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Lisa M. Ripperton

Nezumi the Beautiful

O N a certain farm lived two rats. There they dwelt happily for many years. These rats had a large family of children, and every summer they led the little ones into the grain fields, where, under shelter of the waving stalks, the young rats learned the history and cunning of their people. When work was done, they would scamper away and play with their friends until it was time to return home.

The most beautiful of the children was a daughter, Nezumi. She had a sleek, silvery skin, bright, intelligent eyes, tiny ears, and pearly teeth, and she was the pride of her parents' hearts. As Nezumi grew to maturity it seemed to the fond father and mother that no one with whom they were acquainted was important enough to marry her; and after much pondering they decided that they would accept only the most powerful being in the whole universe for her husband and their son-in-law.

The parents discussed this weighty question with a trusted neighbor, who said, "If you would wed your daughter to the most powerful being in the universe, you must ask the sun to marry her. His empire knows no bounds."

So they journeyed to a mountain top and called to the sun, and he listened graciously. "Oh Sun," they said, "we would have you accept our daughter for your wife, for she is so beautiful that only the most powerful being in the universe is worthy of her."

The sun smiled and rejoined, "Your daughter is indeed beautiful, and I thank you for coming so far to offer her to me. Yet, though my kingdom is vast, oftentimes when I would illumine the world a cloud floats by and prevents me. I cannot pierce the cloud. Therefore the cloud is more powerful than I am, and you must go to him, if your wish is to be attained."

In nowise discouraged, the rats turned away from the sun and watched until a cloud paused near the mountain top to rest after a flight through the air. They explained their errand and the cloud replied with a look of mischief in his dusky eyes, "You are mistaken if you think I am the most powerful being. It is true that I sometimes hide the sun, but I cannot withstand the force of the wind. When he begins to blow I am driven away and torn in pieces. My strength is not equal to the power of the wind. Therefore it is he whom your daughter should marry, not me."

Then the rats, intent on their daughter's future prosperity, descended from the mountain and waylaid the wind as he swept through a pine forest. He was about to awaken the plain beyond, and stir the grass and the flowers into motion. The anxious parents made known their errand and repeated what had been said to them by the sun and the cloud.

In response the wind whispered, "It is true that I have strength to drive away the clouds, but on the borders of the grain fields there is a wall against which I am powerless. He stands there unmoved, no matter how I push and buffet. You must go to him if you would have the mightiest being in the universe for your son-in-law."

The rats, still persistent in their quest, came to the wall and told their story.

"Yes, I can withstand the wind," the wall answered, "but the rat undermines me and makes holes through me. To him you must go if you would wed your daughter to the most powerful being in the universe. I cannot overcome the rat."

So the parent rats returned to their home at the farm. Nezumi, their beautiful daughter with the silken coat and sparkling eyes, rejoiced when she heard that she was to marry one of her own people, for her heart had already been given to a playfellow of the grain fields. Shortly afterward their wedding was celebrated, with feasting and mirth, and they lived for many years as king and queen of the rat world.