Legends and Fables from Around The World

June 5, 2007

The Jeweled Sea

Filed under: China — Edvan @ 8:11 am

Long, long ago, a little Chinese boy named Kwang-Su lived in the city of Yo-chan with his father and mother, who loved him very much. Now, Chinese mothers and fathers will take every care to protect their children from the power of evil Genii, or spirits. There were a great many evil Genii in China at that time, a little Kwang-Su’s mother was very careful to protect him as best she could.

It is well known that a wicked Genii will not come near a Chinese boy if some red silk is braided in with his pigtail, or if he wears a silver chain around his neck; and every wicked Genii has a great dread of old fishing nets, as well.

So Kwang-Su’s mother made him a little shirt out of an old fishing net to wear next his skin, and she took good care that his pigtail should be plaited with the brightest red silk that money could buy.

There is a great deal in having the head shaved in just the right way, too, and it is best to have a little tuft of hair sticking up in the luckiest place, as well. All these things were done for Kwang-Su, and so he passed safely through the troubles of his babyhood and grew from a little boy into a bi one, and from a boy to a tall and handsome youth.

At this time he left off wearing his netted shirt although the silver chain still hung around his neck, and you may be very sure there was red silk braided into his pigtail.

One day Kwang-Su’s father said, “It is time that the boy saw a little more of the world. He must go to Yun-nan and study under the wise men there and find out the things that he should know.” Yun-nan was a very great city indeed, and Shun-Che, the master to whom Kwang-Su was sent, was the wisest man in it.

Under this teacher Kwang-Su learned what the wise men of the world were thinking about, and many other things besides. When he was eighteen years old he took the red silk out of his pigtail and the silver chain from his neck, for grown-up people do not need such charms to protect themselves from the Genii.

When Kwang-Su was twenty years old, Shun-Che told him he could not teach him any more. “It is time for you to go back to your parents and com- fort them in their old age,” he told him; and he was very sorry as he said it, for Kwang-Su was his favorite pupil.

“I will do as you bid me,” replied Kwang-Su, obediently. “I will start tomorrow, and I will leave the city by the Golden Bridge.”

“You must not leave by the Golden Bridge,” said Shun-Che, “you must go by the Indigo Bridge, for there you will meet your future wife.”

“But I have not been thinking of a wife at all,” said Kwang-Su.

“All the better,” said Shun-Che as he wrinkled up his eyes, and laughed, “because when you have once seen her, you will be able to think of nothing else.”

In the morning Kwang-Su was sleepy and did not start on his journey as early as he should have done, but he had studied very hard the night before, and so fell asleep just before sunrise and slept through the coolest hours of the day.

When he did awake the sun was blazing down upon the streets of Yun-nan, and making the town like a furnace. Kwang-Su set off with his stick in his hand, however, for he had promised to start that day. He said to himself: “I will rest a little at the Indigo Bridge, and walk on again in the cool of the evening.”

But when he reached the bridge he was so tired that he fell asleep again, and while he slept he dreamed that a tall and beautiful maiden appeared to him, and showed him her right foot around which a red cord was bound. Kwang-Su could hardly take his eyes from her face to look at her foot, but at last he asked, “What is the meaning of it?”

And the girl replied, “What is the meaning of the red cord around your foot, too?” Kwang-Su looked down at his right foot. Sure enough, his foot and the girl’s foot were tied together by the same thin red cord; and by this he knew that she must be his future wife.

Then he said to the girl, “I have heard my mother say that when a boy is born the Fairy of the Moon ties an invisible red cord around his right foot, and the other end of the cord around the foot of the girl-baby whom he is to marry.”

And the girl replied, “That is true, and this is an invisible cord to people who are awake. Now I am going to tell you my name and you must remember it when you hear it again, It is Ling-Ling.”

Then Kwang-Su began to say, “And I will tell you mine,” but Ling-Ling stopped him, smiling.

“Ah, I know yours and all about you,” she said.

Kwang-Su was very much surprised at this, but he need not have been, for every one in Yun-nan knew him to be the handsomest and wisest and best-loved pupil the wise Shun-Che had ever taught.

Ling-Ling lived quite close to the city, and had often seen Kwang-Su walking through the streets with his books. When Kwang-Su awoke he found as the girl had said, that there was no red cord around his foot, and no fair maiden, either. “I wonder if she is real, or only a dream-maiden, after all,” he said to himself. And then he went on his way, thinking of Ling-Ling all the time.

After a while he grew so thirsty that he stopped at a little house by the road-side, and asked an old woman who was sitting in the doorway to give him a drink.

The woman called to her daughter to fill their best cup with fresh spring water and bring it out to the stranger; and when the daughter appeared it was Ling-Ling herself! “Oh!” cried Kwang-Su, “I thought perhaps I should never see you again, and here I have found you so soon.”

Then the girl laughingly asked, “And what is my name ?”

“It is Ling-Ling,” replied Kwang-Su, “Ling-Ling…Ling-Ling,” he repeated, just as he had been saying it all the time as he walked along.

