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Third in the series of folktales from China, with 12 tales of Dai, Mongolian and Uighur origin. For ages 7 and up.
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(A Uighur Story)
Aimutaike was a very poor man. The only thing he owned in all the world was a pomegranate tree. On this tree he lavished all his care, tending it and watching over it. When the pomegranates were ripe, he would sit day and night under the tree and keep watch, not even daring to blink for fear the fruit might come to harm. If any children tried to climb over the wall, he would give them a scolding as soon as he saw them appear, and drive them away; if they succeeded in getting over the wall, he might even teach them a lesson by giving them a good beating. Through this stern manner, he acquired the nickname King. As more and more people heard about him, he became the “King of the Pomegranate Tree.”
One autumn, when the pomegranates were ripe again, he was keeping watch as usual. But he could not maintain his vigilance day in day out, despite his longing, and one night he dozed off. When he woke up with a start he found some of the pomegranates gone. He blamed himself for not keeping a good watch. But, nevertheless, he couldn’t help falling asleep again the next night. This time, a lot of pomegranates disappeared during his doze. What a grievous loss!
He decided he had to do something about it. So he sat down under the tree and only pretended to be asleep; he had to find out who the thief was! After a while, something crept over the wall. From under his eyelids Aimutaike saw a fox jump down and crouch by its foot. Then, thinking him asleep, the fox slunk up to the pomegranate tree without making the slightest noise. Suddenly Aimutaike sprang to his feet and, standing on tiptoe, caught the animal by the tail, vowing he would teach him a lesson for stealing the fruit from his tree.
But the fox was tricky — he rolled himself up and with a jump managed to be gone like a puff of smoke. All that was left were two handfuls of hair in Aimutaike’s hands. He was worried. Mounting guard against children had been difficult enough; how was he to deal with a fox? An old neighbour of his who came on a visit found him looking very gloomy and asked him what was the matter.
Aimutaike pointed to the pomegranate tree and said, “A fox comes and steals my pomegranates. Now I don’t even get half the fruit I used to....”
“I’ll tell you how to catch that fox!” said the old neighbour. “Heat a pot of glue and pour it along the foot of the wall where the fox jumped down, so that he’ll get stuck in it when he comes again.” The old man’s method worked — the fox was caught the very same night. Aimutaike was so angry that he wanted to beat the thieving animal to death. But the fox pleaded for his life, saying, “Forgive me, King Aimutaike! I’ll try and serve you all my life! I’ll even find you a good wife.” When Aimutaike heard this, he became even more enraged. “Are you, a stinking fox, making fun of me? How can I marry, penniless as I am? Who’ll give me his daughter for a wife?” Again he brandished his stick and again the fox pleaded with him. “Don’t beat me before you’ve heard me out; know that I’m speaking the truth! Not only will I find you a wife, but she’ll be the daughter of a real king.” It took quite some time, but finally Aimutaike let himself be persuaded that the fox was telling the truth, and set the animal free.
Thereupon the fox went straight to an old king in a remote country and asked, “Would you please lend me your sieve? The king who is my master has heard that only you possess a sieve that can sift agates and pearls, and since his jewels are dusty and need sifting, he has sent me here to borrow your sieve.”
When the old king heard another king mentioned, he willingly let the fox borrow his sieve. Then the fox stole some precious stones and pearls and stuck them here and there into the meshes of the sieve. After a few days, he returned the sieve to the king. As he was thanking the king for its use, he let the sieve drop to the ground so that the precious stones and pearls rolled out. The princesses and princes immediately rushed to pick them up. The fox feigned astonishment: “Do you really care for such trifles? If I had known that, I would have brought you a whole sieve of them! My lord, King Aimutaike, has plenty of them!”
