Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Two Princes (Mongol & Manchu)

In a far off land called Kunnan lived two brothers, Ri'guang and Yueguang, both of whom were princes. Though they had different mothers, they were, in their hearts, true brothers through and through. Ri'guang's mother had died when he was very small, and his father, the Khan, then remarried. The new Queen was Yueguang's mother. The boys loved each other very much. Sad to say, however, Yueguang's mother was an evil, scheming woman who wanted her Yueguang to succeed as Khan.

One evening she took a potion to make herself appear gravely ill and called the Khan into her chamber.

"I am afraid I haven't much time left, my love," she sighed. "Forgive me for leaving you."

The Khan was beside himself. "Surely something can be done! I refuse to accept otherwise. No matter how much the cost or what is involved, I will find the cure for you!"

"Well, there is a cure, but it is too drastic. I need the liver of a young prince fried in sesame oil, but this is an impossible request. I could not bear to have either your Ri'guang or our Yueguang harmed," said the Queen.

The Khan was silent for some time and then spoke. He said, "If it will save your life, you shall have Ri'guang's liver fried in sesame oil," and then departed. Without a word, he personally slaughtered a lamb and took out its liver, intending to fry it in sesame oil for his queen. He could not, of course, bare to kill his own child.

Unknown to either the Khan or the Queen, Yueguang had been hiding behind the curtains and heard their entire conversation. He immediately ran into his brother's chamber.

"Brother! Brother! Wake up!" he cried and told Ri'guang what he had heard.

"Thank you, Brother, for warning me," said Ri'guang. "I will leave, but I will never forget you."

"We shall escape together," said Yueguang.

So both made their way out of the palace, hopped on their horses and galloped out into the night, not knowing where they were headed.

They crossed towering mountains, and then they somehow made it over a treacherous river. Finally, they came to a vast desert. By this time, their poor horses had been ridden to death, so the two brothers had no other choice but to cross the desert on foot. Then, perhaps, they could safely reach a community of people.

They started out on foot. After a few days, their water and food were used up, and not a drop of water or a morsel of food could be found in this raging furnace of a desert.

Yueguang could no longer walk, so Ri'guang told him to rest by a great rock while he, Ri'guang, pressed ahead to look for water. Ri'guang couldn't find an oasis or river and turned back. When he returned to the rock, Ri'guang found that his little brother had already breathed his last. Brokenhearted, the older boy buried his little brother beneath the rock and spent the night atop the small grave with his head buried in his arms.

Early the next morning, Ri'guang arose and continued his journey. He soon came to an even greater rock, a boulder, and stopped before it. There was a red door on the boulder. Not minding his manners, Ri'guang opened the door and entered this boulder-dwelling. Seated in one of its dim corners was an ancient man with a long white beard.

"Your heart is heavy with the weight of something you left buried back in the sands, " said the old one.

Ri'guang introduced himself and told the old man everything that had happened. The old man got up, took a kettle, and told Ri'guang to take him to the spot where Yueguang lay buried.

The pair arrived at the location, and together, they dug up Yueguang. The old man knelt beside Yueguang and slowly poured from the kettle a brilliant white liquid into Yueguang's mouth. Yueguang stirred and sat up just as if waking from a pleasant nap.

From that day on, the two princes lived with the old man in the boulder and studied magic and the ways of the immortals. They became like father and sons.

Now the Khan of this desert land performed a sacrifice to the local dragon god once a year to insure a good harvest, and this year a boy born in the year yan was slated to be sacrificed. In the entire khanate, not one boy born in the year yan could be found. It appeared to the Khan and his men that the year's crops were in danger, that there might not be a bountiful harvest.

"Great Khan, two young men live with the old hermit in the boulder in the desert," some busybody reported to the Khan. "I think at least one of the two was born in the year yan. He certainly looks old enough!"

The anxious Khan dispatched soldiers to the boulder in the desert. One, a captain of the guards, rudely banged on the door of the boulder, shouting, "Boy who was born in the year yan! Come out and surrender yourself!" And then he added with a cold laugh, "The Dragon God awaits you!"

From behind the door, the voice of the old hermit creaked like a cricket: "You've come to the wrong place! It is only I who live here. What would a boy be doing in a place like this?" As he spoke, he quietly led the two boys to a huge ceramic pot. Ri'guang and Yueguang clambered inside the vessel.

Before much longer, the soldiers broke down the door and entered the old man's dwelling. They turned tables and mats upside down and ripped curtains down. Finally, the captain of the guard walked over to the hermit and grabbed him.

"Where's the boy?" he asked and proceeded to pummel the old man viciously with his fists when it appeared certain the old man wouldn't answer.

