Seven Tales of the India Traders: The Fourth Day

Told on the fourth day, after Liang-chieh’s Story of the Third Day

redbirdJi-Yuan’s Story

Another day in the high lands – nothing but moss, shrubs and cedar. The cedar are truly like tall sentinels. Perhaps they look after me for my wife! You ask what I mean? They remind me of my story.  I bring it from the temples in the Himalayan foothills. I spend many days there and often not a single word is spoken. However, there is one monk named Sanpud who loves to talk and loves to tell a story. He said to me: ‘Here is one that tells why certain trees, the evergreens, never lose their leaves in autumn.’

The River Wife

Ti-Ling married to Tung-Po when she was only fourteen. Their love was never in doubt. Ti-Ling had wooed him with her flowers and Tung-Po wooed her with his poems. He wrote them on green paper. He nick-named his little wife the plum-blossom. He said the poems on the green paper were like leaves. “Flowers cannot blossom,” he said, “if they do not have enough leaves.” Ti-Ling put his poems in a cracked tea kettle. She sometimes threw tea leaves inside with the poetry. Her husband teased her. He said: “You are going to make tea out of my love.”  She answered: “It is so our love will not become bitter.”

The fame of Tung-Po’s poetry increased. “I must go,” he said one day, “there are great men in the city who wish to hear my poetry.” Next to their little house was the river Kiang and their boat which was their only other possession. Tung-Po climbed into the boat the next day. Ti-Ling gave him blue plums and boiled rice to take with him. Tung-Po said to her: “I will return before the leaves change their color.” Ti-Ling wept. She undid her beautiful black hair, letting it fall about her shoulders as a sign sorrow. When she returned to her house, she went to the tea kettle and took out the first poem she touched. She read it.

When I first learned to cut swords from bamboo
I did not want to play with you in your mother’s shadow pulling flowers.
If I am too old someday to even cut goose-foot for my cane
Who will still pull flowers for me but you?

Tung-Po returned before the changing of the leaves. There had been no rain. She said to him: “Our spring-bed is dry and lies in brown duck-weed.” “We have two pails,” Tung-Po answered, “and together we will take water from the river.” When they had watered their wheat and mulberries Tung-Po wrote her a new poem for her tea kettle. “I met a farmer,” he said to her as he wrote, “who said it is best not to let the seedlings shoot up too fast if you want good dumpling flour; we should let a sheep or cow graze in our wheat.” He put the new poem into her kettle and smiled saying: “But a cow and sheep is not what my poem is about.”

They might have lived happily on so little but one day he said again to his wife: “Great men wish to hear me read my poetry.” She answered: “Why should you go? At fourteen I mingled my life with yours forever. What is a great man to this?” But Tung-Po said to her: “I will return even while the leaves are still green.” “The moss will grow on the garden path,” she answered, “because two feet alone cannot keep a path.” Yet Tung-Po climbed into the boat the next day. Ti-Ling gave him rice and dried fish. “Tell me beforehand,” Ti-Ling said, “when you will return and I will pick jujubes for you.” She returned to her house when she could no longer see him past the narrows of the river. She took a new poem from her tea kettle. She read.

The spring’s dry bed is papered with cracked duckweed.
You and I must carry buckets from the river into the fields.
Will our souls also mingle like the water from our buckets
When we pour them out – you and I?

Ti-Ling wept when she read this. It was her favorite poem. She gathered the jujubes as they ripened, awaiting word from Tung-Po. When he did not return with the changing of the leaves she wrote him a letter though she did not know where to send it. ‘The rushes are dry,’ she wrote, ‘and sigh when the wind touches them.’ When winter passed, spring and then another summer, Ti-Ling cut her beautiful hair and would not let it grow back. She wrote him another letter: You said a plum blossom needs leaves if it hopes to bloom – have you forgotten?

When another autumn came Ti-Ling wrote: You said you would return while the leaves were green but how can I wait through another winter? She took the green slips of paper from her tea-kettle and tied them to the trees. And as the years passed she returned to the slips of paper she had already tied and cut them into needle-like slivers and tied the slivers to more trees until it seemed the trees were always green. When Ti-Ling was too old to see the slivers of paper, she lay down beneath one of the trees and did not waken. Yet the trees did not lose their leaves. They became the evergreens and still wait for Tung-Po.

