Pushing through waist high grass, Sesshomaru carried the little girl, Rin towards the scent of human beings. Although the Demon Lord of the Western Lands disliked humans, all except for Rin of course, it was because of her that he sought them at all. The small girl he carried tucked against his chest slept soundly, although she seemed hot to the touch and a sheen of sweat coated her brow. Because he did not understand how exactly to cure her, Sesshomaru needed to find someone who could, and very soon.
The land that opened before him had one enormous tree, and it reminded him of the Sacred Tree his foolish brother---no half-brother---Inuyasha had gotten himself pinned onto. Several birds nested amongst its branches, and small animals scurried underneath its massive shadow. The valley below sloped into more grass, shorter than the plain he had waded through. A large hawk above gave a loud, keening cry as it circled above. Deer and other small animals glanced unconcernedly in his direction as they grazed. Sesshomaru spotted a cottage sitting isolated from the rest of the towers within and started walking towards it.
“Sesshomaru-sama what place is this?” The small, green toad demon glanced around, his large yellow eyes blinking. Sesshomaru's loyal servant Jaken commented in his nasal, high pitched whine, “Not many humans seem to live here.”
Sesshomaru ignored his comment, but inwardly wondered why a cottage would be virtually alone, excluding the towers. Why wasn't this a village? Humans, as far as he knew, preferred to live with several others for protection purposes so the sole cottage baffled him. Looking down at Rin, he noticed that her bleary and feverish eyes locked on his. Regardless of why this cottage sat alone mattered not to him. What mattered was Rin's health. He nodded in response to her plea but did not voice his concerns.
A man piled freshly chopped wood next to the cottage. His clothing appeared odd to Sesshomaru. He wore brown tights and a strange brown, short kimono. It didn't appear much like one at all and Sesshomaru simply did not care as long as the people who lived here took care of Rin. His hair also appeared alien for a human. The young man was blond and wore his hair shoulder length. The man looked up, the expression on his plain face serious. He asked, “How may I help you?”
Sesshomaru looked down at Rin, then back up to the young man. “This child is ill.”
He nodded. “I'll get Aunt Pol.”
Sesshomaru watched with wary eyes, waiting to see what would happen. A woman in a long, gray dress swept outside. Her strange dressing was not nearly as strange as her hair. Long and wavy, it was raven all but one pure white lock at her left brow. The woman's sharp blue eyes passed over him, then rested upon Rin. Jaken was silent, and for that Sesshomaru was grateful. She gently placed a hand on Rin's forehead. “Oh dear. Please, bring her in quickly.” She turned towards the young man, and said, “Garion, please hold the door open for him.”
Sesshomaru nodded his thanks, following the man inside. There was a nice, clean home within. The kitchen table had a vase of red roses in its center, and a tea set sat ready. Soft light from torches illuminated the interior, giving it an inviting feel. Over the fire rested a large, black cauldron, the smells of lamb wafting from it. A small work table close by had a cutting board and a large butcher knife. Various vegetables sat next to the board, waiting to be chopped.
The woman directed him to a small bed in the corner, and told him to place Rin there. Then she set to caring for the small child. The woman set a bucket of water next to the bed, immersing a rag in it. She wrung the water out of it, before folding it into a small square, and placed it upon Rin's forehead. Gently, the woman eased a blanket over Rin's form, tucking it about her. The woman picked up a small, black bag from a corner. She pushed the sleeves up on her plain gray dress, and opened the bag. “I have just the tonic.”
“Inuyasha, I think we're lost. We're heading through nothing but grass and ahead seems to be a valley,” Kagome said from her perch on his back.
“We're not lost. I smell Sesshomaru nearby. I want to know why the bastard is around,” Inuyasha growled as he ran faster down a sloping hill.
Kagome sighed. Inuyasha wasn't going to give up until he found out the reason and there was no point in arguing with him. As she had predicted, they descended into a valley filled with more grass and an enormous tree. It seemed to brush against the azure sky, and its branches shaded acres of the grassland before them. Kagome gasped. “Inuyasha! Look at that tree! It's a lot larger than even Goshinboko!”
Inuyasha grunted. He skidded to a stop, jarring Kagome on his back. His ears flattened to his skull, and his hands clutched tightly onto her legs. He hissed, “Wolves.”
Kagome groaned, burying her face into his silver hair. “I hope it's not Koga. I don't want to see you two fight---again.”
