PRW Runner-up Tour: Princess of Foxes by Alexandra Perchanidou
“Father, father!” the boy shouted as he ran towards the lake. He and his family had been traveling towards Kyoto for the yearly festival for three days. The boy loved the trip. Despite the fear for thieves, the roads were safe and many others had also joined the caravan of carts and horses.
He found his father knelt to the lake’s bank. His head was bowed and his hands clasped together in a stance of prayer. On the lake’s surface a sole candle was floating, an offering the boy could tell. When the man got up and turned, he smiled at his son, who had watched him in silence. “Sakamoto, son have they settled the camp already?”
“Hai, otou-chan. To whom were you offering prayers?”
The man’s dark brown eyes wrinkled from smiling. He shared the same ones with his son as also the black hair and he was proud for the boy’s thirst for knowledge. “I will tell you at the camp. Now, let’s head back. Your mother and sister are expecting us.” He hugged his boy from the shoulders and pulled him away from the sparkling waters of the lake.
When night fell and the travelers gathered around the fire, the man’s family made a circle around their own fire. Sakamoto hugged his sister, Sakura, the girl’s smile wide with affection, and eagerly waited for his father to settle down, close to his wife and begin. The man caught his son’s expression and smiled. He kissed his wife’s temple and took a deep breath.
“It began at the times of the past, when people and spirits walked side by side…”
Japan was shared between lords whose families were ruling with iron fist and sometimes they preferred war instead of peace. It was at the times of peace when the lord of a certain area, at the south, learnt that he was going to be a father. He loved his wife dearly and for years they were trying to have children. Lord Nishimura and Lady Ame were respected from their peasants and the families of the nobles.
When the time came, Lord Nishimura found out that his wife had disappeared from their home. He sent his troops to search the province even the borders from fear that she was a captive. He feared and despaired and prayed to the gods to bring his wife back.
On a night of the full moon, which hung on the sky like a mirror, illuminating even the thickest darkness, Lady Ame returned. She couldn’t remember what had happened to her and the physicians had assured the Lord that both woman and unborn child were healthy.
“But she was spirited away my Lord.” The councilors would say. “The kitsune had made their magic and we fear that the child will not be human!”
“Nonsense. For all I care is the safety of my wife.” The Lord would insist and he had spent time on his wife’s chambers reassuring her that she was safe.
One month later, the baby was born.
The women screamed.
Lord Nishimura entered the room and gasped with the sight. Lady Ame held the baby girl with tenderness and love; but the baby’s hair was shining white and her skin was pale, like a ghost. He walked slowly towards his wife, terror written on his face. He leaned and watched the baby opening her eyes.
“Blue, pale like the moon.” He whispered, thinking that his council wasn’t so wrong after all.
“She is beautiful, my love. Like the moon.” Ame lifted the bundled baby and she smiled. “Her name will be Yuki.” She gave the baby to her husband and after a long look and a kiss to Lord Nishimura, she left her last breath.
Yuki grew into a wonderful child. After her mother’s death Lord Nishimura cursed and wailed for the loss of his wife. He would kill the baby, if the thought that Yuki bore a part of his wife, hadn’t stopped him. So, he gave the baby into the servants and spent the rest of the years, trying to live on, either by marrying again or usually by adopting children and training them into brave youths.
And all this time Yuki was secluded into the deepest parts of the long mansion, growing with each day, her skin glowing at night and her eyes shining like the moon. Her pale white hair had grown after all these years, the servants were too afraid to tend to her, but Lord Nishimura had taken care of her from afar, despite the grief Yuki resembled to him.
The child became a girl of sixteen, grown in silence and seclusion. The scholars her father had brought had taught her how to read and write and usually, after having passed the shock of her appearance, they would tell her stories of the out world.
“And the people travel all the way for a festival?” she had asked the last of her teachers.
“Yes, Yuki-sama and they dance and pray and exchange gifts with each other.” The old man would point at the maps, placed before them and trail the route.
“I wish I could join them…” Yuki muttered and the man looked at her with sadness.
Goto-sama was respected by Yuki’s father and had known the lord for years. He couldn’t help but notice the sadness on Yuki’s eyes. He had heard the rumors; how her mother had disappeared on full moon, maybe spirited away by the fox demons or how strange she looked from close.
