Princess Mononoke Fan Fiction ❯ Mind and Spirit ❯ Chapter 4 (Out of the frying pan… Part one) ( Chapter 4 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Mind and Spirit
Chapter 4 (Out of the frying pan… Part one)
Disclaimer: I don't own Princess Mononoke or the characters, its just a Fan-fic, read and enjoy.
Authors note:
[[[Time to shake things up a bit, some action and stress for our favourite characters. Stress brings out the best, and worst in people, it's marvellous! May you live in interesting times, as they say. ;-) ]]]
Back in the present.
It was a beautifully relaxed scene, Yakkuru was still dozing peacefully by the fire, and paying little attention to his master, who himself was still gazing dreamily at the stars high above. Contented, the elk didn't even bother to raise his head when Ashitaka finally got back up. The young man had been lying there for some time, and the fire had died down a bit. Placing some more logs on the fire the young warrior sat next to the elk, patting him absent-mindedly. The elk raised his head slowly, not because of the new attention from his master, but because it sensed something in the air, a presence… recognising the new scent Yakkuru again lowered his head, only making a small peaceful noise to indicate he had even sensed anything at all. The whole episode remained unnoticed by Ashitaka however, as he was still daydreaming.
About 100m away at the edge of the clearing a figure moved silently atop a rocky outcrop. Careful not to let its white coat expose its position to the young warrior by the fire, the figure nevertheless moved effortlessly, gracefully bounding from rock to rock. It was obvious from the elegant movements that the figure was female. Finally reaching a large boulder that would give her a nice vantage-point she halted momentarily, creeping the rest of the way up to the outlooks' edge on all fours. Reaching the edge, the figure slowly removed the facemask it was wearing to reveal the face of beautiful young warrior. Peaking over the crest, the firelight emphasised her feminine features and strong eyes, her expression softened somewhat upon seeing Ashitaka, he was still leaning against Yakkuru. It was obvious that he had not noticed her, resting her head on her hands, she happily observed the young man for a while. She smiled to herself as her mind also started drifting back to past events. She was momentarily distracted however when the young man suddenly stood up, she ducked down slightly automatically, and watched him silently. She couldn't help but grin to herself when he started do disrobe, she watched tentatively as he placed his clothing one by one neatly in a pile. Finishing up he gave the fire one more check before making his way over to the water, lowering himself into it carefully. San almost gave away her position as she re-positioned recklessly to get a better view, cursing her impatience she nevertheless was still carrying a massive smile on her face. Reaching a new position she looked back down at the young man, he had closed his eyes and lent back, San observed him for a while, coming to a conclusion as to what she would do in regards to this new development, the young lady moved back into the foliage.
Making her way quickly through the forest she began to circle the clearing, moving at speed she nevertheless once again began to daydream about past events, her body moved on a very efficient autopilot as her mind wondered.
Back to 10 months earlier.
San blinked a couple of times as she attempted to wake up from her peaceful slumber. Her eyes slowly focused onto the face of a young man, it was Ashitaka, still sleeping quietly. Unable to deny her first thought of the day she leaned across the small distance that separated them to give the young man a kiss. Ashitaka's expression wrinkled for a second before his eyes opened slowly.
“Good morning” said San happily.
“Good morning to you to” replied Ashitaka happily, after a couple of seconds. Ashitaka stretched out animatedly, San for her part followed suite. Unable to stop himself Ashitaka used the opportunity to tickle the preoccupied San, laughing loudly, she counterattacked, the two wrestling playfully before falling out of Ashitakas bed.
Downstairs Toki and Koroku looked up and across to the noise coming from Ashitakas room.
Koroku grinned, and chuckled slightly to himself.
“And what are you grinning at?” asked Toki pointedly. Koroku instantly put on an over innocent face.
“Nothing” he replied. Toki kept an eye on him for a second before turning her attention back.
“Come on you two breakfast is almost ready!” she called out. The noise from Ashitakas room stopped, and only a small chuckle could be heard, they two were obviously getting ready to join them.