Ling-Ling stood in the door of the little house, with a peach tree in full bloom over her head. She was dressed in white, but her over-dress was bright blue, embroidered with beautiful flowers which she had worked herself, and she made such a picture of youth and loveliness that Kwang-Su was completely bewildered.

“How do you come to know Ling-Ling?” asked the old woman. “Who are you?” she added, peering and blinking at him, with her hand over her eyes to shade them from the sun.

Now, the old woman knew something of magic, and had given Ling-Ling the power of stepping in and out of people’s dreams just as she chose, but when she came to hear of Kwang-Su’s dream, and the red cord, and that Kwang-Su wanted to marry her daughter, she did not look at all pleased.

Kwang-Su was not a bad match at all, for his parents were well off, and he was their only child, but the old woman only grumbled, “If I had two daughters, you might have one of them and welcome.”

The truth of the matter was that Ling-Ling was a very pretty girl, and a mandarin in Yun-nan was anxious to make her his wife. Her mother ex- plained this to Kwang-Su. “He is four times her age, it is true,” she said, “but he is very rich. All his dishes and plates are gold, and they say his drinking cups are gold, set with diamonds.”

“I don’t want to marry him,” said Ling-Ling. “He is old and wrinkled, like a little brown monkey. And, besides, the Fairy of the Moon didn’t tie my foot to his.”

“That is very true,” sighed her mother. She would have liked to tell Kwang-Su to go about his business, but she knew if the red cord really had been tied between his foot and Ling-Ling’s it would not be safe to do it. It does not do to meddle with such matters.

So the old woman invited Kwang-Su into the house. “Come in,” she said, “and I’ll see what I can promise.” The inside of the house was fra- grant with the scent of herbs, which were strewn all over the floor, and on a wooden stool in the middle of the room lay a broken pestle atld mortar.

“On this stool,” said the old woman, “I pound magic drugs given to me by the Genii; but my pestle and mortar is broken. I want a new one.” “I will buy you one in Yun-nan,” replied Kwang-Su.

“That will not do at all, for it is a pestle and mortar of jade, and you can only get one like it by going to the home of the Genii which is on a mountain above the Jeweled Sea. If you will do that, and bring it back to me, you shall marry Ling-Ling.”

“I will do it,” said Kwang-Su, “but I must see my parents first.” He had not the least idea where the home of the Genii was; but Ling-Ling took him out into the garden, and showed him in the far distance a range of snow-capped mountains, with one pea towering above the rest.

“That is where the Genii live,” she said. “Up there on Mount Fumi, where they can sit on the snow and looked down at the Jeweled Sea.” Then she went on: “But to reach Mount Fumi, you must cross the Blue River, the White River, the Red River and the Black River, which are all full of monstrous fishes. That is why my mother is sending you,” sighed Ling-Ling. “She thinks you will never come back alive.”

“Fishes don’t frighten me,” said Kwang-Su, “and I know how to swim.”

“But you must promise me you won’t try to swim,” insisted Ling-Ling. “You would be devoured in a moment. Take this box with you. In it are six red seeds. Throw one in each river as you come to it, and it will shrink to a little brook, over which you can jump.”

So Kwang-Su looked at the six round seeds, each about the size of a pea, and agreed to use them as Ling-Ling directed. Then he kissed her, and set out on his journey. On his way he passed through Yo-Chan, where his parents lived, so he went to see them and told them all that had happened since he left home.

Kwang-Su’s mother was a very wise woman, as mothers generally are, and she told him the Genii would be angry if he turned their four great rivers into brooks, and would probably refuse to give him a pestle and mortar made of jade.

Kwang Su said he had never thought of that. “It need not trouble you, though,” said his mother, “for I will give you a box containing six white seeds. All you have to do is to cast one into each brook when you have crossed it on your way home, and the brook will become a river again.”

In the morning Kwang-Su kissed his mother and went on his way. He rested during the mid-day heat, and continued his journey when it grew cool again; and in this way at the end of seven days he came to the Blue River.

This river was a quarter of a mile wide, and as blue as midsummer skies, and fishes were popping their heads out of the water in every direction. The head of every fish was twice as large as a football, and had two rows of teeth.

But Kwang-Su threw a red seed into the waters which were lapping the shore, and in a moment, instead of a wide blue river, a little brook lay at his feet. The huge fishes were changed into tiny creatures like tadpoles, and he hopped across the brook on one foot.

Not long afterwards he came to the White River which was half a mile wide, so rapid that it was covered with foam, and full of immense sea serpents.

“I shan’t be able to hop over this on one foot,” thought Kwang-Su, throwing one of his red seeds into the water. But to his surprise the White River shrank, as rapidly as the Blue River had done, into a tiny rippling brook, with some wee, wriggling eels at the bottom.

Kwang-Su leaped lightly over it, and walked a long way before he came in sight of the Red River. This was three-quarters of a mile wide, and bright scarlet. It looked like a flood of melted sealing-wax, and a row of alligators with their mouths wide open, stretched right across it like a bridge. “Now for my little red seed!” cried Kwang-Su, opening his box.

