Japanese Folktales: The Tale of Rai-Taro, Son of Thunder

Presented below is a retelling of a story called The Good Thunder, from Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James.

The Good Thunder

Some people say the gods know little of humans and care little. One of the gods heard this and was stung by the criticism.  He decided he would send his son to live with people to complete his education to learn what he could about humans. He would then return and teach the gods the knowledge he had acquired.

Raiden Sama, God of Thunder

The name of the god was Raiden Sama, God of Thunder and Lord of the Elements. He lived in his Castle of Cloud high in the Heavens with his son Rai Taro.  Sometimes they would walk the ramparts together looking down to see what the people were doing. At these times Rai-Taro liked to watch the children at play and was struck by the love their parents had for them.  Raiden also loved his son very much and he knew it was time for him to complete his education and he had settled upon a plan.

One day he called his son from his play to him walk the ramparts of the Castle of Cloud with him.   His son dutifully complied and hand in hand they went up to the battlements. Raiden led his son to the northern rampart and they stood looking down.  Far below they saw many fierce warriors with swords and spears following their lords into battle. There was much bloodshed and many were killed.

They walked to the eastern battlements and looked down and Rai Taro saw a fair princess in her bower.  All around were handmaidens wearing rose colored garments who made beautiful music for her and there were children playing with flowers making necklaces from them.

“Oh, see the children make flower necklaces!” exclaimed Rai Taro. It seemed idyllic but it was a life of idleness and frivolity.

They walked to the southern battlements and looked down and saw priests and holy men worshiping in a temple.  The air was heavy with incense and there were statues of ebony, ivory, diamond and jade while outside the temple the people were all terribly afraid.

They went to the western battlement and looked down.  Far down below they saw a poor peasant toiling in his field, tired and aching.  By his side his wife worked. He looked tired and weary but his poor wife looked even more worn out.  It was easy to see they were very poor and were dressed in ragged clothing and looked hungry.

“They look so tired, have they no children to help them?” asked Rai Taro.

“No,” replied his father, “they have no children.”

Raiden let Rai-Taro look all he wanted then said, “Well, my son, you have looked long and hard upon humans going about their business.  You are now old enough to begin your education on Earth and you will need a home there.  Therefore, from what you have seen, to whom would you have me send you to?”

“Must I go, father, is it necessary?” asked his son.

The Choice of Rao-Taro

“It is necessary, therefore choose,” said his father kindly, “and  when you return you will teach the gods about humans.”

“I will not go with the warriors and men of war.  I do not like fighting!”

“Oh, so you do not like fighting men.  Very well, will you choose to go to the fair princess?” asked his father, smiling.

“No, I will not go to live with the princess.  Life looks so easy and cosy yet somehow false.”

“Then perhaps the temple is for you?” asked his father.

“No, I do not want to shave my head and live with the priests, spending all day in prayer while the people outside are afraid.”

“But surely you do not want to go and live with the peasants.  It is a life of work and hardship and little food,” replied his father.

“They do not have children.  Maybe they will grow to love me and I will be a son to them and bring them happiness.”

“Ah!” said his father, pleased at his choice, “You have made a wise choice, my son.”

“Very well, father but how shall I go?”

“You  shall go in a way that behooves the son of the God of Thunder and the Elements,” replied his father.

Earth

The poor  peasant and his wife toiling  in their rice-field lived at the foot of  Hakusan, a mountain in the province of Ichizen.  They were struggling to make a living because everyday for weeks on end the sun had shone bright and hot and dried up their paddy field.  The next day the old man went alone to the field to examine the crop and was shocked at what he saw. All the young plants were shriveled and he cried, “Alas, what shall we do if the crop dies.  May the gods look down upon us and have mercy!”

Sitting  on the ground in despair, his weariness caused him to quickly fall asleep.  He awoke to find the sky had darkened even though it was only noon and the birds had stopped  singing and taken shelter in the trees.  
“At last, a storm, we shall have rain! Raiden is  out riding his black horse and beating his drum, we shall have rain,” he cried in delight.

The thunder rolled and the lightning flashed and the rain fell in torrents and the old man began to worry there was too much and said, “I give thanks for what you have sent honorable Raiden but we have sufficient for our needs now!”

As if in answer there was a mighty peel of thunder and a terrific flash as a ball of living fire fell to earth.  The poor terrified peasant threw himself on the ground wailing, “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! Raiden – Kwannon please have mercy upon this sinful soul,” and  hid his face in his hands

At last the thunder stopped roaring and he stood up and  looked around. The ball of flames had gone but upon the earth there lay a baby boy, wet and clean in the rain.  The poor peasant ran to the boy and picking him up cradled him in his arms lovingly and said, “My Lady Kanzeon, Lady of Compassion you are merciful and I thank you with all my heart!” 

He lifted up his head and looked into the grey skies.  Rain fell into his eyes and down his cheeks like tears and the clouds parted revealing a beautiful blue sky.  All the flowers around him were revived by the cool rain and nodded as if in acknowledgement of the miracle. Carefully and gratefully he carried the boy home.  As he went in the door he cried out, “Wife come quick, I have brought you something!”

“Oh, and what could that be?” asked his wife

“Why, it is the son of the Thunder, Rai-Taro!” he answered as he carefully placed the child into his wife’s welcoming arms.

Life on Earth

The poor couple looked after Rai-Taro the best they could.  What they lacked in riches they made up for in love and dedication.  He grew up strong and tall and the happiest boy ever. He was the pride and joy of his foster-parents and a great favorite with all the neighbors.   From the age of ten he worked alongside his foster-father in the fields like a man and he was excellent at forecasting the weather which was always useful.

Often as they worked together, he would say, “Father, I think we shall have good weather,”  or, “I think there will be a storm tomorrow,” and in this way helped his father and his neighbors plan their work, for he was always right.  His arrival also seemed to bring good fortune for his foster-parents who began to prosper.

Every year the old couple celebrated their foster-son’s birthday on the anniversary of the day they found him.  On his eighteenth birthday his foster-parents went to great lengths to celebrate his birthday with a great feast.  They invited all their neighbors and there was plenty to eat and drink and everyone was happy all except for Rai-Taro who appeared sad.

His foster-mother called him to her and asked, “Why are you so glum on your birthday.  It is a day of great celebration. You are usually the happiest and gayest of people, are you ill?” 

Farewell

“Forgive me,” he said, “ I am unhappy because I know I must leave.”

“But why must you leave?” she asked confused.

“I have to – I just have to.  My time here is over and I must return from where I came.” said Rai-Taro sadly.

His father said, “Rai-Taro my son, you brought us good fortune.  Through you we have raised ourselves from where we were and you have given us your love.  All of this you have given us, what have we given to you?”

“I have learnt three important lessons from you.   The first is how to work. The second is how to suffer in dignity, the third is how to love unconditionally.  Therefore, I am now more learned than the Immortals and I thank you, but I must return to teach them.”

Then he embraced his foster-parents and took on the likeness of a white cloud and ascended into heaven until he reached the Castle of Cloud.  His father received him joyfully with open arms and the two stood upon the western battlements and looked down to earth.

On Earth, his foster-mother wept bitterly but her husband took her by the hand and said,

“Weep not,” he said, “we are grown old together, we do not have long.”

“True, my dear,” she said, “ but now Rai-Taro will never learn the lesson of death and now the gods will never know.”

