The priests kept the entrance to the shrine of the sun goddess Amaterasu, free of snow. It was here Okurimono sang and danced, protected by the temple wall from the worst of the mountain wind. Even in this sheltered place the wind’s ferocity drove all feeling from her fingers and face. The young girl stamped hard and clapped her hands around herself in comical exaggerated movements as she entertained, simply to keep warm.
Her mother’s maid, Ucosan, constantly reminded Okurimono she must learn to endure pain if she wanted to be like her mother. The mind and the body are at war, she said, and the will must conquer weakness. When Okurimono complained, Ucosan told her, pain is a woman’s lot. Everything in this world has a price. Art demands the greatest price of all.
Without hesitation or pause, Okurimono bowed when a group of pilgrims threw coins; no doubt charmed by the sight of a young girl singing and dancing so exquisitely. The payment was welcome. Ucosan had sold nearly all of her mother’s jewellery and silk kimonos to survive. Now with winter refusing to leave the mountains, money was scarcer than ever.
Yet money was not the reason Okurimono danced at the shrine. She danced to honour Amaterasu and her mother’s patron Uzume, the goddess of mirth and revelry. When the storm-god destroyed Amaterasu’s rice fields and killed her maid, Amaterasu retreated to a cave. The world grew cold and dark.
Not one of the gods could tempt the sun from the cave until Uzume, the dawn goddess, danced and sang such comic songs the other gods grew helpless with laughter. Overcome by curiosity, Amaterasu ventured out to see what caused the merriment.
Okurimono did not dare to think one of the goddesses may be gracious enough to notice her devotion and drive away the demons causing the bloody flux on her mother’s lungs. This hope she kept locked in her heart, in case an idle thought betray her to the many vengeful kami and yokai that haunted wild, forgotten places.
Uzume’s dance, to tempt the sun back to the world, was the first Okurimono learned. Her mother once said, they were the first steps Izumo no Okuni taught her when she was as young as Okurimono. Her mother had smiled, fondly recollecting those comic and often rude Kabuki performances. She told her daughter how the refined clients of Shimabara’s most famous tayū would have feigned outrage at such ribaldry; no matter how they might secretly enjoy it. Then she laughed, hearty and common as Ucosan. How Okurimono wished her mother would laugh like that again.
Tempestuous clouds hid the mountain tops. The day grew dark as night. The pilgrims hurried to seek shelter in the inn. The streets were empty and shadow haunted. A storm was coming. It was time to leave. The old priest tending the shrine came to lock the gates. Watching the wind shake powered snow from the pine trees on the hills, Okurimono pulled on her broad-rimmed bamboo bonnet and quilted kosode.
The peaks above the trees were lost to the swirling white of the blizzard. Snow women demons prowled blizzards. White of hair and skin they sucked warmth from any person they caught. She threaded the scattered copper coins on her purse-string with numb fingers; reckoning their worth in bowls of rice. Dutifully, she bowed to the elderly priest, leaving a few precious coins as an offering.
Turning a corner, the full force of the storm hit Okurimono. Stinging snow blinded her. Wind snatched breath. Feet froze, sinking past her ankles in the deep drifts. The world was lost to thick flurries. All she could do was to bow her head until her chin touched her chest and keep walking.
Approaching her home, the wind paused. Driven snow eddied helplessly, its purpose momentarily forgotten. In the eerie calm Okurimono saw faraway snow women searching for victims. She heard a snow woman scream. They had found her. It was not a snow woman, but a huge black eagle flapping over the roof tops. Birds did not fly in snowstorms, unless they were demons. This was not good.
Okurimono watched the bird drop something from its claws. A pale golden ball of fur hit the deep snow lying on the pitched roof. She watched it roll. Instinctively running forward, with arms outstretched, she caught the bundle, clutching it to her breast.
Only when she had it tight and secure did she dare look. A tiny fox cub mewled and stared at her with large intelligent eyes. Safe and warm inside her padded kosode she felt its little heart frantically beating. Sudden as it came, the squall died. The last snowflakes fell, slow and gentle. The snow women fled.
The fox cub was an omen. Okurimono was sure of it.
