Maui sat on his haunches before a campfire, by the side of a coursing river. Fireflies danced through the night and he watched them for a time, enjoying the stillness of the night, before turning his attentions back to his companion. The tanuki trickster, Danzaburou, sat across from him, sipping from a bottle of sake. “So, what’s the plan again?”
Danzaburou perred up at him beneath the brim of his straw hat. “It is very simple, Maui. The Kappa come, we convince them to buy my wares, and we scarper before they realize what they’ve bought. A child could do it. So, you should have no difficulty>” He gestured about him, indicating the barrels of sake and various other wares piled up untidily around them, including a large sack full of cucumbers. Kappa, Maui knew, had a taste for cucumbers. Soon enough, the smell would draw them from the river.
Maui raised an eyebrow. “Is that any way to talk to someone whose help you need?”
Danzaburou’s tail fluffed in annoyance. “You’re the one who came looking for me, remember? I never claimed to need help. You offered.”
“And you accepted. Which implies you needed it.”
“Nonsense,” Danzaburou barked, exposing sharp, white teeth. “Besides, you never could resist a good trick. Especially on a deserving target.”
“Which Kuzenbo is,” Maui said. The self-proclaimed king of the Kappa was a rapacious bully, infamous even in the islands that Maui called home. If there was ever a creature deserving of a trick, it was Kuzenbo.
“Oh most certainly. This will be the third time this week.” Danzaburou paused, snout twitching. “Honestly, you’d think he’d learn by now.”
Some patters of behavior are harder to break than others.” Maui poked his fellow trickster with the curve of his hook, “Speaking of which…”
Danzaburou battled the hook away with his paw. “Yes, yes, I saw Discordia.”
A few weeks ago. She stirred up some trouble between Tsukuyomi and Susano. Not that it was particularly difficult.”
Danzaburou shrugged. “The usual. You know how she is. There’s no rhyme or reason to her actions, Maui. She causes trouble because that’s what she does.” He paused, “Of course, from what I hear, she’s been busy, even for her.”
“And what do you hear, exactly?”
Danzaburou rubbed two claws together in the universal sign for payment. Maui sighed. “I’m helping you with this. Isn’t enough.”
Danzaburou fixed him with a smug look. “You’d have helped me with this even if you didn’t need information.”
“But I am, and in return I want to know what you know.”
Danzaburou scowled at him. “Fine. I would have told you anyway, along and along.”
“I’m sure you would have.” Maui gave the tanuki a knowing look. “After all, you have no more reason to love Discordia that any of us.”
Danzaburou growled softly and set his bottle down. “She gives us tricksters a bad name. The other gods think we’re all cut from the same cloth at that one.”
“Some of us are,” Maui reminded him. Danzaburou waved this aside.
“Only the bad ones. Not proper tricksters, those. Cunning, maybe. Clever, some. Schemes for days, most of them. But one and all, they’re no use when it comes to proper pranks and tricks.”
“Like convincing the king of the Kappa to trade gold for empty bottles of sake?”
Danzaburou twitched his nose. “They’re not empty. They’ve got…water in them.” The way he said water made Maui doubt it was anything such thing. “With a pinch of my own special blend of dye, to make them the right tint,” Danzaburou went on.
“What about the taste?
Danzaburou snickered. “Taste is subjective.”
Maui grimaced. He was certain now that whatever was in those bottles, it definitely wasn’t water. “I don’t think Kuzenbo would agree.”
“Kuzenbo has no plate,” Danzaburou said. He knocked a fist against the side of his hand. “I blame the head full of pond water.”
Maui didn’t reply. He tensed. Something was splashing in the river. Something big. As he rose to his feet, he saw something large and dripping loom out of the darkness. There a muffled sloshing as the newcomer stepped into the light cast by the campfire. “I smell cucumbers – and sake,” Kuzenbo, king of the Kappa rumbled.
Danzaburou bounded to his feet, wearing a false beard and moustache over his muzzle. Maui hadn’t even seen the tanuki put them on. “Welcome, noble sir – welcome! Just the fellow I was waiting on!
