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Fairy Tales of Old Japan by  William E. Griffis


 

 

RAIKO AND HIS GUARDS

[85]

I
N the hill country of Japan grew up a brave young warrior and clever archer who lived more than eight thousand moons ago. On account of his valor and skill in the use of the bow he was called to Kioto, to guard the imperial palace. At that time the Mikado could not sleep at night, because his rest was disturbed by a frightful beast which scared away even the sentinels in armor who stood on guard.

This dreadful beast had the wings of a bird, the body and claws of a tiger, the head of a monkey, a serpent tail, and the crackling scales of a dragon. It came night after night upon the roof of the palace, and howled and scratched so dreadfully that the poor Emperor losing all rest, grew weak and thin. None of the guards dared to face it in hand-to-hand fight, and none had skill enough to hit it with an arrow in the dark, though several of the imperial corps of archers had tried again and again. When the young archer received his appointment, he re- [86] solved to fight the dragon come what might. So he strung his bow carefully, sharpened his steel-headed arrows, stored his quiver, and mounted guard alone except for his favorite servant.

It chanced to be a stormy night. The lightning was very vivid, and the thunder-demon was beating all his drums. The wind swirled around frightfully, as though the wind-imp were emptying all his bags. Toward midnight, the falcon eye of the archer saw, during a flash of lightning, the awful beast sitting at the tip of the ridge-pole, on the northeast end of the roof. He bade his servant have a torch of straw and twigs ready to light at a moment's notice, to loosen his sword blade in its sheath, and wet its hilt-pin. Then he fitted the notch of his best arrow into the silk cord of his bow.

Keeping his eyes strained, he soon saw the glare now of one eye, now two eyes, as the beast with swaying head crept along the great roof to the place on the eaves directly over the Mikado's sleeping-room. There it stopped.

This was the archer's opportunity. Aiming about a foot to the right of where he saw the eye glare, he drew his yard-length shaft clear back [87] to his shoulder, and let fly. A dull thud, a frightful howl, a heavy bump on the ground, and the writhing of some creature among the pebbles, told in a few seconds' time that the shaft had struck flesh. The next instant the servant rushed out with blazing torch and joined battle with his dirk. A short but fierce three-cornered fight ensued, but the warrior's sharp sword soon finished the monster by cutting his throat. Then they flayed it, and the next morning the hide was shown to his majesty.


[Illustration]

THIS WAS THE ARCHER'S OPPORTUNITY.

All congratulated the brave archer on his valor and marksmanship. Many young men, sons of nobles and warriors, begged to become his pupils in archery. The Mikado ordered a noble of very high rank to present him with a famous sword named "The King of Wild Boars," and to give him a lovely maid of honor to wife. He was promoted to be captain of the guard, and given a high-sounding title. But he was also called Raiko, and by this name he is best known to all the boys and girls in Great Japan, who tell many tales of his skill and prowess. Under Captain Raiko were three brave guardsmen, one of whom was named Tsuna. The [88] duty of these men-at-arms was to watch at the gates leading to the palace.

It had come to pass that the Blossom Capital had fallen in a dreadful condition, because the guards at the other gates had been neglected. Thieves were numerous and murders were frequent, so that many good people were afraid to go out into the streets at night. Worse than all else, was the report that hill-demons were prowling around in the dark to seize people by the hair of their heads. Then they would drag them away to the mountains, tear the flesh off their bones, and eat them up.

The worst place in Kioto, to which the two-horned demons came oftenest, was at the south-western gate. To this post of danger, Raiko sent Tsuna, the bravest of his guards.

It was on a dark, rainy, and dismal night, that Tsuna started, well-armed, to stand sentinel at the gate. His trusty helmet was knotted over his chin, and all the pieces of his armor were well laced up. His sandals were girt tight to his feet, and in his belt was thrust the trusty sword, freshly ground, until its edge was like a razor's, and with it the owner could cut asunder a hair floating in the air.

[89] Arriving at the red pillar of the gate, Tsuna paced up and down the stone way with eyes and ears wide open. The wind was blowing frightfully, the storm howled, and the rain fell in such torrents that soon the cords of Tsuna's armor and his dress were soaked through.

The great bronze bell of the temples on the hills boomed out the hours one after another, until a single stroke told Tsuna it was the hour of midnight.

Two hours passed and still Tsuna was wide awake. The storm had lulled, but it was darker than ever. The hour of three rang out, and the soft mellow notes of the temple bell died away like a lullaby wooing one to sleep, spite of will and vow.

The warrior, almost without knowing it, grew sleepy and fell into a doze. He started and woke up. He shook himself, jingled his armor, pinched himself, and even pulled out his little knife from the wooden scabbard of his dirk, and pricked his leg with the point of it to keep awake, but all in vain. Overcome by drowsiness, he leaned against the gate-post, and fell asleep.

This was just what the Demon wanted. All the [90] time he had been squatting on the cross-piece at the top of the gate waiting his opportunity. He now slid down as softly as a monkey, and with his iron-like claws grabbed Tsuna by the helmet, and began to drag him into the air.

In an instant Tsuna was awake. Seizing the imp's hairy wrist with his left hand, with his right he drew his sword, swept it round his head, and cut off the Demon's arm. Frightened and howling with pain, the creature leaped from the post, and disappeared in the clouds.

Tsuna waited with drawn sword in hand, lest the Demon might come again, but in a few hours morning dawned. The sun rose on the pagodas and gardens and temples of the capitol and the Ninefold Circle of Flowery Hills. Everything was beautiful and bright. Tsuna returned to report to his captain, carrying the Demon's arm in triumph. Raiko examined it, and loudly praised Tsuna for his bravery, and rewarded him with a silken sash.

Now it is said that if a demon's arm be cut off it cannot be made to unite with the body again, if kept apart for a week. So Raiko warned Tsuna to lock it up, and watch it night and day, lest it be stolen from him.

[91] Tsuna went to the stone-cutters who made images of Buddha, mortars for pounding rice, and coffers for burying money, and bought a strong box cut out of the solid stone. It had a heavy lid on it, which slid in a groove and came out only by touching a secret spring. Into this he put the severed arm. Then setting it in his bed-chamber, he guarded it day and night, keeping the gate and all his doors locked. He allowed no one who was a stranger to look at the trophy.

Six days passed by, and Tsuna began to think his prize was sure, for were not all his doors tight shut? So he set the box out in the middle of the room, and twisting some rice-straw fringe in token of sure victory and rejoicing, he sat down in ease before it. He took off his armor and put on his court robes. During the evening, but rather late, there was a feeble knock like that of an old woman at the gate outside.

Tsuna cried out, "Who's there?"

The squeaky voice of his aunt, as it seemed, who was a very old woman, replied, "I want to see my nephew, to praise him for his bravery in cutting the Demon's arm off."

So Tsuna let her in and carefully locking the door behind her, helped the old crone into the [92] room, where she sat down on the mats in front of the box and very close to it. Then she grew very talkative, and praised her nephew's exploit, until Tsuna felt very proud.

All the time the old woman's left shoulder was covered with her dress while her right hand was out. Finally she begged earnestly to be allowed to see the limb. Tsuna at first politely refused, but she urged until he slid back the stone lid just a little.

"This is my arm!" cried the old hag, turning into a demon, and dragging it out of the casket.

Up she flew to the ceiling, and was out of the smoke-slide through the roof in a twinkling. Tsuna rushed out of the house to shoot her with an arrow, but he saw only a demon far off in the clouds grinning horribly. While he looked, he saw the severed arm unite again with the body, and the Demon shook both  fists at him in token of victory.


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