It had been a very quick couple of months since the trip into the mountains. This was the forth time that San had stayed in iron town and it was by far the most relaxed of her experiences here. She had first only come for a visit, escorting Ashitaka home from their trip into the mountain, they arrived just before evening. Her original reception was naturally very cool, with the memories of the deaths of two men at the hands of Sans mother still fresh in the minds of most residence. San for her part remained aloof and alert, like a true princess, doing her duty because she must, this was not exactly what Ashitaka had in mind but he was glad enough that she was there at all. There was no open hostility, as Ashitaka had worked hard to prepare the people of Iron-town for this event, particularly the two woman who's husbands were lost. Everyone had remained distant initially, except for Toki and Koroku, who tried hard to make San feel welcome, for Ashitakas sake if nothing else. Toki and San were getting on surprisingly well, after an initial awkward faze. As soon as San was somewhat out of the public eye she was more at ease and able to open up a bit, if with a little prompting from Ashitaka. Sans uncertainty with the human household gave enough base for amusing light communications, and Tokis interest in Sans independence gave them a strong mutual interest. The first visit was only a short one with San not staying the night.
During the second visit Ashitaka took San to see lady Eboshi, the reason he had not done this during the first visit, instantly made itself apparent as the temperature of the room seemingly sank by 10 degrees as San and Eboshi made initial eye contact. Any pleasantness in San seemingly drained away as her old wolf like expression returned for the first time in days. Eboshi proceeded with her normal pleasantries as only she could, seemingly humble but holding all the power. Ashitakas overpoweringly stern presence, and wise interjections was all that stopped the two ladies fighting right there and then, though lady Eboshi now only had one arm she was not one to back down from a fight. Both were incredibly proud woman, and still held a lot of open animosity towards each other. The shear overwhelming presence required by Ashitaka to maintain order in that first solitary meeting overwhelmed him and he deteriorated rapidly towards the end, this caused the end of the first interaction only two hours in. In the end it took this event for the two woman, for their first time since the start, to stop their singular negative attention on each other and to realise the amazing physical and mental effort Ashitaka had invested in this first critical meeting. He looked physically drained and though still relatively composed both woman were openly concerned for his health, they parted pleasantly enough and San helped Ashitaka back to his home, where he promptly fell asleep. Unknown to Ashitaka San and Eboshi met up again that night, running into each other on the battlement next to Eboshis garden, as both woman had wanted to find a nice quiet place to think about what had transpired. Luckily the first topic of conversation was Ashitaka, and his continual vain efforts to bring the two worlds together, Eboshi made a comment about the stubbornness of men, which generated a smile from San. Now no-longer fixated on their hatred of each other and at least willing to give each other a chance, they talked a little more openly about what challenges lay ahead for Ashitakas plan. The conversation lasted only 30 minutes or so, and was clam and relaxed.
Though only thirty minutes long it did more to bring understanding and tolerance to the two woman's relationship then if the previous conversation had lasted a further 8 hours. They parted politely, but still curtly, a critical first `understanding' having been reached, using Ashitaka as their common ground, it was only a start, but it was critical if they were to build up any further trust and co-operation. San was not expecting to stay that night but she was still worried about Ashitaka, who was delighted to find San sleeping next to him upon his waking. San told Ashitaka of her and Eboshis meeting the night before, and the outcome of it, this placed Ashitaka in the best mood anyone had ever seen, he couldn't stop smiling for about two hours.
The following two weeks where an interesting affair. Ashitaka and San organized for an extended trip into the forest for the braver of the villagers. Toki, Eboshi and Koroku lead the way and about 40 others (many woman dragging their reluctant husbands along) made the journey. Though they did not visit the central lake, the villagers saw many amazing sites, San pointing out, and helping to collect, many plants that could be used for different medicinal purposes. She also explained different aspects about the forest and introducing the villagers to some of the different forest spirits. Most of the villagers were scared enough meeting the small white rattling spirits, which where numerous throughout the forest, some almost fainted at the appearance of Sans brothers. Toki lead the way, marching up to the giant wolves and greeting the two brothers respectfully. Gendo and Kaji were on their best behaviour and greeted each person in turn, even managing a greeting to Eboshi, though the tone in Gendos voice changed noticeably. They trip was most successful, with everyone returned to Iron-town with wild and wonderful stories. So much so that Toki and San organised for a number of woman (including many new ones) on another trip only a week later.
