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Folktales

Moonflower (or how the Moonhorses came to Japan)

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

The moon shone softly into the dark, bare little house, filling it with silvery mist. The woman walked in silently and sat by her husband.

"My honorable cousin, the mayor, refuses our request," said the woman sadly, "we are too poor to adopt an orphan."

"Did you mention that unless we raise a child in the tradition of our ancestors, we may never have better luck?" asked the horse-farmer.

"Yes. He knows that if you cannot have a child, you must adopt one to raise as your own, or the spirits of your ancestors will be displeased -- they need children and grandchildren to remember their names. But he feels he cannot risk the child starving. He pointed out that we donít have a single horse left, and the village can no longer help us."

They sat by the window together for a long time. They wanted a child so much, and now had no hope at all.

Moonflower
Image drawn exclusively for the
Encyclopedia Mythica by Patricia J. Wynne

Suddenly the moon shone brighter, and a single moon beam entered through the window. It wandered around, finally settling on a table. A small dot hurried down the beam, growing all the time, until a tiny silvery-white horse, no bigger than a mouse, came through the window. On his back he carried a red-flowering cherry branch, with most of the wine-colored flowers closed. A deep, comforting voice filled the room. "Do not be sad. I, the moon, will trust you with one of my children. Look at the cherry branch." One flower slowly, magically, opened its petals. Among them sat a tiny baby, the size of a fingernail.

"This is Moonflower," continued the moon. "She will bring you happiness and good fortune. However, she cannot marry an Earthman, and must return to me when she is eighteen years old. Use the years wisely, and all will be well. Now pick her from the flower and put her on the mat."

Moonflower began to grow, and in a few minutes reached the size of an Earth baby. Her hair was black as the night, her eyes bright as the stars, and her skin the color of a golden peach. She wore a pink kimono, embroidered with wine-colored cherry blossoms, and held a huge, magnificent star ruby. The little horse rubbed his nose against the babyís glossy hair, waved his tail cheerfully, and rode up the moonbeam. "Remember to use the years wisely!" rumbled the moonís voice, as the moonbeam slowly faded.

The next day the horse-farmer sold the ruby for a fortune. Some of the money was used for the improvement of the farm; some was safely saved for the future.

Years passed. The horse-farmer and his wife did very well indeed. They greatly improved their horse-breeding stables, and warriors came from all over the country to purchase the best horses from them. But riches meant little to the horse-farmer and his wife, except for the pleasure of giving Moonflower everything she could wish for. So they did little else, good or bad, with their money.

Moonflower grew to be so clever, beautiful, and kind, that everyone in the village loved her, especially the mayor; he considered himself her uncle, and treated the family with much respect. Perhaps he thought it was really he who brought them this lovely moon child by refusing their request! None of them could forget, however, that Moonflower was destined to leave them. She worried about it, too, because she loved her parents with all her heart, and was very happy on Earth, playing with the village children and helping to raise the beautiful horses. One day, when she was ten years old, she heard her mother say to her father: "when Moonflower leaves us, not only will my heart break, but the spirits of our ancestors will still be displeased, because there will be no grandchildren here on Earth to remember their names! They will not be satisfied with grandchildren on the moon!"

Suddenly Moonflower had an idea. She went to her parents and said: "I think itís time I had brothers and sisters."

"The moon will not send us more children, my dear," said the mother, surprised. "He did so much already by sending you."

"I do not mean moon children," said Moonflower. "You are rich now. Surely the mayor, my honorable uncle, will not refuse to let you adopt some of the orphans in our village? They need a good home so much, and you will have children and grandchildren to carry on the tradition on Earth, even if my children must be born on the moon. The spirits will be pleased, and most important, the children will be a comfort to you when I am gone!"

They stared at her, stunned by her wisdom. The idea never occurred to them. "Perhaps the moon meant exactly that when he said we should use the years wisely," whispered the horse-farmer. "Yes," said his wife. "All this joy, all this money, and we did nothing in return... I will visit my cousin, the mayor, tomorrow morning."

The mayor was happy to oblige. As the years went by, he allowed them to adopt three boys and two girls, whom they raised with the same love and care they gave Moonflower.

When Moonflowers turned eighteen, her parents, though sick at heart, invited the entire village to a big birthday celebration. Golden lanterns glowed in the large courtyard, colorful paper decorations hung in the trees, musicians played lovely music, and the tables were covered with enough food and rice wine to please everyone.

At midnight, the moon suddenly shone brighter, and a single moonbeam entered the courtyard. It wandered around, finally settling on a red-flowering cherry tree. Soft, hazy figures floated in it, first at a great distance and then closer and closer. The villagers stared, frozen with awe, as the figures materialized and one by one the moon people slid down the silvery beam, each riding a magnificent, silvery-white moon horse. They were cheerful and smiling, as beautiful and as well-dressed as Moonflower. The women wore embroidered silk kimonos, the men dressed in the finest warriorís outfits. They mingled with the village people, danced, drank rice wine, and acted just like old friends. The villagers very quickly lost their fear of the visitors.

One young man stood at a little distance, holding the reins of a horse. Moonflower thought he was the handsomest person she had ever seen, and could not help smiling at him. He must have felt a little bolder by the invitation, because he bowed to her and her parents, and said: "this is your horse, Moonflower, the one that brought you here. He lives in my stables, waiting for your return, and I rode him tonight. Will you do me the honor of riding him back to the moon with me?"

Moonflower smiled again. Somehow the return to the moon seemed just a little less tragic. Her parents smiled. They were still sad, but they felt the moon could not have chosen a better husband for their daughter than this well brought-up young man. Moonflower put her hand on the snowy head of her horse, and he nuzzled her gently. Then the deep, comforting voice of the moon rumbled through the courtyard: "My friends, you have used the years wisely, sharing love and good fortune with children who needed it. As your reward, you will not part from your daughter Moonflower forever. Every year, on her birthday, she will come for a long visit, and her husband and children will accompany her. It will be just as if she married into a good family in a far-off village!"

And so the birthday party turned into a wedding party, the most wonderful the villagers had ever seen, because the moon people started handing everyone many presents and surprises to further celebrate the occasion. Strange wines, foodstuffs no one had ever seen before, sweets for the children in the shape of stars, silk clothes and jewelry glowing with moonlight. The party lasted almost all night. Just before dawn, the moon people mounted their horses. The horse-farmer and his wife could let Moonflower go without the heartache of eternal separation, and with the expectation of many happy reunions. They stood and watched her riding up the moonbeam, waving until they could no longer see her. And as they turned their eyes back to Earth, they were surprised by one more gift from the kindly moon, a gift that reverberated through the centuries and still gives joy today. Under the cherry tree stood two moon horses, male and female, glowing silvery-white in the light of the rising sun.


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