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CHILD OF THE FOREST
By Frank Rinder
SAKATO-NO-TOKI-YUKI was a brave warrior at the court of Kyoto. He fought for the Minamoto against the Taira, but the Minamoto were defeated, and Sakato's last days were spent as a wandering exile. He died of a broken heart. His widow, the daughter of a noble house, escaped from Kyoto, and fled eastward to the rugged Ashigara Mountains. No one knew of her hiding-place, and she had no enemies to fear save the wild beasts who lived in the forest. At night she found shelter in a rocky cave.
A son was born to her whom she named Kintaro, the Golden Boy. He was a sturdy little fellow, with ruddy cheeks and merry, laughing eyes. Even as he lay crowing in his bed among the fern, the birds that alighted on his shoulder peeped trustfully into his eyes, and he smiled. Thus early the child and the birds were comrades. The butterfly and the downy moth would settle upon his breast, and tread softly over his little brown body.
Kintaro was not as other children, — there was something strange about him. When he fell, he would laugh cheerily; if he wandered far into the wood, he could always find his way home; and, when little more than a chubby babe, he could swing a heavy axe in circles round his head. In the remote hills he had no human companions, but the animals were his constant playfellows. He was gentle and kind-hearted and would not willingly hurt any living creature; therefore it was that the birds and all the forest people looked upon Kintaro as one of themselves.
Among Kintaro's truest friends were the bears who dwelt in the woods. A mother bear often carried him on her back to her home. The cubs ran out and greeted him joyfully, and they romped and played together for hours. They wrestled and strove in friendly rivalry. Sometimes Kintaro would clamber up the smooth-barked monkey-tree, sit on the topmost branch, and laugh at the vain attempts of the shaggy little fellows to follow him. Then came supper-time and the feast of liquid honey.
But the Golden Boy loved best of all to fly through the air with his arms round the neck of a gentle-eyed stag. Soon after dawn, the deer came to awaken the sleeper, and, with a farewell kiss to his mother and a morning caress to the stag, Kintaro sprang on his back and was carried, with swift bounds, up mountain-side, through valley and thicket, until the sun was high in the heavens. When they came to a leafy spot in the woods and heard the sound of falling water, the stag grazed among the high fern while Kintaro bathed in the foaming torrent.
Thus mother and son lived securely in their home among the mountains. They saw no human being save the few woodcutters who penetrated thus far into the forest, and these simple peasants did not guess their noble birth. The mother was known as Yama-uba-San, "The Wild Nurse of the Mountain," and her son as "Little Wonder."
Kintaro reigned as prince of the forest, beloved of every living creature. When he held his court, the bear and the wolf, the fox and the badger, the marten and the squirrel, and many other courtiers were seated around him. The birds, too, flocked at his call. The eagle and the hawk flew down from the distant heights; the crane and the heron swept over the plain, and feathered friends without number thronged the branches of the cedars. He listened as they told of their joys and their sorrows, and spoke. graciously to all, for Kintaro had learned the language and lore of the beasts, and the birds, and the flowers from the Tengus, the wood-elves.
The Tengus, who live in the rocky heights of the mountains and in the topmost branches I lofty trees, befriended Kintaro and became his teachers. he was truthful and good, he had nothing to fear from them; but the Tengus are dreaded by deceitful boys, whose tongues they pull out by their roots and carry away.
These elves are strange beings, with the body of a man, the head of a hawk, long, long noses, and two powerful claws on their hairy hands and feet. They are hatched from eggs, and in their youth have feathers and wings; later they molt and wear the garb of men. On their feet are stilt-like clogs about twelve inches high. They stalk proudly along with crossed arms, head thrown back, and long nose held high in the air; hence the proverb, "He has become a Tengu."
The headquarters of the tribe are in the Oyama Mountain, where lives the Dai-Tengu, their leader, whom all obey. He is even more proud and overbearing than his followers, and his nose is so long that one of his ministers always precedes him that it may not be injured. A long gray beard reaches to his girdle, and mustaches hang from his mouth to his chin. His sceptre is a fan of seven feathers, which he carries in his left hand. He rarely speaks, and is thus accounted wondrous wise. The Raven-Tengu is his chief minister; instead of a nose and mouth, he has a long beak. Over the left shoulder is slung an executioner's axe, and in his hand he bears the book of Tengu wisdom.
KINTARO REIGNED AS PRINCE OF THE FOREST
The Tengus are fond of games, and their long noses are useful in many ways. They serve as swords for fencing, and as poles on the point of which to balance bowls of water with gold-fish. Two noses joined together form a tight-rope on which a young Tengu, sheltered by a paper umbrella and leading a little dog, dances and jumps through hoops; the while an old Tengu sings a dance-tune and another beats time with a fan. Some among the older Tengus are very wise. The most famous of all is he who dwells on the Kurama Mountain, but hardly less wise is the Tengu who undertook the education of Kintaro. At nightfall he carried the boy to the nest in the high rocks. Here he was taught the wisdom of the elves, and the speech of all the forest tribes.
One day, Little Wonder was at play with some young Tengus, but they grew tired and flew up to their nest, leaving Kintaro alone. He was angry with them, and shook the tree with all his strength, so that the nest fell to the ground. The mother soon returned, and was in great distress at the loss of her children. Kintaro's kind heart was touched, and, with the little ones in his arms, he swarmed up the tree and asked pardon. Happily they were unhurt, and soon recovered from their fright. Kintaro helped to rebuild the nest, and brought presents to his playfellows.
Now it happened that, as the hero Raiko, who had fought so bravely against the oni, passed through the forest, he came upon Little Wonder wrestling with a powerful bear. An admiring circle of friends stood around. Raiko, as he looked, was amazed at the strength and courage of the boy. The combat over, he asked Kintaro his name and his story, but the child could only lead him to his mother. When she learned that the man before her was indeed Raiko, the mighty warrior, she told him of her flight from Kyoto, of the birth of Kintaro, and of their secluded life among the mountains. Raiko wished to take the boy away and train him in arms, but Kintaro loved the forest. When, however, his mother spoke, he was ready to obey. He called together his friends, the beasts and the birds, and, in words that are remembered to this day, bade them all farewell.
The mother would not follow her son to the land of men, but Kintaro, when he became a great hero, often came to see her in the home of his childhood.
The peasants of the Ashigara still tell of The Wild Nurse of the Mountains and Little Wonder.