“Tamamo… no Mae?” Merely saying this name sent an electric shock of horror through the monk’s body from a childhood of traumatic stories. Although the previous women that she spoke of were some of the most feared in history; this name was far more personal…
Gennō tried to regain his poise, but he spoke with a grave tone now. “When did you arrive here? In Fusou…”
“It is difficult to say…” Tamamo spoke more gently at this moment. She could sense the monk’s fear, and she suddenly became fearful he would run away… As she said earlier, she needed him — his help. After a short pause, she resumed her story with her previous, colder tone.
“The capital and home of the emperor had moved from Nara to Kyoto so that may help you to understand the timing. This ‘move’ was a surprise to me… I had come to Nara to understand the emperor’s court, so I could destroy it — as I did with all the others. When I arrived though, the royal retinue had already left. There were, instead, many of you… I mean, monks… everywhere, meandering throughout the town. I had seen many Buddhists throughout my years, but I didn’t think too much about them… There didn’t seem to be a point in doing so… Now, I had little choice… I’ll be honest, your creed isn’t much to watch. Your pace is like watching a tortoise… sleeping… Even as a hungry fox, I could never bring myself to attack anything so slow…no… sport in it. And, the monks barely spoke, so it took me far longer to learn your language… But, I eventually did.
Through the time it took for me to learn, I watched these men in the monasteries eat vegetables, drink tea, and give honors to their deceased relatives all day… well… I’ll say this: you all were somewhat difficult to hate. I slowly became more indifferent to humanity… Or my hate was at least temporarily subdued. It was also around this time that something else became more obvious… I was heavy. I mean that spiritually, but also literally… Since my ninth tail, I was always able to maintain an imperceptible distance from the ground so that no one would notice, but I ALWAYS floated. Now, I could not lift at all. It was just annoying at first, but when I realized what this meant, it was heartbreaking. I could no longer join the stars of the night sky. I was uncertain as to why, but I suspected it had something to do with my history… The horrors that I once did… Uncertain, I tried to live much like a monk, but I could only change into a female… And the Nara monasteries only took men. I was afraid to return to nature as well. What I had to do to survive ‘out there’ could make my situation worse… I needed a safe place; one where I would not need to do anything ‘immoral’ to survive.
I considered my options for many days…
One day, on the edge of the forest, I saw a young couple speaking… They embraced each other in sorrow about their inability to have children. I did not consider the decision for a moment longer… It was perfect. I quickly turned into a baby girl and put myself in a roadside basket… The couple thought that their prayers had been answered, and they took me in… I spent seven years with them. Blissfully, in all honesty. This was my first real exposure to humanity, or to the best parts of it, I mean… The palace nobles only gave attention when they wanted something… usually my beauty. That was always it… I didn’t think humanity did anything without the guarantee of getting something THEY wanted in return.
This couple though, grateful for this unexpected opportunity, only gave to me. They did not even consider what they’d receive in exchange. It warmed me…my being… I stayed peaceful, quiet, and attentive. I learned and tried to make them, my parents, as proud as possible.
They gave me the name Mikuzume, and my endeavors to impress them eventually made me feel better. Unfortunately, my impatience to reduce my burden made me try too hard, and my reputation for excellence spread… far…
One day, I was asked to recite poetry in front of the emperor. I did not want this… not at all. However, my parents were so proud. And… I did not think that anything too bad could happen. I’d read, and then I’d leave. Simple.
Unfortunately, I had set too high of a standard and my parents expected that same standard now more than ever. Long story short, I was a little too impressive. The entire court was moved by my performance… And… [Sigh]… it happened… The emperor asked for me to be a part of his court… I was heartbroken. I knew that place would be a terrible place for me to try to stay innocent. And I would miss my parents immensely. Yet, unfortunately, fate had brought me back to where my deeds were once the most foul… I had to do it. There is no defying this situation without ‘them’ coming after my parents afterwards…
So, I excelled in court, although I tried to be aloof. I focused on exploiting his library to become more knowledgeable. I learned about music, history, astronomy, and the classics from throughout the world. I was kind to my handmaidens, and they made sure I always looked perfect and smelled fragrant. As I approached my 19th year, all the courteers were falling over themselves with desire for me. On my birthday, they organized a celebration with poetry reading, and an instrument recital in my honor.
Perhaps it was simply a bad omen, but during the party, a storm came and a gust of wind tore through the palace… All the candles were extinguished. I had a moment of lapse. I forgot where I was, and my instinct through the nearly 300 years in the forest previously was to glow to see in the dark. I did it… accidently. They looked upon my luminous form and began to talk about my purity… ha-ha, imagine that… They believed that my ‘karma’ was so pure from my previous life that I glowed now… The court then gave me a new name: Tamamo no Mae, meaning ‘Lady Duckweed.’ I would have asked why, but I was blindsided with another bit of unexpected information. I was requested to join the emperor as his consort… or rather, his concubine…
I had withheld anger for hundreds of years at this point, and I still tried to… but with this new requirement, IT slowly began to seep… through me, literally… It was completely involuntary… and a weaker form of what has killed all of those animals by that boulder… the emperor became gravely ill.