“Well, it is a festival for the commoners and a lady like you has a higher place.”
“Of course…” Yuki spoke and bowed before her teacher thanking him.
Later, that night Yuki walked across the wooden floor of her room, a part separate from the house. Her deep blue kimono was swirling as she walked, her hair tied close to her nape in a bun. She watched the servants eye her, then walk away, not daring to speak to her. She felt sadness, not spite so she walked to the only person who at least was looking at her in the eyes.
Lord Nishimura was discussing with two of his generals when Yuki knocked the door and opened it kneeling at the same time. The generals looked at her for a moment then lowered their heads. “Yuki, what are you doing at this time?” he father spoke harsher than usual.
“I wanted to speak to you Father.” Her blue eyes locked with her father’s dark brown.
“Leave Yuki. I have no wish to speak to you.”
Yuki got up and in an instant she grabbed the katana, which was lying close to one of the generals. The men looked at her with horror while Nishinura shouted at her to put the sword down.
“If you can’t even stand on looking at me then I am no worthy of being called your daughter.” Yuki brought the sword close to her hair. If she were to cut them, then exile was her punishment. For she would have not honored her body.
The blade made a soft sound as it cut her long white hair. Everyone stayed still as they watched the strands falling to the floor.
And becoming pure gold.
Yuki stared at the miracle before her and then she looked at her father. She had no idea that she bore such a gift. But as she gazed the faces of the men in the room, she didn’t find horror written on their faces. No, she saw wonder.
Lord Nishimura became the wealthiest lord of all Japan. And the other lords envied him for his new power. Many tried to alliance themselves by offering weeding propositions to him and Yuki but the Lord never accepted them. While he spent most of his time either organizing the lives of his people and occasionally spending his daughter’s golden hair on luxuries, Yuki found a way to escape.
She used the lone doors of the servants’ corridors and since no one ever paid any attention to her, she easily slipped away, climbed the wall and fell to the other side. Her hair, short from the constant cutting, was covered with a dark cloth and short leggings and kimono shirt were covering her body. A cape was the finishing detail as Yuki lowered her head, clutched the bag she had on her back and ran into the darkness away from her prison.
She had no destination, only the need to live alone and explore the lands. She would work and keep low in case her father’s people would look for her. She ran and ran, getting out from the roads and into the forest. The night was dark but the illumination of her body was casting a faint hue around her.
Yuki fell many times on the uneven ground, scraping her arms and feet but she still managed to get up and continue. The forest cleared into s wide meadow. A lake was in front of her, the waters dark and ominous. Yuki fell to her knees and after offering a thankful prayer and drank some of the water.
The sound of broken twigs snapped Yuki to attention. She got up and looked around her. But nobody appeared. A tiny sound, like meowing, was heard and when Yuki looked down, she saw three small furs of white.
“Oh.” She breathed in wonder as the small furs were in fact white foxes. They looked at her with their pointy ears and pale grey eyes. “Are you hungry?” Yuki wondered and slowly she kneeled, opening her bag.
The foxes drew closer and when she unwrapped some of her food, rice balls and jerky, the foxes fell on them devouring it like crazy. When they were done, they jumped on Yuki and licked her cheeks; she laughed and patted their heads, feeling the warmth of their bodies.
The lake burst into color and Yuki left a startled cry, falling back. She covered her eyes from the blinding light, until it subsided. She looked again. On the water’s surface a woman stood, the three foxes circling around her shoulders flying. Her kimono was green and her long blue hair was tied up with coral pins. “You fed the children of the moon.” She spoke softly and her cobalt irises locked with Yuki’s.
Yuki kneeled and lowered her head in a stance of utter respect. “I didn’t mean to trespass, oh kami-sama.” She spoke fearing that the goddess would punish her.
A chuckle was heard, closer this time. “I am no kami, just a spirit of the lake. I offer sanctuary to the kitsune of the nearby tribe and I must say that you are no ordinary mortal.”
Yuki lifted her head. The woman stood closer to the bank, but she didn’t touch the ground. “Tell me child, was your mother spirited away?”
“Y-Yes. But she died giving birth to me.”
