[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 Rescue of the Princess
This Yamato was a youth of comely mien, great of stature, strong and fearless and skilful in the use of arms. It fortuned that on a day he fared forth from his palace to bathe in the breakers of Suminoye. Up through forests of giant cryptomeria, over hill and vale, through flooded moorlands verdant with the glow of the young rice ears, he journeyed till he came to the cliffs of the great surging sea.
Mounting a crag and divesting himself of his raiment, he plunged deep into the heart of the swirling surf. Manfully he strove through the briny breakers which like great white chargers came galloping ever onward to the strand, now breasting their foamy summits with a stroke of his powerful arm, then whelmed in the emerald hollows with the ebb of the wave.
When he had disported himself like a playful porpoise to his heart’s content, he laid him down upon the sunny strand. As he lay thus he fell a-dreaming, whereupon, through drifting mists of revery, there came to him the vision of a mermaid beauteous as the Night with raven tresses and eyes of larkspur blue, who glided suddenly from a cavern in the cliff hard by.
Yamato rubbed his sleep-laden eyes and, halloing lustily, plunged into the surges and swam swiftly after her. But the siren, affrighted, with a quick flip of her lustrous-scaled tail sank beneath the water and vanished from view, and though Yamato searched diligently for the entrance to her cavern no trace of it could he find.
Oft thereafter the youth wandered to Suminoye questing the siren. For hours he would lie prone upon the rocks vainly searching the darkling water for the glitter of her lithe body; but the lovely Nereid came nevermore.
Many tides flowed and ebbed upon the beach of Suminoye, and the long-deferred day for the wedding of Yamato with the Princess Tacibana had at last come.
He was returning from her father’s palace with his betrothed bride. As he rode beside her litter, his band of warriors trailing behind them through the dusky forest, he passed a great and lofty castle seated upon a beetling crag. It was walled about with palisades and defended moreover by rocky bulwarks overhanging a wide and turbid stream.
Here lurked a band of mounted brigands armed to the teeth, commanded by a bandit notorious for his crimes through all Izumo.
Scarcely had Yamato and his bride appeared than the brigands galloped over the drawbridge and with pike and gisarme fell upon them. Whereupon the litter-bearers fled incontinently, leaving Yamato to confront the bandits single-handed.
As flash the lightning bolts about Fujiyama so fell the sword of Yamato upon the heads of the unhappy miscreants. A score of the foremost brigands fell before his terrible lunges; the remaining cravens were fleeing for their lives, when the chieftain sprang suddenly upon Yamato with a thunderous mace-stroke, felling him instantly to the ground.
Then all was dark. Far away, like the murmur of distant surges, Yamato heard the shrieks of his betrothed as the bandit bore her to his castle.
With might and main he vainly strove to raise himself, but his steed lay across his body, and black waves of death surged over his soul.