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Tamamo The Fox Maiden

from Japanese Fairy Tales





A pedlar journeyed with his pack upon the great high-road which leads to
the city of Kioto. He found a child sitting all alone by the wayside.

"Well, my little girl," he said, "and what make you all alone by the
wayside?"

"What do you," said the child, "with a staff and a pack, and sandals
outworn?"

"I am bound for Kioto, and the Mikado's Palace, to sell my gauds to the
ladies of the Court."

"Ah," said the child, "take me too."

"What is your name, my little girl?"

"I have no name."

"Whence come you?"

"I come from nowhere."

"You seem to be about seven years old."

"I have no age."

"Why are you here?"

"I have been waiting for you."

"How long have you waited?"

"For more than a hundred years."

The Pedlar laughed.

"Take me to Kioto," said the child.

"You may come if you will," said the Pedlar. So they went their ways
together, and in time they came to Kioto and to the Mikado's Palace.
Here the child danced in the august presence of the Son of Heaven. She
was as light as the sea-bird upon a wave's crest. When she had made an
end of dancing, the Mikado called her to him.

"Little maid," he said, "what guerdon shall I give you? Ask!"

"O Divinely Descended," said the child, "Son of the Gods ... I cannot
ask.... I am afraid."

"Ask without fear," said the Mikado.

The child murmured, "Let me stay in the bright presence of your
Augustness."

"So be it," said the Mikado, and he received the child into his
household. And he called her Tamamo.

Very speedily she became mistress of every lovely art. She could sing,
and she could play upon any instrument of music. She had more skill in
painting than any painter in the land; she was a wonder with the needle
and a wonder at the loom. The poetry that she made moved men to tears
and to laughter. The many thousand characters were child's play to her,
and all the hard philosophies she had at her fingers' ends. She knew
Confucius well enough, the Scriptures of Buddha, and the lore of Cathay.
She was called the Exquisite Perfection, the Gold Unalloyed, the Jewel
without Flaw.

And the Mikado loved her.

Soon he clean forgot honour and duty and kingly state. Day and night he
kept Tamamo by his side. He grew rough and fierce and passionate, so
that his servants feared to approach him. He grew sick, listless, and
languid, he pined, and his physicians could do nothing for him.

"Alas and alack," they cried, "what ails the Divinely Descended? Of a
surety he is bewitched. Woe! woe! for he will die upon our hands."

"Out upon them, every one," cried the Mikado, "for a pack of tedious
fools. As for me, I will do my own will and pleasure."

He was mad for love of Tamamo.

He took her to his Summer Palace, where he prepared a great feast in her
honour. To the feast were bidden all the highest of the land, princes
and lords and ladies of high estate; and, willy-nilly, to the Summer
Palace they all repaired, where was the Mikado, wan and wild, and mad
with love, and Tamamo by his side, attired in scarlet and cloth of gold.
Radiantly fair she was, and she poured the Mikado's sake out of a
golden flagon.

He looked into her eyes.

"Other women are feeble toys beside you," he said. "There's not a woman
here that's fit to touch the end of your sleeve. O Tamamo, how I love
you...."

He spoke loudly so that all could hear him, and laughed bitterly when he
had spoken.

"My lord ... my lord ..." said Tamamo.

Now as the high company sat and feasted, the sky became overcast with
black clouds, and the moon and the stars were hid. Suddenly a fearful
wind tore through the Summer Palace and put out every torch in the great
Hall of Feasting. And the rain came down in torrents. In the pitchy
darkness fear and horror fell upon the assembly. The courtiers ran to
and fro in a panic, the air was full of cries, the tables were
overturned. The dishes and drinking-vessels crashed together, the sake
spilled and soaked into the white mats. Then a radiance was made
visible. It came from the place where Tamamo was, and it streamed in
long flames of fire from her body.

The Mikado cried aloud in a terrible voice, "Tamamo! Tamamo! Tamamo!"
three times. And when he had done this he fell in a deathly swoon upon
the ground.

And for many days he was thus, and he seemed either asleep or dead, and
no one could recover him from his swoon.

Then the Wise and Holy Men of the land met together, and when they had
prayed to the gods, they called to them Abe Yasu, the Diviner. They
said:

"O Abe Yasu, learned in dark things, find out for us the cause, and if
it may be, the cure, of our Lord's strange sickness. Perform divination
for us, O Abe Yasu."

