Sengoku Tales, 2

The Story
“All right, sit down now children. It’s story time.” The moon was high overhead, although it couldn’t be seen through the thick canopy of trees. This heat of the day had barely given way to the night’s sluggish humidity. Still there was a slight breeze the moved the air just enough to provide a nugget of relief. The five children were grateful for this slight comfort, and wondered if their new master had need of it or even took any notice.
To his students Koike appeared an old man. His grey hair was kept short, trimmed almost to the scalp itself. His face had deep lines, but didn’t have the sunken in look they’d seen on most of the ancients they knew. His dark eyes still burned and they all knew that while small he could move with extreme speed and power. But now what mattered was his voice. Deep with age and just a touch of gravel his voice could channel a wide range of emotion. Even though they had only known the master for a short time they’d all had that voice used on them, driving them to excel and blasting them for their failures. Now that talented voice was to be put to use as an instrument in the old man’s stories.
Story time had become sacred. It was a time for learning, but it was a time of safety. They had learned that during stories they could let their guard slip and only focus on listening. As long as they listened they could trust that there were no traps or challenges waiting for them. They could relax, which was rare enough that the treasured the chance.
Koike sat cross legged near the small fire. The humidity made the fire’s heat uncomfortable, but they all appreciated the light, and the bowls of rice which the fire was used to prepare. The students sat in line in front of their teacher. All five sat with their knees together and their feet tucked underneath them. The seiza style sitting wasn’t the most comfortable, but it was a small price to pay for the relaxation a story brought. Besides, the formalness sitting seiza brought added extra weight to whatever stories Master Koike chose to tell. When the five were settled and all was quiet, he began.
“Today I am going to tell you of the great treasures of our land. These are not mortal treasures such as gold and pearls, but treasures of the Spirits that were given to Man. These treasures show that the Spirits favored our Emperor with gifts to mark him as one with them, so that none can question his divine rule, for who but the divine can posses such blessed gifts? This story starts a long time ago when the world was very young and one day the Sun became very upset. In fact she was so upset that she hid in a cave.”
One of the children, the boy in the middle who was already fidgeting spoke up “How could the sun fit in cave?”
A different child, a girl this time, answered with a touch of haughtiness in her voice, “Don’t be stupid. Haven’t you ever seen the sun? It’s not even as big as a plum.”
Before the boy in the middle could speak the teacher began again. “The sun only looks small because it is far away, much the same way the falcon looks small in flight.” At this the middle boy smirked, but only slightly. He didn’t want to upset his new master after winning what, in his mind, was a battle of wits. The girl sniffed loudly at this, but otherwise didn’t respond and so the master continued, “The Sun could enter the cave because the world was different then and so was the Sun. Nature in all her aspects lived on our island and blessed it as her home. But that is a different story.
“The Sun was in her cave and wouldn’t come out, no matter what the other spirits said or did.”
The littlest and youngest child, a girl, asked, “Why was the Sun upset?”
“Who are we to know the motives of the spirits? What is known is that her brother, the Wind, placed a great mirror outside the cave. Beside the mirror he placed a wondrous necklace of pure jade. But still the Sun did not come out of the cave.”
“Did she know the mirror and necklace were there?” asked the older girl, sounding less haughty this time.
“Perhaps so, perhaps not.” Koike did not call the children by name, for in truth they no longer had any names. Their families were either dead or poor enough to not wish for the struggle of feeding extra children. Later he would give them names that suited them. In his mind there was no rush and the children were too grateful for regular food to notice a small thing like their Master never calling them by names.
“To encourage his sister to look out of the cave the Wind threw a great party just outside of the cave’s entrance. He knew his sister loved parties and he hoped that when she heard the music and laughter the party would bring her heart would grow less heavy and she would look out of the cave and see the gifts for her.”
“And it worked, right?” asked the boy who was fidgeting even more.
“Yes, it did. She looked out of the cave. Her eyes were first drawn to the jade. She had never seen such delicate beauty. Clasping it around her neck she saw the mirror and looked at her reflection. She was very pleased both in how she looked and that her brother was next to her. As she came out of the cave he had felt her brilliance and went to her.
“’Are these for me?’ she asked. ‘Yes, if you promise never to hide yourself away.’ ‘I promise,’ she said. Then brother and sister wept and embraced for they loved each other very much and had missed their time together. Later when the Sun had a child and the child grew into a man, she gave him the mirror and the necklace as a symbol that he was a child of the Sun, her favorite, and meant to rule the blessed Islands. But that is not the end of our story.”
“The Sun and Wind joined the party. The Sun was soon laughing and dancing with the other revelers. The Wind found the Moon, who is the Sun’s twin sister. The Moon was not as brilliant as her twin, and so she did not dance because she felt there would be laughter. ‘Isn’t it good to see our sister so happy again?’ the Wind said. ‘It is,’ the Moon answered. ‘It is good that she has forgiven you, brother.’
