The Wise Old Women
by Yushiko Uchida
created by Linda Shaffer

Narrator 1 --- Narrator 2 --- Cruel lord --- Group of warriors

Old woman --- Farmer --- Lord Higa

Narrator 1 - Long ago in the wooded hills of Japan, a young farmer and his aged mother lived in a village ruled by a cruel young lord.

Cruel lord - Anyone over seventy is no longer useful and must be taken into the mountains and left to die.

Narrator 2 - When the young farmer's mother reached the dreaded age, he could not bear to think of what he must do.

Old woman - It is time now for you to take me into the mountains

Narrator 1 - So, early the next morning, the farmer lifted his mother to his back and reluctantly set off up the steep mountain path. Soon he heard his mother breaking off small twigs from the trees they passed.

Grandmother - I'm marking the path for you, my son, so you will not lose your way going home.

Narrator 2 - The young farmer could bear it no longer.

Farmer - Mother, I cannot leave you behind in the mountains. We are going home together, and I will never, ever leave you.

Narrator 1 - And so, in the dark shadows of night, the farmer carried his mother back home. He dug a deep cave beneath the kitchen. Two years passed, and no one in the village knew of the farmer's secret.

Narrator 2 - One day three fierce warriors in full armor galloped into the small village like a sudden mountain storm.

Group of warriors - We come from the mighty Lord Higa to warn you. When three suns have set and three moons have risen, he will come to conquer your village.

Cruel lord - Please, I will do anything if you will spare me.

Group of warriors - Lord Higa knows no mercy, but he does respect a clever mind. Solve the three impossible tasks written upon this scroll and you and your village will be saved.

Narrator 1 - Then, tossing the scroll at the young lord, they galloped off as quickly as they had come. The cruel lord opened up the scroll and read it.

Cruel lord - First, make a coil of rope out of ashes. Second, run a single thread through the length of a crooked log. Third, make a drum that sounds without being beaten.

Narrator 2 - The young lord quickly gathered the six wisest people of his village and ordered them to solve the impossible tasks. When morning came the wisest people in the village had no answers. They tried seeking help from the gods.

Wise old man 1 - Help us!

Narrator 1 - But the gods remained silent, so they went to the clever badger of the forest, for they knew the animals are sometimes wiser than men.

Wise old man 2 - Surely, you can help us.

Badger - (Shaking his head) As clever as I am, I see no way to solve such impossible tasks as these.

Narrator 1 - The six wise people returned to the young lord without any answers.

Cruel lord - You are all stupid fools!

Narrator 2 - The cruel lord threw the wise men into his darkest dungeon, and he posted a sign in the village square offering a bag of gold to anyone who could help him.

Narrator 1 - The farmer hurried home.

Farmer - The wisest men in the village could not answer the 3 questions given. What are we to do? We will soon be conquered by yet another cruel lord.

Old woman - Bring me a coil of rope, a crooked log with a hole running through the length of it, and a small hand drum.

Narrator 2 - As soon as her son brought her the supplies she set to work. First, she soaked the coil of rope in salt water and dried it well. Then, setting a match to it, she let it burn. But it did not crumble. It held its shape.

Old woman - For the rope of ash I will soak the coil of rope in salt water and dry it well. Then I

will set a match to it and let it burn. This will help it hold its shape. Next I will put a little honey at one end of the crooked log, and at the other, I will placed an ant with a silk thread tied to it.

Narrator 1 - The farmer watched in amazement as the tiny ant wound its way through the hole to get to the honey, taking the silk thread with it. And the second task was done.

Old woman - Finally, I will opened one side of this small hand drum and seal a bumblebee inside. As the bee beats itself against the sides of the drum trying to escape, the drum will sound without being beaten. And the third task will be done.

Narrator 2 - The lord was astonished when the farmer presented the three completed tasks to the young lord.

Cruel lord - Surely a young man such as you could not be wiser than the wisest people of our village. Tell me what person of wisdom helped you solve these impossible tasks?

Narrator 1 - The young farmer could not lie.

Farmer - I have kept by mother hidden for the past two years it is she who solved each of your tasks and saved our village from Lord Higa.

Narrator 2 - The farmer waited to be thrown into the dungeon for disobeying the lord. But instead of being angry, the young lord was silent and thoughtful.

Cruel lord - I have been wrong. Never again will I send our old people into the mountains to die. Henceforth they will be treated with respect and honor, and will share with us the wisdom of their years.

Narrator 1 - Whereupon the young lord freed everyone in his dungeon. Next he summoned the old woman and gave her three bags of gold for saving the village.

Narrator 2 - Finally he allowed the farmer to march with his finest warriors to the Lord Higa's castle. The long procession wound slowly over the mountain roads carrying its precious cargo. And it was the young farmer who carried the lord's banner fluttering high in the autumn wind.

Narrator 1 - When they presented to Lord Higa the rope of ash and the threaded log and the drum that sounded without being beaten, he stroked his chin thoughtfully.

Lord Higa - I see there is much wisdom in your small village for you have solved three truly impossible tasks. Go home and tell your lord that his people deserve to live in peace.

Narrator 2 - From that day on, Lord Higa never threatened the small village again. The villagers prospered, and the young farmer and his mother lived in peace and plenty for all the days of their lives.