Into the realm of Fairy Tales
Despite fairy tales appearing to be simple and predictable the actual formulation of them is more complicated that what you might first imagine. As I am typing this post I still haven’t finished my challenge, writers block seems to have a firm grip on my mind. I have done all of my research, decided on how the tale will pan out and what my characters aim is … however, every time I go to write it, it seems to come out all wrong.
Okay, rant over, I took a breather and came back to it. So here goes:
My tale is set in a temple in Japan, I did a bit of digging about the statues, what they are called and what they represent. The statues are called Nio and they come in pairs; they protect the temple and stand either side of the entrance gate. They even have names, the one on the right with his mouth slightly open is called Agyō, and the one on the left with his mouth closed is called Ungyō. I decided my statue was going to be my hero (because all good fairy tales need a hero) all I needed now was a villain (a plot, a moral and actual words typed out in a reasonably readable manner).
Write Shop gave me a good idea of what I needed to include in my fairy tale. But that still didn’t help in my decision of what on earth these two stone statues were going to do/had already done. That was until I decided on my villain (arguably the most important part of the tale), I wanted my villain to be a figure in Japanese mythology as well. So I looked at 10 Horrifying Demons and Spirits from Japanese Folklore and honestly I was spoilt for choice. Despite Write Shop recommending I write a happy ending I have read enough Brothers Grimm to know that most fairy tales focus heavier on a moral than a fluffy, pretty ending all tied together with glitter and a bow.
If you want a happy ending then I suggest you skip this story all together.
Once there stood a grand temple at the edge of an ancient bamboo forest. It’s roof was adorned, either side, with two dragon headed fish, splashing their tails into the clouds. Stone bridges reached across stagnant streams occupied by yellow and black striped turtles. In spring the cherry blossom swaddled the grounds, raining blushed pink teardrops until the damp earth was blanketed for all but a moment. In winter, snow replicated the effect, but with a fiercer hold. It clung to the trees with malicious intentions, and the air became thin. Yet, day after day, worshippers came to pay their respects, to ask for aid and guidance. There were two men, however, who never left, they stood guard over the temple and everyone who visited. Their names were Agyō and Ungyō. Both were strong and fiercely loyal to the other. They had been abandoned at the temple when they were just babies, and the local monks raised them. They knew their surroundings so well that they could navigate the labyrinth of bamboo in pitch dark. But every year when the first snow flake fell, the brothers wouldn’t leave their posts until the snow thawed in the spring. They didn’t move for fear of Yuki-onna, the snow woman, who ruled the region during the months of winter. She would feed on the souls of humans, she would visit each year and pray on the worshippers. And each year she succeeded, Agyō and Ungyō had tried everything they could imagine to deter her, all in vain and yet they still guarded the gates. The monks took pity on their shivering and so built two guard houses, one on either side of the gate: Agyō on the right and Ungyō on the left.
One winter the snowfall was the heaviest that the brothers had seen in their 24 years, the icy blanket came up to their knees. They knew that this year would be the worst of all. New Year came and worshipper travelled to ring the bell at midnight, lanterns were lit and strewn around the temple, the scent of incense lingered in everyone’s nostrils. Agyō and Ungyō had been shovelling the snow from the path all day in anticipation. After the bell had been rung and sake had been drunk, men, women and children re-lit their torches and began the long commute home. The people had barely set foot outside the warm light of the temple when an icy blast stopped them in their tracks. Agyō and Ungyō felt it from their guard houses and rushed out to save anyone they could, for they knew it wasn’t just a winter breeze, but the arrival of Yuki-onna.
When the brothers reached the worshippers, there was no more light, all the torches were extinguished, there was no warmth. Agyō called out into the darkness but there was no reply. Ungyō stayed silent, and felt around the snow until he found bodies formed from ice. Then, once more, they felt the icy presence of Yuki-onna, they turned in its direction. She was as radiant as the moon, her skin had no imperfection and she wore a kimono of the finest white silk. Her black hair and eyes were a stark contrast to her overall image. She reached out her hand for Ungyō, who, awestruck by her beauty, went to reciprocate. Agyō lunged in between them.
“What must we do to be rid of you?” Agyō asked the snow woman. She looked him in the eyes, and a half smile played on her lips.
“A heart of heavenly nurture, water pure as prayer, blood from a sacrifice of grievous nature and I will not tread there.” With these words Yuki-onna glided backwards into the tangle of bamboo.
Agyō and Ungyō returned to the temple, full of sorrow and grief. Ungyō shut himself into his guard house, but Agyō kept repeating the snow woman’s words in his head. What has a heart of heavenly nurture? Where can I find water as pure as a prayer? Have we not already sacrificed enough? With each question he asked he heard a whisper in the whistle of the wind over snow covered branches.
A child raised by heavenly servants has the heart you seek.
Water blessed on sacred grounds is purer than any.
The sacrifice of an unselfish soul is the most grievous of all.
With each answer Agyō had a realisation, he was the child raised by heavenly servants; the water in the chōzuya was pure enough to cleanse any sinner; and he must be the one to unselfishly sacrifice himself, to protect the temple and his brother. So Agyō went to the monks and asked them if there were any way to deter Yoki-onna, they looked uneasy at the question, and said they didn’t know what the three ingredients were but they knew how to combine them and to sprinkle the mixture around the temple. Agyō knew what he must ask of them, he told them that he would supply the ingredients but would be unable to complete the task. His only condition was that his brother Ungyō must not be informed until after the ritual had been performed. The monks agreed with hesitation, but they saw that his intentions were pure. Agyō went to the purification fountain and filled a bucket with its water, then he took his knife and sliced into his chest, let the blood mix with the water. He reached his hand into his chest, took a deep breathe, and ripped out his heart. Yuki-onna stood over him, Agyō was still alive or at least he thought he was. He dropped his still beating heart in the full bucket, reached his hand outwards, fingers to the sky and palm forward, he went to scream at her and then his body turned to stone.
The monks did as Agyō had asked, with tear filled eyes and sorrow slowing their steps. They spread the mixture over the snow covered earth, making sure the whole temple was protected by Agyō sacrifice. They then set his heart in a chest which they placed at the feet of the Buddha. Ungyō awoke from his sleep plagued with nightmares to find his brothers house empty. He went to the monks to ask them where Agyō was, when he passed an unfamiliar statue. On closer inspection he came to the horrific realisation that it was his brother. The monks appeared to consolidate Ungyō, and told him what his brother had done to protect them. Ungyō wept and cursed Yuki-onna, he could not live without his brother. They were a team, entrusted with guarding the temple for all their lives. In grief he stood before his petrified brother, picked up the knife Agyō had used, and tore into his own chest, ignoring the monks calls of distress. Ungyō made a silent vow to his brother, to protect the temple forever with him, grabbed his heart and pulled it out of his body. Ungyō stood strong, clenched his fists and teeth, his lips frozen together. Yuki-onna appeared at the temple for the last time that night. She recognised the final sacrifice and left the stone brothers in peace to guard the gates for eternity.
Spring blossoms came and went, worshippers made a point of paying their respects to Agyō and Ungyō, and snowfall arrived late the next year.
Phew, I know this is much longer than my other challenges! I absolutely love fairy tales and hope I have done this influential genre justice.
Let me know what you think!