Shortly after her fifteenth birthday, Rin bids farewell to Kaede and the gang. They’ve done their part to raise her as a proper human girl. Gotten her to the point where she can decide what to do with her life.
She knows what it’s like to hide in the hay with the boys and embroider with the girls. She knows the elation of holding a newborn baby in her arms, and the soft sound of joyful tears when she lays the babe against its mother’s breast. She knows what it’s like to be unafraid of human company, to lay beneath the stars with her friends or the boy from down the road.
And she knows one thing more than anything else.
Her place is with her Lord Sesshomaru.
. . .
She’s positively giddy all through her journey home. She’s been planning and dreaming about it for months. Ever since the day she worked up the nerve to kiss that boy, Hiro, only to find the experience as underwhelming and unpleasant as she’d always feared it would be. All awkward teeth and bumping noses. The stench of his nervousness in her nostrils.
But now she’s leaving all that behind, to finally, finally, go back home.
She used to say it often as a child, twirling through the wildflower fields on bare feet. I want to be with Lord Sesshomaru foreeeeeever! And she means it as much now as she did then, though she doesn’t say the words out loud.
She can’t wait to get back into the fine silks that her Lord Sesshomaru has given her. The ones that are far too nice to be wearing around Kaede’s village. She can’t wait to sit down on a plush cushion and feel the rhythmic strokes of a comb through her long silky hair as a servant braids and twists and pins the midnight locks into elegant designs befitting a lady of Lord Sesshoumaru’s house.
She can’t wait to be back with her Lord Sesshoumaru, who smells of ginger and lemongrass and the forest after rain.
She just can’t wait.
. . .
A-Un is as thrilled to see her as always. They trot over to her as soon as they catch sight of her at the edge of the palace grounds and soon it’s nothing but nuzzles and kisses and the sound of her delighted laughter.
Master Jaken’s his grumpy old self. All Hmph, how unladylike. And, Ha! Only a sentimental fool would say such things!
But underneath it all she knows he’s pleased to see her, and she sees the faint red tinge in his leathery green cheeks when she bends down to plant a kiss on his wrinkled forehead.
Still, something’s off about the imp. He’s a little stiffer than usual, his beak a little more pinched.
She catches sight of Lord Sesshomaru from the corner of her eye. His moonlight hair and white robes are as immaculate as always, and she feels her heart skip a beat as she watches him walk toward her.
“Rin, welcome home,” he says.
She wants to throw herself into his arms. Yes, I’m home. This is my home, and I’m here to stay. With you.
“I was about to come visit you, so this is very well timed. There’s someone I’d like you to meet. Her name is Lady Fumiko, a hime of the northern lands.”
And Rin feels her grin crumple and her heart sink into the dirt beneath her feet, as distantly, she hears the words inu, betrothal, and mate fall from his lips.
. . .
Lady Fumiko is a vision, with snow white hair, eyes like honey, and a red crescent moon proudly displayed on the middle of her forehead. She's perfect, and perfect for Lord Sesshomaru, and she makes Rin feel like crabgrass next to a water lily. Lady Fumiko dances and writes poetry in flawless calligraphy and her claws are like diamond-sharpened blades.
She will bear a strong new generation of inuyoukai and she will be a ferociously protective mother.
Rin smiles through the pain in her chest, and hides her tears behind forced laughter. She feasts with the rest of the court and tries to drown the ache in wine.
The worst part is this – when Lady Fumiko has a moment to speak with Rin privately, away from the festive crowd, she says, “Lord Sesshomaru has told me so much about you. He says your kindness saved his soul, and that he learned to surpass his father because you taught him the power of love. I am so grateful for you, Rin, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know you.”
There isn’t a hint of falsity in her voice or in her bright, golden eyes.
Rin can’t even hate this woman.
The smile Rin gives Lady Fumiko in return for her kind words is watery and sad. She says nothing, just nods her head slightly and looks down at her satin-clad feet.
. . .
Two years. The engagement period is for two years. Time enough for the two great houses to negotiate whatever it was that noblemen negotiated.
Two years for Rin to figure out what to do. To stop this if she can. To grow up into a woman that a taiyoukai could love, as a man.
