Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sultan of the Pomegranate Tree (Uighur)

There was once a poor man named Aimutai'ke, and all this man owned were his hut and a pomegranate tree.

Now he loved the tree dearly, so he took good care of it, pruning it frequently and, of course, watering it like clockwork. When he wasn't working, he watched over his tree every chance he could get. In fact, when the evening weather was warm, he spent the night under the pomegranate tree, lest someone or something come by and do so much as touch one branch or disturb one leaf. Once in a while, a child might climb the wall and try to steal a pomegranate. Aimutai'ke would yell at the child and say some things that are not very nice; that usually did the trick and would make the child scurry away. If the child was in striking distance, he'd lash out with a stick, if he could.

Because of all this, everyone in the neighborhood, young and old, gave Aimutai'ke a nickname--"the sultan of the pomegranate tree."

Early one autumn his pomegranates were plentiful and ripe. He kept a special eye open on them. However, we are all only made of flesh and can only do so much. Aimutai'ke had counted his pomegranates and then fell asleep a little earlier than he expected. When he woke, one was gone!
He was furious with himself for letting that happen. He wondered who or what had taken his pomegranates, but, oh, well, nothing could be done about it now. He resolved, though, not to let a thief get away with stealing his pomegranates again.

The next night, he slept indoors by the window, all the better to keep an eye on his tree. He fell asleep watching the tree. He awoke with a start; a few more pomegranates were missing!

Well, that was that! He decided to stay awake at all cost to get sight of the thief. The next night he drank many cups of tea to stay awake. He lay down by the trunk of the tree and pretended to be asleep, slyly keeping his eyelids slightly open. Then, sometime during the night he spotted it: a fox had crept over the wall and was now approaching his tree . . .

He leapt up, startling the very silent fox that now turned tail and crawled back up and over the wall.

"You . . . you thief! Come here again to steal and I'll teach you a lesson you'll never forget!"

The fox was long gone.

Aimutai'ke wanted to trap the fox to protect his remaining pomegranates but didn't know how to go about preventing a very sneaky fox from coming over the wall. His old neighbor had a solution.

"It's very simple," said the old gray-bearded man. "Heat up a pot of paste. Then apply it all along the top of the wall where the fox climbs over. I guarantee you that you'll catch your fox yet!"

Aimutai'ke did just that the very next night and waited behind the tree, keeping a thick cudgel by his side. Sure enough, in the middle of the night, the fox crept up to the top of the wall. It stood on the top and was prepared to jump down onto Aimutai'ke's side of the wall when it discovered it couldn't budge. It was stuck! It tried to turn around and run back the other way, but all it could do was twist and turn but not leave the spot.

"Aha! I've got you, thief!" shouted Aimutai'ke, grabbing his club. "I'll teach you!"

He ran over to where the fox sat hopelessly stuck and raised his cudgel.

"Sultan Aimutai'ke of the Pomegranate tree!" cried the fox. "Spare my life, please!"

With the cudgel raised in midair, Aimutai'ke looked at the fox and asked, "And why should I, thief?"

"Spare me and I'll serve you well for the rest of my life! I'll even find a very fine wife for you!"

"Ha! You take me for a fool!" Aimutai'ke squinted his eyes as he prepared to club the fox to death.

"No, no! Don't beat me! Spare me and I'll keep my word! You'll see! You won't be sorry!"

"I won't be sorry? Why won't I be sorry? How could you, an animal, find a wife for a poor egg of a man like me?"

"Not only will I find you a bride," said the fox, "but she shall be a princess! Do you hear me? A princess!"

Aimutai'ke put down the cudgel, laughing so hard.

"You shall find a princess for me to marry? Oh, that's funny! All right, fox, I'll spare you, not because I believe you but because I want to see you try to find a princess bride for me!"

"I shall keep my promise!" said the fox, running away into the night. "I will get to work on our project right away! You shall see . . . "

The next day, the fox ran over to the royal palace in the neighboring land to see the old sultan who ruled there.

"Your Majesty, could I possibly borrow your royal sieve?" asked the fox.

"My royal sieve? What for?"

"Well," continued the fox, "it's actually my sultan who needs to borrow it, so he sent me. We got ourselves into a mess, you see. We had a large load of agate stones somehow mixed in with a lot of dirt and dust. My sultan said you had the only sieve around that could separate the dirt from the agates!"

"Is that so?" asked the old sultan. "And who is this sultan of yours?"

"Sultan Aimutai'ke!"

"Ah, Sultan Aimutai'ke! He's very famous. Has a large, wealthy sultanate, I've heard. Well, of course! By all means borrow my sieve."

