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THE LABOURS OF YAMATO
THE RESCUE OF THE PRINCESS
LONG, long ago in the old half-forgotten ages, when this world was in its tender infancy, there lived a lad named Yamato, the four times great-grandson of Amaterasu, Goddess of glorious light.
This Yamato was a youth of comely mien, great of stature, strong and fearless and skilful in the use of arms. It fortuned that on a day he fared forth from his palace to bathe in the breakers of Suminoye. Up through forests of giant cryptomeria, over hill and vale, through flooded moorlands verdant with the glow of the young rice ears, he journeyed till he came to the cliffs of the great surging sea.
Mounting a crag, and divesting himself of his raiment, he plunged deep into the heart of the swirling surf. Manfully he strove through the briny breakers which like great white chargers came galloping ever onward to the strand, now breasting their foamy summits with a stroke of his powerful arm, then whelmed in the emerald hollows with the ebb of the wave.
When he had disported himself like a playful porpoise to his heart’s content, he laid him down upon the sunny strand. As he lay thus he fell a-dreaming, whereupon, through drifting mists of revery, there came to him the vision of a mermaid beauteous as the Night with raven tresses and eyes of larkspur blue, who glided suddenly from a cavern in the cliff hard by.
Yamato rubbed his sleep-laden eyes, and halloing lustily, plunged into the surges and swam swiftly after her. But the siren, aff righted, with a quick flip of her lustrous-scaled tail sank beneath the water and vanished from view; and though Yamato searched diligently for the entrance to her cavern no trace of it could he find.
Oft thereafter the youth wandered to Suminoye questing the siren. For hours he would lie prone upon the rocks vainly searching the darkling water for the glitter of her lithe body; but the lovely Nereid came nevermore.
Many tides flowed and ebbed upon the beach of Suminoye, and the long-deferred day for the wedding of Yamato with the Princess Tacibana had at last come.
He was returning from her father’s palace with his betrothed bride. As he rode beside her litter, his band of warriors trailing behind them through the dusky forest, he passed a great and lofty castle seated upon a beetling crag. It was walled about with palisades and defended moreover by rocky bulwarks overhanging a wide and turbid stream.
Here lurked a band of mounted brigands armed to the teeth, commanded by a bandit notorious for his crimes through all Izumo.
Scarcely had Yamato and his bride appeared than the brigands galloped over the drawbridge and with pike and gisarme fell upon them. Whereupon the litter-. bearers fled incontinently, leaving Yamato to confront the bandits single-handed.
As flash the lightning bolts about Fujiyama so fell the sword of Yamato upon the heads of the unhappy miscreants. A score of the foremost brigands fell before his terrible lunges; the remaining cravens were fleeing for their lives, when the chieftain sprang suddenly upon Yamato with a thunderous mace-stroke felling him instantly to the ground.
Then all was dark. Far away, like the murmur of distant surges, Yamato heard the shrieks of his betrothed as the bandit bore her to his castle.
With might and main he vainly strove to raise himself, but his steed lay across his body, and black waves of death surged over his soul.
Some while later he recovered consciousness, in the temple of Ise, whither his warriors had borne him in the litter of the Princess. Here the chief priestess salved his wounds with a wondrous healing balsam, so that he speedily revived, no whit the worse for his encounter, and clamoured lustily for steed and men.
Nevertheless the high priestess stayed him with wise and timely counsel. “This castle,” quoth she, “is so stoutly defended that none may take it either by siege or assault. Its lord is the infamous outlaw Takeru. He hath assembled thither a host of desperate and vicious men who carry off maidens from their homes and hold them in durance vile.”
Yamato flashed with rage: “Gird on my sword,” he cried, “and bid my warriors make ready!”
Whereupon the priestess protested: “Nay, take the sacred sword of Susa-no-wo, but hide it neath thy garments, for these be the weapons whereby thou shalt conquer.”
Then she brought forth a woman’s broidered robe, and, tiring his hair like a dancing maiden’s, decked it with a gleaming tiara, and hung about his shoulders the sacred necklace of the Sun Goddess.
Yamato, seeing himself thus transformed into a maiden of surpassing beauty, doubted not that in this guise he would compass the ruin of his foes.
Bidding his warriors follow at a little space, he journeyed alone to the outlaw’s castle.
When he reached the gate the sentry, little deeming that this beauteous damsel was a sturdy warrior, with an evil smile permitted him to pass.
