Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chunwang & the Ninth Maiden (Han) -- Part Two

Chunwang now found himself the guest of the young hunter, Brother Deer. Brother Deer's family treated Chunwang with great courtesy and affection, feeding the young man plates of fish and meat and cups of rice wine with which to down the food. Brother Deer also took Chunwang along to pay respect to other members of the deer community.

Some time passed and Chunwang began to think of his mother. As much as he had enjoyed staying with Brother Deer and his family, Chunwang longed to return to his mother. And so, escorting Chunwang to the gates of his compound, Brother Deer handed Chunwang a basket and said, "Little Brother, take this parting gift. Don't look at it as just an ordinary basket. See what happens when you place freshly cut grass into the basket!"

With tears in his eyes, Chunwang accepted the gift and prepared to say farewell. However, Brother Deer had more words to say.

"Remember this: If you should ever encounter any problem and need my help," Brother Deer said, "don't hesitate to come this gate and shout: 'Maha! Brother Deer!' Do so and I shall immediately come!"

Chunwang returned home to his worried mother. He dutifully stayed by his aged mother's side for the next few days until it came time to cut the grass.

He was cutting the grass alone when he decided to use the basket Brother Deer had given him. As soon  he placed a few blades of grass into the basket, the entire basket became full of grass and the grass on the ground to cut became that much less. With the basket, Chunwang could now cut much more grass with much less effort! What a great boon this basket turned out to be!

In his free time, Chunwang kept in contact with Brother Deer and his family, often visiting their compound.

In his eighteenth year, Chunwang's mother passed away. He made the funeral arrangements and made sure they were carried out in a filial manner. Afterwards, he visited Brother Deer.

Brother Deer took one look at Chunwang and asked, "Little Brother, what happened? Your face looks so cloudy! You can tell me."

"Brother Deer, my mother has passed away, the person who had loved me and taken care of me since birth, the one person in my little home besides myself. Brother Deer, I shall not want to live alone . . ."

"Listen to me, my little brother. Don't be upset. I think I have the answer. Just about every evening, nine female immortals come down from the sky to the West River to bathe. Here's what you can you do. Hide yourself in the grass a hundred paces from the riverbank before they come down. Wait for them to take off their beautiful peahen skins and wings. You'll see that they are incredibly lovely maidens. Note which of the group is the one most beautiful. While they bathe, take the skin and wings of that maiden and hide it. She shall come out of the water and despair when she is unable to find her skin and wings. Meet her, introduce yourself, and return her skin and wings to her. She shall then become your wife! Now, leave quickly! You need to be somewhere!"

Chunwang thanked Brother Deer, grabbed a bite to eat,  and took off towards West River. Once there, he found a spot a hundred paces from the shore that was full of tall stalks of grass and hid himself there. Then, he watched and waited . . .

The dark grayness of early evening soon turned to the black of night punctuated by the brilliance of the silver stars overhead. Chunwang continued to watch and wait.

A star descended to earth!

Now gathered on the bank of the river were nine gorgeous peahens. One by one each discarded its skin and wings to reveal itself as a ravishing beauty. The last, the ninth, was the most beautiful of all, and she dazzled Chunwang's eyes.

Yes, she's the one, he said to himself.

The nine celestial maidens entered the river water and cavorted and splashed about, unaware of Chunwang's creeping over to pick up the skin and the wings of the ninth maiden. Grabbing the wings and skin, he slipped off to a safe location where the maiden's skin and wings could be safely hidden and never found. He quietly returned to the riverbank and once again hid himself in the tall grass.

Soon, the maidens finished bathing and left the water. One by one, each donned her skin and wings to return to peahen form--all except the Ninth Maiden, of course.

"Wait! Wait!" she cried. "Where are my skin and wings? Sisters, where are they? Have you seen them?"

One by one, her sisters flew away up into the sky.

The Ninth Maiden, without a stitch to conceal herself, covered her eyes and cried.


from Tan Daxian, pp. 58-59. 

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