A long, gray week passed for Kagome following the incident with the Taira clanswoman. True to her word, Kikyou had her roused early every morning and promptly set her to scrubbing hallways and tending gardens.
When she finished such chores, Kagome was allowed to clean off a bit in the well behind her residence. After that she would eat and spend the remainder of the day tending to Kikyou.
She trailed after the future Empress in much the manner of a whipped dog, head bowed and eyes focused on the floor. Any small task that Kikyou might require of her was performed in heavy silence, without complaint. Aside from giving orders, the noblewoman rarely addressed her.
Neither said anything of the rumors surrounding Kagome or of the noblewoman's visit to her chambers. At times, though, Kagome would feel Kikyou's steady gaze on her, as if the older woman was right on the verge of addressing the issue.
Kagome was grateful that she never did. She did not think she could stand to be condemned by that calm, disinterested voice.
But the silence surrounding Kagome was fast becoming a deafening one. The servants at Kikyou's residence had not been long in learning that she was the girl of the rumors, and they had taken to avoiding her like one diseased whenever possible.
They would fall pointedly silent whenever she passed them in the halls, moving quickly out of her path as if the slightest contact might taint them. Kagome knew they must be talking about her quite a bit, but was strangely relieved that they chose to keep it behind her back.
Their silence, however, did not trouble her so much as her sudden disconnection from certain others. Miroku and Sango had not come to see her even once since she had been assigned to serve Kikyou. Not so much as a note had come to her from them in an entire week.
However much her heart railed against the thought, Kagome could only interpret this pointed absence as an attempt at severing all ties with her. Nobles and commoners could never truly be friends, after all, and they had to have heard the gossip about her and Kouga. Most likely they were suffering now because of their previous association with her.
Kagome writhed in her skin every time she thought about how much shame the rumors must have brought on the two people who had been so kind to her, friends or not. How terribly they must think of her and how much they must regret ever having been foolish enough to get involved with her.
Even Kouga himself seemed to want nothing to do with her any longer. He had made no attempts at contacting her. Kagome did not know what to account this to, other than that he might have found it too bothersome to pursue her if this was what came of it. Perhaps he had even gotten bored and simply left the capital.
Either way Kagome was the slightest bit grateful for his absence, despite what it might mean. Not that it seemed that the situation could get much worse, but his hovering around her would certainly not make things any better.
More troubling still was the utter absence of any word from the Tennō. He had not summoned her to his chamber even once since she had last spoken with him. She knew with awful certainty that he had caught wind of the rumor and could only imagine that this stony silence was merely the calm before the storm.
Soon enough he would surely work his way past his initial rage. When he could finally bear the sight of her again he would summon her and pass his judgment, casting her out of his court in disgrace.
The thought of such disdain from him was one that Kagome tried not to entertain for very long, as it stung more sharply than almost anything else. She had just been starting to earn a little bit of his trust, and now he must feel disgusted over ever having gone to all that effort for her. Perhaps he truly would give up on everything now, and she would be the cause of it.
Several times Kagome had considered trying to go to him, trying to address the entire court, in order to clear up the whole outrageous misunderstanding. The harsh reality, however, was that her word was worth nothing here.
She had no clan to support her. She could have no friends to speak on her behalf. She did not even have a witness to attest to what had gone on, besides the servant girl who had started the whole rumor in the first place.
Besides that, there was the truth that she had done something foolish. As a young unmarried woman, she had no business being in a man's chambers alone at such an hour. Even in her small village such a thing would be considered poor conduct.
But Kagome had been so focused on her goal of gaining Kouga's support that she had not stopped to think things through properly. Nor had she ever imagined how such news could spread through the court like wildfire, twisting and growing until it had gained her the scorn of everyone around her.
In her dreams Kagome had the horrible sensation of sinking deeper and deeper down into a dark, stiflingly empty pit. And every morning when she woke the pit still lingered about her, weighting her every move and casting shadows on the surrounding world.
She struggled weakly, but all Kagome could see was the overwhelming disapproval and disappointment of those around her. There was no way out.
On her eighth day serving Kikyou, however, there was a change. Kagome awoke before a servant came to rouse her. Looking groggily about, she could see from the light filling the room that it was some time later than she was usually made to rise.
She felt a brief, dull pang of worry, wondering if the servant had forgotten to wake her. Kikyou might be cross with her. Then again, it was not as if Kikyou was ever pleased with her really…
Slowly Kagome crawled out from her futon, intending to go find out what was going on. That in and of itself would be a feat, considering that none of the servants would speak to her. Glancing about the room, she realized that there were no clothes for her to change into, either.
Looking down at her rough, worn sleeping yukata, Kagome sighed. She briefly contemplated going out in it, speculating as to whether or not they could possibly think her any more indecent than they already did. It hardly seemed likely.
With another sigh she sank back down onto her futon, lacking the drive to do anything else. If Kikyou wanted to punish her, she could punish her. Kagome simply could not bring herself to care.
Just as she was falling back into the welcoming embrace of sleep and oblivion, the shoji door slid open. Kagome roused herself, watching as a servant boy walked hesitantly into the room. He set down the bundle he was carrying several lengths away from her.
Kagome watched him, her heart sinking the smallest bit. She did not bother trying to speak to him, as she had found again and again that her efforts with the servants never got her anywhere.
He turned to as if to leave, but hesitated and turned back once more. He gave her a long, open look from head to toe. There was something in his face, some twisted mix of disgust and curious desire.