She packs her bags carefully and decides to go east to the city. She’s heard whispers of famous geisha who can turn men into puddles with only a glance from behind their paper fans. She’ll learn their ways and when she comes back, she will make Lord Sesshomaru hers. After all, she was the one who taught him to love. And she loves him with every last bit of her soul.
When she returns a woman, not a girl, how could he say no?
She leaves the palace, with A-Un as her faithful stead, and she can see the shimmer of unshed tears in Master Jaken’s eyes and the fretful way he bounces from one foot to the other. Lord Sesshomaru’s face is impassive as always. But she imagines, all the same, that she sees the slight downturn of his mouth, a tension in his strong fingers that peek out beneath the cuffs of his robe.
“Don’t worry,” she calls out with a backward glance, as A-Un rises into the air, “I promise I’ll be back before the wedding.”
Mistress Mineko used to be a great beauty. Rin can tell, though her skin bears lines that mark the passing of the years, each a testament to lessons well-learned, all culminating in this thing dubbed wisdom. Each motion of her delicate wrist as she whisks the matcha before Rin’s eyes is like the stroke of a master artist’s brush – precise, purposeful, perfect.
“How can I help you, Lady Rin?” she asks. Her voice is mellifluous and light as the wind.
Rin blushes under the steadfast gaze of those sharp black eyes. For this radiant woman to call her Lady – she can hardly stand it.
But it’s not every day that a geisha – even one as honored as Mineko – gets a visit from a girl riding a two-headed dragon. And this girl belongs to the Lord of the West. More than reason enough to sit and speak and drink tea.
Rin tells Mistress Mineko her story with all the hurried exuberance of the teenage girl she is. She tells the tale of a taiyoukai, unshakably proud, who’d once declared her paltry human life more important than his power.
“Will you teach me, sensei?” Rin asks, eyes glittering with girlish hope. “Will you teach me how to…”
“Be irresistible?” Mistress Mineko suggests when Rin trails off with a blush.
Rin nods and for several silent moments, the geisha only studies her. Until finally she says, “Yes, I can.”
Rin feels her heart jump and she straightens her back. Her sweaty palms grip the fabric of her kimono overtop of her knees.
“But will you answer me this, Lady Rin?” Mistress Mineko asks. “Why do you love Lord Sesshomaru?”
Thoughts and images flood Rin’s head, the speed of them making her dizzy. Why does she love Lord Sesshomaru? She could sooner put into words to why water quenches thirst, why rice sates the belly, why sunlight brings joy.
Mistress Mineko patiently waits, until Rin eventually says, “Because he’s noble, and brave, and good.”
Mistress Mineko nods and asks, “And who would he be, if you returned in two years, and seduced him?”
Rin feels her gut give a sickening lurch and her throat suddenly feels dry. She says nothing.
“To be with you, like that, what would your Lord Sesshomaru have to do?”
Rin is silent, and trembling, and she thinks –
Break his engagement.
Dishonor his word.
Risk siring a hanyou.
“Tell me, Lady Rin,” Mistress Mineko says kindly, “Even though it’s hard. Even though it might feel like you’re tearing your own heart to pieces. Tell me. Who would Lord Sesshomaru have to be, for you to have this happy ending that you dream of? Is that man still noble, and brave, and good?”
Rin doesn’t want to hear this. Refuses to go further down this path. Her fingers clutch at her teacup so hard it’s a wonder the porcelain doesn’t shatter.
“He loves me,” she whispers. “He just…”
And she feels her heart quiver with rage, because none of it is fair. If she were a demon. If she were strong…
Why did it have to be like this?
Mistress Mineko reaches across the table to smoothly pry the cup from Rin’s fingers. Her hands are soft and warm and they gently squeeze and hold Rin’s own. Her voice, like a caress, brings Rin back to the present, to once again meet the gaze of kind eyes that have seen love and loss, again and again, in the course of her work, her art, her craft.
“Is Lord Sesshomaru smart? Wise?” Mistress Mineko asks.
The answer, of course, is yes.
“Is he thoughtful? Measured in his plans and actions?”
Yes, yes. The answer is yes.
“Does he know that, to you, he is the sun, and the sky?”
How could he not? The answer is yes.