Then Abe Yasu performed divination, and he came before the Wise Men and
said:

"The wine is sweet, but the aftertaste is bitter.
Set not your teeth in the golden persimmon,
It is rotten at the core.
Fair is the scarlet flower of the Death Lily,
Pluck it not.
What is beauty?
What is wisdom?
What is love?
Be not deceived. They are threads in the fabric of illusion!"

Then the Wise Men said, "Speak out, Abe Yasu, for your saying is dark,
and we cannot understand it."

"I will do more than speak," said Abe Yasu. And he spent three days in
fasting and in prayer. Then he took the sacred Gohei from its place in
the Temple, and calling the Wise Men to him he waved the sacred Gohei
and with it touched each one of them. And together they went to Tamamo's
bower, and Abe Yasu took the sacred Gohei in his right hand.

Tamamo was in her bower adorning herself, and her maidens were with her.

"My lords," she said, "you come all unbidden. What would you have with
me?"

"My lady Tamamo," said Abe Yasu the Diviner, "I have made a song after
the fashion of the Chinese. You who are learned in poetry, I pray you
hear and judge my song."

"I am in no mood for songs," she said, "with my dear lord lying sick to
death."

"Nevertheless, my lady Tamamo, this song of mine you needs must hear."

"Why, then, if I must ..." she said.

Then spoke Abe Yasu:

"The wine is sweet, the aftertaste is bitter.
Set not your teeth in the golden persimmon,
It is rotten at the core.
Fair is the scarlet flower of the Death Lily,
Pluck it not.
What is beauty?
What is wisdom?
What is love?
Be not deceived. They are threads in the fabric of illusion!"

When Abe Yasu the Diviner had spoken, he came to Tamamo and he touched
her with the sacred Gohei.

She gave a loud and terrible cry, and on the instant her form was
changed into that of a great fox having nine long tails and hair like
golden wire. The fox fled from Tamamo's bower, away and away, until it
reached the far plain of Nasu, and it hid itself beneath a great black
stone that was upon that plain.

But the Mikado was immediately recovered from his sickness.

Soon, strange and terrible things were told concerning the great stone
of Nasu. A stream of poisonous water flowed from under it and withered
the bright flowers of the plain. All who drank of the stream died, both
man and beast. Moreover, nothing could go near the stone and live. The
traveller who rested in its shadow arose no more, and the birds that
perched upon it fell dead in a moment. People named it the Death Stone,
and thus it was called for more than a hundred years.

Then it chanced that Genyo, the High Priest, who was a holy man indeed,
took his staff and his begging bowl and went upon a pilgrimage.

When he came to Nasu, the dwellers upon the plain put rice into his
bowl.

"O thou Holy Man," they said, "beware the Death Stone of Nasu. Rest not
in its shade."

But Genyo, the High Priest, having remained a while in thought, made
answer thus:

"Know, my children, what is written in the Book of the Good Law: 'Herbs,
trees and rocks shall all enter into Nirvana.'"

With that he took his way to the Death Stone. He burnt incense, he
struck the stone with his staff, and he cried, "Come forth, Spirit of
the Death Stone; come forth, I conjure thee."

Then there was a great flame of fire and a rending noise, and the Stone
burst and split in sunder. From the stone and from the fire there came a
woman.

She stood before the Holy Man. She said:

"I am Tamamo, once called the Proud Perfection;
I am the golden-haired Fox;
I know the Sorceries of the East;
I was worshipped by the Princes of Ind;
I was great Cathay's undoing;
I was wise and beautiful,
Evil incarnate.
The power of the Buddha has changed me;
I have dwelt in grief for a hundred years;
Tears have washed away my beauty and my sin.
Shrive me, Genyo, shrive me, Holy Man;
Let me have peace."

"Poor Spirit," said Genyo. "Take my staff and my priestly robe and my
begging bowl and set forth upon the long journey of repentance."

Tamamo took the priestly robe and put it upon her; in one hand she took
the staff, in the other the bowl. And when she had done this, she
vanished for ever from the sight of earthly men.

"O thou, Tathagatha," said Genyo, "and thou, Kwannon, Merciful Lady,
make it possible that one day even she may attain Nirvana."





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