Posts Tagged ‘Lord Jizo’

‘Moon Baby’, from “The Nightingale’s Song”, Part 10

September 16, 2013

 

"Moon Child" from "The Nightingale's Song", Part II

 

There are three more episodes in “The Nightingale’s Song”. This is the first one.

Lady Nyo 

 

 

“Moon! Glorious Moon!

Shine on my empty belly

Give me a sweet child.

—Lady Nyo

 

Lady Nyo was barren.

Once there was hope of heirs,

Babies to raise and coddle.

But fate provided nothing

Not even a stillborn to mourn,

Buried under the snow

With the fog of incense rising

To a leaden sky.

 

Many times Lady Nyo

Passed the temple of the humble Lord Jizo,

Riding in her palm-leaf carriage

Drawn by white oxen adorned with ribbons, bells.

Many times she peeked through curtains

At his simple, stone statue,

Bedecked with babies’ bids, knitted hats,

The offering of a grateful mother, or

A mournful one.

 

Ah! To be as much a woman

As her lowest servant with a swelling belly!

How she wanted to leave her own offering

Of her child’s garment at his feet!

 

 

Lady Nyo decided to make a pilgrimage.

She would walk barefoot through the fragrant murasaki grass,

She would wear a humble hemp gown,

She would seek advice from temple priests.

 

Lady Nyo and her old nurse set out one morning,

And though her old nurse grumbled and groaned,

Lady Nyo was the vision of piety walking

Through the delicate morning mists –

Two  frail ghosts of nothingness.

 

The priest had a long, red nose,

Wore a robe none too clean,

And he scratched at lice

Under the folds of his gown.

He had feathers growing in his ears

And feet like a large bird.

 

A Tengu!

A trifler of men and women!

But they were staring at his nose,

And missed his feet.

 

“When the Moon grows full,

Row out in the bay,

Directly under the Moon

And climb up a long ladder.

You will be pulled by the Moon’s tides

To its surface,

And there you will find what you want.”

 

When the Moon blossomed into a large

Bright lantern in the sky,

They rowed out in the bay,

Two trusted ladies to steady the ladder

And one to spare.

Lady Nyo kicked off her geta,

Tucked her gown into the obi

(exposing her lady-parts),

And ignoring the remarks of her old nurse,

Climbed directly under the Moon.

 

So powerful

Was the pull of the Moon

That fish and crabs,

Seahorses and seaweed,

Octopi, too

Rose straight up from the waters

Into the night’s air!

Lady Nyo’s hair and sleeves

Were also pulled by the Moon

And her kimono almost came over her head!

 

With a summersault

She flipped onto the surface

And found her bare feet

Sinking into the yellow-tofu of the Moon.

 

She heard a gurgling

And gurgling meant babies,

So she searched on spongy ground

Followed by a few seahorses who were curious

And a few fish who weren’t.

 

Past prominent craters

One could see from the Earth,

Lady Nyo found a baby tucked in the Moon’s soil.

 

Ah! A fat little boy blowing bubbles,

Sucking on toes,

Bright black eyes like pebbles

Black hair as thick as brocade!

 

Lady Nyo bent down,

And lifting him

She heard a sucking noise.

He was attached to the Moon

By a longish tail

That thrashed around like a little snake

As she pulled him free.

 

She placed him at her milk-less breast

But soon he grimaced and started to howl,

 So she tucked him in her robe,

Aimed for the ladder,

Somersaulted back into the night,

Where she and her ladies rowed for shore.

 

The baby, now named Tsuki,

Was put to a wet nurse

His tail mostly disappearing,

Shriveling up like a proper umbilical cord–

Though there remained a little vestigial tail

That wagged with anticipation when placed at the breast,

Or when the full Moon appeared

In the black bowl of night.

 

The Tengu had flown the coop,

Never to be seen again.

But Lady Nyo no longer envied ladies

With swelling bellies,

For her own arms were full and heavy

With this yellow Moon-child.

 

Through fragrant fields

Of murasaki grass,

Lady Nyo and Tsuki

Would walk alone,

Where they would lay

Offerings of knitted bibs,

Strings of money, toys

And a feather

At the feet of Lord Jizo,

When the Moon was fullest

In a promising sky.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012, 2013

 

 

 

 

“The Kimono”, Chapter 23, of Lord Jizo and a Tengu.

March 20, 2013

Lord Jizo

Tengu stone

“The Kimono” is a novel I started a few years ago. I had to research the 17th Japanese culture and history to write this. However, with other projects now out of the way, I am going back this spring to try to complete this tale.