Kagome felt her skin crawl sickeningly. Fear flashed briefly in her gut as it occurred to her that they were alone and there was little to stop him from trying something.
Disgust, however, seemed to win out. The boy's mouth twisted at even having entertained such thoughts with such a woman, and he hurriedly left the room. Kagome let out a breath she had not realized she was holding.
Disgust crept in as the air rushed out. She was no idiot. She knew well enough how men looked at women when they thought them loose.
Her stomach roiling slightly at the thought, she crawled over to the bundle the boy had left and slowly opened it. Her eyes widened slightly at the sight of a set of fine, clean miko robes of crisp white and deep red. A small note sat on top of the clothes and Kagome picked it up, reading:
I have been informed by the court's High Priestess Midoriko-sama that a training date was arranged by my Lord several days ago for you. In light of this I pardon you from your duties as my attendant for the day.
You are to meet Midoriko-sama at high noon in the Chūwain, enclosed by the outer Kenreimon gate of the Inner Palace on the northern edge. Be prompt and properly respectful. Also, be prepared to return to your duties to me early tomorrow.
Kagome blinked several times, frowning. She read the note once more. Still the words were the same.
A small, trembling hope rose in Kagome's chest for the first time in days. If Inuyasha had arranged a training session for her, then he could not possibly be intending to dismiss her from the court!
Still doubt hovered in her mind, circling ominously like a black bird. If Inuyasha knew about the rumor as she was certain he did, then it simply made no sense at all. She scanned through the note once more.
Ah. There was the catch.
The arrangements had been made several days ago, meaning that the Tennō had probably made them before she had so foolishly gone to see Kouga. He was simply too furious at her or too busy to remember to call off the meeting. Kagome sighed, slumping as the tiny ember of hope in her chest flickered out.
Well, whether or not the Tennō wanted it to happen, the appointment was still set. She might as well attend and get from it what she could.
Kagome stood and removed the sleeping yukata, donning the robes that had been provided. The material felt like silk against her skin after days of nothing but coarse serving clothes. She unbraided her hair from the plait she had worn it in for the past week, running her fingers through it for lack of any comb.
She went out to the back of the residence and drew water up from the well. She splashed it against her face, gasping at the cold.
Still she scrubbed until her cheeks were pink and her fingers numb, wanting to look at least slightly more presentable. She washed her hands in the bucket, as well, before dumping the contents out onto one of the nearby plants.
Judging by the angle of the sun overhead, Kagome estimated that she had about half an hour or so before high noon. She decided to set off without breakfast, knowing she would probably need the entirety of the time to find the Chūwain building.
She headed towards the eastern entrance through the inner wall, finding it easily enough after leaving the confines of Kikyou's residence. Thankfully she encountered no one on her way except for the guard who watched the gate, though she was uncertain if anyone would recognize her by appearance anyway.
She went northwards as the note had indicated, observing the numerous storage areas and private official structures that lined the outer Kenreimon wall of the Inner Palace. She had not known there were buildings contained by the outer wall, as well.
Kagome passed through several slightly populated areas on her way, tensing anxiously each time. For the most part, though, people barely spared her a second glance. She had only been before the entire court once, after all, and they could hardly be expected to remember her face. A small mercy.
At length Kagome came to the red torii that framed a set of steep ascending stairs. She passed under the torii and began to climb the numerous stone steps, lined on each side by towering, thick-trunked trees.
She relaxed a bit in the cool, concealing shade of the dense foliage. There was a very calm aura to this place. The first aura that Kagome had really noticed in several days. Even nature had seemed silent and detached from her after the spread of the rumor.
She breathed deeply, apologizing silently to the kami for her neglect. She reached the top of the steps and passed under the second torii, signaling that her ascension onto a higher plane had finished.
A series of several small red and white buildings were arranged around a larger, central one. Each had the sloping triangular roof she had become accustomed to seeing in the court and each was connected to the others by sets of covered walkways.
Two tall, stern looking stone komainu, the shrine guardians, sat on raised pillars on either side of the main building to ward off any harmful spirits. Kagome bypassed these and headed off to the left where she could see a small, manmade pond. A plank of wood lay across it with several wooden ladles placed on the plank.
Kagome took up one of the ladles, scooping up water and pouring slowly it over both of her hands. She took one last scoop of water sipped it, washing it around in her mouth before spitting it back out beside the pond. She replaced the ladle and turned towards the main shrine, the water having purified her enough to enter.
She paused before the entryway of the shrine, over which was hung a shimenawa to mark the land as sacred ground. She clapped twice to gain the attention of any kami inhabiting the place, before bowing to show her deference to them.
The miko took a deep breath, filling herself with a serenity that helped to temporarily distance herself from her circumstances. It was good to finally feel as if she had gotten away from herself.
Kagome straightened once more and shrieked, nearly falling backwards in her surprise. In the previously empty entryway now stood an older, solid looking woman in red and white miko robes.
Long hair flowed freely, unbound, down her back. Once dark as night, snow white threads were now peppered throughout the mass of midnight strands.
She gazed at Kagome with steady, deeply brown eyes. Her face was only slightly lined in her old age, and what had obviously been the great beauty of her youth was now a regal sort of serenity.
The symbol of the mitsu tomoe had been tattooed upon her forehead, Kagome noted with no small amount of awe. She remembered Kaede sketching the symbol out in dirt for her when she was younger, telling her that only the most distinguished spiritualists were allowed to wear the mark.
Three flames were traditional, Kagome recalled. Four flames, however, were upon this woman’s brow, representing great knowledge of the interplay of all the forces of the cosmos. Truly this woman must be a formidable spiritualist, none other than the O-Miko Midoriko.
