. Are you well?" ventured Sesshomaru. He stopped a few feet away, not wanting to startle his wife. He'd tried to respect her need for space and time to deal with the loss of their child on her own, but finally decided it was time to face each other again.
Sango took him in. Although regal, magnificent and stoic as always, Sango could sense feeling beneath the composed facade of her husband. 'He is amazing. How he has changed, and so much for the better. Why did he ever choose me," she wondered to herself. Bowing slightly, she showed her respect. This surprised Sesshomaru. She'd hadn't bowed to him recently that he could recollect. "I am well my lord. As well as can be expected."
"Will you come to me, Sango?" He extended a gracefully clawed hand, but she refused and stood rooted to her spot.
"No my lord..." It was too much. She wasn't ready. She'd failed him horribly. "I think you should go." She turned to walk away-- Sesshomaru was the last person she wanted to talk to at the moment. As much as she loved him, as much as he'd made her happy in the past-- she'd failed him, and felt unworthy.
"I will not go. You belong to me," he said evenly. "I want you to know that I don't blame you for it. We can have another child--"
"Sesshomaru just go!" She shouted. "I need to get away from here. I need to go--"
Before she could get away Sesshomaru grasped her arm. "Let me go. Please, you don't understand. I need to leave the palace for a while. I love you, but...I don't know..."
"Sango. I do not fully understand human emotions, and can only guess at what you are experiencing. I know it must be distressing. But I am your husband and I will not abandon you." Sango began to cry. Her tears came furiously, and she sobbed into his robes as he held her close to his body.
"You don't understand," she cried. "And I do still love you. So, so much. I just need some time, Sessh. I want to take Sesshiko, and perhaps Rin as well and go stay in the demonslayers village for a time."
A pause. "Separation?"
"Yes, just for a while. A month perhaps. Or two. Please my lord."
Sesshomaru released her, and took a step back. Resolved, he said, "You know I can't let you take my daughter, Sango. Do not ask that of me." Sango gazed at him, red eyed from crying. She gathered the strength in her voice and spoke.
"She's all I have, Sessh. She's mine too-- I carried her, I felt her growing inside me. I can't leave without her. Please..."
Sesshomaru could see the turmoil in her eyes. He tried not to take it as a rejection of himself, but a small voice inside whispered otherwise. A demon lord's heart was not easily pierced, but this human woman had come close to rending his utterly. Why could she not simply stay and let him help her through her difficulty? It was beyond his understanding. And she wanted to leave...Could he let her? And with Sesshiko and Rin? The thought was abhorrent, even if it were just temporary. And what assurance would there be that she would return? He could force her, yes, but that could mean serious damage to their marriage.
Issuing an uncharacteristic sigh, he said, "I will consider it. Now, come inside and let us take supper with our daughter." She simply nodded, and followed behind while making her way back inside the palace.
Okay, okay. I know you guys are pissed. I have no excuses for the delay in posting chapters other than that my life has been crazily busy. Between work, a life-threatening illness and school I've rarely had time for writing. I finally decided to sit down and compose this chapter after the guilt became overwhelming (and also because it's fun).
Rest assured I have not abandoned the story, and mean to see it through to the bitter end. I appreciate your interest in this and Demon Slayer Sango, and look forward to reading your comments.