Snap! went the jaws of the nearest alligator as the seed struck the water, but he missed it, and the next minute he found himself no bigger than a lizard sitting at the bottom of a stream not half a yard across.

On the other side of the river Kwang-Su was met by one of the Genii who had come down from his snow-peak to see who had dared to play such tricks with three mighty rivers. Kwang-Su showed him the round white seeds in his other box.

“I can make the rivers as large as they were before on my way back,” he told the Geni. “But first I must find the home of the Genii, and get a pestle and mortar of jade for my future mother-in-law to pound her magic drugs in.”

“To get to it you must first cross the Black River,” said the Genii, with rather a scornful laugh. “It is a mile wide, and the fishes in it are six yards long, and covered with spikes like porcupines.”

“Would you mind telling me how you get across?” asked Kwang-Su.

“Not at all. I can fly,” replied the Genii.

“And I can jump,” retorted Kwang-Su, sturdily.

So they set out together and in a little while came to the Black River—a great waste of water, as black as ink, stretching in front of them. Kwang-Su’s heart sank a little, but he took out his fourth seed and watched it disappear beneath a coal-black wave. In an instant the river dried up, leaving only a shallow stream running through the grass at their feet.

The Genii was much impressed by the wonderful things Kwang-Su seemed able to do, and as he was not altogether a bad-hearted fellow, he offered to show him the nearest way to the home of the Genii on the top of Mount Fumi. After a long and wearisome climb they got up there, and found eight of the Genii sitting on eight snow-peaks and looking down on the Jeweled Sea, as Ling-Ling had said.

Kwang-Su could not take his eyes off the Jeweled Sea, for it was a beautiful sheet of water, flashing with all the colors of the rainbow. He forgot all about the pestle and mortar as he watched the waves rippling along the shore, leaving behind them diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls in thousands. Every pebble was a precious stone, and he wanted to go down and fill his pockets with them.

So there he stood while the Genii who had been his guide explained to the others why he had come and told them about the wonderful red and white seeds he carried about with him. “We must let him have the pestle and mortar,” he said, “or he won’t give us our rivers back again.”

Then the eight Genii nodded their eight heads, and spoke all at once with a voice which was like the rumble of thunder among the hills. “Let him take it if he can carry it,” they said. And then they laughed until the snow-peaks shook beneath them, for the mortar made of jade was six feet high and our feet wide, and the pestle was so heavy no mortal could lift it.

When Kwang-Su had finished staring at the Jeweled Sea, he walked around the pestle and mortar, and wondered how he was to carry it down the mountain and across the plains to Yun-nan. He sat down beside it to think the matter over, while the Genii laughed at him again.

“Oh, you can carry it easily enough,” they said, “and if you wish to fill the mortar with precious stones, you may do so. Any man who can carry it away empty, can carry it away full.”

Still Kwang-Su sat there with folded arms, and thought, and thought, and paid no attention to their sneers. He had not studied three years with the wisest man in Yun-nan for nothing, and besides, he was determined to marry Ling-Ling.

Then all at once the right idea came to him; and he jumped up and asked the friendly Geni if he would make a little heap of stones at one side of the mortar. “I want to look inside of it, and I am not tall enough,” he said.

“Why don’t you do it yourself ?” asked the Geni; and Kwang-Su replied, “Because I must go down to the Jeweled Sea and collect precious stones.” So he ran down to the water and gathered diamonds and rubies and pearls and emeralds and sapphires, as many as he could carry.

Again and again he did this, emptying them into the mortar each time, until it was quite full, and held gems enough to make him the richest man in China.

You see, the yellow-faced mandarin was only the richest man in Yun-nan, but if Kwang-Su could be the richest man in the whole kingdom he would have a much better chance of marrying Ling-Ling.

When Kwang-Su had finished filling the mortar, the Genii said to him, “Well, what next? Are you going to take it on your shoulder or on your head?” and Kwang-Su replied easily, “I will just carry it under my arm!”

Then he took out his little box and dropped one of the red seeds on top of the gems; and in a mo- ment the pestle and mortar shrank to one of ordinary size! Then Kwang-Su put the pestle in his pocket, and lifting the mortar carefully so as not to spill the precious stones, he made a low bow to the Genii and said, “Good-bye, and thank you very much.”

Then what a roar the Genii set up. It sounded as if thirteen lions were waiting for their dinners. There was no laughing this time, for they were in a rage; but they did not dare to stop him for they knew he had the power to turn the four brooks into four rivers again.

On his way back Kwang-Su did exactly as he had promised the Genii. He jumped across the first brook, and threw a white seed into it, and turned it into a terrible inky black waste of waters, a mile wide, full of fishes six yards long, and every fish covered with spikes. The roars of the Genii ceased when they saw the Black River rolling once more between them and the outer world.

At the Red River, the White River, and the Blue River, Kwang-Su did the same thing; and from that day to this, no one has been able to find the home of the Genii, because no one but Kwang-Su could ever cross the Blue River, much less the other three.

