Raiko Slays the Demons
W HEN the Demon flew away with its arm, Tsuna noticed that it went to the northwest. He told Raiko of the incident, and plans were at once made to seek out and destroy the hill-demons. But just then Raiko fell sick with some strange disease and daily grew weaker and paler. When the Demons found this out they sent a three-eyed Imp to plague him.
This Imp, which had a snout like a hog's, three monstrous blue eyes, and a mouth full of tusks, was glad that the brave soldier could no longer fight the Demons. He would approach the sick man in his chamber, leer horribly at him, loll out his tongue, and pull down the lids of his eyes with his hairy fingers, until the sight sickened Raiko more and more.
But Raiko, well or ill, always slept with his trusty sword under his pillow. He pretended to be greatly afraid, and to cower under the bed-clothes. Then the Imp grew bolder and bolder, but when it got near his bed, Raiko drew his blade and cut the enemy across his huge double nose. This made the Imp howl and run away, leaving tracks of blood.
When Tsuna and his band heard of their master's exploit, they came to congratulate him, and offered to hunt out the Imp and destroy him.
They followed the red drops until they came to a cavern in the mountains. Entering this they saw in the gloom a spider six feet high, with legs as long as a fishing-pole, and as thick as a giant radish. Two great yellow eyes glared at them like lamps. They noticed a great gaping wound as if done by a sword-cut on his snout.
It was a horrible, nasty hairy thing to fight with swords, since to get near enough, they would be in danger of the creature's claws. So Tsuna went and chopped down a tree as thick as a man's leg, leaving the roots on, while his comrades prepared a rope to tie up the monster, like a fly in a web. Then with a loud yell, Tsuna rushed at the spider, felled it with a blow, and held it down with the tree and roots so it could not bite or use its claws. Seeing this, Tsuna's comrades rushed in, and bound the monster's legs tight to its body so that it could not move. Drawing their swords they passed them through the spider's body and finished it. Returning in triumph to the city, they found their dear captain recovered from his illness.
Raiko thanked his brave warriors for their exploits, made a feast for them, and gave them many presents. While they were eating he told them that he had received orders from the Mikado to march against the Demons' den, slaughter them all, and rescue the prisoners he should find there. Then he showed them his commission written in large letters,
"I command you, Raiko, to chastise the Demons."
At this time many families in Kioto were grieving over the loss of their children, and even while Tsuna had been away, several lovely damsels had been seized and taken to the Demon's den.
Lest the Demons might hear of their coming, and escape, the four trusty men disguised themselves as wandering priests of the mountains. They covered their helmets with huge hats like washbowls made of straw woven so tightly that no one could see their faces. They covered their armor with very cheap and common clothes, and then after worshiping at the shrines, began their march.
Quite pathless were the desolate mountains, for no one ever went into them except, once in a while, a poor wood-cutter or charcoal-burner; yet Raiko and his men set out with stout hearts. There were no bridges over the streams, and frightful precipices abounded. Once they had to stop and build a bridge by felling a tree, and walking across it over a dangerous chasm. Again they came to a steep rock, to descend which they must make a ladder of creeping vines. At last they reached a dense grove at the top of a cliff, far up to the clouds, which seemed as if it might contain the demon's castle.
Approaching, they found a pretty maiden washing some clothes which had spots of blood on them. They said to her, "Sister, why are you here, and what are you doing?"
"Ah," said she, with a deep sigh, "you must not come here. This is the haunt of Demons. They eat human flesh and they will eat yours. Look there," she continued pointing to a pile of white bones of men, women and children, "you must go down the mountain as quickly as you came." Saying this she burst into tears.
But instead of being frightened or sorrowful, the warriors nearly danced for joy. "We have come here by the Mikado's orders, to destroy the Demons," said Raiko, patting his breast, where inside his dress in the damask bag was the imperial order.
At this the maiden dried her tears and smiled so sweetly that Raiko's heart was touched by her beauty.
"But how came you to live among these cannibal Demons?" asked Raiko.
She blushed deeply as she replied sadly, "Although they eat men and old women, they keep the young maidens to wait on them."
"It's a great pity," said Raiko, "but we shall now avenge our fellow subjects of the Mikado, as well as your shame and cruel treatment, if you will show us the way up the cliff to the den."
"Willingly," she answered, "if you are not afraid."
They began to climb the hill, but they had not gone far before they met a monster who was a cook in the chief Demon's kitchen. He was carrying a human limb for his master's lunch. Raiko's men gnashed their teeth silently, and clutched their swords under their coats, yet they courteously saluted the cannibal cook and asked for an interview with the chief. The Demon smiled in his sleeve, and beckoned them forward, thinking what a fine dinner his master would make of the four men.
A few feet further, and a turn in the path brought them to the front of the Demon's castle. Among tall and mighty boulders of rock, which loomed up to the clouds, there was an opening in the dense groves, thickly covered with vines and mosses like an arbor. From this point, the view over the plains below commanded a space of hundreds of miles. In the distance the red pagodas, white temple-gables, and castle towers of Kioto were visible.
