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THE CLASHING OF THE CLANS
THE MINAMOTO CUBS
HER husband dead, a sheaf of spears in his breast, the roof falling behind her, Lady Tokiwa and her little sons fled from the flaming Minamoto Castle.
With sublime audacity, she sought refuge in the palace of her arch enemy, the Taira tyrant Kiyomori.
In all Nippon there was but one who did not tremble before the cruel daimio, his dauntless mother, Iki.
So, when Tokiwa implored her to intercede with Kiyomori in behalf of her fatherless children, Iki peered through her time-dimmed eyes into the faces of the Minamoto princelings: Yoritomo, sullen and defiant, Yoshitsune, laughing and cuddling her withered bosom.
“Jizo bless thee, little Elf,” she cried. “Thou hast the very countenance of my lost babe. Rise Lady Tokiwa, I will conduct thee to my son.”
All Kyoto rang with the Taira victory. Kiyomori and his exulting retainers were carousing in the high-roofed banquet-hall. His heart was hot with sake. Lust of battle had yielded to lust of flesh. He had apportioned the precious Minamoto loot among his trusted samurai, and was now tasting with delight the cup of their fulsome flattery. Drunk with wine and glory, he surveyed the gods, the world, and himself with self-complacent pride.
A servitor threw wide the fusuma. Tokiwa and lid entered. The young matron prostrated herself timorously before the mazed daimio, the aged mother seating herself fearlessly at his side.
“Is she not surpassing fair?” Iki whispered.
“By Benten,” cried Kiyomori, “tis the peerless princess of the Minamoto. They spake sooth who named thee most beauteous flower of Yamato.”
Tokiwa smiled pitifully: “I come, most august and gracious Lord, to beseech a priceless boon.”
“What wouldst thou seek?” demanded the tyrant as the trembling lips of Tokiwa denied her speech.
“That, in thine infinite mercy,” besought Tokiwa, great tears welling to her eyes, “thou wouldst spare my fatherless children.”
“Thy Minamoto cubs? Never,” he thundered. “Soon will they grow to panthers, and rend the hand that feeds them.”
“Mark her well, my son,” insinuated Iki. “Is she not worth the venture?”
Kiyomori’s gaze drank the shrinking figure from tiara to sandal, gloating upon her gently rounded curves.
“Bring thy brats,” he grunted, clicking his fan.
Laughing and unaffrighted, the children romped in, Yoshitsune clambering upon the knee of Mother Iki, rummaging her robes in quest of sweetmeats, Yoritomo planting himself sturdily before the tyrant, scornful and unabashed.
Tokiwa bade him bow obeisance, but he refused, insolently thrusting out his tongue.
Kiyomori grinned: “Fierce little panthers! Minamoto to the bone!”
“Nay, my son, he is like to thee,” cried his mother. “Even so thou didst honour thine elders when a child.”
“And wouldst thou rear such another cub, fond, long-suffering dam?” demanded the daimio jestingly.
“Yea, more than one,” she smiled, “grant me both, that I may pare their baby claws.”
Kiyomori laughed, “Thou shalt have thy will, little Mother,” he muttered grudgingly.
Tokiwa crept to the tyrant’s dais and clasped his feet, weeping for joy.
HOW A MINAMOTO BEFRIENDED A TAIRA
Beneath far-jutting eaves, whose sword-like sweep
Slashes the verdant lacquer of the pine,
A forest of vast figures fill a shrine,
Portraying one in contemplation deep,
Whose weary lids know neither death nor sleep.
Tier upon tier the golden idols shine,
Three thousand, thousand-handed, loom in line,
And pitying peer on all who pray and weep.
Goddess of Mercy, bountiful and kind,
Who givest succour to the sore opprest,
Within thy shrine, where, muttering their prayer,
Old bonzes bow, like Buddhas bent and blind,
Grant me at last the benison of rest,
Thy blest Nirvana and an end of care!
A youthful samurai knelt in the temple’s golden gloom intoning his mournful prayer. Suddenly he rose and beat his breast: “Not rest or peace for such as I,” he cried despairingly. “Thou knowest, merciful Kwannon, these are not the boons I fain would seek.”
“The gifts of the Goddess are of her own choosing,” spake a gentle voice at his elbow. “Yet shouldst thou entreat her with whole-souled faith, she will bestow upon thee thy heart’s desire.”
Turning swiftly, the samurai beheld a smiling maiden, who extended to him a silken scrip and a lacquered begging-bowl.
“August and honourable Lord,” she entreated, “pray make thy benevolent offering, and thrust thy hand into the bag of Fortune.”
