1I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi
Down by the river, Hana looked up as Miroku stepped out of the house that Chiya was to live in until Michio took her home. His face was solemn, and his eyebrows were knitted together, deep in thought.
"Houshi-sama," she said, bowing. "Is it all right if I go in now?"
That broke his concentration, and shaking his head briefly, he turned to the girl."Ah, Hana-chan. I forgot you were here. Give her a few minutes to think," Miroku said. "I bet she'd like a moment or two to get her thoughts in order."
"After what I heard," Hiroki, chopping wood once again at the side of the house, "if I was Chiya-obasan, I don't know if I'd want to see anybody for hours." He picked up a small log and put it down on the ground, then slammed it with his splitting maul. "Or days."
"Hiroki-kun!" Hana said, frowning at the young man.
"It's true," he said, tossing the split wood into a small pile of already split pieces. "After everything that's happened to her today, if it was me, I'd cover my head with the blanket and not get up until I absolutely had to."
"Chiya-obasan is not you," Hana said, shaking her head.
"She'll call you when she's ready, no doubt," Miroku said. He started walking to the path back to the village, but hadn't gotten far when Nana joined him.
"Houshi-sama," Nana said, her smile moving to a look of concern, "you seem troubled."
Miroku dropped his frown and smoothed his face, tapped his staff once on the ground as he did so, making the rings jingle. He managed to give her a small smile. "It's nothing, Nana-sama. It's been a long morning."
"It has indeed," Rikuyo, Nana's mother, joined them. She carried her granddaughter Uma on her back, who looked at the monk with solemn eyes. "And all you have done . . . "
The monk nodded his head in her. "It's all in a day's work. I've had worse."
"Well, I was impressed," Nana said. "I'd never seen anything like that . . . "
A loud kuso erupted from the side of the house as Hiroki continued working on the fire wood.
"You need to be more patient," Hana said.
"I don't know where she gets that from," Rikuyo said. "Her mother was never that calm, but both she and her sister just . . . " The old woman just shook her head. "I wish I was that calm. Could I fix you some tea, Houshi-sama?"
Inside of the house, they could hear Chiya crying. Miroku turned around and looked back at Hana who was looking at him questioningly. He nodded and the girl entered the house.
"I really ought to get back to Tameo-sama," Miroku said, turning back to Rikuyo. "Perhaps later." As Hana entered, the sobbing got louder for a moment and then quieted. "I suspect she's going to be a handful," he said, looking back at Chiya's new home one last time. "Don't be afraid. Be sure to let me or Tsuneo or Tameo know if Chiya-sama starts to become . . . well, troublesome."
"I'm sure she'll be no trouble at all," Nana said.
Her mother frowned. "I wouldn't count on it, daughter. I've seen what she's done in the past." As if emphasizing the point, Uma, the girl on Rikuyo, let out a loud gurgle.
"So, my little girl," Miroku said, with a small chuckle, "you agree with your obaasan, do you?"
The girl gave him a little smile.
"She reminds me of my girls when they were that age," the monk said. "And now, look at them. Time passes. But she's about the same age as my son, isn't she?"
Nana nodded. "Sango-sama and I were delivered the same week. I think Kaede-sama thought we had a plot going in the village to not let her get any sleep."
Miroku was about to say something in return, when Nana's son Hidaka ran up. His youngest brother Katsuo was right behind him. "They're coming!" the boy said.
"Tameo-sama?" Nana asked.
"Well, I guess I don't have to walk down the hill after all," Miroku said, shifting his staff a bit.
"It looks that way," Nana said. "Hurry, Hidaka," she said to her son. "Go tell your father. I think he's back at the house."
The boy nodded and trotted off. Katsuo, though, stayed behind. He held his arms up. "Okaa?"
Nana bent over and picked him up. Another loud sob came out of Chiya's place. Nana looked that way and sighed. "Maybe we should all go to the house. It probably would be better if we don't bother Chiya-sama any more than necessary."
"A good idea," Miroku said, and all three of them headed for the main house.
While Kaede watched, Seiji gave Eiji a hard shove, and the village guardsman stumbled, falling to the ground. Not waiting to see what happened to him, the enraged man stormed off.
Eiji rolled to his hands and knees and shook his head clear as picked himself up off the ground. "That man . . . "
Nakao's dog had stopped running, and wandered back towards the miko's house, sniffing. As Eiji got his bearings, the dog walked up to the man, sniffing him.
"No, I didn't get your boy, dog," the guardsman said. "You'll have to wait until Miko-sama is through with him before you get to have him back."
The dog tilted his head, looking at him, and looked up at the miko.
"He's right," she said. "I have to take care of him first."
The dog sighed, and circled around, laying down to wait.
"A faithful friend, that," Eiji said, getting to his feet.
Kaede looked him over. "Are you all right?"