Yamato traversed an interminable gallery leading to a lofty chamber where in solitary grandeur the notorious bandit sat at meal. Sodden with sake, he leered drunkenly upon Yamato, as, with a graceful obeisance, the seeming dancing-maid addressed him: “Permit, honourable Lord, that I pour thee a cup of sake.”
Perceiving his queenly visitor, the bandit let fall the pheasant which he was devouring and gaped upon her in astonishment.
“How earnest thou hither, my sweet hussy?” he thundered.
“The warriors of Yamato pursued me, gracious Lord, and I seek thy honourable protection in this thy castle.”
“Of a surety,” exclaimed the delighted bandit, “thou shalt find all thou seekest. Come sit thou beside me, for none other shall pour my wine so long as I do live.”
“That were too great honour,” answered Yamato, the whiles he said within himself: “Thou speakest more truly than thou knowest, for when I have done with thee thou shalt drink no more.”
Whereupon Yamato poured sake for the bandit, simulating the mincing steps of a dancing-maid and casting upon him sly alluring glances.
Takeru became more and more enamoured of his fair servitor, and, inflamed by his potations, clasped the pretended maid in his arms.
Yamato wrestled with such unforeseen might that Takeru, perceiving his supposed sweetheart to be no fragile maiden, but a steel-sinewed warrior, howled with affright, and releasing his grasp, stealthily whipped forth a knife.
Yamato, nothing daunted, sprang beneath his uplifted arm, and grasping the wrist of Takeru bent it backward until the bones snapped.
Letting fall the dirk Takeru groaned:
“Verily thou hast conquered; but tell me, I beseech thee, by whose hand I die, for myself have I ever held to be the most valiant of men.”
“I am called by the name of my country,” cried Yamato, as he dealt the avenging death-stroke.
“Henceforth,” gasped the bandit, “be thou known as Yamato-take (Stout-hearted-Yamato), for there be none like thee in all the land!” Thus speaking the bandit gave up his evil soul.
Like flame borne by the whirlwind, Yamato swept through the castle questing the imprisoned Princess.
“Tacibana!” he cried from deepest dungeon to the topmost tower, “Tacibana, thou art free!”
At last he heard a faint wail, like the cry of a wounded bird, and, bursting in the massive gate of a treasure-chamber, discovered the unconscious Princess lying prone upon the pavement, her hands bound behind her back. In her agony of apprehension she had loosed from her headdress a jewelled dagger which she held between her teeth, ready to fall thereon at the coming of Takeru.
Yamato severed her bonds with a swift sword-stroke, crying, “Tacibana, it is I.”
Then raising his hunting horn to his lips he sounded the signal for the onset.
Thereupon, after a turbulent encounter in the castle-court, his doughty warriors overwhelmed with sore disaster the astonished bandits, who, learning that their chieftain had perished, soon lost heart and gave themselves up, yielding subjection to this unknown avenging amazon.
Placing his joyous Princess before him upon the bandit’s charger, and followed by a goodly cavalcade freighted with rich loot from the castle treasuries, Yamato rode in triumph to his palace at Kashiwabara.1
In the evening, mid great rejoicing, were the wedding cups of sake exchanged; and though Yamato bestowed many precious gifts upon his lovesome bride, none gladdened her heart more than the gaily embroidered robe, garbed in which he had delivered her from the bandit Takeru.
THE GROT OF LOVE
When ‘neath the drowsy hill the Day doth
Now it came to pass that, though his Princess was ever an obedient and gentle wife, the fickle Yamato soon wearied of her constant devotion. Since there was no more fighting to be done in her behalf, Tacibana seemed to him tedious and of little worth. Wherefore sought he distraction in the zest of the chase, riding far afield in quest of stag and boar and neglecting his dutiful Princess, who grieved sorely but uttered no word of plaint.
Yamato longed for his lost siren, the mysterious mermaid. One day he wandered on the isle of Enoshima, led thither by strains of elfin music, floating from the realms of air. On and on he followed the haunting melody, seeming now to issue from the very bowels of the earth.
Descending the jutting cliff to the ever-seething waters he beheld a great grotto from whose hidden depths glowed a wondrous emerald light. While he pondered upon this, he heard again the eerie music and saw a flitting of faint shadows as of strange celestial damsels.