From then on Gendo and Kaji made an appearance around-Iron town once in a while, each time greeting the people they met.
The next visit of Sans had been most eventful, Gendo and Kaji had accompanied their sister, and to honour the event Eboshi and the people of Iron-town had put on a bit of a celebration. Tables had been set around a large fire, and a feast was put on, though notably no alcohol was permitted. Most people where quite relaxed now in the presence of San and her brothers, who made their place as guest of honour to one side of the fire. Gendo remained aloof and alert, Kaji however was much more approachable, and in a sign of his age even ended up playing a bit with some of the villagers children who had innocently approached him during the dinner. Both Eboshi and Gendo gave a short speech towards the end of the dinner, though being very formal, both were well delivered and did much to help settle peoples minds on this unusual event.
The night ended quietly with Ashitaka sleeping outside by the dying fire with San and her brothers. Gendo mellowed a bit by morning, and all three left in good spirits.
During the last few weeks before Sans 4th visit, Ashitaka joined her and her brothers for a few nights in the forest. Things were looking up though there was still an underlying tension between both sides, more of an uneasy truce then a partnership. San tried to cheer Ashitaka up by saying it was only a matter of time, but Ashitaka was still worried, he knew much could happen to quickly ruin the shaky new goodwill it had taken weeks to build up.
San and Ashitaka made their way to breakfast, Toki greeted them heartedly, as did Koroku in a slightly teasing tone, it had only been the second time San had stayed in Ashitaka room and he found the whole thing a great source of amusement. Luckily San was somewhat oblivious to such insinuations, Ashitaka simply gave a slight smile, and Toki gave her husband a dark look.
Soon all where seated for breakfast.
It was still early morning and though still warm the heat of the day had not yet made itself apparent.
“You think we are going to finish the new water channel today?” Koroku asked Ashitaka, between mouthfuls.
“I don't think there will be any problems, the aqueduct looks sturdy enough.” he replied.
“Ahhh fresh cold water right here in town again” said Koroku dreamily. “I hope you woman appreciate all our hard work” he added airily, indicating to his wife.
“Hmph” she responded. “If it wasn't for Ashitaka being there, you lazy bums would still be at the first turn of the hill, lazing under a tree complaining that its to hot to work”
“Its dangerous hard work” countered Koroku.
“That's why you men are doing it, and so you should be” retorted Toki. “The fields are already finished. And the aqueduct to the town, which you should have rebuilt, we will complete today as well.” she added.
It was true, under the leadership of Toki and Lady Eboshi the woman of iron-town had raced ahead of schedule, After the men left to start the aqueduct the woman had finished the terraced field preparation and started building the aqueduct from the hill across to iron-town itself. During this time iron production had only dropped by 30%, a testimony to the efficiency of the new system. The men had originally scoffed at the idea of the woman building the town aqueduct but as usual they had excelled, and the men had doubled their efforts so as not to be outdone.
Ashitaka and Koroku prepared to leave, it was an hours walk to the construction site and the men assembled early each morning. Most of the woman had shown up to see there husbands off, the last week had required a lot of dangerous work, with today being critical. Though there had only been one injury, it was still a tense time for all left behind. San was going to remain with Toki for a while before going back to meet her brothers. Though San did not help in any physical construction she did help tend the sick and injured, reliving people to work on other matters. San gave Ashitaka a goodbye kiss, which he received casually, San had no issues with public shows of affection, indeed she wondered why no one else did it. In a show of bravado Koroku waited till the men began to move out before giving Toki a quick kiss on the check and running after them, Toki was momentarily stunned before turning red. Koroku got a rousing reception from the men, Ashitaka was one thing, but Koroku,,, that was something else! The men were on their way, and the braver of the woman give Toki a light ribbing.