Then for seven days Kwang-Su journeyed on, and came at last to his father’s and mother’s home in Yo-Chan. Then he told them all that had happened since he had left them; and for every white seed his mother had given him, he gave her a diamond, a ruby, an emerald, a pearl, a sapphire, and a pink topaz, each as large as a robin’s egg.

After that he went on to Yun-nan, and there he found that although he had been away but a month, Ling-Ling’s mother had told every one that he was dead. Besides this, she had invited all her friends to a wedding feast in honor of her daughter’s marriage with the yellow-faced mandarin.

Luckily the wedding had not taken place when Kwang-Su arrived; but Ling-Ling stood under the peach tree in her wedding dress, which was of pink silk, all embroidered with silver. When she saw Kwang-Su she threw herself into his arms and cried for joy.

Kwang-Su put down the mortar while he comforted here, and just then her mother came running out to look at it. “You have come too late to marry Ling-Ling,” she said, “but I will buy the pestle and mortar from you with some of the money the mandarin has given me.”

“Not a bit of it,” replied Kwang-Su. And then he dropped one of his white seeds into the mortar, which at once increased in size until it filled the plot of grass under the peach tree, and was full to the top with glittering jewels.

The next thing Kwang-Su did was to climb onto one of the branches above them, and from there he threw down among the wedding guests rubies and diamonds and all kinds of precious stones. The busiest one among the guests was the yellow-faced mandarin. “One cannot have too much of a good thing,” he chuckled as he picked up the glittering gems.

“Just look at him!” cried the others indignantly. “Just see him scramble, as though he had no drinking cups set with diamonds!”

Then Kwang-Su offered him three rubies, each as large as a hen’s egg, if he would go away and say nothing about marriage to Ling-Ling ever again. So the yellow-faced mandarin took the rubies and went away. Perhaps he knew that he had no chance against a lover who scattered jewels about as though they were pebbles; and perhaps he preferred the three great rubies to Ling-Ling.

When the yellow-faced mandarin was gone, Kwang-Su and Ling-Ling were married; and in the city where his father and mother lived they were as happy as two young people deserve to be when they love each other very dearly.


The Superior Pet

Filed under: China — Edvan @ 8:06 am

Once there was a family that lost all its money. They had to sell their big house and all their fields, but the parents could not forget they had once been rich, and they did not let their daughter forget either.

Out of all their vast wealth, they managed to keep only a silver ear scoop. It was a slender silver spoon about five inches long. People put it into their ears to take out the wax.

“It’s a silly enough thing,” her father used to say, “but from it we’ll rebuild the family fortune somehow.”

When the daughter grew old enough to marry, no rich family wanted her with only an ear scoop for a dowry, and her parents thought poor farmers were beneath her.

When her parents died, no one wanted her. She lived with other unmarried women in a house that the clan provided, but it was very crowded. She lived there many years.

Although she sewed from sunrise to sunset, she was still very poor. As she got older, her eyes got worse. Soon, she could not sew the fine stitches she once had. As a result, even though she worked just as hard as before, she got less money. Eventually, she could no longer pay her share of the food and other costs.

“Why don’t you sell that old ear scoop?” the other women would ask her.

“It’s all I have from my parents,” the old woman said indignantly.

Because she had been in the house so long, she had a nice spot in a corner, but the other women wanted her to move to another place.

“You can’t pay your share and yet you take up all that space,” the other women complained. They found dozens of little ways to be unpleasant. Among other things, she always had to be last — even to use the wash water. They would give her only the stringiest vegetables and the weakest tea. And they always served her rice scraped from the bottom, which was hard and crunchy and difficult for the old woman’s teeth to chew.

One day, a younger cousin caught a mouse. But in catching it, she had injured one of its feet.

“Look at this thing. It’s all white.”

“That proves it must be a superior mouse,” the old woman said. “There’s not another like it in the district.”

“The pest is probably a superior eater too,” her cousin said. “I’m not going to have it nibbling at our food and clothes.”

But the mouse looked so small and fragile and helpless that the old woman knew it needed her. She had never had anyone to love, and, as such things go, her heart fixed on the mouse. A superior mouse will make a superior pet, she thought to herself. And out loud she said, “Give it to me. I’ll get rid of it.”

Her cousin was glad to give the unpleasant task to the old woman. “Here then.”

But the old woman did not kill the mouse. Instead, she kept it in a little box. She made a soft nest for it out of scraps of cloth. She even went hungry so she could save some of her rice for her superior pet. In time, the mouse’s foot healed.

One day, though, her cousin found the mouse. “You old liar. You kept that filthy little thing.”

She was going to throw the box down the well, but the old woman grabbed it from her. “This is mine. It’s a superior mouse.”

“You’ve gone too far this time. Beggars can’t act like empresses,” her cousin said. She called all the other women around her. Naturally, they took the cousin’s side.

The old woman clutched the box to her and looked at the circle of hard, stern faces. She saw no mercy there. “I’ll go,” she said in a small voice.

Her cousin was surprised. “You’ve never been away from the village in your life.”