The old man took his wife in his arms and he wept too.

© 10/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 10th, 2019 zteve t evans

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The Strange Tale of Princess Caraboo of Javescu

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com by zteve t evans on 21/03/2019 under the title The Curious Case of Princess Caraboo.

Princess Caraboo

When a young woman claiming to be Princess Caraboo from a foreign land arrived unexpectedly in the Gloucestershire village of Almondsbury on 3rd of April, 1817, it was to cause quite a stir in Regency England, and gave the people a new folk heroine. She had black hair, was about 5ft 2 inches tall, dressed in an unfamiliar fashion, and did not have the appearance of someone who had been used to hard physical work. To the bewilderment of all, she spoke an unknown language, apparently not understanding any questions in English, and appeared lost and confused. Her only possessions were the clothes she wore, a counterfeit sixpence and a couple of halfpennies. The possession of counterfeit money was a serious crime and she was not carrying any form of identification so her identity could not be determined. She was taken to the local overseer of the poor, who took her to the county magistrate, Samuel Worrall of Knole Park. Neither Worrall, nor his American born wife, Elizabeth, could comprehend her either, but using signs managed to understand that she called herself Caraboo.

Kidnap in Javescu

Samuel Worrall and his wife, believing she was a royal princess who had suffered terribly at the hands of pirates, took her back into their home. A gentleman who had traveled extensively to China and the East Indies took an interest in her and attempted to communicate with her using signs and gestures. From these she appeared to confirm her name was Caraboo and her father was a man of high status in her country of birth, which was China, but which she called Congee. Furthermore, she had been captured in a place called Javescu and worshiped a god called Allah-Tallah. He also apparently learnt that her mother was a Malay woman who had been killed in fighting between cannibals, called Boogoos, and the Malays.

The day she was kidnapped she had been in the company of her girls servants walking in the gardens. Pirates led by someone called Chee-min had captured, bound and gagged her and carried her off to their ship. She claimed when they untied her, she attacked two of the pirates, killing one and wounding the other.

After 11 days she was sold to the ship’s captain, named Tappa Boo, who set sail for Europe. On reaching England, and while sailing up the Bristol Channel, she escaped by jumping overboard and swimming ashore. On reaching shore she wandered around for six weeks before arriving in Almondsbury.

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Azorean Folktales: The Mask of Linda Branca

Jean-François Portaels [Public domain]
Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from the Portuguese islands of the Azores called , Linda Branca and her Mask, from a collection called The Islands of Magic,  Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores, by Elsie Spicer Ells and illustrated by E.L. Brock.  According to the author, women in the Azores would often say “Stay pretty,” as a farewell to each other when parting and wonders if this story had anything to do with it.

Linda Branca and her Mask

There once lived a long, long, time ago a very beautiful girl who had grown tired of being beautiful whose name was Linda Branca.  Many girls of her age would have envied her as her beauty made her the focus of all of the handsome young men in the neighborhood and indeed for miles around who were all desperate to court and marry her.

Every night in the street under her balcony young men would appear singing the most beautiful romantic ballads they had written themselves just for her.  Their songs were carefully written hoping to impress her and make her fall in love with the singer of the song.

In fact none of them did and she grew bored and tired listening to the same performance every evening.  She did not like hearing them sing in public of her glowing hair, flashing eyes and beauty finding it all disconcerting and in truth false.  Some nights she could not sleep with all the singing under her balcony and would be grateful when her neighbours opened the windows and shouted at them to be quiet.

Nevertheless, all of her suitors were all very good looking, very rich, and very cocksure of themselves.  They placed bets among themselves, each betting they would be the one to win the hand of the lovely Linda Branca.  When Linda heard about this she was angry and unhappy. Although most girls would have given anything for her beauty and such male attention she began to see it as a curse.  

Her mother had died giving birth to her leaving her father to bring her up.  Although he loved her very much and tried his hardest there are always times when a girl needs her mother.  To make it harder as she grew up he was always away on business.

“I wish I was as homely as the girls in the marketplace and not considered beautiful and desirable by men.  I want a man who loves me not for my beauty but for who I am. I don’t want to be owned by anyone and I don’t want to own anyone else,”  she said one day.  She knew the young men only desired to possess her beauty and cared not for what she did, what she thought, or who she was.  To them she was a prize that would prove their manhood and how handsome and wonderful they were to possess her.

Linda Branca did not want to be possessed by anyone. Linda Branca was determined to be the mistress of her own destiny.  Yes, she greatly desired a soulmate – a companion – who knew and understood her intimately and who she knew in the same way.  She knew that he would not be found singing under her window under the moon above. She knew that those who had laid bets on owning her would be losers for she would never accept such young men.  

The Artist

Linda Branca now saw her beauty as a curse and standing upon her balcony looking down into the street said aloud in frustration,

“If only I could be as homely as that girl walking over there I would have a chance of finding my star – my soulmate, my lover, my hero and would gladly marry him.  All these handsome young men are indeed very attractive but they are shallow and fickle and when I begin to age they would forsake me, that is what they do all the time.  I want someone to grow with to an old age becoming closer and closer.”

As she spoke she looked at the girl’s plain homely face and eyes, Her ordinary hair and body and said, not realising the girl could hear her,

“If only I was as plain and homely as her I could find someone who loved me for myself to marry and be happy, but with all of these unsuitable young men in the way I fear I shall never find my husband and soulmate.”

The girl heard the complaints of LInda Branca and looked up and seeing how beautiful she was she was truly astonished.   She thought she must have been hearing things and challenged Linda Branca to say it again. Although a little embarrassed at being overheard Linda Branca was unrepentant and repeated what she had said that she wanted to be as homely looking as she, though she apologized if this should offend her.

However, the girl was not offended and smiling up at her said, “It so happens I am an artist and one of my arts is making masks.  If you really want I can make you a mask to be as plain and homely as you want, but be careful with what you wish for!”

Linda Branca was astounded and at the same time very pleased with the suggestion. “Please make me a mask to make me look ordinary and homely, it is very much my heart’s desire!”  she exclaimed joyfully.

“Are you really sure about this? asked the artist.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Please make it as fast as you can!” begged Linda Branca.

As evening fell the usual cacophony  of young men singing their hearts out found Linda Branca stood on the balcony looking this way and that.  This was a most pleasant surprise to them as she usually never appeared to acknowledge their romantic efforts.

But it was not the love songs that Linda Branca was on the balcony to for.  She was hoping to see the artist appearing along the road with her mask but she did not come.  

Evening after evening she stood looking out from the balcony. The young men below crooned their hearts out thinking that she must be choosing her most favored suitor. Indeed, as she stood looking out from her balcony her sparkling eyes and dark flowing hair sent them into raptures of song.  While the young men below were all very excited by her appearances the young woman besieged upon the balcony was not remotely interested in them at all. She was simply looking out for the arrival of the artist who bore the mask of Linda Branca.

The idea of a mask had greatly excited her and she hoped it would solve all her problems.  She was so excited she would not have been able to sleep even if the barrage of love songs floating up from her desperate suitors below ceased to exist. When she did manage to sleep in her she dreams she saw herself wearing the mask.  Sometimes her beauty was covered up by the likeness of a plump homely girl. Sometimes a skinny homely girl and once or twice with the face of a donkey. She thought they would all have adequately covered her loveliness and would gladly accepted any of them.