‘What? Forgiven me?’ the Wind asked because he was very confused and did not understand what the Moon meant.
The Moon was also confused because she could not see how her brother could not understand. ‘Don’t you remember? In your playing you destroyed a town that she favored. That is why she hid inside the cave.’”
At this the youngest girl started. “But you said you didn’t know why the Sun hid in the cave! You lied!”
Koike smiled softly at the girl, who in secret was quickly becoming his favorite of the group. “No child, I did not lie. I merely let you believe that I did not know to make the story better. In time you will learn the difference.”
Still feeling that she had been tricked, which she had, the small girl pouted silently as the master continued the story.
“The Wind was shocked to hear this. He had barely noticed the town he had destroyed. He had been caught up in his play and he rarely considered his strength or the little towns with their little spirits. Now it was the Winds turn to grow upset and thought the moon tried she could not console him. The Wind left the party; resolved to not come back until he felt he had atoned.
“The Wind raveled for a long time and did a great many things, but he nothing he did made him could match up to the destruction he wrought in his carelessness. But one day he heard of a great serpent. The serpent had eight heads and an appetite that could not be satisfied. Upon hearing of this snake the Wind burst into song, for he felt his quest was soon to be at an end.”
Master Koike looked over his students. Now there were no questions. All sat still; wrapped up by his words. His heart smiled, but his face displayed only a tight expression designed to keep the tension of the story.
“He gathered eight large tubs and filled them all with the strongest sake he could find. So great was the serpent that he put each of the tubs in the valleys formed by eight hills. Soon came the snake, for he smelled the sake and the aroma had awoken his thirst. After all eight heads drank from all eight tubs the snake was drunk to the point of sickness. This was when the wind struck, slicing each of the heads, one by one, from the body. He so enjoyed slicing the heads free that when he came to the tail he decided it would be fun to slice it off as well. However, his sword only made it halfway through before it split in two. Reaching inside he pulled out the most magnificent blade he had ever seen. So keen was it that it had split his blade, which was tempered by the Sun herself. He knew this was a gift that would please his sister and he returned home.
“Upon returning he prostrated himself before his sister, the Sun. ‘Brilliant sister, I did you a great wrong in my carelessness and was not even wise enough to see it, but your pale twin was kind enough to show me my wrong. I have searched far and wide for a way to atone. Take this sword, taken from the tale of the great serpent. No finer blade shall ever exist, and I want it to be yours.’ So powerful was his emotion the tears fell from his eyes as he spoke, and such was his desire to please his sister that where the tears fell flowers sprang up.
The Sun could not stand to see her beloved brother in such a state and she pulled him up from the ground. ‘My twin spoke when silence would have been best. I had forgiven you and you have given me much already. I do not except your gift, because such an apology is not needed.
“‘Then do not take it as an apology,’ the Wind replied. ‘Take it as a token of love from a brother who adores you before all others.’
“Now it was the Sun’s turn to weep, so moved was she by her brother’s declaration. ‘Then I accept, for I doubt that no other siblings have a love that equals ours.’ At this the pair embraced and the spirits that had gathered applauded. All except one, the Moon, who shed tears. But, unlike her brother and sister who wept for joy, she wept out of sorrow, for she knew she was not as loved by her siblings. Some say that was when the Moon started to move away from her twin. And that is where this story ends.
The mood was heavy and Koike noted that more than one of the five had wet faces. Not that he would blame them. They were young and still felt alone. No parents, no siblings. Only each other. It was no wonder they felt more in common with the cast-aside Moon than the more revered Sun and Moon. And truth be told Koike was glad his story had gotten this reaction. It was further proof that he had chosen wisely and that the new students would be ready for their new education once the reached his temple.
As the children prepared for sleep, the oldest boy approached his master. He was the most serious of the five and it seemed to Koike the one most likely to think deeply. “The treasures were the sword, the mirror and the necklace,” the boy said in voice that told that it wasn’t his real question.
“Yes,” the master nodded.
“Are there other gifts from the spirits to man?”
“Those are the three great treasures of our land.”
“That wasn’t an answer.”
“No, it wasn’t,” the master said with finality. For a short time the boy locked eyes with Koike, as if he were waiting for the truth to come. Finally the boy dropped his gaze and went off to find a place to in the grass to sleep. Koike almost smiled even though he wasn’t sure if he should be pleased with the boy. A strong will could bring trouble as easily as it brings greatness. With a sigh the master wiped the sweat from his brow, telling himself it was due to the heat, and went off to find his soft grass to sleep upon. Morning would come early and the temple was still far.

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