Tradition Lies Deeply
“I am telling you Fernando, esa chica es rara.”
“Fernando,” Angela said, “do you want to tell your sister
goodbye this time or shall I do it?”
Ana could see the weary look in her father’s face from the
crack of her bedroom door. “Natalia, we all know how you feel. Now please go
and let us deal with our daughter.”
Ana couldn’t quite hear what her aunt mumbled as she went
out the door, but her mother’s disgusted “idiota supersticiosa” and the slam of
the door carried quite clearly. She scampered back to her bed, clutching her
stuffed fox tightly, knowing her parents would be in to see her soon.
They didn’t appear to be much more pleased with her than
they were with her aunt.
“I’m sorry I didn’t behave at dinner,” Ana said quietly.
“Ana, you are a big girl now,” her mother said. “You must
know better than all this locura about fairy tales and talking foxes – or at
least be old enough to know to hide your baby games!”
“You were rude to your tía, mí hija. Whatever possessed you
to say such things?”
Ana looked down at her blanket and said nothing. She didn’t
think her parents would appreciate “because she’s mean” as an answer.
When it was clear no answer was forthcoming her father
sighed. “You know, if I were rude to an adult like that when I was young, my
parents would have brought out un cinturón and I wouldn’t sit right for days.”
“Or anything hard, wooden, and nearby” her mother said with
“I won’t do it again. I promise.”
“I’d tell you have to stay in your room the next week, but
you are already in here alone all the time as it is. Why don’t you go out and
play more with the other kids?” her mother shouted.
“Angela, por favor,” Fernando said, laying a hand on his
exasperated wife’s arm. “No postre, for a week. And no more fairy tales. Just school
reading or something we pick.”
They walked out of the room, her father only stopping to
remind Ana to say her prayers before he turned out the light. Ana could hear
that they were still talking. Creeping quietly to the door she opened it a fraction
“You don’t believe your sister’s tontería about demonios, do
“Of course not. But you said it yourself. Ana needs to get
over thinking she’s in a fairy tale or people will think she’s crazy.”
Ana closed the door and went back to her bed. All the talk
of demons made the shadows in the room seem extra ominous. She lay under her
blanket, saying every prayer she learned in Catholic school. But it was no use.
Ana was sure demons were lying in wait for the bad child who told her aunt that
a fox would pluck out her eyes for snooping in her room.
“I am here Ana-chan.” A three tailed fox leapt onto her bed
and curled up beside her.
“There aren’t any demons in here, are there Yuuki?”
“You aren’t a demon. You’re nice,” Ana said as she sat up.
“I’ll bet you’ve never got in trouble for saying something you shouldn’t have.”
The fox shook its head, “Wrong on all three. I’ve been
called a demon many times. I’m most assuredly not nice. And yes, I’ve acted and
spoken in haste only to repent later.”
Ana’s skeptical look amused Yuuki. “Alright small one, I
suppose I shall have to prove it. Your father said you could not read any fairy
tales, but he did not say you could not listen to one. You can judge for
yourself afterwards, though the very fact I am telling you a story despite the
fact we both know your parents would not approve shows I am not nice. Nice
creatures do not help young ones disobey.”
“I had been trapped for many generations at this point,
bound to serving one family to its 100th
generation. My homeland had begun to change since the arrival of Admiral Perry, but my family weathered the changes well, with my help of course. The age of the samurai had gone, but wealth and status were always in style, and my family kept theirs.
The one I
served at that time was a lovely, but very spoiled, woman. Her husband had met
with an unfortunate hunting accident soon after she bore him a son, but she was
not lonely. She often attended social gatherings, reveling in the attention she
received as a beautiful, tragic figure. Eventually, the attention began to
fade, as other topics became more interesting to the circles she traveled in.
She did not care for calling upon my aid too often, but after my assistance with her husband's final hunting expedition, she became less shy about such things. So one evening she called me, demanding I do more to keep her the center of attention.
‘My lady,’ I said, ‘I already use my powers as a kitsune to
enhance your beauty so that you are admired by all men and envied by every
woman. You know how these aristocratic groups are. Only the most recent gossip
of the moment is of interest.’
Her eyes lit up at my last sentence. ‘Yes, it is so,” she
replied. ‘It is also so that the one who knows the best and juiciest gossip
never wants for attention. Kitsune,
could you sneak into the houses of some people and bring me back whatever news
you found interesting?’
Of course I could. It was possibly the easiest thing I had
ever been asked to do by a member of that family. So for a week, I crept in and out of
the finest and most noble households of that district, reporting every
salacious deed I saw. She clapped her hands with delight at all I told her and
at the next gatherings she attended, my lady sprinkled the stories onto very
Inevitably, the remarkable accuracy of her tales was soon
noted. In my travels I observed that several of the individuals I had reported
back on were attempting to send spies of their own into my lady’s household, to
see how she came by her knowledge. I advised her it would be wisest to
discontinue our activities for a time, at least to allow me to deal with the
other spies, but she was reluctant to give up her popularity.
‘My Lady, surely you must see they will not be satisfied
until they have some sort of explanation. They will not rest until they know
what skilled spies you have or magic you possess to know so much.’