"You are Kagome?" the woman asked, shaking Kagome free from her thoughts.
"Y-Yes. Pleased to meet you, O-Miko-sama," she said, bowing deeply.
She frowned, though, her face towards the ground. There was no question in her mind as to whether or not this woman was the O-Miko Midoriko. However, she had not felt the woman's approach at all.
Even now, bowing before her and concentrating, she could not feel even the vaguest hint of spiritual energy around the woman. In Kagome's sixth spiritual sight she was all but invisible.
"No need for that," the woman said, gesturing for Kagome to rise. "I would rather that we skip the pointless formalities and start on our lessons."
Kagome straightened, an apology springing instinctively to her lips. But now the woman was right beside her, frowning questioningly into her face. Kagome stumbled backwards a step. This woman was oddly light-footed.
And suddenly the O-Miko’s hand reached out, skimming over her hip. Kagome jerked, a strange jolt running through her from head to foot. The woman's frown deepened, the palm of her hand coming to press flat against the protrusion of her hip bone.
There was a flash of light, and Kagome fell backwards with a small yelp.
She sat for a moment, dazed. She blinked hard, trying to regain her vision and figure out what the woman had just done to her. Nothing hurt, though her hip felt a little numb.
Nothing in her aura felt any different, either. At last her eyes cleared, and she found Midoriko staring down at her with vague disquiet in her face.
"You know a woman by the name of Kaede?"
It was more statement than question.
"She was my teacher back in our village," Kagome replied without thinking, disoriented.
Though her expression did not shift much outwardly, something behind the elder woman's eyes seemed to sink. She bent down, offering a hand to help Kagome up. Instinctively she accepted it, surprised by the strength with which she was hauled to her feet.
"I am terribly sorry," the woman uttered softly, turning away from her to enter the main shrine.
Kagome trailed hurriedly after her, gathering her scattered wits as she went. "Wait! What just-?"
"You do not strike me as the harlot that many have made you out to be," Midoriko interrupted quietly, slanting a knowing glance at her from the corner of her eye.
Kagome went cold, stumbling to a halt. She had forgotten for a moment, but the curse would not let her alone for long. Even Midoriko had heard the rumors. Did she not want to teach her anymore?
"I'm not a…a loose woman!" Kagome burst out vehemently, unable to restrain the words after having bitten them back for so long. "Those rumors are completely untrue! I mean, certainly I made an error in judgment, but I…!"
"Calm yourself, Kagome," Midoriko said, quietly slipping off her zori sandals before stepping onto the tatami mat floor. "I believe you."
Kagome closed her mouth, observing as the woman went over to the shrine at the far end of the room. She frowned, feeling off balance. It was sad to realize that trust felt unfamiliar.
"How do you know?" Kagome said incredulously, knowing she should not push the matter and unable to stop herself.
"Your aura speaks more loudly than any words could," Midoriko replied simply. "And I do not put much stock in the rumors that fly like carrion crows about this court. They are all of them vicious, and all of them aimed to injure."
She knelt down, bowing deeply before the shrine of Amaterasu. Kagome removed her own shoes absently, her thoughts churning, and went to join her.
"Everyone else seems to believe it," Kagome said quietly, a bitter edge to her words. She knelt down beside the woman, bowing as well.
"Everyone else wants to believe it," Midoriko responded. "They never wanted you here in the first place. Your presence here upsets their sensibilities, throws into disorder things they have been taught since they still wore swaddling cloth. Of course they would want to think badly of you. I would suggest that you learn to discount such talk if you plan to remain here."
"…You are not concerned with my birth status, then, O-Mimi-sama?" Kagome asked, ignoring for the moment how much that advice sounded like the advice she had been given by Kikyou.
"While there are many traditions that I hold dear, I do not believe that the longevity of a thing necessarily lends to it any truth. We are all of us people beneath the kami, commoner and courtier alike. That is the only distinction that I have ever felt truly needed to be made in this world, whatever the lessons might say to the contrary. All others are simply human attempts to make order," Midoriko said.
Kagome gazed at the woman wonderingly, her brow furrowing as she tried to process this. She had been raised with the traditional lessons in her village, as well, and had never thought to question the truth of them.
Of course people were people, to be treated as such, but the kami placed certain people in different places for reasons, didn't they? Were not those who were born lower meant to serve, and those born higher meant to rule? There had to be an order to things….didn't there?
She could not quite get her mind around it. The idea was too new, too foreign to her.
"Shall we begin, then?" Midoriko asked, recalling her attention.
"Ah…yes," Kagome agreed, tucking her tangled thoughts away to be sorted through at another time.
Midoriko might be slightly incomprehensible to her, but she found herself eager to listen to whatever she had to teach her. She seemed…almost transcendent somehow, as if she were already beyond the world.
"Then you may start by telling me what you have already been taught."
"Ah, well…" Kagome thought for a moment, recalling all of the lessons she had had with Kaede back in her village. "I am fairly decent at healing. I can use the bow and arrows without much trouble. The meditations come easily to me. I think that might be about it…"
Kagome trailed off sheepishly, realizing fully for the first time how truly lacking her skills were. Midoriko eyed her contemplatively, a quiet 'hmmm' on her lips. At length she shook her head.
"Kaede always had spirit, I will give her that. But she was never a great talent when it came to the spiritual arts," she sighed. "I think she might have done you a disservice in training you in such a half-hearted manner. Though she likely thought you would never have much use for any kind of great power in the confines of your village."
