The Seven Tales of the India Traders: The Fifth Day

Continuing the Second Part

With his lungs filled by night, Ujin did not wander so much. You may ask if Ujin still loved Tien? He did. He followed her when her tribe packed their tents and rode their horses to another part of the land. It was for this reason that Ujin saw another ghostly figure follow the tribe. It was the ghost of autumn.

Ujin & the Ghost of Autumn

Tien gave birth to a son. His eyes were like his father’s, the Night Sky, yet they were filled with laughter. Tien called the child Basu. Yet when Basu was old enough to speak, terrible dreams visited him. Polar Bear & CubsThey woke him in the night and Tien could not comfort him. The child’s grandfather, the father of the Night Sky, called to him. Tien took Basu to bed with her and held him but the grandfather’s voice still reached the child. It stripped leaves before the season, toppled apples, bent the cattails, green, into the water, raised dust into the fields, and made the fields barren.

Then an old man came to the tents. He leaned on a hawthorn branch. His gray robes were tattered. Crows rode on his shoulders and his wisps of hair were as white as ice on blades of grass. The horses danced nervously. “Where is my grandson?” the ancient figure asked. “He is with my daughter,” said Tien’s father, who had come forward to meet him. Then the old man saw Tien and his grandson in her arms. He pointed at the child. “You will give him to me!” But Tien defied him. “He is my child,” she said. “Go home, old man!” Then the ghostly figure turned to her father. “The grass will fail. I will drive the animals beyond your huntsman’s arrow. Your people will starve. When you change your mind, you will leave the child in the fields. I will return him into the world like his father – a thing of nature.” The old man turned and left slowly by the way he had come.

Tien took Basu, her hickory bow and fled the village hoping the spirit might spare it. Strange shadows trailed her and she grew weary with fear. The voice of the spirit grew stronger as she fled. And finally, taking a branch from a fire she had built against the darkness, she held its flaming tip against the forest floor. She meant to set the forest ablaze if only to drive away the haunting shadows. Before the leaves could catch, a great paw pushed the stick aside. Ujin moaned. Tien saw it was Ujin and leapt into the bear’s giant arms. “I must leave my child in the fields!” she began but Ujin shook his head and let fall from his mouth a pine nut wrapped in willow and birch leaves.

In the morning, after Tien had come to understand Ujin’s meaning, she took Basu and went with the bear to the hill where she had first slept with the Night Sky. At its top, Ujin sat on his haunches. He peered out over the steppes without moving and when day passed into evening, Tien saw that the spirit was climbing the hill. Ujin moaned. “Will you give me the child?” the ghost asked when he stood before them. “I will leave the child in the field,” answered Tien. “He will be wrapped in birch, red maple, and yellow willow leaves.”

“Ha!” cried the old man. The crows at his shoulders cawed as he turned and left the hilltop. Then Ujin dug into the earth. When he had dug enough Tien gave him Basu. The bear cradled the child and crawled into the hole. Tien covered them over with birch, maple and the slender willow leaves before she hid herself.

When the last light left the hilltop the spirit re-appeared. He carried his hawthorn branch and walked quickly to where he thought the child lay. He struck the mound with his branch. “Go, child!” he cried. “Go to the wind, the rivers, and the fields!” The leaves stirred and flurried in all directions but it was not the child who answered the ancient spirit’s voice. Ujin towered over the ghost while Basu lay safely in his arms. Yet the spirit’s magic had worked against Ujin. His voice was gone into the winds, his strength into the rivers and his golden fur, turned white as snow, had turned the fields to yellow and gold.

Then the spirit meant to strike again but Tien’s arrow pierced his heart and then another followed. His fingers turned to twigs, his arms stretched into branches and his feet sank into the earth. The twisted and turning wood groaned until a hawthorn tree stood where the ghost had been. Where his mouth had been there was an open hollow in the trunk and the arrows still pierced it. The crows clamored in the air and returned to the tree as though called to it. Tien knew they would slowly pull the arrow out but it went deep and if they pulled it out, it would be when Basu was no longer a child – but a man.