The upper end of the aqueduct had proven quite challenging, with the terrain undulating considerably, many construction challenges had to be overcome and the final aqueduct across to the new water source had ended up being quite impressive. The chosen watercourse was a small lake in-between two steps of the one waterfall system, this being fed from the lake Ashitaka and San had visited two months earlier. The access to this lake was steep and dangerous, with about a 50m span between the mountain edge and the hill system that wound its way to iron town, the gap was only about 30 m deep but a fast running creek at its base required a 15m span to be set up against the cliff face.
It had taken meticulous planning and coordination, with men suspended from ropes clambering over the cliff face to prepare for the two large timber members to be lowered into position. These massive logs would span the distance to meet their counterparts coming from the other direction. It had taken all involved to construct the rigging apparatus and haul the members into position, Ashitaka was helping with the ropes as he and 20 other men strained to hold the first log as Gonza co-ordinate the lifters and the men fixing the log to its pre-made support in the cliff itself. Men on the other side were also struggling as Gonza attempting to line up the second log with the first. Muscles strained, timber and men groaned, Gonza yelled as the massive logs slowly came together.
A massive roar went up as soon as Gonza gave the all clear sign, the most difficult part was behind them. Uplifted by their success the men quickly assembled the rest of the support structure and platform, successfully bridging the small creek. Everyone stood around eagerly as the master carpenters finished the last of the timber aqueduct. Ashitaka, Koroku and others were preparing to release the water when the final O.K was given. Again a might cheer went up as some of the water from the lake was for the first time diverted down the aqueduct. Everyone watched on proudly as it started on its way to iron town, it would only take the water 15 min to reach the city walls.
Ashitaka bound down the mountain side of the small creek valley recklessly, calling to Yakkuru as he descended, Gonza and a small team of men were already waiting with horses and tools, they made their way off as Ashitaka finally made it to Yakkuru. The small team of men rode back along the road as Ashitaka and Yakkuru made their way back up the hill to gallop level with the water, as it raced towards Iron-town. Ashitaka could hear the excited calls from the men below as Yakkuru raced expertly across the occasionally difficult terrain. They had soon caught up with the water and were able to slow down to a canter. Ashitaka occasionally called to the riders below to say that all was well, the new aqueduct had been built considerably sturdier then the old construction, but it was always better to be safe. Soon they were almost at Iron-town, the diverters were working perfectly and the water flowed past the new fields and waterwheel until it reached the final aqueduct. Down below many of the woman had already come out onto the battlements to welcome the riders home, and to watch the water make its final journey across their new aqueduct into iron town. Ashitaka gave a quick wave before making his way back to the construction site with the other riders.
It was already evening when the workers had finally returned to iron town, cleaning up had taken the rest of the afternoon.
The ladies had also been working, setting up a massive temporary bath for the returning workers, with hot, and now ice-cold water available in massive tubs for the men to wash-themselves with.
“Wow… Glad to see you ladies finally appreciate our hard work” commented Koroku as he and the other men saw the freshly prepared water and towels.
“Now don't get a big head, we already had our turn” replied Toki, placing the last of the towels.
“And we don't want to have to put up with your sweaty smell all night either” called out another one of the girls, throwing her husband a bar of soap. All the woman laughed, and they left the fenced off area for the men. Toki giving Ashitaka a good natured wink on the way past. The bath was exceedingly well received and the men took their time. Though the sun was setting the day was still very warm, and the afternoons work had really worn the men out. In fact it had been 2 weeks of hot weather, the air and everything else was tinder dry, and the men barely needed the towels to dry off. Emerging form the bath they found the ladies had prepared a large communal meal, bringing out the tables so they could all eat in the slightly cooler evening air. The dinner passed enjoyably, Ashitaka forgetting his usual worries about the future to partake in the light conversation and laughter that punctuated the evening, soon most where in bed, even the furnace was only minimally staffed. Throughout iron town windows and doors were flung open, some people sleeping on balconies and roofs to escape the night heat. Only the few sentries were awake to see the emergence of an electrical storm far off over the hills, the occasional distant crack of thunder and flash of lightning only barely noticeable, and not causing concern to the men on watch, as it didn't look like it was coming towards iron-town.