It will be confusing to new readers, though I have posted chapters of this developing novel for a couple of years now. The book opens with Mari, a very 21st century Japanese-American woman buying an old kimono in Kyoto. She is married to Steven and the marriage isn’t going well. The kimono is possessed by some hidden force and upon donning it and going to sleep, Mari is transported to the 17th century of Japan. She lands literally at the feet of Lord Mori, a powreful daimyo (warlord) in what is now Akito, Japan. Lord Yoki is a monk, but more so, he’s also a tengu. The tengu (mythological creatures originally from China) are also involved with the Yamabushi. Tengus are shape shifters, and this tengu, Lord Yoki, is also a time traveler.

Lord Jizo is one of my favorite Shinto figures.

Lady Nyo

The Kimono, Chapter 23

Mari and Lady Nyo returned from their shopping, and Mari went to lie down. Her feet hurt in the high geta. It took careful steps and concentration not to twist an ankle.

When they were out, Lady Nyo told her of a small shrine close by, dedicated to Lord Jizo. Mari wanted to make an offering. When they passed the shrine on the road a few days before, Mari was deeply moved. She had lost her first and possibly only child and perhaps now she could face grief. She put it out of mind because of the disruption, and mostly the shame.

Lord Mori and Lord Ekei disappeared during the morning. Neither Mari or Lady Nyo had a clue where the men were. They were just women and not to be informed. Lord Nyo was left in charge. Mari thought it a good time to approach Lady Nyo. She wanted to walk the short way to the shrine, to spend some time in thought and she wanted to do it alone. Lady Nyo’s expression was one of doubt, but she promised to talk to Lord Nyo.

Mari knew she would have to have protection, either in the form of Lady Nyo with her husband’s men or men of Lord Mori. This was not of her choosing. She had no say in these things.

Lady Nyo found her in the tiny garden in the back of the inn, watching goldfish in the small pond before her stone bench.

“Lady Mari”, she softly called.

At the sound of her voice, Mari looked up. It was still early, just past the noon hour, and the day was overlaid with clouds. It had turned misty, but Mari was still hopeful she could make her visit.

“My Lord Nyo has agreed and is to send you with two men and I will send you with a servant. I will provide you with coin to buy incense.”

Mari smiled. She knew Lady Nyo was risking much in not accompanying her, but Mari wanted some distance from everyone. She wanted some privacy to think and to be alone. It didn’t seem possible in this century.

Lady Nyo was kind. She sensed what Mari needed. After all, this foreign looking, foreign acting woman was full of secrets, and she knew in time the tight ball who was Lady Mari would unravel. She was willing to wait. There was something much bigger about this woman, this unusual and rather ugly favorite of Lord Mori. What it was, Hana Nyo did not know, but sensed it was worth her patience. There were clues, but these were too fantastic to believe.

Mari set out with two armed guards and one of the two women servants. This time she wore her straw sandals and her traveling kimono, with an oiled paper cloak to protect from the rain. Mari had not been raised in either Shinto or Buddhist beliefs, though her mother privately offered prayers and burned incense at a small family shrine set up in a corner of their house. Mari for a time had attended a Unitarian church, the religion of her father. Who Lord Jizo was remained unclear to Mari. The only knowledge she had was that he was the patron ‘saint’ of unborn, miscarried and stillborn children. It seemed enough of a starting place for her. Perhaps she wouldn’t feel so empty after offering prayers for her dead baby.

The walk to the shrine was not far, and the road was banked with mulberry trees and beyond the road, bamboo stands looking like small forests of waving greenery. A drizzle had started; it served to dampen the dust on the road.

There were few travelers today. When they got to the shrine, Mari was surprised how primitive it was; not more than a raised open shed, a stone pillar with a carved face set back from the entrance. There were offerings of toys, incense, pebbles, a few small coins. Children’s clothes were folded and laid at the base of Lord Jizo. One mother had put a red bib around his neck and a white, knitted hat sat on his head.

The men and the servant stood back by the road, but not so far they couldn’t see Mari. She walked up the few wooden stairs to kneel on the rough wooden floor. There was a crow in the rafters, who looked at Mari, curious as to her presence.

Mari placed her unlit incense in the bowl of sand in front of the statue. She raised her eyes to his face, and realized his features were faint, dissolved by time. A small, smiling mouth, long earlobes, closed eyes. Mari felt tears forming and gulped to swallow them. She didn’t know what to say, what to pray for. She had not been a religious person back in her own century, and things were too disrupted and strange to even contemplate the spiritual now. The presence of magic had destroyed her belief in comforting things.

