“I will not marry you, Prince Abo. Go away.”
“You cannot stay in your tree forever, Princess Yasuko. You are of age now and our parents betrothed us to each other in our seventh year.”
“I don’t care. You are a pig. I will stay in the Empress Tree until I die if you don’t go away.”
“Oh my dear Yasuko. I have called the wood-cutter. Look, he approaches.”
It was true. Tradition required that once they were bonded by the arrangement of both their parents, Yasuko must marry Abo upon reaching her eighteenth year. She had been dreading this day since her Mother the Queen gave her the news eleven years ago.
She had grown up with Abo and knew him all too well. He was pampered and spoiled, demanded that his every whim be catered to immediately. Worse, he was cruel to animals, catching birds only to deprive them of their feathers and then freeing them in the courtyard as helpless prey for the cats.
Yasuko was excited by everything. The world was an adventure and the animals were her companions. She found them and even the village commoners to be more interesting and better company than royalty, especially the lazy and reprehensible Abo. Whenever she gazed at the river that ambled by their twin kingdoms, she often wondered what she would find if she could follow the current. Instead, she was chained to her life as a Princess and seemingly to an impending marriage with the royal lout.
“Ah, good day, Nakata,” Prince Abo greeted the young wood-cutter.
“Salutations, great Prince Abo.” The humble peasant bowed deeply. Like most of the inhabitants of the nearby village, he thought Abo was an overly important buffoon dressed in gaudy peacock feathers, but the royals had great wealth and power, so he dared not offend them. His father was the village wood-carver but he was aging. As his only son, Nakata would carry on the family trade and the royal families were their best customers.
“How may Nakata the wood-cutter be of service today?”
“Fool, you know what day it is. It is the day the Empress Tree must be cut down so that your father may turn it into a fine dowry chest for my bride.”
“I will never be your bride, Abo. Go mate with a duck. No, that would be an insult to the duck. Mate with yourself,” Yasuko cried down at him defiantly.
“But Prince, the Princess is up in the tree. If I cut it down now, she will fall with it and certainly be injured or even killed. Furthermore, it is bad luck to cut down the Empress Tree while it bears fruit. We must wait until the growing season passes. Your royal ancestors have decreed it.”
“They have?” Abo searched his feeble memory but couldn’t recall that particular legend or bit of folklore, but then there were so many decrees, laws, and commands to learn and the Prince had never been an attentive student.
“Most certainly, Prince.”
“Yes Abo, most certainly, you flatulent dog,” Yasuko mocked from her perch.
“Then I must consult my advisers and learn the very earliest date the tree can be dispatched so that my mother can set a date for the nuptials. You may return to your village, wood-cutter. I shall summon you when ready.”
Nakata bowed deeply toward the Prince again. “I await your command, Prince Abo.”
“I await your demise, Abo,” the Princess called down with a sneer.
“Ever the Troublesome Princess, eh?”
“How dare you call me that, Abo.”
“Everyone calls you that, Yasuko.” He started doing a little dance. “Troublesome Princess, Troublesome Princess.”
With that, Abo wasted no more time and left. Fortunately, he had followed Yasuko out into the valley on foot and it would take him some time to get back home and check the validity of Nakata’s pronouncement.
The Prince paid little attention to peasants and didn’t notice that Nakata lingered near the tree.
“Is he gone, Princess?”
From her greater vantage point, she had been following Abo’s departure. “Yes, Nakata. He just walked over the next hill. We are alone.”
“Then come down. We must hurry. When he finds out I lied about not cutting down the Empress Tree while bearing its fruit, he will become furious.”
Yasuko quickly descended from the tree branches and with a short leap alighted by the wood-cutter’s side. He then summoned his donkey which was drawing his cart.
“I will have the tree down very quickly, Princess.” He started to bow but she held up her hand to stop him.
“Please, no bowing. You know that’s not what I want. Gather your tools quickly.”
In no time, Nakata was at the tree, ax in hand. He noticed a single tear descending across Yasuko’s alabaster face.
“My Princess, what is wrong? You weep for the tree?”
“It was planted on the day of my birth as is our tradition. It was supposed to be cut down and carved into my dowry chest, Nakata. I weep for a beautiful life that will be lost.”
“It is your life we hope to gain, Princess. Time is precious.”
“Please then, Nakata.” She lowered her head in a final expression of grief. “Proceed.”
By the time the Prince returned, the woodcutter, the tree, and the Princess were gone.
“A plot hatched between the Princess and a commoner. I shall have Nakata flogged. His family will become impoverished. They shall never work again. I must summon the King’s soldiers so they might arrest him.”
He turned back toward the castle only to find himself confronted by a large bear.
“I…I am Prince Abo. You…you must obey. Make way.” He was terrified but still believed all people and animals should have to obey him. The bear however had other ideas. Abo was infamous among the local wildlife and he was now facing his much-earned comeuppance.
A week later, the boat made from the wood of the Empress Tree had been placed in the river and secured to the common dock. The local merchant family had filled it with provisions and the entire townsfolk had come out to wish their beloved Yasuko farewell.
Nakata helped Yasuko into the boat.
“It is beautiful, Nakata you…everyone has been so kind, so generous. I don’t know how I can repay you all.”
“Have a beautiful life, Princess Yasuko,” Oba the merchant’s wife wished her.
“Be safe,” wished Kashiwa the blacksmith.
“Live life to the fullest, Princess,” called Fukuma and Murai, the innkeepers.
“Have many adventures, Princess,” wished Nakata.
A pair of foxes, climbed into the boat and numerous small birds landed at the bow. Yasuko looked up and saw a fish owl gliding overhead. Then she looked back at the villagers.
“I shall be safe and have many beautiful adventures but I am no longer your Princess. I am Yasuko the Explorer. Cast me off.”
Nakata untied the rope holding the boat in place and tossed it to the Explorer. When her parents finally discovered she could not be found in the castle or wandering in the courtyards and fields communing with the wildlife, she was many leagues away. Prince Abo was never seen or heard of again.
The bear thought he made a fine if somewhat greasy meal and had been willing to share the remains with a family of crows and kites. Kiu the Badger and his friend Mustelidae the Weasel buried the bones beneath the roots of the Empress Tree’s trunk. The following Spring, it began to sprout.
I wrote this for Tale Weaver Fairy Tale # 152 – 28th December 2017– the Troublesome Princess challenge. The idea is to use the image above to inspire the creation of a fairy tale with the theme “The Troublesome Princess.”
I did an image search and discovered this particular painting was created by Warwick Goble (1862-1943), a British artist who specialized in Japanese and Indian themed art.
Since the image appeared Japanese, I tried to look up lore about Japanese Princesses and trees. I discovered that there is a tradition to plant a Princess Tree also known at an Empress Tree when a girl is born in certain provinces in Japan. The tree grows rapidly along with the girl and if often harvested upon her wedding as I’ve suggested above. You can learn more about all this by reading The custom of planting a paulownia “princess tree” at the birth of a baby girl and The Princess Tree has a Royal Pedigree hiding a Dark Side (Harvey Cotten).
I had originally meant to have the Princess and the wood-cutter fall in love, but that seemed too cliché, so I turned the Princess into an explorer. With the animals as her friends and protectors, I hope she has many exciting adventures and finds a worthy someone with whom to spend the rest of her fulfilling life.