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The Story Finder

Voices in Fairy Tales

by Michelle Tocher

Story finder - Curly

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Soothsayer Who Comes to Unai

Themes: Destiny | Innocence

I had come to the end of the long road of my life. My travels ended in Unai. I was so weary and footsore, I could not take another step. I knocked on the door of a house that stood close to the river where the wisteria grew on a trellis and reached down into the river.

The master of the house made me welcome, and the mistress of the house served me rice and with tea. A girl who was around seven pattered around on the mats in her bare feet, catching her mother’s sleeve to get her attention, or bouncing a great green and scarlet ball in the corner. She had such a light about her that I felt we were in the presence of a Deity. But my heart felt heavy. How would such innocence and beauty thrive in this embattled world?

After I had eaten, I asked for a bowl of clear water. Then I took from my wallet a handful of fine silver sand and I let it slip through my fingers and sink to the bottom of the bowl. The master of the house drew up a chair and his wife stood behind him.

“My lord, I was hungry and weary, and you have fed me and refreshed me,” I said. “I am a poor man and it is hard for me to show my gratitude. But I am a soothsayer by profession, very far-famed for the skill of my divination. Therefore, in return for your kindness I have looked into the future of your child. Will you hear her destiny?”

The child did not appear to hear me. She stood in a corner of the room bouncing her green and scarlet ball.

“Yes, speak on,” said the master of the house.

I looked at the patterns in the sand that had sank to the bottom of the bowl. “The Maiden of Unai shall grow up fairer than the children of men. Her beauty shall shine as the beauty of an earthly deity. Every man who looks upon her shall pine with love and longing, and when she is fifteen years old there shall die for her sake a mighty hero from near, and a valiant hero from afar. And there shall be sorrow and mourning because of her, loud and grievous, so that the sound of it shall reach High Heaven and offend the peace of the gods.”

The master of the house said, “Is this a true divination?”

“Indeed, my lord,” I said, “it is too true.” And with that I stood up and went to the door. I bound on my sandals and took my staff and my great hat of rice-straw. I went down to the river where the wisteria arched heavily over the water, and there my tale ends.

Soothsayer who Comes to Unai, The Maiden of Unai, Japanese Fairy Tales. Illustration by Warwick Goble.