I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 121

As Kagome and Kaede headed off to find their herbs, Susumu and InuYasha walked down a different path heading for the same field where Tameo was working.

"So," Susumu asked as they neared his family's property, "are you ready for Houshi-sama's little party this afternoon?"

InuYasha shrugged. "No, but I can't see any way for me to get out of it." A rabbit dashed out of the brush in front of them. "That's the third rabbit we've seen. Maybe I ought to start hunting over this side of the village."

"More competition over here," Susumu said. "A lot of the boys come here looking for them, but nobody would complain. Nobody likes to come in and see what the rabbits have done to their bean fields. But as for me, doesn't look like I'm going to get out of at least showing up, either. Shouldn't be all bad though. I hear that Eiji's and Isamu's women are going to feed the workers. I wonder how Miroku swung that one?"

"Chiya, probably," InuYasha said. " And Eiji's got a son he's trying to convince Miroku to take in as an acolyte. I don't think Miroku's ready to try to raise any young monks, though, not with Sango having her hands full with the twins and Naoya."

"I'm surprised Chiya had any time for anything like this," Susumu said. He opened the gate to his father's field. "I hear she's been busy hanging over her mother like a shadow." Pushing it open, he walked through.

"I think it's been set up for weeks," InuYasha said, following him through. "Almost every day I've seen the bouzu, he's been talking about doing this. Probably had everything set up except for rounding up the victims."

Susumu pushed the gate closed. "He must really want to get that little building of his fixed."

"Yeah. He's got some idea of dragging me off to some monastery near Odawara to pick up some holy writings or something, and a statue of Jizo to install in the village." InuYasha's ear flicked. "He doesn't want to bring the writing stuff here unless he's sure the roof will hold."

"You don't look too pleased at the idea, cousin," Susumu said.

"He won't be the one carrying the statue home," InuYasha replied. "It's a long walk back."

"Ah," the village guard said, nodding. "I could see how that would color one's enthusiasm."
They heard the headman before they could see him. Following the pathway around the corner of the field, they found Tameo bending over and dropping seeds into the ground before covering them over with his hoe.

"Young man, young man,
how much will it weigh?
It weighs quite a lot,
as much as Fujiyama.

"Young man, young man,
how much will you drink
from a jug as big as Fujiyama?
I'll drink it down to the bottom."

The headman's voice sounded soft and a little raspy, but quite content as he worked.

"Nobody's going to give you a bottle as big as Fujiyama, Otousan," Susumu said.

The old man stood up and brushed off his hands, and smiled at the two of them. "One can wish though." He adjusted the rush hat he was wearing to get a better look at his visitors, "Still, I'm not quite sure where I'd store it."

The hanyou snorted. "Don't think the village would be big enough. We'd all drown."

"Ah, InuYasha, you're probably right. You just missed your wife. She's with Kaede, over in the meadow over there," he said pointing. "Herb gathering this morning."

He nodded. "Not surprised. It's the type of day Kaede likes for doing that. I'll leave them alone for right now. Kaede may not have Haname's eye, but . . . "

Father and son chuckled at that. "Some things run in families," Susumu said. "My oldest is showing some of the same talent. I've seen how she looks at the other children."

"A useful talent when she has to put up with the likes of us," Tameo said, leaning on his hoe. "So, what brings you two out to where honest men work?"

"Doing other type of honest work," Susumu replied. He glanced at the hanyou. "I've finally pinned down our cousin to join the village watch."

"Did you now?" Tameo asked. He lifted his hoe over his shoulder. "Well, good. We'll have to get the papers written up when I get home this evening."

InuYasha stuffed his hands inside of his sleeves. "You're sure about this?"

Tameo nodded at InuYasha. "I'd been hoping to make it official ever since we gave you that land up on the hill. I think everybody but a few hotheads like Seiji have been wondering when Susumu would bring you in, especially after last year's bandit raids."

"Long as you're sure it won't cause problems," InuYasha said. He shifted, a little uncomfortable with the ease the two men had over the offer. "People talk . . . "

"People do talk, indeed. And I know what they're talking about after what happened two days ago," Tameo said, turning back to his farming. He lifted his hoe and began cutting a row. "And once the word gets around, it might even do us extra good. It'd be nice to go a winter without any bandits getting the wrong idea."

"That would be a good thing," Susumu said, nodding. "And now, maybe - "

He was interrupted when Kinjiro's voice bellowed across the field. "Dammit boy, get down here now!"