“Surely thou art no priestess, but the daughter of Kwannon,” spoke the samurai noting the delicate, aristocratic, oval face, from under whose high-arched brows wistful eyes met his own with the trustfulness of a young child.
“The Imperial Maids-of-Honour assist the priestesses upon this day of days,” she smiled.
Dropping a silver coin in the bowl, the samurai slipped his hand within the scrip, fumbling among a mass of tiny amulets. His brow clouded with disappointment as he drew forth a little brazen sword.
“A life of strife is allotted thee,” she murmured, her eyes aflood with laughter. “Is this not thy heart’s desire?”
The youth stood wonder-struck by the sudden sympathy revealed to him in the maiden’s naïve delight.
“Already is that mine, fair votaress, but I would fain have greater guerdon,” ventured the enraptured samurai.
“The bounty of Kwannon is beyond measure,” rejoined the maiden. “‘Tis permitted the benevolent donor to entreat her grace anew.”
“Request is proffered that the noble lady will select the gift which the Goddess granteth me.”
The charms in the scrip tinkled musically as her fingers stirred them. A smile of mingled mischief and tenderness deepened her dimples as she laid in his palm a tiny golden heart.
“The gods have granted a happy omen,” laughed the delighted youth,” since it comes from thy hand to mine.”
“The highwayman with a dexterous sweep of his halberd held her captive”
Pavilion of the Phoenix, Summer Palace of Yorimasa, Uji
“In refinement of proportion and purity of style unsurpassed in all Japan”
From “Japanese Temples and their Treasures”
With Permission of the Department of Education, Tokyo, Japan
Her ebon lashes swept her flushed cheeks, and with a little inclination of her delicate head the maiden glided away. She passed from group to group, jingling her coins and amulets, chanting sweetly the whiles: “Gifts, gifts of Kwannon; to the benevolent the thousand-handed Goddess grant eth his heart’s desire.”
The youth sped after his fleeting lady, drawn by a lodestone uncomprehended but irresistible, and paused, his progress suddenly stemmed by the suite of the Regent, Taira Kiyomori.
A score of years have passed since, as a lad, Yoshitsune stood in the despotic presence and gazed unabashed into the tyrant’s relentless face. Little reeks Kiyomori that “the Minamoto cubs” he caged within fortress and monastery, grown to lithe young panthers, have burst their bonds and even now are crouching for the spring.
“Thou seest, my son,” spake Kiyomori exultingly, “not a single Minamoto dareth show his crest!”
Munemori pointed to the smiling seller of amulets:
“Asagao, Morning Glory, fairest flower of the Minamoto,” he protested courteously.
“Daughter of dotard Yorimasa,” sneered the tyrant, “a toothless cur, that may no longer bite!”
“Yet can the old dog snarl,” laughed Munemori, “for when I besought the hand of his daughter, methought he would have rent me limb from limb.”
“Shall a Taira abase himself to beseech a Minamoto?”
thundered Kiyomori. “An the maid pleaseth thee, take her, forsooth!”
Yoshitsune gripped his sword, then, mastering himself, resolved at all hazards to shield his fair votaress from her hidden peril. He plunged into the seething throng, seeking ever the Flower of the Minamoto. But Morning Glory, in her gilded norimon, had quitted the temple-court.
The bearers had plodded but a little space when Munemori, riding in hot haste, overtook and forced his escort upon the maiden.
“The proffered service of the Taira lord is not desired,” replied Morning Glory courteously
“Nay, beauteous lady,” laughed the insistent Munemori, “without thy leave still shall I guard thee on thy way.”
With a sudden clash Asagao closed the shutters.
Unabashed, Munemori pursued the one-sided intercourse, well knowing, howsoe’er ill-content the maid
might be, she had no choice but to listen.
“Flower of my heart,” he cried, “I have long time sought thee of thine august father. Why doth he still deny my suit? Such an alliance would slay the hatred of our rival clans.”
“The hatred of a Minamoto is deathless,” rejoined Morning Glory. “Beware to anger me with thine unwelcome importunities, else thy folly bring thee evil fate.”
“Deathless too,” echoed Munemori, “is the love of a Taira. Know, my sweet enemy, that no hatred, not even thine own, shall stay me from my will. Entreat thy father to grant my suit else, Body of Kwannon, I shall take thee without his consent or thine!”
As he spake, a highwayman sprang from covert, and, with lowered halberd, commanded them to halt.
“Who art thou?” demanded Munemori, “who thus waylayeth peaceful citizens?”
“I am Benkei, a monk of Hiei-zan,” cried the burly bonze. Wherewith the bandit laid about him so lustily that he beat the sword from Munemori’s hand, slashing his charger in such grievous wise that it threw its rider heavily to the ground.