The Mask

At last a week later the artist finally arrived with the mask which was none too soon as she had grown very impatient and began to give up hope.  When the artist showed her the mask she could see why it had taken so long. It was indeed a very plain face, though not ugly, but homely and unremarkable and just like a real human face.  The kind of face that does not stand out and is easily lost in a crowd. It was an amazing work that had required great skill, patience and artistry to create and now it was here ready for her to wear and said, “Why, it is even better than I had hoped.  It will cover my beauty and is not too ugly but plain enough not to stand out in the crown and be recognized!”  She was confident that when she put it on not one of the flocks of admiring suitors would recognize her and she made a plan.  

Having no mother to answer to and her father being away on business would make her plan easier.  Her father was a successful businessman who made a great deal of money and doted on his daughter.  When he came home after being away he would take her out and buy her expensive presents of jewelry and fine clothes that enhanced her beauty.  She rarely wore them but there were two gowns that she particularly liked. One was blue and trimmed with silver and the other was also blue but trimmed with gold.  Although at the time she had no plan to wear them she thought that maybe one day she would be in need of something finer to wear on some occasions. Therefore, she packed these  and a few other belongings into a bag.

Placing her new mask upon her face and a long, dark cloak around her shoulders she left the house walking through her crowds of admirers who never gave her a glance.  Wasting no time she traveled to the city and finding the palace of the king, knocked on the door and asked a surly looking woman who answered if they required a maid.  The surely looking woman was the King’s mother and glaring at Linda replied, “It is my son who is the King, therefore you must ask him,” and took her to see the King.

The King looked down on Linda unkindly and said, “Only last week I employed a new girl servant purely because she was so very pretty.  I think I will employ you purely because you are very plain.”

Not a very nice thing to say you would think, but this was music to the ears of Linda Branca as she took up her employment in the service of the King. However, although the song sounded nice to begin with she would find it would go on far too long for her liking.

She met the pretty maid whom the king had employed the previous week and saw that although she was pretty she was not anywhere near as pretty as herself without the mask.  Furthermore she discovered that it was she who would get all of the hard and dirty jobs while the pretty maid smiled and fluttered her eyes at her employer and was given the easier tasks.

Although her sleep was no longer being disturbed by her many suitors singing under her balcony, because of all of the hard work she was going to bed exhausted and sleeping through until sunrise.  When she awoke she would have a quick breakfast and then begin work again carrying water, scrubbing floors, washing dishes and doing all the tiring unpleasant jobs around the palace.

While she was working away the pretty maid would be doing all the easy tasks like waiting upon the King and laughing at his jokes. As the days went by the more work she was given the less the pretty maid received.  Furthermore, she could not help but notice it was the pretty maid who received all of the praise and attention from all of the high people. All she ever received was more and more work. It was clear the pretty maid had the easier, happier life and was never as tired as herself when she went to bed.  Linda Branca began to think that just maybe there was something to being pretty after all. “I am wondering if maybe I should once again be pretty!” she said to herself as she climbed exhausted into her bed one night.

The Banquet

The following evening there was to be a great banquet that would be held over two days and Linda went to the King’s mother to ask her if she could attend.  As usual the King’s mother was not in a very good mood and told her angrily, “Go and ask my son for he is King!”

Therefore Linda bided her time until she was in the King’s presence tasked with the job of polishing his boots.  

“Please may I go to the banquet tonight?” she asked as politely as she could.

“What? Go away or I will boot you!” replied the King.

In the evening after the feast had begun Linda Branca unpacked her beautiful blue gown trimmed with silver.  She put it on and taking off her mask looked into the mirror. She saw she was still just as pretty as she had ever been and far prettier than the pretty maid.  Indeed, she found it quite a pleasure to see herself pretty once again after such a long time of being plain. Wasting no more time she took herself down to the banqueting hall and mingled with the guests.  

The Land of the Boot

Everyone was astonished to meet this beautiful and mysterious young woman.  She was the talk of the evening and the King paid her special attention dancing and chatting gaily with her becoming completely beguiled by her beauty.

“May I ask where it is you come from, beautiful one?” he said as they danced.

“Why, I come from the land of the boot,” replied Linda Branca laughing gaily at her own little joke and slipped from his hand and was gone leaving the King bemused and trying to puzzle out where the land of the boot was.

The King was most perplexed.  He had never heard of the land of the boot and he asked his mother and all of his wise men but they had never heard of any such place.  The next day he spent his time pouring through books and maps searching in vain for the land of the boot but could not find even one single mention of it.

“I want to marry her, she is the most beautiful maiden I have evers seen.  How will I ever be able to see her again if I cannot even find the land she comes from?”  he cried to his courtiers.

The King fell into a depression and all of his courtiers and counsellors were worried.  It was very disconcerting that their King had fallen deeply in love with a mysterious and unknown maiden from a far country and nobody knew its location or could even find it on a map.

The next day Linda Branca donned her mask and went about her work as usual but found she seemed to have even more and harder tasks than usual while the pretty maid had none. The King passed by looking down at the plain girl he had employed as she scrubbed the floor.

Later after she had completed her work she went to the King’s mother to ask permission to attend the banquet that evening. “You must ask the King,” she snapped in reply.  Therefore at an opportune moment while the pretty maid was brushing the King’s hair she asked him ever so politely if she could attend the banquet that evening.

“What!” cried the King, “Get you gone or I will hit with my hairbrush!”

In the evening after she had finished her work she put on her beautiful blue gown with the gold trim, took off  her mask and looked at herself in the mirror. She was pleased to see that if anything she looked lovelier that ever and went down to mingle with the guests in the banqueting hall.

The Land of the Hairbrush

As she entered the King, who had been watching the door attentively, gave a  happy cry and ran over to greet her. From then on he danced with her all evening chatting and laughing gaily and never left her side.

“And what country did you say you came from?” he asked politely.

“Why, I am from the land of the hairbrush!” said Linda giggling at her own little joke.

“And where is that land?” asked the King but the intriguing maiden would not tell him no matter how he implored. He turned around to call over his wise men and asked them where the land of the hairbrush was not none of them knew.  When he looked round again he found the beautiful and mysterious maiden had gone.

“Find her!” he commanded and although the banqueting hall was searched high and low there was no sign of that mysterious maiden, just some plain servant girl washing up in the kitchen.

The next day the King and all of his wise men poured over books and maps searching for the whereabouts of the land of the hairbrush but found not even a mention.  The king flew into a rage and chased them all out and went through the maps and books alone.

He would not eat and he would not sleep but continued to study all the maps and books in the palace.  When he had studied these and found nought he decreed that all the books and maps in the land must be sent to the palace.  From then on he studied each and everyone himself for the land of the hairbrush and the land of the boot refusing to eat, sleep or drink until he had found it.  

All the books and maps in his kingdom were brought to his palace and as good as his word he studied each one without taking a single sip to drink, a single bite to eat, or a single wink of sleep.  By the time he had finished he was so weak he had to be carried to bed by his physicians but he had not found those mysterious lands. They begged him to eat and drink but he refused and said, “What do I care for food, or drink or sleep?  I only care for the beautiful maiden I was dancing with.”

When Linda Branca heard the King was ill she took off her mask and put on her blue gown with the silver trim that she had worn on the first night.  Looking at herself in the mirror she thought, “Maybe, It is not such a terrible thing to be pretty after all!”

