“The old king listened to Conrad’s story of how the young goose girl spoke to the horse’s head and how it spoke back to her, 'Alas, Falada, there thou hangest.' And the horse would answer, 'Alas! Queen’s daughter, there thou gangest. If thy mother knew thy fate, Her heart would break with grief so great.'” Kagome felt a tug on her sleeve and smiled down at the little kitsune in her lap knowing what he wanted.
His wide teal eyes begged her attention, his eyebrows innocently raised in question. “Kagome, what does ‘gangest’ mean?” He’d been asking questions all night, interrupting the story to learn new words and how a dead horse’s head could talk and why the princess hadn’t simply killed the maid to begin with. The rest of Kagome’s audience didn’t mind the child’s queries though InuYasha seemed a little more annoyed than Sango and Miroku. She appreciated the patience he was displaying knowing how difficult it was for the hanyou to deal with impetuous and curious people let alone children.
“It means to herd, it’s an old word they don’t use often in my time anymore.” She grinned as the fox cub settled once more in the crook of her crossed legs and waited to see if he was really finished with his inquiries. When his blue eyes closed once more she looked up to meet Sango’s nostalgic smile and InuYasha rolling his eyes. Miroku had stood to collect two more logs from the pile for the fire they all sat around. Kagome watched the monk balance the firewood against already flaming logs. He caught her gaze and grinned, settling himself back down on the other side of the fire beside Sango as the miko continued her tale.
“The old king couldn’t believe the goose herder’s tale so the next day he followed them to the fields and hid himself in a small stand of trees where he could watch them and listen. He heard the girl speak to the horse head that hung over the city gate and was stunned by the enchanted horse’s reply. The king watched as the girl sat down in the meadow and took down her long hair from its plaits. Her hair shone like glossed ebony.”
Kagome felt Shippo’s tail twitch and shifted her gentle gaze down on him knowing he had another question. “Yes, Shippo?”
“Is ebony the color of your hair, too, Kagome?” The girl laughed softly and nodded.
“I suppose so, ebony is black, like coal or the wood of an ebony tree. Snow White had skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony.”
“Oh.” The reply was little more than a murmur; the cub was falling asleep in her lap. She tucked her arm under his head and started running her fingers over his hair, brushing his auburn bangs aside. Softly, she resumed her story, knowing the little boy wouldn’t forgive her if she left off so near the end because he was drifting off.
“The king soon heard the goose girl chant, ‘Blow, blow, little breeze, And Conrad's hat seize, Let him join in the chase, While away it is whirled, Till my tresses are curled, And I rest in my place.’ Instantly a great wind rustled through the trees and across the grassy meadow, snatching Conrad’s hat off his head and around the field. The king watched as the goose girl combed her locks and braided them once more to hide under her scarf.”
“The princesses in your fairy stories tend to have magical powers, Kagome-sama, are they demons or mikos?” Miroku asked while the brunette paused.
“No, I don’t know why so many of the girls in these stories have magic. I think it’s just because people expect royalty or beautiful people to be better than normal people, to be extraordinary and blessed by the gods. Most of the time it’s prayers and miracles but in some of the older stories, it’s fairy magic like this-” Kagome stopped mid-sentence to look down at her charge. Shippo had latched onto the fingers of the hand holding him and was tiredly shaking it to get her to stop talking and finish the story. The girl sighed and smiled contently down at the child. The monk shook his head at her silent apology.
“That evening the king confronted the girl when she came back to the castle but she refused to explain herself remembering her promise to never tell a soul of her plight. The king then told her if she could not tell a living soul, then she must sit near the fireplace of the kitchen and tell her sorrows to the fire. The girl, seeing the wisdom of his suggestion, immediately set to do so. She settled close to the hearth and told her story, her words echoing up the chimney.” Kagome’s eyes wandered up to gaze at the clear starry sky above them, her face relaxing from it’s comfortable smile to something akin to a sad empathy.
She spoke the princess’s words as if she’d been the princess herself. “ ‘Here am I deserted by the whole world, and yet, I am a king's daughter. Another has taken away my birthright, and has taken my place with my betrothed, and I now must work in her shadow. If this my mother knew, her heart would break in two.’ The king heard every word and bid the princess to return to her rightful place. He gave her a splendid gown of blue silk and marveled at her radiant beauty. The king summoned the prince and revealed to him his true bride. The prince was taken with her beauty and wit and surprised by her story of betrayal and survival. The handmaid was brought in and punished and the prince and princess were married and lived happily ever after.”
Kagome’s gaze dropped once more to the kitsune in her arms and she gave his sleeping form another soft smile as he echoed her words in his sleep. “ . . . happily ever after . . .”