When the old king heard this, he conceived a great admiration for King Aimutaike. He gave the fox a courteous reception and said, “I would like to marry one of my three daughters to your king. It will be good fortune for my daughter to be married to the noble King Aimutaike, and it will also be an honour for me. Would you care to be the match-maker?” All three princesses would have liked to marry King Aimutaike. But the fox put them off. “Don’t be so impatient!” he said. “I have no idea whether my lord, King Aimutaike, intends to marry at all. Let me go and ask him. If he’s willing, I’ll come back and tell you.”
Upon his return the fox then told Aimutaike, “Everything is arranged! The king has promised to marry one of his daughters to you. Now get ready in a hurry so that I can present you.” Aimutaike leaped with joy, but then the thought struck him: How could he marry without any money? When he talked the matter over with the fox, however, the sly animal assured him there was no need to worry and that he had a way out. When the fox and Aimutaike reached the big river that flowed around the old king’s capital, the fox said, “Go out into the river so that only your head is above water. Don’t move! I’ll make everything come out all right.” Aimutaike did as he was told. The fox then ran to the aged king and said, “My lord, King Aimutaike, was bringing you forty camels loaded with precious stones and pearls, but unfortunately the river current was so swift that in crossing all the camels were swept away. My lord, King Aimutaike, himself nearly drowned. I was able to save him. He is unharmed but, alas, all his clothes have been carried away by the current....”
When the old king heard that King Aimutaike had come with forty camel-loads of presents to marry his daughter, he was more impressed than ever and said, “It is a small matter that the presents are lost. I am just as grateful to King Aimutaike as if I had received them. Let us hurry to welcome your king!” He called for rich clothes and a horse to be taken to Aimutaike, while he and his court set out to receive the visitor. Thus Aimutaike entered the city well-dressed and mounted on a fine horse. The king gave banquets in his honour and the celebrations of the marriage between Aimutaike and the youngest princess continued for forty days.
After his marriage, one day Aimutaike said to the fox, “I’m married now, but what will happen when I go home? I haven’t a thing to live on, and I can’t stay here for ever. If the king asks me to take the princess home with me, what am I to do?” The fox comforted him, saying, “Don’t worry! While you’re here, make yourself at home and enjoy yourself. Accept whatever comes your way as a matter of course. But be sure not to give yourself away. When the time comes for us to leave, I’ll tell you what to do.”
Another few days went by and the old king ordered one of his courtiers to escort the princess and Aimutaike home, with a large retinue of men on horseback. Before they started, the fox said to them, “Let me run ahead so that I can warn you if anything happens.” Running along the road, the crafty animal came across a camel caravan. The leader asked the fox why he was in such a hurry and received the reply that a band of brigands who killed everyone they met were coming, and that the caravan leader must do something quickly for his own safety....
Raising his head, the man saw the dust rising high up into the sky in the direction from which the fox had come. What should he do? Anxiously he begged the fox to find a way of escape for him. Whereupon the fox advised him: “When they come and ask you whose camels these are, just say they belong to King Aimutaike, then they will not kill you.”
The leader of the caravan agreed. When the train of the princess and Aimutaike came up to the caravan, the courtier accompanying them asked, “Whose camels are these?” The leader hastened to reply, “They belong to King Aimutaike.” The courtier said in admiration, “What a big caravan of fine camels! How wealthy King Aimutaike must be!”
Running on and on, the fox came upon a drove of horses. The man grazing them invited the fox to rest a while and asked why the fox was in such a hurry. The fox replied, “You’d better not ask — I almost lost my life! There are brigands coming! They kill everyone they see and take away their horses.” Frightened, the man inquired what he could do to avoid such a fate. The fox then told him, “Say that these horses belong to King Aimutaike and your life will be spared.” With that, the fox ran on. When Aimutaike, the princess and the courtier came near and saw the fine horses they asked whose they were.
With a trembling voice the herdsman replied, “They’re King Aimutaike’s.” On hearing this, the princess began to calculate in her heart what she would be able to do with all this wealth in future.
