Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Fox and the Quail (Kirghiz/Kirgiz)

One day out in the field, a fox ran into a quail.

"Listen, Quail," said the fox, "I'd like to ask you a question. How is it you sing 'kaboor, kaboor' so merrily without having any food in your stomach? I mean, how can you laugh 'guh, guh, guh' on an empty stomach? Stick with me, and I'll have you singing even more sweetly!"

"Just a moment, Fox," said the quail very indignantly. "When or how I sing or laugh is my business, not yours. I get by quite nicely, thank you, and do not need to slink around like you to get my food."

Pretending to have hurt feelings, the fox replied, "Oh, I see. Maybe I was wrong, and I'm sorry. Could you invite me to one of your feasts, then? I am getting quite weary of eating snakes and lizards that slither off the Gobi."

"It would be my pleasure!" perked he quail. "Tomorrow morning wait for me at the wheat field. You'll have a meal you won't soon forget!"

Dawn the next day found the fox already waiting at the wheat field. Before long he heard the familiar kaboor kaboor of the quail. He also heard some human voices, so he quickly took cover among the wheat stalks. Some shepherds were approaching. In a clearing they spread out a carpet and on top of it placed their breakfast: smoked beef, barbecued lamb, cheese and naan, flat pan-fried oil bread. They had just sat down to eat when the quail came flying toward them and then landed not far from where they sat. They arose and bounded after the quail, the bread still in their mouths. The quail then led them on a merry chase, stopping whenever they stopped and flying off whenever they moved. Soon they were all a considerable distance from the mouthwatering meal sitting atop the carpet.

When they good and far away, the fox came out from his hiding place and, in a frenzied swoop, ate every morsel of food up, leaving behind not so much as a crumb. Soon the greedy creature had eaten so much and was in such pain that he rolled himself into a ball and groaned in long, mournful agony. He somehow managed to drag himself to a nearby grove to rest and recuperate.

That quail, he fumed to himself, allowed me to gorge myself to the point of nearly bursting. Now I've got this huge bellyache. Wait until I get my paws on him!

The next day the fox ran into the quail.

"I ought to ring your neck!" snarled the fox.

"Why? What happened? " asked the quail, genuinely surprised.

"You deliberately led me to all that food so that I could eat it all up and then damage my stomach!"

"Now wait a moment, " said the quail. "If you ended up with a stomachache, I apologize. Tell me what I can do to make it up to you and I shall."

The fox thought for a moment and then said, "I know. Find a way to make me laugh, like the way you laugh, so I can digest the rest of this food and forget about all this pain."

"That's easy. Tomorrow morning go to the forest by the river bank," said the quail. "Wait for me there, and you'll be roaring with laughter."

The next morning the fox was waiting in the woods for the quail. Soon he heard the quail's kaboor kaboor.

Before long the quail himself was hovering over the fox, and he said, "Good morning. Just follow me. "

The quail led the fox to a grassy plain. In the clearing stood a yurt. Outside a woman was milking a cow, while her husband stood around smoking his pipe.

"Watch this!" said the quail to the fox, who was hiding behind a pile of firewood.

"Kaboor! Kaboor!"

The quail noisily circled the two people before landing on one of the cow's horns. The man eagerly seized an ax and started towards the cow. He swung at the quail, missed and sliced off half of the cow's horn.

The fox now began to chuckle.

The quail next flew to the wife's head and perched there. The man threw down his ax and picked up a club.

"Wife," he said, "don't move. The quail's atop your head!"

Before the wife could say anything or react, the man swung the club, missed the quail, and hit his wife squarely on the noggin.

"Yeeoww!" she cried. "You numskull!"

"Curse you, quail!" bellowed the man. "I'll rip you to pieces!"

The fox, who was now watching all this from inside the woodpile, burst with laughter.

The quail then flew into the yurt through the open flap. It hovered over a kettle of simmering mutton soup. The enraged man followed the quail in and threw the club at the bird, but instead of hitting the quail, the club overturned the kettle of soup.

"Oh!" yelled the now red-eyed man, his teeth grinding. He grabbed the club and saw the quail now sitting by the feet of his mother, who had been inside the yurt with her husband while all this was happening.

"Mother," he said, "don't move or even breathe!"

He swung the club but only succeeded in hitting his mother in the kneecap.

"Yaaiii!" she screamed. "You fool! Watch your aim!"

The man was now completely insane with anger. Spitting and sputtering with anger, he saw the bird land atop his father's head now.

"All right, Father," he said, "don't breathe; don't blink an eye . . ."

He charged forward and brought the club down on his father's head, missing the quail which had now flown out the yurt.

"Ooowww!" bellowed the father. "Watch what you're doing, you blockhead!"

By now the fox was rolling among the logs of wood, laughing until his stomach was ready to break. He wept at all the antics he had just seen and heard. In fact, he laughed so hard that he exhausted himself and fell into a deep sleep right there in the woodpile.

The next morning the cool air revived the fox, who was most startled to find himself among logs in a pile of wood not far from a yurt. Outside the yurt people were about. Using the utmost stealth known only to certain creatures like foxes, the fox got from out of the woodpile without making a noise or rolling any logs and then hightailed it to the nearby tall grass.

That infernal quail! he thought to himself. He nearly cost me my life, letting me lie there all night just a few feet from people. I'll pulverize him!