Plunging through the surges, Yamato swam to the mouth of the cave. Here he paused as though he would fain draw back, for often had he heard old wives’ tales how this grotto was a trap baited with unearthly bliss, whence no mortal might e’er return. Then he heard the heart-enthralling strains anew, and a voice wondrous sweet calling his very name, and he struck out manfully for the cavern.
His foot fell upon a seeming rock, which yielded suddenly beneath his weight and a monstrous dragon, snorting terribly, lumbered forth into the sea. Nothing daunted Yamato entered the grotto, and, ever following the strange emerald light through long and tortuous galleries, came at last to a vast and lofty chamber.
Here burst upon his enraptured vision
So fair a scene,
1From a “NO Drama” translated by Dr. B. H. Chamberlain.
Upon a couch of coral bowered mid glittering sea-blooms, reclined his lost siren, singing softly the whiles she gently fingered a gold and amber lute.
“Mortal, behold Benten, Goddess of Deathless Love,” sang the mermaid. “Deign, most worshipful stranger, to taste the pleasures of our watery realm.”
Even as she spake her beauteous handmaidens spread before the delighted youth a banquet of rare and delicious dishes, such as he had never known. Sweet ambrosial sake they poured into cups of frail-stemmed sea-lilies. Heaps of gem-like fruits gleamed on plates of opalescent anemones. Translucent shells of pearl shed throughout the chamber a soft silvery light, and entrancing strains pulsated from unseen recesses, breathing of peace and love.
Yamato, kneeling spellbound at the throne of the Goddess, implored: “Grant me thy love, sweet siren — else I shall surely die.”
With eyes abased Benten fingered idly her gold and amber lute. Strangely sweet the songs she sang, but sweeter still the caresses she lavished upon the infatuated youth.
Suddenly she cast him from her: “To win my love thou must dare death,” she demanded imperiously.
“There is naught I would not venture, gentle Goddess,” he declared fervidly, “for the sake of life with thee.”
Benten smiled incredulously. “Sail to Horaizan,” she commanded. “Gain the Golden Apple of Immortal Youth; and thereafter shalt thou dwell with me in unending love.”
“I pray thee tell me of this land,” besought Yamato. “List,” cried the siren; the whiles strumming her golden lute she sang:
THE QUEST OF THE GOLDEN APPLE
In the long-forgotten ages of the heroes and the sages,
Far across the Yellow Ocean in the kingdom of Cathay,
Once there dwelt a cruel creature, mean of soul and cold of feature,
Whom all worshipped as an idol, bowing neath his despot sway.
Now Jofuku, court physician, sore lamented his position,
Ever fearing lest the morrow were his last remaining day,
So the leech one lovely morning to his master giveth warning
And salaams his august kingship and these words to him doth say:
“Grant me but a junk, good Master, wherein I without disaster
To the ‘Isle of Life Eternal,’ far beyond the sun, may sail;
Then will I the Apple Golden for thee pluck, whereby thine olden
Limbs shall leap with youth immortal, ever beautiful and hale.”
So the King, in jubilation, made but little altercation;
And Jofuku journeyed southward o’er the smiling, sapphire sea.
Days and months and years together sailed he on through wind and weather,
Till above the far horizon he beheld a Wonder-Tree!
Floating on the idle billow like a head upon a pillow,
Fast asleep upon the ocean dreaming midst the foam-flowers white,
Loomed the Tree of Youth Immortal, of eternal life the portal,
Growing out the misty marges of an Island of Delight.
Quoth Jofuku: “Yon fair island is no other isle than my land,
Here shall I abide for ever eating of this Wonder-Tree!”
So forthwith the junk he stranded and upon the shore he landed,
In a Forest of Enchantment floating on the sapphire sea.
And for five-score years he dwelt there, nor the flight of time he felt, where
Birth and Death and Age exist not lightly sped the ‘trancèd hours,
In a round of endless pleasure, rife with joyance beyond measure,
Lived Jofuku in this paradise of ever-blooming flowers.
Till one day he longed to sally o’er the ocean’s foam-flowered valley
As he wistful watched the sea-fowl winging southward through the sky;
Then he hailed a storklet slender and in accents sweet and tender
Pleaded: “Pray kind bird transport me to my home ere yet I die!”
And the stork forthwith consented and the leech, with joy demented,
Mounted on its snowy pinions, swiftly soared across the foam,
Bearing thence the Apple Golden safe within his arms enfolden,
To his native land returning, never more again to roam.
