Chinese Folktales

32. The Rejected Princess

IN the Tang period there lived a man by name of Liu Yi who had failed his doctor’s examination. So he set out on his homeward journey. He had covered about six or seven miles when a bird flew up in a field. His horse shied and bolted some ten miles before it would halt again. When it stopped Liu Yi saw a woman tending sheep on a mountainside. He looked at her: she was exceedingly beautiful but her features betrayed secret grief. Curious, he asked her the reason for her sorrow.

The woman began to sob and said: ‘Fortune has turned its back on me; have fallen into adversity and disgrace. But since you have shown the kindness of asking me I will tell you everything openly. I am the youngest daughter of the dragon ruler of the Tungting Lake and was married to the second son of the dragon king of the Ching river. But my husband was frivolously inclined and had an intrigue with a maidservant. He then cast me out. I complained to my parents-in-law, but they were so blinded by their love for their son that they did nothing. When entreated them more urgently they both got angry and I was sent here to tend the sheep.’ When she had finished speaking she burst out sobbing bitterly and quite uncontrollably. Then she continued; ‘The Tung-ting Lake is a long way from here, but I have found out that you pass it on your homeward journey. I would like you to give a letter to my father, but I am not sure whether you will do this for me?’

Liu Yi replied: ‘Your words have most deeply stirred my heart I wish I had Wings to fly away with you. I will gladly deliver your letter to your father. But the Tungting Lake is vast and wide—how shall I be able to find him?’

‘On the southern shore of the lake stands an orange tree,’ the woman replied. “The people call it the tree of sacrifice. When you get there you must take off your belt and swing it three times at the orange tree; then someone will appear you may follow. If you see my father, please tell him in what misery you have found me and that I crave his help.’

Then she produced a letter from bosom and gave it to Liu Yi. She bowed to him and with a deep sigh looked towards the east. Liu Yi, too, found the tears running down his cheeks. He took the letter and put it in his satchel. Then he asked: ‘l do not understand why you must tend sheep. Surely the gods do not slaughter animals?’

‘These are no ordinary sheep,’ said the woman, ‘they are rain servants.’

‘What are rain servants?’

‘They are thunder rams,’ the woman said.

And when he looked more closely he saw that the annuals strode about proudly and wildly, quite unlike ordinary sheep.

Liu Yi added: ‘When I have taken this letter to your father so at some future date you are able to return safely to the Tung-ting Lake, you must not then treat me like a Stranger.’ The woman replied: ‘How could I ever treat you as a stranger? You shall be my dearest friend!’ With these words they parted.

After a month Liu Yi reached the Tungting Lake and asked his way to the orange tree. When he had found it he took of his belt and struck it three times against the tree. At once a warrior emerged from the lake’s waves. He asked; ‘Where do you come from, honoured guest?’ Liu Yi replied: ‘l have an important message and want to see the king.’

The warrior motioned towards the water and it instantly turned into a solid road for Liu Yi to ride along. In front of them appeared the dragon castle with its thousand gates. Strange flowers and rare grasses grew in profusion everywhere. The warrior bade him wait at the entrance to a great hall. He asked: “What is the name of this place?’

‘This is the hall of spirits,’ Was the reply. Liu Yi looked about him. All the precious things of the human world were present here in lavish magnificence. The columns were of white quartz inlaid with green jasper; the seats were of coral, the curtains were of translucent rock crystal, and the windows of polished glass adorned with rich scroll-work. The vaulting of the ceiling was decorated with amber. A strange perfume hung in the air and the whole roam was steeped in a mysterious twilight.

Liu Yi was kept waiting a long time to see the king. In reply to his questions the warrior said: ‘My lord is pleased to discuss the sacred book of the fire with the sun priest on top of the coral tower at this moment. No doubt he will soon be finished.’

Liu Yi went on asking: ‘Why the sacred book of the fire?’

The reply was: ‘Our lord is a dragon. The dragons are mighty by the power of water. With a single wave they can mountains and valleys. The priest is a human. Humans are mighty by the power of fire. With a single

torch they can burn down the greatest palaces. Fire and water are at war because in their nature they are opposed. That is why our lord converses with the priest, in order to find a way in which fire and water may supplement each other.’

Before they had finished a man in a purple robe with a sceptre of jasper in his hand.

The warrior said: ‘This is my lord. ‘

Liu Yi bowed before him.

The king said: ‘Surely you are a living human? What brings you here?’