All three of them swerved in the direction of the voice. It came from behind a stand of trees. "Now what?" Tameo said, sighing. "That's the third time since I've been out here. I don't know what they're getting done over there, but whatever it is, Aki doesn't seem to want to do it. That boy . . . "

Susumu was about to say something, but Kinjiro's voice was followed by a totally different one, and younger one. "Help! Get them away from me!"

"That boy lives for trouble," InuYasha said, his ears focusing on the boys cries.

"Maybe we better go see," Susumu said.

The hanyou nodded, and leaving the headman behind, they took off to see what had happened.

Tameo shook his head and began working his hoe more vigorously.

"Young man, young man,
how much trouble will you make?
Quite a lot of trouble,
as much as Fujiyama."

While the men talked, Kaede and Kagome began looking for usable herbs.

"Each season gives us something different." Kaede said as they walked through the meadow. "Even in winter there's usually something useful, roots or dried stalks, although the picking is slim then. This time of year, we're usually looking for leaves and shoots, and sometimes flowers. When it's high summer, we'll start looking for roots and fruits."

Kagome nodded. At first glance the meadow seemed mostly grass, nearly ankle high, but as she looked, she could see other things growing, some in patches, some singly. A few even had flowers out already. She bent down and looked at one plant that looked remarkably similar to the plants Amaya had been growing, already festooned with small yellow flowers.

"Wild mustard?" she asked.

"Yes, and some people gather them, but we'll leave them here this time," Kaede said. "This time of year, we'll probably find more that's food than medicine, although some can be used for both," Kaede continued. "That is not a bad thing. Those who eat fresh spring herbs seem to be healthier than those that don't, so it's always a good thing to put some in your cooking," the old miko said.

"They told me that growing up, too. Fresh greens have things in them that help keep you well," Kagome said.

"The ones who told you that knew what they were talking about, child," Kaede said. "I've seen what happens when there's not enough green stuff to go around. Sometimes, if the rains don't fall, everything gets dry and people suffer, and not just from hunger itself. It causes other sicknesses."

She stopped near a stand of bright green leaves not far from the edge of the meadow where some trees hung over the plants, and she knelt down. "Ah, this looks good."

Kagome knelt down beside her, looking at what she had found.

"This is one I was hoping we'd find." Kaede broke off a bit of a plant, then handed it to Kagome "Mitsuba. You can see why it's called three leaves."

Kagome nodded. "I've used it before, but I've never seen how in grew in a field."

"It likes shade, and for it not to get too dry," Kaede explained. "In a month or so, it will get little white flowers. But it's the leaves and stems we use. We can take a little now, but we'll really want to wait before we gather much more."

They gathered some, and put it in Kaede's basket. "Remind me to send you home with a bunch," the old miko said. "It really tastes good with fish when it's this fresh."

They gathered a few more herbs, Kaede pointing them out and discovering if Kagome knew them, and explaining what they were used for.

"Soon it will be too warm for this one," Kaede said, picking up a small plant with tiny purple flowers. "Hotokenoza. One of the first to flower, and the first to disappear with the warmth."

"Oh, I know that one," Kagome said. "I picked some of that the other day. You're right. I noticed it gets hard to find with the warm weather." She smiled. "I always thought the flowers looked like little snake heads when I was a girl."

"They do, don't they?" Kaede said, holding up a stalk. "It's funny what a child's eye will notice." She put some in her basket and rocked back on her heels. "I think, perhaps, we've had enough for one morning. Maybe - "

Suddenly, the air was pierced by the sound of a man shouting.

"What was that?" Kagome said, standing up. "It sounds like - "

It was followed by a much higher pitched scream.

"That's Aki, isn't it?" Kaede said. She sighed and slowly got to her feet. "He and Kinjiro must be working close by."

Kagome pointed to a wooded area. "It sounds like it came from those trees over there."

There was another high-pitched shout.

"That's on the other side of the field where Tameo was working," Kaede said. She balanced her gathering basket on her hip. "Do you feel any youki?"

Kagome closed her eyes a moment and extended her awareness. "None, except for InuYasha. He's not very far from here."

"That's what I thought, too. We better go see what happened," Kaede said. They began heading back toward the road.

While the two women walked to see what happened, InuYasha dashed toward the sounds of Aki's shrieks, leaving Susumu behind to catch up. As he got nearer, he saw Kinjiro looking up in a tree.

Seeing the farmer there, he relaxed and slowed down a bit. "No monsters here?"

"No," Kinjiro said, glancing at the hanyou. "Just an obstinate boy." He turned back and glared up at the boy. "Get down, baka."

As InuYasha joined the farmer and looked up, the hanyou saw what the problem was. Two birds were squawking and diving at Aki, trying to chase him away. Aki, instead of leaving, huddled in the crook of a branch, trying to protect his face from the birds' angry wrath.