Morning Glory leaped from her litter, trusting to save herself in flight. But the highwayman with a dexterous sweep of his halberd held her captive within its scythe-like curve.
Sudden, from out the darkness, ran a youthful samurai. Grasping the bandit in a grip of steel, with relentless might he bent his wrist slowly backward till the halberd fell clanging upon the stones.
As the cut-throat stooped to regain his weapon, with a crashing blow the unknown samurai struck him suddenly to earth.
The vanquished ruffian cringed before his triumphant adversary: “Spare me, most valiant lord,” he pleaded. “Suffer me to become the henchman of my conqueror.”
“My henchman!” echoed the other. “Never! I make not war on maids nor rob defenceless knights.”
“Softly, august master,” fawned the contrite highwayman, “I plotted no scathe for this fine gallant and his lovesome lady. I sought but his sword. A vow have I sworn to gain a thousand blades wherewith to arm the merry monks of Yoshitsune against the vile Taira.”
Joyously laughed the knight. “I am Yoshitsune,” he declared, “and since there be need of valiant blades, I accept thy proffered fealty.”
Turning to Morning Glory, he bespake her full courteously: “Lady of the understanding heart, suffer thine unworthy servitor to guard thee on thy way.”
Shyly yet eagerly the maid made answer: “Willingly doth the daughter of Yorimasa accept the proffered service of the valiant Minamoto; but first let us succour this misfortunate knight.”
Yoshitsune devoured his enemy with hungering eyes. “Little love,” he said, “wouldst thou bear this Taira didst thou know his secret soul?”
“Nay,” protested Asagao earnestly, “I love thy foeman not. Belike ye may meet one day in battle; how would I pray that thou shouldst conquer.”
The Morning Glory’s fragile tendrils twine
Around the rope with such bewitching spell
I cannot bear to break the tender vine;
But draw my water from my neighbor’s well.
“Benkei,” he commanded, “bring water, wherewith to revive this wounded knight.”
The henchman ran to the river, filled his helmet, and, returning, poured it over the head of the bemused Munemori, who rubbed his astonished eyes and groped dazedly for his sword.
Placing the wounded man’s arm about his shoulder, Yoshitsune spake reassuringly: “Fear not, Brother, we would but take thee to thy dwelling.” Then to the erstwhile highwayman: “Lend a hand, Benkei,” he cried, “tis for the honour of the Minamoto!”
Gently he bestowed the maiden in her gilded norimon, whispering the whiles, “Lady of the understanding heart, ‘tis for thy sake I have done this deed! Tell me, I pray, that I may greet again thy wondrous smile.”
Asagao abased her mist-dimmed eyes: “When the first morning glory opens,” she murmured timidly, “in the temple garden.”
“Then, Flower of the Dawn, will I keep the tryst,” smiled Yoshitsune, his heart singing with delight:
“If thou shouldst wish to meet me, Dear,
We two, alone, again,
Come to the temple tori near,
Or sunbeam, storm or rain;
And if the idlers scoff or sneer,
Discreetly to them say:
Upon the passing throng to peer
Thou wendest thus thy way.
If thou shouldst wish to meet me, Dear,
Alone, but thou and I,
Hide ‘neath the murmurous pine boughs here,
Till I to thee draw nigh,
Bide in the sheltering bamboo patch,
If any folk ask why,
Say that thou earnest there to catch
A burnished butterfly.”
FLOWER DANCE, BINGO PROVINCE.
HOW A MINAMOTO CAME TO HIS TRYST AND ENCOUNTERED
WHOM HE WOULD NOT AND THEREAFTER
FARED BETTER THAN HE HOPED.
At the unfolding of the first white convolvulus Yoshitsune hastened to the temple tori. Vainly questing Morning Glory he wandered through the deserted garden to the vast and lofty temple.
Within its interminable verandah he fell upon a band of Taira samurai absorbed in a contest of archery. They had set their target at the very end, emulating ‘ne another in vain attempts to reach the goal.
Munemori clapped Yoshitsune upon the shoulder.
“Take my bow, Comrade,” he exclaimed, “and try thy fortune!”
“Comrade of thine am I not,” laughed Yoshitsune, “nor may I avail myself of thy courtesy since graver matters await me.”
“Thy business shall wait forsooth, an thou wouldst not become target for our shafts.”
Loth to provoke a quarrel, Yoshitsune drew bow. Over-confident in his skill, he neglected to take account of the wind. His arrow swerved to the side and buried itself in a beam.
With a shrug he yielded the bow to Munemori. Tossing into air a handful of feathers the Taira noted the trend of the breeze; then stretching the great bow with all his strength he sent a shaft far beyond his antagonist.