Liu Yi gave his name and related: ‘l was in the capital and there failed my examination. As I passed the Ching river I saw your beloved daughter tending sheep in the wilderness. The wind had tousled her hair and the rain had drenched it. I could not bear to see her misery and therefore addressed her. She complained to me that her husband had cast her out and she cried bitterly. Then she gave me a letter. That, sire, is why I have come to see you.’

with these words he produced the letter and handed it to the king. When the king had read it he hid his face in his sleeve and said with a sigh: ‘This is my fault. I chose a bad husband for her. I was anxious to get my daughter married as soon as possible and now I have thrust her into shame and humiliation in a distant land. You are a stranger, yet you were ready to help her in her need; for that I am sincerely grateful to you.’ Then he began to sob again and all those around him shed tears.

The king now handed the letter to a servant who took it into the interior of the palace. After a short while loud laments were heard from the inner rooms.

The king was startled and turned to one of his officials:

‘Go and tell them in there not to cry so noisily; I am afraid Chientang might hear them.’

‘And Who is Chientang? ‘ asked Liu Yi.

‘He is my beloved brother,’ said the king. ‘He used to be the ruler of the Chientang river, but now he has been deposed.’

Liu Yi asked: ‘Why should he not hear about this business?’

‘He is so wild and impetuous,’ was the reply, ‘that I am afraid he might do great damage. The great flood which covered the earth for nine years during the reign of the Emperor Yao was caused by him in his anger. Because he had a quarrel with a heavenly ruler he caused a great flood which reached to the summits of the five tall mountains. Then the lord was angry with him and gave him into my charge. I had to chain him to a column of the palace.’

Before he could finish a sudden uproar broke out, a noise rending the sky and shaking the earth and causing the whole palace to tremble, and causing smoke and clouds to billow out with a fierce hissing. A red dragon burst in, a thousand feet long, with flashing eyes, a blood red tongue, scarlet scales and a fiery beard. The column to which he had been fettered was dragged along by him on a chain through the air. Snow, rain and hail were swirling in Wild confusion. There was a thunderclap and the dragon soared up towards the sky and disappeared.

Liu Yi fell to the ground with fright. The king helped him up with his own hands and said: ‘No need to be afraid! That is my brother hurrying off to the Ching river in anger. We shall soon have good news.’

He thereupon commanded Wine and food to be brought in and to be served to the guest. When the cup had gone

the rounds three times a gentle breeze sprang up with a whisper and fine rain fell softly. A young man in a purple robe and tall hat entered. At his side he wore a sword. He had a manly and heroic bearing. Behind him walked a girl of striking beauty in a misty-fragrant garment. When Liu Yi looked at her he recognized her as the dragon princess he had met on his journey. A crowd of girls dressed in red received her, with much laughing and giggling and led her of into the interior of the palace. The ruler meanwhile introduced the young man, saying: ‘This is Chientang, my brother.’

Chientang thanked him for conveying the message. He then turned to his brother and said: ‘I fought those damned dragons and utterly defeated them.’

‘How many did you kill?’

‘Six hundred thousand.’

Was farmland damaged?’

‘Over some eight hundred miles.’

‘And where is the heartless husband?’

‘l have eaten him’

Then the king Was horrified and said: ‘What that vile knave did was, of course, intolerable. But you have been rather too rough on him. You must not do such a thing again in future.’ Chientang gave him his promise. That night a great feast was held at the castle for Liu Yi. The banquet was heightened by music and dancing. A thousand warriors with banners and spears in their hands stepped forward. Trombones and trumpets were sounded, gongs and kettle-drums were beaten, and a war dance was performed. The music expressed how Chientang had broken through the enemy ranks. At the mere sound of it the guest’s hair stood on end in fright. Then, by contrast, came the soft sound of strings, flutes and golden bells.

Clad in red and green silk, a thousand girls performed a dance, symbolizing the princess’s return. The notes were like a song, like sobbing, like laments, like grief, and all those who heard them were reduced to tears. The king of the Tungting Lake was highly pleased. Then he raised his cup and drank the guest’s health until the wine had washed away all their worries. The two rulers thanked their guest in verse and Liu Yi for his part replied in a rhymed toast. The crowds of courtiers in the palace applauded. Then the king of the Tungting Lake brought out a blue cloud box in which the water-cleaving rhinoceros horn lay. Chientang brought out a slab of red amber with a carbuncle on it. This he presented to the guest, and everyone else in the palace likewise heaped up presents by his side—embroideries, brocades and pearls. Surrounded by gleam and glitter Liu Yi sat there, thanking everybody with a smile. When the meal was over he slept in the castle of frozen splendour.

