Title: The Fox, The Monk And The Mikado Of All Nights Dreaming 1/9
Author: Seraphim Grace
Feedback: Always appreciated and replied to.
Series: Gundam Wing
Pairings: 1x2, suggested 13x6
The boy watches the old woman with an uneasy hunger. She comes here every day and sits with her great big black bag in the gazebo. He doesn't say anything, but he notices everything about her. She wears a wide brimmed black hat over her grey braid. She unpins it as she sits down in the white gazebo, the pin goes back into the hat and she lays it on the bench beside her. She comes here everyday.
She wears black linen, pin tucked over her bosom, a cameo at her throat, and black lace gloves. She is old but the children gather around her. In her vast bag she has bags of sweets and a flask of something that she never shares with the children. Sometimes she has cookies, always in plastic wrappers.
The children gather around her on the wooden floor and she sits with them for hours, talking and they listen animatedly.
He doesn't understand.
Nevertheless he hungers.
It is raining. Thick sheeting rain that obscures everything but he stands beside the tree and watches the gazebo. There are no children today. Still she comes, her black umbrella held above her head, she enters the gazebo with a fond smile to herself and settles herself in the usual spot, shaking out the umbrella before she removes the pin from her hat, then the hat to lay it down on the bench. She opens her bag and from it pulls the thermos flask and a box of cookies.
She looks up at him with old blue eyes, "are you coming in or not?" She asks with a smile.
He stops for a moment working out the weight of her words, testing them. Then he acquiesces, walking forward through the rain to where she sits. She says nothing, just offers him a cup from the thermos and a cookie. "I've seen you," she says, "among the trees, why didn't you join the other children?"
He says nothing, refusing both gifts, he just sits dripping on the wood. She offers him a cloth handkerchief to dry away some of the water. He snatches it greedily, wiping down his face. "It's not poisoned, you know," she says pouring herself a cup of the liquid and sipping it, "and it's very rude to accept a drink and then glare at it."
He cautiously tastes the cup and takes a large swallow. It is comfortably hot, thick and creamy, sweet and powdery all at once. It is not unpleasant. He drinks it greedily; worried that she will take it away again.
She surprises him instead. "Would you like some more? I have plenty." He says nothing, just thrusts out the cup. "You know," she says pouring out the cocoa, "The cookies are good too." He breaks a bit off, eyeing her warily. The cookie is soft and still warm, it is chewy and there are soft warm chunks in it that taste almost like the drink.
She smiles almost indulgently. This close he can see she is an old woman, much older than he thought her, she has taken two long needles and a ball of wool from her bag and is manipulating them in a way he doesn't understand. He has seen her do this before and doesn't worry, not this time.
"Why?" he asks.
She smiles again, tilting her head in a girlish gesture that she is too old for by at least fifty years, her hair is a long braid that sits over her shoulder. "You remind me of someone." She says fondly, it looks like she might want to reach out to touch him and he jerks back but she doesn't move at all. "Do you know why the children gather here?" She asks.
He shakes his head.
"Because of the stories," she says, "I thought it was that I gave them candies, but they come for the stories," she is looking off into the middle distance, smiling a rather pretty enigmatic smile to herself, "would you like a story?" she asks.
He is baffled, this woman's kindness seems a trap to him, but he wants more information, if he listens to the story then perhaps, just perhaps, he might understand.
"Long before the colonies," she begins, adjusting her knitting and looking at him clearly for a moment, "on Earth there was a country called Japan and the people of Japan believed that it was created when a god forged a bright and shining sword and five perfect drops fell from the sword and formed the islands.
In the prefecture of Hokkaido was a family of poor merchants called the Yuy family. It was not large but the three children were well beloved of their father, but with a fourth child on the way he worried how his family would survive the long winter. Timer were hard and the crops had been bad and every night as he looked at the earnest eyes of his children, and rubbed his hands over his wife's swollen belly he prayed to whichever god he thought would listen that there would be a solution.
Yet everyday he would rise and open his small shop which sold wares the town, needed like chalk and string and wax, but no one came.
