Hair of the Hare Heir
Kitsune Sayo's Tale
Kitsune Sayo’s Tale
Kitsune Sayo wandered down the path with her mother. The small girl leapt excitedly, grabbing her mother’s sleeve, “What about Birds? They are animals and they are very much tied to the Air?” The child’s expression implored her mother to agree. Kitsune Kajin stopped and put a gentle hand on her daughter’s cheek. “Oh Sayo-chan, you are as inquisitive as a cat, but stubborn like an ox. That is your father’s gift to you,” her mother’s voice was gentle and nurturing, “You will come to understand that the elements have opposites, Earth opposes Air, like Fire opposes Water. We are more aligned with the Earth. It is not a bad way… it is just a way.”
The young girl’s expression was frozen, but her mind raced for a way to reframe the thought to make her mother understand. Her fingers fidgeted with the Kimono sleeve cuff, tracing the pretty tape design. Not even looking up she sighed “But the Air seems so much more…” but was cut short. Her mother spun her around and wrapped her up in the sleeves of the Kimono. Sayo squealed. “You will learn of Air someday. Like your father, you dislike anyone telling you there is something you cannot do,” mother and daughter spun around laughing. A fox appeared from under a shrub, and Kitsune Kajin stopped and bowed, “Apologies, we did not mean to disturb you,” and the fox disappeared. Sayo bowed after her mother.
The fox headed back under the shrub, then suddenly stopped and flattened its ears, lowering itself so its belly dragged on the ground. Before it sat another fox, a vixen, completely white, with eyes that looked almost human. The first fox whined softly, stretching out its muzzle towards the vixen’s forepaws. She graciously bowed her head and briefly touched her nose to his, then watched the other fox back away before returning her attention to the two shugenja.
Her mother gracefully lowered herself down and looked her in the eye. “I am so very proud that you have shown the gift to see and speak to the Kami. Although you have so much of your father, that I know you could be a great diplomat someday. You certainly do not surrender an idea easily.” She hugged the little girl and continued their walk.
The forest of Kitsune Mori was filled with all kinds of animals and spirits. She remember the first time she talked to fox. At first she thought it strange that her mother talked to the red and silver fox. Then she introduced Sayo and the little girl understood what the fox said. She remembered the bright smile on her mother’s face. From then on Sayo tried to talk to every animal she encountered.
She had a hard time with fish and frogs, but it seemed to be getting a little easier. She could never talk to birds. It was upsetting but something about creatures of the Air eluded her understanding. As if to make it more obvious, the pair came upon Crow that was harassing a snake. Sayo’s mother intoned a quick prayer and then said “Please, settle down there is no need for this.” Both crow and snake looked at Kajin, and agreed to separate.
Sayo slightly understood the snake, intoning her own prayer for understanding, but the crow was nothing more than caws. She stomped her foot and clasped her hands together, as if praying harder would make it happen. The most she got was that the caws sounded like the crow was laughing at her. The walk continued in silence, Sayo’s head was mostly hidden in her mother’s sleeve. Her mother had a few scrolls in the sleeve pocket; prayers to the Kami, the way Shugenja practiced their trade. Sayo bumped her head against the scrolls as they walked. There must be a way to talk to the birds.
Crow bobbed his head and Snake coiled himself tightly in reverence as the white fox passed, her three tails spreading out like war banners behind her. She silently paced the shugenja as they headed for home, staying close but never showing herself.
Returning home, Mother and Daughter cleaned their feet before entering the house. Kajin checked her daughter’s dress for thorns and stickers, fingers moving deftly over the hems like a raccoon cleaning food. After the check was complete Sayo ran into the inner room where her Father sat in front of several opened scrolls. The small girl charged in to leap upon his back, but his hand raised up and she almost tripped trying to stop herself. Her father, Kitsune Ganko, was writing a long scroll, Sayo guessed a letter to some important person, maybe the Emperor! She placed her hands behind her back, and tried to peer over his shoulder. The hand, which had not moved, now waved back and forth, banishing the girl, no sound issued from her father.