Kuzenbo paused, yellow eyes narrowed in suspicious. “Don’t I know you?”
I think I would remember meeting you, my lord,” Danzaburou said, smoothly. “Indeed, I am humbled to be in your presence. Awestruck, even. Enthralled! Or, dare I say…overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence of your divine darkness.”
His beard began to slip as he spoke, and Maui alerted him with a surreptisious gesture. Danzaburou hastily adjusted it, as Kuzenbo’s attentions strayed to the sack of cucumbers. “As you should be,” the Kappa grunted. “Are you a merchant, then?”
Danzaburou sketched a bow, his tail twitching. “Indeed!, You have a keen eye, my lord. I am indeed a humble purveyor of fine spirits and vegetables. Why, I’d wager that I sell the finest sake in the land.”
“You don’t sound so humble to me,” Kuzenbo said.
“False modesty serves no one,” Maui interjected.
Kuzenbo gave him a suspicious look. “You’re a long way from your islands, Maui” Maui wasn’t surprised that Kuzenbo recognized him. The Kappa wasn’t the sharpest knife in the block, but he was semi-divine, and thus well aware of the doings of the pantheos.
“I came for the sake, if you must know,” Maui said. He kept his tone polite. Kuzenbo could be dangerous, when his fury was aroused, and Maui wanted to avoid any unnecessary conflict if possible. “Pele herself sent me to acquire all of it that was to be had.”
“Pele?” Kuzenbo grunted, in obvious surprise. He blinked owlishly and looked at Danzaburou. “The gods want your sake, then?”
“They do,” Danzaburou said, nodding so rapidly that Maui was afraid the tanuki’s false beard would fly off. “Bacchus himself has demanded I provide him with my entire stock!” He made a show of wringing his paws and dancing from one foot to another. “And he is not the only one. They hound me, day and night. Oh, to be so cursed. Every day brings new demands – new threats! If only I could get rid of it all, and thus escape their notice…”
Kuzenbo settled himself on his haunches. He casually dragged the sack of cucumbers towards himself with a claw. He began to eat without asking. As he crunched into one, he said, “It seems to me that I might be of some help to you, merchant.”
“Eh? Help?” Danzaburou asked.
Kuzenbo took a bite of cucumber and nodded. “I will take your sake, and you will be free of the gods.” He swallowed his mouthful and reached for another cucumber. “Give it to me, and go in peace.”
Danzaburou assumed a quizzical expression. “And you will…pay for it?”
Kuzenbo sniffed, his gaze on the stack of cucumbers as he pawed through it. “I do not recall mentioning payment.” He fixed Danzaburou with a heavy gaze. “Be glad that I am taking it off your hands.”
“Hold on,” Maui said. He flung his hook across the fire and snagged the cucumber from Kuzenbo’s hand. He bit into the vegetable and chewed noisily, ignoring the Kappa’s outraged glare. “I’m willing to take the whole lot as well, and i’ll pay you a fair price for it.”
Kuzenbo’s bowl sloshed as he heaved himself up. “You dare…?”
Maui ignored him, and gestured at the sake with his half-eaten cucumber. “In fact, how does, oh, say, three bags of dried fish sound?
“Fish?” Kuzenbo spat. “He does not want fish!”
“I do like fish,” Danzaburou said, stroking his false beard speculatively.
Kuzenbo whirled to glare at him. “No. No fish. I will give you gold.”
“I can get gold as well. Say…two sacks?” He gave Kuzenbo a glance. “Does that sound fair to you?”
“I can give you three,” Kuzenbo said.
“Four,” Maui said.
“Five,” Kuzenbo growled. He raised a heavy fist. “My final offer.”
Maui paused, as if considering. “Very will. The sake is yours.” Kuzenbo chortled and gave a bellow. There was much splashing from the river, and soon smaller Kappa appeared, each of them dragging a sodden sack of clinking gold. They deposited the sacks before the fire, and, at Kuzenbo’s gesture, hefted the crates of sake onto their backs.