A strange sensation came over her. She did not recognize it at first, but soon realized she was feeling more than the usual emptiness. She felt—filled with something, and at first she didn’t understand. Tears coursed down her face, and raising her eyes to Jizo these ancient details dissolved even more. Whether it was her tears or some magic, she was looking at the face of a laughing baby. She clasped her hands to her chest and uttered a soft, marveling cry. Then, the vague stone features of Lord Jizo reappeared.

Mari was deeply moved, but frightened. Perhaps it was the dim light of the shrine playing tricks or perhaps it was her confused mind. Whatever it was, she felt a peace, something she had not felt in a long time. She felt as if a rock had been lifted from her chest.

The faint sound of a flute came to her ears. Sad, consoling music. She looked up in the rafters to the left of the Jizo statue and saw a monk sitting there, or what she thought was a monk. He was playing a bamboo flute and floated down like a dust mote. Mari looked around at the men and the girl outside. They seemed oblivious to anything happening inside the shrine. In fact, they weren’t moving. They looked frozen.

“Do not be afraid”. The monk, a very dirty, dusty man in a ripped kimono, spoke in a raspy voice, clearing cobwebs from his face as he stood there.

Mari for some reason did not feel afraid. Perhaps she was enchanted and this was a spell?

“Nah, you‘re under no spell. But the men outside are.” He giggled.

Mari blanched. This monk could read her mind?

The monk coughed, and spat, very unmonk-like behavior in a shrine.

“Were you the crow in the rafters?” Mari’s voice was soft, disbelief making it hard to speak.

“You’re a fast study, girl.” The monk laughed, seeing the astonishment on Mari’s face.

“What are you?”

“Ah….you are a rude one! Perhaps the shock of seeing a crow transform into a man has robbed you of manners?”

“But what are you?”

“You already asked that. I am Lord Yoki.”

“You obviously are not human. Are you a figment of my mind?”

“Oh, I am much more than that, girl. I am a Tengu. Are you familiar with tengus?”

Mari shook her head, eyes wide in shock, now beyond speech.

“Ah….we have met before, Mari.”

“How do you know my name?”

The tengu laughed, a raspy sound from a thin, wizened throat. Mari’s eyes traveled over his kimono. It was patched and stained, none too clean for a monk. His toenails were very long, in fact they had grown over his straw sandals and seemed more like bird claws. He was scratching at his hindquarters, too.

Lord Yoki smiled, blinked, and closed his eyes to mere slits. Mari noticed his nose was very long and red. Probably drank too much sake.

“You were visiting a friend in Kyoto. Coming home one night, I called out to you.”

Mari couldn’t think of where she had seen this creature.

“Ah…your friend, Miko? “

Mari gasped. Miko was back home…in her century, the 21st, not the 17th! What was happening here? Was she losing her mind?

Suddenly, she remembered. There was a large bird on a wire high above her one cold night. She remembered that night with Miko, telling her about the dream….a dream that turned out to be another reality. She remembered being scared by a voice, and looking up in the dark, she saw a huge bird with a long red beak.

“Yup, at your service.” The tengu bowed and giggled, like a girl would.

“But, but….how?” That was another century, hundreds of years from now. “How are you here?”

“Better you ask me why.”

Mari went to rise, and fell back on her backside. Her legs would not support her.

“And….you speak English! I must be losing my mind!”

“Oh, don’t get overly excited, girl”, he said, making a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Weirder things have happened.”

The tengu grimaced, scratched at his scraggly beard. “Lice”, he said flatly.

Mari twisted from the floor, trying to see the men outside. They had not moved an inch.

“Oh, don’t worry about them. We have things to talk about.”

The tengu folded his legs and sat facing her, tucking his flute into his robe.

“I am sure you have some questions for me?” He looked at her expectantly.

“What questions could I have for you?” Mari’s shock was lessening and she began to feel danger.

“Perhaps you would like to know what your husband Steven is up to.”

Steven! Mari gasped, her eyes opening wide. What would this old man, if he was one, know of Steven?

“Well, why don’t we start by you asking me some questions? I bet I know more than you could guess.” He folded his hands in front of him, looking rather pleased with himself.

Mari swallowed hard, wishing she had some water. Her throat was dry.

“What could you know about my husband?”

The monk lifted his eyebrows a few times and winked. Mari almost laughed. He looked like Groucho Marx.

“I travel in many circles, girl. I get around.”

Mari would have dismissed him as insane, but uttering Steven’s name meant something else.

“Then tell me what he is doing. Is he worried about me? Is he ok?”

The monk ‘s face softened.

“You don’t understand much about this time travel, do you? Has no one explained to you what happens?”

Mari remembered only that Lord Mori said a year here in this century would be like a minute in hers.
Haltingly Mari told the monk what she knew.