Kitsune Kajin walked past the two and up to an ornate hexagon wooden box. “Little one, please leave your father be, he has important… people business that must be finished,” she said in a gentle tone. This comment brought a small laugh and shrug from her father, whose hand gestured for the girl to move faster, but the brush in his other hand did not falter, his characters were perfect. Sayo hugged her mother’s waist, and her mother placed a single finger to her lips “sssshhh” issued from her, and then her tongue darted out like a snake. The two giggled and her mother opened the ornate box.
Inside the box was divided into four sections and a round center. Each section was designed with carved borders, mountains and ocean, fire and clouds, the center was bordered with a black wood. They represented the four elements Earth Water, fire and air. The center was for void. Each section had scrolls in it, and Kajin placed the scrolls from her pocket into the box. Sayo took some and tried to put the scrolls in the correct section. Her mother gently switched the scrolls to their correct place.
Sayo’s mother closed the box and kissed her on the head. “I have to meet with the Elders, stay here and please do not disturb your father,” Kajin whispered but Ganko’s shoulders shook with laughter. Sayo stuck her tongue out and hissed, then sat quietly watching her father.
The white fox followed the graceful woman as she left the house and headed for town. She had watched her for many years now, bringing her reports back to her mistress. Of all the humans in Kitsune Mori, she was the vixen’s favorite. She had a lovely voice, and her movements were like slender young trees dancing in the wind. Her daughter’s voice was just as lovely, but her will was as inflexible as an aged maple, never bending. It was not a wise way to approach the kami, but she would grow out of it.
Sayo liked her father’s writing, and he drew very pretty pictures. He drew pictures when he needed to not think about the big letters he wrote. Pictures of forest animals were his and Sayo favorite. This must have been a long letter, because beside him was a picture of a bird, a hawk or falcon. The ink was still drying. Sayo wandered up for a closer look. “Please Sayo-chan, read anything else, I do not want to rewrite this,” Ganko voice sounded tired. “Father, I was looking at the bird,” Sayo begged. He set down his brush, took the picture and set it on her mother’s scroll box saying, ”Please child, read anything, read to the bird, but you need to leave me be.” He turned back to the letter and picked up the brush, “besides, you need to work on talking to bird, please go play,” and he said no more.
Sayo frowned. It was like mother and he were teasing her. She was very good at talking to foxes and squirrels. She stared at the picture of the hawk and imagined flying on its back. They would talk about faraway things that only the hawk could see. She frowned again, planting her chin in her hands with a harumph. Her father’s hand lifted from the table slightly to gesture for silence. Sayo thought “Oh I could fly away on a silent owl.” She turned to the scroll box and opened it.
There were many earth and water scroll, fire scrolls and several air scrolls. In the center, there were even void scrolls. Mother said she should never touch the void scrolls. But mother never said Sayo could not read the Air scrolls. Some of the dowels even had birds carved on their ends. Taking a few of the scrolls, she slipped quietly out the door.
Sayo made her way to the small glen on the edge of the town. The sun was settling in the west. She spied a fox coming out into the clearing, as she dropped the scrolls on the ground. The fox bolted back into the woods. She shrugged and opened a scroll at random. She read very well but some of these words she didn’t recognize. She threw that scroll down and picked another. She thought she recognized most of these, so she read them aloud. She tried to remember the lyrical tones of her mother’s voice, the musical quality of the prayers.
The fox ran a short distance, skidding to a stop in front of the white vixen as she sat watching a large house at the border of the forest. Panting, it flung itself on the ground, and gave several short barks. Without haste, she got up and stood in plain view next to the door. The murmuring of several voices stopped abruptly as she lifted her muzzle and howled, an eerie cry that almost seemed to have words in it. When the door opened, she looked directly at the woman, her white tails slashing the air. Then she bounded off into the forest.
A few of the words stuttered out, feeling very foreign to her. She got to the end of the scroll and looked up. There was an amazing amount of nothing. The glen was quiet. Last beams of sunlight filtered through the leaves then were gone. “Stupid air! How can you not understand?” Sayo shouted at the empty glen. She threw the scroll down, then threw herself down on her stomach. Her cheeks pressed against her palms, a frowning expression. She kicked at the dirt until her toes hurt.
After a few minutes, a small sparrow set down right in front of Sayo. It hopped back and forth, its head tilting as it inspected the young girls face. Sayo drew a breath in shocked disbelief. Had she actually called this bird? She smiled. She would be the Master of the Air!
