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

Chapter 263

"Have you ever seen such a strange day?" Tameo asked Miroku as they sat on the verandah of his house. The headman looked at the sake cup in his hand. It was one of the best cups he owned, a blue cup, with a deft rendering of a sakura branch inside, to remind the drinker of how all things bright must come to an end. He sighed. "Such a mixup of good things and bad, all at the same time."

Miroku accepted the cup that Hisa offered him. "I cannot say that I have." He took a sip, and let the warmth of the liquid run over his tongue. "I have seen horrible days, and days of great good fortune, but the only thing that even comes close is when we beat Naraku, and Kagome-sama was sent home at the same time."

"That was a strange time," Hisa said, nodding. "We were so busy rebuilding after all the damage that monster caused. He's so quiet, anyway, and slips into the shadows so well, but I remember seeing InuYasha not long after that, down near the river. He looked so lost. For a while there, I was wondering if he was going to slip away, his work done."

"Lost. I believe that's a good word for it," Miroku said. "For a while there, I was wondering if he was going to slip away myself. I think he had more faith in Kagome-sama's return than I did." He took another sip of the sake. "I'm not sure that today is not going to leave Maeme-sama feeling nearly as lost."

Tameo sighed. "That poor woman. We will do our best tomorrow. That is all I can promise you, Houshi-sama." He took another sip of his own cup. "At least, I am fairly sure that Toshiro is thinking things over carefully. He was rather surprised when the women cornered him this afternoon. Our . . . guest . . . has burned many bridges behind him." He put the cup on the ground. "I suspect that every harsh thing he's done over the last decade will come back to bite him tomorrow."

"Karma sometimes does work out in visible ways," the monk said.

"Sometimes, not quickly enough," Hisa said. She stood up, holding the sake jug. "But tomorrow will be interesting." With a smile, almost as if she were anticipating what the next day would bring, she bowed slightly, and went inside.

The headman's eyes followed his wife's form as she disappeared inside. "You did a good thing today, Houshi-sama, taking care of Maeme-chan."

Miroku inclined his head. "It seemed to be the right thing to do. I will not let her go back to that man. You know that."

Tameo nodded."Well, you have my blessing," he said. "And the backing of my family on this. Something will work out. You let us know if we can help. I'm not sure what's going to happen next, but . . . "
"But be careful, Houshi-sama," Susumu, freshly returned from taking Hisako home, said as he walked up to join the men. "If anything goes . . . well, not the way we hope it will, he will be coming first in your direction."

"I have no doubt," Miroku said, nodding. "Still, forewarned is forearmed."

"Let's not think about that just this moment," Tameo said. "He's safe enough where he is."

"For the moment," Susumu said. A chicken began to walk up towards Koichi. The farm worker threw a rock in its direction, and it backed off squawking.

"Our problems should be as easy to shoo away as that bird," the headman said. "Go inside, son, Your okaasan's been fretting about you going to the wedding in your work clothes."

Susumu shook his head, slowly, almost in amazement. "The world's going crazy, and she's worried about what I'm wearing?"

"It's how she deals with the world going crazy," Tameo said. "Go get ready."

Miroku finished his cup of sake, and putting down his cup, he picked up his staff and stood up. "I, too, should be going. My wife has her own ways of dealing with how the world goes crazy."

"I bet," Tameo said. "Well, if there is trouble, you know where we'll be."

"Indeed." Miroku smiled. It wasn't totally forced. "Ah, weddings. Don't give Shinjiro too hard a time."

"Just enough. Otherwise, he'd think we didn't approve."

That got an honest laugh out of Miroku and he headed home.

Not far from the headman's house, Sukeo, head bowed, stepped out of Koume's house and sat down on the verandah, resting his head in his hands. His dog, who had trailed behind the boys a good bit of the day, walked up and nuzzled the boy on the cheek. Sukeo wrapped an arm around the animal, until suddenly he pulled the animal close. The dog gave him an affectionate lick.

Fumio, Koume's husband and the village blacksmith, pushed a cart laden with charcoal towards his workshop. He paused for a moment, and watched the two of them.

"It's good to have a friend like your dog there, boy," he said.

Sukeo looked up and nodded. His eyes glistened, but he was managing to keep his face smooth and noncommital, a skill he had developed dealing with his father's temper.

"Where's your brother?" the smith asked.

"Your daughter Nahoi-obasan is trying to get him to eat something," Sukeo said. "She's different. It's almost like . . . well, she's kind of treating Nakao like . . . like . . . "

"Like he was a pet?" Fumio asked.

Sukeo sucked on his bottom lip. "I...I didn't want to sound rude."

"It's all right, son. Nahoi-chan is what she is, and I know my daughter." The smith gave the youth a reassuring smile. "Is she having any luck?"

Sukeo shrugged. "I guess. He drank some soup."

"Well that's something. It's been a rough couple of days for him." The smith began to push his cart. "And for you, too. I'm going to the forge. You're welcome to follow me."

