[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Japanese Mythology unit. Story source: Romance of Old Japan, Part I: Mythology and Legend by E. W. Champney and F. Champney (1917).
The Labors of Yamato: The Grass-Cleaving Sword
Here the chieftains welcomed Yamato with feigned hospitality, inviting his warriors to a deer-hunt upon the moor. Little deeming the treachery in store for them, they sit forth eagerly on the chase. All day long they stalked the stag through the wide-spreading moorlands, and at eve bivouacked upon the dry and grassy plain.
“At the hour when rivers are most clamorous,” Yamato was awakened by a strange, unwonted sound —a crackling as of goblin laughter and a swishing as of ghostly shrouds.
“Surely,” he said within himself, rubbing his smarting eyelids, “tis but a dream, an evil-boding dream.”
But the crackling swiftly increased, till it became a mighty roar. An unwonted light glowed in the heavens, and the stars were shrouded by a cloud of lurid smoke writhing ever upward like a serpent of living fire.
Springing to his feet, Yamato saw that the entire moor (before him, on either hand, and behind) was a sea of leaping flames! Shouting to his comrades, he strove vainly to discern an opening in the impenetrable barrier of fire.
Meantime another and greater peril fell upon them. Thousands of deer, terror-stricken before the approaching flames, rushed frantically to and fro, trampling and goring horses and huntsmen in blind insensate flight.
Wrenching themselves free of their tethers, the frightened horses galloped screaming through the camp. In mad stampede they coursed round and round within the ever-narrowing wall of flames, surging onward with their long streaming manes like foaming billows breaking over rocks.
Thereupon, rather than to meet death beneath those cruel hoofs, Yamato bade his archers shoot down the maddened steeds.
But the fire waxed more and more furious, hemming them within an ever-narrowing circle, till all hope died within the hearts of the prisoned men.
Of a sudden amid the fiery smoke wreaths, Yamato beheld a spectre which wavered upon the sea of flames. Ever nearer it came till he perceived a maiden in fiery garments running through the burning grass. As she ran she tore off her flaming vestments, till, her long hair singed, her fair body pitifully scorched, Tacibana fell trembling at his feet.
She uttered no cry of pain, but joyously bespake him: “Behold this fire-drill, O Beloved! By its aid thou mayst find safety.”
Then Yamato mowed down a circle of grass with the Sacred Sword and, taking the drill, kindled backfire, thus making an isle of safety in the ocean of flame. Whereupon the wind, turned the fire upon the treacherous savages, consuming them utterly.
Thus did my hero and his warriors make good their escape, by virtue of the “Sacred Grass-Cleaving Sword,” yet, methinks, more justly by the brave devotion of the Princess Tacibana.