Authoress here.

I just watched Princess Mononoke last night, and, it being one of my ALL-TIME favorite shows, I was all "HEY! There's a total cliffhanger at the end! I should read some fanfiction about it!" But, I couldn't find anything good about it. I did find a story about San being a high school teenager while Ashitaka was a famous singer (close, but no cigar ) and what I really wanted was some closure. However, I have minor ADD when it comes to shifting through tons of stories, so I decided to write my own version rather than shift through lots of random ones.

I own not the characters from Princess Mononoke, nor do I own the plot. I do own any extra, original characters, and the plot of this particular ficclet. Please no takey.

Enjoy!

Earth And Stone
Chapter One: Indefinitely Delayed


Green sunlight filtered through the leafy boughs, coating the thick loam of the forest floors with dapples of light. Small animals chattered to one another, and occasionally the low humming of their voices were drowned out by birdsong. The trees, the slender monarchs of the new forest, bent gently to and fro in the light wind coming down from the mountain.

The sound of muted footsteps came through amid the natural noises of the forest. A young woman picked her way easily among the dead boughs lying on the ground. Her moccasin-clad feet found sure footholds as she climbed over the trunk of a much older tree that had fallen before the growth of the newer trees surrounding it. The ancient, dead giant was covered with new lichen and moss, and a family of beetles trundled about its rotting wood, searching for food.

The woman carefully dropped to the ground, her crude-looking spear in one hand and a brace of dead rabbits in the other. She wore a simple shift, cut loose and short, both for comfort against the heavy heat of the forest and for ease of movement. Her hair danced loosely about her shoulders, the ends straight, as if shorn off all at once by some sharp blade. Painted on her face were two long triangles of red beneath each eye. A circlet made of vine and one small, circular stone held the hair from her face, and a slender, shining dagger hung from a red cord about her neck. This was San, princess of the forest, redeemer of her unwanted human race, and now the leader of the Moru clan of wolves.

She walked quickly through the new forest, inwardly marveling at the height and breadth of some of the trees she passed. Just seven years ago the entire mountainside had been reduced to a grassy meadow, and saplings had been planted all over in hopes of rebuilding the forest in the next twenty to thirty years. However, these young trees had matured far beyond the normal rate of growth. San assumed that not all of the magic of the gods had departed from the world after the Forest Spirit's death; these trees were living proof.

That was not saying, however, that the forest had just re-grown itself. San and her brothers had worked tirelessly, nurturing the saplings, encouraging the creatures that had fled the Forest Spirit's wrath to move back to their forest home, and keeping an eye on the distant Iron Town, which had slowly risen past its former greatness.

San felt a small pang in her chest at the thought of the walled city. She was used to it, and concentrated the feeling away. Even though the new forest was flourishing, there was still much to do. San couldn't afford to waste time on him… he obviously couldn't afford to waste time on her.

"San!" A voice called her name, a low, friendly growl just beneath it. She turned to see one of her white-coated brothers, Yama-inu, padding towards her. She touched her small, human nose to his damp wolf one in greeting, and then set her kills in front of him, falling into a squat.

"Good morning, brother." San absently played with one of the velveteen rabbit ears. "Anything new in the north?"

The great wolf sank to his haunches. "Nothing. The saplings are tall, and the creatures plentiful. The humans have not touched as much as a leaf."

San nodded. "Good. Usi-kai returned home yesterday from the south of our forest and had the same to say."

Yama-inu stood, stretching luxuriously as he did. "Then let us go home, little sister, and eat. It was hard not to kill and feed during my journey."

San stood as well, gathering up her rabbits. The Wolf clan, being direct descendants of a god, had taken it upon themselves to nurture the forest back to a shade of its previous glory. While that meant taking care of the trees, it also implied taking care of the population of the animals killed in the great tragedy. San and her brothers killed only what they needed to eat to stay alive, and only those animals whose numbers had been replenished. The bigger game, deer and badgers, fox and raccoons, had all fled and only lately had they returned to the forest. So, the wolves lived off of rabbits and squirrels.

"Get on my back," the wolf instructed. "I do not wish to over-exert you, my little sister."

San complied with a suppressed sigh. What her wolf brother truly meant was that he wanted to get home fast, and her feeble human legs would not be able to match his pace.

"Brother," San spoke softly into the wolf's large ear as he sprang over fallen trees and lichen-covered boulders. "Did you catch the scent of the red elk in your travels?"

She could have sworn that he slowed a tiny bit as she asked her question, as if in pity. "No, my little sister. I assume by your asking, he has not returned to the forest?"

"No."


"Heave!"

Ashitaka threw his weight against the thick rope, grunting with exertion. The young man was considerably taller and broader in the chest, and the hard work of the last seven years showed in his frame. His face ruddy from his efforts, sweat beaded on his brow, falling down his face and catching on the raised, white scar on his cheek.