“Tell me, Lady Rin, do you believe that it’s a mistake for him to marry Lady Fumiko?”
And Rin says nothing. Just crumples in on herself and sobs into her hands. Mistress Mineko rises and walks around the table, kneels at Rin’s side, and holds her.
. . .
Mistress Mineko’s beautiful midnight kimono is wet with Rin’s tears and streaked with mucus, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She strokes Rin’s hair softly and continues to hold the shivering girl.
“What if I become a demon?” Rin asks. “There are ways to do that, right?”
“I’ve heard tales,” the geisha answers. “But at what cost? Who would you be, if you went down that path? Would Lord Sesshomaru love such a woman, when he so clearly loves you now, as you are?”
Rin says nothing. Just sits with the terrible ache that churns beneath her ribs.
. . .
“Who am I, without him?” Rin asks of no one. “I’m nothing.”
Everything she has was given to her by Lord Sesshomaru. For half her life she has defined herself in his great shadow.
“Just a useless little human girl,” she says. She remembers the sharp teeth that once tore her body part, as though she were nothing more than carrion. She swallows and whispers, “Vermin.”
The arms that hold her are surprisingly firm and strong. Developed from a lifetime of practiced dance. They hug her tight and Mistress Mineko says, “You are Rin, and you are whoever you choose to be. If you stay in this city a while longer, I will introduce you to one of my teachers, and you will see. Will you stay?”
And, sniffling, Rin nods, because what else is she going to do?
Lady Zenshi is a wizened old crone in all the best ways. The curves of her kind face are deeply etched like a mountain carved by water. Her drooped eyelids do little to hide the bright soul that burns behind them, and her mouth is always curved upwards as though she’s laughing at a joke that Rin can’t hear.
She lives alone on sacred ground a two hour trek north from the city. When Rin suggests they ride A-Un back to her home, she merely cackles and walks away. Rin shrugs and walks beside her, with A-Un’s leash held loosely in her hand.
“I don’t mean to be rude, sensei,” Rin says, “But what will you be teaching me?”
“How to see, and hear, and speak,” the crone says.
Rin looks up at the sky dubiously. “Umm…don’t I already know how to do that?”
The crone stares up at her from the corner of her eye. Her hunched body is so much smaller than Rin’s own. “You see with eyes blinded by starvation. You hear with ears that know not their power. And you speak with lips that wield that power carelessly,” she says. “But I will teach you to see abundance, to hear beauty, and to speak possibility.”
Rin feels cross-eyed at the gobbledygook she just heard, but shrugs to herself and keeps following the ancient creature. She’s always been good at following, after all.
. . .
Lady Zenshi’s home is carved into the leafy hillside. Just a tiny shrine, a hut, and a vegetable patch.
Rin unloads her bag of clothes and supplies from A-Un’s saddle, and takes them into the hut before meeting Lady Zenshi at the temple steps.
“I will teach you the power of your word, and how to master reality,” the crone says. “Would you like to be so powerful?”
Rin looks at her like she’s grown horns and twenty eyes. “I…guess…?” she responds.
“Good.” Lady Zenshi nods and shoves a broom into Rin’s hands. “But first, you learn to clean. I’m old and keeping this temple free of dirt is a nightmare.”
. . .
Each day, between Rin’s chores, and during their meals, the two women speak.
“There are many who would define themselves by their possessions,” Lady Zenshi says over a bowl of rice. “Especially the wealthy. The way they horde things.” She snorts and asks Rin, “Are you your possessions, young Rin? The things that your Lord Sesshomaru has given you?”
Rin blinks at the old woman and wonders if this is a trick question. “No, sensei,” she says. Obviously.
“Good,” Lady Zenshi nods. “That you are not such a fool. If you were to lose all that you had, even the clothes on your back, would you still be Rin?”
Rin nods as she chews and swallows her rice.
. . .
After they finish weeding the garden beneath the unrelenting afternoon sun, the women sit in the grass and gulp down water from canteens.
“Your body is beautiful and strong,” the crone says. “But are you your body, young Rin?”
Rin wipes the sweat from her brow with the edge of her sleeve and ponders the question.
“No…?” she responds uncertainly.
“No,” Lady Zenshi says firmly. “If you lost your legs, it would be a tragedy. But would you still be Rin?”
