Between Men and Wolves

By Arlia'Devi

Disclaimer: I do not own The Princess Mononoke in any respect; all rights go to Hayao Miyazaki and associates. I make no money from this.

Between Men and Wolves

By Arlia'Devi

1. Two Years Past

There was once a place called Iron Town that was nestled beside a hill. Once it had harvested the iron deposits below, and that had once caused a serious problem, but not anymore. Within Iron Town lived a woman named Lady Eboshi, who had once led an army against the Spirit of the forest for the ore that lie underneath, but not anymore. Now, with one arm and a mind of bitter memories, she tended to her lepers, her injured children she took pity on, as they minded her secret garden and drank in the morning sun.

I will make a better Iron Town…

Then there was the drunkard unorthodox monk Jigo, who loitered around Iron Town because of the women – indeed, he enjoyed how feisty the women were, that they spat sparks of heat like a fire. He lived no where, just meandered around, but he would always return to Iron Town one way or the other – sometimes battered up after receiving a beating for glancing at a feudal princess bathing, or baring gifts for the women.

Nothing had changed particularly with Jigo, nor the Iron Town in general. The women still lived here with their husbands, their children ran the streets and both the women and the men worked the days in the sheds and factories. Lady Eboshi still harvested the iron below the hills, and sold it in high demand – making Iron Town very rich indeed, but it was never in excess, and Lady Eboshi never wanted more than she had been given to harvest – enough Iron for a hundred years. They had once cleared the hills for charcoal, needed for ironsand in the production of their advanced weaponry. They no longer produced weapons; which was something Ashitaka had made sure of. The ladies worked in the boiler rooms still, they liked it there, they had said and besides brothels weren't that appealing. Jigo had once joked to Ashitaka that they're past in brothels had not been wasted. Ashitaka had screwed his nose and turned away, wishing to know no more.

"Come now, Ashitaka," ribbed Jigo with a elbow to the boy's stomach. "You're a man now – pick a maiden, the lord knows there are enough to pick from in this village. I'd say you'd have them duelling each other for a place on your arm."

Ashitaka huffed by the firepit, grabbing another bowl of the soup. It was late, and they met in the messhall – the other men were already asleep with their wives or on guard duty. A few women walked the streets, coming home from "I'm not interested."

"Why not?" Jigo huffed. "You must not know the embrace of a woman – how great it can be, Ashitaka, if you keep rejecting such beautiful women."

A giggle had Ashitaka looking out the shoji screen to where a woman waved at him and he waved bac, just a little. Jigo wriggled his eyebrows, but at Ashitaka's half-fallen face, he said, "No?"

"I had a fiancée, once," Ashitaka murmured. "I have known the company of a woman, though it was merely company since we were not married yet. But when I got the curse, I was cast out." He thought of the knife Kaya had given him, and how he had not seen such knife in two years. "You know the story, Jigo, as do I. I need not repeat it for anyone's benefit."

Jigo huffed over his soup and frowned. "Well then, Ashitaka, you will sit here in your own misery. That girl – the wolf girl, she's probably dead, you know. No one can survive out in that forest for very long, even now when we…" he trailed off and his empty dish clattered on the tatami mat. "Besides," Jigo said a little softer. "She wouldn't make a good wife, Ashitaka – she's wild. You'd never tame her. A woman like that is best left to her own devices. And those wolves she calls her brothers would eat you in once bite if you put a hand on their sister. Talk about protective."

Ashitaka sighed, hot air billowing out his nostrils as he watched the flickering of the fire. Jigo got to his feet and patted the man's back softly. "You should reconsider the women of the village – Toki's cousin is the same age as you, pretty face, long hair, big breasts." Ashitaka shrugged and Jigo shuffled towards the door. "Get some rest, anyway, Ashitaka."

The monk left Ashitaka to the fire pit.

Half-an-hour later and another bowl of wallowing soup, Ashitaka was about to douse the fire and leave the soup in the pot, nestling it in the glowing embers when a few men wandered in and he readily left the soup on the fire for them, wishing them a pleasant evening.

Iron Town was cool in September, and he reminded himself to put Yakult's coat over him for the night and a fresh handful of hay. Yakult resided comfortably in large stables build by Ashitaka's hut. The town's folk had insisted two years ago that upon building Ashitaka a hut, Yakult shouldn't have to suffer in the rain – and so, the elk had dry, warm place to lie when it rained. In the daylight, he would eat the grass growing along the rolling hills, careful not to tread anywhere the seedlings of the forest were growing.

He would eat with the village men often, but if he grew tired of their company the lepers and Lady Eboshi often made too much miso and stored some of it in his storage shed to fester, and he was welcome to that whenever he wished. He also received some small vegetables - a handful of carrots and an ear of greens and pickles upon occasion. Apparently, the one thing Lady Eboshi felt sorry for more than her abandoned prostitutes were lonely, single men.

That hadn't been the first time Jigo had told him to wake up and take a woman, either. Lady Eboshi had asked him to come along in spring to the festival, introducing six new girls into womanhood as they danced and played their instruments in Iron Town, and Lady Eboshi said that only one had already been promised to a man and the rest he could take his pick, but Ashitaka had refused. He was not interested.