He kept the store tidy, and his oldest son helped- but still no one came.
He prayed each night to all the gods he knew- but still no one came.
His wife made the portions smaller and smaller, only eating herself because of the baby within her, but still he knew the food wouldn't last and he could hear the cries of his children in the night with their empty stomachs. They tried to be quiet but he could hear them in the still of the night.
He offered blood to the dark gods in the hope that things would change.
But still no one came.
The eldest son was eleven and he approached his father about leaving, saying that he might be able to find his fortune and return. Although his wife wept she allowed the boy to go knowing that the food would last that much longer with one less mouth to feed. She gave him a small portion of millet and some sake, she embraced him tightly and together they watched their son go to find his fortune.
The father added prayers to his son to those that he made so diligently but still no one came.
After a week had passed word reached the family that bandits on the road had killed the boy.
Their eldest daughter was a girl of seven and she approached her father and explained that if they made an offering to the temple then maybe their destiny would change. The local temple was a week's walk away so they gave the child what they could spare, a small portion of food and a several candles to use as an offering for the Buddha. It was with a heavy heart that they watched her go.
But still no one came.
They could no longer afford firewood and the youngest son went into the nearby woods to gather wood, and one day, like his brother and his sister he never returned.
But still no one came.
Then one night, when the snow had begun to fall an old man with a hook for a hand and a heavy limp came to their shop. He was old and stank of sulphur but it was late and the snow thick on the ground so they accepted his offer of money for lodging. He noticed the empty air of the house and the abandoned toys and listened to Mama Yuy as she told him about her family. She told him about her oldest child, a boy, who had gone to make his fortune and been murdered. She told him about her only daughter who had gone to the temple to make an offering and never returned. She told him about her baby who had gone into the forest to be taken by goblins. Because he listened she told him all about how the crops had been bad and that her husband had never lost faith. And through it all he eyed her belly hungrily.
When asked he said he was a traveller but that he knew some magic and if they would share their food with him he would do his best to bring their children back to them as a gift for their kindness.
They did not know then that such gifts come at a much higher price than the one he quoted.
As Mama Yuy cooked the little rice they had for their guest, she warmed what remained of their beer and only ate herself because of the baby inside her. Her husband did not eat and ignored the terrible pangs of hunger that wracked him.
Mama Yuy may have been desperate with worry over her children but she refused his magic and instead begged a story.
So the old man told her a tale.
An old man named Takahama lived in a little house behind the cemetery of the temple of Sozanji. He was extremely amiable and generally liked by his neighbors, though most of them considered him to be a little mad. His madness, it would appear, entirely rested upon the fact that he had never married or even evinced the desire for intimate companionship with women.
One summer day he became very ill, so ill, in fact, that he sent for his sister-in-law and her son. They both came and did all they could to bring comfort during his last hours. While they watched, Takahama fell asleep; but he had no sooner done so than a large white butterfly flew into the room and rested on the old man's pillow. The young man tried to drive it away with a fan; but it came back three times, as if loath to leave the sufferer.
At last Takahama's nephew chased it out into the garden, through the gate, and into the cemetery beyond, where it lingered over a woman's tomb, and then mysteriously disappeared. On examining the tomb the young man found the name "Akiko" written upon it, together with a description narrating how Akiko died when she was eighteen. Though the tomb was covered with moss and must have been erected fifty years previously, the boy saw that it was surrounded with flowers, and that the little water tank had been recently filled.
When the young man returned to the house he found that Takahama had passed away, and he returned to his mother and told her what he had seen in the cemetery.
"Akiko?" murmured his mother. "When your uncle was young he was betrothed to Akiko. She died of consumption shortly before her wedding day. When Akiko left this world your uncle resolved never to marry, and to live ever near her grave. For all these years he has remained faithful to his vow, and kept in his heart all the sweet memories of his one and only love. Every day Takahama went to the cemetery, whether the air was fragrant with summer breeze or thick with falling snow. Every day he went to her grave and prayed for her happiness, swept the tomb and set flowers there. When Takahama was dying, and he could no longer perform his loving task, Akiko came for him. That white butterfly was her sweet and loving soul."
