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

Chapter 296

Tadaki, the young man who worked for Tsuneo and one of the few in the village that would still talk to Yoshimi, lifted his hoe, and let it drop. He had gotten an early start working on one of the upland fields near the woods to the south and west side of the village. Somewhere nearby, a thrush was singing its morning song, and a woodpecker's industry was echoing in the trees not so distant. He ignored them and beat out his own rhythm with his work, and sang his own song.

"Dark the earth
warm the sun
wet the rain
yoiya yoi yoi

"Wake up, wake up
little bean
spread your roots
yoiya yoi yoi

"Send up your leaves
let your flowers bloom
make lots of little beans
yoiya yoi yoi

"I promise if you do
to plant your children
next spring
yoiya yoi yoi..."

"What type of stupid song is that?" a voice from behind him asked.

"The song of a person who wants to get finished with his work, Yoshimi. Besides, don't make fun of my obaasan's planting song. She swore it helped the beans to grow. And her beans always grew well," he said. "Some of us have a lot to get done before the day's over." Deftly, he laid down a line of beans into the prepared soil, then pulled the soil over them before he turned around.

Standing there was a battered, bruised man with a torn kosode. His eye had blackened, and the area around it had swollen, and he had a bruise on his chin.

"Kuso, you look bad today." Tadaki's face creased in a sad, concerned frown. "I thought you looked kind of messed up yesterday when I brought you dinner, but you're worse now. If my face looked like that, I would be holed up somewhere dark calling for medicine. Bet your face isn't the only thing that hurts. Who hurt your face like that? What are you doing out of bed?"

He bent down to pull up his guide string and its two stakes, and moved it to where he was going to plant the next row of beans.

"I was a fool," Yoshime admitted. "I trusted someone I shouldn't have. You have anything to drink?"

"Just water," Tadaki said, pointing to where his water jug sat in the shade. "Help yourself." He checked to make sure his string guide was straight, and began to use his hoe.

"Seiji tricked me into letting him out of the lockup last night." Yoshime unstoppered the bottle and took a drink. "I was doing what you said, trying to convince him to act smart when the elders called him in before he got into worse trouble." He wiped his mouth and then restopped the bottle. "Next thing I know, he's convinced me that he'd just leave peaceably and head off to Odawara. I don't know why I did something that foolish. He swore if I let him out, he'd run. I opened the door, then he punched me and and I guess kicked me in the head. And my side, too." He rubbed his forehead, like even the memory of what his brother did hurt. "Everything after that's kind of hazy. I may have passed out for a bit, but I kind of remember going to the monk's house to warn them, then it all goes black until I woke up this morning in Kaede-sama's house."

"You look like you still ought to be there, man." Tadaki smoothed the ground he was working on with his hoe, breaking up a clod of dirt with a hard whack.

"Fuck that. That mob of women that jumped me last night would have pulled me out of her house to meet with the elders if I had. They beat me up enough yesterday. I'm just going to hang out in the forest until it all blows over. Tomorrow, I'll be able to pay off everybody I owe and then I'm gone. They can do whatever they want with Seiji, but I'm not getting caught in the middle of that."

Tadaki stopped what he was doing with the beans, and turned to face Yoshimi again. For a moment, he just looked surprised, but then he sighed and his face saddened. Walking over to the man, he rested his hand on his friend's arm. "There's not going to be meeting about Seiji this morning."

"No meeting?" He looked down at his friend's hand. "After the riot of all those women? Did he leave, like I told him to? Last thing I remember was everybody setting up to protect Houshi-sama's house. I guess I passed out again." He looked at Tadaki, confused.

"No," Tadaki said. "He didn't run off. You haven't run into anybody else this morning?"

"I got up before dawn, and headed for the forest. I didn't even stop at my place, except to pick up my axe. I was waiting to see if you came out first. You're about the only person in this cursed place I can trust." Yoshimi rubbed his right temple. "Where is my brother if the elders don't have him?"

Tadaki rubbed a hand across his face as he thought of what to say. "You're right, it was a wild night. It was a really wild night. First, there were all those people by Daitaro's because of Shinjiro's wedding. Then your brother set fire to something at Momoe's place. That brought even more people to that side of the village. Seiji ran around the hill in his old rotten armor and rusted out sword trying to get to Houshi-sama's house like he was some Samurai hero or something. Half the village must have been on the hill by that time. Masu dragged me out with him. After the crowd caught up with him, Masu, Denjiro, Haruo, Choujiro, some others, jumped him and knocked him down."

"It took that many?" Yoshimi asked.

Tadaki shook his head. "Not really. Masu ran into him like Daitaro's old bull. Knocked him down in one hit."

The beat up man lowered his head, and scratched at the dirt with one foot. "I told him he was a fool trying to interfere after the bandit raid. Masu's hated his guts ever since." He took a deep breath. "Then what?"

The young farm hand looked at the field he was working on, then wiped a smudge of dirt off his cheek. "They were going to take him back to the lockup when he demanded the river challenge."

Yoshimi plopped to the ground, his eyes wide. "The river challenge? You mean the old test? To swim across the river and see if Grandfather Catfish would let him pass?" He covered his head with his hands, and swallowed hard. When he spoke again, his voice trembled. "He used to make a joke about that story. Never believed in it. What...what happened?"

