Yukihime




 

Long ago, before mortal foot had touched the earth and Fuji-sama was still shaking the ash from his head, Yukinomau-O-Kami, Goddess of Winter, and Kitanokaze-O-Kami, the God of the North Wind, sported amongst the islands of the blest, dancing together in the swirl of the blizzard-tossed snow. In those days of endless dance the love Yukinomau and Kitanokaze held for each other knew no bounds, and neither did their joy in the icy storms with which they played. There came a time, however, when Amaterasu-O-Mi-Kami called together all the deities of heaven and earth and proposed the creation of mortal beings. The proposition was greeted with acclaim by many of the gods, for they sorely felt the lack of worshippers. Kitanokaze and Yukinomau, however, laughed at the idea thinking that they had no need for mortal playthings when they already had the mighty blizzard with which to play and no need of the love of mortal beings when they already had each other’s.

Amaterasu was not pleased with their laughter, however, and, concerned lest the two cause havoc with her plan, she conspired with Susano-Wo, the mighty Lord of Storms, to entrap the two troublemakers in mortal forms until her plan had reached fruition. The Lord of Storms agreed for he believed that Yukinomau and Kitanokaze had stolen the great blizzard and unleashed it unseasonably upon the southern lands, for which the other gods had blamed him.

Susano-Wo called Kitanokaze and Yukinomau to his great palace, feigning sympathy with their attitudes concerning Ameterasu’s plan, but when the lovers arrived they found themselves trapped. Amaterasu bound their powers while Susano-Wo mocked them. They were told the reasons for their punishment and the means by which they could escape it—they should appear together upon one of Ameterasu’s sacred mountains on the day of her greatest power and pay her the obeisance due the Giver of Life—then their spirits were cast into the bellies of mortal women to be born as mortal children.

It was countless centuries before Yukinomau and Kitanokaze met again, for Susano-Wo, wanting the punishment to last as long as possible, ensured that the two divine essences were as widely separated as possible. Down through all the long centuries the only evidence of their divine nature was their greater-than-mortal beauty, the length of their lives, and the gifts of culture and civilisation they gave to those they dwelled amongst. These, however, were enough to gain them the reverence and love of their people.

In the heart of each there remained a hole that could only be filled by the other, and so there hung about them an aura of sorrow that no adulation could lift. The lack of their divine powers, too, caused them much discomfort. Despite the love their people felt for them, they were never completely accepted and were often feared. Their actions were sometimes incomprehensible to the mortals amongst whom they lived. They danced amidst the storm and played in the rain, and always they suffered from wanderlust, drawn, as by a lodestone, towards each other, and the Isles of the Blest.


yh-scene-break


After millennia wandering the northern wastes of the Americas, Yukinomau’s essence returned to Japan to be born in Fujinoshita in the depths of a blizzard the likes of which the village had never seen. Her mother named her Yukiko—Child of the Snow. Before she had seen her fifth birthday, however, everyone called her Yukihime—Snow Princess—for she was already exhibiting a grace and poise far beyond that of her humble origins. She was a sweet child, laughing often, and dancing all the time. She grew swiftly, walking and talking before her second winter, and each day became more beautiful.

In her fifth year, Lord Tenno, a warlord from Kyushu brought his alliance of tribes north into Honshu. Lord Tenno swept the warriors of the northern clans from the battlefield and conquered all the country as far as the plains about Edo Bay. Then, having finally sated their lust for battle, they settled in the south of Edo Plain, not far from Mount Fuji and there built Yamato, the Imperial City.

Yukihime, over the next dozen years, grew into a great beauty whose love of dance became the talk of all the villages lying about Mount Fuji’s feet. Every summer, Yukihime would ascend to the summit of Mount Fuji and dance for Amaterasu as the sun-goddess rose out of the distant sea on the day of the Solstice. Yukihime was always happiest in the winter, though, when the flurries of snow flew and it was hard to tell the difference between the howls of the wind and those of the wolves. Then she would sing, her voice harmonising with that of the wind, and her feet would move in the rhythms of a strange dance.