A noise issued from the tiny bird. It sounded like a hiss. It did not sound right for the little body. Sayo stared down at its little body. Its tiny black eyes seemed to have wisps of white smoke drifting from them. The hissing got louder and the wisps of white became more pronounced. The bird opened its beak and a roar issued from the tiny mouth. A snake of white shot out of the mouth and wrapped around Sayo’s head.
A voice assailed her ears, sounding like a tornado.
Child of Ningen-do call us now with manners poor
Soon to wish to never open that door
Insults what she does not know, but do take care
The child could never live without air
Sayo tried to scream but there was no breath left in her. The white wisps surrounded her head. She saw a creature in the mist, small orange skinned with tiny wings and it lifted her off the ground.
Call us now you will regret
Pay us now with your fret
Contain the wind we visit to you
Appease us, entertain us you will do
Wear down mountains, the might of air
we take from you, let’s start with hair
Sayo was flung to the trees dangling from her head. Pain gripped her as hair became tangled in the branches. Suddenly the wisps pulled from around her head, and her weight hung by her tangled hair. Laughter whistled by her ears, sounding not of this world. Wispy figures danced before her, eyes tearing from the pain. She cried out but the ghostly figures seemed to swallow the sounds only to return a devious laugh.
The voices felt cold on her face,
Child of Ningen-do what say you
Cling to life’s breath is what you do
Stay we will until you pay
A bright flame shot into the cloudy mist. Sayo, holding her hair, try to see what was happening. The ghostly forms scattered as three figures and a white fox ran into view. One of the figures was Kitsune Kajin, her mother threw the fire. Two older men, the village elders, stood with her. Kitsune Koshimura struck his walking stick to the ground and a mound of dirt rose up under Sayo’s feet. She felt the weight taken off her hair, but the sting still remained.
The white fox sniffed the air, then faded back into the gloom of the forest. The trickster spirits were gone, for the moment. She once again took up her role as watcher.
They all silently approached the weeping girl. The other elder Kitsune Harumura gathered the scrolls from the ground. Her mother drew a small tanto and carefully cut Sayo’s hair free of the tangled branch. Once freed the little girl fell down to the ground still crying. The pain, the frightening ghosts and most of all, her mother here made the tears fall all the more.
Mother hugged child, and then looked into her tearful eyes. “My darling Sayo-chan,” her voice was a blanket of compassion, “Thank the Forest you are alright, were you frightened?” Sayo saw the concern in her mother, and nodded her head. “Fortunes and Spirits are powerful and must be respected, but we try to respect and protect all things,” her mother’s voice calmed Sayo and her tears faded away.
A figure burst into the clearing. Kitsune Ganko had a katana in one hand, his hand and sleeve were covered in black ink. He ran to the pair, and quickly looked around. Kitsune Harumura handed Ganko the scrolls. The Elders nodded to him, then walked back to the village. He looked down at the scrolls then at Sayo. “What? What has happened?” his gaze fell to his wife. “I cannot be sure, I did not see closely, but it appears to be gone,” her mother let out a sigh of relief.
Kitsune Ganko put away his katana then knelt in front of Sayo. “I see young one that you may be the best of both of us,” he smudged ink on Sayo’s nose, “I believe you did not disobey anything I asked. I also believe the lesson you learned should be better than any teachers.” He held her hair, “I suppose this will grow back, but your next lesson will be cutting your hair.” Ganko picked her up and carried her toward home.
Kitsune Kajin took a moment to sit and bow to the treeline. “Thank you Inari, you have my eternal gratitude.” She bowed again and said a small prayer as she rubbed her palm on the ground. The Kami of the glen flattened the mound Sayo had stood on. Silence slowly was replaced by the sounds of crickets and frogs singing. Kitsune Kajin stood and bowed to the glen, then walked home, singing a quiet song.
The vixen watched her go, then carefully scanned the glen. The mujina were gone. But the stubborn child had called them, not understanding what she did, and they would certainly be back. She stood up and shook herself all over. Instead of following the shugenja back to her house, she turned and trotted deeper into the woods, her white fur gleaming among the dark trees. It was time to report to her mistress, and deliver the shugenja’s thanks. Kitsune Mori would have to fend for itself tonight.