The Masquerader Unmasked

Sneaking outside she made her way to the window of the King’s bedroom and peeped in for a few minutes before one of the King’s counsellors saw her.

“Whose is that beautiful face looking through the window at the King!” he cried.

“It is the mysterious maiden from the land of the boot,” said one.

“Nay, it is the beautiful maiden from the land of the hairbrush,” cried another.

The King jumped out of bed and ran to the window but when he opened it, there was no one to be seen.

“Mother, tell me who was at my window!” he cried.

“There was no one, or maybe just a masquerader,”  she answered nonchalantly but she was very worried about her son fearing he was so ill he would die.

The following day the King had grown weaker and the royal physicians feared the worst. The King lay on his bed, refusing to eat, drink or sleep with his eyes set firmly on the bedroom window should the lovely face return.  The entire palace fell quiet and as an atmosphere of gloom pervaded, Linda Branca, this time dressed herself in the blue gown with the gold trim and sneaked to the King’s bedroom window and peeped in.

She looked directly into the face of the King and he looked into hers. “Ha!” he cried jumping up and running to the window and managed to grasp a handful of the blue skirt.

“Masquerader, unmask yourself!” he cried.

Linda had quickly put on her mask and looked into the King’s face with the face of the plain girl he had employed for her plainess.  He stepped back in surprise and then she slipped off the mask revealing her true beautiful face smiling at him with shining eyes.

“Ha! Now I know who the beautiful mysterious maiden from the land of the boot and the land of the hairbrush is!” he cried.

Confession

With that Linda Branca confessed to the king and his mother and all present.  She told them the entire story of how she had longed to be plain and how she had concealed her beauty with the mask the artist had made for her.

No one had ever heard of a maiden who had yearned plainess instead of being proud of the beauty that nature had bestowed upon her. The King’s mother said,  “I have always been confident my son would one day choose a rare and beautiful woman to be his wife,” while giving him a little dig in the ribs.

Marriage

The King remained silent for a long time gazing upon the lovely face of Linda Branca with such love in his eyes but what he said was not what his mother expected. “If it was the will of Linda Branca I would humbly beg her hand in marriage.”

Linda Branca looked at the King in surprise and in his eyes she saw nothing but love but then turning quickly she placed her mask quickly on and turned again to face him,

“And how would you have her as your wife?” she said looking him full in the face while she wore the mask, “Like this?”

The King looked at her in the mask and looked deep into her eyes for they were still her own beautiful eyes that he saw.

Or perhaps like this?” she said pirouetting  and pulling the mask off to face the King in her own natural beauty.

After a pause the King  answered thoughtfully, speaking with deep sincerity,
“I am asking for the hand of Linda Branca in marriage but in doing so I wish her to know that if she should accept there are three conditions that she must understand and agree.  The first is that she would be her own sovereign over her own body and her own mind. The second is that she will have complete sovereignty over my body, soul and all my worldly goods.  The third is that should she so wish she may wear or not wear the mask as is her want and it will make no difference for my love to her.”

Linda Branca looked at the King in surprise and for once she felt loved and desired above all. At last she knew deep down that she was happy to be blessed with beauty and from then on she would stay pretty.

© 26/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 26th, 2019 zteve t evans

The Arthurian Realm: The Madness of Merlin

Artist: William Blake – Public Domain – Source

This was first published as a two part article titled, British Legends: The Madness of Merlin (Part 1), on #FolkloreThursday.com, 24th, January, 2019, and British Legends: The Madness of Merlin (Part 2) on 31st January, 2019 by zteve t evans. Here it is published as one piece and the ending is different.

The Vita Merlini

The Vita Merlini, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century, tells the story of Merlin after the Battle of Camlann where he ruled over South Wales, had a wife named Guendoloena and a sister named Ganieda.  Unlike many Arthurian stories, instead of glorifying war, it tells of the horrifying effect of war trauma on the individual and their families even one as famous and powerful as Merlin. The work was originally written in Latin and presented here is a retelling of the story from a translation by John Jay Parry (1).

After Camlann

After the Battle of Camlann, Arthur had been taken to Avalon and Britain split into many small kingdoms that fought among themselves. Merlin ruled over the South Welsh giving laws to the people and foretelling the future.  When Peredur of North Wales quarreled with Gwenddoleu, the King of Scotland, Merlin and King Rhydderch of Cumbria joined him against the Scots resulting in a savage battle.  Alongside Merlin were three brave brothers who had fought beside him in many ferocious conflicts.  They stormed through the enemy lines driving the foe back but eventually were overwhelmed by sheer numbers and slain.  Seeing his brave brothers-in-arms fall Merlin cried,

 “Where can I now find such brother-in-arms who have stood with me and fought the vicious foe?” 

Seeing blood and death all around he wept and lamented for all the dead and dying but the fighting continued unabated. 

The Britons rallied their troops and drove hard against the Scots forcing them to flee for their lives.  Seeing victory, Merlin called Peredur and Rhydderch to him telling them to bury the dead with honour, but then grief took him and he began to wail and cry, mourning the death of his comrades and so many brave warriors.

Madness in the Woods

Peredur and Rhydderch could not console him so great was his distress so they followed his instructions leaving him alone in his anguish.  As his cries rent the air his mind was taken by a fury and he fled into the woods where he found joy and peace in the quiet of the trees and hidden glades. Naked, he hunted animals and harvested the nuts, fruit, and roots surviving only from the gifts of the woods. He watched the animals and birds and learned of their ways and studied the trees and the plants and the natural world about him.

Winter came and food and shelter became hard to find and he struggled to survive.  He often talked out loud to himself about the problems he faced.  One day, while he was hidden among the trees and thickets, a traveller heard him and stopped to listen to what was being said.  To the surprise of the traveller when he approached, the wild man fled through the undergrowth faster than any animal.

Ganieda Seeks her Brother

William Blake [Public domain] (cropped) Source

After Merlin had fled to the woods, Queen Ganeida, Merlin’s sister and the wife of King Rhydderch, was greatly worried for his well being.  She sent searchers to the woods to look for him in the hope of bringing him back. The traveler had resumed his journey and meeting one these told of his strange encounter with a wild man and gave him directions to the scene of the incident.  The searcher thanked him and continued to the scene but Merlin had gone.  He searched all the wooded valleys and hidden glades and scoured the mountains searching places where few had ever trod.

The Fountain

At last, he came across a fountain hidden by hazel thickets and by the gushing water, naked and unkempt, sat the wild man of the woods, who sat talking to himself. Not wanting to alarm him the searcher hid behind a bush.  He was a good singer and played the lyre. Gently and softly he played the strings and sang softly of the mourning of Guendoloena for Merlin, her beloved husband and of the worry of Ganieda, for her brother.

The music and singing soothed Merlin’s soul and he stood to see where it came from. Seeing this, the singer slowly stood up still playing his lyre and repeated the song. The music stirred in Merlin pleasant memories of his wife and sister and was deeply moved by their love. He remembered who he was and what he had been and set aside his madness. He asked the searcher to take him to the court of his old friend King Rhydderch where they both lived.  