“And thus you are as such.” She looked at the small foxes and spoke into a language Yuki couldn’t understand. She turned to the girl again. “The foxes will lead you to the tribe. They’ll know that you have met me. Maybe there you’ll find the answers you seek.”
And she disappeared into the form of water. The foxes jumped and circled Yuki, using faint blue fire. It circled her body and suddenly her feet weren’t touching the ground. Together they flew her away from the lake and deeper into the mountains into caves deep and dark and through there into yet another clearing.
This one had small houses, all around the center of the meadow where a huge fire was burning. Yuki saw with surprise the same mean and women, all with pale faces and white hair. But none had the same eyes like her. Theirs were pale grey and they looked at her with astonishment as the three foxes landed and gently let Yuki stand. Then the foxes jumped into the arms of their parents taking the forms of two boys and one girl.
They spoke in hushed voices and then all the eyes turned to her. Yuki trembled with the unwelcoming attention but she stood, having her hands clasped in front of her.
“Is she the lost child?” an old man asked and he slowly got up. His beard was long, falling almost to his stomach and slowly he walked closer and looked at Yuki. “Ah, you do resemble Ame.”
“You knew my mother?”
“She was meant to stay but her love for her husband was greater. She left us before you were born.”
“So it’s true then. I am a child of the Kitsune.” Yuki rasped, tears appearing in her eyes. Everyone held their breaths as they watched Yuki’s tears fall, and then crystallize into diamonds. Yuki looked down at the precious stones, then back up. “What am I?” she shouted with anger and despair and all the foxes drew back, looking at her with wonder.
“You are the child of the moon.” A man’s voice was heard. Yuki saw him walking towards her. He looked young, around his late twenties but the way he walked inspired power and strength. He drew closer and cupped her cheeks. He had the same eyes as her. “You are my daughter.”
Shiro had been the lord of the foxes for over one thousand years. He had countless of children but never a wife. Yuki learnt that he had met Ame when one day she saved him from hunters. In his fox form he had been enamored by her beauty and kindness. When he tried to take her with him, she denied his offer.
“So you took her away, either way.”
They were sitting into one of the huts, the one at the top of the small hill. Shiro’s eyes were gleaming with unshed tears. “She came on her own will. She feared that her unborn child would be in danger and begged me to help her. No matter what mortals say about us we are peaceful spirits. Ame was already pregnant when she came to me and I gifted her unborn child, you, with the riches of the sun, the tears of the moon and the kiss of earth. I never believed that she would come back.”
He bowed before her and offered an apology. “I loved your mother Yuki,” he looked up at her, “and I hope you’ll grow to like me too.”
Yuki was stunned. No one had ever treated her with respect and Shiro had looked at her in the eyes.
“Can I stay here Shiro-sama.”
Shiro smiled warmly at her. “Of course.”
Yuki spent her days together with the fox clan. Their way of living was simple, yet more beautiful than all the luxuries her father ever had brought to her. She found out that only her hair and eyes could produce gold and diamonds and she wondered what the kiss of earth could do. She worked side by side with the women, sparred with the men and all the times Shiro would watch her, pride on his face and eyes.
At nights the foxes would take their animal forms and dance around the fire, flying to the sky. Yuki would sing and clap her hands, not caring about her missing trait as a fox. She loved her life.
“Shiro-sama, are there any other clans?” Yuki asked one day when she and her ‘father’ walked together at the perimeter of the mountains.
“Yes in fact we wait for the clan leaders to come this afternoon. There will be a celebration for them.” Shiro spoke and pointed yet another plant which had trait on curing. Yuki was an apt student learning fast.
She smiled, dressed in white pants and a kimono shirt, having her katana sheathed with a red sash on her waist. She had gotten stronger with the sword and she liked the way she held herself in the training sessions. Male and female foxes learnt to fight and that was a part Yuki liked in the clan.
A blast of light covered them both but none flinched. The green light took shape revealing a young man with pale blue hair and green eyes. His yukata was brown and two long swords were tied on his waist too. Shiro smiled. “Aoi-sama, I am glad you came. And as always early too.”
Aoi bowed and smiled. “Shiro you should know that I am full of surprises. He turned to Yuki. “And the lady is?”
