|Japanese fairy tales
THE SWORDED FALCON
In the days of the Emperor Koan there lived near
Koya a falcon which had wings and a tail of swords. It was far more
dreaded than a porcupine of even the largest spines, and it used to lie
in wait near the village of Koya to carry off people and eat them.
No one was safe from the ferocious bird. Little people, playing beneath
the pines, happy in childish glee, were but tender morsels for the
cruel bird. Women resting under the long racemes of the woodland
wistaria, were attacked and dragged screaming to his nest. Even the men
working in the rice fields would sometimes hear a cry of agony and see
one of their number suddenly rise into the air in the clutches of the
The villagers despaired of ever being able to rid themselves of this
terrible creature. At last they sent a petition to the Mikado, urging
him to send some one to deliver them from the pest.
"Behold!" they cried, "We, the subjects of Your Majesty, are in much
fear and danger from this fierce creature, and we beseech you to save
us, your humble servants."
The Mikado sent to their aid the brave Prince Yashimasa; and the Prince
tarried long in the village, for the bird was very wary and hid from
sight. When the Prince went out to seek him, the falcon would disguise
himself in various shapes. First, he would appear as a woman washing
clothes beside the river; then he would become a tree growing beside a
rippling waterfall; and again, he would look like a crane standing on
the reedy shore.
It took so long to find the creature that Prince Yashimasa tarried for
months in the house of Atago Shoji, a gentleman of the town. Thus it
came about that he loved Atago's daughter, the fair and gentle
Shiragika, and the maiden returned his love. The two walked happily
together in the iris-bordered meadows, and chatted long and cheerfully
in the shade of the bamboo trees.
One day Prince Yashimasa found the nest of the falcon upon a hilltop
and he cried, "Aha! my fine fellow! At last I have you! Soon I shall
destroy you, and the village will no longer be in dread, but will
He hid himself in a bamboo thicket, armed with his bow and arrows, and awaited the coming of the falcon.
At last it came, fierce and terrible. Its eyes gleamed like twin stars,
its tail spread like forked lightning, its wings of gleaming steel beat
the air like flames of fire!
"It is indeed the sworded falcon," said Yashimasa, . and, aiming
carefully, he sent his arrow through its cruel heart. The falcon
dropped dead, and Yashimasa hurried to the village to tell the news.
Then all the people rejoiced, singing the victor's praises. "Hail to
the noble prince!" they cried. "He has delivered us from the evil claws
and the cruel beak of this demon-bird! Greatly will our lord the Mikado
But Shiragika wept and mourned, for now that her lover's task was done,
she knew that he must return to his home. He must go alone, for it was
not fitting that she, a simple village maiden, should go with him to
the Emperor's court.
"Yashimasa," she wept. "Farewell forever. Forget me and be happy!"
"Never!" cried Yashimasa. "As soon as I have told the Mikado of the
success of my mission I will return to find you. Never will I forget
you;" and he bade her a tender farewell.
She waited long and looked for his return, but he came not, for the
Mikado sent him on other missions to far lands and he must obey. At
last, with her kimono sleeves loaded with stones, she dropped gently to
sleep in the great river. And as she sank to rest, she sighed,
"Yashimasa! In its death, the swbrded falcon pierced my heart!"
When Yashimasa heard of her death, he mourned her truly; and when he
grew old he returned to Koya and died beside the stream where she had