At the Court of King Rhydderch

As Merlin walked through the city gates, Ganieda and Guenedolena ran to meet him. They covered him in kisses and hugged him, making him feel greatly loved and he showed his own love to them.  Happily, they led him to the royal court where King Rhydderch received him with great honour.  Merlin seeing the vast crowd of people present and unaccustomed to human company, panicked and his madness returned. Desperately, he tried to escape to the sanctuary of the woods far away from the roaring of voices.

Rhydderch refused to let his old friend go.  He ordered him to be restrained and music played upon the lyre to ease his distress and begged him to stay offering expensive presents but Merlin told him he preferred the treasures of the woods.  Rhydderch worried about his safety in the wild and ordered him to be chained and Merlin fell silent and morose refusing to speak or smile to anyone.

Ganieda Unmasked

One day, Ganieda came looking for her husband who moved to embrace and kiss her affectionately.  Noticing a leaf caught in her hair he gently untangled it while lovingly chatting with her.  Merlin saw this, smiled knowingly and laughed.  This surprised the King and he urged him to say what was funny.  Merlin fell silent refusing to answer, but Rhydderch persisted with his question promising him gifts.  Merlin told him the freedom to return to the woods was the only gift he wanted and if he granted that he would tell him why he laughed. Knowing he had nothing to give that Merlin would value, Rhydderch finally agreed.

Therefore, Merlin said, “I laughed when I saw the affection you showed the Queen when you removed the leaf from her hair, when earlier, she lay under a bush with her lover, which is how the leaf got there.”

Shocked,  Rhydderch looked angrily at his wife.  Ganieda tried to conceal her shame by smiling and saying, “Take no notice of a raving madman who cannot tell lies from truth.  I will prove his madness!”

She called a young boy over saying, “Now dear brother, show us your powers of prophecy.  Tell us how this boy will die!”

Merlin said, “My dear sister, he shall die in manhood by falling from a cliff.”

Ganieda then told the boy to go and get his long hair cut short and put on different clothing.  When he returned thus disguised she made him stand before Merlin and said, “And now dear brother, tell the King what death you foresee for this boy!”

 Merlin replied, “This boy will grow up to meet death in a tree while his mind has shut out all reason.”

Ganieda turned to her husband and said, “This proves my innocence and my brother’s madness for the same boy cannot surely have two deaths. I will prove the point further! “

Taking the boy aside she told him to go and put on girl’s clothing and come back to her dressed in that way.  When he returned she presented him to Merlin saying, “Now, dear brother, tell us how this girl shall die!”

Merlin replied, “Girl, or not, death will be in a river!”

Rhydderch laughed at the three different deaths predicted for the same boy and was sorry he had doubted his wife.  Ganieda was greatly relieved, but deep inside she wept for her brother.  Rhydderch kissed and embraced his wife but inside he grieved for his old friend and brother-in-arms remembering his greatness.

Return to the Woods

Artist: William Blake – Public Domain – Source

Merlin went down to the city gates but Ganieda appeared and spreading her arms before him entreated him to stay.  He thrust her aside and strode on. Her servants tried to stop him but he simply glared down on them as if they were naught but impertinent little imps leaving them shuddering. 

Guendoloena came running through the streets and pushing all aside threw herself before him.  She wailed and wept, begging on her knees for him to stay, that they may live as man and wife again.  Merlin could not look upon her but Ganeida said, “Have pity on your wife who loves you and will die for you.  Would you have her live out the rest of her life in sorrowful longing for her husband?  Say the word and she will follow you to the forest and live as you live.  Say the word brother!”

Merlin bowed his head for a moment as if softening but then the madness in him spoke, “I will be free of her, free of you, free of love and its binding chains, therefore it is right that she be allowed her chance of happiness and marry a man of her own choosing, but beware should that man ever come near!  On her wedding day, I will come to her and give her my gifts.” His sister and wife watched his departure sorrowfully but marvelled how he could have known about the secret affair of the queen and both were convinced the three different deaths of the boy he had predicted proved his derangement. 

The boy grew into a young man and one day set off with friends hunting in the forest. The dogs roused a stag chasing it for many miles and he alone managed to keep up with the chase.  With the dogs hard on its heels the stag sought refuge in a high and rocky place.  In his excitement, the young man became oblivious to the dangers and urged his horse forward.  Coming suddenly to a high ledge looking down upon a river, his horse suddenly stopped throwing him over its head and over the cliff.  As he fell his foot caught in the branch of a tree that overhung the river leaving his body suspended in the air while his head was submerged in the water drowning him and fulfilling Merlin’s prophecy.

Guendoloena’s Wedding Gifts

Returning to the woods Merlin lived as the wild beasts lived.  Through the winter he suffered greatly from the cold, damp and the biting wind but preferred this to the wars and violence of corrupt kings, rejoicing in the absence of human society.

Years passed and one cold night when the stars were clear and bright the moon threw down its light to fall upon a high mountain.  Silhouetted against the magnificence of the heavenly vault a lone madman stood staring up at the sky studying the movements of the heavenly bodies.  He saw the intrigue, murder, the death of kings and all the great events of Britain.  From Venus came a double ray of light that was cut in two.  Knowing this told of Guendoloena’s wedding he set off to take her presents as he had promised.

He came across a stag and by talking soothing words it allowed him to climb upon its back and he rode through the woods with its does following in a long line. Arriving at the place of the wedding he made the beasts stand patiently and obediently while he called out, “Guendoloena! Guendoloena! Guendoloena! I have brought your wedding presents as I promised!”

Laughing at the sight of him upon the stag with the does in obedient line, she came running, marveling how he managed such a feat.

From a high window, the bridegroom looked down at the scene and seeing Merlin riding the stag laughed.  Hearing him, Merlin looked up and realizing who he was flew into a rage.  Grasping the antlers of the stag he wrenched them from their sockets and hurled them at the laughing bridegroom.   The antlers struck with great force embedding in his skull, killing him outright. 

Prophecies of Death

Frank Vincentz [Public domain] Source

Merlin fled upon the stag chased by servants.  The stag outran them until it reached a river which it leaped over, but Merlin slipped from its back into the water.  He was caught and taken to Ganieda at the royal court where he sat silent and morose refusing food and drink causing his sister great grief and worry.  Rhydderch ordered food be placed before him in the hope of tempting him but to no avail, so he ordered that Merlin should be taken for a walk around the marketplace in the hope seeing people and all the different goods and novelties might cheer him.

In the marketplace, Merlin saw a man of ragged appearance sitting before a door begging for money to buy new clothes.  Merlin stood looking at him, laughed and walked on.  Further on, he saw a man purchasing a new pair of shoes while also buying patches of leather.  Merlin stood and laughed and people stared.  Seeing them stare he refused to go on and the servants took him back to the palace and reported to the King.  Rhydderch, curious to know why Merlin had laughed offered to free him if he told him.

Merlin told him he had seen a man begging for coins to buy new clothes when he was sitting on a secret hoard of money. He was laughing at his audacity and the gullibility of people who gave to him and said, “Dig below where he sits and you will find his treasure.”

Next, he had seen a man buying new shoes and leather to patch them with when they became worn.  He had laughed at the irony and futility of the act as he was destined to die by drowning telling him, “He is now lifeless on the river shore.”

Rhydderch sent servants to search the river banks but went himself to where the ragged man sat and digging up the ground below him found his treasure.  His servants returned from searching the river and reported they had found the body of the man who brought the shoes.