Here Ends Lon Po’s Tale

That was Ujin’s last adventure with Tien. The bear went north. The wind, I know, still moans with Ujin’s voice and we can see that Ujin never recovered his fur from the autumn fields.

‘But tell me,’ I said to the fur trader, ‘surely the crows would have drawn out the arrows!’

‘Ah!’ he answered. ‘Every autumn, for as long as Tien lived, she returned to the Hawthorne tree to drive an arrow into it! That is the reason the crows come together every autumn — to protect their autumn trees. They think Tien will still return, for she never missed at what she aimed.’

Followed on the Sixth Day by Tsi Tung’s Story


The Seven Tales of the India Traders: The Fifth Day

Continuing the First Part

Now, Ujin’s adventures were not finished. You might think driving the autumn wind into the earth was enough? He wandered six years, sometimes in the steppes and at other times in the yellow river valley where there was always enough to eat. Then a stranger crossed the river and the bear followed him. This stranger was the night sky.

Ujin & the Night Sky

In her sixteenth year Tien’s father decided she should marry. Many suitors came offering her jade, carved sandalwood, garments, and fine metals. Tien’s father urged her to choose but Tien found nothing for her heart. Then a stranger came after sunset. Polar Bear & CubsHe was pale and his hair as black as night. When he came before Tien he was alone. Tien asked what he brought. Then he laughed. “Ha!” He threw his hand into the air and candles were snuffed as if by one breath and stars filled her father’s tent. “I know where your autumn bear sleeps,” he answered. “Come with me and marry me.” If Tien feared the stranger, she also longed for Ujin. “Leave tomorrow.” He touched her cheek. ”Go north and I will find you in the evening.”

The next day Tien took her hickory bow and a shock of arrows. She rode north into the open steppes until it was dusk and seeing a grassy hill she went to the top. She could see all ways at once. Yet she did not see the stranger when he appeared behind her. He only said: “You have come.” When he touched her face his skin was cool and she felt her thoughts grow heavy. He removed her quilted blue coat and let down her long black hair. Then he kissed her and she felt her lungs filled by his breath. “I shall come again tomorrow” he said. She lay aside her bow and sleep fell upon her. When she woke the next morning she was alone. She felt her skin. It was cool and though she wished to find Ujin her thoughts came slowly. When evening came again the stranger appeared.  Again he kissed her and her lungs were filled by his breath. “I shall come a third night,” he said, “and we shall be married.” Again she slept. She could not rise the following day but lay atop the hill desiring only to sleep again.

Ujin had followed the stranger, and on the third night, when he came to the bottom of the hill where Tien lay, he covered himself in the yellow birch,  red maple, slender willow leaves of a nearby copse. When the stranger appeared again that night Tien asked who he was. “I am the night sky,” he answered, “and bring sleep to all things.” “Who is your father?” she asked and he answered. “He is the ice, the frost in the field, the first breath of cold.” Then he said: “Tonight we shall be married and you will be another star in my cloak.” Then, because her mind was heavy, filled by strange thoughts and desires, she allowed the stranger to kiss her a third night. Her lungs were filled by his breath and he vanished as if he were a shadow breathed in by her.

Then Ujin uncovered himself and came to the top of the hill. He moaned softly and putting his mouth over Tien he breathed in and his great lungs were filled with the breath of the young woman and all the breaths the night sky had breathed into her. When Tien arose, as if from a terrible dream, she did not see Ujin. The bear had left her, filled by a drowsiness, to sleep all that winter and for every winter thereafter — his lungs filled by the night. It was then, only when Ujin slept, that the autumn night was thereafter able to escape and shorten the days to bring autumn back to the world.

Here Lon Po pauses after the second part.

To be followed by the Third Part


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.