Rin thinks about Lord Sesshomaru without his arm. Its loss had never made him any less him.
“Yes,” she says. “Without my legs, I would still be me.”
Inside she wonders, how is this supposed to help me?
At night when she sleeps, she thinks of her Lord Sesshomaru, and how she will never know his embrace as a woman. And the thought feels like glass shards in her throat.
. . .
After they finish their prayers, Lady Zenshi asks, “Are you your relationships?”
Rin just stares at her.
Lady Zenshi stares back. “Your friends. Are you still Rin, without your friends? With different friends? New lovers?”
Rin thinks about Kohaku, and Sango, Lady Kaede and Jaken. All treasured and dear to her, that have passed in and out of her life. With them, without them, she is still Rin.
“No, sensei, I am not my relationships,” she says slowly.
But she thinks of Lord Sesshomaru, and is not quite sure.
. . .
Over afternoon tea, Lady Zenshi asks, “Are you your feelings, Rin?”
Rin shakes her head helplessly. “I don’t understand, sensei.”
“People always say, ‘I’m angry’ or ‘I’m happy’ or ‘I’m heartbroken,’” Lady Zenshi says, “You are heartbroken, are you not?”
Instantly, Rin is plummeted into that writhing black pit of loneliness and longing. The one she spends all day fending off, throwing herself into the tasks Lady Zenshi sets for her.
“Yes,” Rin says softly, looking at the pale green liquid in her steaming cup.
“But are you your feelings, child?” Lady Zenshi asks again. “When you’re happy harvesting daikon, and a snake suddenly bites you, and now you are scared and angry, are you still Rin? When the anger fades and only tiredness is left behind, are you still Rin?”
“I guess…yeah,” Rin says, “Feelings change, but I’m…still me….”
“That’s right, my dear,” Lady Zenshi says kindly. “You have feelings, but you are not your feelings.
“I’m not my feelings…” Rin repeats uncertainly.
They drink their tea in silence.
. . .
After they finish collecting and folding the clothing from the lines, the women sit by the fire pit outside, beneath the last rays of the evening sun.
“Are you your thoughts, Rin?” Lady Zenshi asks.
What? Yes. Rin thinks automatically. But she knows, of course, that it’s the wrong answer.
“You probably think that your thoughts are what make you, you,” Lady Zenshi says. “What makes you different from an animal.”
Rin nods in agreement.
“And have you ever had ‘bad’ thoughts and then hated yourself for them?”
Rin thinks about how she’s fantasized about poisoning Lady Fumiko, and the dreams she’s had of Lord Sesshomaru that she would never, ever give voice to.
“And have you had thoughts that you could not control? Thoughts that you wished would go away, but kept circling around and around your head?”
Who am I without Lord Sesshomaru. I have nothing. I am nothing.
I am nothing.
I am nothing.
Yes, Rin had such thoughts.
“But you are not your thoughts, dear child.” Lady Zenshi says as she stirs the fire. “You merely have thoughts. You listen to your thoughts. They do not define you. They are not you. When you choose to listen to, or act, or ignore, your thoughts, there is a you that does so. When the thoughts are forgotten, you still remain.”
Rin stares at the crackling fire, unseeing.
“Do you understand, Rin?”
Rin crinkles her forehead and whispers, “I’m not my thoughts.”
. . .
“If I’m not my things or my body or my relationships or my feelings or my thoughts, then what am I?” Rin finally demands, her temper flaring. “What else is there?” she yells. “Am I nothing?”
Lady Zenshi beams at her, the deep lines that fan out from her eyes crinkle, and the whole moment suddenly feels absurd.
“That’s right, Rin. You are nothing. And from that nothing can be anything. And everything,” Lady Zenshi says. “What you are, young one, is your word. And I will teach you the power of that word, if you are ready to learn.”
Rin isn’t sure she’s ready. She doesn’t understand a single thing coming out of Lady Zenshi’s mouth. But she feels the buzz of excitement all through her skin. “Yes,” she says. “Please teach me, sensei.”
Does this story mean anything to you? Leave a note below! :)
“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” Lady Zenshi says. “And in that space is our power to choose. That is what makes you human, Rin. That is what makes you precious.”