"You knew Kaede-sama, O-Miko-sama?" Kagome asked, suddenly recalling her mentioning her mentor earlier.
"I taught Kaede," Midoriko amended. "She was not much my junior in age, but far my junior in skill. Being a daughter of the once prosperous Fujiwara family made her a bit soft, you see.”
“I can only suppose from the look of surprise on your face that village life has aged her more harshly than myself. I would suggest that you learn to rein that in a bit. Displaying too much of your mind to the world is not always prudent."
Kagome could only vaguely take in the advice, distracted as she was by the sudden whirring of her thoughts.
Of course she was shocked to learn that Kaede was both the disciple of and younger than Midoriko, but far more so than that was the shock of learning that Kaede was of the Fujiwara.
Her mentor and the woman who had caused her so much trouble here in the court were related. Perhaps even directly related. Perhaps even so close as sisters or the like! Kagome had the eerie feeling of being tangled in a binding web.
But Kaede's revealed lineage brought an entirely more puzzling thought to the surface. Why would a woman whose clan was at the height of its power, practically reigning alongside the Tennō, abandon the court in favor of a life of poverty and struggle in a tiny, failing village?
"Midoriko-sama?" Kagome ventured.
Midoriko's brows lifted in indication to continue.
"What happened to the Fujiwara clan?"
A shadow fell abruptly over Midoriko's face, all of its fine lines deepening for just an instant. Brown eyes, deep with the passing of many years, slid away to gaze at the altar to Amaterasu once more.
"How does the fate of the Fujiwara clan concern you, Kagome?" she queried, something like reluctance lurking just beneath her words.
"I just…want to understand," Kagome said a bit helplessly. “I need to understand what is happening here. What I am caught up in.”
Midoriko was quiet for a long stretch, staring contemplatively at the single flower in an ornate vase that sat upon the shrine. She sighed softly, looking truly aged to Kagome for the first time.
"I suppose the quest for understanding is an honorable one, though we are straying from our original purpose here," she said. "Ah, well. Furthering your understanding of the court has its own importance. Though it is a story I would prefer not to have to tell."
"Everyone keeps saying that," Kagome said pensively, recalling the number of other times the tragedy of the Fujiwara family had been lightly alluded to. "Is it really so terrible, what happened?"
"One of the lowest points in the history of the court, and that is saying something," Midoriko said lowly. "Has any one yet told you of the throne war that occurred before the ascension of our current Tennō-sama?"
"Yes," Kagome replied. "I was told about the former Tennō-sama's decree and how other clans fought to bar the current Tennō-sama's ascension."
Kagome tried very hard to keep the word as just a word in her mind. Tried very hard not to picture his angry, disappointed face as she said it.
She focused on Midoriko's answer instead, willing herself not to sink back down into those feelings for at least a bit longer.
"Then you already have the gist of it," Midoriko said. "The tale of the Fujiwara family is a chapter in that story, one that everyone would gladly forget if we had the ability.”
“The Fujiwara clan has served the Tennō-sama faithfully for generations upon generations. They never questioned his Majesty's will and never hesitated to put all of their resources at his disposal. This was originally how they gained such high standing within the court, as a reward for their unwavering devotion.”
“Knowing this, it should come as no surprise to you to learn that the Fujiwara wholeheartedly stepped in to support our current Tennō-sama when it was decreed that his Majesty would be the next successor.”
“They supported any word passed by the Tennō-sama, and wanted to see his former Majesty's will done regardless of what their personal opinions might have been.”
“As you likely know, this was not a popular opinion. In stepping up to openly back our current Tennō-sama, they gained themselves many enemies. Still, the Fujiwara clan had enough power behind them to discourage any outright attacks.”
“And so it began with the Lady of the Fujiwara clan. She was found dead in the bath-house. No one had thought to check that water for poison, but surely enough it had been tampered with.”
“It was a clever move, impossible to trace because of the way the water was pumped into the bath-house from an unmonitored source. Still, the Lord of the Fujiwara clan had several servants put to death for the crime, though they were likely innocent.”
“The Lord went a bit insane after the death of his Lady, a kind, soft-spoken woman with whom he had been deeply in love. He became positively nonsensical in his grief, and the Fujiwara clan fell into disarray.”
“One night in his madness he wandered out to visit his wife's grave alone. That was where his body was found the next morning, his head having been removed.”
“Yet again no criminal could be found. All of his responsibilities fell to his only son, who was a mere thirteen years of age at that time. He proved to be incompetent at best.”
“He did not know how to organize the family troops, and sent them out to keep watch of the other clans in their residences outside the court. A horrible mistake on his part.”
“Together they were a great force, but he spread them too thin and they were slaughtered one group at a time. The majority of the survivors deserted or turned traitor, unwilling to die for what was fast becoming a lost cause.”
“The son had no great skill in organizing the clan, either. With few soldiers left to help them hold their position, many of the clan members became frightened. A large group, the majority of them, decided to retreat back to the safety of their residence in the east.”
“They…never made it back. Along the way they encountered something, no one is quite certain what to this day, and they were slaughtered to the last woman and child.”
“There was not a single survivor to tell the tale of what befell them there. Reports of it came back to the capital from several merchants, all of whom claimed it was the most horrendous massacre they had ever borne witness to.”
“And thus the Fujiwara clan fell from power, barely a handful of the clan surviving. The son was so sick with grief over his failures that he committed ritual seppuku soon after, leaving his sister, our future Empress, as the last prominent member of the once great line.”