The year she turned eighteen, she stayed too long upon the mountain trails and was caught in an early winter storm that raged for days. Everyone believed her dead, and, when the storm passed, they sent out parties to search for her body. The next day, however, Yukihime was seen, a smile upon her lips and her hair turned silvery-white, wandering, half-dancing, towards the village. At first people feared to approach her, thinking her a ghost, but then her mother arrived and rushed to her, calling her name, and Yukihime seemed to awaken and she returned her mother’s greetings. The next month Yukihime’s mother married one of the samurai from the Imperial Court who, in the retinue of a young prince, had been drawn to the village by rumours of Yukihime’s beauty. Yukihime’s stepfather took Yukihime and his new wife with him when he followed the prince back to Yamato.

Yukihime’s arrival in Yamato attracted attention. Her silvery hair and youthful face marked her out as different. They gave the impression of agelessness, of one who was already, perhaps, half in the next realm. Many of the people in Yamato both feared and revered her as one touched by the gods an impression that was only encouraged by the uniqueness of her dancing.

With her stepfather’s encouragement, she began a school teaching dance to other young women. Over the next several years her school flourished. Young women from all over Japan came to Yamato to audition for a place. Every summer Yukihime made the trip up Mount Fuji to dance a welcome to the sun on the morning of the solstice, though now some of her most advanced students accompanied her.

Eventually the aged Emperor, hearing rumours of her beauty and her strange dance, sent for her so that he could see for himself if the rumours were true. When Yukihime appeared at his court, there were many sounds of both appreciation and envy from the courtiers who saw Yukihime present herself to the emperor. Her beauty, her grace, and her great dignity awed them all. Even the dullest of them, however, saw that the impact she and the emperor made upon each other was magnitudes larger, and significantly different from the impact she made on them. It was as though Yukihime and the Emperor were lodestones drawing irresistibly together.

Yukihime refused to show her surprise and shock. As she had approached the palace, more of her lost memories had returned to her, swimming into her conscious awareness. So when she was confronted by the emperor, she recognised him at once as Kitanokaze, but Kitanokaze in a stolid and aged mortal form.

Kitanokaze, for his part, had been aware of a presence out in the city for some time, a presence that waxed and waned, bringing with it vaguely unsettling memories. Now he was confronted by that presence and it was blazing with power and opening doors in his mind out of which poured an army of memories and emotions. He recognised Yukinomau instantly. Seeing her now, still so young and beautiful after all these millennia, was like a blow to the chest that left him unable to breathe.

Kitanokaze could feel himself as two people observing everything. The Emperor quickly sent the courtiers away and invited Yukihime into a private area of the palace. There they flung themselves into each other’s arms and found that the close contact only served to strengthen their divine awareness, and their love. Their love had not waned with the passing of the millennia, but rather had been deepened and ripened by the experiences they each had lived through. Now they had mortal bodies and new ways of being able to share that love.

The next three days were spent exploring each other, physically and spiritually, and in rediscovering some of their power. At the end of that time, though the summer solstice was still some weeks away, they decided to ascend Mount Fuji, make their obeisance to Amaterasu, and reclaim their rightful places amongst the gods.

While they had been pleasantly occupied, however, Lord Tenno’s court had not been idle. There were those, especially amongst his wives and concubines, who feared that the arrival of Yukihime, and the Emperor’s obvious infatuation with her, would mark a decline in their own influence, especially if she gave birth to a new heir. On the third night, while Tenno and Yukihime were sleeping, one of Lord Tenno’s concubines crept into the room and cut his throat.

Yukinomau awakened with a scream. Their minds had been joined at the moment of death and she had felt the death of Tenno as her own. She leapt to her feet and confronted the terrified concubine. Before anything could be done, however, other doors were thrown open and warriors appeared. The concubine immediately screamed out that she had seen Yukihime slay their Lord. Yukinomau drew herself up, feeling the presence of Kitanokaze close by, and looked each warrior in the eye as she replied that she was innocent, that her hands were clean. She held them out and all the warriors saw that, indeed, there was no blood on her while the concubine’s robes were soaked in it. Lord Hako, their chief, yelled at his men to seize Yukihime. She grabbed up a pale robe, spattered with her lover’s blood, and, spinning it about her shoulders, drew upon her powers to blast the warriors with wind-driven snow, blinding them. In the chaos, she slipped away.