“Um…okay,” Rin says. And she wonders in confusion if Lady Zenshi was looking for a more intelligent response. Should she have chosen to say something different?
“Rin,” Lady Zenshi is studying her intently now from across the table. “Why do you think I gave you that tea?” She gestures at the cup in Rin’s hands.
Rin looks at the crone, as confused as ever. “Because it’s tea time…and…you’re very nice to me as a guest in your home?”
“Hmmm,” Lady Zenshi replies, and says nothing else.
. . .
The same time the next day, when Rin sits down at the low table, Lady Zenshi appears. Except now her frizzled white hair is disheveled where it normally sits in a neat, low ponytail. Her eyes are smudged with charcoal and her lips are painted messily in dark red. She looks sinister and wraithlike, the upwards strokes of the black makeup around her eyes obscure her laugh lines and bestow an air of maniac evil.
Lady Zenshi pours Rin a cup of tea and slowly hands it to her. Rin looks down at it uneasily.
Lady Zenshi waits for Rin to drink before saying in a voice that sounds, for the first time, crackling and rough, “Rin, why do you think I gave you that tea?”
Rin stares at the crone, frightened for the first time. “I don’t know,” she stammers.
“What if I told you this was all a trap,” Lady Zenshi says with an eerie calm and an odd glint in her eyes. “From the very beginning. That I am a demon that feasts on the spirits of wandering girls. That the tea is poisoned and that you will never leave this place.”
Lady Zenshi’s eyes feel like they’re boring into Rin’s soul. The hairs on Rin’s arms stand on end, and all over her body her skin prickles. She subtly shifts her position so that she can run if she needs to.
“Or what if I told you that I have a pile of geisha make up that Mineko likes to give me, and sometimes I like to put it on and pretend that I’m still a beautiful young woman. But I’m half-blind you see, so heaven only knows what I look like right now. Also I think I’ve caught a cold – my throat hurts.”
Slowly, Rin settles back down into a comfortable position. She blinks at her teacher and doesn’t know what to say.
Lady Zenshi pulls a handkerchief from inside her sleeve and wets it with some tea from her cup. She brings it to her face and begins to scrub away the charcoal. “What just happened, Rin? Speak frankly.”
So Rin says, “You walked in looking crazy and I was scared.”
“I walked in looking crazy, you were scared, and when I said something that sounded evil, you were prepared to believe it, weren’t you?” Lady Zenshi asks. When Rin nods, she continues, “But what really happened? And what was merely the story that you told yourself about it?”
Rin shrugs, at a loss. She doesn’t know what Lady Zenshi means by story.
“What happened is that I walked in with charcoal and lipstick and loose hair, and your mind immediately said ‘sorceress!’ And everything you did and said after that instant was based on that story you had so quickly told yourself – that I looked like an evil witch.” Lady Zenshi pauses for a moment to let her words sink in. “Now think, what would you have done if you knew that I was just a silly old baba who liked to play with Mineko’s make up?”
Rin chews on her lip and looks upwards, thinking. She imagines the scene unfolding in her mind and is surprised at the warm affection that unfurls in her chest. “I think I might have laughed,” Rin confesses, “and given you a hug.”
Lady Zenshi looks at her approvingly. “And therein lies the power of your choice. It is in what you see and hear, and what you choose to name those things. In each instant, you choose the story you wish to tell yourself – are you dealing with an evil witch, or a silly baba, or something else entirely? That is the power of your stories.”
Rin feels like the world has shifted beneath her.
“Ready for one more lesson before we weed the garden?” Lady Zenshi asks. At Rin’s dazed nod, she taps the tea cup in front of her and says, “What is this?”
“A teacup…?” Rin answers tentatively.
Lady Zenshi picks up the cup and gulps down the liquid inside before turning the cup upside down and placing it on top of her head. “I say it’s a hat.”
Rin stares at her.
“And that is the power of language,” Lady Zenshi says. “There is no cup or hat except when we name it so. And you, Rin, wield the power to name all things. And in doing so, you control your reality.”
. . .
“Are you ready for your final lesson?” Lady Zenshi asks one day.
Rin looks at her, surprised. She isn’t ready for this to be over yet, and at the same time she can’t wait to go home.