“Never before in the history of the court had a clan been so maliciously targeted and so ruthlessly picked off. The deliberateness of it all was unmistakable and chilling.”
“Killing the relatively powerless Lady first was too calculated for it to have been anything else. Whoever was responsible for it knew the Fujiwara clansmen well enough to know what weak points to aim for, and was more than a bit skilled in the art of manipulation."
Kagome sat in silence, her mind blank with horror. Distantly she realized that it all made sense. The lack of clansmen to be found at either Fujiwara residence. The Taira woman, Kagura, alluding to Kikyou having no clan backing.
But an entire clan, with members numbering most likely in the hundreds, slaughtered for supporting the will of Japan's divine Tennō? And killed off in such a pointedly calculated manner, without sparing even the helpless women and children.
"Kaede-sama…" Kagome breathed, a horrible thought occurring to her.
"Many of Kaede's closest relatives were killed," Midoriko filled in, her eyes downcast. "Kaede herself lost her eye when returning late one night from visiting her mother's grave, though the guardsmen she was with managed to prevent the loss of her life by surrendering his own.”
“At last the grief became too heavy a burden for her to bear any longer. I… advised her that she would likely be best off if she were to leave the court and all of the tragedy behind her. She agreed readily, and I aided her in escaping from the court in secret."
Kagome slumped slightly, curling in on herself. She felt as if she wanted to cry, but no tears would come. It was too terrible.
She had never thought to ask Kaede. She had never once seen the kindly woman look like she was suffering in the least bit. And yet all the while Kaede had been living with this terrible secret, and Kagome had been oblivious.
Kikyou came to her mind unbidden. Kami knew she was in no way interested in sympathizing with the cold woman, but she could hardly help herself now.
To have had to watch her relatives be killed off one by one, to fear every day that she might be the next to go, and then to have to pick up the all of the pieces once it was over. If Kikyou had not hardened herself against it all, there was no way she could have survived.
"I understand that you are upset at learning all of this so suddenly," said Midoriko, deep sympathy in her voice. "But there is nothing that can be done for it now. All we can do now is strengthen ourselves and walk forward, making certain that nothing of the kind ever occurs again."
Kagome raised her eyes to the older woman, observing the look of careful composure on her graceful features. She had been through the massacre of the Fujiwara and the throne war, as well. And yet she was not broken. She was not defeated.
Suddenly Kagome's own problems did not seem quite so insurmountable. She still had her family, though they were not near her at the moment, and her life was not in any particular sort of danger.
So what if people snubbed her and thought her low down? So what if she was to be nothing but a servant in the court, separate always from those she served? Surely she could bear this much.
She realized that she had been letting the court have far too much influence over her. She needed to toughen up if she was going to get where she needed to go. And by all the kami, she would definitely find a way to convince Inuyasha to let her stay in the court!
"Midoriko-sama," Kagome said, turning eyes bright with newfound resolve to meet the older woman's. "Please do me the great honor of teaching me everything you know. I will definitely make certain that such evils never occur again."
She bowed deeply, her forehead coming down to touch the tatami mats beneath her. Midoriko watched the girl prostrating herself so humbly, resolution in the very set of her slim shoulders. She allowed herself to smile slightly.
Perhaps her initial worries had been unfounded. Perhaps the girl had enough spirit to get her through everything that Midoriko knew would soon be coming…
"If you have the will to follow through with your words, then I can surely make you as great as the ancient Empress Pimiko-sama herself," Midoriko said, fondness growing quietly behind her words.
"Pimiko-sama?" Kagome echoed questioningly, rising from her bow. The name was unfamiliar to her.
"Kaede neglected to tell you of Pimiko-sama?" Midoriko asked. "Well, she never was any great scholar, either. One would hope that the years might have altered her lackadaisical nature, but…"
She heaved poised little sigh, shaking her head at some memory. Kagome smiled slightly despite the lingering heaviness in her heart. There was a very obvious affection toward Kaede in Midoriko’s words, like an elder sibling concerned for the future of a younger one.
"Who was Pimiko-sama, Midoriko-sama? A miko?" Kagome questioned.
"Not just any miko," Midoriko corrected, her chin tilting up with just a hint of pride. "She was one of the founders of our long line. She was also one of the first rulers of Japan, presiding over a large clan of subjects in the Honshu and Kyushu provinces of old."
"She…did not rule alongside an Emperor?" Kagome asked incredulously.
Women did not rule alone. It simply did not happen, as far as Kagome knew. The throne was always passed from male heir to male heir, or to the husbands of daughters or nearest male relatives in the absence of a male heir.
"Empress Pimiko-sama did not need an Emperor," Midoriko said, a grin playing at the edges of her lips. "She gained her nobility. She ruled through her own ability and nothing more."
"How do you mean?" Kagome asked, intrigued. How exactly would one go about gaining noble status, she wondered.
"She was a miko, as I have said. But she was far more than most miko can claim to be. She was given the ultimate gift by the kami," Midoriko said. "She was given the gift of foresight. The ability to see certain things before they came to pass.”
“For this, and for her other great spiritual gifts, people respected her deeply. They followed willingly after her."
Kagome blinked once. Twice. A third time. She had an idea.
It was absurd. It was outrageous and so utterly preposterous that she could hardly believe it had come into her head. It was absolutely perfect.
Abruptly Kagome scrambled to her feet. She made a hurried, sloppy bow to Midoriko. Buzzing with sudden energy, it took all she had not to just break into a run.
