Chinese Folktales

44. Black Magic

THE savages in the southwest practise a great deal of black magic. Often they lure people from the Middle Kingdom by promising their daughters to them in marriage. These wretches must then work for them and the marriage does not in the end take place. Thus there Was once a son of poor parents who was pledged as the son-in-law of a savage. He had to work for three years; after that the daughter was promised to him in marriage. The wedding was celebrated and a special hut prepared as their wedding chamber. The bride was beautiful beyond all measure and was eighteen or nineteen years old. accordance with custom she entered the chamber first, With a lantern in her hand. But When the bridegroom lifted the bed curtains and was about to get on to the couch the girl had disappeared and was not to be found anywhere. The door and the windows were firmly bolted as before and he could not think where she had got to. So things went on for a month. She was there in the daytime and gone at night. But during the day she would not speak a single word to him, and the bridegroom grew suspicious.

There was also a younger sister in the house. She was always coming out into the courtyard to play. At a suitable moment the man began to question her about the whole business. At first she did not want to give anything away, but he gradually won her confidence by giving her sweets. Then she confessed to him that the whole thing was a magic trick. However, if he were to sprinkle the blood of chickens or dogs in the four corners of the house and quickly snatch the bride’s clothes she could not then escape from him. He did as the young girl counselled and when the young wife entered at nightfall and closed the door and got into bed he stepped up swiftly and caught her sleeve. However much she tried she could not escape.

Then she said with a smile: ‘No doubt my talkative little sister has told you everything. But it never Was my Wish to refuse to be your Wife; it was my parents’ command and dared not oppose them. But as things have fallen out now heaven has clearly meant us for each other.’

So they really became man and wife and came to love one another more each day. The parents knew about it and secretly hated him for it.

One day the Wife said to him: ‘Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday, you too must give her your good wishes. They Will certainly offer you Wine and food. NOW you may drink the wine but you must not touch the food. Remember this.’

The day the wife and her husband stepped into the hall to offer their good wishes. The parents appeared to be greatly pleased and offered them wine and sweetmeats. The son-in-law drank but did not eat anything. With gentle words and friendly gestures his parents-in-law continually invited him to help himself. The son-in-law did not know how to refuse. In the end he thought that surely they would not cause him any harm and when he saw fresh and tempting shrimps and crabs on the plate before him he ate a little of them. His wife gave him a reproachful glance. He pretended to be drunk and made as if to leave. But his mother-in-law said: “This is my birthday. You must try some of my birthday noodles! ‘

Thereupon she placed a large dish in front of him, with noodles resembling silver threads, and with rich meat spiced with fragrant mushrooms. Throughout the three years he had spent at the house the son-in-law had never eaten such delicious food. Its perfume rose temptingly to his nostrils and he could not Stop himself from picking up his chopsticks. His wife signalled to him with her eyes but he pretended not to notice. She cleared her throat meaningly but he pretended not to hear it. Only When she kicked him under the table did he regain control of himself.

He had eaten less than half his plateful and said: have had enough. ‘

Thereupon he left with his wife.

‘This is a bad business,’ his wife said. ‘You did not listen to me and now you are sure to die.’

But he would not believe it until suddenly he felt a violent pain in his body which soon became so unbearable that he fell to the ground unconscious. Hastily his wife hung him up by his heels from a ceiling beam, his head downwards, and placed a brazier with glowing coals under his body and stood a large vessel with water and some oil of sesame in front of the fire directly under his mouth. As the fire now warmed his body right through there was a rumble inside him like thunder and he Opened his mouth and began to vomit violently. And the things he threw up! A mass of squirming poisonous worms, centipedes, toads and tadpoles plunged into the vessel with the water. His Wife thereupon untied him again, carried him to his bed and gave him wine with realgar to drink. After that he felt better.

‘What you thought were shrimps and crabs,’ his wife said to him ‘were in fact toads and tadpoles, and the birthday noodles Were poisonous worms and centipedes. Now you must not relax your vigilance! My parents know that you have not died and they are sure to plot further schemes.’

A few days later his father-in-law said to him ‘There is a tall tree growing on the rock-face in front of the cave with a phoenix nest in it. You are still young and good at climbing. Run up there for me and get me the eggs! ‘

The son-in-law went home and told his wife.

