Rumours spread across several kingdoms about the miracle mystery of young Issunboshi. A poor couple living in a small farming village had prayed night and day to be blessed with a child. Their prayers were answered, but fate is a strange mistress – their newborn son was tiny, the size of a grown man’s finger. Regardless of his supernatural stature, his parents loved him with all of their hearts. Their boy was clever and strong-willed. His size did not make him any less of a man.
They named him Issunboshi.
One day Issunboshi requested that his parents allow him to leave home to find a job where he would fit in perfectly, despite his size.
“My son, will it not be dangerous for one so small to go out into the world?” Issunboshi’s mother asked.
“I know that you and father are afraid for me, mother, but I wish to build an independent life for myself, I must find my true place.” Issunboshi was steadfast.
So, the next day his parents sent Issunboshi off with a mix of sadness and pride in their hearts. They gifted him a soup bowl and chopstick as a makeshift boat and oar along with a needle in lieu of a sword. Their son was ready to meet his destiny.
And so Issunboshi began his journey.
* * *
Ruby collapsed into a seat at the table where her three friends were eating. “Finally, break time.” She sighed.
Ashley smiled at her friend. “Take it easy for a few minutes, Ruby. Business is slowing down a bit.”
“Yeah, just don’t let Granny catch me ‘slacking off’ or I won’t hear the end of it.” Ruby huffed indignantly.
Aiko gave Ruby’s hand a comforting squeeze. “It’s not so bad. And you are really helping your grandmother out, you’ve been such a big help to her.”
“Well, if it was up to me I’d have been out of here months ago.” Ruby griped.
“Storybrooke isn’t all that bad.” Ashley mused, a faraway look in her eyes.
“Of course you would say that, Ashley. Not all of us are lucky enough to have a guy like Sean and the cutest little daughter in the world.” Gwen pointed out. “Storybrooke is completely lacking in worthy male specimens.”
“Oh come on, Gwen. I’ve seen the way you look at Peter… don’t tell me you aren’t into him.” Ashley grinned.
“What? No!” Gwen responded, flustered.
“Peter? Really?” Ruby rolled her eyes. “He’s so childish. Personally, I prefer my men older. Much older.”
Ashley batted Ruby playfully. “We all know that, Ruby. Hey Aiko, what about you? Is there a special someone who’s caught your eye?”
“Since it seems like we’re all stuck here for the time being…” Ruby muttered. “Spill, Aiko.”
Aiko hesitated, not entirely sure if she liked where the conversation was headed. “Um…well. You guys know Jun, right?”
All three girls froze. “Wait, you mean Junichi?”
“Aiko, you can’t be serious!”
* * *
The waters in the river were treacherous but Issunboshi was not deterred. Using all of his might, he rowed for several days. Issunboshi thanked his lucky stars as he reached the Royal Palace; he had reached the capital at long last.
When his quiet voice caught the attention of the royal guards they were surprised at the discovery of such a small man, but Issunboshi’s mission was clear.
“Please, take me to your lord. I seek an audience with him.” Issunboshi requested.
The guards were perplexed but also impressed by his confidence and so brought him to the King, placing him in the palm of the Great Lord’s hand.
“Why you are the littlest man I have ever seen!” The King exclaimed upon seeing Issunboshi.
“But a brave one, sire. I have come to the capital in the face of great dangers, but in your service I am prepared to face even greater dangers.”
“Your words are most valiant, young one.” The King took an immediate liking to Issunboshi. “I appoint you as personal guard to my daughter, the Princess.”
Issunboshi bowed low, accepting his new duty. “I will guard her with my life.”
* * *
Aiko’s friends had given her a hard time over lunch, just as she had expected. They had told her she deserved better, that there were other guys in Storybrooke that were truly worth her time. Other guys who were of normal height, of course. So what if Jun was a little person? What did his size even matter? He was kind and clever. Aiko had never met a more respectful and down-to-earth person in her entire life. She liked that about him. She liked him.
Aiko thought Junichi was handsome inside and out.
If her friends were taking it so hard, how difficult would it be to explain her feelings to her parents? They only wanted what was best for their darling daughter. Everyone enjoyed Jun's company, but as a boyfriend? Never! No one would ever agree with her choice. Ironic that no one in the entire town actually about cared what she wanted.