"I'm terribly sorry, Midoriko-sama, but may I request that we cut this lesson short? I've just had a thought that I believe would be best tended to immediately," Kagome said, clasping her hands before her in askance.
"What happened to wanting to learn everything I have to teach?" returned Midoriko bemusedly, unable to follow the sudden shift in the girl.
"I beg your pardon, Midoriko-sama. I promise I will give you my full attention and effort during our next training session, but I truly believe I must act immediately," Kagome said, not wanting to disrespect the woman but not willing to back down, either.
Midoriko studied the girl, eyeing the bright look in her eyes. She looked far more spirited now than when she had first entered the shrine. And it was rather admirable, the way she managed to draw such resolve from tragedy. The elder miko could not help but think she would very much like to see the places this girl was fated to go.
"Alright, then," Midoriko allowed. "Go ahead. But be prepared to work to make up for this next time."
"Yes, of course. Thank you, Midoriko-sama," Kagome said, nearly breathless with relief and agitation.
She bowed once more before hurrying as quickly as was proper from the room, stopping only to slip on her sandals before dashing out. Midoriko watched her go, her expression slipping as the girl's sprightly form disappeared from sight. She turned to Amaterasu's altar, bowing her head once more to pray.
"Hear my lowly prayers if you would, Amaterasu-sama, just once more. Please do not punish her for my weak, foolish heart…"
Kagome practically flew across the distance between the temple and the Inner Palace, ignoring the odd looks her mad dash her. Before she had even really gathered all of her chaotic thoughts and half-formed plans, she was in front of the entrance to Inuyasha's chambers.
She stood for a moment, trying to catch her breath and figure out how she was going to manage to actually get inside. Surely Inuyasha would not be happy to see her, and she had come unbidden. A guard standing near the entryway eyed her critically.
Kagome exhaled, deciding that she might as well try the direct approach. It could not do much harm, anyway. She stepped up to the guard, drawing herself up to her full and admittedly unimpressive height.
"I need to speak with his Majesty," Kagome said, meeting the man's eyes firmly.
"I didn't know his Majesty had summoned anyone," returned the guard, noting her ruffled appearance from having run the entire way.
"His Majesty did not summon me, but I need to speak with him nonetheless," Kagome insisted stubbornly, clenching her fists and willing herself to press forward.
"I don't think-"
"Please go tell his Majesty that the miko Kagome is here to see him," Kagome interrupted, gesturing insistently towards the hanging curtain.
It was not in her nature to be so forceful with people normally, but at the moment she was determined. The lingering grief over the story, still fresh in her mind, drove her on. She needed to talk to Inuyasha no matter what.
"I'll see if his Majesty's interested in seeing you," the guard ground out, obviously annoyed.
With a huff he turned and entered the chamber. Kagome sighed, pacing around agitatedly as she awaited a response. She prayed one week was sufficient time for him to have at least calmed down enough that he would consider seeing her.
After what felt like an eternity to her, the guard reemerged. He looked even more disgruntled. Kagome grinned involuntarily.
"His Majesty says you may enter," the guard muttered, as Kagome had anticipated.
"Thank you," Kagome said with no small amount of satisfaction, brushing past him.
She entered the dimly lit chamber, a bit of her satisfaction fading as nervousness set in. She had given very little thought as to how she would actually handle all of this.
Quietly she knelt down before the screen, bowing her head and waiting to be addressed before she spoke. She knew Inuyasha would need to say his piece before he would be ready to hear anything she had to say.
It was tensely silent for a long, long moment. Kagome braced herself for the explosion she could feel building.
"The hell did you come here for?"
Kagome winced at the sound of the voice coming from behind the screen. He was not yelling as she had expected, but somehow the low rumbling growl to his voice was worse. She shifted, steadying herself.
"I know you must have heard certain things, Inuyasha-sama, and I know that you are probably very cross with me, however-" Kagome attempted hurriedly.
"Cross? Cross? Cross isn't the fucking half of what I am with you!"
There was the yelling. Kagome jumped slightly as the shadow behind the screen stood and seemed to loom threateningly over her. Perhaps this had not been such a good idea…
"I knew you were an idiot, but how could you do something so fucking… idiotic?! All that yapping about wanting to do all that righteous shit and then you pull something like this! What the hell were you thinking?" Inuyasha ranted, pacing wildly about behind the screen.
"I wasn't thinking, but it's not what you think it-" Kagome tried again, leaning forward desperately. At this rate he would dismiss her from the court before she could even get out a full sentence.
"It's clear as day what the hell happened!" Inuyasha erupted, cutting her off. "You put yourself in a fucking stupid position with that mangy, flea-bitten wolf and rumors got started! Damnit, woman!"
Kagome froze, her eyes going very wide. All of her arguments went cold on the tip of her tongue. Surely she could not have heard correctly…
"And do you know how many fucking courtiers started petitioning to have you thrown out of the court because of it?" Inuyasha continued to rage. "It took forever to get those assholes to shut up!”
“I had to ask-ask, wench!-that mangy ass wolf to not go near you so that the rumors would die down! I had to ask that perverted houshi and that Tachibana woman to spread counter-rumors!”
“All that because you felt the need to run around like a little imbecile all over the damn court playing emissary! And I damn well better be getting one hell of an apology for all that crap!"
His tirade finished, Inuyasha crossed his arms and waited with strained patience for her to grovel and bow in her gratitude. Silence. Complete silence. Had she fucking fallen asleep or something?
Inuyasha growled, stomping around the screen to Kagome's side to see what was going on. She was simply sitting there, staring perplexedly at the screen.