Ri'guang could hear what was going on. He poked his head out of the opening of the pot and, like the prince he was, he shouted, "Stop hitting him at once in the name of my father, the Khan!"

"The Khan? You're the son of our Khan?"

Laughing, the soldiers seized Ri'guang and took him away. The old man of the boulder sank to his knees and wept.

Ri'guang was led through the gates of the palace. The Khan's daughter, the Princess, looking out from her window, saw him being taken away at sword and spear point. He is so young and handsome and innocent! she thought. She then decided to rescue him.

She approached the captain of the guard and said, "Do not let the young man be given to the Dragon God! Wherever he goes, I go, for I love him!"

Puzzled at what to do and more than a bit frightened, the captain rushed over to the Khan and told him what the Princess had said.

"What?!" roared the Khan. "If the Princess said that, then she is no longer my daughter. Go now and take her and that boy. Wrap them together in a hide and dump them into the river for the Dragon God's meal!"

This the captain of the guards did. Both Ri'guang and the Princess were wrapped together in a cowhide, rowed to the middle of the river and dropped into the water for the Dragon God's feast.

The Dragon God promptly reared himself out of the water and snatched Ri'guang and the Princess with his talons. He roared and belched steam.

"Please, Dragon God, spare the Princess!" cried Ri'guang. "I was born in the year yan! Take me! She is innocent!"

"No, no, Dragon God! Don't listen to him! Take me! Let my father pay for his own evil with me!" implored the Princess.

The Dragon God was silent. He understood what the two young people were saying, and he took pity on them. He gently deposited them on the banks of the river and then slid back into the water. He had been greatly moved by their love for each other.

Ri'guang then thanked the Princess for her effort to save his life.

The Princess left for her home, and Ri'guang did likewise, heading back to the boulder. There, he was joyfully greeted by the old white-bearded hermit and Yueguang.

When the Princess reentered the throne room, the Khan and his guards gasped and turned white. No one had ever escaped alive from the Dragon God. The Khan slowly and hesitatingly approached his daughter. He stood before her and studied her.

"Yes, it is you, Daughter," said the Khan. "You are here now because it was only the young man that the Dragon God had wanted, not you."

"That is not true," she answered. "The Dragon God let us both go because we had tried to sacrifice ourselves for each other. That is why we were both spared. It is called 'love,' Father."

The Khan then staggered backward and dropped down onto his throne. For a long time, he said nothing. Finally, he ordered his captain of the guards to appear.

"Go back to the old hermit's and fetch the two young men," he commanded. "And this time, be gentle with them!"

Soon both Ri'guang and Yueguang were standing before the Khan.

"Are you two the sons of the old hermit?"

"No, Great Khan," answered Ri'guang. "We are the sons of the Khan of Kunnan." He then told the Khan the whole story of how he and his brother had come to be in this desert khanate.

"I shall be pleased if you, Ri'guang, take the Princess as your wife, and your brother may take the Princess's little sister for his wife, " said the Khan.

And so, before long, a caravan was seen entering the Khanate of Kunnan. At the head of this caravan were two very richly dressed important personages seated on magnificently caparisoned camels. Behind them were two richly brocaded and curtained sedan chairs that contained ladies of obviously high rank. And behind them were fully armed cavalry men and many camels bearing gold, jewels, and carpets. The caravan stopped before the Khan's palace gates.

"Please tell my father the Khan that Ri'guang and Yueguang have returned," said Ri'guang, atop the lead camel, to the stupefied guard.

The Khan and his lady hastened out of the palace at the news. Both he and the Queen had never forgiven themselves for the disappearance of both Ri'guang and Yueguang. Now that he could see that they had returned alive and well, he sank to his knees and wept like a baby out of happiness. He then warmly welcomed his sons and his daughters-in-law.

The Queen, too, was overcome with emotion, and like the Khan, she knelt and wept out of shame for her acts. However, her heart then cracked in two, and she toppled to the ground, cold and lifeless.

(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)


Qiu, p. 52-59; Li Yonghai, p. 29-33.

"Ri'guang" and "Yueguang" mean, respectively, "sunbeams" and "moonbeams." This is another Hindu story from The King and the Corpse transmitted to and adapted by the Mongolians and Manchus. In Li's translation from Manchu, it is story number five, and here the old hermit is now a "lama" that lives on a mountain peak. Motifs: B11.1o, "Sacrifice of a human being to a dragon"; E102, "Resuscitation by magic liquid"; F771, "Extraordinary castle/structure"; S31, "Cruel stepmother"; and S272.1, "Flee at being sacrificed."

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