Kuzenbo reached to carry the last crate himself, but paused. “Perhaps I should check it first,” he grunted. “I have been tricked before.”
“Of course!” Danzaburou said. He offered the Kappa his own bottle. Kuzenbo pulled the cork, sniffed the contents and then took a sloppy swallow. He smacked his beak and his eyes widened in pleasure.
“The best,” Danzaburou said. He bowed low. Kuzenbo turned and made for the river, still swigging from the bottle, his Kappa waddling after him. “Keep the bottle – with my compliments,” Danzaburou called out as he waved goodbye. Then, to Maui, out of the corner of his mouth, “Quick, help me with these sacks.”
He and Maui quickly hoisted the sacks onto their backs and raced away from the river, moving with divine speed. “How long before you think he notices?” Maui asked. Before Danzaburou could reply, a roar echoed from the direction of the river.
“Not long,” Danzaburou said, laughing.
They didn’t stop running until they were a safe distance from the water, and Kuzenbo’s wrath. Danzaburou settled onto a fallen log and patted one of the sacks of gold. “I know a village near here that will make good use of this,” he said. He looked at Maui. “Your help was much appreciated.”
Maui nodded and gave him an expectant look. Danzaburou sighed. “Fine. I have heard some things. Loki mentioned that Discordia was fitting about the lands of the Celtic pantheon. Something about trapping one of them in the shape of a bear.”
“And Loki knew this how?”
“You know tricksters, Maui. We’re all inveterate gossips. Loki heard it from Morgan Le Fay, who had to step in before things…got out of hand.” Danzaburou shrugged. “Of course, knowing Loki, he could be lying. Or Morgan might have been. But there are whispers that Discordia was abroad in the lands of our neighbors as well. That she whispered something in the ear of the Dragon King of the Eastern Seas, and that he in turn encouraged some unfortunate behavior on the part of the headless warrior, Xing Tian. But again, that’s just whispers.”
Maui settled back on his heels, digesting this. Discordia’s trail was littered with similar stories. She’d been seen in the lands of the Babylonian gods, and not long after, Ishtar had attacked King Gilgamesh of Uruk, though there was no guarantee that the two events were connected. Even so, the reverberations of Ishtar’s arrival were still echoing through the world, and likely would for some time.
Wherever Discordia went, the threat of war followed. The conflict between Pele and Vulcan was just one more spark on the bonfire. He looked at Danzaburou. “What other whispers have you heard?”
Danzaburou sniffed. “I might have heard from a mutual acquaintance that Baba Yaga is blaming Discordia for provoking the Demon King of Lanka, Ravana, into invading the lands of Chernobog. But Baba Yaga has reasons of her own for seeing Chernobog discomfited, so who knows whether there’s any truth to that.” Danzaburou paused. “Another thing – have you been to the lands of the Maya, recently?”
“I was there for – well, it’s no matter. But I spoke to Hun Batz, who had a tale to tell. He says someone lured Olorun into the Mayan underworld, where he was attacked by Camazotz. Olorun triumphed, of course, but now Ah Puch and the other lords of Xbalba and accusing the Yoruba pantheon of invading their territories.” Danzaburou produced another bottle of sake from somewhere and popped the cork. “No mention of her here, but…who else would do such a thing?”
Maui frowned. “What is she up to?” he murmured, mostly to himself. Danzaburou took a swig from his sake bottle and handed it to Maui.
“And who say she is up to anything?” he asked, pointedly. “You know as well as I that sometimes it is as much the trick itself as the result which motivates us. And Discordia lives for chaos. She sews it widely, just to see what poison will sprout.”
“She endangers us all – and not just us,” Maui said. He took a sip of sake and handed it back. Danzaburou took another long swig.
“What are you proposing?” he asked after a moment.
Maui pushed himself slowly to his feet. “That we teach her a lesson. Once she will not soon forget.” He looked down at Danzaburou. “Care to lend a hand?”
Danzaburou gave a shrill laugh
“Play a trick on atrickster? As if you even have to ask!” He raised the sake bottle. “And I know a few others who might be interested as well…”