Inuyasha groaned. By all the kami, she was broken.
"You mean," said Kagome softly, wonderingly. "All this time, you knew I hadn't done anything inappropriate with Kouga-sama?"
"Not the whole time," Inuyasha answered slowly, wondering what exactly was going through her head. "At first I heard it and I was so fucking pissed I couldn't see straight. But Kikyou was with me, and she said it didn't make sense for you to…'put yourself in that sort of position'…or something.”
“And I was still pissed as hell, but I couldn't stop thinking about it and it didn't make sense. And I just kept fucking thinking about it, and all that did make sense was that you had been fucking naïve as usual and shit had happened from there."
Kagome blinked, her gaze shifting downwards as she tried to process it all. Slowly she turned to look at Inuyasha. The hanyou nearly blanched at the expression on her face, crumpled like a small, hurt child.
"Then why didn't you ever summon me? This whole week…" Kagome trailed off, her voice cracking as tears began to leak from her eyes.
Panic spiked in Inuyasha's chest. The hell?! He hadn't said anything that bad, had he? Swearing under his breath, Inuyasha dropped down beside her.
"Oi, listen, I-"
"You-!" Kagome choked, turning suddenly and collapsing against his chest.
Inuyasha flinched, his entire body going rigid at the sudden contact.
"I can't believe you! You're terrible! Awful!" Kagome chanted, pounding lightly at one of his shoulders as she continued to sob.
It was such a relief. By the kami, it was such a relief. They had all believed in her. They had been working to help her. None of them had tried to abandon her. None of them thought her low-down. Kagome was nearly incoherent in her happiness.
"All week I thought you and Miroku-sama and Sango-sama all hated me!" she cried, hardly aware as the words tumbled from her mouth. "I thought you believed the rumors! I thought you were going to throw me out of the court! I thought you were avoiding me! Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
"Who are you calling stupid, stupid? You're the one who got yourself into all this by not thinking," Inuyasha defended, though with much less venom than before.
He shifted awkwardly, staring down at the girl sobbing and clinging to him. Still, as uncomfortable as he was, he could not bring himself to simply push her away as he might have done with others. One of his hands hovered uncertainly over her head as he wrestled with the urge to offer some sort of consoling gesture.
"Oi, look, Kagome," he tried awkwardly. "I was pissed off over all the bullshit. I was too pissed off to even wanna see you. Just…ugh! What in the seven hells will make you stop crying, woman!?"
Kagome sniffled loudly, pushing back slightly. She glared up at him with watery eyes.
"Well, excuse me," she huffed, wiping angrily at her damp cheeks. "I only spent a whole week alone, thinking you all hated me and I was going to be sent home in disgrace to tell my village I failed!"
Inuyasha sighed in long-suffering manner. He scowled down at the hiccupping girl half-heartedly.
"Whatever. It's all done now," Inuyasha said dismissively. "Just watch yourself with the courtiers from now on. You associate too closely with any of them and shit's bound to happen."
Kagome's eyes widened, his words striking a sudden cord in her head. Her gaze shifted slowly down to her hands, planted firmly against Inuyasha's chest for support, as if they were some strange foreign entities.
Her eyes trailed further down, and her heart nearly stopped. She was practically sitting in the lap of the sovereign of her country.
With a squeak Kagome jerked backwards, apologies spilling from her mouth. She was mortified, hardly able to believe that she had just been so incredibly disrespectful. But Inuyasha had watched the progression of emotions across her face, feeling it when her muscles tensed to bolt.
On instinct his hand shot out, grabbing one of her wrists as she attempted to escape. Caught off guard and off balance, Kagome came tumbling back down into the hanyou's lap.
"What the hell is wrong with you now, wench?!" Inuyasha barked over the jumbled apologies still flowing rapidly form her mouth.
"Propriety! And order!" Kagome attempted, struggling against the hanyou's unyielding hold. "A commoner can't associate closely with nobles! A commoner can't-!"
"What are you babbling about, woman?" he asked, managing to catch hold of the struggling girl's shoulders to keep her still. She raised wide, petrified eyes up to meet his own before they darted away quickly, her face going pale.
"P-Please let me go, Tennō-sama. I can not apologize enough for my utter disrespect. I-I got caught up in….well, I promise you I will never act so shamefully out of line again…Just, please…."
Inuyasha's scowl deepened in confusion. He gripped Kagome’s shoulder more tightly, giving her a small shake. She jerked, blinking up at him in surprise.
"What. The. Hell. Are. You. Talking. About?" he repeated, speaking with the slow emphasis one might use for a particularly dull child.
"The Future Empress…she did me the service of reminding me of what I had forgotten," Kagome said softly. "I cannot change my birth status, Tennō-sama, and you…you cannot lower yourself to be familiar with me. None of the nobles can. I am sorry that I have been so presumptuous with you up until now…but I promise…I promise it will not happen anymore. I know my place now, so please don't…"
"Kikyou told you all this?" Inuyasha interrupted.
"She told me nothing I was not already aware of, though I was foolish enough to forget it," Kagome replied, her eyes downcast.
Inuyasha stared down at her for a long moment, thrown by the abrupt shift. She had never hesitated to argue with him before, to run her mouth and force whatever ideas popped into that fool head of hers onto him.
And now that she was finally quiet…he found he didn't like it. He didn't want it.
"Forget again, then," he ordered.
Kagome turned an uncomprehending frown up to him. "Forget…?"
