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By Frank Rinder
IN the Central Land of Reed-Plains dwelt two rats.
Their home was in a lonely farmstead surrounded by rice fields. Here they lived happily for so many years that the other rats in the district, who had constantly to change their quarters, believed that their neighbors were under the special protection of Fukoruku Jin, one of the Seven Gods of Happiness, and the Patron of Long Life.
These rats had a large family of children. Every summer day they led the little ones into the rice fields, where, under shelter of the waving stalks, the young rats learned the history and cunning of their people. When work was done, they would scamper away and play with their friends until it was time to return home.
The most beautiful of these children was Nedzumi, the pride of her parents' hearts. She was truly a lovely little creature, with sleek silvery skin, bright intelligent eyes, tiny upstanding ears, and pearly white teeth. It seemed to the fond father and mother that no one was great enough to marry their daughter; but, after much pondering, they decided that the most powerful being in the whole universe should be their son-in-law.
The parents discussed the weighty question with a trusted neighbor, who said, "If you would wed your daughter to the most powerful being in the universe, you must ask the sun to marry her, for his empire knows no bounds."
How they mounted through the skies, no rat can tell. The sun gave them audience and listened graciously as they said, "We would give you our daughter to wife." He smiled and rejoined, "Your daughter is indeed beautiful, and I thank you for coming so far to offer her to me. But, tell me, why have you chosen me out of all the world?" The rats made answer, "We would marry our Nedzumi to the mightiest being, and you alone wield world-wide sway." Then the sun replied, "Truly my kingdom is vast, but oftentimes, when I would illumine the world, a cloud floats by and covers me. I cannot pierce the cloud; therefore you must go to him if your wish is to be attained."
In no way discouraged, the rats left the sun and came to a cloud as he rested after a flight through the air. The cloud received them less cordially than the sun, and replied to their offer, with a look of mischief in his dusky eyes, "You are mistaken if you think that I am the most powerful being. It is true that I sometimes hide the sun, but I cannot withstand the force of the wind. When he begins to blow I am driven away, and torn in pieces. My strength is not equal to the power of the wind."
A little saddened, the rats, intent on their daughter's future prosperity, waylaid the wind as he, swept through a pine forest. He was about to awaken the plain beyond, to stir the grass and the flowers into motion. The two anxious parents made known their mission. This was the whispered reply of the wind: "It is true that I have strength to drive away the clouds, but I am powerless against the wall which men build to keep me back. You must go to him if you would have the mightiest being in the world for your son-in-law. Indeed I am not so mighty as the wall."
The rats, still persistent in their quest, came to the wall and told their story. The wall answered, "True, I can withstand the wind, but the rat undermines me and makes holes through my very heart. To him you must go if you would wed your daughter to the most powerful being in the world. I cannot overcome the rat."
And now the parent rats returned to their home in the farmstead. Nedzumi, their beautiful daughter with the silken coat and sparkling eyes, rejoiced when she heard that she was to marry one of her own people, for her heart had already been given to a playfellow of the rice fields. They were married, and lived for many years as king and queen of the rat world.