“Then I’ll learn.” The old woman packed her few belongings quickly — including the ear scoop.

Then she left the house where she had lived all those years. I should be afraid, she thought to herself, but I feel years younger. She gave a little skip as she walked away from her village and up into the hills.

She looked for roots and plants for herself and her mouse. But it was autumn, and the villagers had already stripped the hills bare looking for fuel.

It was cold that night, and the old woman kept the box against her stomach to keep her pet warm. The next day she wandered even farther. But she still found nothing to eat.

Finally, she came to a wall that paralleled the road. Beyond the wall lay only a few old moss-covered stones and bushes.

Her feet ached with the cold and exertion, so she sat down with her back against the wall. On her lap she set out the box with her superior mouse. Then she opened the lid so it could breathe. Then she took out the silver ear scoop and held it in front of her pet. “We’ll have to sell this. But the money won’t last forever. And then what will we do?”

But the ear scoop dropped from her nervous fingers and fell into the weeds.

“Now I’ll have to clean it.” As she bent to get it, the white mouse leaped from her lap and onto the ground. Snatching up the spoon between its teeth, the mouse scurried to the wall. Desperately the old woman tried to grab the mouse, but it vanished through a crack in the wall.

“You ungrateful little thief,” the old woman said. “I gave up everything for you. Is this how you repay me?” Anger made her forget that she was cold and tired.

She dug and tore at the crumbling old bricks, and when her fingers began to bleed, she picked up a sharp stick instead and began to pry them out. She pulled brick after brick away from the wall, and still there was no sign of the furry bandit.

When she lifted the final brick from the spot, the last of the sunlight winked off something. Hardly daring to breathe, she dug into the dirt itself. There, buried in the earth was a large golden vase. She scrabbled even deeper and found more objects of gold and silver. And beneath them was a pile of emeralds and rubies and pearls. And right in the middle of the pile of jewels was her silver ear scoop.

The superior mouse had repaid her kindness before it had gone on its way. And in certain parts of China, the farm folk still think that white mice bring good luck.

We Are All One

Filed under: China — Edvan @ 7:52 am

Long ago there was a rich man with a disease in his eyes. For many years, the pain was so great that he could not sleep at night. He saw every doctor he could, but none of them could help him.

“What good is all my money?” he groaned. Finally, he became so desperate that he sent criers through the city offering a reward to anyone who could cure him.

Now in that city lived an old candy peddler. He would walk around with his baskets of candy, but he was so kind-hearted that he gave away as much as he sold, so he was always poor.

When the old peddler heard the announcement, he remembered something his mother had said. She had once told him about a magical herb that was good for the eyes. So he packed up his baskets and went back to the single tiny room in which his family lived.

When he told his plan to his wife, she scolded him, “If you go off on this crazy hunt, how are we supposed to eat?”

Usually the peddler gave in to his wife, but this time he was stubborn. “There are two baskets of candy,” he said. “I’ll be back before they’re gone.”

The next morning, as soon as the soldiers opened the gates, he was the first one to leave the city. He did not stop until he was deep inside the woods. As a boy, he had often wandered there. He had liked to pretend that the shadowy forest was a green sea and he was a fish slipping through the cool waters.

As he examined the ground, he noticed ants scurrying about. On their backs were larvae like white grains of rice. A rock had fallen into a stream, so the water now spilled into the ant’s nest.

“We’re all one,” the kind-hearted peddler said. So he waded into the shallow stream and put the rock on the bank. Then with a sharp stick, he dug a shallow ditch that sent the rest of the water back into the stream.

Without another thought about his good deed, he began to search through the forest. He looked everywhere; but as the day went on, he grew sleepy. “Ho-hum. I got up too early. I’ll take just a short nap,” he decided, and lay down in the shade of an old tree, where he fell right asleep.

In his dreams, the old peddler found himself standing in the middle of a great city. Tall buildings rose high overhead. He couldn’t see the sky even when he tilted back his head. An escort of soldiers marched up to him with a loud clatter of their black lacquer armor. “Our queen wishes to see you,” the captain said.

The frightened peddler could only obey and let the fierce soldiers lead him into a shining palace. There, a woman with a high crown sat upon a tall throne. Trembling, the old peddler fell to his knees and touched his forehead against the floor.

But the queen ordered him to stand. “Like the great Emperor Yu of long ago, you tamed the great flood. We are all one now. You have only to ask, and I or any of my people will come to your aid.”

The old peddler cleared his throat. “I am looking for a certain herb. It will cure any disease of the eyes.”

The queen shook her head regretfully. “I have never heard of that herb. But you will surely find it if you keep looking for it.”

And then the old peddler woke. Sitting up, he saw that in his wanderings he had come back to the ants’ nest. It was there he had taken his nap. His dream city had been the ant’s nest itself.

“This is a good omen,” he said to himself, and he began searching even harder. He was so determined to find the herb that he did not notice how time had passed. He was surprised when he saw how the light was fading. He looked all around then. There was no sight of his city — only strange hills. He realized then that he had searched so far he had gotten lost.