Again, my words provided a spark to her mind. Magic, yes,
but not the magic of a lowly servant - magic of her own was the answer. She
started putting it about that since the death of her husband she had become
more sensitive to spirits and could hear all the secrets they uttered. When
pressed for evidence of this power she started giving spiritual sessions as a
diversion at parties. Of course, I needed to be close by to feed her
information. She decided I should be beside her during all these events, in the
guise of a simple lady's maid, giving her information through secret signals. I
have no great skill in fortune telling, but with all the time I had spent
prowling through the various households it was easy enough to predict the
outcomes of many of the questions she was asked.
The charade amused me on so many levels. The majority of the people she was impressing normally would trip all over themselves to prove how modern they were, how they had left silly, old beliefs behind. But oh, how those sons and daughters of Old Japan loved tastes of the old tales, provided they weren't too frightening or threatening to their image as modern, enlightened people.
I don't believe anyone really thought she was a medium. There were too many attempts to find out what lay behind her knowledge to presume they fully accepted her story. From my creeping about, I found that the general consensus still was, rightfully, she had some sort of secret access through a clever spy or group of spies. But they loved playing along with the story.
Her fame and popularity grew once more, but it was not long
before she was dissatisfied again. Discontent came in the form of a simple girl, the daughter of farmers, who was making a name for herself in some of the villages as a skilled
medium. Certainly, the girl was of little real threat to her popularity, but
all it took was a tart remark or two implying in this modern era that a peasant was the equal of an elite woman for my lady to conspire to have the girl thrown in jail.
I was not part of that directly
as I was quite busy with spy work. But because of information I gave her, my lady held a certain amount of sway over the local magistrate and the girl was
brought in. My lady wanted to see her punished for her insolence, so made sure
she was available at the time of the girl’s arrest. I stood beside my
lady, as was my place as her handmaiden, and watched as they flogged the girl
and then threw her in a cell.
Two things came to mind as I watched. First, was that
although my oath bound me to serve the family, it did not say I could not serve
others as well. The second was that although my oath was to protect my charge
from physical harm, nothing was ever said about gossip.
I arranged to spend time at the jail between spying
missions, disguising my voice to resemble that of one of the guards. I brought
her small treats of good food, to gain her trust and get her to talk. She
indeed was a seer of remarkable talent. She only needed to touch another
person’s hand and she could see who they were and where their path was leading
I convinced my lady she should be there the day of the
girl’s release to make sure she had been properly humbled by her experience.
Gleefully, my lady agreed, and together we went. As the girl was led out of her
cell, I put on my haughtiest voice and said “Wretch, you are in the presence of your betters. Show the proper respect!” And I made sure to grab the exposed skin of
her wrist as I pulled her forward.
Of course she knew the second she felt my touch. She pushed
me away in horror, as any sensible person might, causing me to lose my balance
and fall, revealing my fox tails under my disguise.
All the villagers who had assembled in curiosity at my
lady’s visit now were yelling in horror. Perhaps I have a perverse sense of humor, but even during what followed I could not help being amused by how quickly these modern, rational people became no different from the people who lived hundreds of years ago when they faced something out of the ordinary.
“The lady is kitsune possessed!”
“Get out before you curse us all to suffer at the hand of
I managed to get us
both out before any of the stones that were thrown could hit us, as was my duty.
My lady stayed shut up in her room in shock for several days. Her other
servants left quickly once word had spread that their mistress consorted with
evil creatures, and of course there were no more invitations to fine parties
after that. Happy with my work, I thought all I needed to do was wait for my
lady to waste away in grief over not being the most admired woman in the
district and my service would pass into the hands of her insipid son.
But my lady proved hardier than I thought. In a month’s time,
this time disguised as a manservant of her son’s, I was boarding a large ship set
to sail far away from my homeland, never to return. I heard my brothers and
sisters wail for me as the boat departed, but what could they do? The terms of
my service were clear: serve for one hundred generations. So where my lady
went, I was compelled to go as well. It was well that my lady never addressed
me again as long as she lived because I was filled with nothing but bitterness
in this strange new land, not understanding a word that was said with no one I
could call friend.
Oh yes, I regretted my actions. And how nice can I be if I
spent years regretting a helping a luckless girl? The villagers knew me for
what I was, a demon,” Yuuki concluded.
Ana looked back at the three tailed fox. “A really evil
demon wouldn’t have felt sorry for her in the first place.”
Yuuki gave a barking laugh. “So you’re determined to see me
“No,” Ana said. “You like sneaking around and playing
tricks. You aren’t nice. Neither am I. Because I am not sorry you had to leave
Japan, otherwise I’d never know you. And I am not sorry I said what did to my
aunt. She’s awful and someone needs to tell her so. I just could have been
smarter about it. That lady you worked for was awful and someone needed to show
it. Maybe it wasn’t the nice way to do it - and I still think people should try
nice first - but sometimes I think not nice is needed to get the job done.”
“You are an incorrigible child.” Yuuki said. “Do you need me
to stay until you are asleep?”
“No. I feel better now. Especially because I think you are
trying to go so you can play a trick on someone.”
“I must be getting
more obvious as I age.”
“Nope. I know, because it’s what I would do if I were you.
Just remember to tell me what my aunt’s face looks like when you scare her.”