"Nothing hurt beyond my pride," he said, dusting off. Eiji looked down the road, where Seiji was stomping to the other side of the village, only weaving a little as he walked. He had made it past the watch tower.
The village guard shook his head. "I knew he was a mean drunk, but I've never seen him get drunk this early in the day. I wonder what brought that on? It's just past midday. It was a good thing I was making my rounds when I did."
"That was good luck," Kaede said, nodding. "I don't know if I could have kept him out of my house otherwise." She tapped her bottom lip with one of her fingers. "It does seem odd that he would have been drinking that much this early," Kaede said. "I wonder what happened?"
"With everything that's been happening around the village, who knows? Maybe the boy can tell us something." Eiji said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I need to learn to land better. I'm glad Susumu didn't see how I fell. He'd make me practice falls for a week."
Kaede gave Eiji the ghost of a smile. "We can ask him," the old miko said. "Anything that sets him off is not going to be a good thing. Someone told me his brother got run off from the roofing party yesterday. I wonder if had anything to do with that?"
"He did indeed," Eiji said, rubbing the top of his shoulder next. "I wonder if someone told him what else happened?"
"Are you sure you don't want me to take a look at you?" the old miko asked.
"I'm sure," Eiji said. "I just bumped on a rock when I fell."
The old miko nodded. "I remember the last time he started raging. I thought for sure the elders were going to send him away."
"That was a bad time. Right after the bandit raid and in the middle of winter," Eiji said, walking over to the door mat of Kaede's hut. He lifted it up. "I think that if his woman had kinfolk in the village, they would have. I thought giving him another chance might have been a mistake. His oldest boy's big enough to handle most of the work, with some help."
"It's always a hard decision," the old miko said. "Banishing someone, especially when they have a family." She stepped into the house.
The air was filled with the sound of muffled sniffles. Nakao was curled up into a ball at the back of the house, shaking a little, and covering his hands with his face. "He's going to kill me," he whimpered, rocking back and forth. "He's going to kill me. I don't want to die. I didn't do anything wrong."
"Nobody's going to kill you, son," Kaede said, putting her basket down, and stepping up on the wooden platform. "We'll make sure of that."
He lifted his head up. The bruise was already darkening, a big bruise like he took a fist full on. As he sat up he ran the fingers of his right hand over the sore spot. "How do you know? When he's like this . . . "
"You want to tell us about it?" Eiji said, walking up behind the miko.
Nakao dropped his eyes, looking at nothing in particular then wrapped his arms around his middle and began to rock. "I shouldn't have run. Then it'd be all over. Like he says. I need to take my beatings like a man."
"Bah," Kaede said, kneeling next to him. "Men who don't do wrong shouldn't have to take beatings, boy. Let me look at your face."
The boy dutifully turned his head to the miko. Holding his chin in her hand, she rotated his head back and forth, getting a good look at his injuries. "Let me clean that up and see what we need to do," she said, getting up to get a bowl and some water.
He watched her walk across the room. "I didn't know he had been drinking. He was really mad last night at something Ojisan told him. I usually go over to my obaasan's when he's doing that."
"A wise decision," Eiji said, sitting down next to the boy. "Did you know what they were talking about?"
Nakao shook his head. "Something that happened up at the temple yesterday. I was trying to stay out of sight."
Kaede returned. "I don't blame you, son." She sat down, dipped a cloth in the bowl of cool water and began wiping his injury clean.
"This morning, Haha-ue and Ani-ue went down to the bean field early, before Chichi-ue got up." The boy winced as the cloth went over the worst part of the bruising. "I went with them, but Haha-ue sent me back to the house, and asked me to start weeding the garden." He sighed. "I don't know why, but me weeding the garden makes Chichi-ue mad."
Kaede dropped her cloth into the bowl and unstoppered a jar of ointment.
"And that's where he caught you?" Eiji asked.
The boy nodded.
"Don't wiggle, son," Kaede said, daubing some the medicine on the boy's cheek. "I don't want to get this in your eyes. It would burn."
"Sorry, Miko-sama," he said. "I'm just glad that Haha-ue and Ani-ue weren't at the house yet."
"Did she take her lunch with her?" Eiji asked.
A panicked look washed over the boy. "No. Haha-ue will be coming back to make lunch. If he finds her while he's this mad . . . "
Kaede turned to Eiji. "Perhaps you ought to go tell them," she said. "Maybe you can catch them before they get there." She put the medicine jar down. "Now, did he hit you anywhere else?"
The boy nodded. "My shoulder hurts."
"Well, take off your shirt so I can see," the miko said.
Eiji stood up. "You'll be all right?" the guard asked. "I can send someone over to keep an eye out. I'm sure my father-in-law wouldn't mind. I know he's in the smithy."
The miko nodded. "Just don't take a long time." She helped Nakao take off his kosode. "Who knows what will happen if Seiji gets to Maeme first?"
Nodding, Eiji got up and left the house.