Inuyasha helped her down from his back. One of his hands gripped tightly onto hers as he glanced around the valley. He lifted his head and sniffed. “No, I don't smell him. Two wolves.”
Kagome looked around, hoping to see what he was talking about. She noticed Inuyasha had his other hand firmly on the hilt of Tetsusaiga, ready for anything that might come towards them. He then looked confused, his brows furrowed. His ears pinned further back, until they disappeared into the wealth of his silver mane. “Where did they go? It doesn't make sense. No one just disappears.”
Kagome saw an old man coming towards them. He seemed preoccupied as he leisurely strolled across the vale towards them. Kagome stepped closer to Inuyasha, giving his hand a squeeze. “Inuyasha,” she whispered, “look.”
Inuyasha continued to have his other hand firmly on his sword. He laced his fingers with hers, giving her hand a reassuring, firm squeeze back. “Hey, old man!”
The old man wore an odd battered outfit with mismatched boots and patches covering the strange kimono and tights. His hair was frost white and his white beard was trimmed neatly. He looked over the two with his sharp blue eyes, assessing them almost.
Before Inuyasha could do anything, Kagome stepped forward. “We have traveled all day and seek a place to stay the night.” She stomped Inuyasha's foot to keep him from protesting.
“Where are you is easy enough. You're in the Vale of Aldur. And on lodging you might try my daughter's cottage down in the valley.” He turned, as if seeing Inuyasha for the first time. “That's an odd companion you have there, young lady.”
Inuyasha growled, “Old man, odd is not the word exactly.”
“Inuyasha, calm down.” She glared, mouthing so only he could see that she'd sit him if he didn't, then turned back towards the man. She placed a hand on her chest, then gestured towards the half-demon. “I'm Kagome, and my companion is Inuyasha.”
“I'm Belgarath. Before we go disturbing Polgara, why don't we head towards my tower? You look thirsty.” The old man turned, leading them through the valley. What had seemed empty and uninhabited suddenly seemed to have a few occupants. As they walked from the tree, they saw a squat tower sitting in the grassland. Several other towers rose out a few miles apart in places. Inuyasha and Kagome followed carefully.
“Would you like some tea?” The woman asked after she had prepared and administered a few tonics to Rin.
Sesshomaru nodded no in response, his eyes fixed upon the sleeping child. Rin's mouth was slightly parted as she took short, shallow breaths. Her long, dark hair spilled onto the pillow behind her, accentuating how pale she had become. She shifted underneath the blankets, one bare foot sticking out. Every so often, she would murmur incoherently, a frown crossing her face. The scent of illness and the bitter tonic the woman had given her masked much of her light, floral scent, and Sesshomaru's nose wrinkled slightly.
The woman poured herself a cup. She sipped it, then remarked, “Now, dear, exactly how long were you traveling today with a sick child? It'll help me care for her.”
Sesshomaru bristled at the term “dear.” He coolly replied, never taking his eyes from Rin, “Three days. The child's illness grew worse about midday yesterday.”
The woman's eyebrow rose. “Three days? Did you stop to rest at all?”
Again, the eyebrow rose. “No wonder the poor thing is ill. You didn't let her rest. She's exhausted.”
Jaken piped up from where he sat by his master, hidden in his robes, “Sesshomaru-sama has no need for rest, nor does he need to explain himself to a mere human woman.”
Sesshomaru glared at the toad demon servant. He commented, his voice firm, “Jaken, go outside and gather flowers for Rin.”
Jaken looked dumbfounded by his master's request. “Sesshomaru-sama, why?”
“Do you question me?” An eyebrow rose in amusement.
“No, no. Of course not, Sesshomaru-sama.” The small toad exited, doing as his master bid.
Once he was gone, the woman asked, “What exactly did that odd toad mean by mere human woman?” Her blue eyes flashed to a steely gray. Although Sesshomaru never felt afraid of humans, he did feel uncomfortable underneath her penetrating gaze.
“He meant that one of my class shouldn't demean themselves with the affairs of mortals.”
“Mortals? What are you exactly? I haven't seen anything like you before.”
“I would expect not. Full bloods such as myself do not wish to become entangled in the affairs of humans. Though, it does happen occasionally, we usually prefer to ignore your kind.”
“That doesn't answer my question. You are not any particular race that I can identify.”
“I am a Demon Lord.”
The woman's eyes grew wide. “A Demon Lord? Why are you here and why do you travel with a small child? How did you enter the Vale at all? My Master does not approve of your kind freely walking the earth.”