Night was coming fast and with it the cold. He rubbed his arms and hunted for shelter. In the twilight, he thought he could see the green tiles of a roof.

He stumbled through the growing darkness until he reached a ruined temple. Weeds grew through cracks in the stones and most of the roof itself had fallen in. Still, the ruins would provide some protection.

As he started inside, he saw a centipede with bright orange skin and red tufts of fur along its back. Yellow dots covered its sides like a dozen tiny eyes. It was also rushing into the temple as fast as it could, but there was a bird swooping down toward it.

The old peddler waved his arms and shouted, scaring the bird away. Then he put down his palm in front of the insect. “We are all one, you and I.” The many feet tickled his skin as the centipede climbed onto his hand.

Inside the temple, he gathered dried leaves and found old sticks of wood and soon he had a fire going. The peddler even picked some fresh leaves for the centipede from a bush near the temple doorway. “I may have to go hungry, but you don’t have to, friend.”

Stretching out beside the fire, the old peddler pillowed his head on his arms. He was so tired that he soon fell asleep, but even in his sleep he dreamed he was still searching in the woods. Suddenly he thought he heard footsteps near his head. He woke instantly and looked about, but he only saw the brightly colored centipede.

“Was it you, friend?” The old peddler chuckled and, lying down, he closed his eyes again. “I must be getting nervous.”

“We are one, you and I,” a voice said faintly — as if from a long distance. “If you go south, you will find a pine tree with two trunks. By its roots, you will find a magic bead. A cousin of mine spat on it years ago. Dissolve that bead in wine and tell the rich man to drink it if he wants to heal his eyes.”

The old peddler trembled when he heard the voice, because he realized that the centipede was magical. He wanted to run from the temple, but he couldn’t even get up. It was as if he were glued to the floor.

But then the old peddler reasoned with himself: If the centipede had wanted to hurt me, it could have long ago. Instead, it seems to want to help me.

So the old peddler stayed where he was, but he did not dare open his eyes. When the first sunlight fell through the roof, he raised one eyelid cautiously. There was no sign of the centipede. He sat up and looked around, but the magical centipede was gone.

He followed the centipede’s instructions when he left the temple. Traveling south, he kept a sharp eye out for the pine tree with two trunks. He walked until late in the afternoon, but all he saw were normal pine trees. Wearily he sat down and sighed. Even if he found the pine tree, he couldn’t be sure that he would find the bead. Someone else might even have discovered it a long time ago.

But something made him look a little longer. Just when he was thinking about turning back, he saw the odd tree. Somehow his tired legs managed to carry him over to the tree, and he got down on his knees. But the ground was covered with pine needles and his old eyes were too weak. The old peddler could have wept with frustration, and then he remembered the ants.
He began to call, “Ants, ants, we are all one.”

Almost immediately, thousands of ants came boiling out of nowhere. Delighted, the old man held up his fingers. “I’m looking for a bead. It might be very tiny.”

Then, careful not to crush any of his little helpers, the old man sat down to wait. In no time, the ants reappeared with a tiny bead. With trembling fingers, the old man took the bead from them and examined it. It was colored orange and looked as if it had yellow eyes on the sides.

There was nothing very special about the bead, but the old peddler treated it like a fine jewel. Putting the bead into his pouch, the old peddler bowed his head. “I thank you and I thank your queen,” the old man said. After the ants disappeared among the pine needles, he made his way out of the woods.

The next day, he reached the house of the rich man. However, he was so poor and ragged that the gatekeeper only laughed at him. “How could an old beggar like you help my master?”

The old peddler tried to argue. “Beggar or rich man, we are all one.”

But it so happened that the rich man was passing by the gates. He went over to the old peddler. “I said anyone could see me. But it’ll mean a stick across your back if you’re wasting my time.”

The old peddler took out the pouch. “Dissolve this bead in some wine and drink it down.” Then, turning the pouch upside down, he shook the tiny bead onto his palm and handed it to the rich man.

The rich man immediately called for a cup of wine. Dropping the bead into the wine, he waited a moment and then drank it down. Instantly the pain vanished. Shortly after that, his eyes healed.
The rich man was so happy and grateful that he doubled the reward. And the kindly old peddler and his family lived comfortably for the rest of their lives.

Natural Enemies

Filed under: China — Edvan @ 7:33 am

A long time ago there was an old man who lived in a house down a city alley. High walls hid it from view. He had no family and his only company was a cat and dog.

He never went out to work. He didn’t even go out to buy food. No one ever visited him. Naturally, everyone was very curious. But one thief was especially curious.

One night he snuck into a neighbor’s courtyard and peeked over the walls. He saw a wonderful garden full of strange stones and waterfalls. In the center of the garden was a house fancy enough for an emperor.

The curious thief climbed over the wall and stole through the garden and into the house. The inside of the house was filled with fine furniture and antiques. Finally, he found the old man in the dining room. Tall pillars of red lacquer ran the length of the room. Gold covered the carvings on the sides of the pillars. On the beams of the ceiling were painted different scenes of China.