"Keep it steady, boys, keep it steady! Aaaand… release!"

Ashitaka let the rope run through his hands, wincing as the rough twisted material scraped uncomfortably against his worn-down calluses.

"Good work, men!" The man who had been directing them from on top of the structure started down a ladder. "Break for lunch, back here in an hour."

Ashitaka didn't join in with the cheers of his fellow workers, but instead passed a brief sigh of relief. He followed the crowd of chattering men back out of the iron working district and into the market place that circled it. As he walked, his tired eyes took in the new community he had painstakingly helped rebuild in the last seven years.

When the town hall, the building they were working on currently, was finished, the town would officially be back to where it began. Of course, the new city was much better planned and constructed than the old one. Originally the town had started small, but as more people came it was awkwardly expanded, and then the two walls were erected around it. This design had the metal working buildings and storage area in the center, on the tallest and flattest section of the island. Next, the market place circled around the main iron facilities, and lastly the residential district and the docking bay at the lakeside. Only one fence surrounded this island, but it was much stronger and taller than its predecessors.

There were many other positive changes that Ashitaka had thought of and directed. A new fleet of fast, sleek boats had been constructed for fishing and defense, opening up another avenue of transport, food and commerce. There was a large patch of the mountain that they had cultivated into a sprawling garden, so that the Iron Town citizens wouldn't be totally dependant on the rice shipments. This had been allowed by the apes that populated the new forest close to the water, seeing as things still grew and animals were not completely driven out.

Yes, many new, good things had been created, all by the sweat and determination of the hardy people of Iron Town. Word had spread of their labors, and families and other nomads had come to help rebuild the city and therefore stake a place to live and to work.

Ashitaka's feet had carried him to the workers' mess, a place where the men and women involved in the construction could eat for free. With the arrival of so many outsiders bringing their businesses, trade had flourished and Iron Town was even more self-supporting.

"Lord Ashitaka! Come and sit with us!"

"No, Lord Ashitaka! Those barbaric men must bore you t'tears enough while you work with 'em. Sit with us!"

"You women keep quiet over there!"

"Make us, dung-for-brains!"

Ashitaka smiled a little before choosing a seat by his old friends Toki and her husband, Kouroku. The two greeted him enthusiastically, Toki bearing the signs of her quickly developing pregnancy. She had been relieved of her work on the bellows and had started a much kinder job as a cook in the marketplace.

"You look tired, M'Lord." Toki grinned mischievously as she handed him a bowl of soup and a pair of clean chopsticks. Ashitaka thanked her with a nod, all the while giving her a despairing look.

"Why do you insist on calling me that? You're all my friends here; I am no lord."

Kouroku sniggered into his own bowl. "Well, we partly do it because we know it bothers you. And, you're as much as a lord as Lady Eboshi is a lady. We all know you've given as much to this place as she has."

Ashitaka gave another sigh. "I still don't like the title."

"Too bad." Toki grinned at him again, standing to fetch a second helping for her husband. "You want more?"

"No thank you. I think I'll visit Yakul." He drained the remainder of his soup and passed his bowl into Toki's awaiting hands.

"You going to leave today?" Kouroku and Toki were suddenly watching his face intently.

"Probably not. I haven't been able to in seven years; why should I now?" Ashitaka didn't wait for a response before nodding goodbye and making for the stables.

It was another idea of his that Iron Town should have more horses, so messengers would be able to send and receive messages faster in the town and outside of it. Yakul, his faithful red-elk friend, stood dozing in his large stall, his lack left leg cocked. He had never really recovered from the arrow–inflicted injury and walked with a slight limp. Ashitaka had finally made the decision to retire him a few years ago and to start riding a horse, but he still made a daily habit of visiting his faithful old friend.

"Yakul."

The elk awoke instantly, and moved to the front of his stall to lip at his master's hand. Ashitaka provided a small chunk of bread for him, and stroked his long nose as Yakul nibbled on the treat.

"What I wouldn't give for us to go riding in the forest together, my friend." Ashitaka sighed. The elk pressed his nose into Ashitaka's shoulder in sympathy. "She's probably forgotten us, don't you think?"

The elk gave a low snort, as if in disbelief.

"Well, then she's furious at our absence."

The elk noisily blew out a stream of air, saying you're probably right about that. He then raised his antlered head, and looked out to the exit of the stable.

"I wish we could, my friend." Ashitaka murmured sadly. "It's a constant ache, missing her, but I wouldn't get more than two steps before someone needed me here."

The elk's liquid brown eyes were soft, and he gently lipped the young man's tunic. Ashitaka smiled, and was fishing in his pocket for another chunk of the bread when a young girl came running into the stable.