“Yes, yes, that is part of it. Going back and forth can be confusing, but do not worry. You have no reason for concern about husband Steven. See those men out there? And your servant? “

Mari saw the men and woman in the same position. Still frozen.

“That is how your disappearance has seemed to Lord Steven. He doesn’t have a clue.”

The monk chortled and the hair stood on the back of Mari’s neck.

Mari wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the floor. Tears started to form. What had she done to Steven, to her marriage? Was she already dead and this was some kind of Hell?

“Mari”, said the monk in a soft voice. “You are caught up in a web of magic, and none of this is of your doing. You only bought a kimono having some history and you fell under its power. What happens now is out of your control. From the beginning, it was your fate.”

“What is going to happen to me?” Mari raised her eyes to the monk, her face full of despair.

The monk, or tengu, or whatever he was, almost scowled, and spit again on the boards of the shrine.

“Do I look like a fortune teller? I have no idea, girl, what is to be your destiny, but I know you are a pawn in a larger game.”

“One of Lord Mori’s making?”

“Lord Mori is also a pawn, but a much more important pawn. We all are pawns in this present game, Mari.”

“What does he want of me?”

Lord Yoki looked at Mari, studying her face, but said nothing for a few seconds.

“Our Lord Mori is a complex man. He can wield his own small magic, more tricks than anything else. There are other forces at work and our Lord is determined to find them out. This, in part, is the reason for this pilgrimage to Gassan Mountain.”

“But how do I figure in all of this?”

The monk laid his head to one side and narrowed his eyes as he looked at Mari. He looked like a blinking owl.

“I have no answers for you, girl. I just know that you do. You will have to cultivate patience. You have no control or power as to what happens. “

Mari did not get much from his answers. At least she now knew something about Steven, if she could believe this monk. If it was true her absence had gone unnoticed by him, then perhaps there was something good in this.

What her role was to be here, in this century, in the presence of Lord Mori and the others, there had to be an answer for her. At least she had the small comfort about Steven. If she could believe the monk.

She looked at him, but he had vanished. In less than a blink of the eye, he was gone. Mari stretched out a hand to where he had been sitting. Had she dreamed all this? Was she also under a spell?

She heard voices. The men were talking amongst themselves, leaning on their nagatas. The woman servant was plaiting reeds from her basket.

Mari left the shrine, only turning back once to look at Lord Jizo. She still had no answers, but for some strange reason, she felt comforted. Whether it was Lord Jizo or the monk, she didn’t know.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008-13

A Healing Miracle…..

September 2, 2012

 

Last night I received an email from a lovely gentleman who reads this blog.  He mentioned a ‘healing miracle’ he had experienced years ago.  Last night we experienced something of our own healing miracle.

We have a 15 year old cat, Rose (amongst others….) beloved by us and especially my husband.  Rose is his ‘little girl’ and climbs into his lap whenever he sits down.  They are inseparable, watching TV together and both purring up a storm.

Yesterday evening we gave Rose a flea bath and a few hours later found her panting heavily on the slate hearth.  She moved to the wooden floor beneath a ceiling fan and it seemed she was dying.  She was breathing hard, cold in the ears and feet and things didn’t look at all good.  I wouldn’t have given a plugged nickel for her survival then.  She was almost comatose, unresponsive.

I took a pillow and lay down besides her, trying to comfort her.  I have a horror of an animal dying alone and have gone through this many times, even on a sidewalk with a dying stray animal, and Rose seemed to be on this list.

My husband and I decided to dig a grave in the best front flower garden and he went out and did this.  Rose seemed to quiet down and I thought she was at the end stage of dying.  She closed her mouth and I was sure we were at the end.  Husband came in, said goodbye to Rose and went back to the football game.  We didn’t know if she had a stroke, a heart attack or was suffering the effects of the chemicals in the flea bath, but she seemed near gone.

When we are faced with death, we bargain.  I don’t know what cat-goddess, Buddha, Lord Jizo or Jesus Christ was holding the reins of Rose’s life, but suddenly she stood up and pointed herself towards her daddy.  I yelled for him to come and see this, and he scooped her up in his arms and went with her back to the football game.  Within an hour she was ‘normal’ and eating the fish I couldn’t for dinner.

We were shaking our heads in amazement, laughing together, relieved that Rose had pulled out another cat-life.  She slept on my chest trying to smother me, or moved to the curve of my sling, trying me mightily.  I got maybe 2 hours of sleep, but this morning Rose is up to her old tricks.  She is fine.  She is better than fine.

