I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi
A/N Today is the 3 year anniversary of my first publishing the first chapter of A Tale of Ever After in 2011. Thank you everybody who's stuck with this story and continues to come back for more!
While InuYasha and his group of villagers were taking the sick peddler to Kaede's house to try to get him some help, Kagome put her medicine cup back in her basket.
"Well, Daisuke-ojiisan, I'll see you tomorrow," she said.
Daisuke grinned, a rather wicked grin. "If you see that daughter of mine, tell her to take her time. I found the sake jug."
Kagome rolled her eyes. "You haven't been drinking yet. It always shows, you know."
"I know it, and you know it, girl, but she doesn't have to know that yet." The old man stood up stiffly from the stump he used as a seat. The ground around it was covered in wood shavings from the little carvings he did there to pass the time. He reached for a small bundle wrapped in a bright bit of red cloth. "She got mad at me because I threw a rock in the direction of some fool who came by singing too early in the morning. It was that stupid herb peddler from back east. I warned him off before, the last time he came through. Besides, I didn't get anywhere near hitting him. Don't have the arm I had when I was a young man. Ran off and said she was going to the well. Well, the gossips at the well can have her." He shook his head.
"Another peddler so soon?" Kagome asked.
"It's the season," the old man said. "We're about to have a whole plague of them." He held out the bundle to Kagome. "Enough about stupid peddlers and daughters. Here, child. Here's a little something from an old fool who appreciates getting to see a pretty face in the morning."
Kagome, touched and surprised took the little bundle in her free hand, feeling the weight of it as she stood there.
"I...I..." she said, then bowed. "Thank you, Daisuke-ojiisan. Such a surprise!"
"Well, unwrap it, girl. Tell me what you think." Daisuke folded his arms and straightened up as much as he could.
"Yes, yes, of course," Kagome said. She put down her basket and carefully unwrapped the cloth to reveal a small but well-formed medicine cup. "You made this, Daisuke-ojiisan?"
"A man's got to have something to do to pass the time," he said. "Thought about that cup you always give me my medicine in. Nasty tasting, whatever it's made out of. This, though, maybe it'll taste better."
Kagome smiled up at the old man, who seemed pleased at her reaction to it. She ran her fingers over the surface. It had been polished smooth and finished with something that brought out the grain of the wood. "You want me to give you your medicine in this cup?" she asked.
"It'd be sweeter if it were sake, but you might try it out," he said.
"I'll do that," Kagome said, picking her basket back up, and putting the new cup inside with the other. "Well, I need to get back to Kaede-sama's. I think she wants to show me how to make a new medicine."
"Go and learn, girl. And if you see that hot-headed daughter of mine, send her home. I'm still waiting for my breakfast!"
Kagome took her leave from her daily patient, touched that he had chosen to gift her with something, and headed down the road. She passed Yasuo, Toshiro's son, and one of their workers, heading out to one of their field. She waved; he replied with a nod of his head.
"Come by the house soon," Yasuo called out. "Sayo has something for you."
Nodding in return, she continued back towards the old miko's house. Stopping for a moment, she spotted a small flowering herb growing along the roadside. It was useful for women's ailments. Bending over she took her knife and cut several sprigs.
While she was bent over, a young voice called out, "Miko-sama! Miko-sama!"
Kagome straightened up, dropped the herbs in her basket and shook out her sleeve in time to see Nakao, Maeme's youngest son waving to her and running in her direction. He seemed rather excited about something.
"Here I am, Nakao-kun," she said, waving a bit as she watched him hurry. "How are you today?"
The boy ran up to her and bowed. "Miko-sama, I was hoping I could find you," he said, catching his breath. "I know you go visit Daisuke-ojiisan every day."
"I think everybody knows that by now," Kagome said smiling, but there was something about how Nakao was standing that caught her attention. He was fidgety as he stood there, waiting for her to finish her small talk. "Is there something wrong?" she asked. "Is Maeme-chan having problems? If she's still having nightmares . . . "
"No, no," he replied. "Haha-ue is doing very well, thank you. She hasn't needed any sleeping medicine in almost a moon. It's not about her. It's just . . . " He floundered a moment trying to say what was on his mind, then dropped his head.
"It's just what?" she said, her voice soft and encouraging. Somehow or other, Nakao sometimes reminded him of her brother when he was younger. Now that she was here and not being a teenager coping with the brother under her roof, she found that all the things that used to irritate her were somehow endearing.
"I..." he swallowed. "Are there things that are birds but aren't birds?"
"Now that's an odd question," Kagome said. "Why do you want to know?"
He took a deep breath. "I...I saw something weird."
She tilted her head and looked at the boy thoughtfully. He seemed edgy, slightly embarrassed, as if a little worried about being made a fool of, but honestly concerned.
"Weird?" she asked. "And it involved a bird? Who might not be a real bird?"
