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Fifth in the series of classic folktales from China. Contains the famous "Magic Knife." Appropriate for children 7 and up.
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(A Tibetan Story)
A long time ago, there lived in a faraway kingdom a mischievous young Prince, who, nevertheless, was good at heart.
One day, when he was slinging stones at birds, from one of the upper stories of the palace, he saw an old woman with a bucket of water on her back, making her way awkwardly down the embankment. The spirit of mischief at once entered him. He raised his catapult and aimed at the water bucket. The stone shot out, knocked a hole in the bucket, and the water ran out all over the place.
The old woman was angry and sorry for her loss. She was just about to send forth a torrent of abuse, when she raised her head and saw who the culprit was. She bit back the words on the tip of her tongue. Feeling injured but not daring to speak up, she sank to the ground and wept softly, patting her broken bucket.
The young Prince looked down from above, and felt sorry for having done the old woman such a bad turn. He hurried down to the embankment to console her, got a chip of wood and helped her fix the bucket. He then ran to the river, fetched a bucketful of water, placed it on the old woman’s back and supported her home.
The old woman’s grief was turned to joy, and, as she looked up at the young Prince, her face was wreathed in smiles. She silently said her prayers wishing him happiness, and wishing that he would get a fairy as his wife.
“My Young Prince,” said she, “you’re indeed very kind. I hope you will get Drolmakyid as your wife.”
The Prince had never heard of Drolmakyid before, and was therefore most curious. “Grandma, who is Drolmakyid?” he asked. “Is she beautiful? Where does she live?”
“Drolmakyid is a very beautiful fairy, who lives far, far away,” replied the old woman.
Having heard this, the young Prince determined to search for Drolmakyid and win her as his wife. He plied the old woman with questions as how to find the fairy. Seeing that he was in earnest, the old woman told him, “The place where Drolmakyid dwells is very far from here. If you ride on the swiftest horse, it will take ten days and ten nights to cover the distance. Before noon of the 10th day you will come across a dense forest of orange trees. In the midst of the forest there grows a tall leafy orange tree, and that is the home of Drolmakyid. Climb up the tree and you’ll find an orange the size of an egg which emanates golden rays. Pick it and hide it in your bosom. Then ride away from the place as quickly as possible. But, remember, you mustn’t peel the orange and peep into it on the way, or Drolmakyid will fly away.”
The Prince thanked her again and again. But as he was about to leave, the old woman called him back. “Before starting the journey you should have your fortune told and choose an auspicious day, else you’ll come up against a windstorm or some other disaster,” she advised him repeatedly.
When the Prince returned to the palace, he could no longer contain himself. He wished he could start off at once. He did not dare consult his father, lest the old man would prevent him from going. All by himself he paced up and down his room like ants on a hot griddle. At length the sun set beyond the hills, and everybody in the palace retired for the night. He was in too much of a hurry to think of any fortune-telling. He went to the stable and chose a white stallion. He sprang onto its back, and, riding out into the bright moonlit night, galloped off in the direction the old woman had pointed out to him.
Day and night the stallion raced across snowcapped mountains and glaciers, rivers and plains. On the morning of the 10th day there appeared a boundless stretch of green forest. The young Prince reined in his horse and, at a slackened pace, entered the woods. In the midst of the forest there was a tall, leafy orange tree, clustered abundantly with golden-coloured oranges. It towered above the other trees as if it were their king. The Prince then mused that this must be the tree! He swung round and dismounted. He climbed up the tree and, amidst the heavy clusters of fruits, began his search. Suddenly, through the thick foliage there flashed a golden light. The Prince went further up the branches, and indeed, he discovered an orange the size of an egg, shining with golden rays. He almost shouted with joy. He hurriedly picked it and hid it in his bosom.
Just as the Prince had placed the orange in his bosom, a tornado broke loose, sending clouds of dust and rocks flying wildly about. The sky darkened, and the earth spun madly round. The orange tree shook and trembled before the gale. The Prince then suddenly felt a pang of remorse that he had not listened to what the old woman had told him; in his haste he had come to this place without waiting to have his fortune told. He tightly clasped the orange and waited for the storm to blow over. But who could have expected, the wind blew with even stronger force, sweeping the Prince down from the tree and hurling him to the ground unconscious. His hands, however, remained tightly clasped on his breast.