A ringing cry from the bystanders acclaimed the shot. “Try again, Friend,” smiled Munemori complacently. Parting his legs for a sturdier stance, Yoshitsune drew the great Kwanto bow to its utmost stretch. An arrow trembled in the heart of the target.
“A master-shot!” cried the Taira bowmen.
Aflame with envy, Munemori muttered: “Tis wondrous chance, if indeed it be not magic. Who art thou, stranger?” he demanded. “Surely ore now have I beheld thine evil-favoured visage.”
Yoshitsune smiled significantly: “A man without home or name,” he rejoined, hastening into the temple. The Taira glared lowering after, probing his memory.
Of a sudden he struck his thigh.
“Clansmen,” he stormed, “tis the Minamoto panther who hath burst his cage! Guards, bolt the doors, that he may not escape!”
Little reeked the eager youth the trap into which he had fallen. But Morning Glory, waiting within the temple, had heard.
“Hide, dear my Lord,” she implored, “else will they surely slay thee!”
“Fear not, loved Blossom,” he replied reassuringly. “None may draw blade within this holy place.”
“Nay,” she protested, “Munemori stayeth not for Gods or men! Thou art unarmed. The Taira will drag thee forth to torture.”
Against his will, Asagao silently led him to a curtained alcove behind the golden image of Kwannon.
“Tis the shrine of the Mikado,” she whispered. “None may enter here on pain of death.”
“Yet thou dost dare?” he marvelled.
“Love dareth even death!” she smiled triumphantly.
Sudden shouts and the tramp of iron feet! “Death to the Minamoto!” roared the thunderous voice of Munemori. “Seize and strip him, then cast him in the panther’s pit. We shall see with what love his kindred caress him!”
The temple walls re-echoed as the Taira troop rushed in. Back and forth they quested through the endless ranks of golden idols, closing slowly in upon their prey.
As Munemori grasped the glittering veil of the Goddess, an imperious voice stayed his profane hand.
“Bow down, Sacrilegious One,” commanded Kwannon. “Sheathe thy sword lest I destroy thee utterly!”
The great idol slowly revolved, her myriad arms raised in wrathful menace. Munemori fell back abashed.
Within the shrine a trap-door opened, leading to a secret, subterranean passage. The youth and the maiden descended, the Goddess turned, wrapped her gleaming robes about her, and the sword of Munemori shivered in fragments against the bright impenetrable folds!
Through many and tortuous windings they hastened till they came to a grated doorway. Recognizing Asagao, a sentry led them up a narrow stairway out into a cloistered court. To his astonishment, Yoshitsune saw before him the palace of the Emperor, whose guard Yorimasa commanded.
Circling the cloister, Asagao conducted the youth to her father’s dwelling.
The daimio salaamed with sibilant indrawings of breath: “August Highness, dauntless chieftain of our clan,” he greeted, “deign to honour with thy presence my humble abode.”
“My Daughter, it is thy privilege to offer refreshment to our princely guest.”
Morning Glory silently glided from the apartment. The eyes of the aged warrior lighted with a sudden flame:
“Time is,” he exclaimed, “that we raise the white standard of the Minamoto and rend in tatters the red Taira banner. For this have I long plotted in secret; now is the hour to strike!”
“In truth,” returned Yoshitsune, “even now my brother Yoritomo doth raise an army in the east. With the fighting monks of Hiei-zan will I go to join him.”
“My Lord,” interposed Yorimasa, “the Minamoto shall set up a Heaven-descended Emperor, in whose veins runs no taint of the Taira blood.”
The voice of Yoshitsune vibrated with deep emotion. “When the last Taira lieth in his bloody shroud,” he entreated, “wilt thou grant me to wife thy gentle white-souled daughter?”
Yorimasa recoiled as though stabbed to the heart. “highness,” he stammered, “my life is thine, to be poured out at thy bidding; but my daughter is already given to another!”
The youth swore a mighty oath. The earth reeled suddenly beneath him. Had Morning Glory, the soul of truth, made a mock of his affection? In the twinkling of an eye his faith reasserted itself.
“To whom hast thou pledged Asagao?” he demanded eagerly.
“To thine enemy and mine, Taira Munemori,” was the curt answer.
Yoshitsune sprang to his feet. “Munemori!” he cried. “Madman, wherefore hast thou done this deed?”
Yorimasa raised his hand in mute deprecation:
“The truth shall be known,” he said simply. “This very day did Taira no Kiyomori demand the hand of Asagao for his son—”
“Thou didst not consent,” the youth asserted.
“Rather would I doom her to death,” affirmed the heroic daimio.