Mama Yuy was moved by the story and thanked him for the thoughtful gift and promised when her baby was born that they would grow to know the tale. The traveler smiled a mysterious smile and left at dawn.
After that Mama Yuy was tormented by terrible dreams. She saw the traveler as a terrible sorcerer using foul dark magicks on her baby, and sacrificing him to further his own life so when the traveler returned with the waxing of the moon when she made him soup she was nervous and spilled it on his lap. Though her husband apologized Mama Yuy was troubled. She excused herself and stepped out into the snow.
She started to walk and she did not stop. She walked and she walked until the pains of labor twisted her belly. She carried on walking until she came to a small temple tended by an old monk who brought her inside.
That night with the moon full she bore her son and told the old monk, a huge man of muscles and a drooping mustache, of her fears about the traveler, of how he was a sorcerer and he would use her baby to promote his own power. She told him how she thought he had maybe murdered her other children. She told him she feared that he had caused the crops to fail so that he might take the opportunity to steal her baby.
The old monk accepted her fear and when she died soon after, of exhaustion and hunger, he took the child for his own, remembering the tales that he promised to tell the child and he called him Heero, meaning first son.
But the monk was old and with the baby on his back he began to travel to a large monastery where the baby could grow up. He walked for days; eating only the food the locals gave him and fed the baby from a goat that he had purchased.
That was a terrible winter and one night the old monk came across a small campfire in an out of the way copse in the woods. There was a fair man at the fire and the monk knew he had reached his last. So he told the man the story of the woman and the sorcerer who coveted her child, he told him of the monastery where he was taking him and entrusted the child to the man because there was no one else. Then the next morning as the Ronin departed with the baby in the fold of his kimono and the goat on a string trailing behind the old monk lay down beside the last of the fire to die in the snow.
Although the Ronin had promised to take the child to the monastery he had many things to do on the way. He found that by carrying a baby and leading a goat, a cranky animal at best, that he was above suspicion for those things he had done. For the Ronin was an assassin slowly murdering his way through those who had murdered his lord. He called the boy Kid or Boy but had impressed on him three things, to never leave a living enemy behind him, to trust no one and that his name was Heero Yuy.
One day they came across a small village where there was a shop tended by an old man and a boy. They did not have much but they offered the Ronin and the boy with him shelter for the night and the old man in exchange for a few coins. The old man told how his wife, driven mad with pregnancy, had run off and left him and the son he had thought killed by bandits had returned but that he did his best. His kindness amazed the Ronin who accepted his kindness with trepidation but did not let the boy out of his sight for the length of his stay. When the time came to leave the old man smiled at the boy and from a chest took a stuffed fox fur toy which he gave to the child because he would have had a son the same age if not for the cruel winter as it had come to be known. The Ronin accepted the kindness but took the boy away quickly. It was only later he realized that the man's name was Yuy.
The boy was sullen and quiet but listened to whatever people told him and remembered it, even so he was nearly seven years old when Odin, wounded in his quest took him to the monastery that the old monk had pledged him to and told him the story of his birth, of the sorcerer his mother believed chased him and the value of his own name.
He sat with the Ronin on his deathbed and when the monks came to cover his face he simply took the fox toy that a strange old man had given him and followed the monks.
The old woman adjusts her knitting, finishing off the row and wrapping the loose wool about the ball before slipping it onto the two needles. She fishes out the last of the cookies and took one herself before handing one to the boy.
"Is that how it ends?" The boy asks.
"It is a long story," she says, "come tomorrow and I will tell you about a fox who met the boy become a man." She smiles, he stands up and offers her the handkerchief back. "Here," she says offering him the umbrella as she looks at the driving rain. "I have another," she roots around in the bag, "in here somewhere." He takes the umbrella warily. "I'll be here tomorrow," she says, "and," she eyes the sky, "it will probably still be raining."
He doesn't thank her but goes to the doorway, opening the sleek black umbrella and walks off into the rain. She sighs as she takes out the second one and knows that he will return tomorrow and wonders if he'd like tuna in the sandwiches she will make him.