Chinese Folktales

20. Morning Sky

ONCE there was a man who was two hundred years old, but he Was still youthful and as Strong as a young man. His wife bore him a child and When the child was three days old she died. The father gave the child to a neighbour and asked her to look after him. Then he left home and disappeared. As the child was taken to the neighbour’s house the first light appeared in the morning sky. For that reason, they called him Morning Sky. When the child was three years old he often looked up to the sky and talked to the stars. One day he disappeared and he did not return for many months. The woman beat him. But he left again and did not return for a year. His foster mother was anxious and asked him: ‘Where have you been the whole year?’ The boy replied: ‘l merely ran aver to the purple Sea. The water there made my clothes red. So I went to the source where the sun dwells and washed them clean. I left this morning and it is noon now and I am back. Why are you talking about a year?’

The woman went on asking questions: ‘And which way did you go?’

The boy replied: ‘After I had washed my clothes I rested a little in the city of the dead and fell asleep. The father king of the East gave me red chestnuts and dawn juice. When I had eaten enough I went to the dark sky and drank some yellow dew to quench my thirst. I then encountered a black tiger and wanted to ride home on his back. But I beat him too hard and he bit me in the leg. That’s why I have come back, to tell you all about it’

Once more the boy ran many thousands of miles away from home, until he came to the swamp where the great primeval fog hangs. There he encountered a man with yellow eyebrows and asked him his age. The old man said: ‘l have given up eating and now live on air. The pupils of my eyes have gradually acquired a green sheen, so I can see all secret things. Every thousand years I turn my bones and rinse their marrow. Every two thousand years I scrape my skin and get rid of the hairs. I have washed my marrow three times and scraped my skin five times.

Morning Sky later served the emperor Wu of the Han dynasty. The emperor, who Was very fond of magic, made him his favourite. One day he said to him: ‘l would like my favourite Wife to stay young. Is that possible?’ Morning Sky replied: alone know the secret of staying young.’

The emperor asked What herbs would have to be eaten.

Morning Sky replied: ‘The mushroom of life grows in the north-east. The three-legged crow in the sun is always anxious to fly dawn and eat of it. But the sun god holds the bird’s eyes covered and does not let it go. When humans eat of it they become immortal, if animals eat of it they are stunned.’

‘HOW do you know all this?’ asked the emperor.

‘As a boy I once fell into a deep well and could not get out for many decades. There was an immortal who led me to this mushroom. But to get there one has to cross the Red Water and that is too weak even to support a floating feather. Anything that touches it sinks to the bottom. But that man took off his shoe and gave it to me. In the shoe I sailed across the water, picked the mushroom and ate it. The people in that place weave mats from pearls and precious stones. They took me into a room which had a curtain of a thin brilliantly coloured skin. They gave me a cushion carved from black jade with sun and moon, clouds and thunder engraved into it. They covered me with a fine blanket which was woven of the hair of a hundred mosquitos. That blanket was quite cool and very refreshing in the summer. I touched it with my hand and it seemed to me to consist of Water, but when looked closer I could see it was all light.

One day the emperor summoned all his learned men

to talk to them about the fields of the blessed. Morning

Sky was also present and told them: ‘Once While wandering about the North Pole I came to the Fire Mirror Mountain. There, neither sun nor moon stands in the sky. But there is a dragon with a fiery mirror in his jaws to lighten the darkness. On the mountain is a park and in the park a lake. By the lake grows the grass with the gleaming blades, brilliant like a golden lamp. If one picks it and uses it as a candle one can see not only all things visible but also the shapes of ghosts. Even the inside of humans can be seen by its light.’

One day Morning Sky Went to the east, to the country of the clouds of fortune. From there he brought back the horse of the gods. The horse was nine feet tall. The emperor asked how he had found it.

Morning Sky related: The Western Mother had hitched it to her carriage when she went to visit the father king of the east. The horse was tethered in the field of the mushrooms of life. But he trampled down several hundreds of them. Thereupon the father king got angry and drove the horse towards the river of heaven. There I found him and rode him back home. Three times I circled the sun because I had fallen asleep on horseback.

And before I knew it I was here. This horse can overtake the shadow of the sun. When I found him he was as thin and sorrowful as an old donkey. But mowed the grass in the country of the clouds of fortune by the mountain of the nine springs, where it only grows once every two thousands years, and fed it to the horse and he soon recovered his spirits.’

The emperor asked him about the country of the clouds of fortune.

Morning Sky replied: ‘There is a big swamp there. The people predict future and misfortune from the air and the clouds. If good fortune is to befall a house then five coloured clouds will form in the rooms and they will settle on grass and trees, turning into coloured dew. That dew tastes as secret as must.’

The emperor asked if he might have some of that dew.

Morning Sky replied ‘On my horse I can get there and back four times in a day.’

And true enough he was back by nightfall with some many-coloured dew in a crystal bottle. The emperor drank of it and his hair turned black again. He gave some of it to his highest officials and the old men were young again and the sick were cured.

Once, when a comet appeared in the sky, Morning Sky handed the emperor the astrologer’s rod. The emperor painted it at the comet and the comet was extinguished.

Morning Sky played the flute beautifully. Whenever he played his rich drawn-out notes the grains of sun-dust danced to his tune.

One day he said to a friend: ‘NO man except the astrologer knows who I am.’

When Morning Sky died the emperor called the astrologer and asked him: ‘Did you know Morning Sky?’

The man said: ‘No.’

The emperor asked: ‘What is your skill?’

The astrologer said: ‘l observe the stars. ‘

‘Are all the stars in their places?’ asked the emperor.

‘Yes. But for eighteen years I had not seen the Star of the Great Year. Now it has appeared again.’

Thereupon the emperor looked up at the sky and heaved a sigh: ‘For eighteen years Morning Sky was at my side and I never knew that he was the Star of the Great Year.’

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