When he came to, he did not know how long he had lain there. The wind had lulled, and the white stallion was grazing silently nearby. He felt for the orange in his bosom. It lay safely there. Not daring to linger any longer, he jumped to his feet, vaulted onto the stallion and brought his whip down across its withers. The beast shook its long, white mane, reared up and darted off like an arrow out of the forest.
As the Prince galloped forth on his way, he mused, “What does Drolmakyid look like?” Several times he thought of pulling off a piece of the peel and peeping inside, but, remembering the old woman’s advice, he restrained himself. Day after day he continued on his way, and on the 10th the palace came in sight. “At last I’ve reached home,” he thought, and, not being able to contain his curiosity, he took out the orange and pulled off a piece of its radiantly glistening, golden peel. A dazzling golden ray shot out from within, and, amidst that golden splendour, there sat a beautiful girl. At this moment the tornado again broke loose from all directions. The Prince instantly replaced the piece of peel, and returned the orange to his bosom. Then tightly clasping his hand to his breast, he spurred on his stallion, dashed out of the storm and returned to the palace.
During all those days, both the old King and Queen were filled with anxiety on account of the Prince’s disappearance. They dispatched people to every part of the country to search for him. They also asked the lamas to read the Divine scriptures and pray to the gods to help them find out the whereabouts of the Prince. But not a word did they hear. When the Prince returned suddenly, the old couple were so happy they could do nothing but gape. Afterwards, holding the Prince’s hands, they endlessly plied him with questions. Seeing that his parents did not blame him for his behaviour, the Prince gathered courage and told them from beginning to end exactly what had happened, and pleaded with them to allow him marry Drolmakyid.
Knowing that Drolmakyid was a fairy, the old couple gladly gave their consent. They agreed on an auspicious day for the young couple’s wedding, and began to look around for a beautiful maid for their prospective daughter-in-law.
Every day, from all parts of the country, young girls of various description — tall ones, short ones, fat ones, thin ones, ungainly ones, pretty ones — came pouring into the palace to take part in the contest for the job. After much choosing, there was not a single one found fit for it. Drolmakyid was indeed too beautiful for any girl to match her. On the last day there came a girl who so resembled Drolmakyid in form, figure and appearance that, taken together, you would think they were twin sisters. When the old couple and the Prince saw her, they were deeply impressed, so they chose her to wait upon Drolmakyid. Who could have known that the girl was a witch and that she was overflowing with evil intentions.
After their marriage the young Prince and Drolmakyid developed a deep affection for each other and lived in great happiness. The maid, too, seemed to show great consideration towards them.
One day the Prince and Drolmakyid were out in the woods. He felt somewhat tired, and, resting on her bosom, fell asleep. The witch-maid was with them. On seeing the young Prince sleep, she bit her lip, as an ill intention flitted through her mind. Facing Drolmakyid, she said, “Everybody says you’re beautiful, but I think I’m prettier still. If you don’t believe it, we can take advantage of the Prince’s being asleep and have a look at our reflections in the lake. Let’s then compare who after all is the prettier.”
As Drolmakyid considered herself the prettiest of all girls, she certainly would not yield. “Very well,” she said, “let us compare.”
She lightly lifted the Prince’s head off her bosom and, holding the witch’s hand, went to the lake-side. There they saw the reflections of two beautiful girls in the water. They looked like twin sisters. At a glance it was hard to differentiate, but on a closer look Drolmakyid was after all somewhat prettier than the witch. Her bearing was more elegant and graceful.
The witch, too, noticed that she could not match Drolmakyid, but that did not stop her.
“You are not more beautiful than I,” she said. “It’s your dress and ornaments that make all the difference. You see, in summer you’re dressed up in expensive silks, in winter you have fine woollen clothes to put on, and as ornaments you have pearls and precious corals, while my things are all so drab. If you don’t believe it, let me put on your dress and ornaments, and see if I don’t look more beautiful than you.”
Drolmakyid was entirely unsuspecting. “No matter what I put on I’m still prettier than you,” she thought. So she exchanged dresses and ornaments with the witch.
“You see, you see,” cried the witch, pointing to the two reflections in the water, “who after all is more beautiful?”
Drolmakyid was so engrossed in gazing down at the water that she was taken utterly unawares when the witch with both hands gave her a strong push from behind. There was a splash, and bubbles rolled up to the surface.
