The Epic of the Ainu (part two)

The Epic of the Ainu (part two)

“Once again the golden sea-otter came in upon the tide, and I plunged into the surf after it. It fled before me, but relentlessly I pursued it. I dived again like a sea-bird and caught it with my foot. The otter looked up and, knowing me for who I was, was not scared of me. It came up and floated in my arms.

My prize was won. With a great leap the wind took me once more; I flew back across the land with the golden otter in my grasp. Soon, I saw my home – the castle Shinutápka. It was surrounded by mists, and I was overawed at its beauty. Gently I pulled aside the door flap and entered; my brother and sister had slept all of the night. But day was coming soon; so I placed the otter on top of the baskets and flung myself into my bed, as if I had been there the whole night.

I pretended to sleep. Time passed and I heard my sister get up. I peeped between my eyelids; she had lit the stove. But her eyes were drawn towards the baskets and other vessels of sacrifice and she saw the golden otter lying upon them. She was angry! She thrust out her chin at the otter then woke my brother, who also glared angrily at it. How their beautiful faces became ugly in their anger!

But as I wondered about this I heard a noise; someone had come into the room and was moving towards me. Once I had thought my foster-brother was the most beautiful in the world, but he was not; this Ainu (if Ainu he was) was godlike! He had no beard, but his hair hung down in golden tendrils, trapping the light. It was as if golden water tumbled from his head.

Who was he? Who could this most splendid Ainu be? But as he moved towards the stove I saw he was my true brother, Otópush. His gaze went towards the pile of baskets and he too glared at the golden otter. Sitting down, he spoke to my brother and sister. “Surely only he who we have reared could have brought the golden otter. Now this is done, in the place we live there will be no longer any peace. This happened a long time ago, and now it has been unburied and come back afresh. Because of what our little brother has done, war will surely come!”

But they would not speak to me about their fears, and I laughed to see them worry.

War did indeed come. The people of Ishkar and the slighted heroes came to take the golden otter from me; but we prevailed against them and they were driven back. Many times they assailed us and many times we drove them back, until a time came when they withdrew from the slopes of Shinutápka and returned to their lands.

We held a great banquet. My foster-brother had said, “We and the Hero whom we have raised have spent many days in war and let the sacred place of our fathers fall into decay. The fighting will continue, but for now, let us brew sake so that the gods may look upon us.” He gave his orders to the servants and they brought in six great sacks of rice to make the sake.

For two whole days and three whole nights, the smell of sake in which the gods themselves delight filled the whole house! The servants went about their work straining sake and scraping prayer sticks; the sound was so pleasant to the ear. Then, my brother brought in the guests.

First came the Man of Iyochi and his sister, then the Men of Shamput and Ruwesani. All were great captains, but the Man of Iyochi was greatest of all; and his sister the most lovely. The maid of Omanpeshka was mistress of the feast, and she poured out the overflowing wine.

But our feasting was cut short. At that moment I heard a great noise from the sea, as if the gods were descending. Among the men only I had heard it; among the women my cousin, the maid of Omanpeshka. She was the Sister of the Man of the Open Sea, and gifted in witchcraft.

Standing up suddenly, she put down the two-mouthed flagon and blew a great breath from her mouth. The gods that had descended were driven back to the very edges of the sea by her breath alone. As I watched, the sky grew clear again. Once more, my cousin did the honours of the feast, and she poured out the overflowing wine.

But it was in the very midst of the feast, when the sake was half drunk, that there was the sound of two men coming from the mountain. What heroes could they be? For under their footsteps the island was shaken to its roots! A great wind started up and struck the castle, as though it would be torn to nothing. Among the men and women gathered at the feast, only the maid of Omanpeshka understood its meaning.

Once again she stood, and she spoke in a shrill cry.”

[Continued in part three]

One Comment on “The Epic of the Ainu (part two)”

  1. […] trained otters to help them fish. In Japan, otter characters form the basis of folktales like this Golden Otter that seems to have brought the hero home in safety and was acquired by the hero as his prized […]

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