* * *
Days turned to weeks and weeks to months and the Princess delighted in the company of her new bodyguard. Issunboshi and the Princess quickly became good friends.
“Issun, father has brought me my favourite rice-cakes.” The Princess announced, a cheerful smile spreading across her beautiful face.
“Do not make haste, Princess, please do eat.” Issunboshi urged.
“How can I eat it without first giving some to you?” She asked. “You stood guard through the night and protected me from mosquitoes with your needle-sword; surely you deserve to share the treat with me.”
“Thank you, my Princess.” Issunboshi bowed, humbled by the Princess’ generosity.
As the seasons passed, news of the Princess’ beauty and compassion spread. Her father the King determined that it was time to choose a husband for his daughter.
Issunboshi’s heart felt heavy. He had fallen deeply in love with the Princess but was certain that they would never be able to marry, due to his abnormal size. What a poorly mismatched consort he would be for a Princess.
The Princess too seemed restless since her father made the announcement of her impending wedding.
One day, she made a request to Issunboshi. “Issun, I want to go to the shrine in the neighbouring village to pray that my husband be a good man. Will you escort me?”
Issunboshi nodded in acquiescence. “I will ride in your sleeve as your protector.”
* * *
Junichi worked with his parents at the fabric store across town. Aiko’s mother often had their clothing sewn and altered at the Sew Shop and it was Aiko who made the frequent trips. Aiko had been spending more time at the fabric store lately, spending more time with Jun whenever she had the chance. He never failed to brighten her day.
Today, as she walked towards the Sew Shop, she spotted Junichi speaking animatedly with a young brunet boy who looked about ten years of age.
“Hi.” Aiko smiled warmly as she approached.
“Aiko, hi.” Junichi greeted her. “This is Henry Mills, the Mayor’s son.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Aiko.” Henry shook her hand. She was taken aback by the maturity she saw in his eyes. He certainly didn’t seem like the typical ten-year-olds she knew.
“You should hear some of the stories Henry tells. He has such a rich imagination and knows so many entertaining tales.” Junichi commented.
“Sure! But maybe another time, okay? I have to meet with my mom.” Henry explained, setting off.
“You’re going to see the Mayor now?” Aiko asked.
“No, not…never mind.” Henry gave Aiko a sheepish look. “It was nice to meet you, Aiko. And Junichi, I promise I will figure out who you are!” With that the boy was off.
“What does he mean ‘figure out who you are’?” Aiko asked, perplexed.
Junichi chuckled. “It’s a long story…”
* * *
As Issunboshi travelled along in the Princess’ sleeve towards the shrine, he could feel her apprehension. They had both been keeping to themselves since the voyage had begun. There was a palpable tension in the air. Issunboshi ached at the thought of letting his Princess go, of seeing her married off to another.
Lost deep in thought, neither Issunboshi nor the Princess noticed the danger that lay ahead of them along the cherry blossom avenues. A large green ogre – feared by many throughout the land – ambushed the travelling party.
“Ah, you shall make for a delectable snack, oh beautiful Princess.” The ogre bellowed, pulling the Princess close to his mouth.
Issunboshi leapt into action. “Eat my Princess, will you? My sword shall eat you!” Issunboshi pulled out his needle-sword and jumped into the ogre’s nostril, jabbing with violent fury.
The Princess was forgotten as the ogre swatted at his nose, pushing Issunboshi down the monster’s digestive tract and into his stomach. Issunboshi did not lose his presence of mind and continued to hack at the ogre from the inside.
“Let the Princess go, do you hear?” Issunboshi’s voice reverberated throughout the ogre’s body, creating a deafening sound. “Let her go at once!”
“I certainly will not.” The ogre refused weakly.
“Then I shall strike you even harder.” Issunboshi bellowed.
“No! Stop! Whatever you are, I’ll let the Princess go, but I beg of you to come out of there.” The ogre pleaded; the pain was too much to bear.
The ogre gave a resounding cough and Issunboshi flew out. “A tiny fellow like you inflicting such pain?” The ogre was shocked beyond belief.