That also hadn't been the only time someone had said that the wolf girl would make a horrible wife. She'd lived out in the woods all her life what would she know about tending to a fire, or making food over it? How could she ever sew new garments and clothes for their backs? Did she even know how to grow vegetables, or did she eat the moss off of rocks and salvage whatever she found? Sometimes they asked, a little snicker in their voices, "She would carry her infants around in her mouth, she would call them pups and rear them as wolves do."

That's what most people didn't understand. He had never wanted a wife like that. He had never worried that San could never be a good wife – he did not care. Just, if one day, she would be, would all be enough. If one day, he would see her again.

Kaya had been his first fiancée, she had given him the crystal knife, which in turn, he had given to San – a symbol of their union, a last-resort weapon to save a life. It hung around her neck the last time he'd seen her, the long two years ago upon her brother's back. She smiled at him, told him how much he meant to her, and then had disappeared. But, Ashitaka had understood. They had duties beyond them: Iron Town was burning, it had burnt to the ground by the time they'd gotten to it, and the forest was only starting to grow again. Other people needed them more than they needed each other. He had promised they would meet again, one day in the future – he would come to visit, but the days he'd taken Yakult into the forest, San was no where around. He'd called out to her, asking, pleading some days after months of disappearance, to meet him by the water's edge of the sacred lake, to see him again, if only once more.

Two years had passed, and Iron Town was a prospering city with men often coming to view the beauty of the girls who worked – the rumours of such a thing spreading all over Japan. These women were like fire themselves, and only the bravest men survived. Some said the women had dragon's eggs in their stomach, that the fire burned and churned down there, making them feisty and snappy – but that was what some men loved, especially Jigo. True, these women were the wildest that could ever be a wife, and yet, Ashitaka wanted something wilder.

Yakult whinnied as Ashitaka approached him, scratching his nose softly and grabbing the jacket to throw over his back. The man then refilled the water container and offered the elk fresh hay and a carrot from Eboshi's secret village. "We'll go out for a run tomorrow, ne?" Ashitaka asked Yakult softly and smiled. "It will be good for us – the fresh air."

A year ago, in April, Yakult had disappeared. He had disappeared for three days and three nights and then, on the fourth day returned and lied in his stable as if nothing was out of order. Ashitaka noticed his appearance with a start and smiled, "Where have you been Yakult?" he leant over the stable railings and smirked, offering a handful of hay. It was April – spring, he knew where the red elk had gone. "I had not thought there were too many red elk females around these parts."

The next day, it was raining. Ashitaka huffed as he opened the tatami mat and saw the rain, rushing down in grey sheets over Iron Town. Yakult popped his head out, his nose getting a little wet, and then he sneezed. Ashitaka sighed. "Looks like we won't get that ride today, huh, old friend?" The ground was simply squelched mud.

The day passed slowly, Ashitaka couped up inside as the rain did not lessen. He sharpened a katana, then stitched up a kosode that had a tear in it from building a new couple – one of the girls from the spring festivals, a hut for her new husband. Ashitaka stitched it back together roughly, but he didn't mind the bad job – it gave the kosode character, and he was covered with scars, why shouldn't his clothes be? The curse had never disappeared, not completely, the snake-like curse serving to remind him of human anger and hatred, and then what he had gone through to have it lifted. A few nicks on his skin from katana's (San's or whoelses), had healed over easily enough, but the curse markings had lingered.

You mean so much to me, Ashitaka…

Ashitaka sighed and rolled over, his back to the front of the hut. The fire burnt softly in the pit, and a few blankets were suspended near it, but not close enough as to burn. They dried by the left wall, and Ashitaka sighed.

He had once been the Prince of a hidden village, the next great general and chief of their secret society. He had protected the village from the accursed boar, which had ran so far from it's home festering in curse all the way. The arrow had struck it, it had died and dissolved, and he had been cursed for it – cursed for saving the village, and cast out by the village elder should he not wish to die. Ashitaka had never wished to die, not like that anyway. But the boar had not been old; the god was young and powerful, and he was curious more than anything as to what had caused the god to become such a demon.

Outside, harsh wind billowed across the hut. He heard Yakult snort and move further into his dry stables. It truly was boring when it rained, though the forest probably needed it. Over summer it had dried up and a few areas of seedlings had died, sprouts of age-old forest trees on bare hills. He thought perhaps he would see San sometimes, tending to the new sprout-lings, but he never did. He never saw her.

Ashitaka rolled over, his back facing the storm outside.

What could have happened to San?

This is a little project I was working on, after I read a really… strange AshitakaxSan fanfic. I'd wanted to write one for ages, and I finally got the time and motivation to. I often write for Miyazaki's fantastic movies, I also write for Sprited Away, in The Path of Water, my ChihiroxHaku story. I intend for this story to be rather short (don't have the time or motivation for anything longer these days), maybe it's only going to be 6-10 chapters long. I'm not too fussed on the title, but I couldn't come up with anything better, so…

I read somewhere that Kaya was intended always to be Ashitaka's abandoned fiancée, and that in a small village everyone called each other brother and sister, but Miyazaki had intended them to be lovers until, well, the whole killing the cursed god and almost dying situation. So, in my story she's the old fiancée. Not that it makes much difference in the long run.

Anyway, if you liked it, please don't hesitate to hit me up with a quick review. I always love feedback, and writing for someone who's telling me they're really into what I'm writing gives a great buzz.

Until next time,

~ Arlia'Devi.