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

Chapter 55

After a few words of farewell to Shinjiro, the monk and the hanyou headed down the road. They soon left sight of the last of the village fields as the road headed into the forest. The road, being in a rather backwater part of the country, was for the moment empty of all but them as far as they could see. The only life along the route were a few birds. Evidently one was nesting near the road because it squawked noisily and flew at them as they passed. InuYasha gave it a hard look.

"Feh, stupid bird," he muttered. "Why would we want to mess with your nest anyway?"

"Oh, I don't know," Miroku said. "Why would a youkai want to mess with a village of farmers? Although I must admit I believe that bird was more aggressive in getting rid of us than they have been about their problem."

"Yeah," InuYasha said. "I guess."

They both fell silent. After about a quarter of an hour of walking quietly, they surprised another group of birds pecking at the road. The birds, spotting them, flew off. Miroku, struck by something in the birds' actions that amused him, began softly singing in time to his walking.

"Hungry birds, I see you there
flying on the mountain
Hungry birds, I see you fly,
across the cold, cold sea.

"Hungry birds, why don't you work
crying on the mountain,
plant the rice and you will eat
across the cold, cold sea.

"If we work to plant the rice,
crying on the mountain,
we'll get too dirty to go and fly
across the cold, cold sea.

"Hungry birds, why don't you wash
crying on the mountain,
We'll get too cold to go and fly
across the cold, cold sea.

"Hungry birds, go sit by the fire
crying on the mountain
We'll get too hot to go and fly
across the cold, cold sea."

"Feh," InuYasha said. "Stupid birds. Stupid song. Sounds like something you'd sing to your daughters."

"It is, actually," Miroku said, laughing. "But it got you to say something. It's a good day to travel. Don't you think so? It's not hot, the sun is shining, and nobody but me and the birds are here bothering you. It's much nicer than on market day."

InuYasha stuck his hands in his sleeves. "Some people have the good sense to stay at home."

"Traveling is good for a monk's soul." Miroku looked at his companion. "I love Sango and my children, but sometimes, it feels . . . well, better to be going somewhere else, at least for a time. Who knows what's around the next corner?"

"If you say so, Bouzu," InuYasha said, his voice disagreeing. "But I wouldn't tell that to Sango if I were you."

Miroku chuckled. "You're probably right about that." He rubbed the top of his head, as if remembering past experiences with the wrath of his wife. "Still, sometimes I miss all the days on the road, seeing what was over the next hill or in the next village."

"Or who you could hustle," the hanyou said. "I remember all those rich houses we stayed in."

"You wound me, friend," Miroku said. "I only approached those who took more than their fair share from their fellow man, or whom the luck gods had especially blessed. Charity towards wayfarers is a good deed, and they gained merit for doing it. And I always left a real blessing behind. They always benefitted."

"If you say so," InuYasha replied. "I was always on the move. I like having a place to stay."

"And it seems that some people at the place you like to stay like having you there," Miroku said.

"Maybe," InuYasha said, taking a deep breath. His ear twitched.

The road rounded a bend. The first traveler they met on their way was walking towards them. He was a peddler, an older man carrying a large wooden box on his back. The man leaned forward, as if the weight or the size of the load was almost too much for him. He had a printed hand towel around his head and wore the clothes of a poor trader, indigo and brown. For a moment, he didn't notice them, but then he saw Miroku and smiled, then waved.

"Houshi-sama! Houshi-sama!" the peddler said, drawing near them. "A blessing to see you."

"Hope he's not trying to sell you anything," InuYasha muttered.

Miroku stepped forward, his staff jingling, ignoring the comments of his friend. He bowed his head in greeting. "What can I do for you, Dono?"

The peddler smiled at him, and bowed his head as much as he could with his load. "You're the first monk or other holy person I've seen on the road since I left home yesterday. When I leave home to do my circuit of visits, I always give the first holy person I meet a donation for luck in my sales." He held out a small pouch to the monk, and bowed his head again. "Will you accept this, Houshi-sama, and say the Heart Sutra for me?"

Looking surprised, Miroku accepted the package. "Of course, of course."

InuYasha sighed. The monk turned to his friend. "It's just a short prayer. This won't take long, and perhaps, it's for our own good fortune as well."

He turned back to the traveler, who stood there waiting patiently, and made a sign of blessing over him and began to chant the words in a deep and sonorous voice. "Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajna-paramita . . . "

InuYasha, waiting for Miroku to finish, went over to the edge of the road, found a log that wasn't too rotten, and sat down while Miroku talked of form and emptiness. He picked up a stick, twirled it for a moment, and frustrated at waiting, snapped it in half, just as Miroku finished up.

The peddler on the other hand, seemed very pleased. "May Kwannon of the thousand eyes bless you on your journey, Houshi-sama" he said, adjusting the strap of his pack as it pulled on his shoulder.

"And you as well," Miroku replied. "What are you selling?"

"Spices and dyes and threads for sewing," the peddler said, leaning forward on his walking stick as he prepared to walk on.

"Do you know the village where Tameo is the headman?" Miroku said.

The man nodded.

"Be sure to stop there," Miroku said. "The old miko who takes care of the village might be wanting some of your stuff, and perhaps some of the other women, too, especially one named Sango. Tell them I sent you."

"I will, Houshi-sama. I will be sure to on my way back. Thank you for your prayers. My name is Hajimi."