“And I can do so again if I wish. Begone and remain exiled to the mountains! Never again shall you prey upon humans.” Issunboshi demanded.
The shocked ogre obeyed the command, leaving Issunboshi and the Princess in peace.
“Are you alright, my Princess?” Issunboshi asked, immediately making his way to her side.
“Oh Issun, you have saved me not from a mosquito this time but from the giant green ogre himself!” The Princess felt tears spring to her eyes. “I wanted to come to this shrine so that I could ask the Gods to find a way for us to be married, Issun. I love you.”
“Oh Princess, you know that I love you as well, but I am not a suitable husband for you, not at this size.” Issunboshi hated seeing his Princess cry, but their situation was impossible.
“I believe that I may have a solution.” A voice called out. Issunboshi and the Princess watched a small, decrepit man emerge from the forest and make his way toward them.
“Who are you?” The Princess asked.
“My name is Rumplestiltskin.”
* * *
“Really, Aiko, we convinced Mr. Lee he was buying our finest, sheerest silk fabric when in fact there was no fabric at all. He believed it was near-invisible because it was of such high quality and almost bought it. Of course, mother and father would never have cheated him out of his money like that.”
“You must be pulling my leg, Jun!” Aiko erupted in laughter. “Invisible clothing?”
“I would never lie to you, Aiko.” Junichi admitted.
Aiko blushed, changing the topic. “How has business at the Sew Shop been?”
“Not bad. Actually, I have the evening off, maybe we could head to Granny’s Diner for coffee later?”
Aiko paused. She thought about her parents. She thought of her friends. She thought about all the warnings they had given her, the judging looks she saw in their eyes. Ruby would most definitely be working at Granny’s Diner tonight. “Jun, I don’t think that is such a good idea…”
Junichi’s face fell. “Why? We are friends, aren’t we, Aiko?”
“You just don’t want to be seen in public spending time with a midget.”
Aiko gasped. “That’s not –“
“Never mind, Aiko. Forget I even asked, okay?” Junichi turned away from her.
“But Jun –“
“Your clothes will be ready in two days. Come pick them up then.”
Aiko stood rooted to the ground, immobilized. She had hurt his feelings, rejected his offer when that was the last thing she had wanted to do. She had ruined it all.
Aiko wished with all of her heart that one day she would finally find the strength in herself to acknowledge what Junichi really meant to her.
* * *
Rumplestiltskin approached Issunboshi and the Princess. “The two of you cannot be married as long as Issunboshi is so small. I may be able to be of service with this.” Rumplestiltskin pulled out a wooden mallet.
“The green ogre’s mallet?” Issunboshi gasped. “Legend has it that an ogre’s mallet can grant one wish to those who are pure-hearted.”
“And that wish can be yours, Issunboshi, if you promise that you will repay your debt to me when the time comes.” Rumplestiltskin offered.
“This mallet will be able to turn me into a fully-grown man?” Issunboshi asked, stepping forward.
“Wait, Issun.” The Princess warned, turning to Rumplestiltskin. “What is the favour you will ask of us? How do we repay this debt?”
Rumplestiltskin grimaced. “Whatever I wish at the time I ask for the payment.” He evaded.
“This is the only way, my Princess, for us to be together forever.” Issunboshi said.
“I am certain this imp has only treachery in his heart to offer such a deal.” The Princess eyed Rumplestiltskin warily. “And your size is not important, Issun. You are courageous and clever. I will speak my father, I will tell him of your bravery.”
“We will be together, Issun, but we shall not live forever in fear of an unknown debt hanging upon us.” The Princess was resolute. "I believe in us, with all of my heart."
“Very well.” Issun agreed. They both turned to find that Rumplestiltskin was already long gone.
Issunboshi and the Princess stuck to their convictions. They would cut their own path through to a brighter future. When the entire story of Issunboshi’s bravery was told to the Great Lord, he was bit by bit persuaded that Issunboshi was the right man for his daughter. He would certainly protect her with his life. Issunboshi and the Princess were married amidst pomp and grandeur.
Issunboshi invited his parents to come and live with them. They were overjoyed; their miracle son had found his true place in the world.
Rumours spread far and wide about the beautiful, kind Princess and her brave husband, Issunboshi the inch-high samurai.