The following day another banquet was given. Chien-tang, a little drunk, was lolling back in his seat and said: ‘The daughter of the king of the Tungting Lake is trim and pretty. She was unfortunate enough to be cast out by her husband. Today her marriage is dissolved. I should like to find her another husband. If you agreed to be her husband this might he of advantage to you. If you are not so inclined, you are free to go your way and if ever we meet again we shall not know each other.’

Liu Yi was annoyed at the offhand manner in which Chientang spoke to him. The blood rose to his head and he retorted: ‘l acted as messenger because I took pity on the princess and not in order to gain a personal advantage. To kill a husband and abduct his wife—that is some, thing an honest man does not do. Even though I am no

more than an ordinary human I would rather die than act on your words.’

Chientang got to his feet, apologized and said: ‘I spoke too hastily. I hope you will forgive me.’ And the lord of the Tungting Lake likewise spoke to him kindly and rebuked Chientang for his rude speech. The subject of the marriage was not touched upon again.

The following day Liu Yi took his leave and the queen of the Tungting Lake gave another banquet in honour of his departure.

With tears in her eyes the queen said to Liu Yi: ‘My daughter owes you a great debt of gratitude and we have had no chance of repaying you. Now you are leaving us and we are letting you go with a heavy heart.’

Thereupon she ordered the princess to thank Liu Yi. The princess rose, blushing, bowed to Liu Yi and said: ‘We shall probably never meet again.’ Then the tears choked her.

Liu Yi had resisted her uncle’s impetuous urgings but as he now saw the princess standing in all her loveliness he regretted it in his heart. However, he controlled himself and departed. The treasure which he took with him was immense. The king himself and his brother escorted him as far as the river.

Back home, even though he sold only one-hundredth part of what he had received, his fortune amounted to millions and he became richer than any of his neighbours. He was twice married, but both his wives died after a short while. So he lived on in the capital, alone. He was looking for a new wife. A marriage broker came to see him and told him that in the north there was a widow living with her daughter. The father had embraced Taoism in his old age and had disappeared in the clouds and never returned. The mother was now living with her daughter in reduced circumstances, but because the girl was beautiful beyond all measure she was looking for a noble son-in-law.

Liu Yi agreed and the marriage was arranged. When, on the evening of his wedding, he saw his bride unveiled she looked exactly like the dragon princess. He asked her, but she only smiled and said nothing. After a year she gave birth to a son. Then she said to her husband ‘Today I will confess to you—I am really the princess of the Tungting Lake. After you had spurned my uncle’s offer and parted from us, I became ill with longing and was near death. My parents wanted to send word to you, but they were afraid you might object to my origin. Thus I was married to you disguised as a human gill. Until now I did not dare confess this to you. But now that I have borne you a son I hope that you will transfer your love for him to his mother.’

It seemed to Liu Yi that he was suddenly awakening from a deep Stupor. And the two loved each other deeply.

One day the wife said: ‘If you want to live with me eternally we cannot remain in the human world. We dragons reach an age of ten thousand years and you shall share our long life. Come back with me to the Tungting Lake!’

Ten years passed and no one knew where Liu Yi had vanished to. One day, when a relation of his was sailing the Tungting Lake, a blue mountain suddenly emerged from the surface the waters.

The sailors called out in alarm: There is no mountain at this spot; it must be a water demon!’ While they were arguing and keeping a lookout the mountain came closer to the ship and from its summit a brightly coloured boat glided down into the water. Along the two sides stood fairies and in the middle sat a man. It was Liu Yi. He waved his hand to his cousin and the cousin gathered up his robes and stepped across into his boat. But at that moment it suddenly changed back into a mountain and on that mountain was a magnificent castle and there, standing in the castle was Liu Yi, surrounded by music and brilliant colours.

They greeted each other and Liu Yi said to his cousin: ‘It is only a moment since we last met and your hair is grey already. ‘

The cousin replied: ‘You are a blessed god, but I have a corruptible body. That is fate.’

But Liu Yi gave him fifty pills and said: ‘Each pill will prolong your life by a year. When these years have expired dwell no longer in the world of earthly dust which knows nothing but misery and suffering, but come and join me.’

He then sailed with him across the lake and vanished.

His cousin withdrew from the world and after fifty years, when he had swallowed all the pills, he too disappeared and was never seen again.