“I care not what you or your master believes or thinks of me. I only traveled towards the scent of humans for Rin's sake. My affairs are my own.”
“Sesshomaru-sama,” Rin croaked from the cot the woman had placed her on. He stood from his seat at the table and knelt in front of Rin. “Rin doesn't feel well.”
Sesshomaru nodded, gently brushing some hair from her forehead. “Woman, do explain why Rin still does not feel well.”
The woman said, “She's exhausted and the tonic I gave her will make her feel a bit achy but it will restore vitality.
Sesshomaru turned towards the woman. “I hope that you do know what you are doing.”
“Of course I do. I've raised thousands of little boys. When they grew ill I gave them the exact same tonic and by the next day they had recovered much of the energy they had lost due to exhaustion.” She joined him at the bedside, placing a hand onto the girl's forehead. “Fever's broke. She should sleep soon. Are you thirsty, dear?”
Rin nodded yes and the woman gave her a small cup filled with water. Rin drank greedily, then lay back, falling promptly asleep. The woman gently brushed hair out of her face, then turned to tidying up the dishes from the table. Sesshomaru watched her intently. Then she did something altogether remarkable. She handed him a dishtowel and asked him to dry the dishes. Him, a Demon Lord. He clutched the towel, his usual unemotional face dumbfounded. “Woman, surely you do not expect me to do so.”
She glanced over her shoulder. “I like those around me to be doing something useful.” Her tone brokered no argument. “You may be a Lord, but I am full aware of how empty such titles can be. I have several. Now, dry.”
Sesshomaru knew he could easily kill her, but because she had been so willing to help Rin he actually lowered himself and dried the dishes she washed. He felt altogether foolish and thankful that Jaken was not present to see him demean his very status in such a way. Besides, the whole valley oddly made him feel serene and almost domesticated. He was not entirely sure why he felt this way, but he did.
The woman interrupted his thoughts, “So, a Demon Lord. I've met a few in the past, they were all hideous, and sought only to devour as many humans they could get their claws on. Yet, you, a Demon Lord as you call yourself, travel with a small child. Why? Surely she didn't summon you and seal you in that form.”
“Summon? No one summons me. I have always been the way that I am now.” He set down the dish he had dried. “The child is my ward. She is an orphan in my care.”
The woman's eyebrow rose and she dried her hands. “If you were not summoned by a magician, how is it you are here at all? And why would a Demon Lord care for such a human child as tenderly as you do?” She sat down in her chair, pulling a worn sock out to mend. “I might add, you are the most attractive Demon Lord I've ever met.”
This time his eyebrow rose. “A magician? I go and do as I please. As Lord of the Western Lands I will do as I please with the girl.”
“Lord of the Western Lands?” She smiled slightly. “Oh dear. I'm beginning to wonder why I woke this morning. This day has been strange.”
He felt amused. “I'd expect in your human life not much has happened. You humans live for far too short a time.”
She laughed. “Not much has happened? Apparently, as little as I am aware of you, you are unaware of me. I'm Polgara. Most believe I'm the successor to the original Polgara, but I am the original. I'm over 3,000 years old. I don't normally discuss my age, but it is the truth.” She bit the thread on the sock she had mended.
“3,000 years old? Your kind do not live that long.”
“I'm not like most of my kind. The rest of my family and I are unlike most humans. My age is the least unusual thing about me.” She prepared more thread for another sock.
Sesshomaru considered what she meant and asked, “How so? You don't seem to be a miko.”
“I'm a disciple of my Master, Aldur. The only priestesses I know worship Torak and they are not to my liking.” She then set her needle down and ran her finger over the tear in the sock. The tear disappeared at her touch.
Sesshomaru's eyes widened, his only outward sign of amazement. “How did you do that?”
“As I said, I am not like other---mere mortals.” She pulled the blanket back over Rin's body. “I'm going to finish preparing supper. Shall I set a place for you or will you refuse my mere human food?”
He felt mildly amused. “I much prefer for Rin to take my place.”
A knock on the door disturbed them before she could respond. She opened it. “Old Wolf, what is it?”
“We have a couple guests in need of lodging. And Beldin wants an ale keg. The twins don't have any.” He scratched at his short, white beard. “Oh, and Eriond said he'd be staying with the twins tonight if that was alright with you. He said that horse of his wanted to stay there.”
Sesshomaru's face grew entirely emotionless. “Inuyasha.”