“But Kiyomori told me our children had plighted their troth beneath the eternal stars!”
The eyes of Yoshitsune grew dark with wrath:
“Amida Butsu!” he murmured beneath his breath.
“Only last night when Munemori rescued my daughter from bandits.”
“Tis sooth,” laughed Yoshitsune, “save that thou hast sadly misnamed the actors in this little comedy. ‘Twas not to the Taira that Asagao plighted troth.”
“I had it from her very lips,” insisted Yorimasa.
The youth smiled incredulously.
“Last night,” resumed the father, “a boding dream oppressed me. I sought my daughter, fearing lest some dread sorrow had befallen. The moonbeams fluttered upon her frail, white figure, a fleeting smile dimpled her peach-tinted cheek. Wistfully she murmured: ‘Prince of my dreams, I love thee! In the Temple of Kwannon have I given thee my heart!’ Forgive her, Yoshitsune, she is very young!”
“Forgive her!” cried the blissful youth, “in sooth I shall, since she hath given her heart to me!”
Yorimasa’s aged eyes lighted with a joyous smile. He clicked his fan sharply and Morning Glory entered bearing upon a vermilion lacquered tray the ceremonial tea.
She had donned a robe of mist-grey crepe, girded by an orchid-tinted obi. In the spread wings of her raven hair glittered golden dragonflies.
“My daughter,” smiled Yorimasa complacently, “the august prince, Minamoto no Yoshitsune honours our unworthy house by demanding thee in wedlock.”
Asagao prostrated herself till her white brow touched the floor: “The will of my father is the delight of his child,” she answered dutifully.
Yoshitsune clasped her to his heart: “Worshipped One, through a thousand existences shall my love for thee endure,” he murmured fervently:
“The way a river runneth to the sea,
The way an eagle wingeth through the day,
The way my passion floweth, Love, to thee!
These changeless are and ne’ er shall know decay!”1
It was night; great, white mourning-lanterns gleamed upon the Taira gate. The tyrant, Kiyomori, had journeyed to the Eternal Land.
“Perform no funeral rites,” he had commanded. “Seize Minamoto no Yoritomo, behead him, and hang his skull before my tomb.”
The death of the masterful Kiyomori was the signal for the long-smouldering Minamoto rebellion, which suddenly burst forth and swept the country like a devouring flame.
Rallying a horde of clansmen, ronins and fighting-monks, Yoritomo kindled the fires by marching against Kyoto.
Taira Munemori, with an army of twenty thousand samurai, set forth to meet him.
Yorimasa with a paltry three hundred waited at the Uji River. As his warriors were sawing asunder the last remaining planks of the bridge, a sudden clatter of hoofs broke the stillness of the night!
“‘Tis Yoshitsune!” cried Asagao triumphantly. “Behold his snowy banner flashing in the dusk.”
Yorimasa raised his hands in mute despair! “Alas, my child, he cannot cross! The bridge no longer will bear his weight!”
Heedless of her father’s warning Morning Glory mounted the trembling timbers. A plank splashed into the stream as she glided swiftly across.
“If I but had a lantern wherewith to warn him,” mused the maiden longingly.
The meadow glimmered with the light of a myriad glow-worms. Asagao smiled with sudden delight. Descending to the river she gathered the fireflies by scores, and, prisoning them in her veil, made a gleaming torch.
Pursued by a squadron of Taira horsemen, Yoshitsune with a score of samurai galloped toward the bridge.
Suddenly Morning Glory flashed her lantern.
“Halt, Yoshitsune!” she screamed. “The bridge is sawn asunder!”
Throwing his steed back upon its haunches, Yoshitsune lifted her to the saddle. A shower of arrows from the Taira bowmen whistled around them as he spurred into the stream.
Her arms clasped tightly about his shoulders, Morning Glory clung to her knight as, swimming steadily, the great charger safely bore them through the seething torrent.
Even as they gained the bank their pursuers neared the fatal bridge. Unwitting the trap which lay before them, the Taira troop rode recklessly onward. When the foremost horseman reached the middle span the planks gave way, hurling steeds and riders, amid a crash of splintered timbers to sudden death.
White with terror, Morning Glory sank swooning upon the ground. Yoshitsune raised her gently.
“Courage, Love,” he cried. “Ride with all speed to Yoritomo. Spare neither spur nor lash!”
“Nay, I am not affrighted,” she smiled, tossing her head resolutely. “A Minamoto feareth not the hour of battle!”
“Await me then in thy father’s palace. Should the Taira cross the threshold, thou wilt know I am no more.”
“At that moment will I go to join thee,” Asagao flashed.
