“A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.”
― by Stephan Hoeller
Tamatori was made for the sea. Like her mother, and her mother before.
Her childhood was spent on the shore, running barefoot over rocks and fishing crabs and small treasures from over-flowing tide pools. Her too-soon adulthood was spent at the bottom of the waves, fishing pearls and soft-fleshed delicacies from the ocean floor.
Her life was seen through the filter of sunlight drifting down through choppy waters, through the sting of salt in her eyes, salt that cracked on her skin when she walked the shore. Through the thick seaweed hair that rippled around her, forming currents of its own as she spun through the waves. Her knife was never far from her hand, as she chipped oysters free of their stone’s rugged grip. The burn was never far from her lungs as she held her breath like a pearl inside her chest, ‘til it was time to swim for home.
Tamatori had always been made for the sea.
Her love, though, her love had once been made for finer things and never turned to see her watching from the shore. Takeuchi was a fine lord, and once had held the ear of the Empress, the respect of his men. But those days were over now. He had been trusted with the Empress’s most beloved possession, a fine jewel that could turn the very tides and shone as brightly as the moon. He had been trusted. The jewel was lost. Swept from his ship by the very waves it once controlled. The Empress had been furious, and refused to look upon Takeuchi until he returned her jewel. And this he could not do. It was far from him now, beneath the sea, in the grip of mighty Ryūjin.
Despondent. Disgraced. Takeuchi returned to his home beside the shore and let despair take him.
And, it was on a night when his sorrow was at its greatest that Takeuchi finally spoke to Tamatori.
His feet had taken him to cliff and, as he stared down at the moonlight glinting off the waves, he saw an end to his sorry state.
Tamatori, watching from the shadows, leapt forwards with a cry as Takeuchi drew his sword.
“Wait!” she cried, struggling to wrest the blade from his too-strong grip. Takeuchi fought back and, in their struggles, the whole sorry story came out. The jewel. The loss. The shame. And, though Tamatori wished desperately to save Takeuchi from himself, she had not the strength, nor the words to stay his sword. Until her wild eyes cast across the water, and she saw the light that had so entranced Takeuchi before. A light that she, with her life in the sea, knew was not the moon.
“Look there,” she cried, “Is that not the jewel you seek?”
Takeuchi looked. Deep beneath the waves, the castle of the mighty Ryūjin, dragon of the sea, its red and orange coral walls stretching up like grasping fingers. And, clutched in the fist of its highest point, shone the jewel of the Empress.
Disappointment was that much more bitter when proceeded by the swooping gasp of hope. “That does not help me,” Takeuchi said. “I cannot reach it.”
“I can,” Tamatori said, and she threw herself into the sea.
Down, down, down she swam into the dark waters. Until the surface seemed a distant dream, and the bubbles of her breath streamed behind her, drifting up like pearls to breadcrumb her watery path.
It seemed like no time, and yet eternity before she reached that highest point and took the shining jewel in hand.
The second that she touched it the ocean came alive around her. Bright jellyfish, their stingers darting through the gloom, swift sharks, half hidden ‘til they were almost upon her and, beneath, the coiling rage of mighty Ryūjin his mouth open wide as he rose to meet her.
If breath had been less precious, Tamatori may have screamed. As it was, she turned and swam towards that distant sky, jewel clutched tight in hand.
Tamatori was a fast swimmer, swift as a fish, her seaweed-hair streaming out behind her as she fled. But, swift as she may be, no human could outswim a dragon. As he rose beneath her, closer, closer, Tamatori knew that soon he would be upon her. That the jewel would be ripped from her grasp and, with it, any hope for her love’s future. But Tamatori knew something else as well. She knew that dragons can only take from the living. The thought had scarce hit her than her knife was in her hand. The flesh of her breast split more easy than rock, and cold water numbed the pain as she tucked the precious jewel close to the porcelain of her ribs.
Mighty Ryūjin recoiled and, as her life stained the waters around her, Tamatori smiled.
Up above, Takeuchi stood alone and watched the sun rise. Beneath the waves, moon-pale, and unbreathing, Tamatori-Hime rose to meet it.
Insp. The Legend of Tamatori-Hime