[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 Sacred Sword
Where thund’rous surges ever seethe and boil,
And writhen trees, sprung from the barren soil,
Outstretch to heaven gaunt, supplicating hands,
There hides a grotto on the island strands
With winding chambers, worn by ocean’s toil,
Lighted by taper-flare of fragrant oil,
In whose umbrageous depths an idol stands.
Bestride a dragon belching fiery breath
In wreathed incense on the humid air,
Benten immortal, shrined mid wind and rain,
Goddess of Love, lurks in her loathly lair,
Lady of sorrow and eternal pain,
Sleek serpent-goddess with the kiss of death.
Riding homeward, Yamato and his Princess took their way along the shore, the fateful isle of Enoshima glimmering dimly through distant mists.
Again rang the siren’s song in the ears of Yamato and his former madness fell over him.
“Ride home,” he commanded Tacibana; “hide thy visage until thy flame-singed tresses have grown anew and thy scorched skin hath regained its satin lustre, for verily thou art hideous in my sight.”
A teardrop glistened in the eyes of the devoted Princess as she meekly did her husband’s bidding, singing to her sad heart the whiles a song of Hope, on this wise:
If ‘tis for long this love will last
I neither know nor care.
One morn I’ll hold him tangled fast,
Within my lustrous hair.
Yamato plunged through the foam-flowered surges and swam to the emerald grotto of Benten. Treading upon the threshold, his foot sank in the folds of a noisome dragon, but he slashed it with the Sacred Sword and, bellowing with pain, the monster glided away.
Hearing the uproar Benten cried in alarm: “Vain, presumptuous youth, anger not my faithful guardian, else will he slay thee!”
“Nay,” replied Yamato, sheathing the blade, “this is the Sacred Sword, against which neither beast nor man nor e’en the immortal gods may prevail.”
Then was the siren glad, for the dragon who guarded her cave was none other than her father, the evil gods Susa-no-wo who, having striven in vain to possess himself of the sword by force, had bidden his daughter lure it from Yamato through guile and treachery.
When Yamato lamented that he had not gained the Golden Apple, the siren reproached him but lightly and, summoning her beauteous handmaidens, spread before him a sumptuous banquet, mingling in his sake a sleep-compelling potion, the whiles she discoursed drowsy lullabies upon her golden lute.
Heavily slumbered Yamato, but awaking ere dawn, he groped for the form of Benten and discerning her not, called: “Where art thou, Beloved?” But none gave answer.
Then a peal of mocking laughter rang out and, springing from his couch, Yamato perceived by the silvery morning twilight that he was indeed alone. Though he searched through every cranny of the cavern he found not the siren, when suddenly, to his great dismay, he realized that the Sacred Sword had also disappeared.
Swiftly swam he to the shore and distraught wandered for hours through the forest bewailing his folly and the treachery of woman.
While treading through the crimson leaves
Far up the mountainside,
I hear the stag’s faint plaintive call
Upon the autumn tide,
Sad as the wind-blown leaves that fall
Swift scattered far and wide.
Fain would he have returned to his faithful Princess, but in the labyrinthine forest he lost the trail.
Next: The Sacred Sword (cont.)