For the tyrant’s life had ended and Jofuku now ascended,
Khan of Khans, enthroned for ever o’er the kingdom of Cathay,
Far across the Yellow Ocean, worshipped with a blind devotion,
Wields he o’er a myriad Tartars still the sceptre to this day.
“Days and months and years together
sailed he on through wind and weather.”
“Till above the far horizon he beheld a Wonder-Tree!
From “Old-World Japan” by T. H. Robinson
Permission of Macmillan Co.
“ Mounted on its snowy pinions swiftly soared across the foam”
From “Old-World Japan” by T. H. Robinson
Permission of Macmillan Co.
“Prince! if thou wouldst be my lover, that
Enchanted Isle discover,
THE DEMON BOAR
Returning to Kashiwa-bara, Yamato demanded of all his courtiers concerning the Island of Golden Apples, but none had heard thereof.
Thereupon he wandered to the ports and harbours, questioning ever the sailors and fishermen, nor had any of these bold seafarers beheld the wondrous land.
A lethargy of despair fell upon him. He delighted no longer in the sports of the field, neither in feasting with his boon companions nor in biding at home with his fair and lovesome wife.
Right joyously did Tacibana greet him after his long absence, though ofttimes the tears welled to her eyes as she beheld him gazing wistfully upon the sea.
“Why do you weep?” he asked impatiently; and sweetly she answered: “For happiness, good my Lord.
“Like rain upon a parching flower Thy
presence is to me;
(FUJIWARA NO MOTOSHI.)
On a day came certain of the country folk to Yamato plaining:
“Know, great Prince, that in the forest of Hakone rageth a giant boar. None is there who dareth oppose him, for he is possessed of a demon, even by Susa-no-wo, who rideth upon him brandishing spear and sword scattering fiery arrows and carrying murrain an pestilence throughout the land.”
Then cried Yamato: “I will forthwith to Ise an take counsel how I may vanquish this demon boar!”
Right gladly the high priestess welcomed Yamato. “Eagerly have I awaited thy coming,” she exclaimed. “Fain would I tender thee the Sacred Sword, for with no other weapon can this boar be slain. In his tail alone is the monster vulnerable and he runneth more swiftly than the wind.”
Greatly marvelling, Yamato took the sword. “How then, save in sleep, may I overtake him?” he pondered. “Yet would I not slay him defenceless. Such easy conquest delighteth not my heart.”
With a band of hardy huntsmen Yamato set fort to a forest at the foot of Fujiyama.
Startling to air myriads of winged creatures, out-running swift-footed hares in tempestuous flight, coursing hither and thither with nose to earth, the pack pursued the scent, lustily giving tongue while the merry cavalcade galloped furiously upon their heels.
Ever higher through dusky forest glades they climbed to the bright-shining uplands. A scent of thyme floated on the breeze; velvet heather lay like a carpet beneath their feet. Towering like mighty castles one above the other, peak overtopping peak in never ending flight, mighty mountains loomed their time-scarred battlements against the cloudless sky.
Up steep ravines and beetling cliffs they mounted to a jagged crag, where, backed against a writhen cedar, beset about by the clamorous hounds, roaring in wrath at this invasion of his secret lair, stood at bay the giant demon boar.
Valiantly the pack drove upon him, only to be tossed instantly in air and to fall, tusked through the entrails, in pools of gore. Whereat the bowmen let fly a cloud of arrows, but their shafts rebounded like hail from the boar’s invulnerable hide.
Then Yamato, heedless of the warning of the high priestess, set his spear in rest and urged his stallion to the charge. An instant later the steed impaled itself upon the terrible tusks and Yamato toppled headlong to the ground.
Staggering dazedly to his feet he strove to raise his steed, but the noble creature quivered in its death agony, gazing helplessly upon its master with mute, appealing eyes.
Of a sudden, bristling with baffled wrath, snorting furiously, and gnashing his murderous tusks, the monster charged.
Hoping to spear him as he passed, Yamato sprang behind the trunk of a tree. But the boar had halted, and with cruel cunning bided his time.
giant boar possessed of a demon, Susa-no-wo,”
Who rideth upon him brandishing spear and sword scattering fiery arrows
and carrying murrain and pestilence throughout the land”
“Yamato bestrode the Boar and grasping the tail severed it from the spine.”