“We shall meet here or in a happier life,” Yoshitsune smiled, and turned to face the foe.
Munemori led his twenty thousand samurai into the ford. A tempest of shafts from Yorimasa’s valiant bowmen greeted the Taira as they reached midstream. But how could a few score archers prevail against such overwhelming odds! On they came, creeping up the bank like an endless swarm of ants, their lacquered harness gleaming blue in the moonlight.
Sitting his steed like a brazen statue, waited Yoshitsune. Against his breast-plate a shower of shafts glanced and splintered. Still he waited until the foremost Taira were but a lance’s length away. Then, with a sudden cry, he spurred furiously upon them.
Desperately fought I lie Minamoto but in vain, for the Taira surged upon them relentless, numberless, and invincible.
Yoshitsune shivered his sword upon the shield of Munemori, who rose in his stirrups, his blade about to fall.
Springing suddenly between, Yorimasa cried: “Out upon thee, caitiff, to strike a defenceless foe!”
The great blade fell, cleaving the casque in twain.
Catching him in his arms, Yoshitsune bore the stricken general from the field. But when he looked for Munemori, no trace of the Taira could he find.
Yorimasa soon revived under the gentle ministrations of Morning Glory. “Time enough for women’s work,” he cried impatiently. “Watch!”
The trembling girl crouched upon the balcony. Affrighted by the clash of arms, a swarm of fireflies rose from the river bank, soaring upon the night like sparks from a mighty conflagration.
The souls of the Minamoto!” cried Asagao despairingly. “Father, we are lost!”
Hearing no response, she ran into the chamber.
Upon the white matting lay Yorimasa weltering in a pool of blood. Preferring death to surrender the conquered chieftain had committed seppuku.
With a thunderous crash the palace gate fell. Snatching an axe from an assailant, Yoshitsune rushed into the archway. His blows rained like a flail upon a threshing-floor. Gathering about him, his warriors formed a rampart, from which the Taira drew back discomfited.
“Munemori!” he shouted, “darest thou not leap this little barrier?”
“All in good time,” returned the Taira, his face contorted with an ugly leer: “Archers, clear the way of yonder wildcat!”
A hundred arrows whistled through the archway. Yoshitsune fell, transfixed by a dozen shafts.
A heart-rending wail arose above the tumult. Running to her lover’s side, Morning Glory grasped his sword, bent on self-destruction.
Munemori roughly unclenched her trembling fingers. “Thou wouldst slay thyself, sweet Blossom,” he laughed, crushing her in his cruel embrace, “but by the Gods, thou art too late!”
Asagao sank from him in loathing and fell swooning upon her father’s breast.
THE FLIGHT OF THE TAIRA
“A firefly in a prison pent,
Ne’er more to flame upon the moor.”
Taken captive by the Taira, Morning Glory lay in delirium, bereft of her dauntless lord.
“My Worshipped One, I did vow to join thee in the Meido. Alas!” she wailed, “I have not kept my tryst.”
But Yoshitsune still lived. Raised from the dead by his faithful Benkei, he gathered a mighty army and descended anew upon his foes with fierce and bloody onslaught.
Vainly fighting a losing cause the Taira withdrew within the mighty fortress of Kobe.
Through a twelve-months’ siege the Minamoto gripped the struggling city in an ever-tightening grasp.
Landward, cyclopean walls engirdled the city on all sides save one, where towered a sheer, impregnable cliff. Crouched thereon the Minamoto panthers glared upon their prey ready to spring; but still Yoshitsune delayed the death-stroke.
Morning Glory stood upon the ramparts with the Child Emperor flying a kite. Her eyes scanned anxiously the cliff where she discerned a white banner waving amid the Minamoto ranks.
“‘Tis Yoshitsune,” she cried, her heart beating with delight “he hath recognized my signal!”
Her little plan had succeeded, Yoshitsune had guessed the riddle of the morning-glory kite.
Even as she spake, an arrow whistled above her head and quivered in the heart of the flower.
“Alas! he would slay me!” she wailed.
“Look!” cried little Antoku, drawing in the cord and displaying a barbless shaft, about which was wrapped a scroll. “Someone hath sent me a letter!”
Morning Glory untwined the missive: “Tis mine, dear child,” she smiled, and hid it in her bosom.
In the solitude of her chamber she read:
What is this life! A seed-plume idly blown
By turns this way and that by vagrant wind,
Wafted we know not why by instincts blind,
Unwitting whence we came or whither flown:
But, like the seed unto the tempest sown,
That springs to fruitage ‘neath the sunbeams kind,
My soul doth seek unceasingly to find
In thy dear smile the Sun of Life unknown.