* * *
Okurimono took off her shoes to enter the house.
The old woman scowled to disguise her relief.
“Foolish child,” she snapped. “Have you forgotten about the snow women? What have you there?” she asked without waiting for a reply.
Okurimono took the fox cub from her quilted coat to show Ucosan.
With a look of wonder, the old woman cooed, gently stroking the pup’s pale fur.
The animal yawned unperturbed.
‘The snow women came. He protected me.’
“The goddess heard your devotion and instructed Inari to send one of his messengers. The good god of prosperity is smiling. Let us show your mother.”
Okurimono took off her wet heavy coat. ‘How is Mama?’
“She took some soup today,” said the old woman carefully. “Come, she waits.”
Okurimono’s mother was wrapped in quilts. Her skin looked white, except for a single patch of colour under the dark stained hollows of her eyes. She smiled; lips grey and bloodless.
Okurimono knelt before her mother, taking her hands and touching them to her forehead. Her mother’s hands were colder than Okurimono’s, and she was caught in a blizzard. In contrast, Mother’s forehead felt hot and damp as she kissed it. Her mother suppressed a cough.
“Come child, eat,” said Ucosan hastily.
With a backward look at her mother, Okurimono knelt before the irori, grateful for its radiant warmth. Ucosan placed slivers of tofu and dried fish on two bowls of rice and a ladled broth from the cooking pot. One she gave to Okurimono, the other to the fox cub.
Later, Ucosan told Okurimono to entertain her mother with a song. Picking up the long-necked gottan, the girl tuned the lute’s three strings. Her mother gently corrected Okurimono’s mistakes until stopped by a coughing fit. Okurimono did not mean to look as her mother took the cloth from her mouth. Seeing bright arterial blood, she lowered her eyes, ashamed she might shame her mother.
After making her mistress comfortable on the futon, Ucosan drew a battered paper screen to divide the room. Returning to Okurimono, the old woman thoughtfully stroked the fox cub’s silky fur, as it lay by girl’s side, nestling on the hem of her kimono.
Ucosan liked to reminisce about her mistress. Okurimono learned everything she knew of her mother from Ucosan. It was not polite for a woman of her mother’s quality to speak of herself. Her role was to serve others.
As always Ucosan began by saying her mistress, the Lady Fujiko, was the most accomplished tayū of Shimabara’s floating world. Okurimono knew the story by heart, but cherished the telling. It left her feeling close to her mother in a way she no longer could; now she was older with responsibilities.
As a child her mother was adopted by the renowned Izumo no Okuni, a priestess who danced and sang to earn funds for the temple in the dry river beds of Kyoto. Okuni became famous for her strange affectations of mixing men’s clothing with women’s and wearing the cross and beads of the sour smelling Portuguese black priests. Her antics shocked and amused the Nippon people, to whom politeness and obedience was everything.
Okuni taught a group of destitute women acting, singing and dancing so they could make a living. Known as kabukimono, ‘the crazy ones’, they put on amusing versions of the great sagas. Audience favourites were the Tale of Genji and the war story of Heike, with, most outrageous of all, its women samurai. The women played all parts, male and female, riotously mimicking love-making between man and woman, man and man, woman and women, or even men pursuing men, who were in fact girls dressed as boys.
The more famous the kabukimono became, the more the shōgun grew displeased. Their performances attracted crowds from all walks of life. The warlord of all the Isles of the Rising Sun did not think it seemly for peasants to mix with nobles and samurai. Order required everyone to know their place, and keep to it.
Angered, the shōgun banned women from performing kabuki, dismissing them as little more than harlots. Privately, many wondered what business was it of his, how they put a little extra rice in the bowl? The shōgun preferred all-male kabuki troupes. It led some to suggest the ban was prompted by his preference for men in other ways too.
Unable to perform, the female players fled to their old lives. Now they were celebrated as skilled performers, they were taken to the heart of the floating world rather than being forced to live on its fringe. Okurimono’s mother, still a girl, no older than Okurimono, was the most exquisite and talented of all the kabukimono. Okaa-san, the revered owner of the Spring Garden House trained her as orian.