Thereupon our hero found himself in sorry straits. On the one hand yawned a black abyss, on the other stood a threatening monster. To leap into the chasm or to dare the demon were alike certain death. But Yamato, undaunted, drew the Sacred Sword, and with an agile bound springing clean over the boar’s head, he bestrode the astonished creature and, grasping his tail, severed it suddenly from the spine.
Blind with pain the demon plunged over the precipice, and was dashed into a thousand fragments upon the rocks below; while Yamato, sliding dexterously from its back, remained in safety upon the brink.
THE GRASS-CLEAVING SWORD
Then came Yamato and his valiant warriors to the pine-clad shore of Suruga. Having pacified the unsubmissive savages of the mountains and rivers, they journeyed until they came to the wide-spreading plains of Sagami.
Here the chieftains welcomed Yamato with feigned hospitality, inviting his warriors to a deer-hunt upon the moor.
Little deeming the treachery in store for them, they sit forth eagerly on the chase. All day long they stalked the stag through the wide-spreading moorlands, and at eve bivouacked upon the dry and grassy plain.
“At the hour when rivers are most clamorous,” Yamato was awakened by a strange, unwonted sound, —a crackling as of goblin laughter and a swishing as of ghostly shrouds.
“Surely,” he said within himself, rubbing his smarting eyelids, “tis but a dream, an evil-boding dream.”
But the crackling swiftly increased, till it became a mighty roar. An unwonted light glowed in the heavens and the stars were shrouded by a cloud of lurid smoke writhing ever upward like a serpent of living fire.
Springing to his feet, Yamato saw that the entire moor (before him, on either hand, and behind) was a sea of leaping flames! Shouting to his comrades, he strove vainly to discern an opening in the impenetrable barrier of fire.
Meantime another and greater peril fell upon them. Thousands of deer, terror-stricken before the approaching flames, rushed frantically to and fro, trampling and goring horses and huntsmen in blind insensate flight.
Wrenching themselves free of their tethers, the frightened horses galloped screaming through the camp. In mad stampede they coursed round and round, within the ever-narrowing wall of flames, surging onward with their long streaming manes, like foaming billows breaking over rocks.
Thereupon, rather than to meet death beneath those cruel hoofs, Yamato bade his archers shoot down the maddened steeds.
But the fire waxed more and more furious, hemming them within an ever-narrowing circle, till all hope died within the hearts of the prisoned men.
Of a sudden amid the fiery smoke wreaths, Yamato beheld a spectre which wavered upon the sea of flames. Ever nearer it came till he perceived a maiden in fiery garments running through the burning grass. As she ran she tore off her flaming vestments, till, her long hair singed, her fair body pitifully scorched, Tacibana fell trembling at his feet.
She uttered no cry of pain, but joyously bespake him:
“Behold this fire-drill, O Beloved! By its aid thou mayst find safety.”
Then Yamato mowed down a circle of grass with the Sacred Sword, and, taking the drill, kindled backfire; thus making an isle of safety in the ocean of flame. Whereupon the wind, turned the fire upon the treacherous savages, consuming them utterly.
Thus did my hero and his warriors make good their escape, by virtue of the “Sacred Grass-Cleaving Sword,” yet, methinks, more justly by the brave devotion of the Princess Tacibana.
THE SACRED SWORD
‘Neath jutting cliffs, upon relentless
Bestride a dragon belching fiery breath
Riding homeward Yamato and his Princess took their way along the shore, the fateful isle of Enoshima glimmering dimly through distant mists.
Again rang the siren’s song in the ears of Yamato and his former madness fell over him.
“Ride home,” he commanded Tacibana; “hide thy visage until thy flame-singed tresses have grown anew, and thy scorched skin hath regained its satin lustre, for verily thou art hideous in my sight.”
A teardrop glistened in the eyes of the devoted Princess, as she meekly did her husband’s bidding, singing to her sad heart the whiles a song of Hope, on this wise:
If ‘tis for long this love will last
1After Lady Horikawa.
Yamato plunged through the foam-flowered surges and swam to the emerald grotto of Benten.
Treading upon the threshold, his foot sank in the folds of a noisome dragon; but he slashed it with the Sacred Sword, and, bellowing with pain, the monster glided away.
Hearing the uproar Benten cried in alarm:
“Vain, presumptuous youth, anger not my faithful guardian, else will he slay thee!”