So, like the morning-glory, consciousless of aught
Of earth’s vast mystery of ceaseless pain,
Bloom thou in beauty, or in sun or rain;
Fear not, nor take a solitary thought,
Of morrows doomful, yesterday’s annoy;
Bloom for the day in unremitting joy!
Smiling between her tears, Asagao wrote an answering stanza, and pasting the poem over the rent, repaired the broken kite, fraying meanwhile several strands of the cord.
Scarcely had little Antoku given it to the wind when the threads parted, the kite soared high in air, fell, and was caught in the branches of a pine at the summit of the cliff.
“Shouting to his comrades: ‘Where a stag can go there can a man!’”
“Yoshitsune spurred his steed over the precipice.”
“A ringing cry rose from a thousand throats as the great ships grappled”
Yoshitsune climbed and, discovering the missive, read:
The morning-glory holds for one brief day
A soul as full and free from idle fears,
As that of some great fir, born to decay
Though it may flourish for a thousand years!
At sunset came an arrow winging a burning message:
“If thou lovest me, Worshipped One, fail not for thy life to wait this night at the Water-Gate. With the rising of the moon will the Minamoto panther spring!”
Morning Glory doubted not that her lover would keep his tryst. Well she knew ere dawn not a living soul would be left in the palace. In fancy she heard the roar of the onslaught, crashing of doors, shrieks of women, and through it all one shrill small voice pitifully lisping her name. No quarter would be granted to the Taira infant, grandson of the hated Kiyomori.
Silently she tiptoed through dim corridors to little Antoku’s chamber. Wrapping the sleeping child in a futon she sped to the Water-Gate.
A narrow river flowed to the harbour, where the Taira fleet lay at anchor, ready for instant flight. Above the cliff a silver moon was rising.
Through the midnight hush she heard a light rustle as of wind-swept branches, at first scarcely audible, then rising little by little to the crash of a mighty avalanche!
With a picked band of warriors Yoshitsune waited on the summit of the cliff. At the rising of the moon he commanded the onslaught.
The Minamoto warriors drew back aghast at the brink of the deep abyss.
Suddenly a startled stag sprang from covert and bounded down the cliff.
Shouting to his comrades: “Where a stag can go there can a man!” Yoshitsune spurred his steed over the precipice.
Down plunged the powerful charger, through bramble and bracken, sliding, stumbling, clambering, amid an avalanche of crumbling stone, down the bed of a dried torrent. On he galloped, frightening sea-fowl from their airy nests, crushing small furry things beneath his heavy hoofs, hurtling downward like a meteor from the sky. But ever, as he neared the silent, sleeping city, a great exultation swelled his heart. He rode to the rescue of his beloved!
Close behind charged his devoted samurai crouching over the necks of their steeds. Rearing, rolling, and diving, down the beetling cliff, a tempest of floundering horses and mailed men. Into the stream they plunged, led by Yoshitsune, swimming the tide to the very steps of the Water-Gate.
Through dark deserted streets swept the samurai, waking the doomed inhabitants to sudden massacre. Shrieks of terror rose from the Taira: “To the ships!” they cried. “To the ships! The Minamoto are upon us!”
Beneath a flaring cresset stood Morning Glory, holding little Antoku in her arms. Yoshitsune sprang to her side and strained her to his heart.
So absorbed were they in their supreme felicity that they scarcely heard the deep bourdon which, like great organ chords, swelled through the teeming streets, as the flood of fugitives surged in mad stampede to the harbour.
Nor did they note that, from the fighting junk anchored in the roadstead, a sampan was sculling silently toward them.
With a sudden shriek Morning Glory was dragged over the thwarts, pinioned by the powerful hands of Munemori.
Instantly Yoshitsune sprang into the sampan, slashing his way to the Taira, who cowered behind the body of Asagao.
But as he stood, fearful to strike lest the blow might fall upon his loved one, the boatmen beat him heavily over the head with their oars and flung him into the sea.
The sampan bounded for the ship; but, hurriedly as the Taira seamen weighed anchor and hoisted sail, the Minamoto samurai were at the shore to bid them devil’s speed. Their arrows rained upon the deck like hail upon a temple roof.
Morning Glory stood at the stern stretching her arms in mute appeal.
Mounting his steed, Yoshitsune rode into the water crying: “Leap, Asagao! To life and safety, Light of my very soul!”
Vainly the maiden strove to free herself. Munemori, laughing derisively, held her fast.
The white sails bellied and like a living creature the great ship took the sea.
O ruthless, wind-tossed wave,
Upon Tsushima’s strands,
How many ghosts of warriors brave
Lie shrouded in thy sands!
IZAYOI NO KI.
