The Story Finder

Voices in Fairy Tales

by Michelle Tocher

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Arrow of Heaven

The gods in the Hall of High Heaven gave me to the Young Prince, among with many other arrows feathered by heavenly birds. They sent him over the Floating Bridge, to bring peace to the land of the Reed Plains. When his feet touched the tops of the high hills, he yelped for joy and cut the fastenings of his sandals. He cast them behind him and ran on bare feet, like an earthly deity.

At the door of the palace of the Reed Plains stood a beautiful princess, and he fell in love and married her. He sent no report to High Heaven. No, indeed, he forgot the waiting Deities, for Heaven became as vague to him as a dream.

When the gods heard nothing from the Young Prince, they decided to send down the Singing Bird, beloved of High Heaven. He was to sing in the ear of the Prince: “Ama Terassu, the Goddess of the Sun, has sent me to ask, How fares the quest of High Heaven, and how fares our heavenly message? Where is the report of the gods?’”

When the golden Singing Bird came to the Land of the Reed Plains, he lit on a cassia tree and sang sweetly day and night.

An evil voice spoke to the Young Prince and said, “This bird will give you no peace, and evil is its cry. Take your arrows and go forth and slay it.” After many repeated urgings, the Prince took nine arrows, and he when he found the bird in the cassia tree, he chose me. He aimed and I flew straight and true. I struck the bird and the sweet singing suddenly ceased.

With fierce resolve, I kept on flying, higher and higher, until I had pierced the floor of Heaven. I flew to the place where the Sun Goddess sat with her counsellors by the Tranquil River Bed. A god called Wonderful caught me and saw the blood on my feathers. Then the Lord of Deep Thoughts said, “This is the arrow that we gave to the Young Prince. If he has shot this arrow at the evil deities, let it do him no harm. But if his heart is not pure, then let the Young Prince perish by this arrow.”

And he hurled me back to earth.

Arrow of Heaven, The Singing Bird of Heaven, Japanese Fairy Tales. Vintage Illustration.