A/N: So, I was in the middle of writing a prelude for Howl's Moving Castle, but the story lost a lot of steam inside my head, and now it'll be on hiatus while I write something that is a little bit more fleshed out, namely this story. I hope you guys enjoy it :)

Chapter 1

He was riding out amongst endless plains of green landscape. There wasn't another soul in sight as far as the eye could see. Yakul's long swift strides carried them at a bristling pace. The wind in his hair and the sun on his face felt invigorating. He hadn't felt this light and free in a long time. Free to just ride with no cares or worries, heading for nowhere in particular. It was an intoxicating feeling.

Off on the horizon, the silhouette of a single watchtower grew out of the backdrop of fields. A huge smile burst onto Ashitaka's face as he let go of Yakul's reins and stood up in his saddle. "Jii-san!" he shouted into the oncoming wind, waving his arm in greeting at the ever-vigilant sentinel who practically lived up in that watchtower. "Jii-san! I'm back!" he called out with laughter in his voice. The old man leaned out over the railing of his watchtower and waved back at Ashitaka, a wide toothless grin plastered on his old wrinkled face. "Our prince has returned!" hollered the old watchman so the entire village would hear. "Our prince has returned!"

Ashitaka and Yakul sped past the tower towards the village of the Emishi. In seconds, he was in the middle of the village's central square, with familiar faces all around him, faces he would never forget, faces of those whom he had grown up with. They surrounded Ashitaka as he descended from Yakul, their hands reaching out to touch him, to shake his hand in greeting or ruffle his hair as they would a long-lost brother or son. "Our prince has returned!" they shouted in unison, with joy in their voices and laughter on their faces.

From the stairs that led to the Oracle's temple, the wise old woman descended, her face somehow maintaining its trademark solemnity despite her smiling fondly at her young prince. The crowd parted for her as she made her way through the throng of happy villagers and took Ashitaka's hands in her own. "Prince Ashitaka, it pleases this old woman's heart to see you healthy and safely returned to us," she said, her voice husky with age. Ashitaka returned the Oracle's smile.

"It feels great to be back," he responded, as tears began to well up in his eyes, he pulled the old woman into a warm embrace and buried his face in her shoulder. She smelled sweetly of incense and smoke, a smell he recalled with fond memories of his childhood, when she would teach him his lessons on how to read the leaves of plants and tell what the stones were saying. It had all seemed so very long ago now.

"Ashitaka," came a voice that cut through all the joyous clamor of the villagers. Ashitaka looked up, searching for the source of the voice. There, under a sakura tree away from the crowd, stood Kaya. His three-year absence had done little to distort his memories of his one-time fiancé. She looked almost exactly the same as she had since he left the village, except for the fact that there was a small boy standing next to her, grasping her hand as tightly as a child would grasp his mother. Kaya's belly was also quite swollen; she'd be due for another child in a matter of weeks.

Ashitaka left the Oracle's embrace and strode over to Kaya and her son. His face was alight with happiness. "Kaya, it's good to see you," he said, pulling her into a warm hug that she returned in kind with her free arm. "It seems like you're the only person who has changed at all while I was away," he observed, acknowledging the small boy who looked up at him with wide, curious eyes.

Kaya laughed. "I can see how it seems that way to you, Ashitaka," she replied. "This little guy here is Tatsuo, after his father," she introduced.

Ashitaka knelt down to the boy's height, causing the little boy to withdraw behind his mother.

Kaya laughed again. "It's ok Tatsuo. This is Ashitaka. He and I grew up together and have been friends for a long time. He's been gone for three years, but he's finally returned to us," she said soothingly, trying to draw the boy out of his shell.

"It's nice to meet you Tatsuo-kun," Ashitaka said softly, reaching out his hand to the little boy. Tatsuo peeked out from behind his mother slightly, and then reached for Ashitaka's hand. The young man smiled at the boy, and stayed there, rooted to the spot, just holding the boy's hand in his. After a minute, Ashitaka broke the connection and stood up, but young Tatsuo seemed to trust him now and no longer hid behind his mother.

"I'm really happy for you Kaya," beamed Ashitaka. Seeing his childhood friend as a mother, with her own family to care for and feed filled his heart with joy. His ex-fiancé had left the past behind her and was moving on with her life, just like he was.

She sent a smirk his way. "What about you, Ashitaka? I was sure that if you ever returned it'd be with a beautiful wife on your arm," she ribbed him on. He didn't bite at her jest; merely smiled in response.

"There is someone," he replied. "But I didn't bring her back here. She doesn't really do well with company."

Kaya raised an eyebrow questioningly, but Ashitaka made no attempt at a response to her implied questions. His mind had drifted off to thoughts of San...

Ashitaka opened his eyes. There, sleeping peacefully next to him on a bed of dried leaves, was San. He sat up in his own bed of leaves, quietly enough to not stir San. Goro, who was sleeping next to her on her other side, opened his large golden eyes and raised his head to stare at Ashitaka as he got up and padded his way to the entrance of the cave.

Princess Mononoke belongs to Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki. I don't own any of the characters in this story. This is pretty much a first draft, so comments, critiques, and suggestions are always welcome. I'll probably come back and do some revision work once I have more chapters up. Thanks for reading!