Drolmakyid sank to the bottom of the lake. The witch snorted with malicious glee and returned to where the Prince lay. She lifted his head and, putting him into the same position as when he was with Drolmakyid, rested him on her bosom.
After a while the Prince woke up. He opened his eyes clouded with sleep and said incoherently, “Oh, I rested on your bosom and must have fallen asleep.”
Imitating Drolmakyid’s voice, the witch said, “My Prince, you’ve been sleeping for quite a while, let’s go home now.”
The Prince saw that the maid was missing and thought it was strange, because usually she never left Drolmakyid’s side. “But where’s the maid?” he asked the witch.
“I’ve sent her home long ago,” she replied.
Then it dawned upon the Prince that there was something odd in his wife’s behaviour, though he could not say exactly what. He gazed at her with unblinking eyes. The witch’s heart missed a beat when she saw him watching her. “Why do you keep on gazing at me?” she asked with an embarrassed smile.
“You seem to have changed. Your voice is different and you look different,” the Prince replied hesitantly.
“As a fairy I’ll naturally change after a certain period of life among mortals. Just watch, the change’ll be greater still in the future,” the witch replied slyly.
The Prince accepted this as the truth and did not probe any further. He was thus deceived by the witch.
After several days a golden lotus flower bloomed on the lake, gently bobbing and nodding in the breeze.
One day, as the horse-groom was grazing the horses by the lake, he saw a golden glimmer far out in the middle of the lake. On going closer he saw that it was a golden lotus flower. He hurried to the Prince to report his discovery.
Recently the Prince had felt depressed for no obvious reason. He noticed that his wife was gradually changing. She was no longer her former self, gentle and lovable. When he got the groom’s report, he did not wait another second but ran to the banks of the lake. But strange to say, except for the wide expanse of water, there was not even a piece of duckweed to be seen, to say nothing of a golden lotus flower. But the Prince was not discouraged. Early at dawn on the next day he again ran to the place. As before, there was nothing to be seen except the green and silently rolling waves. This happened on three days in succession. The Prince began to think that the groom was suffering from illusions or was deliberately making a fool out of him. When he questioned the groom, the latter swore that he had indeed seen a golden lotus flower. Finally the groom struck on an idea. “Your Honour,” he said, “it may be that the flower is shy of you and thus has hidden itself. Perhaps Your Honour would care to try again disguised as a horse-groom by wearing my clothes.”
The Prince thought there was some sense in what the groom had said. So he exchanged clothes with him. He was so excited that he could not sleep the whole night. When the eastern sky began to turn pale, the Prince rode on his white stallion to the lakeside. This time he could see a golden lotus flower very clearly amidst the bluish green waves, bathed in the reddish hue of dawn. It was exceedingly beautiful. The more he looked at the flower, the fonder he became of it. He seemed to have seen the flower before. But where? Why couldn’t he remember? He clasped his hands in silent prayer: “Oh Buddha, bestow upon me happiness! If there is any affinity between the flower and me, please grant it to me!”
After his prayer he plunged into the lake. He cut the clear blue waves with strong strokes and swam further out. The flower seemed to wave and nod at the Prince with each waft of the breeze as though they were acquainted. When he came close by, he reached out his hand, picked the flower and clasped it to his bosom.
When he returned to the palace he put the flower in a golden vase and placed it in his prayer hall. He never left the place for a single minute. He watched over the flower day and night and seemed to derive from it great consolation.
A witch is without doubt a very cunning creature. Nothing could be hidden from her wildly rolling eyes. As soon as she saw the flower she realized that it was Drolmakyid in disguise. No wonder it was so sweet and attractive, no wonder the Prince loved it so much. She became simply mad with hatred and jealousy. It so happened that the Prince went out hunting one day. She seized the opportunity to steal the flower. She found a remote valley and made a bonfire of dry firewood and branches. With her own hands she threw the flower into the flames. In an instant it withered and blackened and soon turned into ash. The witch felt very pleased, and, with a triumphant smirk on her face, she returned to the palace.
Several days passed when, from the ashes of the bonfire, there came forth a green sprout. It grew under the caress of the breeze; it grew under the warm rays of the sun. It did not take years to grow, it simply grew by the hour, even by the second. Day and night it continued growing. After several days it had grown into a tall and big walnut tree, scores of feet high and with so thick a trunk that even two or three persons together could not form a ring with their arms around it. Its foliage was thick and luxuriant, clustered with green walnuts the size of an egg.
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