goatboy and
the music machines

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle


Fairie Archives:
Old Man Chrysanthemum


Fairie Archives: Old Man Chrysanthemum (from the Japanese), from "RFD", Fall 1993

Kikuo was the faithful servant of his lord, Tsugaru. When he was not waiting on his master, he was tending the much prized chrysanthemums that grew in the master's garden.  

So often was the gray head of the servant seen bobbing up and down amid the golden and bronze blossoms that people began to refer to him by the name of Kikuo, which means in Japanese, Old-Man-Chrysanthemum.  

Now it happened that Tsugaru, leading the emperor's forces, went out to battle. Through treachery, he was so badly defeated that he and Kikuo were compelled to flee in the night into the remotest parts of the kingdom. There they hid themselves away from men in a little valley that lay like a green lap between the two knees of a great snow-capped mountain.  

Before leaving the old home Kikuo had wondered what he could take with him that his master loved most and that would continue to be a joy to him even in his exile.  

"Horses," said Kikuo, "will die and bring more sorrow. His silver sheep will perish on the way. His heavy golden gong will slow down our flight. His costly robes will betray our secret to prying eyes. His fine sword will mark him as a man of rank. All these we must leave behind. What then shall I carry that will console my lord?"  

Just then Kikuo glanced out through the low doorway. A thousand golden and bronze chrysanthemums nodded a friendly greeting to him. In the soft moonshine they seemed like little fairies swaying in the breeze. "His flowers!" cried the faithful servant. "His beloved flowers!"  

Quickly Kikuo ran into the garden. His spade flashed her and flashed there. In a moment he had collected a dozen of the most beautiful plants and placed them, earth and all, in a leathern basket which he swung upon his back.  

When the two exiles came to the little green valley, Kikuo's first care was for the imprisoned plants. Carefully he drew them forth, trimming the stocks and roots and planting them with slow care in a spot where the soil was rich and felt the warm glances of the sun all day long.  

"You, too, have come into exile," said he. "May your blessed spirits prosper and grow, bringing joy and comfort to my beloved lord!"  

The spirits of the flowers gave a beautiful answer to Kikuo's loving care. From the very first they thrived as they had never done in the old garden in the palace grounds. Stalwart and royal-looking stems put forth, each season, great golden and bronze glories that rivaled the very sun and moon in luster, and new faces of chrysanthemums, never before seen in Japan, came silently into being in the little valley below the snow-capped peak.  

In time the twelve roots became a thousand and, rank on rank, stood like a small army holding up to heaven a myriad of golden shields. In and out among them, as faithful to them as to his old master, went Kikuo the tireless one, and Tsugaru, forgetting his exile in the joy that came to him out of the sunny fields, slowly faded away and died in the month when the chrysanthemums were full abloom.  

After he had gone, Kikuo labored harder than ever amid the flowers. "No monument can I raise to him who has gone," said he, "greater than the glory of the flowers he loved." So, in time, the whole valley became filled with wonderful blossoms. The fame of their wonder spread far and wide until emperors sent trusted servants to purchase rare specimens at the price of many golden coins and gems.  

But the day came in late fall when Kikuo lingered on the veranda of his home. He was old and bent under his years. His head was like a snowy blossom and his old eyes burned with an inner light. "Tsugaru, my master," he said, "I come to you." Then his eyes wandered out over the glorious fields where the chrysanthemum heads nodded in the breeze.  

"Would that I could come bearing the same twelve roots from which all these flower children have been born." As he spoke, there was a motion among the tall plants before him as of someone elbowing a way through and, one by one, twelve beautiful children ran out on the green lawn before the house.  

Kikuo rubbed his old eyes, them smiled a queer, satisfied, knowing smile. "Beautiful are you, my children," said he, "as the mist maidens who dance before the sun at dawn. Beautiful, also is your golden and bronze chrysanthemum hair."  

"We are the spirits of the flowers," said the leader of the little children. "You have cared for us with a love second only to that of the Great Spirit. We have come to tell you that this night we shall go with you to the great country of the spirit just as we came with you to this valley between the hills."  

"It is well," said Kikuo. "May God be praised!"  

That night Kikuo died and at the same hour a cloud rolled down from the peak of everlasting snow. Its icy breath stiffened the blossoms in the field till they rang like fine glass at the passing of the wind. When the morning came, the flowers were dead. But somewhere on the high sunny hills the spirit of Kikuo met his master Tsugaru and showed his happy eyes the twelve spirits of the flowers.