“You have a past, and a present, and a future, yes?” Lady Zenshi says. “But did you know that you are living backwards? You have placed your past in your future.”
Yet again, Rin has no idea what she means. But she’s used to it now, so she just listens attentively.
“When you were a child, your family was killed. You lost your voice, and the other villagers raised you. Sometimes they yelled at you and beat you. What was the story that you told yourself about them? What did you make it mean about them? What did you make it mean about you?”
Lady Zenshi continues, “When you were a child, you were brought back to life by Lord Sesshomaru. And when you followed him, he said nothing. What was the story that you told yourself about him? What did you make it mean about him? What did you make it mean about you?”
And Lady Zenshi says, “When you have answered these questions, and made peace with your past, you will find that you can leave the past in your past.”
“And then what?” Rin asks.
“Then your past will no longer be in your future.”
“So what’s in my future?” Rin asks. Then she thinks for a moment, and says, “Oh, right. Nothing.”
“That’s right,” Lady Zenshi nods. “Nothing. And into that nothing, you put your word.” She holds up a potato.
“My word’s a potato?” Rin asks, perplexed.
Lady Zenshi swats the top of Rin’s head gently. “This is your word,” she nods at the potato. “You call it into being. You declare the possibility of this future.”
Lady Zenshi tosses the potato at Rin and Rin catches it by reflex. Lady Zenshi pulls another potato from her pocket, steps backwards, and throws it, and Rin rushes forward to catch the spud before it hits the ground. And again they repeat these actions, Lady Zenshi stepping backward, and Rin walking forward to catch each potato thrown her way.
“And so you speak possibility into the nothing that is your future. And that future comes towards you, and you move forward into it. And in doing so, you choose your life.”
. . .
Rin leaves Lady Zenshi’s home with tearful goodbyes and dozens of hugs and promises that she will visit often with bags full of mochi. Then she climbs onto A-Un’s back and they soar into the sky.
It’s time to go home. But before that, they have one other stop to make - back to the place of Rin’s birth.
The full quote from the beginning of this chapter is ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ -Viktor E. Frankl.
The rest of the concepts here I learned in the Landmark Forum. At the end of this story, I’ll talk about this at length in the notes.
Rin spent half her young life in this village, and little has changed in eight years. The farmlands extend a few miles further than they used to, maybe, but it’s hard to tell. Everything had seemed enormous when she was just a child.
The roads are the same meandering dirt paths that she remembers. The wooden houses and stone wells are the same except for a few additions. From her vantage point in the sky, she can see the men working the fields and the women scrubbing the clothes and the children scampering underfoot. Same tunics stained with sweat and dirt. Same ragged, threadbare pants.
She recognizes a few of them – a man that had once beat her for taking fish from the stream, a woman who’d once begrudged her a bowl of rice even though her fat son had already scarfed down two, and maybe even that boy who’d once so loved to mock her muteness and had tripped her often and laughed at her tears. It’s hard to tell - he’s a strapping young man now, not a gangly youth.
It’s not like she hadn’t thought about this village in all these years. It was easy to forget when they’d been on the road, hunting Naraku, moving from one danger to another, from one scenic forest to the next wildflower field. But in the quiet nights before sleep took her, her mind would wander home.
What was the story she’d told herself about this place? Its people? Herself?
That humankind were a despicable lot. That they had never cared for her, were selfish, and cruel.
And that she had been unworthy of love.
Sure, Lady Kaede and the gang had done much to show her a different side of humanity. But those scars run deep. They’ve been hidden from view beneath layers of silk.
But now, looking down at the village, at its people, for the first time, with Lady Zenshi’s voice in her head, she sees something different. She sees people whose hands are worked to the bone. Who never know when the next pack of savage wolves will tear through their children’s throats, or if the dried fish and rice will last through next winter. She sees men who want their wives to take care of them after a long day of labor, whose wives themselves have nothing left to give. And yet they toil. And yet they strive. And no one ever taught them how to care for a mute orphan girl, whose very presence reminded them of the dangers that lurked in every shadow. Reminded them that that they understood so little about the world.