“Of course, your mother became the most desired courtesan in the land,” said Ucosan. “So famous she attracted the eye of Tadanaga, the shōgun’s brother. Tadanaga was born with all the blessings: a great military leader, clever and charming. Loved by all, he loved only your mother. He bought your mother’s contract from Okaa-san and they lived together happily, until his jealous elder brother, the shōgun, accused him of treachery and ordered him to commit seppuku. Your mother, knowing she was lost, fled over the mountains to this village to protect your life.”
Seeing the child was falling asleep, she added, “Come let us all sleep with your mother for warmth. Bring our friend too. I have an old bed for him.”
‘Do you think he is really kitsune?’ Okurimono whispered, heavy eyed.
The old woman laughed. “He opened an eye when you spoke. If he is a kami, he is a young one.”
‘Perhaps he came to make mama better.’
“Spring will cure your mother better than any spirit.” Ucosan replied. Seeing disappointment on Okurimono’s face, she relented. “Perhaps he will protect her until Amaterasu comes to shine her warmth and bring the world alive.”
©Paul Andruss 2018
Part two of this beautiful story tomorrow.
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
When Fairy Queen Sylvie snatches his brother, schoolboy Jack is plunged into a sinister fantasy world of illusion and deception – the realm of telepathic fairies ruled by spoilt, arrogant fairy queens.
Haunted by nightmares about his brother and pursued by a mysterious tramp (only seen by Jack and his friends) Jack fears he too will be stolen away.
The tramp is Thomas the Rhymer, who only speaks in rhyme. Lost and frightened Thomas needs Jack’s help to find his way home.
The race is on for Jack and his friends to save Thomas from the wicked Agnes Day (who wants to treat Thomas like a lab rat). And save Jack’s brother from Sylvie.
To do this they need the help of Bess – the most ancient powerful fairy queen in the land.
But there is a problem…
No one knows where Bess is… or even if she is still lives.
And even if they find her… will she let them go?
The latest review for the book
I stumbled across this book one day while reading a historical piece written by the author. He had included an image of this book cover at the bottom of his article which immediately drew my attention. This author often writes long historical dissertations so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I took a chance and purchased the Kindle edition. What a delightful surprise! I couldn’t put the book down!
What I found was a fantastic story about one of my favorite subjects, faeries! Not only was it geared to the YA genre, but it also included a fair amount of historical fact to make the story shine.
When Jack’s older brother Dan is abducted before his very eyes, he is stunned by the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance. The fact that Jack witnessed the strange abduction and doesn’t tell his parents only adds to his troubles. Jack’s mother is suffering from a chronic illness and his greatest hope is that the situation will rectify itself, and Dan will come home on his own.
One night, Jack starts receiving cell phone calls from Dan, and when he answers, there’s no one on the line. He tries to tell his parents and the police the truth about what happened, but every time he opens his mouth to speak, his throat closes up and he is unable to utter a single word. Faery glamours? Could be!
In the meantime, Jack starts seeing a dirty tramp hanging around his house who only speaks in rhyme. It becomes apparent that no one can see the tramp but Jack, so he enlists the help of his friends to help him solve the mystery behind his brother’s disappearance.
Jack and his friends are thrust into the magical world of the fey where the kids experience the light and the dark, of a failing faery kingdom. They learn about ley lines and how the fey evolved beside mankind. The story progresses with plenty of magic and suspense until you reach the satisfying end.
Let me just say, that this is one of the most creative books I have ever read about the fey. Jack’s friends are reminiscent of the characters in the Harry Potter series and I had no problem connecting with their personalities. The plot is brilliant, although I had a hard time separating fact from fiction. That’s what I call good writing!
I enjoyed this novel and will read it more than once. I feel children and adults of all ages will enjoy this book. Do you love magic and all things faery? Then, have a read because this book is reasonably priced and will keep you entertained for hours.
MY RATING: Character Believability: 5 Flow and Pace: 5 Reader Engagement: 5
Reader Enrichment: 5 Reader Enjoyment: 5 Overall Rate: 5 out of 5 Stars
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC
Connect to Paul on social media.
It would be wonderful to have your thoughts about the story and hope you will join us tomorrow for part two. Thanks Sally