Merlin was freed and made his way the gates where his sister caught up with him. She still loved him and begged him to at least see out the winter in comfort with her, but he told her,

“Dear sister, why do you fight to keep me?  Winter will be hard but not as hard as living among the savagery of people, therefore let me be.  But, if you will then build me a lodge in the remoteness of the woods where I may watch the movement of the stars and predict the fate of our people. You can visit me and bring me food and drink and keep me company.”

He left and Ganieda built a lodge for him and would bring food and drink and Merlin thanked her for that and for her company.   One day he told her she needed to return quickly to court as her husband was dying, but told her to come back after the burial with Taliesin who had recently arrived after visiting Gildas in Brittany.

Ganieda returned to court to find to her grief that Merlin had spoken truly.  After her husband’s funeral, she returned with Taliesin to Merlin’s lodge where she decided to live out her days.  Merlin and Taliesin talked of many things.  Merlin told him how they had taken the grievously wounded King Arthur to the Isle of Avalon after the battle of Camlann, leaving him in the care of Morgan le Fay.  He told him the story of the Kings of the Britons from Vortigern to Arthur and then foretold a long period of Saxon domination which would eventually lead to a return to British rule under Cadwalader after prolonged and bloody conflict.

The Healing Fountain

As he spoke one of his servants came rushing in excitedly announcing that a new fountain had gushed forth at the foot of the mountain. Merlin and Taliesin followed the servant to see the wonder.  Both marveled that it should have appeared so suddenly and sat down watching it flow.  Feeling thirsty, Merlin cupped his hands and drank from the fountain and then bathed his brow. As its pure water coursed through his body his madness left him and his reason returned.

Many princes and chieftains came to see the place where the wonderful waters had cured Merlin of his madness.  Seeing him whole and sane again they asked him to rule and guide them with his wisdom and knowledge.  Merlin refused and told them he now preferred his life in the woods to one in a royal court.

Maeldinus

Just as he finished speaking the air was rent by wild howls and cries and a madman rushed out of the woods towards them.  Seeing them he stopped suddenly and then ran around looking to escape.  He was quickly captured and brought before Merlin, who groaned for he knew the man and his heart went out to him understanding what he endured and said, “His name is Maeldinus.  He was my friend many years ago when he was a strong and noble knight. Having such friends I thought myself fortunate.”

He told how they had both been among a hunting party and finding a spring of fresh water they all sat down to rest and quench their thirst.  One of their party found a pile of apples and Merlin shared them out.  Although there was none left for him he was happy for them to enjoy the fruits. His friends all declared they were the finest apples they had ever tasted but their pleasure did not last long.  Soon they were howling wildly and running madly through the woods to become lost in the forest and that was the last time he had seen them and Maeldinus.  

He discovered the poison apples were placed there by a woman who had loved him but who he had spurned.  She had placed the apples for him to find intending revenge, but luckily he had not eaten one and was spared.  Finishing his story, he ordered his servants to make the man drink from the fountain.  They obeyed and the wildness fled from his eyes and intelligence and reason shone forth and he recognized Merlin and remembered who he was.  Merlin invited him to stay and serve him and Maeldinus was pleased to accept.  So Merlin now had his sister Ganieda and Maeldinus as companions and then Talisien spoke and said that he too would remain with him in the lodge.

Ganieda the Prophetess

After the death of her husband, Ganieda lived with her brother and his friends enjoying the closeness of nature and the companionship.  Sometimes she became of elevated spirit and would foretell events to come to her companions concerning the destiny of the Britons.  One day when the spirit came upon her she made a long prophecy concerning the wellbeing of Britain causing her companions to marvel and wonder.  Merlin spoke approvingly and with love telling her that the spirit that spoke to him had fallen silent and the task of foretelling the future was now given to her.

Geoffrey of Monmouth

At this point, Geoffrey brings Vita Merlini to an end saying.

“I have brought this song to an end.  Therefore, ye Britons, give a wreath to Geoffrey of Monmouth.  He is indeed yours for once he sang of your battles and those of your chiefs, and he wrote a book called “The Deeds of the Britons” which are celebrated throughout the world. “(2)

Although the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth are no longer considered as accurate reference books his influence on British culture cannot be denied and as cultural products of his time they are priceless and certainly he earns at least a bouquet.

Offering a Prayer

Instead of a tale of heroism and glory he gave us a very tragic human story concerning one of the most powerful, important and enigmatic characters of Arthurian tradition. It showed the love and dedication of family and friends supporting a sufferer of trauma through dark times.  Therefore, perhaps we can offer our own thoughts and prayers to our own divinities to comfort and heal those afflicted by inner anguish, torment or war trauma and offer support where ever we can.

© 24/01/2019 zteve t evans and #FolkloreThursday.com

References, Attributes and Further Reading

Copyright January 24th, 2019, zteve t evans and #FolkloreThursday.com

Azorean Folktales: Why the Owl Flies at Night

Presented here is a retelling of a folktale called, Why the Owl Flies at Night,  from, The Islands of Magic,  Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores – by Elsie Spicer Eells and illustrated by E. L. Brock.

Why the Owl Flies at Night

In days gone by, on the steep slopes of the volcanic hill of Monte Brasil that overlook the Bay of Angra, stood a little chapel dedicated to St. Anthony.  It was built to hold an image of that same saint that had been carried from some unknown place by the strong currents and rough waves of the sea to rest upon the shores of the bay below the hill.

Pedro

In that time there was a young boy named Pedro who after his mother had died lived with his father nearby.  His father had married again but his new wife treated young Pedro cruelly. She made him wear old, worn ragged clothes and all the children in the parish would mock and point at him because of the state of his clothing.

Pedro would often go to the little chapel and pray to St. Anthony for strength and comfort.  One day as he was getting up off his knees after a prayer to the saint he noticed a very strange thing had happened.  To his surprise he found his old, worn ragged clothes had suddenly become new and unblemished and he was now immaculately dressed in very smart clothing as good – indeed better – than any other child in his village.

His Stepmother

When he got home his stepmother stares at him in disbelief, “Where did you get those clothes from?” she demanded,  “You must have stolen them!  Why, you are nothing but a little thief!”

Pedro truthfully told her what had happened but she refused to believe him.

“Your father can deal with it!” she cried, “In the meantime take the water jars to the spring and bring me back some water.  Do it now and understand that I don’t want to be kept waiting for water, now go!”

The Spring

Picking up the heavy jars he made his way to the top of the hill where the little spring bubbled out.  The spring supplied Pedro and his family as well as the neighbors with water most of the year round, but at times it failed and this was one of those times.  His stepmother had been told this earlier by neighbors but still out of spite she sent the boy to the top of the hill carrying two heavy stone jars on a task she knew he could not fulfill.  On his way up, Pedro met an old man coming down. “There is no water in the spring,” the old man told him, “maybe tomorrow.”

He had almost reached the spring and the jars were making his arms ache. The other spring was much further away and he doubted if he got there he would have the strength to carry two full jars of water all the way home.  He decided he would continue on and see for himself.

When he arrived at the spring he was surprised and very pleased to see that there was plenty of good clean water bubbling up, indeed, bubbling up much faster that he could remember.  As he stared with amazement he thought about how somehow he had been furnished with the brand new suit of clothes that he was wearing and he began to wonder.