Three moons later, Yukinomau arrived in Akita with Kitanokaze, now a babe in her arms. Having him within her, even as a foetus, had maintained the closeness that enabled them to keep their memories, and some of their powers. They were thus able to speed up the growth and development of Kitanokaze’s new body. Labour had been short, but all the worse for that as they had been able to hasten the pace but not, at Ameterasu’s will, reduce the pain. It had been traumatic for both of them, and they were both eager to reach a sacred mountain and regain their old forms and full powers. They could both sense that a sacred mountain was to be found in the North, and memory supplied the place; Yoteizan, Fuji of the North. They fled towards it, and after them came Lord Hako with his men.

Thus far Yukinomau and Kitanokaze had managed to stay ahead of his pursuit, but in Akita they were delayed. There had been a storm and there were no boats to be found. Neither Yukinomau nor Kitanokaze, still bound in mortal forms, were strong enough to cross the straights without some form of transportation. As they stood upon the shore and stared at the wreckage, both were sure that this was Susano-Wo’s doing.

It was in Akita that Lord Hako caught up with them. He found Yukihime walking on the beach with several of her students and was struck by her beauty. He remained cautious though, having experienced her arcane powers during her escape from the palace. That night he surrounded the inn the students were staying in and captured them all. Then, after threatening their well-being, he induced Yukihime to accept being bound and returned to the Imperial Court. On Yukihime’s promise not to attempt escape, Kitanokaze and the students were left behind in Akita. On the trip south she was able to work on the men’s minds and by the time they arrived in Yamato Yukihime was being treated as an honoured guest rather than a prisoner.

They entered Yamato in the early afternoon and Lord Hako proceeded directly to the Emperor’s court, giving Yukihime only a brief time to refresh herself at her mother’s home. Despite the rigours of the long trip, she seemed to float more than walk as she progressed down the aisle between the rows of kneeling functionaries. The new emperor, thrilled by her grace, poise, and beauty was of half a mind to make her one of his concubines despite the charges he had levelled against her.

“We hear you are a great dancer,” he said via the servant at his side. “If your skill impresses us, we might find some way to spare your life.”

Yukinomau looked at him with frost in her stare. “I dance only for my Lord,” she said calmly.

There were gasps from several of the courtiers followed by an affronted silence. The emperor covered his emotions by sipping tea from the fragile porcelain cup at his side and staring out through the open screen into his garden.

“This is Emperor Tengu,” said one grey-haired and fabulously dressed man kneeling not far from the Emperor. “He is your Lord.”

Yukinomau didn’t look away from the Emperor. “You may rule over half the islands of Japan, but you do not rule over me. I owe you no allegiance. I owe no man allegiance.”

The emperor smiled. “If you owe me no allegiance, why did you come?”

“I came because Lord Hako threatened to cut off the feet of my students if I didn’t.” There was ice in her voice. “My students are not here now, so how will he force me to dance?”

The emperor looked at Lord Hako who was standing to attention by the entrance. “Is this true?”

“I never lie!” said Yukinomau before Lord Hako could answer.

“It is true. She said she would not come, that her Lord awaited her. I told her that so did you and that you were the more powerful of the two.”

The emperor’s lips curled in a slight smile whilst his eyes twinkled. “Who is this Lord that she denies allegiance to?”

“I said I owed allegiance to no man,” Yukihime’s quiet voice was sharp with scorn. “My Lord is Kitanokaze-O-Kami.”

The emperor sat up straighter, his eyes wide. “You serve a god?”

Yukinomau nodded, “In a manner of speaking.”

“You said I was the more powerful?” The emperor glared at Lord Hako.

Lord Hako cleared his throat, unable to answer.

“So at least part of the legend is true.” Tengu turned his glare upon Yukihime. “You dance upon the sacred mountain with the gods of winter.”

“I dance for Amaterasu-O-Mi-Kami on the summer solstice upon Mount Fuji.”

The emperor smiled. “Then you may dance also for me. I am Amaterasu’s grandson.”

Yukinomau laughed, a silvery ripple that sounded like crystal chimes, or icicles.

“You will serve me!”

Yukinomau’s eyes blazed, a blaze that grew until it shone from her whole face and form. “Who are you to demand My allegiance? Who are you to send weapons and threats against My chosen? Who are you to come between Me and my Lord?”

The old advisor clasped his prayer beads and muttered prayers.

“I am your lord! I am the Emperor! I am the grandson of Amaterasu, Ruler of the Heavens! You will obey me!”