Nakao nodded. "I don't know how else to say it," he said, looking down at the ground, not sure if the young miko's thoughtful look was concern or lack of belief. "I thought I saw this huge bird. Biggest bird I ever saw."
"That's interesting," Kagome said, giving him an encouraging smile, which made the boy relax about not being believed. She could see some tension drop out of his shoulders. "What did it look like and where did you see it?"
"Not far from the river. Near the road north," he said. "It was big and gray and had a yellow tail. It was kind of shaped like an eagle, but not exactly. Nobody was out where I was, except a peddler. He didn't look too well."
"Ah, Daisuke-ojiisan talked about a peddler," Kagome said. "I wonder if it was the same one? He didn't say anything about him looking sick."
"Maybe." Nakao's earlier flicker of assurance died out once again, and he sighed. "Nobody's going to believe me, I bet. Nobody believes a peddler's stories, and I bet he didn't even see it. "
He looked dejected.
Now Kagome looked a bit confused. "Nobody will believe you saw a really large bird? Why should they doubt you?"
Nakao rubbed the back of his neck. "It's not . . . it's not that, Miko-sama," he said.
"What is it then, Nakao-kun?"
"Are there some birds that look like birds sometimes, but can . . . like Shippou-kun, change their shapes?" His head bowed, he drew circles in the dirt with his foot, as if concentrating on how to phrase what to say.
"Well, there are some youkai that can take any shape they like, like Shippou-chan. He's taken bird shape before. Kitsune can do pretty much most forms. Tanuki can do it too, and some others. And there are tengu, who are normally bird shapes. Sometimes, heavenly beings, like tennyo, take bird shape according to some of the old stories." Kagome shifted her basket to her other hip. "Does that help?"
He nodded. "Do you think something like that might come around here?"
Kagome gave a quick look around but saw nothing out of the ordinary. It looked like the outskirts of a peaceful little farming village. "I guess so. Does this have to do with what you're telling me?"
He nodded. "It's what I saw next. You don't think I'm just making this up, do you?"
Kagome rested a hand on his shoulder. "You can tell me anything, Nakao-kun. I won't laugh at you. I know you try to be truthful, and you wouldn't have come looking for me just to tell me a tall tale."
He looked up at her, studying her face carefully, then gave a curt nod. "As I was watching it, the bird landed behind some bushes. It was so big, I was surprised at how easily it landed. It called out a loud sound, and for a moment, I could hear it flapping its wings. I pushed through a gap in the bushes to see if I could figure out what type of bird it was. But when I got closer, the noise had stopped and there wasn't any bird there."
"Huh," Kagome said, wondering where he was going with his story. She pursed her lips together, trying not to discourage the boy. "Are you sure you just didn't see it take off again? Birds can land and take off really quickly."
"This bird was bigger than a crow or even an eagle. I would have seen it," Nakao said, frowning. "Something like that usually makes noise when it flies."
Kagome licked her lips and nodded, thinking about the times she had really paid attention to birds landing and taking off, which wasn't too often. "I guess you're right, now that you mention it. Even the little birds do, especially if they're in a big flock." She scratched her head. "So the bird wasn't there?"
Nakao shook his head. "This is the weirdest part. My brother would tell me I was dreaming it all. Promise me you'll listen until I'm through?"
The young miko nodded solemnly. "I promise."
He took a breath. "There was no bird there. But instead of a bird there was a girl. She wasn't from our village. I don't think she was from here at all. She was dressed in a gray and yellow kimono, the same colors as the bird. It looked like silk, and was very shiny. And her hair was done up funny. I never saw anybody wear their hair that way. It was almost like it was put up like a weird eboshi cap or something. It was up really tall. And she had silver and gold stuff stuck in it."
Kagome raised her eyebrows at that description. "What happened then?"
He swallowed. "I got scared. Something about the way she looked. Her eyes - they were really scary. They kind of looked like a rooster's eyes, right before he's ready to run after you. I think she saw me, but before she could say anything, I ran away." He swallowed again, and dropped his head. "I thought maybe it was an angry ghost."
"A ghost?" Kagome shook her head. "I...I don't think so. It doesn't sound like any ghost I've ever heard of." She frowned. "Maybe a youkai, though. I think we should tell Kaede-sama about it. This is the type of thing that we need to be sure of. I'm glad you came and got me, Nakao-kun. If it was a real bird, and there was a girl, I bet InuYasha could find out for us."
"InuYasha-sama? You think he'd do that?" Nakao asked, surprised.
"Oh yes," Kagome said, nodding. "If it's a lost girl, and the bird just happened to come by at the same time, then we'll need to find her. And if it's something more, we'll need to figure out what is going on." She knocked on the boy's head playfully. "And if it's just you being too hungry so you're seeing things, we can fix that, too."
"I ate breakfast!" he said, mildly offended. "And dinner last night, too! I'm not seeing things."
Kagome smiled. "I believe you, Nakao-kun. But let's get to the bottom of this. Now I'm very curious."
Together, they began to head to the old miko's house.