The fox then ran off with the sieve. Before he left the palace, he made sure to steal a few precious stones--agates and pearls. Several days later, he returned with the sieve. With the gems in his palm, he handed the sieve back to the sultan, letting the pearls and agates drop out of his palm, into the sieve, and down onto the palace floor.

The princes and the princesses were nearby and couldn't help notice the gems rolling around on the floor. The fox looked at them as they looked at the gems.

"Oh? Do you like agates, pearls, and other gems too? I wish you had told me! I would have taken you to see Sultan Aimutai'ke. He'd be more than happy to let you sift for more jewels. He has plenty of 'em!" The fox winked at them.

The sultan's ears perked up when he heard about Aimutai'ke's "jewels." He stopped himself from licking his lips and rubbing his hands together.

"Fox, " said the sultan, "let me make an offer. I have three daughters. Suppose you play matchmaker for your sultan and help him to choose one of my daughters for a bride. My daughter will bring him great happiness, and, of course, his marrying her would be a great honor to me as well. What do you say?"

As soon as the three princesses heard what their father said, they started quarreling among themselves about who would be most qualified to be Sultan Aimutai'ke's bride.

"Now, now, Your Royal Princesses! No need to excite yourselves at this moment!" said the fox. The three princesses quieted down. "I don't know if my sultan even wants to marry! May I have permission to return to his palace to ask him?"

Once back at Aimutai'ke's hut, the fox said to Aimutai'ke: "Well, it's all settled. The neighboring sultan has agreed to let you marry one of his daughters. Tomorrow we're off !"

Aimutai'ke was overjoyed, but then he suddenly thought of something.

"Wait a minute, fox!" said Aimutai'ke. "This is all wonderful, but what will I wear? I can't show up at the sultan's palace looking like this, can I?"

"Never mind about what to wear. I'll take care of that tomorrow."

The next day, the fox and Aimutai'ke were in view of the sultan's palace when they came to a river.

"All right, Sultan Aimutai'ke. Take off your clothes."


"Yes," said the fox, "take off your clothes and wade into the river. When you get to the point where your head is just above water, wait there and don't move until I come back and tell you to come out again!"

Aimutai'ke did as the fox told him, and the fox rushed off to the palace.

The fox was let in before the startled sultan, panting and wiping his brow.

"Fox, whatever happened?" asked the sultan.

"Oh, Your Majesty! Your Majesty! It's so terrible!"

"What? What?"

"My master, Sultan Aimutai'ke and his caravan laden with jewels and gems were crossing the river when the water suddenly surged, washing away his forty camels! The sultan himself was nearly drowned!"

"Oh, my . . . "

"Yes, Your Majesty! And Sultan Aimutai'ke waits for you now, still in the river. You see, his robes were also taken right off him by the violent water!"

The old sultan thought about the forty mules, each carrying a load of jewels and gems. How he would have loved to have gotten hold of all those now lost jewels and gems! But what could he do?

He sighed.

"All right, fox. Lead my men to Sultan Aimutai'ke so we can rescue him. I'll give him some clothes to wear. I'm sorry about the ordeal he has gone through. Since I cannot receive the dowry of jewels and gems he was bringing, I'll just have to accept them in my heart. Let him still choose a princess, and let the wedding go on!"

The fox showed the sultan's men where Aimutai'ke was. The poor shivering naked man climbed out of the river and let the sultan's men dress him in the finest robes.

"Now, Your Majesty, Sultan Aimutai'ke," said the fox, "we're ready to enter the palace!"

"Yes, yes," said Aimutai'ke.

The pair, followed by the the able men of the sultan's guard, entered the palace. The old sultan took a good look at his future son-in-law and liked what he saw. He presented his three daughters, and, taking his time, Aimutai'ke chose one, the one he thought was prettiest.

This was the start of the forty days of the wedding celebration.

On the fortieth day, when just Aimutai'ke and the fox were alone in Aimutai'ke's chamber in the palace, he turned to the fox and said, "Look, fox. I'm married now to an actual princess, and that is as wonderful as can be, but there's one huge problem. Tomorrow we're leaving this place, and I'm supposed to take my bride back to my palace! I don't have a palace, a castle, a fortress or anything! I just have a miserable hut and a pomegranate tree! What am I going to do?"

"Don't worry. I have it all figured out. All you need to do is just to remain calm and quiet and to let me do all the talking."

In the morning a troop of men and horses, led by the one of the old sultan's top officers, the commander, was ready to escort Sultan Aimutai'ke, his bride and the fox back to their "palace."

After all had said their goodbyes and the party was ready to ride out, the fox turned to the commander and said, "Commander, allow me, if you will, to go on ahead of you and your group to lead you to the palace of Sultan Aimutai'ke."

"Of course, but why, fox?"

