To read the first part click here.Yuki sighed as he dumped the waste in the outhouse after dinner. So he would die, then. He washed his hands in the cold stream until he could no longer feel them.
A small figure stood by the path to the main house. Yuki started, then relaxed. It wasn’t a girl. Koh was staring fiercely at the older boy.
“They can’t send you,” he said angrily. “You can’t go.”
Yuki crouched in front of the child. “Koh, were you being a mouse? It’s not polite to listen to other people’s conversation.”
“You can’t go,” the boy repeated, tears welling. “You can’t go, because then no one be kind to me.” He scrubbed at his eyes, the moisture smudging the dirt on his face. “If Yuki gone, I’m not see him, and I’m not see Mayu, and no one be kind.”
Reaching out a cold hand, Yuki ruffled the boy’s hair. “I’m sure he will not take me. I’ll come back.”
“Mama say he kill you,” Koh sniffed, using the collar of his shirt to wipe his nose. Yuki gently tugged the garment away from the mucus and wiped Koh’s nose with his handkerchief. Koh inhaled shakily. “Her say if you go then you die and you family, too.”
“Papa, him not like to be tricked,” Koh warned, tears escaping the corners of his eyes. “Him get mad and eat you.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Yuki promised emptily. “I’ll tell him I have to look out for Koh.”
He pulled the child into his arms. Koh threw his small arms around Yuki’s neck, pulling him tight. Yuki felt snot and tears soaking into his shirt and wished he could find some sort of childish exaggeration in Koh’s fears. He patted the boy’s back with one hand while Koh sobbed. Yuki felt like crying, himself. What had he done to be sent to a Fox?
Yuki hugged the boy until he heard his father calling for him. He gave Koh a final squeeze. “I’ll be careful, Koh. You have to look out for Mayu, alright?”
Koh pulled back. “Papa, if he eat you, I come and eat him,” he declared fiercely. “Him can’t eat Yuki or Mayu, because Koh eat him. Say him that.”
“I will.” Yuki’s heart had never felt heavier. He looked back once, before his father could notice that he was waving to anything, and held up a hand to the child who used Yuki’s handkerchief to wipe at tears in the rice field.
Yuki did not sleep that night. There was no honor in being chosen. Yuki had been a torchbearer the previous year, though his status was too low to proceed up the mountain. He had never been more grateful.
The men of the village gathered to escort the girl up the mountain, lighting the path with torches. The priest had blessed the girl and given her a crock of rice wine to give the fox. The girl’s face had been covered with white cloth so that she could not see where she was being led. Her sobs, however, were loud above the clanging of bells and men’s singing. She was dressed, as had all her predecessors, for a wedding. When the procession reached the top of the hill, rice wine was poured into a ceremonial bowl. The girl’s mouth was uncovered to drink a sip. The priest blessed the girl and her family and the coming season of planting and harvest. The men then departed from all sides of the clearing, the torchbearers putting out their lights as soon as possible so that the girl could not follow them back down the mountain. It happened every year or else the Fox would come and claim both his choice of bride and the harvest. The people would go hungry, become weak and vulnerable.
"Yuki will never marry, not in Higashiyama," Auntie was saying as Yuki returned from the fields. "You're making the right decision."
"We won't be able to pass him through the town!" Father argued. "He's too tall."
"His shoulders and hips are narrow enough," Auntie reasoned. She gesture towards Yuki as he shut the door behind him. "If he is in kimono, we need only to cover his feet and neck. Are not wedding shoes tall?"
"Father," Yuki pleaded gently, "who is to plant in Spring? Who will sell our radishes in the market? Who—"
"Enough," Father cut him off. "You've been of age for three years and have not yet found a wife. Yumi's marriage will benefit all of us."
I'll be fine, Yuki told himself. Surely a Fox who teaches his son how to transform into a dove cannot be without reason. I'll be fine. He did not sleep the next night, either.