Last winter we nursed her through pneumonia for a month, waking during the night to comfort her in her racking coughs.  We have a traveling vet and she wasn’t optimistic about her chances. She was 15 after all.  But she pulled through.

Lying next to her on the floor, I cajoled her about other cats that had lived to almost 20. She had at least 5 more years with us, our beautiful, Cleopatra-eyed Rose.   As I said, I was bargaining with all the tools of persuasion I had.

This morning I went outside to look at the grave.  It was deep, a double decker you could bury two cats in.  I asked my husband why so deep? He had picked out a potted rose, a beautiful salmon colored, beautifully fragrant rose to plant over her. 

We are still shaking our heads, looking at each other in awe and wonder.  The life force is powerful, and Rose was sticking around.  There will be no more flea baths for her, as I found out that this can be very dangerous for elderly cats.  It will be a flea comb from now on.

Rose is sleeping in her favorite window right now, purring up a storm.  She dodged a bullet, pulled out another cat-life to move on, but we are shaken.

This was a perfect example of a ‘healing miracle’.  Thank you, Spiros.  And thank you friends who got an email last night begging for your healing thoughts.

 

Lady Nyo

 

“Moon Child” from “The Nightingale’s Song”, Part II

February 13, 2012

Utamaro wood block print from

modernmarketingjapan.blogspot.com

This poem is new and going through revision. Many  years ago I read a short story by an Italian author (I can’t remember the name) about walking on the moon.  That was the generator of this present poem, plus a dream.

Lady Nyo

Notes: Lord Jizo is the kami (saint) of pregnant women, children, stillborns, travelers.  There are many statues and simple temples along country roads where Lord Jizo is bedecked with bibs, toys and knitted clothing in gratitude for babies, and in memory of children who have died young.

Tengus are mythological (??) birds (kami) who shapeshift into humans.  They bedevil arrogant Buddhist priests and are tricksters. They also were known to teach martial arts to samurai.  They generally reside in the mountains and are associated with the Yamabushi cult.

Murasaki is a purple color and also a grass or flower

“Tsuki” means Moon

.

“The Nightingale’s Song”, Part II  “Moon Child”

.

Lady Nyo was barren.

Once there was hope of heirs,

Babies to raise, coddle.

But fate provided nothing,

Not even a stillborn to mourn,

Buried under the snow

With the fog of incense rising

To a leaden sky.

 

Many times Lady Nyo

Passed the temple of Lord Jizo,

Riding in her palm-leaf carriage

Drawn by white oxen adorned with ribbons and bells.

Many times she peeked through curtains

At his simple, stone statue,

Bedecked with babies’ bids, knitted hats,

The offering of a grateful mother, or

A mournful one.

 

Ah! To be as much a woman

As her lowest servant with a swelling belly!

How she wanted to leave her own offering

Of her child’s garment at his feet!

 

 

Lady Nyo decided on a pilgrimage.

She would walk barefoot through the fragrant murasaki grass,

She would wear a humble cotton gown,

She would seek advice from temple priests.

 

Lady Nyo and her old nurse set out one morning,

And though her old nurse grumbled and groaned,

Lady Nyo was the vision of piety walking

Through the delicate morning mists –

These frail ghosts of nothingness.

 

The priest had a long, red nose,

Wore a robe none too clean,

And he scratched at lice

Under the folds of his gown.

He had feathers growing in his ears

And feet like a large bird.

 

A Tengu!

A trifler of men and women!

But they were staring at his nose,

And missed his feet.

 

“When the Moon grows full,

Row out in the bay,

Directly under the Moon

And climb up a long ladder.

You will be pulled by the Moon’s tides

To its surface,

And there you will find what you want.”

 

When the Moon blossomed into a large

Bright lantern in the sky,

They rowed out in the bay,

Two trusted ladies to steady the ladder

And one to spare.

Lady Nyo kicked off her geta,

Tucked her gown into the obi

(exposing her lady-parts),

And ignoring the clucks of her old nurse,

Climbed directly under the Moon.

 

So powerful

Was the pull of the Moon

That fish and crabs,

Seahorses and seaweed,

Octopi, too

Rose straight up from the waters

Into the night’s air!

Lady Nyo’s hair and sleeves

Were also pulled by the Moon

And her kimono almost came over her head!

 

With a somersault

She flipped onto the surface

And found her bare feet

Sinking into the yellow-tofu of the Moon.

 

She heard a gurgling

And gurgling meant babies,

So she searched on spongy ground

Followed by a few seahorses who were curious

And a few fish who weren’t.

 

Past prominent craters

One could see from the Earth,

Lady Nyo found a baby tucked in the Moon’s soil.