“My daughter, Yuki.”
Yuki bowed introducing herself. Aoi stared at her for a moment then bowed too. “You are the child of the moon, the princess of foxes.”
“Is that what they say about me?” Yuki smiled and Aoi grinned.
“Just rumors. I am honored meeting you Yuki-sama.”
The clans had gathered around the fire, and on their fox forms they spoke of their lands and the humans who lived around them. Fear for a new war was at the horizon but Yuki was catching glances of Aoi, who at the same time as her would turn and look at her.
They would both blush.
And then Shiro would look at them and smile. He wanted his daughter to be happy, even if they were not connected with blood. Even when he knew that her lifespan was that of a human’s.
The days passed in work and celebration but it was one of those days when Yuki learnt love. It made its way into her heart and blossomed like the sakura at summer. Aoi was kind at her, loving her with his words and actions, not fearing the day time would separate them.
But time caught up with them one day.
Fires burnt to the forest.
The foxes left to defend it. And Yuki was also one of them, along with Aoi and the other clans. Horrified she realized that they were her father’s men, who burnt down the forest and fought with another army. The clans burst into action. Swords crashed with spears and claws appeared, slashing skin. Yuki fought with the grace of a dancer and the fierceness of a samurai.
And then she saw him; her father fighting his way towards the lake. She ran towards him, stabbing and killing with Aoi and Shiro shouting behind her. “Father!” she screamed and leapt all the way above him, landing in front of the soldier who was ready to stab Nishimura. She elbowed him and with her knee she threw him to the ground, stabbing his chest.
“Father.” She turned around and saw recognition register on her father’s features.
“You!” he shouted and lunged at her. They both fell to the ground Nishimura slapping Yuki furiously. “Monster! You brought bad luck to my people! You are a monstrosity!” he growled and locked his hands around her neck.
“No…” Yuki croaked looking at her father with sadness. She knew why this had befallen on him. Her father never respected the gifts she had from the foxes. He didn’t know of Shiro’s love for her mother, or that the gifts could bring peace and prosperity.
A howl echoed and two foxes, a white and a blue one, appeared above Nishinura grasping his neck into a deathly choke. He let Yuki go and she scrambled back wards trying to breathe again. She saw Aoi and Shiro kill her father, blood on their pawns and teeth, before turning to her. He battle was still raging but Yuki was tired all of sudden.
“Yuki, come on love.” Aoi whispered on his human form and took her into his arms.
He had just turned around when the arrow found its target.
Straight into Aoi’s chest.
“NO!” Yuki bellowed as Aoi fell. She took him in her arms and rocked them both, wailing out loud. She couldn’t believe this not after all this time, she would lose someone she had just learnt to love.
Her eyes flowed tears, becoming diamonds on Aoi’s clothes and shakily she kissed him. A breath burst into him suddenly and Yuki felt Shiro shouting behind her. She pulled back and looked down at him. The wound on his chest disappeared and slowly his eyes opened.
Yuki smiled down at him, realizing that the kiss of earth was the gift of life itself. She looked at her father who stared at her wide eyes and with pain. “No Yuki.”
“Goodbye Father.” She said softly and her body fell into the lake.
“Then what happened Father?” Sakamoto asked.
His father threw more wood into the fire. “Yuki’s last gift had a grave price; she had to sacrifice her life if one she loved was in fatal danger. When her body fell into the lake, suddenly everyone stopped fighting and the war itself stopped. Peace came again but the foxes grieved the loss of their princess. That’s why we make offerings. To honor Yuki-sama’s sacrifice and remember that family and love can be more than the ties of blood.”
“And what about Aoi?”
“They say that he lived eons and eons but he never took a wife or had children.”
“A sad story indeed.” Sakamoto’s mother commented, then ushered her children into the cart. They had a long day of traveling tomorrow.
When the carts finally began moving again, Sakamoto grabbed few rice balls and he ran to the lake. He stood at the bank and quickly he threw them to the water. “When I come back next year I will give you a proper offering!” Sakamoto shouted and turned around to leave.
He didn’t see the water rippling.
He didn’t see the woman with pale white hair dancing together with the man of blue fox’s hide.
But he believed that Yuki and Aoi lived.
As long as someone believed.
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