Here Ends Ji-Yuan’s Tale

Followed by Lon Po’s Tale on the Fifth Day

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The Seven Tales of the India Traders: The Second Day

Told on the second day, after P’ang Yün’s Tale of the First Day.

Pu-liang Yi’s Story

I am an old lady and my back is weary already. I see, however, we have found a place where the trees have lain us a blanket of dry leaves. Friends, I traded in the walled city of Agra, where I met a dyer trading in silk and wool. His dyes astounded me: indigo, logwood, madder, cochineal, and Tyrian purple. I asked from whom he had learned to dye. He answered, having traveled to Hangchow, that he was inspired by the colors of our leaves in autumn. He is the story he told, explaining why leaves change their color.

The Leaves of Fallen

birds-treeWhen the Emperor died his two sons fought for the realm. The land was littered with the dead of their armies. A girl named Ti, whose beauty was exceeded only by her gentleness, loved the younger prince, who was proud and arrogant and took no notice of her. The elder brother, who loved her, was rash and ill-tempered and easily frightened her.

The brothers battled. China was like the plains – without trees. In the valleys the rivers trembled. The grasses were trampled underfoot. The snow was shaken from the mountains and the maiden wept. None may ever know the number of fallen, only the girl, who after the armies separated, went alone among them.

She wove her clothes from paper, collecting scraps as though they were the precious silk of the silkworm. Her skill was marveled at. Yet when she stepped among the dead she tore her robes to scraps again, of every color—of orange and red and yellow hue—and wrote on them; and like little poems, she placed them on each child and man and kissed their eyes closed. She did so until she had lain a leaf of clothing on every soldier, and stood among them, often, without clothing.

She lay herself down to sleep and during the night the spirits of the soldiers grew into trees and stretched their limbs out above her. No rain, no wind, nor cold could touch her; and when morning came she lay covered by a canopy that the sun itself could not peer through. As one protected, she awoke; and the grasses had lain themselves over her.

Then the brothers battled again, their numbers greater than ever. Their spears punctured the clouds coming over the mountains. Their swords reflected a thousand reddening suns. Horses raised a yellow dust and thundered. The orange and brown capes of the armies met as if blown by winds or as though swept by terrible waters together into the valleys. The maiden Ti saw that both armies could not survive. She hid herself, could do nothing; and saw the younger brother whom she loved.

His soldiers fell back and the elder brother rose among them.  The younger brother fled. He fled between the hill’s great rocks and the girl, though her paper robes were torn by briars and thistles, followed him. When she saw that he had stopped she called out to him. He answered: Run from me! The horses of my enemy beat the earth! They will slay me and slay you if you are with me!

She would not go. She bared herself, offering him her clothes. He took them and fled. When the elder brother arrived she had already put on his younger brother’s clothes. The rash prince bellowed and his soldiers took her thinking she was his younger brother. Though it was ordered that she should be slain, she said nothing. Her love for the younger brother, whom she protected, kept her silent. She was slain and left among the fallen soldiers of her lover.

The elder prince led his army away; and night came. The rain followed the night. The days and nights of the season followed. And the girl turned to dust. Then the wind came. Her dust was lifted out of the valleys for there was nothing to cover her. No one closed her eyes. No one came to lay a poem on her brow. It was a bitter wind and when it laid her dust down again on the earth the forests grieved. Then they let their leaves fall—gold, yellow and red—just as she had done for them and she slept, at last, as one protected.

Every autumn they lay down their leaves again. No rain, wind, nor cold can touch her; and when winter comes she lies covered by leaves and not the sun itself can find her. As one protected, she sleeps. And the grasses lay themselves over her.

What of the younger prince? He fled in the clothes of a woman and weeps at his cowardice. Some say he is like the moon who wonders the fields and forests at night. He would return her clothes but will not find her. The elder prince, who loved the girl, learned that he had slain her. Where can he go? Some say he is like the sun, who gazes down upon the earth day after day to undo, somehow, what he has done; but he will also  never find her. She sleeps beneath the leaves.

Here Ends Pu-liang Yi’s Tale

Followed by another tale on The Third Day

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