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

Chapter 54

With the children out of the house, the room was suddenly quiet. For a moment, Kaede closed her good eye, and took a breath.

"Well, that worked out nicely," she said after a moment. "Peace and quiet for a bit. There are more people at Tameo's house to watch bored children than we have, and if I know Hisa, she'll keep the children there an hour, maybe longer if her grandchildren are around and not out in the fields. She enjoys a full house." Kaede sat back down by the fire, and let out a contented breath. "Time, I think, for a cup of tea."

Kagome stopped stirring the medicine pot, and looked at Kaede as if she just realized something. Chewing on her bottom lip as she watched the older woman settle down, she began to giggle, and finally burst into a laugh.

Holding a jug of water in her hands, Kaede stopped pouring water into the tea kettle and looked up at her apprentice with curiosity. "What's so funny, child?" she asked as she put the jug down and leaned forward to set the tea kettle on the fire.

The younger woman, still chuckling, covered her mouth with her hand. "It just struck me - all the noise and chatter and even fights we had here during the quest for the jewel shards. You must have said that about us a lot of the time. I know we certainly weren't the quietest company you ever had, especially in the beginning. I bet you looked forward to the times we went out searching."

Chuckling a little herself, Kaede sat back, and poked the fire under the kettle. "Oh, I'm sure I said it a time or two early on, especially if you and your hanyou had been having an argument. Oh, and you and he had such . . . interesting . . . ones there at the beginning."

She put the fire poker down. "But it was a price I was more than willing to pay. After all, it was I who set you two off on the quest. Taking care of the Shikon no Tama mattered. And after we learned about what Naraku had done, there was the matter of avenging my sister, and trying to stop him from hurting anybody else."

Patting Kagome's hand, Kaede smiled at the younger woman. "My sister is at peace, the jewel is no more, Naraku is gone - it was all worth a little noise to me. And to be honest," she said, "after living alone a long time, I enjoyed the noise and company - most of the time." She picked up a wooden pot lid. "Let's put the medicine pot on the back of the fire too warm. I think you've stirred it enough."

Kagome carefully wiped the oil off the stirring paddle on the edge of the pot, and handed it to the old miko. Kaede wiped it with a cloth, and put it aside near her mortar. Next she covered the ointment pot with its heavy wooden lid, and moved it to the edge of the fire, nestling the base in the ash and sand. "The secret with making a good ointment is to keep the oil warm, so it gets the good from the herbs, but if it smokes, you need to pull it back further," she said. "You never want to let it get too hot. It could catch fire." Looking at it one more time, she nodded, satisfied with its placement. "Now we just have to wait for it to warm long enough for the herbs to give up their medicine before we add the wax. Could you get the tea and the tea cups off the shelf?"

Giving Kaede a nod, Kagome stood up and got the cups and handed them to the older miko, and then the teabox, gaudy in its blue and red paper. Kaede began to prepare her teapot. "After we have a cup of tea, and I'm sure the ointment's not getting too hot, I thought we'd go up to the shrine and say a prayer to the kami for Miroku and InuYasha, and then, when we come back, it would be a good time to review what we can use to help people with aches."

"Are there a lot of medicines to use?" Kagome asked as she sat back down.

"Different ones for what causes the pain. But pains are common. We'll be asked for these many times," Kaede said. "Many farmers, and their wives, too, as they grow old have problems with that. Years of working the rice put a strain on the back. Do you know Tatsuya-sama?"

Kagome shook her head.

Kaede sighed, as she poured hot water into the teapot. "Sadly, child, he's an example of how bad it can get. He lives in a hut by himself on the far end of the village. Poor man has outlived most of the people who used to care for him, although his grandchildren check up on him from time to time. They would take him in, but he's hardheaded. I try to get over there every two or three days. He gets to where he can hardly move because of his back, especially if the weather has been cold and damp, or he tries to do too much." She looked at Kagome thoughtfully. "Maybe he would behave more and take his medicine like he was supposed to if someone like you were to bring it."

"You think so?" Kagome asked.

"We can try it, if it doesn't bother your husband too much," Kaede said, pouring the tea. "He certainly hovers over you now. I was surprised he even left to go with Miroku. If the children hadn't shown up, he might not have."

"I think you're right," the younger woman said. "He wasn't really that happy about leaving."

"Well, new husbands are like that, I've noticed." Kaede said. "But as a rule, they get over it."

"I'm not so sure about InuYasha," Kagome said.

The old miko chuckled. "You might be right."

While Kaede's house emptied of young people, and she and Kagome got to work, InuYasha and Miroku headed down the road. The way out of town led them back towards their side of the village, and then by Daitaro's fields.

Shinjiro, Daitaro's oldest son, was busily hoeing in a patch of vegetables not far from the path. He looked up as the two men walked by.

"You two are up and about early," he said, tossing a weed to the side. "I've been hearing talk about a youkai problem over near the crossroads."

"It seems so," Miroku replied. He headed toward the fence that marked off the vegetable plot. "We're off to see what we can do about it."

"That's what Haha-ue told me this morning," Shinjiro said, nodding. "She was going to head over to your house to see if your woman needed any help with those young ones of yours." He dug his hoe into the earth and popped out another weed. "Life's hard enough without ghosts and other creatures trying to make our lot here harder. I feel sorry for them. Getting over the damage that damned youkai that tried to kill us all a few years ago was bad enough."

"Keh," InuYasha said, joining the two men. He leaned against the fence.

"Yes, Naraku was bad news. The world's a better place with him gone," Miroku said.

"One of his shouki bombs almost took out Okuro. Don't know what Chichi-ue would do if something like that happened to his stupid bull." Shinjiro leaned on his hoe. "I think, sometimes, he cares more about that animal than his children. You did a good thing, taking that monster down like that." He bent over, and tugged a weed out with his hand. "This youkai you're going after, it made the little girl sick?"

Miroku nodded.

"I'm glad you two know what to do. And while you're gone, we'll keep an eye on your places," the farmer said. He raised his hoe, and grubbed up a rock, and tossed it away. "You heard whoever's pulling pranks hit Chichi-ue's sake brewing yesterday?"

InuYasha nodded. Miroku's eyebrows rose. "Someone's living dangerously."

Shinjiro laughed. "I'd say. Doubt if he'll rest now until he finds out who did it. I imagine he'll be running circles around both your places today, just to be sure. One less thing for you two to worry about."

"He's a good neighbor," Miroku said.

"Or just determined." He picked up his hoe, put it over his shoulder. "You two need to stop by when you get back and tell me all about your adventure. I'll break out some of Chichi-ue's not dirty sake. Although if you take too long, all the good stuff will get drunk at my wedding. Good journey to you both."

Turning, he headed to the other side of the field.

"Huh," Miroku said. "Shinjiro's getting married?"

They began to walk down the road again. "Yeah," InuYasha said. Takeshi's daughter . . . Erime, I think."

The monk gave the hanyou a strange look. "How come you knew that before I did?"

"Feh," InuYasha said. "You spend too much time talking to the women around her, Bouzu. You need to talk to the men more often."

For a moment, Miroku just stood there, watching InuYasha walk ahead. Shaking his head at the strangeness of the hanyou learning village gossip before he did, the monk took a deep breath then hurried to catch up