The Story Finder

Voices in Fairy Tales

by Michelle Tocher

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Matsu the Nurse

My named is Matsu, which, in the speech of my country, means the Pine Tree. And, as the pine tree, I am strong and evergreen; unchanging and enduring.

I served in the house of Idé, and my charge was Fugiwaka, the son of the samurai and his wife. His father Idé had left him a sacred sword. Morning and evening the child came to me and said, “Show me the sword, O Matsu, my nurse.” And I would bring it from its safe place, wrapped in red and gold brocade.

At night I would sing my lord a lullaby, and the last thing I would say before he slept was: “Sleeping and waking, remember. The sword is your treasure. The sword is your trust. The sword is your fortune. Cherish it, guard it, keep it.”

During an evil time, the mother of Fugiwaka fell sick and died. Several years passed, and then Idé the samurai took another bride. They were not long married before Idé was slain in an ambush and Fugiwaka became chief of the House of Idé.

His stepmother, the Lady Sadako, was not pleased. She had her own infant son and she wanted him to take control of the house.

When Fugiwaka was fifteen years old she turned him out of the house. He had nothing on his back but a poor garment. He was barefoot and without a single coin.

“Why do you take my birthright?” he asked the Lady Sadako.

“I know nothing of birthrights,” she said. “Your brother Goro is chief of the House of Idé.”

With that she shut the door in his face.

I ran out and met Fugiwaka at the crossroads. I had made myself ready for a journey and would follow him to the world’s end.

He laid his head upon my breast and wept. “My nurse, my nurse, you cannot come with me. What of my father’s sword? I have lost the precious sword of Idé. The sword is my treasure, the sword is my trust, the sword is my fortune. I am bound to cherish it, to guard it, to keep it. But now I have lost it! I am undone, and so is all the House of Idé!”

I gave him the gold I had brought for him, and then I returned to guard the house of Idé.

I hid the sword in the ground. I knew that the Lady would discover it missing. She would throw me in the dungeon and starve me until I told her where I had buried it, but I never would. I would ensure that it made its way back to its owner. Even as a ghost, I would.

Matsu the Nurse, The Nurse, Japanese Fairy Tales. Illustration by Warwick Goble.