‘Take long bamboo poles with you,’ she said, ‘then tie them together and fasten a sickle-sword to the end. Here are nine loaves and seven times seven chicken eggs. Take these with you in a basket. When you come to the spot will see a large nest up among the branches. Do not climb the tree but cut the nest down with the sickle-sword Then throw away the pole and ran as fast as you can! If a monster pursues you throw the loaves at it, always three at a time, and in the end drop the eggs On the ground and run home as fast as you can I in this way you may come safely through the dangers.’

The man remembered this carefully and left. And true enough there was a bird’s nest as large as a circular pavilion. He tied his sickle-sword to the pole and, using all his strength, cut the nest down. He then dropped the pole on the ground and without turning his head ran back. Suddenly he heard the roar of a thunderstorm overhead. When he glanced up he saw a huge dragon a hundred yards long and some ten feet in circumference. Its eyes glittered like a pair of lamps and from its mouth came flames of fire. Two of its horns were thrusting downwards. Just then the man threw his loaves into the air. The dragon caught them and took a little while to devour them. But no sooner had the man gained a little headway

than the dragon again caught up with him. so he threw up some more loaves and when he had run out of them, he emptied his basket and let the eggs roll Over the ground. The dragon had not yet eaten its fill and its mouth was gaping with hunger. When it suddenly saw the eggs On the ground it came down from the air, and because the eggs were scattered all around it was a little while before they were all drained empty. Meanwhile the man made good his escape and reached home.

As he entered the room and saw his wife he said to her between sobs: ‘It was a narrow escape and I very nearly filled the dragon’s belly. If things go on like this, I shall die.’ With these words he knelt down and implored his Wife to Save his life. ‘Where is your home?’ his wife asked him. ‘My home is a good hundred miles from here, in the Middle Kingdom. My Old mother is still alive, but what worries me is that we are so poor.’ His wife said: will escape with you and seek out your mother. Do not worry about being poor.’ With these words she took whatever pearls and precious stones there were in the house, put them in a sack and bade her husband to tie it round his loins. She then gave him an umbrella and at dead of night they eloped, climbing the wall with a ladder. Then she said to him: ‘Put the umbrella on your back and run as fast as you can! Do not open it and do not look round I will follow you secretly.’ So he turned towards the north and ran as hard as he could. He had run for a day and night, near on a hundred miles, and had already crossed the frontier of the land of the savages when his legs began to ache and he felt hungry. Ahead of him lay a mountain village. He stopped at the entrance to the village to rest a little, took some food from his pocket and ate it. He looked round but could not see his wife.

Then he said to himself: ‘Perhaps she deceived me and is not following me at all.’

When he had finished eating he drank from a spring and then wearily dragged himself onwards. Just as the day was at its hottest a violent downpour suddenly started. In his hurry the man forgot his wife’s instructions and opened the umbrella to protect himself against the rain. Then his wife fell out of the umbrella on to the ground, completely naked.

She reproached him: ‘Once again you did not listen to me. Now look at the trouble we are in.’

She urged him to hurry into the village to buy a White cockerel, seven black cups and half a piece of red muslin.

‘And don’t be mean with your money! ‘ she called after him.

He went into the village, bought all these things and returned. His wife tore up the cloth, made a skirt cut of it and put it on. They had barely walked a few miles when a red cloud was seen approaching from the south, as swift as a bird.

‘That is my mother,’ said the wife.

A moment later she was there overhead. Then the Wife took the black cups and flung them at her. She flung up seven and all seven fell down again. Then they could hear the mother cry and complain up in the cloud, and then she disappeared.

They continued for about four hours. Then they heard a sound behind them like silk being ripped and there Was a cloud, as black as ink, sailing up against the Wind.

‘Alas, that is my father!’ said the Wife. ‘Now it is a matter of life and death. He will not let us go. For love of you I must now break the most sacred commandment.’

With these words she swiftly picked up the White cockerel, tore of its head and flung it up into the air. The black cloud dissolved and her father’s body dropped down by the side of the road, its head severed. Then the woman cried bitterly and When she had finished crying they buried the corpse. They then continued on their Way to the man’s home. There they found his old mother still alive. They now produced their pearls and precious things, bought a good piece of land, built themselves a handsome house and became wealthy and well respected throughout the neighbourhood.