Inside the cave was a banqueting hall large enough to seat one hundred persons. The floor was neatly covered with new, clean mats of sea-green rice-straw, on which tables, silken cushions, arm-rests, drinking-cups, bottles and many other articles of comfort lay about. The stone walls were richly decorated with curtains and hangings of fine silken stuffs.
At the end of the long hall, on a raised dais, our heroes presently observed, as a curtain was lifted, the chief Demon, of august, yet frightful appearance. He was seated on a heap of luxurious cushions made of blue and crimson crape, stuffed with swan's down. He was leaning on a golden arm-rest. His body was quite red, and he was round and fat like a baby grown up. He had very black hair cut like a small boy's, and on the top of his head, just peeping through the hair were two very short horns. Around him were a score of lovely maidens—the fairest of Kioto—on whose beautiful faces was stamped the misery they dared not fully show, yet could not entirely conceal. Along the wall other Demons sat or lay at full length, each one with his handmaid seated beside him to wait on him and pour out his wine. All of the Demons were of horrible aspect, which only made the beauty of the maidens more conspicuous. Seeing our heroes walk in the hall led by the cook, each banqueter was as happy as a spider, when in his lurking hole he feels the jerk on his web-thread that tells him a fly is caught. Each of them at once poured out a fresh saucer of saké and drank it down.
Raiko and his men separated, and began talking freely with the Demons until the partitions at one corner were slid aside, and a troop of little demons who were waiter-boys entered. They brought in many dishes, and the monsters fell to and ate. The noise of their jaws sounded like the pounding of rice mills.
Our heroes were nearly sickened at the repast, for it consisted chiefly of human flesh, while the wine cups were made of empty human skulls. However, they laughed and talked and excused themselves from eating, saying they had just lunched.
As the Demons drank more and more they grew lively, laughed till the cave echoed, and sang uproarious songs. Every time they grinned, they showed their terrible tusks, and teeth like fangs. All of them had horns, though most of these were very short.
The chief Demon became especially hilarious, and drank the health of every one of his four guests in a skull full of wine. To supply him there was a tub full of saké at hand, and his usual drinking-vessel was a dish which seemed to be as large as a full moon.
Raiko now offered to return the courtesies shown them by dancing "the Kioto dance," for which he was famous. Stepping out into the centre of the hall, with his fan in one hand, he danced gracefully and with such wonderful ease, that the Demons screamed with delight, and clapped their hands in applause, saying they had never seen anything to equal it. Even the maidens, lost in admiration of the polished courtier, forgot their sorrow, and felt as happy for the time as though they were at home dancing.
The dance finished, Raiko took from his bosom a bottle of saké, and offered it to the chief Demon as a gift, saying it was the best wine of Sakai. The delighted monster drank and gave a sip to each of his lords saying, "This is the best liquor I ever tasted. You must drink the health of our friends in it."
Now Raiko had bought, at the most skilful druggists' in the capital, a powerful sleeping potion, and mixed it with the wine, which made it taste very sweet. In a few minutes all the Demons had dropped off asleep, and their snores sounded like the rolling thunder of the mountains.
Then Raiko rose up and gave the signal to his comrades. Whispering to the maidens to leave the room quietly, they drew their swords, and with as little noise as possible slew the slumbering Demons one after another. The chief one lying like a lion on his cushions was still sleeping, the snores issuing out of his nose like thunder from a cloud. The four warriors approached him last and like loyal vassals as they were, they first turned their faces toward Kioto, reverenced the Mikado, and prayed for the blessing of the gods who made Japan. Raiko then drew near, and measuring the width of the Demon's neck with his sword found that it would be short. Suddenly, the blade lengthened of itself. Then lifting his weapon, he smote with all his might and cut the neck clean through.
In an instant, the head flew up in the air gnashing its teeth and rolling its yellow eyes, while the horns sprouted out to a horrible length, the jaws opening and shutting like the edges of an earthquake fissure. It flew up and whirled round the room seven times. Then with a rush it flew at Raiko's head, and bit through the straw hat and into the iron helmet inside. But this final effort had exhausted its strength. Its motions ceased and it fell heavily to the floor.
Anxiously the comrades helped their fallen leader to rise, and examined his head. But he was unhurt,—not a scratch was on him. The heroes congratulated each other and after despatching the smaller demons, brought out all the treasure and divided it equally. Then they set the castle on fire and buried the bones of the victims, setting up a stone to mark the spot. All the maidens and captives were assembled together, and in great state and pomp they returned to Kioto. The virgins were restored to their parents, and many a desolate home was made joyful, and many a mourning garment taken off. Raiko was honored by the Mikado in being made a court noble and appointed Chief of the entire garrison of Kioto. All the people were grateful for his valor. His three lieutenants were also given posts of honor. The land was free from evil spirits ever afterward.