"Get them away from me!" the boy yelled. "They won't stop!"

"You must be too close to their nest. The only way to stop them is to leave." Kinjiro said. "That's the only way to do it."

"I can't!" Aki said. "The chain's snagged on a branch, and I can't move. They're going to get my eyes if I move."

"He's got a knack for getting himself into messes, doesn't he?" InuYasha looked up carefully, spotting both the bird's nest and the broken branch holding the chain in place.

"Even better than Ani-ue was, growing up," Kinjiro said, spitting. "Maybe we should do the village a favor and let the birds get him."

"Help me!" the boy said, trying to hit out at his attackers. The birds dodged his waving arm with ease and pecked at the top of his head.

InuYasha stuffed his hands in his sleeves, and frowned. "How'd he get up there?"

"Decided he was tired of working already, and climbed up too high for me to get to him without climbing myself," Kinjiro said. "And before I could get there, the birds decided they didn't like what he was doing."

InuYasha sighed and began taking off his jacket.

"What are you going to do?" the farmer asked. "You don't need to get your eyes pecked out, either."

"Save his worthless butt," InuYasha said. "I can get there faster than you."

He leapt up into the tree rather effortlessly. Bouncing off two branches, he reached the boy. For a moment, the birds circled, taking in this new development.

"Don't hurt me!" Aki cried.

"Stupid baka," InuYasha said. "I'm going to put my jacket over your head. It'll keep the birds off of your face."

Aki didn't say anything, but didn't fight it when InuYasha draped the red fabric over him. One of the birds, seeing how things were, dived for the hanyou's ear, but after laying his ears flat, InuYasha turned his head and spoiled the target. The angry bird caught his cheek instead. It squawked and came in for another run. As InuYasha moved, trying to figure out how Aki was caught, the bird missed the hanyou's head and instead, grabbed at the sleeve of his kosode. Inu heard the fabric give way, but ignored it as he reached for where Aki's leg chain was entangled. With a quick tug at the branch that had kept it snagged, he freed it, and grabbing the boy, jumped down.

"Boy, you better turn out to be worth something in the end, because right now, you are a lot more trouble than you're worth," he said, putting the boy down on the ground and getting his jacket back.

The birds circled, then flew off, calling loudly in their victory at ridding their tree of the invaders, then went back to their nest as InuYasha and Aki moved to a distance they considered safe.

Aki blinked as he pulled off the hanyou's jacket, tears and a few bloody scratches marking his face. He looked up at InuYasha, saw the trickle of blood where the bird got to the hanyou during the rescue.

"You . . . you saved me?" the boy asked, looking up at the hanyou with big, surprised eyes as he handed InuYasha his fire rat jacket back.

"You wanted me to let the birds peck out your eyes?" InuYasha asked, slinging the coat over his elbow. Kinjiro joined them and nodded at the hanyou.

Aki shook his head. "No . . . but I never thought you would do something like that. The yamabushi said . . . "

"Feh," the hanyou said. "Why would you listen to anything that jackass said? He hurt your obaasan, gave your otousan a nearly impossible job, made your okaasan sad and put her to a lot of extra work, got you in trouble, and gave your ojiisan a lot of grief. Did any of them deserve that?"

Aki's eyes widened even more. "He . . . he hurt my obaasan? That's why she got sick?"

"You didn't know?" InuYasha asked, looking at Kinjiro.

Kinjiro shrugged. "I didn't tell him. I didn't realize he didn't know what happened." .

"Isao told me she had . . . a fit or something," Aki said. His face went ashen beneath the dirt smudges and bloody scratches. "Morio caused that? I didn't realize . . . I thought she got sick cause I got caught. She got sick because I . . . " He choked.

"The yamabushi used magic on her that clouded her mind," Susumu said as he joined the others. "It was hard on her body. It's going to take her a while to get well."

The boy slumped to the ground, slowly, and curled up on himself. "Morio-sama made her sick?"

"Yes, son," Susumu said. He squatted down and rested his hand on the boy's shoulder.

Aki didn't say anything for a long moment, and then took a deep breath. His body shuddered a little, almost a sob, but he swallowed it down. "He told me if I got caught to cause as much trouble as I could. That it would be my way of fighting the bad magic over the village. I believed him. Obaasan believed him. He gave her an amulet that would keep her safe from youkai magic."

"But not his own magic," Kinjiro said.

Aki sat up and looked up at the men around him, then dropped his head. "I thought he was a hero."

"Bah," Kinjiro said. "Heroes don't act like he did."

InuYasha nodded. "That's what the bad guys do."