“This  must be my lucky day,” he cried happily filling both jars with water,  “St. Anthony is smiling upon me.  He must have heard my prayers and given me my new clothes and made the waters of the spring run,”   and he offered up a  silent prayer of thanks to the saint.

With  his jars full of water Pedro took them home.  His mother was gobsmacked when he came through the door with two jars full of water.  “What! Where did you get that water from?” she demanded.  Pedro truthfully told her it had come from the spring on the hill.

“You lie! That spring is dry today.  Wait until I tell your father, he will give you a sound beating!” she cried.  As well as being frightened by the threatened beating Pedro was puzzled why his stepmother had sent him up the hill to the spring when she believed it was dry.  

Fire Wood

The next thing he knew was she had dumped a large basket in his hands saying, “Go into the garden and pick up all of the wood for the fire.  Now hurry I don’t want to be kept waiting. Go!”

Pedro thought this a very strange request as all of the wood in the garden had been used up long ago.  The evening was falling and he went into the garden in failing light but there was nothing there but red, white, yellow and pink roses.  The night fell quickly but stoically he went and looked anyway but there were no sticks of wood to be found just the roses. The only place he knew where he could get some wood was high on the steep slopes of Monte Brasil.  However, it was dark and it was a long hard path climbing the steep slopes of Monte Brasil and he was feeling very tired. As two great tears rolled down his face he felt a presence next to him and turning saw it was St Anthony who stood smiling down kindly upon him.

St. Anthony

“Why the tears, young man?” he asked kindly,  “I have been watching you for a long time and I know you do not cry easily, even when life is hard.  Boys with less courage than you would spend their time weeping.”

“I weep because I have to fill this basket with fire wood from the garden, but there is nothing in the garden but roses.  I am very tired and I have been threatened with a beating and it is becoming too dark, much too dark to go up to Monte Brasil and search for firewood.”

“Listen to me,” replied St Anthony, “and have faith in what I say.  Go into the garden and fill the basket with roses and  when it is full take it to your stepmother and give it to her.  You must have faith in what I say and remember I shall be with you.”

Pedro went into the dark  garden and filled it with all the different colored roses and then he took it into the house to his stepmother.  As he handed the basket to his stepmother he was surprised to see that instead of roses the basket contained firewood.

“What!” cried his stepmother in shock, “Where ever did you get this wood from?  There are only roses in the garden and you have not been gone long enough to go up to Monte Brasil in the dark.  Where did you get it from?”

Grabbing him roughly by the collar of his smart new shirt she shook him fiercely terrifying him.  He looked around hoping to escape but St Anthony was stood behind smiling kindly and then in a voice like thunder said,

St Anthony’s Punishment

“Woman, cease your violence!  This boy has done you no harm and obeyed your every request.  I have been watching the spiteful and malicious way you have been treating him and you will be punished.  As you have sent this young boy out into the dark night you too shall go into the dark.”

With these words spoken the stepmother changed from being a woman into an owl with great circles for eyes, for those eyes gazed upon the wrath of St Anthony.  From that moment on she lived in darkness.  That is why the owl is a creature of the night.

© 12/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attribution and Further Reading

Copyright June 12th, 2019 zteve t evans

Japanese Folktales: Yuki-Onna, the Snow Woman

Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions] – Source

In Japanese folklore, Yuki-Onna or Snow Woman, is a yōkai, which is  a kind of demon, spirit or supernatural monster.  There are many different Japanese folktales and traditions that feature Yuki-Onna and accounts of them vary from region to region. Presented here is a retelling of a story called Yuki-Onna, from Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, by Lafcadio Hearn.

Yuki-Onna

Mosaku and Minokichi were two woodcutters that lived in a village in Musashi Province. Mosaku was an old man and Minokichi was a lad of eighteen years of age and his apprentice.   Everyday they would walk the five miles to the forest to find wood and on the way they were obliged to cross a river.   The river was wide and in good weather could be swum but after heavy rains the current was too strong so they would use a ferry boat to cross to the other side.  There had been several attempts to build a bridge but on each occasion as soon as the river rose its fast flowing current washed it away, therefore people who wanted to cross had to use the ferry.

One winter’s day and Mosaku and Minokichi had gone out as usual and used the ferry to cross the river.  They spent the day gathering wood and as it was growing dark they realized a snow storm was approaching and made their way back the the river. Unfortunately when they arrived they found the ferryman had taken the boat to the other side of the river and gone home.  

The Snow Storm

The snow storm hit them and as it was no weather to swim they took shelter in the ferryman’s hut nearby. It was small and cramped but as the snow came down they thought themselves lucky to have such shelter at all. Unfortunately there was no smoke hole or brazier to light a fire in, nevertheless locking the door  they settled down to wait out the night covered only in their overcoats.  

At first they were quite comfortable and expected the storm to pass over quickly.  To begin with the heat from their bodies began to warm up the as the small hut and Mosaku fell asleep quickly.  Minokichi could not sleep and lay listening to the howling wind outside. He could hear the snow crashing against the hut and the roaring of the river as it began to rise.  The rickety hut began to creak and groan under the full force of the snowstorm and suddenly it grew very, very cold. The apprentice began to shiver and despite the cold he too fell asleep.

He was sharply awoken  with a start by a snow hitting his face. Opening his eyes in surprise he saw the door had been forced open.  Outside the snow had eased but was still falling and the ground had a thick white covering which glimmered strangely under the moon and stars.  

The Snow Woman

In the snow-light he was shocked to see that there was someone else in the hut apart from his master and himself.  He saw it was a woman who was dressed all in white and bending over Mosaku was blowing her breath upon him. It streamed over his face like bright white smoke.  Seeing Minokichi stir the woman turned and began stooping over him, lower and lower and lower.   He tried to cry out, but he couldn’t. He tried to move, but he couldn’t.

All he could do was watch in fear as her face drew nearer and nearer until it almost touched his and he could feel her cold breath.  He saw she was very beautiful but he was afraid of her eyes. She stooped over him looking at him for awhile and then she smiled and whispered softly,

“You are young.  You are so pretty!  Minokichi, tonight I intended to do with you as I have done with your companion.  Have no fear, I feel pity for you and I will not hurt you. You must never speak of what you have seen again, not to sun, moon, stars, not to anything. If you ever tell another person, even your own mother or another living being about what you have witnessed tonight I will immediately know.  I will come for you and I will kill you. Do not say you have not been warned!”

For a few terrible moments she gazed into his eyes, then she straightened up, turned and walked out of the hut and into the snow and was gone.  To his relief the spell that had held him transfixed was gone.  He jumped up and looked quickly out of the door but could see no sign of her, not even her footprints and the snow was thick on the ground.   He closed the door making sure it was secure wondering if he had been dreaming and the wind had blown the door open.

Turning to Mosaku, his master he was shocked to see that the old man had not moved through it all.  He called to him but there was no answer, He touched his face and it was as cold as ice. He shook his body but it was stiff and lifeless and realized his master was dead.  With nothing else he could do he settled down to wait out the night.

In the morning the storm was gone and the ferryman had crossed the river.  On entering his hut he was surprised to see the unconscious figure of Minokichi and the body of his dead master.  He promptly gave aid to Minokichi and managed to revive him but there was nothing he could do for Mosaku who was now frozen solid.

