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The Demon Lord's Bride by Chie

The Demon Lord's Bride

Written for the prompt by Utsukushi Tenshi. :)

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They bathed her in scented water. Draped her in expensive silks. Her hair was pulled into a more complex style than she had ever worn it in.

Kagome sat through all their ministrations, her face pale, her jaw clenched, her trembling fingers curled into fists.

Tears threatened to spill when she clung to her mother when two burly village men grabbed her shoulders and dragged her away.

Swallowing her grief, her anger, her fear, Kagome stumbled along. Away from her family, away from the village, flanked by the two armed men.

Every fifty years, her village would choose a young woman they sent to be the demon lord’s bride. This was to ensure the demon lord’s protection – or, according to some people, to placate him so he would not lay waste to the village himself.

Kagome didn’t know which version was the truth. She did not know if the demon lord was still living, or if it had ever even existed. 

But none of the brides had ever returned.

Kagome was not sure where the tradition had originated. She’d tried to find out, but her efforts have been in vain.

And in the end, the origins didn’t matter, because the village was determined to carry on with it and the fifty years were up.

Kagome was not surprised to have been selected as the bride. She wasn’t happy about it, either – but it was not like she could fight the whole village alone.

She’d had time to get used to the idea, though; Kagome had long suspected the villagers would select her.

She had noticed the speculative looks cast her way, heard the murmurs behind her back, recalled every instance on which her blue eyes had been called exceptional. Because it seemed like the villagers believed her unusual eye colour to be a sign. That she, Higurashi Kagome, had been marked from birth.

The demon lord was said to reside on top of a nearby mountain. The walk there took a couple of hours. The heavy train of her over-kimono kept slowing Kagome’s steps, and the many layers of silks she was wearing were making her sweat.

The guards escorting her weren’t doing so well either. The tension in the air was palpable and Kagome could feel the watchfulness and fear radiating from them.

Their spines only grew stiffer as they got closer to the mountain. Kagome’s stomach had plummeted all the way to her knees when they finally came to a halt.

There was a huge old tree at the foot of the mountain.

The guards gestured towards it.

For a moment, Kagome stood still, her legs unwilling to move.

One of the guards pushed her back and Kagome’s knees unlocked. She took a few hesitant steps towards the tree, grateful for the shade.

She glanced over her shoulder at the guards but they were already hurrying off, leaving without a word.

Something swelled and tightened Kagome’s throat. Tears burned in the corners of her eyes. A dark storm of emotion had been massing in her all day, and for a moment she wanted to let it all out: cry and rage and kick the tree, tear her hair free of its complex style, shed the layers of silk she’d been made to wear, curl into a ball on the ground.

But before she could succumb to any of that, Kagome felt something.

Her head snapped up, to peer at the blue sky bordered by the foliage of the tall tree she was standing under.

A moment later she saw movement – a small speck, growing closer.

She stared at it, her throat dry and tight. Was this the demon lord then, coming to claim his bride?

She tried to make a sense of the shape as it drew closer, but couldn’t.

And as it softly, gracefully, landed beside the tree only a couple of yards away, Kagome blinked.

It was a dragon with two heads, its green scales glistening in the sun, its dark manes shifting in the breeze. Obviously tame, if the muzzles and the saddle were any indications.

And on its back stood something small and equally green.

It puffed out its chest, clutched at a wooden staff so tall it towered over the creature. It looked down its nose – beak? – at her.

“Are you the bride?” It spoke in a creaky voice.

“Yes,” Kagome replied, staring openly at it.

“Come along then, girl. We cannot keep the lord waiting!”

Come along where? Astride the two-headed dragon?

Kagome crossed over to them with slow, hesitant steps.

The dragon stood still, not even tossing either of its heads. The small green thing with the staff was glaring at her impatiently from its bulbous eyes.

Kagome bit her lip, gathered her courage and climbed onto the saddle.

She couldn’t quite swallow the shrill yelp as the dragon leapt into the air.

Kagome stared at the ground, getting smaller and further away below. They climbed into the sky, higher and higher until Kagome was starting to feel dizzy. She was suddenly grateful for the many layers she was wearing since the air was significantly cooler up here.

They broke through the clouds and Kagome gaped.

The demon lord did not live on the mountain; he had a castle in the sky.

Long stone stairs rose on the side of the castle.

The dragon landed on the foot of them. The small green thing jumped down, motioning for Kagome to follow. She slid down and walked after her demon escort, who was already climbing up the stairs.

The awe lasted for maybe the first fifty steps. After that, the nervousness was starting to creep back in. Her knees started to grow weaker, her shoulders slumped again under her silks. 

And then they reached a landing, and the small green thing led her through double doors.

There was a person waiting for them inside.

But not the demon lord, because this one was human – and female.

An old woman, dressed in a kimono and hakama, her face wrinkled from age, her hair gone grey.

“Welcome,” she told her and offered Kagome a smile. “I am Kaede.”

Kagome bowed her head, remembering her manners.

“Pleased to meet you,” she replied. “I’m Kagome.”

She could feel the woman’s gaze on her.

“How old are ye, child?”

“Eighteen.”

“Ah, not a child then but a young woman! That is good.” A wry expression twisted her lined face. “I was fifteen when they sent me.”

Sent? Kagome’s fingers curled around the long sleeves of her kimono. Was Kaede the bride they had sent before? Fifty years ago?

She didn’t voice any of the questions – didn’t quite know what to say, in fact – but something must have shown on her face to betray the trail of her thoughts.

Kaede chuckled. “Aye. I, too, was once a bride. So I know ye must be tired and nervous. Join me for a cup of tea.”

