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Japanese fairy tales


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 monstrous bird.
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 rejoice greatly."
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 reward him."
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 perished.