Yukinomau laughed again.

The maple tree in the emperor’s garden suddenly started to shake and flail and its leaves leaped into swirling tornadoes of bright flame as a wind came down out of the North that was cold as ice and sharp as a katana blade. The steaming teacup by the emperor’s knee burst as its contents turned to ice in an instant, sending shards of wafer-thin pottery into the Emperor’s leg. Many of the courtiers were sent sprawling by the wind and Lord Hako was thrown through the paper and lathe wall, but Yukihime turned with a smile on her face, twirled in iridescent glory, and was gone, along with the wind. The ice, and the echoes of her laughter, remained for several days. From that day, the Emperor’s maple had white bark.


yh-scene-break


Seven months later, Lord Hako entered the village of Makkari which lies in the lee of Mount Yotei. It was high summer and the village was preparing to celebrate the solstice festival. Here, after months of searching, he stumbled upon word of Yukihime. She, along with a handsome young man, had stopped in the village for the New Year’s festival, then, contrary to advice, they had left to climb Mount Yotei. There they had surely died, for none had seen them since, not in Makkari, nor in any of the other villages in the valleys at Yoteizan’s feet.

The day after his arrival Lord Hako left the headman’s house before dawn and began his ascent of the sacred mountain. He climbed through the morning, then, halfway up, had to seek shelter from a storm when the winds threatened to throw him off the mountain. The next morning, despite the storm, he left the lee of his rock and continued the climb. Just before he reached the crest, he broke free of the wind and clouds into broad sunlight. Cresting the ridge he saw Lady Yukihime in the crater, her hair like a field of snow touched by the light of moon and stars, her eyes glowing as she sang and danced with a young man. He was immediately struck dumb, and, after collapsing to his knees, found himself unable to move.

For seven days Lord Hako watched Yukinomau and Kitanokaze dance, unable to move or to speak and barely even able to breathe. Every day the dance was better, more beautiful, more graceful than the dance of the day before. So beautiful did the two become, so graceful, that Lord Hako thought his heart would burst at their astounding presence. At the end of the seventh day, just as the sun was setting, the rim of the crater blazed with light, and within this light, Yukinomau and Kitanokaze whirled. A last flare of light momentarily blinded Lord Hako, and he blinked away tears. When his eyes cleared he saw, for just a moment, the couple, still dancing, rising into the air along a last beam of sunlight, then the sun fell below the horizon and the couple vanished along with the light.

Lord Hako spent the night atop Yoteizan, then, the following morning, made his way down the mountain to Makkari. There he was greeted with great surprise, a surprise and awe much magnified by his tale and by the transformation he had undergone. He built a shrine to Yukinomau and Kitanokaze in Makkari and spent his remaining days tending it. Every year he climbed Mount Yotei in late autumn after the first coming of the snows, and awaited the coming of Yukinomau and Kitanokaze. Over the years the shrine grew and, with the coming of several of Lady Yukihime’s students, became a school of sacred dance. When the Emperor Tengu’s generals completed the conquest of Kyushu, and began to look further north to the great island of Hokkaido, Lord Hako appealed to Yukinomau and Kitanokaze and they brought down a storm upon the emperor’s army and drove him back across the straits. Then they appeared to the Emperor and declared their intention of protecting the North from any further incursions.

During his fortieth year in Makkari, Lord Hako climbed Yoteizan as was his custom, and for the week he was gone the dancers danced before the statues of the divine ones in the temple. At the end of a week, however, Lord Hako failed to return, and that night there was a great storm above Yoteizan and the whole village heard the howling of wolves in the mountains mingled with the howling of the North wind. Six months later, when spring finally cleared the path to Yoteizan’s peak, Lord Hako’s students made their way up the mountain. There they found him, seated peacefully within the crater, a blissful smile upon his face. They raised a cairn upon the spot, then carried his body back down the mountain.

The cairn has sometimes fallen when Yoteizan shifted his shoulders, and the priest of the shrine has gone up the mountain to rebuild it only to find it already rebuilt, though no one but he has climbed the mountain. Then he raises his voice in the cry of the wind-wolf, and lifts his feet in the dance of skirling snow, and praises the glory of Kitanokaze and Yukinomau, protectors of the frozen north.

Leave a Reply