"And I'm Miroku. And my companion over there, anxious that we get on our way, is InuYasha."
"You travel with a youkai?" the man asked, surprised, as if he were just getting a good look at the hanyou. "I've heard of that before, but I don't think I've ever seen it actually done." He nodded to the hanyou, smiling politely, then back at the monk. "He must be a good one, to travel with a monk like you."

"Yes he is," Miroku said. "A prosperous journey to you."

"And a good one for you, too." He gave a brief bow of his head, and started back on his way.

Miroku turned back to InuYasha. "That didn't take long."

"Long enough," the hanyou said, standing up. "A monk like you, eh? If he only knew."

Ignoring InuYasha's jibe, Miroku looked thoughtful at the pouch. "His name was Hajimi, the beginning. First we have Shinjiro tell us that he and Daitaro will be keeping an eye on things for us, and now this. I'm going to take all of that as a good omen for our journey." He opened the small bag. Inside were two small silver coins. "At least we're going to get something for our troubles. The way Hiseo talked about the yamabushi cleaning them out, I doubt if there'll be much of a fee."

"Probably not much different than our village," InuYasha said. "If they don't have any rich manors or merchants, there won't be a lot to spare."

Miroku tucked the pouch into his sleeve.

"Well, I've never turned my back on someone too poor to pay," Miroku said. "We'll do what we have to do. Still, this feels like a good sign."

"Or Fate playing games with us. Hurry up, Monk. We've got a long way to go." And moving quickly, at a pace Miroku found challenging to keep up with, he headed down the road.

As Miroku hurried to catch up with InuYasha, back at his house, the air was filled with the sounds of two small girls giggling.

"So you think it's funny, do you?" Sango asked.

"Again!" Yusuko said, nodding. "Do it again, Okaa!"

She smiled at her daughters as she sat in front of her house in front of a large tub of water, doing laundry. Her son was strapped to her back while she worked but she kept a running line of chatter and distraction going to keep her two girls out of mischief.

This strategy, she knew, worked. Several items were hanging on her clothesline already. As she wrung out a towel over the tub, the two girls turned in a circle, hand in hand, while she sang to them:

"The cat chased the rat,
they ran here
they ran there
they ran down
they ran up,
then the cat jumped
next to the sea.
Both went splash!"

When she said "splash," both girls clapped their hands and tumbled to the ground, giggling.

"Again, Okaa," Noriko said, running to where her mother knelt down by the wash tub.

"Again? That'll be the third time!" Sango said, shaking the twist out of the cloth and the last drops of water. The girls nodded as she stood up. "Well, we'll do it again. Just let me finish hanging this up first."

She walked to the line, about to throw the clean towel over it when Yusuko said, "Look, Okaa, Look. Someone coming!"

Throwing the wet towel on the line with the other freshly washed things, she moved beyond the clothesline to see Daitaro and his wife Chime walking up the path to her house.

The girls hugged her legs as she wiped her hands dry on her wrap skirt. "Now be good, girls. We're about to have company," she said, curious as to what brought the elderly couple to her house.

Noriko grew brave and walked toward Chime as the older couple got close. She stopped, looked up at the older woman, who smiled at her. "Hi," the little girl said.

"Well hello, little one. Which one are you?" Chime asked.

The girl chewed on her lip, suddenly shy again, and moved back towards her mother.

"That's Noriko," Sango said, amused. "And this one," she added, putting her hand on her other daughter's head, "is Yusuko."

Chime shook her head. "How do you tell them apart?"

"Practice," Sango said, laughing. "But sometimes, it's not always easy for me to, either."

Daitaro chuckled. "But they're pretty chicks, your girls. Must take more after you than that husband of yours. Speaking of which, I hear that he and InuYasha-sama went out on business today."

"It's true," Sango said, picking up Yusuko. "Although if all goes well, they expect to be back this evening."

"That's why we've come over," Chime said. "I thought that with three little ones, you might find it a bit busy."

"And I just thought I'd take a walk around the forest," Daitaro said. "There not a lot of us on this side of the village, and some of the local brats have been enjoying themselves seeing what mischief they can get into." He scratched his chin, and adjusted his cap. "One day, I'm going to catch them at it."

His wife looked at him, and tried to look properly serious as he spoke, but couldn't quite do it. "That's right, husband. You'll catch them someday." She turned back to Sango. "But I thought if you'd like some company for a while, you wouldn't mind having this old grandmother help you watch your girls."

"Company would be nice," Sango said, smiling "They can be a handful. Rin-chan comes up and helps a lot, but I think Kaede must be needing her today. Let me go make some tea." She wiped her hands on her wrap skirt again.

Noriko reached up to Chime, pulling on her sleeve. "You Obaachan?"

Chime bent down and laughed. "Oh yes, Noriko-chan. I have three grandchildren. None of them are girls, though."

"No girls?" Noriko frowned.

"No," Chime sighed. She took the girl's hand. "But maybe with Shinjiro getting married, there'll be granddaughters in my future."

"Shinjiro's getting married?" Sango asked, lifting up Yusuko.

"Yes, yes. In five days," Chime said. The women and the children began moving toward the house.

"I'll guess I'll just head up towards InuYasha's house," Daitaro said.

The women continued in their discussion of the wedding. Chime waved at her husband, but didn't stop what she was saying.

Chuckling, the old man headed up the path. He was still laughing when he turned around the bend that took him out of sight of the house.

Suddenly though, he heard something crashing through the woods, followed by a scream.

"Help!" a young voice yelled. "Don't let it get me!"