"Lord Ashitaka! There's a fight at the docking yard, and Lady Eboshi is ill again and cannot come!" Her face was dirty, and she brought the strong aroma of fish with her as she darted to his side.

"Miasha, who is fighting?" Ashitaka gave Yakul's nose a farewell pat and then went to the next stall over where his bay stallion Hiasu was stabled.

The small girl tagged after him. "The fisherman of Iocatse and our men. The fish merchant Jiru has been accused of wrongly weighing our catches again to cheat us, and my farther confronted him. Jiru's thugs set in on Papa, and then my brothers joined in as well."

"I shall sort it out." Ashitaka slipped Yakul's red bridle over Hiasu's nose, and over his small, pointed black ears. He vaulted on the tall stallion's back, and leaned down to pick Miasha up as well. Setting her in front, he spoke softly to Hiasu and the stallion thundered out of the barn.

The brawl had attracted a ring of onlookers, mostly Iron Towners, who shouted insults at the fish merchant and his men. The two sides looked pretty evenly matched, and Ashitaka could see that already teeth had been knocked out and that eyes had been blacked. As Hiasu walked foreword, the circle of onlookers fell silent in respect to the man they called Lord.

Jiru was a rat-faced man who had, on several occasions, been accused of rigging his scales to cheat the fisherman of Iron Town. He and his crew came from the closest human settlement by waterway, and their trade was imperative. The fish merchant before Jiru had been a fair man, and the money Iron Town recieved from the fish sales was enough to tide them over for food until the iron-working got underway again. There was still much to do in obtaining the ore, which now required to be shipped from other places. Ashitaka had warned Lady Eboshi early on about trying to tear down the new growth of the forest to get iron ore, so she arranged for sand to be shipped down to Iron Town by the boatload.

"Please stop your fighting." Ashitaka handed Miasha down to one of her younger brothers who had been restrained from the fight, and then slipped off of Hiasu himself.

The men from Iron Town obeyed instantly, but the fish merchant's men got a few more punches in before they stopped. Ashitaka walked up to them, and turned to Miasha's father, Tatchi. "Please explain what happened here."

"We weighed our catch before Jiru's mob got here, and when he weighed it, the fish were twenty weights less! We kept a weather eye on 'em, too, so we knew no stray dog ate some, and not nobody moved as much as a single fin! I told Jiru, and he started t'brawl." Tatchi swelled with indignation, new bruises coloring on his skin.

"May I see your scales?" Ashitaka asked Jiru quietly. "I apologize for their behavior, but in case their anger was justified…"

"What's it gonna prove?" One of Jiru's men said aggressively. "That the Iron Towners are cheats and liars?"

Ashitaka held his arm out to stop Tatchi from striking the speaker. "That is enough. If your scales are correct you have nothing to fear, and the fisherman shall accept your money without further trouble and with an apology."

Jiru's eyes were narrowed, but his men let Ashitaka step foreword to examine the scales. Sure enough, someone had made the second scale dish out of a piece of stone covered with wood. The weighing process was that the fish were loaded onto the first weigh dish, and then the merchant would place coins into the second dish until the two dishes were even. With the second being heavier, fewer coins were needed to have the two dishes balance.

"It appears there is a cheat among your men, Jiru-san." Ashitaka unhooked the heavy dish and tossed it underhand to the merchant, who dropped it. The plate landed heavily on the deck boards, causing an angry exclamation to run through the crowd. "I'm sure it is not your honesty that has been compromised, nor maybe any of the men here. Perhaps a workman in your town made a mistake. However, I believe that you should have checked your scales before you began to strike my men."

Jiru had been trapped by Ashitaka's indirect accusation, and was not able to argue. His men switched out the dishes, and the fish were reweighed. Knowing that the gesture was almost required, Jiru reluctantly handed over an entire fistful of extra coins to make up for the trouble.

"Thank you, Lord Ashitaka!" One of the fisherman cried out gratefully as Ashitaka swung up on Hiasu. The cry was repeated by the rest of the fisherman, and it followed him as he rode back up into the iron district of the city. He sighed, gazing longingly at the green mountain rising behind the city. Sure enough, he was needed back at the construction of the town hall. There was no time… yet again.

End Chapter


Authoress here.

I so do hope you've enjoyed this first chapter. This was purely an introductory chapter, as I'm sure you've guessed, and now that you know all about the things that have happened since the end of the movie and this chapter, I shall continue on with my story.

Updates on this, I can tell you now, will be sporadic and sometimes far in between. It's my last year of high school, and I am spread rather thin. But, I shall try my hardest!

Please leave me feedback. I love suggestions and ideas!

Cheers,
Pen