"Allow me to be your guide and your eyes and ears on the road. At the earliest sign of trouble ahead, I'll run back to report to you. This is how I travel with Sultan Aimutai'ke in our land."

"By all means, go ahead."

So the fox ran ahead. On the road, way before Sultan Aimutai'ke and his party came into view, the fox crossed the paths of a camel herder and his herd of camels.

"Hey, there, fox!" shouted the camel herder. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"

"Ohh . . . ," replied the fox, barely slowing down, "you'd be wise be to hurry off too! Behind me on the road are a gang of cutthroat bandits who'd just as soon kill you as look at you!" The fox then slowed down further and turned back to look behind him. The dust raised by the hoofs of Aimutai'ke's group could be seen in the distance. "And there they are! Run for your life!"

"Yikes!" cried the camel herder. "I see them! I'll never get these camels off the road and hidden in time! What am I going to do? You're a fox; you must have some plan!"

"Actually," said the fox, "I just thought of something. You really have nothing to fear. Here's what you do. When the bandits show up, they'll want to know who owns all these camels. Just tell them that they all belong to the great and mighty Sultan Aimutai'ke . . . "

"S-Sultan Aimutai'ke . . . "

"Yes, Sultan Aimutai'ke, and that you are the royal and official camel herder for the sultan. That should do the trick! Those bandits won't dare touch a hair on your head! Good luck!"

And the fox was off!

"Sultan Aimutai'ke . . . Sultan Aimutai'ke . . . " The camel herder quickly memorized the name. He had his story all prepared by the time the commander and the Sultan Aimutai'ke party arrived.

"You, there! Camel herder!" shouted the commander.

"Y-Yes, s-sir?"

"To whom do all these camels belong? I've never seen such a large herd!"

"Why, t-to S-Sultan Aimutai'ke! I'm his official and royal camel herder!"

"I see," said the commander. He must be the grandest, wealthiest monarch on the planet, he thought.

Meanwhile, still ahead of everyone else on the road, the fox came across a horse trader leading a herd of beautiful, magnificent stallions.

"Fox, my goodness!" yelled the horse trader. "Why are you running in such a hurry? You'd think the devil himself were after you!"

"If you saw who was on the road," said the fox, "you wouldn't laugh! The most dangerous, evil gang of vicious bandits is behind me. Take a look behind me!"

Off in the distance, the cloud of dust raised by many hoofs could be seen.

"Oh, no!" cried the horse trader. "They'll surely cut my throat for all these horses! Quickly, O he who is wisest of animals! What can I do? I'll never get these horses hidden in time!"

"All right, listen carefully," said the fox. "The bandits will ask to whom these horses belong. Just tell them that they are owned by the great, all-powerful and mighty Sultan Aimutai'ke . . ."

"Sultan Aimutai'ke?"

"Yes, that's right, Sultan Aimutai'ke. Tell them that you are the sultan's personal horse trainer. They won't dare harm you! Now remember what I said! Good luck!"

And the fox was off.

The horse trader had just gotten Sultan Aimutai'ke's name straight when the commander and the rest of the group rode up.

"You, there!" called the commander. "Yes, you with all those horses! Who owns this herd?"

"The wise, great, all-mighty, all-powerful Sultan Aimutai'ke, sir!"

"I see," said the commander. I might have guessed, he said to himself. Such a magnificent ruler wouldn't have just a bunch of bony nags running about, would he?

Of course the princess had witnessed everything the commander had seen so far on the road.

A herd of camels that stretches for as far as the eye can see, she said to herself. A herd of gorgeous horses the likes of which I've never seen! Such wealth . . . My father's riches pale to nothingness next to my groom's!

Before long, the fox came across a shepherd and his flock of sheep.

"Ha!" laughed the shepherd. "Look at that fox run! Where are you off to, boy?"

"Think it's funny, do you?" asked the fox. "Well, take a look at the horizon!"

The shepherd looked; a large cloud of dust is what he saw.

"What of it?" asked the shepherd.

"Why, man, that is a gang of murderous, bloodthirsty bandits! Hope you have a small army to defend yourselves and to keep these sheep!"

"I . . . I see them!" The shepherd gasped. "What . . . what am I going to do? I am just one fellow out here! Fox, do you have any clever idea?"

"Well, I might. All right, here's what you must do. Their chief will ask you who owns all these sheep. Tell him they are owned by the mighty and powerful Sultan Aimutai'ke. Believe me--when they hear that, they'll head on without so much as bothering you!"

"'Sultan Aimutai'ke,' you say?"

"That's right! Now, good luck!"

With that, the fox was off.

No sooner had the nervous shepherd committed the name "Sultan Aimutai'ke" to his memory than the group of riders arrived.

"Hey, you over there! Yes, you! Come here!"