“Nay,” replied Yamato, sheathing the blade, “this is the Sacred Sword, against which neither beast nor man, nor e’en the immortal gods may prevail.”
Then was the siren glad, for the dragon who guarded her cave was none other than her father, the evil gods Susa-no-wo, who having striven in vain to possess himself of the sword by force, had bidden his daughter lure it from Yamato through guile and treachery.
When Yamato lamented that he had not gained the Golden Apple the siren reproached him but lightly; and summoning her beauteous handmaidens, spread before him a sumptuous banquet, mingling in his sake a sleep-compelling potion, the whiles she discoursed drowsy lullabies upon her golden lute.
Heavily slumbered Yamato, but awaking ere dawn, he groped for the form of Benten and discerning her not, called:
“Where art thou, Beloved?” But none gave answer.
Then a peal of mocking laughter rang out, and, springing from his couch, Yamato perceived by the silvery morning twilight that he was indeed alone. Though he searched through every cranny of the cavern he found not the siren, when suddenly, to his great dismay, he realized that the Sacred Sword had also disappeared.
Swiftly swam he to the shore and distraught wandered for hours through the forest bewailing his folly and the treachery of woman.
While treading through the crimson leaves
Fain would he have returned to his faithful Princess but in the labyrinthine forest he lost the trail. The white cone of Fujiyama loomed ghostlike through the distant mists, and thither, weary and sorrowful, he bent his lonely way, beseeching Kwannon, the Merciful, to aid him in his sore distress.
The Vision of Yamato
Then to his mazèd eyes appeared a star,
Shaming the summer moon’s ethereal light.
Above the crest of Fujiyama, far,
Shimmered a vision Paradisal bright!
Gleaming mid fleecy cloud, a damsel fair,
Robed in vague vestments of translucent white,
Showering bright blossoms on the azure air,
Hovered upon the ebon sea of Night!
Yamato fell upon his knees and prayed,
Scarce drawing breath, so utter his dismay.
Beseemed she was no merely mortal maid,
This queen celestial gleaming like the day.
“O Goddess,” thus he spake, “whoe’er thou art,
Throned in the highest heaven o’er gods and men,
Strengthen mine arm, embolden thou mine heart,
That I may gain the Sacred Sword again.”
Then him the angel answered: “Lo
Yamato-take, heaven-descended lord,
Fear not, nor rend thine heart with utter woe,
Deliverance I bring. The Sacred Sword
Thou soon shalt find hard by a mountain mere,
Upon the antlers of a Magic Deer!
Haste then the stag to slay, ere it shall bear
The precious blade to Susano for e’er.”
Thus spake the Goddess; then upon the night,
Mid dulcet strains of lute and psaltery,
Like fleeting dew before morn’s radiant light,
Melted to mist and vanished utterly!
Then Yamato knew that the damsel he beheld in the vision was none other than the celestial Kwannon, Goddess of Mercy and Love, and obedient to her command scoured moor and mountain in quest of the magic stag.
“Had I but my trusty javelin,” he spake within himself; “but naked-handed and weaponless how may I slay the demon deer? Nathless will I strive mine utmost.”
Of a sudden before his amazed eyes there shot up from the earth a mighty bamboo-stalk, tall and slender but exceeding strong. Yamato clove the shaft and, binding therein a pointed flint, fashioned a goodly lance.
Scarce had he finished when there sounded across the forest a far-off trumpet-peal, the belling of a mighty stag!
“O for my hounds!” cried Yamato, despairingly. “Gentle Kwannon, dost thou mock my helplessness? Would that I had the scent of a dog, whereby to track this stag, or four fleet legs wherewith to match its flight.”
“Gleaming mid fleecy cloud, a damsel fair”
“Robed in vague vestments of translucent white
Hovered upon the ebon sea of night”
Permission of Armand Dayot
“But still the cruel fisher shook his head”
“Dance first and I thy wings will straight restore”
From “Old-World Japan,” by T. H. Robinson
Permission of Macmillan Co.
Yamato cast himself upon the earth in despair, and, lying thus, he discerned, approaching ever nearer through the silent forest, a faint pattering as of softly padded feet.
Sudden there darted across the moonlit glade a gaunt shadow, like that of a great, shaggy dog. It leaped lightly over his body, then was lost in the wild-wood.
Yamato wondered: “Can it be that some other huntsman is on the scent of the stag?”
