I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi
Today's chapter is my 2 year anniversary of writing TEA. Thank you, all of you who read, and especially all of you who have been so encouraging in your comments. You may not know how much I appreciate them, but I do!
Maeme crouched down behind the bushes her laundry was stretched out on. For some reason, having her privacy interrupted this way was not just surprising, but disturbing, and even a little frightening, and she did not wish to be spotted by the two men. "That sounds like Daitaro-sama," she said softly to herself. "I didn't know he fished this part of the river. I didn't know anybody did. There's just so much brush between here and the big outcrop."
Her fear was not based on who the speakers were. Daitaro had always treated her decently, and had even pulled Seiji off her once when he was in one of his rages, but her husband was her husband. If he found out she had been washing and talked to the old farmer, it could set off one of his temper tantrums.
"Should I just go home?" she said, looking back at her laundry basket. "But I've got so much to do. Seiji's going to be in such a foul mood when the headman lets him go. Maybe if everything's perfect . . . " Taking a deep breath she shook her head. "I'm not going to leave. I'm not doing anything wrong. I was here first. I'm going to get my washing done."
Slowly she walked back to her washing station. Picking two garments out of the basket, she threw one on the bank and held the other one under the running water until it was wet enough to start scrubbing. Still, she kept her movements as still and quiet as possible.
While she worked, the men got started with their fishing. She could hear them moving around and handling things. There was a small splash. After that, Daitaro spoke. "My ojiisan used to tell me about the grandfather catfish who lived in this part of the river. There's a deep hole near the other bank where he's supposed to live," Daitaro said.
The water ran smoothly in this part of the river. Outside of a few rocky places along the bank, the water did not roar or babble and sound carried well. She heard another splash, like someone threw a fishing line into the water. As Maeme scrubbed, she wondered if the men could hear her as well as she could hear them. If so, they didn't act like they noticed.
"Did he?" Shinjiro asked. "Bigger than the one that lives on the other side of the big outcrop?"
"He did indeed. I don't know which of the two is bigger." She could hear the chuckle in the older man's voice. "But this one had a special trait, supposedly, my ojiisan said. He said the catfish was a river god and blessed the waters here and made them most productive. Also said that the catfish would eat any person of bad character who dared step into the waters near his hole."
"Eh, if that's the case, I could think of one or two people who I would like to have cross the river here," the younger man said.
"Don't laugh," Daitaro said. "Every now and then someone would go swimming near here and disappear."
"I'm not laughing," the younger man said. "I'm making a list."
This made the older man laugh in earnest.
Kaede and Kagome had not yet finished their rounds. The next stop was to check on Nakao.
Seiji's house was downstream from the place Tsuneo had taken Chiya to stay. That place was on a rise overlooking the land around it. Seiji's place though, was down in a dip, not so close to the river to get flooded, but further south than many other houses in the community. They passed several paddy fields getting to it, and then a small line of trees. As they neared, the two miko, who had been talking about the various herbs that grew along the paddy dyke paths, grew quiet.
"I don't think I like being here," the hanyou said as they passed the trees and started on the path to the violent man's home, neat grounds and ramshackle buildings standing before them. The closer they got, the tenser his stance until he was moving like he was on high alert, his ears swiveling at the least noise, his hands going to his sword hilt. "Something . . . "
There was a sudden caw, and InuYasha circled round, claws in his right hand extended, only to see a bird landing on the roof peak at Seiji's house. The bird began calling.
"Really, InuYasha," Kagome said. "You need to relax."
"I can't," the hanyou said. As he watched, the bird hopped to the edge of the roof, cocked its head to look around, and flew off. "Something in the air here . . . it's not a scent, but it has my neck hairs standing on end."
"There are some anti-youkai wards on the buildings," Kaede said. "I'd heard he did that after Naraku's attack." She pointed to a bright plaque hanging just above the main house's front door. "Perhaps if there are enough . . . "
"Must be a crapload of them, if that's the case. Don't expect me to try them out for you, Babaa," the hanyou said. "Don't feel like getting burned or knocked on my butt today for him."
"I wouldn't dream of it, InuYasha." The old miko sighed as they drew closer. In the hanyou's wariness, his own youki was flaring, making it uneasy for her as well, and possibly causing the wards that hung on wooden plaques around each door and window to intensify InuYasha's discomfort. She idly wondered if what he was doing to her felt like what he was sensing.
Kagome rested a hand on InuYasha's arm, she also aware of how his youki was winding up. The hanyou smiled at her, an unsatisfying smile that did not reach his eyes, and her touch didn't do much to calm him.
Nobody was out around the buildings. Somewhere towards the back of the place, an ox lowed, but outside of a couple of chickens who walked the grounds there was no movement.