Kagome obediently followed Kaede, though she wasn’t sure she’d be able to eat or drink anything. Her legs were almost trembling as she walked along the twisting corridors of the castle interior.

As big as it had looked on the outside, the castle seemed even bigger on the inside. Without Kaede to guide her, Kagome would’ve been hopelessly lost.

“Overwhelming, is it not?” Kaede commented, as she finally stopped at a door and slid it open.

Kagome nodded dumbly and stepped into the room after Kaede’s beckoning gesture.

The serving trays were already set out and Kagome sat down on the cushion placed next to one of them.

Kaede crossed the room and spared her a smile. “Worry not, Kagome. You will settle in quickly – if you wish to, that is.”

Kagome shot a startled look at the older woman, who’d sat down across from her. “If I wish?”

“Yes,” Kaede replied simply, picking up the teacup. “Lord Sesshoumaru will not keep you here if you do not wish to stay.”

Kagome’s fingers twitched in her lap.

Lord Sesshoumaru? What a violent name that was. She guessed it was suitable for a demon lord.

“But… none have ever returned,” Kagome said.

“The memories of men and women are short,” Kaede said with a shrug. “And I suspect a lot of the brides have elected to stay. And those that did not… well. They may dress it up as an honour all they wish, but would you want to return to a village that had chosen you as their sacrifice?”

Kagome squirmed. She would want to return to her mother, to her grandfather, to her younger brother. But to the village itself? To the murmurs and the side-long looks?

“I suppose not,” she answered softly.

Kaede nodded. “I certainly would not,” she said.

For a moment, they sat in silence. Kaede sipped her tea, while Kagome tried to surreptitiously study the room.

“You have not touched your tea,” Kaede noted after a while.

“I’m sorry.” Kagome bit her lip.

Kaede’s expression softened, and Kagome saw a flash of sympathy in her eyes.  “No need to apologise. I was hoping to give you a bit of a rest and maybe some time to compose yourself, but perhaps you are as ready as you can be.”

Kagome wasn’t so sure of that but bowed her head nevertheless.

Kaede pushed herself up. “Come. I will take you to him.”

Kagome didn’t pay any attention to where they were going. Her eyes were trained on Kaede’s back, but she didn’t really register what she was seeing. Her mind was buzzing, the butterflies were dashing madly about in her stomach, and her knees were threatening to buckle on every step.

And then they stopped.

Kaede slid the door open.

Kagome stared at it, for that breathless moment it took her to will herself to move.

The demon lord did not rise from his seat when she strode in.

He did not greet her; did not utter a word.

Kagome stopped when she heard the door slide shut behind her, leaving her alone with Lord Sesshoumaru.

He was not at all what she had been expecting: he was the epitome of otherworldly beauty with that pale skin, graceful features, that wealth of silver-white hair.

He was exactly what she had been expecting: he was terrifying, with a dark forbidding aura, a face void of any emotion and cold, piercing eyes.

Those eyes were intent on her now with silent scrutiny. Desperate to both escape the intense stare and break the tension in the room, Kagome knelt down on the tatami. She pressed her palms flat against the straw mat and bowed so deep her forehead nearly touched the floor.

She hadn’t heard or seen him move. All of a sudden clawed fingers grasped her chin and lifted up her head, tilted up her face.

Up close, those golden eyes were even more frightening. Kagome’s heart was pounding so madly it was the only sound she could hear.

Until at last, he spoke.

“While courtesy is appreciated, there is no need for you to be lowering yourself like that, girl.” His voice was deep and flat – as impassive as his face.

He let go of her chin and gestured for her to sit up.

Kagome sat back onto her heels and dug her trembling fingers into her lap.

The demon lord was sitting less than two yards away from her, which was deeply unsettling.

He tilted his head slightly, studying her. “What is your name?”

“Kagome, my lord.”

“Welcome, Kagome. If you wish to stay here, you may. If at any time you wish to leave, just tell me or Jaken and it will be arranged. Is there anything you would wish to know?”

Kagome swallowed, her mind whirling. There was something very important she needed to know, but how to phrase the question?

“I would like to know…” she hesitated, her cheeks flushing. “I want to know what’s expected of me.”

The demon lord’s eyes flashed, understanding her meaning.

“I know they have named you a bride and dressed you as such,” he spoke coolly. “You need not worry, however. I have no intention to wed you.”

Kagome bowed her head, breathless with relief. If there was the tiniest prick of disappointment, she ignored it.

Feeling bolder now, Kagome posed him a new question.

“Then why am I here?”

He did not answer right away. He looked at her, those cold eyes assessing – as if judging whether she was worthy of the reply.

“As you well know, it is a tradition of your village to send a girl to this castle. I have not opposed it, because I have become accustomed to having a human companion. And I feel this tradition both honours and reminds me of my first companion.”

Kagome sensed there was a story there. She also sensed he was unwilling to share it with her.

So she simply nodded and murmured her thanks.

“A room and clothing have been prepared for you. If they are not to your taste, please inform me.”

“Thank you, my lord,” she said again.

He no longer appeared quite so intimidating. It was not kindness exactly – but there was certain politeness in the manner in which he addressed her.

“Kaede will show you to your room. If you wish, she can also show you around the castle.”

Kagome gave him a considering look.

If he simply wanted a companion, she might not mind staying.

If she were to stay, she would want to get to know Lord Sesshoumaru better.

And if she did that, then perhaps one day he might trust her with the full story.

Kagome met the demon lord’s eyes. “If I may, my lord, I would prefer to be shown around the castle by you.”

He raised an eyebrow at her but inclined his head. “Very well, if that is what you wish.”

He rose and offered her his hand to help her stand up. “Shall we?”

Kagome reached for his hand, curled her fingers around it. And in an answer, she gave him a smile.

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End.

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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