The court physicians could not understand his illness, and their attempts to heal him were all futile. They eventually brought in Abe no Yasunari, the famed onmyoji to divine the emperor’s illness. He was a very clever and skilled man… and quickly found out that I was responsible. He even said the word, kitsune… ‘A kitsune in disguise’ were his exact words. Of course, the emperor refused to believe it. So, Abe no Yasunari asked me to perform the Taizan Fukun no Sai… the most sacred of rituals. Yasunari thought that, as a kitsune, I could not perform it… it turns out that he was right…
I dressed in my best dress, spoke with my most alluring tone, and tried to perform the ritual perfectly. I’ll be honest, I did not believe in the power of these spells. I mean, who would have thought words and some hand gestures do something so powerful. It seemed laughable… As I spoke though… I began to feel… inner… tearing. It became excruciating, but for a while I could hold my outer look of poise. When it came to the final portion though — the part where I had to swing the staff — the pain was simply too much. I felt like I was being crudely torn into pieces… I teleported out of the palace and fled.
First, I went north, and I would be on the run from that fateful day. They followed. My reputation preceded me by this time… They had heard of me from Huaxia and Bharta and did not send a few hundred men as usual. The emperor’s court sent 80,000 fighters and the two most legendary warriors of the realm, Kazusa no Suke and Miura no Suke who both promised not to return until I was dead, once-and-for-all.
My ‘fugitive’ phase actually lasted for several years. I kept progressing north. I would engage, and then run when their numbers became too many. I was trying to slowly thin their numbers. I killed thousands… But… I was becoming heavier as I did. It got to the point where I could only walk.
Still, I was hopeful. I would often spy on them around their campfires… and hear the soldiers begging to go home, but I also heard Miura no suke refusing to even consider the idea. He seemed to become more determined as the years passed… I could tell, he would not stop… not in this life nor by his own death… His Word was as strong as folded metal. I admired this, but I had to try something else…
I spoke to him in his dreams, ‘Tomorrow, I will lose my life to you. Please save me.’ I tried to be as innocent and seductive as I could… hoping that I could appeal to that male weakness that seemed so universal. But, he refused… without a hint of wavering. The next morning they caught up to me here! Right here… I was actually resting in the spot you now sit. Miura no suke fired an arrow into my side… I ran as far as that rock before he put another arrow in my neck. I died on that stone and my spirit, burdened, heavy, and poisonous attached to it. I have been tethered to it ever since… to this ‘Killing Stone.’
I have tried to break this bond since that time, but I cannot. So, I ask you, Gennō, please release me from this boulder. Please free me from watching the animals I love — die indiscriminately. I have done wrong, yes. But, I have harmed no one intentionally in Fusou. Those I did harm, sought to kill me first. I have seen your group do cleansing ceremonies in Nara. I know the power of them. I hope my story helps explain everything. What I did, I did for good reason…or at least I thought. However, what I can say is, I tried to be better…”
Gennō looked immersed. His eyes were directed at Tamamo but he simply looked at her dumbly. He had listened for so long, and he was unprepared to talk when she stopped.
The monk stood up and slowly walked to her —now unafraid — to speak:
“You have stumbled onto a righteous path it sounds. Although, it indeed only appears to be a ‘stumbling.’ It was not. You have also met the boomerang of your karma. This too is inevitable. You only felt it when you realized the Good of humanity, and you felt heavier then… That is no coincidence. That being said, do not think if you continued to hate humans, nothing negative would happen. Your past, your guilt, will always find you. It is better sooner, than later… You must trust me when I say that. When you watched those in the monastery, you started your healing. Healing hurts; it always does. The pain serves to remind us of mistakes. When you cared for your family, you continued your healing. Your ‘heaviness’ had likely been isolated inside you. Like a heavy and dark pearl, it still needs to be cleared. THIS can take many lifetimes to do.
…For you though, my elder has predicted my encounter with you. That is why I speak so resolutely now. He spoke about another great war… the very last one… About our need for “a heavy” ally… I had no idea what that meant until now… If you serve the Good in this war… your burden will be lightened… enough to join the stars again. Before I release you from the stone, I need your promise though. If I do… you will protect nature until this day comes. Will you do this?
“Yes, you have my Word…” Tamamo spoke firmly but with subdued excitement.
Without another syllable spoken, Gennō lifted a sacred rope above his head, and walked to the Killing Stone while reciting a chant. He joined the shimenawa (sacred rope) around the outside of the boulder, and when he did, Tamamo no Mae was free.
Gennō spoke strongly now:
“Go to the gateway at the bottom of the hill, the torii. Bow before you enter and wash your hands in the water there. There will be attendants to explain how to properly do it… Your Masubi, or spiritual dirtiness, will then be cleansed. However, until you fulfill your oath, you will still be partially connected to that stone. When you do what is required, the Killing Stone will split in half and you will be free, forever. What you do after that… is up to you.”
The kitsune shook as she broke into a soundless sob… She looked at the monk with supreme gratitude. She then gave a slight bow before walking down the hill.
Tamamo no Mae’s fate was back in her hands…
**On March 5th, 2022, the “Killing Stone” split in the Tochigi Prefecture of Japan**