 

Ah! A fat little boy blowing bubbles,

Sucking on toes,

Bright black eyes like pebbles

Black hair as thick as brocade!

 

Lady Nyo bent down,

And lifting him

She heard a sucking noise.

He was attached to the Moon

By a longish tail

That thrashed like a little snake

As she pulled him free.

 

She placed him at her milk-less breast

But soon he grimaced and started to howl,

 So she tucked him in her robe,

Aimed for the ladder,

Somersaulted back into the night,

Where she and her ladies rowed for shore.

 

The baby, now named Tsuki,

Was put to a wet nurse

His tail mostly disappearing,

Shriveling up like a proper umbilical cord–

Though there remained a little vestigial tail

That wagged with anticipation when placed at the breast,

Or when the full Moon appeared

In the black bowl of night.

 

The Tengu had flown the coop,

Never to be seen again.

But Lady Nyo no longer envied ladies

With swelling bellies,

For her own arms were full and heavy

With this yellow Moon-child.

 

Through fragrant fields

Of murasaki grass,

Lady Nyo and Tsuki

Would walk alone,

Where they would lay

Offerings of knitted bibs,

Strings of money, toys

And a feather

At the feet of Lord Jizo,

When the Moon was fullest

In a promising sky.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Kimono’, Chapter 23

August 25, 2011

 

Very recently, I have been working on this novel, something that has dragged on for 4 years now.  It’s done in stops and starts because of the research needed: writing about culture in 17th century Japan is new to me.  I have a better idea now, over the last year, where this story is going; before, I just let the characters direct the flow. Now I know that this can be a big mistake. (Especially when you are dealing with tricky tengu. lol) Someone has to be in control of events, and it better be the writer.

In this chapter, Mari visits a shrine to the Lord Jizo.  He is a benevolent god, the protector of travelling pilgrims, women and children, especially babies who have died at birth.  Mari has lost her first and pregnancy at five months, and is just getting to mourn this. 

Lord Yoki is a bothersome Tengu: a supernatural creature that figures into Japanese mythology. He has been following Mari since the beginning of the book, and shows up unexpectedly.  His magic is more…developed….a shapeshifter and time travellor…something that Lord Mori, with his own bag of tricks (trained as Yamabushi) can’t do.  Lord Yoki is aligning himself with Lord Mori, but he’s a tricky devil.

Lady Nyo

(Where Mari goes to the Jizo temple to light incense, and meets Lord Yoki.)

Mari and Lady Nyo returned from their shopping, and Mari went to lie down. Her feet hurt in the high geta. It took careful steps and concentration not to twist an ankle.

When they were out, Lady Nyo told her of a small shrine close by, dedicated to Lord Jizo. Mari wanted to make an offering.  When they passed the shrine on the road a few days before, Mari was deeply moved.  She had lost her first and possibly only child and perhaps now she could face grief.  She put it out of mind because of the disruption, and mostly the shame.

Lord Mori and Lord Ekei disappeared during the morning.  Neither Mari or Lady Nyo had a clue where the men were.  They were just women and not to be informed. Lord Nyo was left in charge. Mari thought it a good time to approach Lady Nyo.  She wanted to walk the short way to the shrine, to spend some time in thought and she wanted to do it alone.  Lady Nyo’s expression upon hearing Mari’s words expressed concern, but she promised to talk to Lord Nyo.

Mari knew she would have to have protection, either in the form of Lady Nyo or one of the men of Lord Mori.  This was not of her choosing.  She had no say in these things.

Lady Nyo found her in the tiny garden in the back of the inn, watching goldfish in the small pond before her stone bench.

“Lady Mari”, she softly called.

At the sound of her voice, Mari looked up.  It was still early, just past the noon hour, and the day was overlaid with clouds.  It had turned misty, but Mari was still hopeful she could make her visit.

“My Lord Nyo has agreed and is to send you with two men and I will send you with a servant.  I will provide you with coin to buy incense.”

Mari smiled.  She knew Lady Nyo was risking much in not accompanying her, but Mari wanted some distance from everyone.  She wanted some privacy to think and to be alone.  It didn’t seem possible in this century.

Lady Nyo was kind.  She sensed what Mari needed.  After all, this foreign looking, foreign acting woman was full of secrets, and she knew in time the tight ball who was Lady Mari would unravel.  She was willing to wait.  There was something much bigger about this woman, this unusual and rather ugly favorite of Lord Mori.  What it was, Hana Nyo did not know, but sensed it was worth her patience. There were clues, but these were too fantastic to believe.

