A lamb once strayed too far behind the rest of the flock and got lost. In no time, he was spotted by a lean and hungry wolf. With one paw holding onto the helpless lamb, the wolf thought about his choices.
Shall I devour him here and now? he thought. Shall I try to drag the lamb all the way back to my cave? Or, shall I pull him into those woods over there and then eat him?
Well, the cave was out of the question, for the starving wolf simply didn't have the strength. He also couldn't eat it out in the open and run the risk of being surprised by a hunter. He opted for eating the lamb in the woods.
Turning the lamb in the direction of the trees, the wolf growled, "This way, you!"
Heading towards the woods with the wolf, the lamb spotted a rabbit peering above some bushes.
"Oh, Rabbit!" cried the lamb. "Look at the mess I am in! This wolf is going to eat me!"
"Of course I'm going to eat you , you stupid animal!" rasped the wolf. "In fact, I'm going to take you into these very woods and eat you alive!"
"Actually," said the rabbit, now sitting up on a rock, "the wolf is entirely reasonable. After all, wolves are known to eat lambs and other animals. However, Wolf, I wouldn't be too hasty if I were you."
"What do you mean?" asked the wolf.
"Hunters are about, especially in the woods, looking for game and pelts!" replied the rabbit. "Wait right here while I dash in the forest and take a good look for you and see if anyone is there."
"Fine," said the wolf, drooling, "but hurry up, though. I'm starving."
In a flash, the rabbit was gone. Unknown to the wolf, the rabbit headed straight for an abandoned hunters' camp. There, he found a small carpet and a piece of red wrapping paper from a tin of tea. He rolled up both the carpet and the wrapping paper and carried them back to the place where the wolf and the lamb were waiting.
"Well," asked the wolf, now very impatient, "did you see anyone?"
"No, no one is there," said the rabbit. "However, as an agent of our Great Khan, I am obligated to read you this announcement."
The wolf sighed with impatience.
The rabbit then sat on the carpet, now rolled out, and took out the red wrapping paper. He pretended to read from it.
"To all subjects of the Great and Mighty Khan," he solemnly said. "Seventy-seven wolf pelts are required for the Great Khan's blanket, and seventy-six have heretofore been gathered. Whosoever can lead the Great Khan's men to a wolf or its lair for the seventy-seventh wolf pelt shall be richly rewarded!"
"What!?" gasped the wolf. "Wolf pelts are . . . wolf skins!"
"The order," continued the rabbit, "is dated. . .hmm. . . let me see. Oh. It was dated yesterday."
The rabbit slowly put down the red wrapping paper, looked at the wolf and took off like a shot.
The wolf, thinking that the rabbit must be on his way to find the Khan's men, ran off in the opposite direction with the greatest of speed, though he was just about dying of hunger.
"You'll never find me, Rabbit!" he snarled. "Curse you! Curse you forever!"
He then ran off to heaven knows where, never to return to those parts again.
In time, the rabbit caught up with the lamb, still lost as ever, and helped the lamb find its flock.
"Remember, my brother lamb," he said before departing, "if you are planning to remain outside your flock, first learn to sharpen your wits!"
(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)
Menggu minjian gushixuan, pp. 91-92.
The hare or rabbit has a prominent place in the pantheon of pre-Islamic deities, serving as a helper or forest spirit (Roux, 324).