"Y-Yes, s-sir? M-May I h-help you?"

"Do you own all these sheep?"

"N-no, sir. They all belong to the great, mighty, wise, powerful, amazing and awful Sultan Aimutai'ke! I'm just his humble shepherd."

The commander and the group rode on.

This is ridiculous, he thought. Is there anything that this man doesn't own? I'll just have to stop asking.

Now the fox was on the path that led to the castle of the King of the Demons, a place nobody in his/her right mind would even venture near.

The fox ran through the unattended front gate, opened the front door and entered the demon's chamber.

The Demon King was amused to see a fox right before him, panting, trying to catch its breath.

"Ha! A fox!" He laughed and shook his head. "What are you doing in my chamber? Why are you struggling to catch your breath?"

"Oh, great King . . .," said the fox, "I'm here to warn you!"

"Warn me about what?"

"It's Sultan Aimutai'ke! He's on his way with a great army. He plans to kill you!"

"What? Sultan who?!"

"Sultan Aimutai'ke! He tried to kill me already but I got away! Quickly hide before he enters your castle!"

"Sultan Aimutai'ke, you say?"

"Yes, yes! Please hide quickly!"

"Well, you're a fox, the most cunning creature around. Do you have any suggestions where I should hide?" asked the Demon King.

"Oh, let me think . . . let me think . . . I've got it!" cried the fox. "Hide up your fireplace! I'll then stack firewood underneath. He'll never look inside!"

The demon ran to the fireplace and squeezed himself up the chimney. He wriggled all the way up until the soles of his boots couldn't be seen. The fox then busily placed firewood beneath him.

"How's this, fox?" asked the Demon King.

"Fine, just fine. Now don't say anything!"

The fox then lit the wood in the fireplace, and the fire roared right up the chimney itself, roasting the King of the Demons to the bone. And that was the end of him and all his evil!

Shortly afterwards, the commander led Sultan Aimutai'ke, his bride and all his men right into the castle, unopposed.

And that is how Sultan Aimutai'ke took possession of a whole castle!

Now for some time Sultan Aimutai'ke and his wife lived in the castle, along with the fox. One day the fox came to speak to Aimutai'ke.

"Mighty Sultan, I think you'd have to admit that I kept my original promise to you, wouldn't you say?"

"Absolutely. You certainly did keep your promise!"

"I also think you couldn't deny that I have been of tremendous service to you , could you?"

"Of course I could never deny that! Everything I have I owe to you!"

"Then," continued the fox, "let me ask you something. If I died, what would you do?"

"If you died, fox? Why, why I would honor you!"

"Oh? How so?" asked the fox.

"I would wear you on my very head!" Aimutai'ke replied. "That way I would remember you forever and ever."

"I see."

A few days later, the princess came to Aimutai'ke with an urgent and sad look upon her face.

"Your Highness, my husband, I have sad news," she said.

"What is it?"

"It's the old fox. He's dead!"

"Oh, is that so?"

"Yes, my husband. What shall we do?"

"With him? Oh, just toss him into the furnace!"

"You treacherous man!"

Sultan Aimutai'ke suddenly turned around. Standing in the doorway was none other than the fox himself.

"You had told me that if I died you'd wear me upon your head for remembrance's sake. Is your word as heavy as a mountain or as light as a feather?" asked the angry fox.

"Fox, dear friend, I'm sorry! Don't be angry. If you should really die, I swear before you and under heaven that I shall truly wear you upon my head!"

As it turned out, the fox did die a few days later. This time Sultan Aimutai'ke kept his promise. He took the fox's pelt and head and fashioned it into a head covering. Now the people of the area thought this was mighty strange but didn't say anything, of course. In time, though, it became quite fashionable to wear a fox on one's head. That fashion has continued down to our time!


from Zhongguo minjian gushi xuan, vol. 1, pp. 267-271.

It seems a function in nearly every Indo-European fairy tale, like this one, for characters to act like clueless fools, never questioning the obvious or suspicious, taking everything at face value. At the end, we are not told how the castle operated without even a minimal staff. Were the commander and his men invited on to stay as well? The story doesn't tell us.

This story is, of course, a variant of AT 545B, "Puss-in-Boots." Many variants end with the death of the helpful animal. In some tales, the cat, reluctantly slaughtered by her master, turns into a beautiful princess. Here, the dead fox serves to establish the origin of fox-fur caps.

I chose to translate guowang as "sultan" here instead of "king" in keeping with the Islamic traditions of the Uighur people. The story never specifies whether the "King of the Demons" is an actual demon or the nickname of a fiercesome bandit or warlord. I chose to treat him as the former.

1 comment:

  1. How did the fox die? Was it because he killed the King of Demons?