Mari set out with two armed guards and one of the two women servants. This time she wore her straw sandals and her traveling kimono, with an oiled paper cloak to protect from the rain.  Mari had not been raised in either Shinto or Buddhist beliefs, though her mother privately offered prayers and burned incense at a small family shrine set up in a corner of  their house Mari for a time had attended a Unitarian church, the religion of her father.  Who Lord Jizo was remained unclear to Mari. The only knowledge she had was that he was the patron ‘saint’ of unborn, miscarried and stillborn children.  It seemed enough of a starting place for her. Perhaps she wouldn’t feel so empty after offering prayers for her dead baby.

The walk to the shrine was not far, and the road was banked with mulberry trees and beyond the road, bamboo stands looking like small forests of waving greenery.  A drizzle had started; it served to dampen the dust on the road.

There were few travelers today.  When they got to the shrine, Mari was surprised how primitive it was; not more than a raised open shed, a stone pillar with a carved face set back from the entrance.   There were offerings of toys, incense, pebbles, a few small coins. Children’s clothes were folded and laid at the base of Lord Jizo.  One mother had put a red bib around his neck and a white, knitted hat sat on his head.

The men and the servant stood back by the road, but not so far they couldn’t see Mari.  She walked up the few wooden stairs to kneel on the rough wooden floor.  There was a crow in the rafters, who looked at Mari, curious as to her presence.

Mari placed her unlit incense in the bowl of sand in front of the statue.  She raised her eyes to his face, and realized his features were faint, dissolved by time.  A small, smiling mouth, long earlobes, closed eyes.  Mari felt tears forming and gulped to swallow them.   She didn’t know what to say, what to pray for.  She had not been a religious person back in her own century, and things were too disrupted and strange to even contemplate the spiritual now.  The presence of magic had destroyed her belief in comforting things.

A strange sensation came over her.   She did not recognize it at first, but soon realized she was feeling more than the usual emptiness. She felt—filled with something, and at first she didn’t  understand.  Tears coursed down her face, and raising her eyes to Jizo these ancient details dissolved even more.  Whether it was her tears or some magic, she was looking at the face of a laughing baby.  She clasped her hands to her chest and uttered a soft, marveling cry.  Then, the vague stone features of Lord Jizo reappeared.

Mari was deeply moved, but frightened.  Perhaps it was the dim light of the shrine playing tricks or perhaps it was her confused mind. Whatever it was, she felt a peace, something she had not felt in a long time.  She felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted from her heart.

The faint sound of a flute came to her ears.  Sad, consoling music.  She looked up in the rafters to the left of the Jizo statue and saw a monk sitting there,  or what she thought was a monk.  He was playing a bamboo flute and floated down like a dust mote.  Mari looked around at the men and the girl outside. They seemed oblivious to anything happening inside the shrine.  In fact, they weren’t moving.  They looked frozen.

“Do not be afraid”.  The monk, a very dirty, dusty man in a ripped kimono, spoke in a raspy voice, clearing cobwebs from his face as he stood there.

Mari for some reason did not feel afraid.  Perhaps she was enchanted and this was a spell?

“Nah, you‘re under no spell.  But the men outside are.”  He giggled.

Mari blanched.  This monk could read her mind? 

The monk coughed, and spat, very unmonk-like behavior in a shrine.

“Were you the crow in the rafters?”  Mari’s voice was soft, disbelief making it hard to speak.

“You’re a fast study, girl.”  The monk laughed, seeing the astonishment on Mari’s face.

“What are you?”

“Ah….you are  a rude one! Perhaps the shock of seeing a crow transform into a man has robbed you of manners?”

“But what are you?”

“You already asked that.  I am Lord Yoki.”

“You obviously are not human.  Are you a figment of my mind?”

“Oh, I am much more than that, girl.  I am a Tengu.  Are you familiar with tengus?”

Mari shook her head, eyes wide in shock, now beyond speech.

“Ah….we have met before, Mari.”

“How do you know my name?”

The tengu laughed, a raspy sound from a thin, wizen throat.  Mari’s eyes traveled over his kimono.  It was patched and stained, none too clean for a monk.  He was barefoot and his nails were very long, in fact they had grown over his straw sandals and seemed more like bird claws. He was scratching at his hindquarters, too.

Lord Yoki smiled, blinked, and closed his eyes to mere slits.  Mari noticed his nose was very long and red.  Probably drank too much sake.

“You were visiting a friend in Kyoto. Coming home one night, I called out to you.”

 Mari couldn’t think of where she had seen this creature.

“Ah…your friend, Miko? “

Mari gasped.  Miko was back home…in her century, the 21st, not the 17th!  What was happening here? Was she losing her mind?