"He made it about halfway, and then Grandfather Catfish showed up." Tadaki squatted next to his friend, his voice soft. He threw an arm around Yoshimi.

Groaning, Yoshimi crumpled into a little ball.

Unseen, unseeable by human eyes, two figures watched.

"Now what?" Yoshio, Yoshimi's family kami, asked.

"He'll have to choose," Kazuo said, leaning on his hoe. "I know the land kami over at Morimura is plotting something. I talked to her last night after all the dust settled. She'll probably try to encourage him to do the thing that fits in with his plans, and if he does, well, he'll no longer be your headache. But we kami can only lead him to the right path. He'll have to walk it himself."

"Out of my hair would be good." Yoshio rubbed his chin. "I hope she uses good bait."

While the kami watched Yoshimi, the village guards were chuckling as they watched Eiji heading home.

"Don't wake him until after lunch?" InuYasha said. "I bet he won't wake up before tomorrow."

"You might be right," Susumu said, nodding. "We'll try not to bother him today."

"What about the rest of us?" Masayo asked, rubbing his temples.

Susumu gave the man a surprisingly feral grin. "You're all fair game. You're no more tired than the rest of us."

Isao looked up from the fire he was tending. "Do I need to heat some more water?"

"I don't think so," Susumu said. "We're going to be moving out of here pretty quick."

The boy nodded, and pulled the pot off the fire, and began to knock it down.

The farmstead was coming alive. Jun's oldest boy was hauling a bucket to water the oxen, with his young brother Mikio trailing behind him. Koichi, grimacing at the sunlight like he had a headache, walked past with a hoe over one shoulder, giving the men a wave. Somewhere else, a chicken squawked.

Susumu lifted the baton out from where Eiji had shoved it in his obi, and repositioned it to a more comfortable position. "That kind of hurt."

Masayo shook his head at him. "You're lucky Eiji didn't shove that baton somewhere else, Susumu. You shouldn't tease a person as tired as he is. He had to work hard the last week."

"Well, the last ten day was pretty wild,"Susumu said, nodding. "He earned the right to be tired. I guess this ten day is going to start out interesting, too. I've already had to run across the village rounding up the elders and I didn't even have the baton yet."

Ryota offered Masayo a cup of tea, which he accepted. He took a sip. "I hope this helps my headache."

"Good luck," Kinjiro said. "Never did find tea helped with a too much sake headache." He tapped his hoe. "Sometimes work can burn it out, though."

"Maybe for you, man." Haruo guffawed. "You like work better than any man I ever met. Me, when I'm like that, I just get sick in the fields."

Ryota offered tea to InuYasha, who shook his head no. "So what about Yoshimi?" the hanyou asked, getting impatient. He crossed his arms and his eyes narrowed just a little.

This did not go past Susumu, and he gave InuYasha a nod. "So, Yoshimi ducked out this morning, eh?"

"That's what Kaede-babaa said," the hanyou replied. "She got up late, and he wasn't at her place. She didn't hear him leave. Thought Tameo ought to know, and sent me here soon as I reached her door. She thinks it's important. No telling what he'll get up to."

"You're right," Kinjiro said. "Chichi-ue will want to know. Last night was Yoshimi's fault. He's the one who let his ass of a brother out of the lockup."

"He did, no way around it," Haruo said, nodding. "But he was also the one to let Miroku and his people know. That's got to be worth something."

"Maybe," Susumu said. "Counts what the elders decide. And what he's up to this morning. He got pretty battered. He may have gone home and just collapsed."

Ryota put the teapot down and scratched the back of his neck. "If he's smart, Yoshimi will want to lie low. Without his big brother to hide behind, do you really think he'll try anything? Go after Maeme and the boys?"

"Maybe he's just wanting to hide because he knows he owes you more than he can pay," Masayo said.

Haruo, leaning against the outbuilding, snorted.

"We'll assume the worst until we find out otherwise," Susume announced. "He might just be trying to sleep off a really bad day. He might not even know what happened. I believe he was unconscious in Houshi-sama's house when Seiji decided to swim. But until we know for sure, we'll stay prepared." He turned to InuYasha. "Where's Maeme this morning?"

"Still at Miroku's," InuYasha replied. "When we came down, she had drunk some more of Kaede-babaa's medicine and was sleeping."

Susumu nodded. "Haruo, why don't you go up there for a while this morning, until we know more?"

"But..." Haruo sighed. "If I don't finish getting my beans in, you owe me. Teruko's going to hammer me."

"Just do it." Susumu crossed his arms. "We'll see if we can't get you help if you're really that behind. You can see if Genjo's interested to back you up when you get over that way."

"If he's not feeling as bad as I do," Masayo said.

"Sango's pretty formidable if anybody starts anything," InuYasha said.

"But she has a full household and small children," Susumu said. "An extra set of eyes and pair of hands won't hurt until we know what he's up to."

"True." InuYasha flicked an ear. "Miroku brought her big bone weapon out of the shrine last night. Don't get in the way if she wants to use it."

Haruo, grumbling a little, left.

"Well, InuYasha, welcome to guard duty. Come with me while I talk to Chichi-ue," Susumu said. "And the rest of you, make sure I know where to find you. You can tell Isao-kun if you can't find anybody else."

Isao looked up from where he was cleaning up the fire pit and tea making things, wide-eyed at that announcement. "M...me?"

Together, InuYasha and Susumu headed for the office door.