“San wake up” came the hurried voice of Kaji. San stirred from her sleep, opening her eyes she looked out of the entrance of the cave, Kaji was waiting impatiently.
“What is it?” asked San, still not fully awake.
“Gendo is calling for us, he is at the southern pass.” replied Kaji, there was a slight emergency to his voice, which brought San out of her sleep. Grabbing her mask and spear the young princess moved quickly towards her brother, who had already turned, jumping on the large wolfs back Kaji quickly galloped off towards the distant ridgeline.
Iron-town, and the lake it was situated on, was actually located halfway up a large mountain system that ran north to south. Located towards the southern tip of this mountain range there were only a couple of peaks to the south before the terrain turned to plains. Though there was only one road into the area, from the east, there were some forested passes that lead through the surrounding barren peaks, a large one to the north west and a smaller one immediately south. Human activity had pretty much contained itself to the north side of the east flowing, river next to the road. San and her brothers had effectively managed to scare off any encroachment south of iron-town and the river. The lake system that was her home was located south east of iron-town, it was from there that she and Kaji made their way to the peak that overlooked the plains to the south.
Running at fool speed Kaji and San were soon above the tree line, accelerating across the now clearer landscape they could see Gendo ahead, perched on a rocky outcrop. Almost upon him San noticed a strange light reflecting off his white fur. Thinking of only one thing that could generate such light her worst fears where realised upon reaching the crest. Kaji and San recoiled in shock as they observed the sight below them. The crown fire they saw was still a fare way off, though the intense light it generated had already started to illuminate slightly off the mountain they now stood on. The electrical storm that had generated it was already off to the west. But a warm undercurrent was now driving the fire north, straight towards them, and straight towards their home.
“We must mobilize the forest animals” stated Kaji distressed.
“There is little they can do against this” stated Gendo calmly and sorrowfully. “the fire is too intense… the wind to strong.”
San looked over at her older brother, Gendo could read the weather well, she knew better then to doubt him, San looked back down at the approaching fire.
It seemed to her to be almost marching forward, like some kind of infernal army, trees just ahead of the fire seeming to holding out for a few seconds before exploding, as the combustible leaves drove the intense heat onwards. The front had expanded out but was still quite narrow, the steady winds keeping it heading mostly in one direction.
San looked to the north and south. The rocky outcrop continued for a few miles to the south and would adequately stop the advancing fire, however the forested pass to the north would allow the fire to cross the ridge line and advance down into their homes. Though only half a mile wide, it would still be impossible to stop the intense fire from coming through, and spreading again, San knew what a crown fire meant. Unlike most fires, which where occasionally quite beneficial for the forest, a crown fire meant the death of the older trees, though the forest would eventually recover it would be decades before large trees once again flourished in the place she now called home.
Contemplating for a second San came to a decision.
“We may not be able to save our homes any more, but we can still save a lot of the forest” she said confidently. “We must coordinate the animals to minimise the fires damage” she continued.
Gendo seemed to come out of the slightly saddened trance he had slipped into.
“I will go inform Ashitaka, the humans will help” she continued. Gendos eyes focused on his younger sister.
“What can they do? They might almost be happy to see our home destroyed.” Gendo said bitterly
“Humans can control fire, perhaps they know a way…” she replied.
“To have the forest destroyed like this is not to there advantage.”
San continued automatically, almost mechanically moving towards Kaji. “We must move quickly if we wish to have any forest at all.”
Kaji snapped out of his own trance and turned around automatically. San jumped onto his shoulders. Gendo and San exchanged glances for a second, then Gendo gave a begrudging low growl and said.
“I will do what I can”
Before moving out towards the fire.