The Seven Tales of the India Traders: The Fifth Day

Told on the fifth day, after Ji-Yuan’s Story of the Fourth Day

“We should hear Lon Po’s tale next,” said P’ang Yün, “he has been whispering it to me since we’ve begun. He is like a mosquito in my ear.” The others readily agreed. Then one of the traders asked him: “What kind  of story is it, Master Lon Po?”

Lon Po’s Story

A tale for a good night’s sleep! It cannot wait another moment.

I am a fur trader, as you know, and on one my journeys I met another fur trader who told me about a white bear. I laughed at him. Polar Bear & Cubs‘No!’ he said, ‘he is white as white and lives where it always snows – that way he cannot be seen!’

‘In China there is no such place!’ I said to him.

‘North of the land you call Mongolia,’ he answered, ‘where the horses are like the wind. Where the women are as skillful as the men.’

‘But white bears?’ I asked.

‘The bear’s name was Ujin,’ he answered. ‘The very first white bear.’

Well, of course, I asked who Ujin was and he sat me down. Now, all of you know I am as long winded as a blacksmith’s bellows, so I will tell you his tale in three parts.

First I will tell you how Ujin caused the Chrysanthemum to grow — China’s autumn flower!

The Autumn Bear
Ujin & the Autumn Wind

In her tenth year Tien was given a bear cub. Her father had found it wrapped in birch and willow leaves. “He is an autumn cub,” her father said. “Never let him wander.” He gave her a tortoise shell comb inside of a lacquered chest. The girl called the cub Ujin. She often combed him and Ujin, who grew to love the girl, followed her where ever he could. Yet when she grew old enough, Tien’s father also gave her a horse and took her to hunt with him. Ujin saw less and less of her. Though Tien visited as often as she could, Ujin grew jealous thinking Tien preferred her horse and hunting with her father; and he unlocked the door of his cage one day to find her.

From the father’s tent in the middle, Ujin, one by one, peered into all the others. Yet without Tien, those whom he startled were soon chasing him from the settlement. Ujin might have perished had not Tien, her father, and the huntsman arrived. With her own bow still at her side, Tien leapt among the tribesmen. “He is mine,” she cried, “And I will punish him!” But Tien wept; and unseen, she broke her arrow’s tip. Ujin lay himself in nearby willow and birch leaves to hide himself. Then Tien nocked the arrow as quick as any of her father’s huntsman and let it fly.

Ujin wisely lay still. “Go far, dear friend,” she whispered, “do not think I did not love you.”

Tien’s sorrow haunted her. Though she was offered another cub it was not like Ujin. Then the autumn wind, knowing sorrow, sought out the flaws and cracks in the walls of her father’s tent. He found the girl and every night, as she slept, the wind kissed her until her face and lips were pale and her voice was weak. When the tribe’s doctor came to visit the girl the white-haired woman said there was no medicine for sorrow.

“Only this,” she said, “keep Tien from the night air.”

Ujin learned of Tien’s sorrow and because he still loved her he returned one evening when he could not be seen. Coming as close to the circle of tents as he dared, he turned his back to them and peered into the night. And he peered until a strange figure stood before him. The figure was the autumn wind. First he was a jester and danced but Ujin was not swayed. Then he vanished. He appeared again as a terrible swordsman but Ujin would not move and the wind’s sword passed through him as a wind through winter rushes. Then the wind came again as a poor farmer, agile as a leaf in moving water. He tried to creep past Ujin but the great bear caught him against the earth with his paw. The Autumn Wind struck but Ujin would not free him and finally the wind lay still. The bear, remembering that Tien had spared his life, spared the wind but drove him deep into the earth and covered him over. The wind did not climb out of the earth again except as a Chrysanthemum the following autumn and every autumn thereafter. Tien slept peacefully that night.

Here Lon Po pauses after the first part.

To be followed by the Second Part.


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