[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 (cont.)
Then to his mazèd eyes appeared a star,
Shaming the summer moon’s ethereal light.
Above the crest of Fujiyama, far,
Shimmered a vision Paradisal bright!
Gleaming mid fleecy cloud, a damsel fair,
Robed in vague vestments of translucent white,
Showering bright blossoms on the azure air,
Hovered upon the ebon sea of Night!
Yamato fell upon his knees and prayed,
Scarce drawing breath, so utter his dismay.
Beseemed she was no merely mortal maid,
This queen celestial gleaming like the day.
“O Goddess,” thus he spake, “whoe’er thou art,
Throned in the highest heaven o’er gods and men,
Strengthen mine arm, embolden thou mine heart,
That I may gain the Sacred Sword again.”
Then him the angel answered: “Lo
Yamato-take, heaven-descended lord,
Fear not, nor rend thine heart with utter woe,
Deliverance I bring. The Sacred Sword
Thou soon shalt find hard by a mountain mere,
Upon the antlers of a Magic Deer!
Haste then the stag to slay, ere it shall bear
The precious blade to Susano for e’er.”
Thus spake the Goddess; then upon the night,
Mid dulcet strains of lute and psaltery,
Like fleeting dew before morn’s radiant light,
Melted to mist and vanished utterly!
Then Yamato knew that the damsel he beheld in the vision was none other than the celestial Kwannon, Goddess of Mercy and Love, and obedient to her command, scoured moor and mountain in quest of the magic stag.
“Had I but my trusty javelin,” he spake within himself, “but naked-handed and weaponless how may I slay the demon deer? Nathless will I strive mine utmost.”
Of a sudden before his amazed eyes there shot up from the earth a mighty bamboo-stalk, tall and slender but exceeding strong. Yamato clove the shaft and, finding therein a pointed flint, fashioned a goodly lance.
Scarce had he finished when there sounded across the forest a far-off trumpet-peal, the belling of a mighty stag!
“O for my hounds!” cried Yamato, despairingly. “Gentle Kwannon, dost thou mock my helplessness? Would that I had the scent of a dog whereby to track this stag, or four fleet legs wherewith to match its flight.”
Yamato cast himself upon the earth in despair and, lying thus, he discerned, approaching ever nearer through the silent forest, a faint pattering as of softly padded feet.
Sudden there darted across the moonlit glade a gaunt shadow, like that of a great, shaggy dog. It leaped lightly over his body, then was lost in the wild-wood.
Yamato wondered: “Can it be that some other huntsman is on the scent of the stag?”
Another and another shadow slipped stealthily by.
Crouching behind a tree Yamato gave them free way as, in serried ranks, a pack of famished wolves trotted by, the slaver dripping from their long, lolling tongues. After them bounded Yamato, crying: “Kwannon hath lent me her hounds.”
Through marsh and wilderness, out of the ferny forest, up lava-encrusted slopes, he climbed to a point of vantage, whence all the countryside could be discerned.
Beneath him in a meadow, on the marge of a placid lake, browsed a great white deer, and behold! as in the palace of a daimio his precious blade lies on the carven rack, thus amid its wide-spreading antlers rested the Sacred Sword!
Suddenly the stag sniffed the air, stamped the earth and, bellowing lustily, bounded toward the lake. Little by little the wolves gained upon him, and their leader, springing at his throat, was instantly transfixed by his ten-forked antlers.
Into the waters leaped the Magic Stag, and the pack, balked of their longed-for prey, slunk, crestfallen and silent, back into the forest.
Above the glittering wake Yamato discerned the Sacred Sword, still resting upon the antlers and, hurling his lance, plunged into the lake.
Swimming with might and main he gradually gained upon the struggling stag, when the reddening tide told him that his spear had gone straight to the mark. Seizing the Sword, Yamato plunged it clean to the hilt in the heart of the Stag.
Bellowing lustily, down through unfathomable depths sank the dying demon, and Yamato, the Sacred Sword between his teeth, swam joyously to shore.