Another and another shadow slipped stealthily by.
Crouching behind a tree Yamato gave them free way, as in serried ranks, a pack of famished wolves trotted by, the slaver dripping from their long, lolling tongues. After them bounded Yamato, crying: “Kwannon hath lent me her hounds.”
Through marsh and wilderness, out of the ferny forest, up lava-encrusted slopes, he climbed to a point of vantage, whence all the countryside could be discerned.
Beneath him in a meadow, on the marge of a placid lake, browsed a great white deer; and behold! as in the palace of a daimio his precious blade lies on the carven rack, thus amid its wide-spreading antlers rested the Sacred Sword!
Suddenly the stag sniffed the air, stamped the earth, and bellowing lustily, bounded toward the lake. Little by little the wolves gained upon him and their leader, springing at his throat, was instantly transfixed by his ten-forked antlers.
Into the waters leaped the Magic Stag, and the pack, balked of their longed-for prey, slunk, crestfallen and silent, back into the forest.
Above the glittering wake Yamato discerned the Sacred Sword, still resting upon the antlers and, hurling his lance, plunged into the lake.
Swimming with might and main he gradually gained upon the struggling stag, when the reddening tide told him that his spear had gone straight to the mark.
Seizing the Sword, Yamato plunged it clean to the hilt in the heart of the Stag.
Bellowing lustily, down through unfathomable depths sank the dying demon, and Yamato, the Sacred Sword between his teeth, swam joyously to shore.
Exulting in his victory Yamato descended the forest-clad slopes of Fujiyama.
Joyous at having regained the Sacred Sword, his heart leaped with a greater happiness. At last he realized that not for love of him but to gain the Sacred Sword had Benten woven her guileful web; and his heart yearned for the faithful Tacibana. But first, he told himself, he must visit the sorceress to charge her with treachery and theft.
He hastened to their trysting place, and, gazing into the jade-green water, presently perceived the glitter of her golden scales.
Yamato plunged headlong in pursuit of the fleeing siren and the dark wave closed above him.
As a stone cast into a bottomless well sank Yamato, and ever, as he descended, the sea crooned in his ears a sweet yet sorrowful slumber-song bodeful of love and death. Then was he mindful of returning earthward, but of a sudden he felt himself enveloped by the folds of a loathly serpent, and a chill struck to his very heart.
The song of the sea became louder and more articulate till he recognized the voice of Benten:
“I hold thee for ever,” sang the siren. “Thrice have I held thee, and thrice hast thou eluded my grasp. Henceforth none may wrest thee from me, save a goddess whom thou shalt acclaim more beautiful, whose love is even greater than mine own.”
Then dim and far, above the endless leagues of jade-green water, Yamato was ware of the Princess Tacibana gently murmuring his name. Through the infinite depths he beheld her lovesome face smiling to him from out the dusky cloud-rifts of her hair.
Then knew Yamato that “the goddess more beautiful than Benten whose love was greater than her own,” was none other than his faithful Tacibana.
Downward, like the tendrils of some miraculous vine, grew the dusky tresses of Tacibana. They enveloped Yamato in a fragrant cloud and enlaced him in the meshes of a silken net. Like strong encircling arms they upbore him, through endless leagues of water, to the sea-swept isle of Enoshima.
Tacibana, pitiful and wan, gazed anxiously upon him. Her warm white hands clasped his in fond solicitude.
He strove to speak, but a great weariness overcame him and he fell upon the breast of his faithful Princess.
When Yamato came to himself Tacibana had vanished, whither he knew not.
“She hath gone for help and will presently come again,” he said within himself; but hours passed and she did not return.
Distraught by vague forebodings Yamato turned his steps toward Kashiwa-bara.
He found the city in a state of utter panic. Their household chattels piled upon bullock-carts, or borne upon their bended backs, the terror-stricken natives were rushing hither and thither as though surprised by a sudden conflagration.
Demanding the cause of their alarm Yamato was informed that a terrific dragon had descended upon the land, slaying cattle, devastating rice-fields, and overwhelming the people with pestilence and death.
When last descried the monster was entering the royal palace, whence lamentable cries had issued telling the fate of its inhabitants.
Yamato hastened thither. All was silent and deserted. From cellar to turret he rushed, calling frantically upon Tacibana, only to find a mass of mangled and lifeless bodies. He searched gardens and outbuildings, following trails of blood, but nowhere could he discern trace of his lost Princess.