Through the tortuous channels of the Inland Sea fled the affrighted Taira. From port to port they scurried, the Minamoto pursuing relentlessly, “as the hawk urges the pheasants when the moors arc burnt and no cover is left.”
“So there he sent a mighty fleet
With horse and foot and arms replete,
To scourge the land with famine, sword and flame”
The ford of the Ujigawa
“In the midst of the turbulent stream the litter was suddenly overturned”
In the narrow strait of Dan-no-ura they turned and faced their foes. But to their consternation their ally the Governor of Kyushu ran up the white flag, reinforcing the Minamoto to eight hundred ships and leaving but two hundred to the doomed Taira.
Yoshitsune stood on the bow heartening his clansmen. “Banish all fear,” he cried. “Death cometh soon or late. Let us live this day so that future ages may acclaim our deeds!”
The air was thick with a tempest of whirling shafts, a ringing cry rose from a thousand throats as the great ships grappled. Their blades between their teeth the Minamoto leaped upon the Taira flagship. Smiling, but pitiless, swinging his two-handed sword like a gleaming scythe, as it reaped on every hand its harvest of sudden death, came Yoshitsune.
Behind a mast crouched Munemori, till his adversary passed, when he sprang suddenly upon him; and the Taira’s blade glanced from the Minamoto’s shoulder.
Yoshitsune whirled abruptly about and steel clashed against steel as the two slipped and staggered upon tin’ gory deck.
With a quick spring Munemori dashed beneath his adversary’s guard and thrust deep into the Minamoto’s side. But Yoshitsune with a thunderous slash severed the Taira’s helmet and the raven hair dripped red.
For a moment he reeled drunkenly, slashing aimlessly right and left.
Warily parrying his blows Yoshitsune beat back his dazed antagonist.
Suddenly Munemori slipped in a pool of blood and fell prone upon the deck.
In an instant with upraised sword the Minamoto was upon him.
Munemori deftly evaded the stroke and running to the bulwarks plunged into the sea.
Swift as a flash Yoshitsune bounded after the fleeing Taira. In the seething waters they rioted and wrestled like two great dolphins.
Diving under his adversary Yoshitsune seized him by the neck, driving his powerful fingers deeper and deeper into his enemy’s throat.
Gasping for breath, Munemori whipped from his baldric an ugly dirk.
With a mighty wrench Yoshitsune tore it from him and hurled it into the air, as the Taira writhed like a serpent struggling to free himself from that relentless grasp. His strength was failing rapidly and his brain whirled as Yoshitsune ever tightened his inexorable fingers.
“Spare me,” he gasped, his voice scarce audible. “I yield!”
Yoshitsune, all too late, relaxed his iron grip. The Taira smiled as he sank lifeless upon the breast of his enemy.
An agonized wail broke from the Taira. Fighting to the last, shattered but unconquered, one by one the great ships sank. Where once had been a fleet was now but a mass of mangled bodies and blood. Only the flagship remained afloat with the trembling women of the court.
“’Tis the end,” cried the Taira. “Shall our beloved live to be slaves of Minamoto lords?” Thrusting their swords into the hearts of wives and children they cast themselves into the sea.
Morning Glory crouched in a corner with the child Mikado. She had seen her lover, locked in the arms of his enemy, vanish in the deep and deemed him lost.
Buckling the sacred sword about the infant’s waist she cried defiantly:
“Ne’er will I suffer the foe to lay hands upon my Heaven-descended sovereign.” Stroking his forehead lovingly she joined together his little hands, and bade him breathe a prayer.
He turned to the west and called upon the name of Buddha. He turned to the east and bade adieu to the shrines of the Immortal Gods.
Asagao clasped him to her breast.
“Let us journey to the Eternal Land,” she cried and leaped into the sea.
“Alas, the pity! Alas, the pain! The merciless billows engulfed the Jewel Child!” A fleeting moment and the divine sovereign was but flotsam upon the tide of Eternity.
Down fathomless depths sank Asagao. It seemed to her that the Sea Dragon enwrapt her in cold envenomed coils. Vainly she strove to throw them off, they only held her closer. Then suddenly, no longer cold, they were bearing her swiftly upward!
When Morning Glory drifted back to consciousness all was silent, save for drowsy lapping of the waves. The sun laughed in a cloudless sapphire sky. Beaming upon her with love unutterable stood Yoshitsune.
“In vain I strove to save the Jewel Child,” he said self-reproachfully; then, smiling: “Kwannon be blessed, thou art restored to me!
“My life a darksome garden was, before
Therein one day you came, the Sun to bring,
Flower of the Dawn! to fill for evermore,
My heart with Love’s bright Spring.”
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