Continued From The Last Issue
THE girl, still trembling, tied her mother's shawl round her shoulders and straightaway became an old bent woman. She led the snow-white stallion from the stable and rode away as fast as the North Wind. She rode across the plain until finally she found herself far away in an unfamiliar country. She made her way to a town and found work at the house of the local governor, carrying water and gathering brushwood for his fire. Lotus Blossom never took off her mother's shawl in sight of people, fearing that if she did the demon brothers would find her. So everyone took the newcomer for an old dame. Each day at dawn, Lotus Blossom went down to the brook for water; there she would brush her, take off her shawl and once again become a fair young maiden. But the moment she heard someone coming she would hastily tie on the shawl and turn back into a wrinkled dame.
Early one morning as she was brushing her hair by the water's edge, it so happened that a local shepherd saw her as she really was. In his surprise he rushed to the palace to tell the lord.
‘O great and noble lord,' the shepherd said, 'I saw a young maid just now on the banks of the stream. Her beauty is truly beyond compare; she is the most lovely creature alive.'
His interest aroused, the lord hurried with the shepherd to the river bank, yet no one was there save a wrinkled old woman.
'The shepherd has made a fool of me,' thought the governor and ordered the poor man to be lashed.
'But I saw her with my own eyes,' the shepherd mused, nursing his wounds. 'How can a young maid become a wrinkled old dame?'
He was determined to learn the secret.
Early next morning, before the sun was up, the shepherd went down to the stream, hid among some reeds and waited patiently. It was not long before he saw the old water-carrier standing by the water's edge combing her silver hair. As he watched she took off her ragged shawl and, lo and behold, turned into a lovely maid with long black hair.
Quickly he jumped out from the reeds, seized the shawl and threw it into the swift-flowing stream; then he dragged the terrified girl before the lord. But the noble lord fell in love with the girl at once and was determined to make her his bride.
'You really are as lovely as a lotus blossom, exclaimed the lord on hearing the girl's real name and story.
After richly rewarding the shepherd, the lord at once made plans for the wedding; and he and Lotus Blossom were duly married.
The lord of that land was indeed a young and generous man. He truly loved the maid, and she was very happy to be his wife; after all, it is said on coming through the darkest night, one earns the joy of a glorious day. But there is another Chinese saying: parting follows each new meeting as night is bound to follow day. And the time came for the lord to go away to war. This was when his young wife was with child.
Shortly after her husband's departure, Lotus Blossom gave birth to a handsome son; and as soon as she was able she wrote to her husband to tell him the good news, sending the letter with a messenger.
While on his way the messenger became weary and, seeing three men beneath a shady tree drinking wine, he rode over to them.
'Hey there, traveller,' cried one of the three, 'rest a while and share a draught of wine with us.'
Now the messenger was might fond of wine; so he slid down from his horse, joined the strangers and was soon drinking deeply.
Drink wine and you speak many words you may regret- as the old saying goes. It was not long before the messenger was telling tales about the lord and young wife; he told how the maid, Lotus Blossom by name, had once lived with three evil brothers, but had escaped in the form of an old woman
The three strangers, however, were none other than the three demon brother, whose long search for the runaway wife had let them to these parts. As they listened to the loos- tongued stranger, the demons realised what had become of Lotus Blossom.
As soon as the messengers feel back in a drunken sleep, they took the letter from his pouch and read it out: 'Dear husband, I have borne you a son, heir to your lands. Come home soon. Lotus Blossom.'
At once the demons tore up the letter and wrote another in its place: 'Dear husband, I have borne a monster with an ox's head. What am I to do? Lotus Blossom.’
In the morning when the messenger awoke, he mounted his horse and galloped on. Finally arriving at the lord's camp he handed the letter over. The lord unsealed it, read it through and was filled at once with horror.
But he loved his wife dearly and wrote to her in reply: 'Dear wife, grieve not. Await my swift return.'
Taking the letter, the messenger set out on his return and found once more his three drinking companions along the way. Right away he joined them and was presently as merry as a cobbler.
Again the evil brothers took out the letter and replaced it by another which read: 'Evil woman. Take your child and leave my land forever.'
On walking, the messenger mounted his steed, suspecting nothing, and came in time to the governor's palace; the lord's wife was there to meet him. When she had read the letter the poor woman could not understand why her husband was so cruel. Bu there was nothing for it; she had to leave the palace
Taking up her child, she mounted the white stallion and rode off toward the sun. Through valley and mountain pass the stallion bore them until they came to a tree-less plain
There it halted and said in a human voice, 'Mistress mine, listen well and do exactly as I say. Take a knife and kill me. Spread my skin upon the ground; put my bones in the centre, my hoofs at each end and my mane around the edge. Good fortune will come from that deed.'
Though she was unhappy about losing the faithful horse, she thought sadly of her son and finally did the awful deed. Then sleep overcame her.
When mother and son awoke they found themselves not on the tree-less plain, but in a soft bed within a splendid mansion. In each chamber stood chests containing all manner of jewels and rich garments; outside the windows played fountains of pure, crystal clear water and around the mansion grew trees hung heavy with fruit.
Several days passed. Meanwhile, the lord returned from war, hurrying home to his wife and poor misshapen infant. On the way he was surprised to see the splendid mansion which, he felt sure, had not stood on that spot before. Eager to learn who dwelt there, he entered the wealthy home and was greeted by Lotus Blossom with their son
The joy of the couple knew no bounds.
They told each other of all that had passes and soon understood that the demon brothers lay behind the evil doings. The lord brought his wife back to his palace all was happy as before.
But the evil demons were not finished. Turning themselves into busy merchants, they bore to the palace various sweetmeats soaked in poison. By good fortune, Lotus Blossom saw them coming, recognized the eldest brother by the scar upon his ear and quickly informed her husband. Right away he gave instructions to his servants to dig a deep pit in the palace waiting chamber and to cover it with carpets.
When the brothers arrived they passed through the door of the waiting room and, as soon as they stepped upon the carpet, tumbled down into the pit below. In an instant, servants filled the pit with earth and, when it was full, placed a heavy stone upon it. Thus the demon brothers met their end.
As for Lotus Blossom and her son, they lived happily ever after in the palace, with no demons to disturb their peace.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008