On the road ahead, the fox saw a flock of sheep in the distance and shouted, “Shepherd, hurry up and run! Brigands are coming — they’ll kill you!” The shepherd was so frightened that he nearly burst into tears and barely managed to ask what he should do, since he couldn’t outrun the brigands. So the fox said, “Try and see, maybe you will be spared if you say that this flock of sheep belongs to King Aimutaike.” The shepherd agreed and the fox ran on again. The courtier approached with Aimutaike and the princess, and found again that the answer to their questions as to whose sheep they were, was that they were King Aimutaike’s. The courtier could not restrain his admiration for Aimutaike’s wealth, but as far as Aimutaike himself was concerned, he was mystified.
The fox went on running at top speed, right up to the palace of the King of Demons. Out of breath, the animal darted from room to room till the King of Demons demanded to know what the matter was. The fox then gasped out the dreadful information that King Aimutaike was coming, fierce King Aimutaike who had vowed to kill the King of Demons; that he was bringing along a great many soldiers, that even the fox feared for his life, and that a safe hideout had to be found without delay. The King of Demons became thoroughly frightened and asked the fox quickly to do something for him. The fox then said, “Hide in the fireplace. You will be safe if I put logs over you to hide you from view.” The King of Demons took the advice and jumped into the fireplace. The fox then put a big pile of logs over him and set fire to them. The King of Demons screamed with the scorching heat, but very soon his voice was stilled.
After that, Aimutaike took possession of the fine palace. One day the fox asked him, “After all that I’ve done for you, what will you do when I die?”
Aimutaike said, “When you die, I will put you on my head. I’ll never forget you!” A few days afterwards, the fox was found stretched out on the ground in the courtyard. Aimutaike’s wife said to him, “The fox is dead.” Aimutaike replied, “Throw the animal into the ditch!” But before he had finished, the fox walked in and wanted to know why Aimutaike didn’t keep his word. When Aimutaike saw that the fox was still alive, he did his best to defend himself and vowed, “If and when you are really dead, I shall carry you on my head!” Several days later, the fox really died and Aimutaike did not dare break his word again. So he put the fox on his head. People thought this such a nice idea that they all began to imitate Aimutaike. And this is the reason why hats made of fox fur are still the fashion today.
(A Dai Story)
For a thousand miles the Lancang River flows to the south. Over the years it has brought down a hundred thousand grains of glittering gold and left a thousand and ten stories along its banks, among which is....
In Mengbanjia, a land of perennial green, there once lived a king named Bageladie. His granaries overflowed with the fruits of good harvests and his palace was beyond compare for splendour and richness, but he had no children. Both he and his queen Maqianna longed for a son, for an heir to succeed to the throne and complete their happiness.
And then, one morning in early spring, their wish was fulfilled. The people rushed excitedly about, talking of a strange happening. A man-child crawled out from the foot of a huge white elephant and then disappeared without a trace. Right at this moment, the queen gave birth to a healthy son whom the king named Zhaoshutun, after a prince famous for his bravery, hoping that his son, too, would grow into a strong, brave man.
With each passing day Zhaoshutun grew taller and stronger. He diligently studied the arts of peace and war, becoming well versed in the arts and proficient with all weapons. His intelligence was astonishing and his strength excelled all other men. One day he peered into a well and by the dim light beheld a strange object in it. The wise old men said that the great King Bamo had left a wonderful treasure there, which men for many generations had tried in vain to obtain. Zhaoshutun ordered the well be drained and when this was done he descended into the well to examine it more closely. The object was a magic bow. So powerful was it that he who owned it could defeat an entire enemy army. No one but Zhaoshutun had the strength to bend the huge bow; he could draw it taut till it was as round as the full moon, and every arrow from it hit the target clean and sure. One day as an evil bird of prodigious size was arrogantly wheeling overhead in the clouds, a black fish clasped in its beak, an arrow from Zhaoshutun’s bow pierced it. The fish fell from its beak into a river, and the bird, mortally wounded, plunged down into the forests below.
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