|Japanese fairy tales
THE MOON AND THE CUCKOO
In the far years of the twelfth century the Lord Mikado was cursed with
a terrible illness. All Nippon prayed to the gods. Men offered all
their richest offerings to appease the wrath of heaven, but it availed
them naught. ' His Majesty grew worse and none of the great men who
came to him could divine the cause of his trouble.
Every temple was full of devotees. Each shrine had its worshipers, but
Sorrow was the guest at every door. His Majesty grew worse and worse,
and every night was stricken with a horrible nightmare.
At last it was noticed that each evening a dark cloud moved across the
heavens and hung over the palace. From it shone two fiery orbs,
gleaming fiercely. The priests prayed and threatened, but the brooding
demon remained. At last a young warrior whose name was Yorimasa came
forward and said, "Let me slay this horrid beast who, with his black
breath and fiery eyes, threatens the life of our beloved emperor. If I
fail I can but die and my life is the Mikado's in any case. Let me go!"
"Go, and the gods go with you!" the priests replied, and Yorimasa went forth to conquer or to die.
He breathed a prayer to the great god Hachiman, his patron, and set a
heavy arrow in his well-strung bow. Twang, went the bow string, and lo!
the arrow brought the monster low. It was indeed a fiend, terrible
enough to have destroyed the emperor, for it had the head of a monkey,
the claws of a tiger, the body of a lion, and the tail of a mighty
Yorimasa was brave, however, and he made at the beast with his good
sword. Nine times he plunged it into the ferocious monster's breast,
and at last it fell dead.
The emperor now promptly recovered, and wishing to reward Yorimasa for
his bravery, he called him and said: "At the risk of your own life, you
have saved that of your emperor. What will you have in reward?"
Yorimasa answered, "Most August One, my life was your own. Why should I
not risk it to save that for which all Nippon would be honored to die?
I claim no reward. In my heart is joy that I have served my emperor."
"But I will reward you," said the Mikado. "For I should be as just as
you are generous. Here is the sword Shichi-no-O (the King of the Wild
Boars) for since you can wield a sword so nobly, it is fitting that you
have a noble sword, my brave Yorimasa. Two things delight the heart of
brave men, love and duty, woman and warfare. Since you have been
successful with the one, I will give you success with the other. It has
come to my ears that you love Ajama J and that she loves you. Take her
and may you be happy and may your children live and prosper and grow up
to serve their emperor as their .father has served his." Then Yorimasa
bent low before him and thanked him; and a gentleman of the 'court
composed a verse about Yorimasa, and sang a song to him in which he
compared his rapid rise into favor to the cuckoo's flight toward the
crescent moon. But Yorimasa was as modest as he was brave and would not
admit that he deserved any special praise. So he answered the poet's
song by singing these lines:
"Like the cuckoo
So high to soar
How is it so?
Only my bow I bent,
That only sent the shaft."
But he and Ajama were soon married, and lived happily ever after, in the sunshine of the Mikado's favor.