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CHAPTER V THE HAJI SAVES THE WARRIOR
I was so astonished at what Fiammiferino said that I threw up my hand in amazement, and came near sending him flying with his legs in the air.

“You,” I cried. “How could you save him?”

“I twisted the end of one of my branches around the hilt of his sword to attract his attention, and then I spoke to him.”

“How could you speak to him?”

“You know each Haji is allowed to reveal himself three times during his life. This was my first time. I whispered:

“‘Wait.’

“The young man turned and bowing politely exclaimed, ‘Honorable Willow! may you live ten thousand years! I perceive that you are a Haji and my friend, although I have done nothing to deserve your kindness. Thank you for it, but you must let me die. You know what a disgrace it would be for a [46] soldier to fall alive into the hands of his enemies. I must conquer or cease to live. You would not wish to have me dishonored.’

“I replied: ‘I desire above all things your honorable salvation. Keep near my trunk and don’t move.’

“He obeyed, and I surrounded him with branches, covering him all over with leaves, and interlacing my boughs in a tangle so thick that it would have been impossible to see him or get at him without first chopping off every branch with a hatchet.”

“How about the enemies?”

“Well, the enemies arrived. There were ever so many and all around. They brandished their glistening [47] swords and lances, and shouted, ‘He is here, he is here.’ Guided by the drops of blood, they came directly to me. I must confess I was frightened, not for myself but for him. I strained every joint as much as I could and looked around. The one who seemed to be the leader pointed to me with his sword and said:

“‘The tracks of blood end here, but he can’t be hidden in this thicket; not even a bird could get through it. It isn’t possible for him to be here; we must look somewhere else.’ And the disorderly crowd walked off among the stubble and scrubbly trees thrusting their swords here and there as if they were after game.”

“So the warrior was saved.”

“Yes, I saved him. I raised my branches and showed him the fountain of Tashira, in which he could bathe his wounds, and told him where he could find some healing fruit. He stayed near me for two days. At night he slept at the foot of my trunk. When I heard suspicious noises I called him and put my branches around him as a mother would do to a child. The third day he said to me, bowing low:

[48]

“‘Generous and beloved willow, I must leave you. I am a prince; my name is Funato. My enemy has attacked me with his army, burned my castle and confiscated my property. But I must return to my people and save them from further perils. I must protect them. I shall never forget what I owe to you. You will be adored by me and my people as long as we have life.’ And dressed in his armour, his helmet on his head, his sword at his belt, he walked away, turning every few steps to look back as long as he could see me.”

“And you?”

“I waved my branches to salute him, and from far away he could see me swaying and bowing. No tempest ever shook me so hard. I was very sad and not ashamed to weep.”

“Dear little Fiam; and have you ever seen him again?”

“Yes, listen. Exactly a year later, the stork who always stopped to rest on my branch passed by again.

“‘How are things going?’ I asked him.

“‘I am in a hurry,’ he answered, scratching his head.

“YOU WILL BE ADORED”

[49]

“‘Oh, oh!’ I observed. ‘Arrows in the air?’

“‘Not yet,’ he exclaimed, ‘but there are armed men near here. I am obliged to look after some business. Good-bye,’ and he flew away.

“There were really men in arms in the vicinity. Imagine my surprise when I saw Prince Funato appear at the head of his soldiers and a great number of servants all dressed in holiday clothes. They surrounded me, they saluted me, they knelt about me, they burned incense to me under my branches. They had brought food and saki, which is their wine made of rice. For two days they had a great festival. Beautiful songs were sung in my honor by their musicians. They poured saki on my trunk. I drank so much that I wanted to dance, and to tell the truth, if I could have walked I am afraid I should have reeled. Fortunately I was a tree and no one discovered my condition. On the third day they returned to the valley.”
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