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

Chapter 246

Hisa walked down the main street of the village with Shinjiro in tow. Not many people were out and about. They passed a couple of boys carrying bundles of firewood, and Isamu, heading back to the fields after lunch, waved to them, but the village lay mostly quiet in the early afternoon sunlight.

Shinjiro walked silently at the headwoman's side, head down, lost in thought.

"Don't worry. It'll be over soon," she said.

He nodded, but didn't reply.

"I'm glad I made my rice cakes yesterday," Hisa said, trying again. "Today has not turned out exactly the way I expected it to."

Shinjiro nodded. "It seems so."

Hisa looked at the young man. "How are you doing? Holding up? I think having weddings in the evening is a hard thing on people sometimes."

He gave her a rueful smile. "Oh, I'm all right. I think I would have been better if Okaasan had let me work in the bean fields today. Somehow, being so close and so far away at the same time . . . "

"The time's dragging on, is it?" she asked.

He nodded. "They aren't letting me do anything. Maybe I can get someone who will play go with me."

"Jun's a good hand at shoji, I hear," Hisa said. "Maybe we can pry him away."

"I don't know," Shinjiro said, rubbing his chin. "I might not have the patience."

"Shinjiro! There you are!" The speaker was busy coming up on their right. "I've been looking for you."

Hisa and Shinjiro turned to see Eiji and Haruo walking towards them.

"You should have known where to find me," the bridegroom said, stopping.

"Well," Haruo said, grinning. "We thought it might be better to find you away from home for this. Didn't want to embarrass you in front of your okaasan on your wedding day."

Hisa laughed. "Why do I think that you might not want to embarrass him in front of me while you're at it?"

Eiji bowed. "Ah, Hisa-sama," he said, "We wouldn't dream of it."

Taking the man aside, they walked toward one of the rice paddy dyke paths. Hisa looked at the men, shook her head. "Maybe I should just go on."

"No, no, Hisa-obasan," Haruo said. "We just need a little of his time. We'll give him back in a couple of minutes."

"He might even come running," Eiji said. The two brothers began laughing.

"So, what are you two up to?" Shinjiro said as they dragged him down one of the side paths.

.

"It is your wedding night tonight," Eiji said, waggling his eyebrows.

"Yes, and I bet you'll be busy patrolling around the house to get my otousan's sake," Shinjiro said, shaking his arm free, but more curious than irritated.

"Not too much for that," Eiji said. "I'm on duty still. I'll be there more to hear the songs. Kinjiro's going to be there, right?"

"He's supposed to be," Shinjiro said, nodding.

Haruo laughed. "Don't believe it. It's your okaasan's rice cakes he'll be coming for, I bet. Music's fine and good, but we know what Eiji really likes." He scratched under his chin. "Or maybe the pickles. I hear your okaasan's been getting pickles from everybody."

"Not for me. For InuYasha-sama," the bridegroom said. "I think she's going to use him to decide who makes the best pickles."

"He can't be having them all," Eiji said. "Not even he can eat that many pickles. Surely there'll be some for the rest of us."

"I don't know," Shinjiro said, scratching his head. "I've been hearing stories. My okaasan thinks . . . "

"Bah," Haruo said, interrupting him with a tug on his sleeve. "Anyway, we're not here about food. Or even sake."

"Oh?" Shinjiro said. He freed his sleeve and crossed his arms.

"Well, it is your wedding night," Eiji said.

"And Erime is such a sweet young thing," Haruo said, nodding. "We wouldn't want her to be disappointed."

Eiji tapped his nose. "Can't have that."

Shinjiro cleared his throat. "You do remember I was married once before. I don't need any tutoring."

Haruo barked out a belly laugh. "You thought . . . " He laughed again. "No, no, man. We know that."

"No, we have something better than pillow books."Eiji held up a small bottle. "It's our wedding present to you."

"What?" Shinjiro said, taking the bottle. He rolled it back and forth in his hand then raised it to his nose. He could smell faint traces of a spicy scent. "What is this?"

"It's our family secret," Eiji said. "Passed solemnly down father to son, brother to brother."

"Our ojiisan learned it from his ojiisan," Haruo said, nodding solemnly.

"Put a little of it in her sake. Put a little of it in your sake. The gift of heat and staying power." Eiji wrapped his friend's hand closed.

"You can even put a dab or two of it . . . well, you've been married. You know where the good places are," Haruo said. Shinjiro reddened, which made the man laugh harder. "Have fun tonight. I won't expect to see you out of the house until late tomorrow afternoon."

The two men, highly pleased with themselves started to walk off. "But we expect to see you and your bride tomorrow afternoon with big smiles," Eiji said, over his shoulder. "Big smiles."

Shinjiro looked at the little bottle. For a moment, he thought about chasing after them, but before he could make up his mind, Hisa walked up.

"Save your revenge for later, Shinjiro," she advised. "Remind me after tomorrow to tell you a thing or two I know about those men. It might make good ammunition."