Suddenly she sees people who did the best they could, even if that best was not very good at all. That they had not shown her love in the way she’d wanted was not her fault, nor was it theirs. How can she fault them for not doing what they did not know how to do?
In the end Rin flies with A-Un to the nearest city and returns under cover of night with incense, toys, and tea. She will never again see this place. It’s the least she can do to say: thank you for living, thank you for trying, thank you for sharing your rice and your fish with me.
Thank you, and goodbye.
. . .
A-Un is happy to be home. Rin can tell by the way they prance and paw at familiar dirt.
Master Jaken is his usual self, running around frazzled, and berating her for coming home at such an inconvenient time. The preparations for the wedding are well underway and he has a thousand details to look after and can’t be bothered to tend to the prodigal brat at a time like this.
This one’s easy, Rin thinks with a wry smile. She’s been interpreting to Master Jaken’s harsh words for as long as she’s known him, and she knows he means I missed you. I wish you’d come home sooner. I am not cut out for this wedding administration crap and could have really used a woman’s touch.
Rin bends down and kisses the imp on the forehead and says, “Tell me all about it as soon as I’ve talked to Lord Sesshomaru. I’ll help you with anything you need.
And Master Jaken blushes and putters away without a word.
. . .
Lord Sesshomaru is as magnificent as always, with white hair and kimono fluttering behind him in the soft breeze. And as Rin watches him approach her with that slow, easy grace, she remembers the day they met. She’d never seen anyone like him before – a creature of frost and moonlight when the rest of her world was dull brown dirt. Though he’d bared his fangs and demanded she leave, in that instant she’d told herself that this was a fallen angel who needed her help. And that hadn’t been remotely true, but that story had shaped all her actions, and had led them down this path.
If, that day, she’d been a little more sensible, a little less mesmerized, what would she have done?
And so Rin sees, so suddenly it’s like a torrent of stories all flashing before her eyes, she sees all the ways that she has shaped this man, who then in turn shaped her. She sees the ways she’s hated humanity, and thus herself, for the reasons she chose to name. And she sees that who Lord Sesshomaru is, is simply the man she chooses to see.
I am creating you, creating me, creating you.
So who, then, would she create Lord Sesshomaru to be?
“Rin,” he says. “Welcome home. Did you find what you were looking for?”
Rin throws her arms around him in a way that she would never have dared to before. Lord Sesshomaru’s eyes widen slightly in surprise but soon his arms come up to wrap lightly around her shoulders.
“I didn’t,” she says, before stepping backwards to look at him. “I found something much more important.”
Rin nods. “But that’s a story for another day. Right now there’s something I want to tell you.” And Rin takes a deep breath to steady herself before meeting Lord Sesshomaru’s warm golden eyes. “The truth is,” she says, “I’ve always wanted to be with you. Ever since the day I met you. You were just…so beautiful,” she looks away, her cheeks red, “and I wanted to think that one day when I grew up, you’d see me differently.”
Rin can read the shock in Lord Sesshomaru’s eyes. It’s there in the way he blinks, and in a twitch of his cheek.
“Rin…” he says, but does not finish the thought, at a loss for words.
“It’s okay,” she says. “I know you don’t see me that way. And I know how much you love me. And now that I’m thinking about it, it’s because you don’t see me that way that I can love you as much as I do. I’ve been safe with you all these years, and free to grow, because you would never see me that way.”
Because her Lord Sesshomaru was, as she’d told Mistress Mineko, noble, and brave, and good.
Rin bows low and says, “Thank you for taking care of me. For protecting me. For giving me the freedom to grow.”
Lord Sesshomaru’s eyes soften, and he pulls Rin back into a tight hug. “Rin,” he says, “It feels like I blinked and then suddenly you became a woman.” He pulls back to look at her and says, “I will find a proper suitor for you.”
And Rin sees so many stories she could tell herself in this moment – that Lord Sesshomaru is relieved to be rid of her, or that he pities his frail little human ward, that it’s time for her to leave because soon his house will be filled with proper demon pups. Or even that his word is law, and so she must accept his chosen course of action.
Instead she chooses to see a man who only wants the best for her, and knows no other way of being. And so she chooses to say, “Thank you. But I’d rather you not, if that’s okay, Lord Sesshomaru. Maybe later. Right now it’s hard to imagine anyone living up to you.”