"I wonder where Yoshimi is," he said. "I'd be happier if I knew we weren't walking into an ambush. It's just too damn quiet."
"I think, InuYasha, you are worrying too much," Kaede said. "I doubt if he would try anything here, in the open, in the daylight - especially with his brother under Tameo's watchful eye. Besides," she said, looking at the hanyou, "I doubt if he even knew we would be coming by."
"Feh," the hanyou said. His hand clasped his sword handle tightly. "Whatever, Kaede-babaa. But I didn't live this long thinking things like that. I'd have been dead a few times if I had."
The old miko shrugged.
A rooster, standing nearby with a bright cascade of tail feathers, crowed as they started their walk to the main house. InuYasha swirled around at the sound, then tried to hide how it startled him.
"Fool bird," he said, kicking a pebble in the bird's direction. "Do that again and you will be dinner."
Having done its job of announcing new arrivals, the rooster, not taking InuYasha's threat seriously, began pecking along the ground, moving too close to the women for the hanyou's liking. He growled at it, starting softly, but growing louder. For some reason, hearing that, the rooster reared up and flapped its wings at the trio, its neck feathers bristling. InuYasha took a step in the bird's direction. The bird gave a squawk, then retreated to a nearby wheel barrow, so he could keep his eye on the visitors while staying out of line of sight of the hanyou.
Kagome covered her face with her hand, torn between humor about her husband being startled by the bird and his reaction, and anxiety based on his state of alert. She took a deep breath to smooth her face, and lightly touched his arm.
"It's just a stupid bird, InuYasha. I don't think we'll have to worry about it," she said.
He gave her a sheepish look, then flicked his ears, crossing his arms. "Feh."
"Well, let's go find Nakao," Kaede said, amused, but wanting to get her work done. She moved toward the main house.
Before they could reach it, the door mat lifted.
"I heard the rooster," a young voice said as the mat went up. "Is someone there? Chichi-ue doesn't like for people to visit when he's not home. Maybe you should go."
The owner of the voice stepped out as the door mat fell behind him, and Nakao stood there, his battered face even more bruised looking than the day before, a couple of places eggplant purple. Seeing his guests, though, he grew surprised, then bowed his greeting. "I...I didn't expect to see you, Miko-sama. Okaasan didn't know you were going to stop for a visit."
"Is Maeme here, Nakao-kun?" Kaede asked, giving the boy a careful look, but also a reassuring smile. "I was making my rounds and thought it would be good to stop by."
He shook his head no. "She went to do her washing. She'll be back later." He started to turn to go back in.
"Did she?" Kaede asked. "I'll talk to her later then. But come over here, Nakao-kun, and let me get a good look at you. You're the one I came to see, after all."
"Maybe you should come back later," Nakao said, looking at the group uncertainly. "My otousan, he doesn't like when we have visitors he didn't invite."
"Feh," the hanyou said. His face was set in his trademark scowl. "Not surprised, the way this place feels."
Nakao gave him an odd look, shrugged, and started to go, but the old miko, ignoring the hanyou standing behind her, rested a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"This won't take long, Nakao-kun, and then we'll leave you alone," the old miko said, handing her basket to Kagome. "Your otousan is still at Tameo's. He won't be bothered by us." She gently held Nakao's chin in her hand, turning his head this way and that, examining his bruises, and carefully looking into his eyes. "How does your head feel, Nakao-kun?"
"Where . . . where I got hit, it hurts," Nakao said, wincing as she gently touched one of the injured spots on his face. "The top of my head hurts a little, but I bumped it there, I think. But the back of my head, it doesn't hurt none."
She gently touched the area near where his cheek had been cut. The skin around it was heavily bruised, and he winced as she touched. "Hurts there still, right? Is it worse than yesterday?"
The boy nodded. "A little."
Kaede straightened up. "Well, boy, it all seems to be healing. I want to keep an eye on that cut, though, to make sure it's just not the bruising making it sore. But," the miko said, "I think you're doing well. In a few days, the bruises will start to fade. If your head begins to hurt, a throbbing big hurt, and you're worried, get to your obaasan's house, or come see me. We'll take care of you."
Once again, Nakao nodded.
"I'll take my basket now," she said to Kagome. "I've got some medicine for the boy."
As the miko looked into her basket, the boy's face twisted up thoughtfully, and he sucked on his bottom lip. Looking around the compound to make sure there was nobody else but the three people in front of him who could overhear him, he rubbed his chin, and in a very soft voice, asked, "Why?"
"Why what, son?" Kaede asked, stopping what she was doing.
"Why does my otousan do this?" Nakao asked.