The Serpent And The Sea Queen

Japanese



        Long ago in the land of Japan, an earthquake created a all emerald - green island.  Surrounding the island was the World - Under - the - Sea.  This world was ruled by the Sea King and Sea Queen.  They lived in a palace made of shells, coral, marble, and precious gems; and all the creatures of the sea were their servants.

        The Sea King ruled the tides.  He sent rains and floods.  He breathed wind and lashed the waves into foam.  Never did the Sea King leave the sea.  But the Sea Queen enjoyed visiting the island.  She rode a mighty green dragon through the water until she arrived on land.  Then she disguised herself as one of the ladies of the emperor's court by donning red and white robes.

        One year the Sea Queen built a summer palace on the island shore.  She planted beautiful gardens, grain fields, and mulberry plantations.  But it wasn't long before a hideous monster attacked her land.

        The monster was a great serpent named Ja.  Ja had a mustache made of snakes, and he had one million legs.  His eyes blazed with fire, and his body was so long he could coil it seven times around the mountain of Mikami.

        One day when the Sea Queen was gone, Ja ate all her fruit and grain. He tore into her palace and ate her servants, too.  He swallowed them all in one gulp, then spat out their bones.

        When the Sea Queen returned to her palace, she began screaming in horror.  She rushed out into the fields, screaming and tearing her hair.  "Can no one destroy the terrible ja?" she cried out.

        At that moment, a young warrior named Toda the Archer was passing by.  When Toda saw the distraught woman, he did not realize she was the Sea Queen.

        "How can I help you, poor lady?" he asked.

        "Slay Ja for me!" the Sea Queen cried.  "He has destroyed my home.

        "I will do as you wish," said Toda the Archer.  And he set out across the island.

        While he looked for Ja, Toda planned his attack.  He knew the only thing that could kill the horrible serpent was human saliva.  If he moistened the tip of his arrow and struck Ja, the creature would die at once.

        As night fell, Toda crept over a small bridge with his bow in his hand. He could see nothing in the twilight except mist rising from the lake.  But suddenly two flames shot into the sky.  Ja's head plunged through the mist! His mustache writhed with thousands of snakes!

        Toda rushed back across the bridge.  He shot at the horrid monster.  But Toda was so fearful he forgot to wet his arrow; so when the arrow hit Ja, it did not even wound him.  The serpent roared with fury; the mountains echoed and the earth trembled.  Ja's eyes flamed with rage as he began slithering across the bridge towards Toda.

        But Toda held his ground.  As he started to aim again at the monster, he remembered he must wet his arrow tip with saliva.  He quickly did so, then shot the arrow directly into Ja's forehead.

        The monster howled and roared.  As he flung back his head, his mustache writhed and rattled.  Then slowly all the horrible snakes began to die. When they hung limply from Ja's face, the monster's long body jerked about, then stiffened. Finally, Ja was dead.

        Out of the dark night the Sea Queen came riding. Toda trembled when he saw her on the back of her mighty green dragon.  "Who are you?" he called out, shielding his eyes from her brightness.

        "I am the Sea Queen," she said.  "It was I who begged you to slay the terrible Ja.  And though you did not know who I was, you risked your life for me."

        Toda was so surprised he could not speak.

        "Now I wish to reward your kindness and courage," said the Sea Queen. "Come with me to my palace in the World-Under-the-Sea."

        The Sea Queen clapped her hands, and instantly, a boat made of shells rose from the depths of the water.

        The Sea Queen beckoned Toda to climb into the boat.  When her green dragon plunged into the sea, Toda's boat followed him down into the deepest waters.

        Finally the Sea Queen and Toda arrived in the heart of the World - Under - the - Sea.  Toda could not believe his eyes.  Light was pouring through the water, shining upon a glittering palace.  Gardens of seaweeds bloomed everywhere.

        But most enchanting of all were the hundreds of sea fairies that danced around Toda's boat.  The fairies wore robes of shells fringed with mother - of - pearl.  On their heads were headdresses made of living sea creatures-crabs, lobsters, squid, seahorses, clams, and shrimps.  As the fairies danced around Toda, their headdresses waved their legs and tails, clacked their shells, and twirled their feelers.

        When the dance ended, the Sea Queen turned to Toda.  "In honor of your great courage, I would like to present you with these gifts," she said.

        The sea fairies then filled Toda's boat with huge casks of rice, jars of wine, silk robes, a mighty sword, and a huge bronze bell. 

        Then the Sea Queen kissed Toda good-bye. "Thank you," she said. "Farewell."

        The sea fairies escorted Toda to the edge of the World - Under - the - Sea.  Then his boat rose out of the depths of the deep water and returned to the island shore.

        When Toda stepped out of the boat, his frantic servants rushed forward to greet him. They'd been searching for him everywhere.  Toda tried to explain where he'd been, but when he turned back to the boat, he saw it was gone.  All of his gifts, however, were piled on the sand.

        Over the years, Toda discovered many wondrous things about the Sea Queen's gifts.  Her casks of rice never became empty.  Her jars of wine always brimmed over.  Her silk robes never wore out, and her mighty sword conquered all whom it touched. 

        Long after Toda and his descendants died, the Sea Queen's bronze bell hung in a temple near the lake.  As it swung in the night breeze, its mellow notes rolled over the lake and echoed in the mountains.

        Even today, the great bell wakes the white herons, the monks, and the mulberry pickers who live on the island.  Whenever the bell sounds, if one gazes into the depths of the lake, one might catch a glimpse of the Sea Queen's glittering palace.

From: Mermaid Tales From Around The World
By: Mary Pope Osborne
Illustration: Troy Howell