Sukeo looked up at the smith, surprised. It was well known how he didn't like boys coming to his forge. He let go of his dog, and slowly stood up. "Really?"

"Really. I need to check on my fire there. With everything that happened this afternoon, I got out without properly shutting down."

The two walked over to the workshop. Sukeo watched respectfully as Fumio banked the fire he kept going there, then looked around. The building smelled of smoke and metal. Along the walls, there were shelves where the smith kept his tools - tongs and hammers, things Sukeo didn't know the names for, things with odd shapes he guessed the smith used to shape objects and pots, and a big tank of water. On one side of the room, there was a neat row of tools to finish metal items after they had been forged. Against another wall, there was a small collection of farm tools, like hoe blades the smith had recently made, and a new axe head.

"So, boy, what do you think?" Fumio asked, looking up at Sukeo as he walked around the workshop, curious, but careful not to touch anything.

"I think . . . " Sukeo looked at the smith. "Some of the boys say you do magic."

"It's fire and oil and water and muscle, not magic," Fumio said, shaking his head. "It might be easier if it was magic." He stood up and brushed off his hands. "So what do you think?"

"I think . . . " Sukeo scratched his head a moment. "I think . . . you must know a lot. It's a lot more to know than just when to plant barley and rice."

"Ha. I have to know that, too. I plant my own, and I have to have the tools ready for the people who need them when it's time. There is a good bit to know," the smith said, nodding. "Metal has its own ways, just like the soil does. It took me a few years before I really could make anything worthwhile."

Sukeo walked over to look closely at the smith's tools. "These are different than wood hammers, aren't they?"

"Yes they are. Iron behaves differently than wood." Fumio picked up the hammer he had been carrying earlier. "I think this one's my favorite. I use it a lot." He put it down. "My father had one like that. When he passed on, we buried it with him. It was such a part of him, it didn't seem right to leave it with anybody else."

"Did he teach you?" the boy asked.

"He did, indeed," the smith said. "And his father taught him before me."

Sukeo gently touched the hammer's handle. "My otousan . . . he's not good at teaching. My ojisan taught me more stuff. And Haha-ue." For a moment his voice grew rough, and he swallowed hard, then looked up at the smith. "Was it hard to learn?"

Fumio rubbed his chin, looking thoughtfully at the young man. "Counts what you mean by hard. I made mistakes. I got better. It took me a while before I was strong enough. But good things are worth learning to do right."

"I guess," Sukeo said.

Fumio reached over and picked up a smaller hammer, laying at the far end of the tools. "Here," he said, handing it to the boy. "This was the first hammer my otousan had me use."

Sukeo took it, and sagged a moment at the weight, as if surprised by how heavy it looked, but then he lifted it up, and swung it once in a short arc. "It has a nice feel to it. How old were you when your otousan did that?"

"Oh, about your age," Fumio said. "Think you can handle that much weight?"

Sukeo nodded. "It weighs less than the water I haul every day." He lifted it again and tapped it lightly in his hand.

"Do you think you might be interested in learning how to use it right?" the man asked.

"You're asking me?" Sukeo said, surprised. "Me?"

"If you'd want to," the smith said. "Could use an extra pair of hands around the workshop."

"But the other boys said you never let them get near here." Sukeo handed the hammer back to the smith.

"You're not the other boys." Fumio rested a hand on the youth's shoulder. "A good man needs good friends. I think you want to be a good man. Is that true?"

Sukeo, at a loss for words, nodded.

"Well, then. We'll talk about it some more later. Let's go see if my daughter has gotten through petting your brother. I suspect it's time to go visit your okaasan."

Still not sure what to say, Sukeo nodded, and followed the blacksmith out of the shop.

In a different part of the village, Masayo, Erime's brother gave his drum a loud thump.

"She's on the road to meet her lover,
Love, ah love,
Yoi, yoi, ya.

"Hear her heart beat,
Love, ah love,
Yoi, yoi, ya.

"It sounds like a waterfall thundering.
Love, ah love,
Yoi, yoi, ya.

"Underneath that waterfall there lives a dragon
Love, ah love,
Yoi, yoi, ya.

"Tonight, tonight, he'll see the dragon,
Love, ah love,
Yoi, yoi, ya."

"You're living dangerously, son," Takeshi said, looking at his son, noticing the look that Ushimi was giving them.

"That's nothing," the younger man said, unapologetically. "I seem to remember two sisters who serenaded Sakami and me with just that song."

"We did, we did," Erime said, hiding her giggle behind a fan.

They reached a fork in the road, and Takeshi turned left.

"We're not going by the temple?" Sakami asked. "I thought that was the closest way to Daitaro-ojisan's house."

"No, no, dear," Ushimi said, patting her younger daughter's hand. "Hisa-sama asked to join in the procession. She and Tameo are family, so . . . "

"You're sure it's not a plot to let everybody see how beautiful she is?" Sakami asked, smiling as Erime dropped her head a bit and blushed.

"Would I do that?" Ushimi asked.

"Yes," Takeshi said. "I do believe you would."