Several hours later, the fire was dying, and Miroku and Sango were involved in a deep discussion on the other side of the clearing as they stood guard against the dark night. Kagome had Shippo cradled in her sleeping bag beside her, her arm crossed under him so he could continue holding onto her fingers. The girl settled into her bed, the hard ground softened by the long grass beneath her, and the red glow of the fire dim enough to sleep easily.
“Kagome, why are your stories about all that depressing shit? Aren’t there any about guys or anything *without* magic mikos and bad people abusing good people? Cinder-girl and “every girl’s a princess” chick, and the really stupid one about the dumb mermaiden who died.” InuYasha sat cross legged beside her, leaning up against the trunk of a fallen tree and scowling into the cringing fire. His voice was low enough to not wake Shippo or disturb the monk and demon slayer but his words were very clear to the girl lying before him.
Following his example she kept the conversation to a whisper, knowing his furry canine ears could hear far better than she could ever dream. He wouldn’t miss a heartbeat. “It wouldn’t be a fairy tale without magic and there’d be no story if someone didn’t have a fight to win, something to overcome. Kids like to hear that there’s a happy ending, no matter how hard life is, somehow it’ll turn out alright. Boys don’t normally need to hear that but in some cases . . .” Her eyes drifted over the fox cub cuddled around her hand. “I’ll tell a story next time about Peter Pan or Chun’hyang, those’ll be better, I promise.”
“Keh, I don’t care what stories you tell, it’s all for the kid anyway.” He huffed and crossed his arms haughtily. He snuck a glance down at her still staring expectantly up at him. “I just don’t like the way you tell the stories, like every hurt girl is you. You don’t really feel like that, do you? Your life’s not a fairy story-”
“Oh, no, it’s a strange story, an epic, with magic and danger, allies and enemies, but no, my life’s definitely *not* a fairy tale.” She shifted her coffee-colored eyes down and away from the frustrated hanyou’s gaze. ‘There’s no happy ending for this girl.’ Kagome continued to study the child in her arms, thinking about why InuYasha was saying such weird things now. Why did he listen to the bedtime stories she told Shippo if he didn’t like the way she told them? She couldn’t help it if some times a similar situation seemed to echo in her memory with a bit of familiarity.
“Well, when you put it that way, it kinda sounds like it but you’re not bullied or a homeless orphan or under a spell.” He glowered at the fading orange flames of the campfire, feeling her heavy eyes caress his frowning face. He’d never allow her to be harassed or hurt, she shouldn’t sound so anguished by baby stories she was telling to cheer everyone up and settle the pup down.
“No, *I’m* not, but you guys are. Shippo doesn’t have anyone else in the world but us, neither does Sango really, and Miroku’s cursed by an evil demon. And then there’s you . . .” Her soft voice fell to a compassionate murmur she knew InuYasha wouldn’t appreciate.
“Hey, leave _me_ outta this.” His rough voice rose a little and she pursed her lips, afraid he would wake Shippo, or worse, might really be hurt by her bringing up bad memories. She didn’t mean to, but she made her point.
“I’m sorry. Shippo does need to hear that he’s not alone, other people have had hard lives too, and no matter what happens, you can’t give up. As long as you keep trying and hoping you can make things better.” Her earnest pleading dropped off as she stroked the kitsune’s russet hair with her free hand, smiling fondly as his ball of fur tail fluttered in response to her touch. She continued in a half-trance whisper only the hanyou could hear. “He might not have his mom and dad anymore but we found him so he’s not alone. He’s got me to love him and you to- to-“ InuYasha curiously raised an eyebrow as he looked down at her and the kid. “to protect and guide him.” She finished defiantly, catching his arrogant smirk.
“Keh.” Was all he said to that bold declaration of his role-modeling responsibilities to a pup not his own kin. He turned his face away from her suddenly deep and dangerously contented eyes, staring at the cold and distant stars instead, hoping the miko beside him didn’t see him blush as he tried to brush off her attempts to make there little gang a family.
Kagome just shifted a little deeper into her bag as the warmth from the fire faded, the cool night kissing her cheeks and nose. She was starting to drift to sleep, watching her protector watch the night. The moonlight outlined him in soft silver, his white hair seemed to glow, his face in shadow though every now and then a glint of deep gold reflected the fire in his eyes. One pale-furred ear flicked in her direction, pausing at the lack of sound as she caught her breath, surprised for a moment by his powerful but soft aura, and his mysterious radiance. The ear turned away as she caught herself in a yawn, her momentary wonder faded as her mind drifted away, seeing only gleams of silver and red and warm amber.
“Keep telling those silly stories if it makes them feel better.” InuYasha muttered, doubting she was awake enough to hear him but feeling the need to assure her it was alright with him for her to include him in the makeshift family she created.