Recovery

With care and over a period of time Minokichi recovered in full from his ordeal.  The death of his master and his encounter with the Snow Woman had left profound mark on him.  He spoke nothing of these to anyone not even his mother took care of him. Eventually he grew fit enough to resume woodcutting to make a living.  Every morning he would walk to the river alone and cross over to the forest and collect bundle of sticks that he would take back and with the help of his mother sell.  

Time passed in this way and some twelve months later one winter evening he was walking home with his bundle of sticks on his shoulder.  He was walking fast wanting to get home when he caught up with a girl who was travelling in the same direction as he. She was very tall and very slim and also very pretty.  As he was striding past, so as not to unduly alarm her, Minokichi called out a friendly greeting.  She returned the greeting in a friendly way but Minokichi was struck by the sound of her voice which sounded  very pleasant to listen to like that of a songbird. He slowed to her pace and walked beside her and as she seemed amenable to conversation he began chatting with her.  

O-Yuki

He told her his name and she told him her name was O-Yuki and that recently she had been bereaved of both her parents.  She was on her way to Yedo where she had relatives and hoped they would help her find a place in a rich family as a servant.

He was absolutely intrigued by the girl and the more they talked and traveled together the more beautiful and entrancing she became to him.   They chatted easily together of many things and laughed along together. As they walked along and at last he asked her if she was betrothed. She blushed and laughed but told him that she was absolutely free.

In return she asked if he was engaged or married and he told her that he too was free and only had his aging, widowed mother to support.  Somewhere between them unspoken but in their minds were thoughts of an “honorable daughter-in-law”.  Both silently considered and they walked on in silence. but there is an old  saying,

“When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as the mouth.”

The more they walked together the more they liked each other. When they reached the village lived Minokichi politely asked O-Yuki if she would like to rest and take refreshment at his home for awhile and meet his mother.

O-Yuki blushed and after hesitating agreed.  His mother made her very welcome and made her sit down and rest while she made her a hot meal.  O-Yuki was so polite and agreeable that his mother asked her to stop the night and take a break from her long journey. The next morning as she was preparing to leave his mother came to her and persuaded her to stay for a  few days saying she really enjoyed her company. Of course this pleased Minokichi greatly and it came to pass that O-Yuki never left and was gladly accepted into the household as “An honourable daughter-in-law.”

An Honourable Daughter-in-Law

Indeed, O-Yuki became something of the perfect daughter-in-law and when Minokichi’s mother died five years later her last words poured nothing but love and affection upon her son’s wife.  O-Yuki gave her husband ten beautiful children all, slim tall and as handsome as she.

All of neighbors and local people saw O-Yuki as a wonder.  Unlike the local women who grew old early through hard work and poverty she remained as young, fresh and beautiful as she been the first day she had met Minokichi even after giving birth to ten children.

Minokichi loved her dearly and one night after the children had gone to sleep he sat watching her sewing by the light of a lantern and said,

“Watching you sewing with the lantern light reminds me of a very strange experience I had when I was a young lad of eighteen.   In all of my life I have never met anyone as beautiful as you and as white and perfect as you, except once and she was very much like you.”

Without looking up or taking her eyes from her work O-Yuki said,

“Oh … Tell me about her.  Where did you meet her?”

Minokichi thought for a minute recollecting his memories of the experience. Then he told her everything that had happened the night Mosaku and he had taken shelter from the snow storm all those years ago.  He told her all about the mysterious Snow Woman and how she had smiled and whispered to him and about how Mosaku had frozen to death that night and said,

“In all of my life, either awake or asleep have I ever seen a person as beautiful as you.  However, this … Snow Woman … was not … could not have been human and I was terrified of her she was so white … pure … perfect … yet terrifying! Sometimes I think it was all a dream or a spirit of the snow.”

Sudden Change

O-Yuki snarled and flinging away her sewing jumped to her feet.  Stooping over him where he sat in shocked silence at her sudden change she lowered her face to his and shrieked,

“Do you not see that it was I … I … I! … It was I!  I told you that I would find you and kill you if you ever said another word about what happened that night.  If not for our children I would kill you here and now! Listen and remember! If you do not take good care of them. If they come to any harm through you – I will return and I will kill you.  Do not say you have not been warned!”

As she shrieked her voice became thin and wailed like the wind as she slowly dissolved into a pure, white mist that spiraled up and around the roof beams and left through the smoke hole, shrieking into the night and was never seen again.

© 04/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 4th, 2019 zteve t evans

Mother Moon – A Folktale of the Pueblo People of New Mexico

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

The Pueblo people of New Mexico have a tradition that the moon has only one eye. Presented here is a retelling of a folktale of how this came called Mother Moon from Pueblo Indian Folk-Stories  (1910) collected by Charles Lummis.

The Moon-Maiden

In the Pueblo culture the moon was the Moon-Maiden who was named P’áh-hlee-oh.  She was most beautiful and was the first woman in the world having neither mother or father, sister or brother.  It was from her beauty that all of the seeds of humanity, all life, all love and goodness had their source.

The Trues

The invisible spirits – the high rulers – known as the Trues made the Sun who was called T’hoor-íd-deh so that he would be the father of all things.  T’hoor-íd-deh was alone so the Trues made him a companion who was the first female. Her name was P’áh-hlee-oh, the Moon-Maiden.

P’áh-hlee-oh and T’hoor-íd-deh

From these two the world and all that is in it began.  Children came and grew strong and good P’áh-hlee-oh, the Moon-Maiden became Mother Moon, the Mother-all and T’hoor-íd-deh, the Sun became Father-all.  They were very happy took turns to watch over their chilodren keeping them safe.  

In those far off times P’áh-hlee-oh had two eyes.  She saw just as distinctly as T’hoor-íd-deh, the Sun and her glance was  just as brilliant as his and the light from their eyes together illuminated the world.  In those times there was no night and no darkness, only day so they watched half of the day each.  

Continuous Light

In those days of continuous light the birds always sang and flew.  The flowers never closed and the children sang and played unceasingly for none knew how to rest  The Trues looked down and saw that the never ending light was making the young eyes of the children, the birds, animals and the plants tired and heavy. They said,

“All is not well with the world.  The children are tired. The animals and birds are tired and so are the plants.  We must make it so the Sun and the Moon do not see the same. We must put out one of the eyes of the Sun so that the world is in darkness for half of the time and the children can sleep.”

Therefore they summoned T’hoor-íd-deh and P’áh-hlee-oh and told them their decision.  When P’áh-hlee-oh heard this she wept for her husband and begged,

“Please do not take an eye from my strong, handsome husband.  Please do not blind the sun. He is the father of our children.  How will he be able to watch over them? He is our provider providing game.  How will he be able to find game without his bright eyes? Please do not do this.  Instead blind me and leave him all-seeing!”

The Trues thought about it and agreed and they took one of her eyes so that she could never again see so brightly.

The night came and the tired world at last rested.  Bird, animals and the children all slept for the first time and all was good.  The Trues were pleased and they were impressed by the self-sacrifice of P’áh-hlee-oh.  So that she should not look ugly they healed her scar and gave to her the beauty. This is the beauty we see in the hearts of mothers and shines from their faces.  Now she is lovelier than ever and the Pueblo people sing,

So mother-pale above us  

She bends, her watch to keep,

Who of her sight dear-bought the night  

To give her children sleep. (1)

© 29/05/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright May 29th, 2019 zteve t evans