For a moment Lord Sesshomaru says nothing. And then, “What will you do now, Rin?”
Rin looks to the horizon and the deep, dark forest at the edge of the Western Lands. She thinks for a moment about the nothing that is her future, and what she wants to put in it.
“I think I’d like to teach lost children,” she says quietly.
“I’ll have a school built for you then,” Lord Sesshomaru replies.
Rin looks up at him with a big, toothy grin. “Thanks Lord Sesshomaru! But what if,” she says, “we built it together instead?”
. . .
They end up building an enormous house at the edge of the Western Lands.
The students trickle in at first, and then come in a steady stream as word begins to spread of the wise spinster under the protection of the Western Lord.
For the wayward and the wretched, this house is school, and haven, and home, and Lady Rin is teacher and mother and friend.
. . .
Decades later, Rin lies in her bed. Beyond the shoji walls, out in the common rooms, she can hear the muffled chatter of her old students, and all the children and grandchildren that they brought with them. Lord Sesshomaru sits in the darkened room by her bed.
“You really don’t have to sit here with me this whole time, you know,” she rasps.
“Would you prefer that I leave?” Lord Sesshomaru asks quietly. He looks exactly the same as he did when Rin was a child. Pristine white kimono and hakama, smooth pale skin, posture still untouched by the persistent pull of gravity.
Rin’s hand, held in his, is tiny and frail, the skin like dry, mottled parchment. “No,” she says. “I just know how busy you are.”
“Jaken can handle affairs for a short while. And Fumiko enjoys her time alone with the pups,” Lord Sesshomaru says. And then quieter, “This time will pass in the blink of an eye. There is nowhere I would rather be, and I will stay as long as you do.”
Rin closes her eyes tiredly. “Okay,” she says with a wan smile. “Then will you take me out into the fields? I’ve had enough of this stuffy room.”
Lord Sesshomaru carries her from the house, past the dozens of children and adults who look at her with adoration and grief in their eyes. “Goodbye, sensei,” they call out, knowing this may well be the last time they see her awake. Rin smiles and presses her face against the soft fluff of Lord Sesshomaru’s pelt. She doesn’t open her eyes until she feels him lower his body gracefully to the ground, bringing her down with him to rest, curled securely in his lap.
He’s taken her to her favorite place, beside the babbling brook that trickles serenely over time-worn stones. The field is a tapestry of green grass, white daisies, yellow marigolds, and violet sakurasou.
Here, like this, everything is perfect. Rin has lived a life beyond what she once could have imagined. And she knows beyond a doubt that those who have loved her will always remember her. Kujo, who learned to let go of his anger so that he might live. Iwakura, heavy with twins that she had no way of feeding, who went on to become Rin’s right hand. Master Jaken, who’d come to say his tearful goodbyes alongside A-Un before resuming his post in Lord Sesshomaru’s absence. And so many others.
“Lord Sesshomaru,” she says softly, her voice fading, “maybe we’ll meet again in my next life. After you’ve built your empire.”
“I’d like that,” he whispers.
Rin takes a final deep breath and snuggles further into Lord Sesshomaru’s pelt. She feels the sunlight on her face, warm against her cheeks and closed eyelids. Smells the fragrance of the wildflowers on the wind. And thinks, This is it and it’s perfect. From nothing, I…
A/N: The meta of this story is, perhaps, better than the story itself. A series of events triggered by a lovely reader’s PM, and the prompting of a writer-friend, that led to me having a sudden sense that maybe one of the things I’m supposed to do in this life is write about strong women.
Did this story mean something to you? I would love to know.
The Landmark Forum was a life-changing course I took in 2013 (available worldwide. Just google it). One of the best things I have ever done. This story was a welcome opportunity for me to reflect on the lessons I learned then, and must re-learn constantly, because it is not a natural way of living. But it is incredibly, practically, powerful. I have to also credit it for the scene with Zenshi throwing potatoes at Rin (though in this case I think it was boxes of Kleenex). In it, I witnessed decades of scars healed in just a weekend, and so many inspiring declarations that really opened my eyes to what’s possible, when you understand the power of your word and get your past out of your future.
Thank you for reading.