The table and chairs were carved from rare purple woods. The old man sat in one chair with both a cat and a dog balanced on his lap. But there were neither plates of food on the table nor any servants to serve them.

The old man smiled at the dog. “And what do you want to eat tonight?”

The dog gave a bark and the old man nodded. “I thought so.” He picked up a long slender ivory wand. The stem curved upward to a carved lotus. “As you like it, as I like it, I would like some beef stew.”

A big golden bowl of beef stew popped into the air above the table and landed with a clank in front of the dog. The smell was delicious, and he happily began to wolf down his food.

“And what do you want?” the old man asked his cat. The cat merely licked her paws. “The same as usual, I suppose.” The old man wished on the wand, and a big steaming carp appeared before the cat. With a disgusted look at the dog, the cat began to eat daintily.

Then the old man wished up his dinner on the wand. There were precious plates of gold encrusted with jewels and bowls carved from solid pieces of jade. But after the old man had drunk his wine, he gave a big yawn. “I think it’s time for bed.”

He wished the dirty plates all away, and then he and his two pets headed into the bedroom where he lay down on a big four-poster bed covered with silk and pearls. The dog and cat raced for the bed; but though the dog could run faster, the cat could leap higher. She got to the head of the bed first so the dog had to go to the foot.

“Leave some room for me,” the old man laughed. He eased in between his two jealous pets. Soon the three were fast asleep.

The thief waited patiently until the old man and his pets had begun to snore. Then he snuck into the room and stole the wand.

The next morning, the old man woke and found his wand was missing. He hid his face in his hands and wept. “I’m ruined. Ruined! And I’m too old to go looking for the thief.”

But then he felt something wet on the backs of his hands and he looked up to see that it was his cat and dog licking him. He put his hand on the dog. “Will you be my strong legs and go find him?” The dog’s big tongue licked his hand again.

The old man looked at his cat. “Will you be my clever mind and get the wand?” And the cat’s small tongue tickled his other hand.

The two loyal pets left the old man. They looked all over China. They lived by their skills and their wits. The dog sniffed around in alleys for things that people threw out. Sometimes, he had to fight the other beggars. But the dog was big and strong so he always won. He always shared his meals with the cat.

The cat learned how to leap up through kitchen windows and steal food. Often she would eat most of it inside the house. Then she would bring the leftovers to the dog.

Eventually, the two animals heard of a rich man who had appeared out of nowhere. A broad, swift river separated them from his house. “You’re strong enough to bear me,” the cat said.

“You carry me.”

“But don’t dig in your claws,” the dog warned and crouched. The cat leaped onto his back, and the dog slipped into the river. The water was so cold and swift that the dog soon grew tired.

“I can’t do it,” the dog groaned.

“Yes, you can,” the cat urged. “Think of home. Think of hot meals and soft silk.”

So the dog went on until he climbed out exhausted on the opposite bank. “Now for the wand,” the cat said. She wasn’t tired at all and sped up the hill.

“Wait for me,” the dog called and, shaking himself off, trotted after the cat.

But the cat did not want to wait for the big, slow dog. She dashed ahead impatiently. By now she was an expert at sneaking into houses. She crept silently into the villa. When she heard footsteps, she ducked behind a vase.

The thief strode by in a robe of silk embroidered with gold. Around his neck hung the wand on a golden chain. But he was not as careless as the old man. Two guards accompanied him at all times.

Going outside, the cat just stopped the dog from blundering inside. “We’ll have to use both your strength and my wits to get the wand,” she explained.

“Anything for the master,” the dog promised.

They waited until the thief went for a walk in his garden. The dog suddenly darted out from under a bush and past the two startled guards and leaped on the thief, knocking him over.

“Stop him,” the thief shouted frantically. The two guards could not use their swords because they might hurt their employer. Instead, they tried to pull the dog away.

While the dog was fighting for his life, the cat shot in like a small streak of fur. Perching on the rich man’s chest, she pressed her paws against the wand. When the thief reached for the wand, the cat bit his hand so he snatched it back.

Silently, the cat wished, “As you like it, as I like it, I would like to be back home with the wand.”

As the cat began to fade from sight, the dog barked at her. “Wait for me, wait for me.”

But the cat vanished from sight.

The next moment, she was back in the old man’s bedroom. The old man lay in a ragged robe on a simple straw mat. He had sold everything else to pay his debts. Through the window, the cat could see that the garden itself had fallen into ruin.

“Thank Heaven, you’ve come back,” the old man said. “I was getting so lonely. I don’t care whether you brought back the wand.”

But the cat picked up the wand in her mouth and brought it over to the old man. Gently she let it drop into the old man’s lap.

“You did bring it back!” the old man cried out. “You blessed animal.” He held out his hand. “But where’s our other friend? Didn’t he come with you? Or did he get tired and go off on his own?”

The cat simply looked up at the old man, and the old man reached his own hasty conclusions.

While the old man cursed the dog, the cat curled up on his knees. Both the lap and the magic were hers now.