Of a sudden he heard a sound as of a priestess chanting, and mounting a Pagoda found Tacibana clad in white vestments waving a wand, and chanting the norito.1
1An ancient exorcism to protect the faithful from serpents, sprites, and goblins.
Suddenly her voice was whelmed in a terrific uproar. The Thunder God Raiden beat furiously upon his drums; great leaden clouds shut out the sky. Futen, the Wind God, unloosed his tempests; while with a flash of forked lightning, from a rent in the midnight sky, hurtled Susa-no-wo, Dragon of the Sea.
His head was like a camel, his horns were like a stag, and his eyes were glowing coals of fire. Scaled like a crocodile, he brandished a tiger’s paws, armed with the talons of an eagle.
Belching forth the steam of a score of geysers and rearing itself upon its terrible tail, the dragon charged at Yamato.
Dexterously evading the onslaught, he thrust, lunged, and slashed, burying his blade in the dragon’s belly, but in vain, at every stroke he was enwrapped more closely in the great constricting coils.
Thus the battle raged, the reptile answering each stroke with an ever-tightening grip, until it seemed that the hero’s strength would fail.
But Yamato, gathering himself in one supreme effort, thrust his sword to the hilt in the dragon’s throat.
With lightning-like convolutions the monster strove to wrest the blade from the hand of his antagonist, then with a thunderous battering of wings soared in air. Writhing in its death-throes it hovered a moment, then fell crashing to earth.
Yamato heard afar the voice of Tacibana chanting:
“Henceforth shall all evil and calamity through writhing reptiles for ever disappear, as the wind of morning blows away night’s chill-enfolding mist. As ships sailing from the harbour so shall these evil spirits be borne to the Sea Plain, then swept through the Whirlpool Gate to Yomi, that the earth be rid of them for ever.”
Yamato lifted his weary lids to behold the wondrous smile of Tacibana.
“My divine Lord,” she murmured, “thou hast delivered me for ever from Susa-no-wo.”
“Henceforth, my Beloved,” replied Yamato, “naught may part us. No longer shall our arch-enemy defile
the land. Hereafter hath he power alone over the sea.”
Full long and joyously lived Yamato with his ever-loving wife.
One day, in the month of the watery moon, he fared forth upon a foray against the tempestuous Amos.
Loth to hazard the toilsome mountain passes, he chose rather to embark his army upon the sea.
Princess Tacibana, in sore distress that her lord was in no mind to renounce this venture, implored to be permitted to accompany him.
Laughing away her fears, Yamato consented:
“‘Tis my last fight,” he declared. “Henceforth will we spend our days in never-ending peace.”
When they had journeyed to the wave-washed shores of Idzu, Yamato exclaimed exultingly:
“Why should I fear to encounter Susa-no-wo upon the sea, since I have already conquered him on land?”
Whereupon the Sea God, angered at the defiant words of Yamato, raised a mighty tempest. The rains descended and the winds blew and beat upon the ship. Thunderbolts crashed about them and lightning blinded their eyes. Great billows swept the decks, sails were rent in ribbons, and masts were split in twain.
Out of the depths he heard a siren singing:
“Reckless Yamato, thou hast adventured upon my ever-verdant Sea Plain and defied my father, the God of Ocean. Therefore shalt thou perish, else another victim be granted me.”
In the seething emerald waters Tacibana beheld a mermaid stretching out moon-blanched arms.
Forgetting his former infidelity she resolved to sacrifice herself in the place of her beloved lord.
“Take me, Benten, to thy watery kingdom, “cried the Princess, then plunged into the foam-flowered waves.
Of a sudden the tempest abated, the sea was calmed, and a snow-white heron soared upward to the sun.
“With thee let me live or perish!” cried Yamato, leaping into the jade-green sea.
Long he battled beneath the wave, groping through the depths for his faithful Princess. At last he rose bearing in his arms a white and lifeless burden. The snow-white spirit of Tacibana had soared to the Eternal Land.
“Alas, my beloved wife!” sobbed Yamato, “may the foam-flowers bloom for ever on thy grave!” 1
1 From the lament of Yamato, the eastern province of Japan is still known as Azuma, “Alas! My beloved wife.”
The Autumn flames with ruddy, golden light
Her face displayed the flush of autumn
If we, who glimpsed but momently her
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