Suddenly, she remembered.  There was a large bird on a wire high above her one cold night.  She remembered that night with Miko, telling her about the dream….a dream that turned out to be another reality.  She remembered being scared by a voice, and looking up in the dark, she saw a huge bird with a long red beak.

“Yup, at your service.”  The tengu bowed and giggled, like a girl would.

“But, but….how?”  That was another century, hundreds of years from now.  “How are you here?”

“Better you ask me why.”

Mari went to rise, and fell back on her backside.  Her legs would not support her.

“And….you speak English!  I must be losing my mind!”

“Oh, don’t get overly excited, girl”, he said, making a dismissive gesture with his hand.  “Weirder things have happened.”

The tengu grimaced, scratched at his scraggly beard . “Lice”, he said flatly.

Mari twisted from the floor, trying to see the men outside.  They had not moved an inch.

“Oh, don’t worry about them.  We have thing to talk about.”

The tengu folded his legs and sat facing her, tucking his flute into his robe.

“I am sure you have some questions for me?”  He looked at her expectantly.

“What questions could I have for you?”  Mari’s shock was lessening and she began to feel danger.

“Perhaps you would like to know what your husband Steven is up to.”

Steven!  Mari gasped, her eyes opening wide.  What would this old man, if he was one, know of Steven?

“Well, why don’t we start by you asking me some questions?  I bet I know more than you could guess.”  He folded his hands in front of him, looking rather pleased with himself.

Mari swallowed hard, wishing she had some water.  Her throat was dry.

“What could you know about my husband?”

The monk lifted his eyebrows a few times and winked.  Mari almost laughed.  He looked like Groucho Marx.

“I travel in many circles, girl.  I get around.”

Mari would have dismissed him as insane, but uttering Steven’s name meant something else.

“Then tell me what he is doing.  Is he worried about me?  Is he ok?”

The monk ‘s face softened.

“You don’t understand much about this time travel, do you?  Has no one explained to you what happens?”

Mari remembered only that Lord Mori said a year here in this century would be like a minute in hers.

Haltingly Mari told the monk what she knew.

“Yes, yes, that is part of it.  Going back and forth can be confusing, but do not worry.  You have no reason for concern about husband Steven.  See those men out there? And your servant? “

Mari saw the men and woman in the same position.  Still frozen.

“That is how your disappearance has seemed to Lord Steven.  He doesn’t have a clue.”

The monk chortled and the hair stood on the back of Mari’s neck.

Mari wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the floor.  Tears started to form.  What had she done to Steven, to her marriage?  Was she already dead and this was some kind of Hell?

“Mari”, said the monk in a soft voice.  “You are caught up in a web of magic, and none of this is of your doing.  You only bought a kimono having some history and you fell under its power.  What happens now is out of your control. From the  beginning, it was your fate.”

“What is going to happen to me?”  Mari raised her eyes to the monk, her face full of despair.

The monk, or tengu, or whatever he was, almost scowled, and spit again on the boards of the shrine.

“Do I look like a fortune teller?  I have no idea, girl, what is to be your destiny, but I know you are a pawn in a larger game.”

“One of Lord Mori’s making?”

“Lord Mori is also a pawn, but a much more important pawn.  We all are pawns in this present game, Mari.”

“What does he want of me?”

Lord Yoki looked at Mari, studying her face, but said nothing for a few seconds.

“Our Lord Mori is a complex man.  He can wield his own small magic, more tricks than anything else. There are other forces at work and our Lord is determined to find them out. This, in part, is the reason for this pilgrimage to Gassan Mountain.”

“But how do I figure in all of this?” 

The monk laid his head to one side and narrowed his eyes as he looked at Mari.  He looked like a blinking owl.

“I have no answers for you, girl.  I just know that you do. You will have to cultivate patience. You have no control or power as to what happens. “

Mari did not get much from his answers.  At least she now knew something about Steven, if she could believe this monk.  If it was true her absence had gone unnoticed by him, then perhaps there was something good in this.

What her role was to be here, in this century, in the presence of Lord Mori and the others, there had to be an answer for her.  At least she had the small comfort about Steven. If she could believe the monk.

She looked at him, but he had vanished. In less than a blink of the eye, he was gone.  Mari stretched out a hand to where he had been sitting.  Had she dreamed all this?  Was she also under a spell?

She heard voices. The men were talking amongst themselves, leaning on their nagatas.  The woman servant was plaiting reeds from her basket.

Mari left the shrine, only turning back once to look at Lord Jizo.  She still had no  answers, but for some strange reason, she felt comforted.  Whether it was Lord Jizo or the monk, she didn’t know.


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