[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 (cont.)
Nevertheless the high priestess stayed him with wise and timely counsel. “This castle,” quoth she, “is so stoutly defended that none may take it either by siege or assault. Its lord is the infamous outlaw Takeru. He hath assembled thither a host of desperate and vicious men who carry off maidens from their homes and hold them in durance vile.”
Yamato flashed with rage: “Gird on my sword,” he cried, “and bid my warriors make ready!”
Whereupon the priestess protested: “Nay, take the sacred sword of Susa-no-wo, but hide it neath thy garments, for these be the weapons whereby thou shalt conquer.”
Then she brought forth a woman’s broidered robe and, tiring his hair like a dancing maiden’s, decked it with a gleaming tiara and hung about his shoulders the sacred necklace of the Sun Goddess.
Yamato, seeing himself thus transformed into a maiden of surpassing beauty, doubted not that in this guise he would compass the ruin of his foes.
Bidding his warriors follow at a little space, he journeyed alone to the outlaw’s castle. When he reached the gate the sentry, little deeming that this beauteous damsel was a sturdy warrior, with an evil smile permitted him to pass.
Yamato traversed an interminable gallery leading to a lofty chamber where in solitary grandeur the notorious bandit sat at meal. Sodden with sake, he leered drunkenly upon Yamato as, with a graceful obeisance, the seeming dancing-maid addressed him: “Permit, honourable Lord, that I pour thee a cup of sake.”
Perceiving his queenly visitor, the bandit let fall the pheasant which he was devouring and gaped upon her in astonishment.
“How earnest thou hither, my sweet hussy?” he thundered.
“The warriors of Yamato pursued me, gracious Lord, and I seek thy honourable protection in this thy castle.”
“Of a surety,” exclaimed the delighted bandit, “thou shalt find all thou seekest. Come sit thou beside me, for none other shall pour my wine so long as I do live.”
“That were too great honour,” answered Yamato, the whiles he said within himself: “Thou speakest more truly than thou knowest, for when I have done with thee thou shalt drink no more.”
Whereupon Yamato poured sake for the bandit, simulating the mincing steps of a dancing-maid and casting upon him sly alluring glances. Takeru became more and more enamoured of his fair servitor, and, inflamed by his potations, clasped the pretended maid in his arms.
Yamato wrestled with such unforeseen might that Takeru, perceiving his supposed sweetheart to be no fragile maiden, but a steel-sinewed warrior, howled with affright and, releasing his grasp, stealthily whipped forth a knife.
Yamato, nothing daunted, sprang beneath his uplifted arm, and grasping the wrist of Takeru bent it backward until the bones snapped.
Letting fall the dirk Takeru groaned: “Verily thou hast conquered, but tell me, I beseech thee, by whose hand I die, for myself have I ever held to be the most valiant of men.”
“I am called by the name of my country,” cried Yamato, as he dealt the avenging death-stroke.
“Henceforth,” gasped the bandit, “be thou known as Yamato-take (Stout-hearted-Yamato), for there be none like thee in all the land!” Thus speaking the bandit gave up his evil soul.
Like flame borne by the whirlwind, Yamato swept through the castle questing the imprisoned Princess.
“Tacibana!” he cried from deepest dungeon to the topmost tower, “Tacibana, thou art free!”
At last he heard a faint wail, like the cry of a wounded bird and, bursting in the massive gate of a treasure-chamber, discovered the unconscious Princess lying prone upon the pavement, her hands bound behind her back. In her agony of apprehension she had loosed from her headdress a jewelled dagger which she held between her teeth, ready to fall thereon at the coming of Takeru.
Yamato severed her bonds with a swift sword-stroke, crying, “Tacibana, it is I.”
Then raising his hunting horn to his lips he sounded the signal for the onset.
Thereupon, after a turbulent encounter in the castle-court, his doughty warriors overwhelmed with sore disaster the astonished bandits, who, learning that their chieftain had perished, soon lost heart and gave themselves up, yielding subjection to this unknown avenging amazon.
Placing his joyous Princess before him upon the bandit’s charger and followed by a goodly cavalcade freighted with rich loot from the castle treasuries, Yamato rode in triumph to his palace at Kashiwabara.
In the evening, mid great rejoicing, were the wedding cups of sake exchanged; and though Yamato bestowed many precious gifts upon his lovesome bride, none gladdened her heart more than the gaily embroidered robe, garbed in which he had delivered her from the bandit Takeru.