The old man wished the thief to his just reward and then restored the house. But he never gave another thought to the dog until months later. Suddenly there was a familiar barking outside the gates.

The old man opened them to see his tired, dusty dog. One ear was torn, and he was badly scratched. The old man frowned. “Now that the cat’s made everything right, you’ve decided to come back. Well, it’s too late.”

The cat, fat and sleek, strolled up behind the old man. “Tell him, tell him,” the dog barked angrily.

But the cat merely began to lick itself. And then the old man had shut the gates on the dog.

“Stop making so much noise,” the old man shouted over the gates. “Or I’ll send you to the Himalayas.”

The dog slunk away so the cat had the old man all to herself. But all dogs remember the cat’s treachery, and dogs have hated cats ever since then.

The Bright Pearl

Filed under: China — Edvan @ 7:31 am

Long, long ago there was a snow-white Jade Dragon, living in a rock cave on the east bank of the Celestial River. In the great forest across the river lived a beautiful Golden Phoenix.

Leaving their home every morning, the dragon and the phoenix met each other before going their different ways. One flew in the sky, while the other swam in the Celestial River. One day both came to a fairy island. There they found a shining pebble and were fascinated by its beauty.

“Look, how beautiful this pebble is!” Golden Phoenix said to Jade Dragon.

“Let’s carve it into a pearl,” said Jade Dragon.

Golden Phoenix nodded in agreement. Then they started working on it, Jade Dragon using his claws and Golden Phoenix her beak. They carved the pebble day after day, month after month, until they finally made it into a perfect small round ball. In high spirits Golden Phoenix flew to the sacred mountain to gather dewdrops and Jade Dragon carried a lot of clear water from the Celestial River. They sprinkled and washed the ball with dew and water. Gradually the ball turned into a dazzling pearl.

They had become attached to each other and both loved the pearl dearly. Neither wanted to go back to the cave and the forest. So they settled down on the fairy island guarding the pearl.

It was a magic pearl. Wherever it shone, things grew better. Trees became green all the year round, flowers of all seasons bloomed together and the land yielded a richer harvest.

One day the Queen Mother of Heaven left her palace and saw the brilliant rays shed by the pearl. Overwhelmed by the sight, she was eager to acquire it. She sent one of her guards to go in the middle of the night to steal the pearl from Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix while they were fast asleep. When the guard came back with it, the Queen Mother was very pleased. She would not show it to anyone, but immediately hid it in the innermost room of her palace, to reach which one had to pass through nine locked doors.

When Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix woke up in the morning they found the pearl gone. Frantically, they searched high and low for it. Jade Dragon looked into every nook and cranny at the bottom of the Celestial River, while Golden Phoenix combed every inch of the sacred mountain, but in vain. They continued their unhappy search day and night, hoping to recover their treasured pearl.

On the birthday of the Queen Mother, all the gods and goddesses in Heaven came to her palace to offer their congratulations. She prepared a grand feast, entertaining her guests with nectar and celestial peaches, the fruit of immortality. The gods and goddesses all said to her, “May your fortune be as boundless as the East Sea and your life last long like the South Mountain!” The Queen Mother was excited and, on a sudden impulse, declared, “My immortal friends, I want to show you a precious pearl which cannot be found either in Heaven or on earth.”

So she unfastened nine keys from her girdle and unlocked the nine doors one after the other. From the innermost room of her palace she took out the bright pearl, placed it on a golden tray and carried it carefully to the center of the banquet hall. The whole hall was instantly lit by the pearl. The guests were fascinated by its radiance and greatly admired it.

In the meantime, Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix were continuing their fruitless search. Suddenly Golden Phoenix saw its bright light. She called to Jade Dragon, “Look, isn’t that the light from our pearl?”

Jade Dragon stuck his head out of the Celestial River and looked. “Of course! No doubt about it! Let’s go and get it back.”

They flew towards the light, which led them to the palace of the Queen Mother. When they landed there, they found the immortals crowding around the pearl and praising it lavishly. Pushing through the crowd, Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix shouted together, “This is our pearl!”

The Queen Mother was so enraged by their claim that she snapped, “Nonsense! I’m the mother of the Heavenly Emperor. All treasures belong to me!”

Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix were infuriated by her remarks. They protested, “Heaven did not give birth to this pearl, nor was it grown on earth. It was carved and polished by us. It took many years’ hard work.”

Shamed and angry, the Queen Mother clutched the tray tightly while ordering her palace guards to eject Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix. But they fought their way back, determined to snatch the pearl from the Queen Mother. The three struggled over the golden tray with all their might. As the tray shook amidst the tussle, the pearl fell off, rolled to the edge of the stairs and then dropped into the air.

Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix rushed out of the palace, trying to save it from being dashed to pieces. They flew beside the falling pearl, until it slowly landed on earth. When it touched the ground the pearl immediately turned into a clear, green lake. Jade Dragon and Golden Phoenix could not bear to part from it, and so they changed themselves into two mountains, remaining for ever by the side of the lake.

Since then Jade Dragon Mountain and Golden Phoenix Mountain have quietly stood beside the West Lake.

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