He looked at the headman's wife. A knowing, almost wicked smile touched her lips. He nodded. "They say that revenge is best done cold. I'll remember."

Together, they headed to Tameo's compound.

While Eiji and Haruo were teasing Shinjiro, Miroku waited outside as Sango led Nakao and Koume into the house. Noriko walked over to the monk and held her hands up to be picked up.

"Tired, my princess?" Miroku asked, picking up the little girl. She shook her head no, but her eyes said differently as she snuggled into her father's hold.

"You're good with your girls," the old smith said. "I approve. Raising a daughter is a special thing."

"With girls like these, how could I not?" the monk said, looking down at Noriko. "You're sure you don't want to play with your sister?" he asked her. She shook her head. Shrugging, he looked up at the smith. "You've had some experience that way yourself, I hear."

"Three daughters," Fumio said. He grinned. "Had a bit of experience."

"Ah," Miroku said. "You're still ahead of me on that one."

Fumio tugged on the hammer that was stuck in his belt and repositioned it. "Funny how men are about women. I know some men seem to think their daughters are just too much trouble and don't want much to do with them. Or their wives."

"That shows you how little they really know," Miroku said, brushing his daughter's bangs out of her face. "Women are a special gift."

"Ah, spoken like a well-married man," Fumio said. "Not all men are as wise."

The smith crossed his arms and scowled. The way his arms, built by years of working at his forge, bulged when he did this hinted at the strength he had in them, and gave him an aura of stern power. "And then there are monsters who do things like Seiji does. I knew he was the type of man who didn't think much of his family." His hand dropped to rest on the hammer's head. "I didn't realize how far he had gone. If I had known . . . " He sighed, and his look hovered between angry and guilty. "I...I..."

"Don't feel bad, Fumio-sama." Miroku began walking to the back side of the building where Yusuko was busy stacking rocks and sticks. "Men who do that type of thing, they tend to try to hide it from everybody else. For all their boasting and bullying, they don't really want their family to let out just how badly they get treated. Still, now that we've all learned what he's been doing . . . "

Fumio scratched his head. "I'm not sure what we're going to do next. Sukeo, he seems like a young man who could be someone decent with a little help. He'll be coming of age soon, too. If..."

He shook his head, and the sternness of his manner came back in full gallop, filled with determination. "No, make that when, the elders do something about his father, he's going to need some help. Man-child can't run a farm by himself. And his ojisan is a worthless piece of crap." He gave the monk a look. "We're going to have to keep an eye on that one. I've kind of taken a liking to him. My son, he's not very interested in the forge. I'm wondering if Sukeo might be interested in learning."

"I don't know," Miroku said. "I know he likes fishing. He's gotten into trouble once or twice running off with the boys to watch InuYasha fish."

Fumio chuckled. "Boys and fishing. I hear that friend of yours has impressed more than one with his fishing techniques. I see them down there, trying to tickle fish out of the water."

"Me, too," Miroku said. "He is good at it. I tried it a couple of times - not his way, but with a line." He shifted Noriko from one arm to the other. Half-asleep, the girl looked up at him and frowned. "I've decided that although the Buddha might not smite a monk who will eat a fish he doesn't seem to want to bless one who tries to catch one."

Fumio laughed. "That may go for smiths as well. They never seemed very interested in me, either, to be honest," the smith said. "Iron likes me better. Hoes and nails seem to be more my fate, instead of fish. Although," he said, rubbing the back of his neck, "I've been told I make a good fish hook."

"You do, indeed, old man," a voice said. "You do indeed. No doubt all your fishing luck has gone into them."

The two men turned around to see Daitaro walk up the path towards them.

"I take it you have first-hand knowledge of this?" Miroku asked. Noriko opened her eyes wide and began to wiggle as the old farmer joined them.

"Indeed," Daitaro said. "We used the last ones Fumio made for us today, and Shinjiro caught a big fish."

"Bridegroom luck," Fumio said. He looked pleased at the endorsement. "At least someone's getting to catch fish."

"Bridegroom luck? Maybe. It didn't rub off though. Me, I got a snag and lost my line." He sighed and moved next to the two men. "Here, Houshi-sama, I brought you a gift." He shoved a jug of sake at the monk.

Miroku stared at it a second, then putting his daughter down, he took it from the old man. "Why thank you, Daitaro-sama. This is an unexpected pleasure."

"Eh, enjoy it while you can. It'll be the last of the good stuff for a while. Warm weather's not the best time of the year for making it. I won't be doing any more until the autumn."

The monk nodded. "My old master would tell me that. He brews some of his own at the temple."

"Ah, an appreciator of the good stuff?" Daitaro asked. "Picky about how it's made?"

"Well, sake matters to him, anyway," Miroku said. "He drinks enough of it. I know that Mushin does prefer the better over the worst, but he'll drink it all. Better a full cup, he tells me, than an empty one."

The old farmer shook his head sadly. "Sounds like Tameo,"

Fumio snorted.