The very next day, he came across the quail and said, "Quail, I have the notion to bash your head in right here and now for what you did to me the other night."

"What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. You caused me to pass out from laughing nearby a group of people. I could have been turned into a fur hat or fur coat and not have been able to do anything about it."

"I am sorry, Fox," replied the quail. "I didn't mean to make you so . . . frightened . . ."

" 'Frightened'? 'Frightened'?" the fox asked, clenching his jaw. "Is that what you think, that I was frightened? Why, you little pipsqueak, I wasn't scared. I'm not scared of anything. If you don't believe me, then test me!"

"Very well, Fox. Tomorrow morning meet me at the patch of the Gobi by the river," said the quail, and then he flew away.

The next morning the two met on a sandy patch of land by the river.

"Here's what we'll do, Fox. I will fly ahead of you and sing my "kaboor kaboor" song. You close your eyes and follow me. Only when I stop singing may you open your eyes. Agreed?"

"Agreed," replied the fox.

"Kaboor, kaboor, kaboor . . ."
The fox closed his eyes and followed the quail. After squeaking many kaboors and after what seemed an eternity, the quail stopped singing. When the fox opened his eyes, he found himself on the very edge of a steep cliff. One step to his right was a long drop into the river. One step to his left was an equally long drop into a canyon of needle-sharp pinnacles and huge boulders. Behind him he heard the shouts and barking hounds of a hunting party.

The fox was petrified. He was too afraid to move forward, backward or sideways. His words, breath and heart were all stuck in his throat.

The quail hovered by his ear and said, "Get a grip on yourself! Snap out of it!"

However, the fox just stood there, immobile and frightened.

"Wake up! Snap out of it!" the quail yelled again. "I'll show you to safety."

By and by the fox took hold of himself and, following the quail, inched his way to a cave that the quail had shown him. There he hid in the darkness for a good three days. He then emerged from the cave, determined to kill the quail.

When he finally did come across the quail, he grabbed the bird by the throat and snarled, "You went too far that time! If it hadn't been for my quick wits, I would have fallen for your trap and then have either been drowned, impaled on rocks, or skinned."

"Wait!" cried the quail, his head now sticking out from between the fox's jaws. "I did as you had asked! Be fair . . ."

The fox just chortled.

"Well, Fox, if you eat me, you're going to be in for a very nasty surprise," said the quail. "My feathers will stick in your throat and slowly choke you. Meanwhile my bones will make holes in your stomach, and then will you ever feel pain!"

"Is that so?" asked the fox, having taken the quail out of his mouth but still keeping the bird firmly in his grasp.

"Yes," said the quail, "but fear not. I can teach you how to avoid swallowing either my feathers or my bones."

"Show me."

"You must first count each feather before you commence eating," replied the bird.

" 'Count'?!" laughed the fox. "I don't know how to count!"

"I'll teach you," said the quail. "Just put me back into your mouth."

Once the fox had done so, the quail then said, "Now repeat after me. Biyur."

The fox then repeated, "Biyur," which is the number one.


The fox repeated the word for the number two.

This went on until the quail said, "Ahluhtuh," or six. When the fox tried to say it with the quail clenched in his mouth, he found the number wouldn't come out right.


"What? What?" asked the quail.


"No, no, Fox! You've got it all wrong!" said the quail. "It's 'ahluhtuh'! Now say it correctly!"


"No! It's ah-luh-tuh! Now relax your jaws and say it correctly. Say ah-luh-tuh."

The fox concentrated, furrowed his brow and slowly said, "Ahluhtuh."

The quail immediately flew off into the sky, far beyond the fox's reach.

It was a very long time after when the fox next ran into the quail.

"My little quail!" said the fox with his oily smile. "Please forgive me for the way I treated you that time. I must have lost my reason having been frightened so badly. You understand, don't you?"

"What has passed has passed," said the quail.

"What do you have there?" asked the fox, seeing the quail with an unfamiliar object.

"This? Why, this is a hulu, a dried gourd I picked up from a farmer's field."

"What's it for?"

"Oh," replied the quail, "it's a lot of fun! Tie it to your tail, and when you cross some rocks, it goes kala, kala!"

"Ahh," said the fox, "kala, kala!"
"Then walk on the desert sands and hear it go seela, seela!"

"Marvelous!" laughed the fox. "Even seela, seela!"

"But wait," said the quail. "When you swim, the hulu will go pala, pala!"

"Let me have it! Let me have it!" cried the fox. "I want to take it into the lake and hear it go pala, pala!"

"All right, all right," replied the quail. "Let me tie it to your tail first."

With the hulu tied to his tail, the fox then instantly jumped into the nearby lake.

"Hey, be careful, Fox!" cried the quail. "Don't stay too long in the water!"

The fox paid no attention to him, so much enjoying, he was, all the pala, pala. Before long, water seeped into the gourd, filling it up and making it as weighty as a flagstone.

"Fox! I told you . . " cried the quail.

But the fox had already long since sunk to the bottom!

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Xinjiang minjian gushiji, p. 109-119

The hulu gourd is a symbol of Taoist magic. Seela, pala, and kala are onomatopoeic and transcribed from compound characters that are meaningless in Chinese. Motifs: J2100, "Remedy worse than disease"; K547, "Escape by frightening captor"; K561, "Escape by persuading captor to talk."

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