"Everything. Everything Kikyou told you. Everything anyone's ever told you about all that 'commoners should be this' and 'nobles should be that' bullshit."
"No! Dammit, woman, we've been over this! I'm Inuyasha. And you're Kagome, in case your head is so filled with shit that you've forgotten that, too," he snapped, gratified when her eyes flashed up to meet his briefly in irritation. "And I sure as hell don't need another court-trained serving worm, bowing and simpering all the time. I've got plenty of those bastards, and they'd as easily serve someone else as me. But you…Look, screw lowering yourself to scrape at the feet of all those morons. I'll back you, propriety be fucked."
Kagome's eyes widened in astonishment, staring up into his own intensely golden ones. Her mouth worked wordlessly, trying to catch up, to form some sort of coherent response to his outrageous words. He could not be serious…
"But I can't!" she cast about desperately. "By associating closely with Miroku-sama or Sango-sama or…or you, Inuyasha-sama, all I could do is bring shame to you. People are born into certain positions for a reason, and-"
"You really believe that?" the hanyou cut in, a hard edge to his tone. "You really believe that where you're born decides how much you're worth? How much you can do?"
"I just…I was always taught-"
"Maybe you were taught wrong! Maybe everyone was taught wrong! Just because something gets repeated over and over doesn't make it fucking right, Kagome! You want change, don't you? You want better for those villagers and everyone, don't you?"
She was silent, her mind whirring as she tried to keep up. Wasn't this…wasn't this what Midoriko had tried to tell her, as well?
"Well, don't you?!" Inuyasha barked insistently.
"Yes! I do! I really do!" Kagome burst out, almost without thought.
"Well, shit will never change for them or you if you keep actin' like you're inferior! So do what you want! Act how you want! Be friends with whoever the fuck you want to be friends with! Prove to those stuck-up bastards that you're just as good as they are!"
The hanyou gazed fiercely into her face, his eyes alight. Kagome gazed back helplessly, caught up in the torrent of his intensity. There was something there, though, some fire that seemed to go beyond even his anger at her or on her behalf…
It struck her suddenly, and she nearly gasped. Inuyasha was not just talking about her situation, though perhaps that was all he meant to talk about.
It was him, too. Born into a supposedly inferior position as a bastard son and a hanyou, but fighting to make the court believe that he was worth just as much as anyone.
That was the difference between them. He was fighting, whereas she was still clinging to the notions of an order and propriety that she felt safe in. The courtiers were not the only ones who had been taught the order of things from the time they were in swaddling cloths. Still…
"Alright," she managed to get out, nodding. "Alright. I'll try."
A grin split the hanyou's face, so wide his canines glinted in the lamplight. A sort of pride surged up in him.
"That's the first smart thing you've said since you got here," he approved smugly. Kagome frowned.
"Well, I think I have one more," she replied, tilting her chin up petulantly.
"What?" the hanyou returned, pleased to see she was something like her old obnoxious self again.
"I…I want to be your friend, Inuyasha-sama," she declared, meeting his eyes stubbornly with her own.
Inuyasha's grin dissolved, his jaw going slack. A flush crept up to heat his face.
"You said I could be friends with whoever I want, right?" Kagome pressed, silently pleased at having gained the upper hand. "I want to be friends with you, Inuyasha-sama. I want to help support you. And…maybe together we can prove to them that we really are worth just as much."
The hanyou blinked down at her, his embarrassment slowly fading. Her face was…sincere. Open. She actually…wanted to be friends with him. Something curled warmly up into his chest, though he fought to push it down.
"I…Feh," Inuyasha scoffed, unable to come up with anything else. Kagome's face softened into a shy smile.
"I will take that as a yes," she said. "Thank you, Inuyasha-sama."
The hanyou huffed, turning away to conceal the flush climbing up his neck. Really, the girl was harder to figure out than those stupid old tomes in the archive building…
"Ah!" gasped Kagome after a few moments of silence, abruptly recalling what she had come to say in the first place. "Inuyasha-sama! I was with Midoriko-sama, and she was telling me a story and I had the most…well, maybe it's a bit risky, but I think it could work if we-"
"Quit babbling, woman, and spit it out already," Inuyasha cut in.
"Fine, then," Kagome huffed, a little of her excitement fading. "Let's see…"
She considered it for a few minutes, trying to figure out a way to explain her plan without it sounding entirely insane and implausible. It was more than a little outrageous, she had to admit. Still, if it worked it might very well be the answer to several of her prayers…
A thought occurred her and a broad smile blossomed across her face. Inuyasha observed that smile with no small amount of wariness. It was the smile of someone plotting something. And the kami only knew what sort of crazy shit this girl was capable of…
Kagome stood, kicking several cushions out of her way. She turned back to Inuyasha, beaming. The hanyou grimaced, watching with growing trepidation as the girl spread her arms wide for what he imagined would be the many wild gesticulations accompanying an even wilder explanation.
Suddenly Kagome began to convulse. Tremors wracked her slim frame from head to toe, and her face went as pale as snow. Her eyes rolled back into her head. She made small choking noises, shaking violently all over.
"Kagome!" Inuyasha shouted, jumping up and going to the girl.
Panic spiked in the hanyou, his chest tightening. What the hell was happening to the girl? He grabbed both of shoulders, pulling her into his arms in the hope of stopping the convulsions.
Kagome flopped back limply in his grasp, the whites of her eyes showing. Suddenly she was utterly still.
Inuyasha stared into her slack face, his breath trapped in his throat. Kagome…Kagome…
"Oi, Kagome. Kagome! Kagome!"