Dragon Lore- the Dragon’s Pearl
Once upon a time in Shu province a widowed woman and her only son lived in a thatched hut by the banks of the Min River. Now they were very poor and since the mother was old and ailing the young boy from an early age was burdened with the responsibility of providing for them both. As he loved his mother very much, he worked very hard from dawn to dusk trying his best to obtain a reasonable livelihood by cutting and selling grass. Many a night he stayed awake worrying that this may not be enough to sustain them; should an unforeseen calamity strike it would surely mean certain ruin.
Then came a time when his worse fears were realized. That summer a severe drought depleted their already scant reserves and he was forced to venture farther inland each morning in search of better grass. Even this expanded effort had proved fruitless as what he harvested was not even worth taking to market. Unrelenting, he ventured ever higher into the mountain, following paths never before trod by human feet. Once more he’d scavenged most of the morning and afternoon and being disappointed, with stooped shoulders he resolved to head home when suddenly, over a small rise, he spotted a meadow of verdant grass. In disbelief he rubbed his eyes and looked on anew. It still was there. With baited breath he ran towards it. True enough, the thick luxuriant grass, flourishing on a fertile earth was ripe for the picking. Halting for a spell he breathed in the fragrance of this lush green treasure. Oh, how gently they swayed, combed by the gentle breeze.
“What am I waiting for?” He quickly put an end to his daydream and a moment later began cutting and bundling the grass. He worked well into the afternoon and it was only when the rays of the sun began to dim that he reluctantly shouldered his heavy burden and made his journey home. Not before making a mental note of the topography of the exact location however, so as to claim the remainder on the morrow.
In the drought stricken land the proceeds from the sale of the lush grass were far more than the weekly pay and that evening mother and son were able to indulge for the first time ever in a more bountiful feast that included fish, poultry and varied vegetables alongside a superior brand of rice.
The subsequent day the boy retraced his steps joyfully expecting to find the remainder of the patch. However, to his great amazement, the meadow was once more fully overgrown with verdant grass. He did not stop to wonder why but set to work at once with boundless energy and enthusiasm and this time harvested the entire field. As he loaded up the last of his bundle and headed home he consoled himself by resolving to scour the area more carefully on next occasion. There had to be a comparable field waiting to be found somewhere adjacent to this one.
You can imagine his delight the next day in finding the same patch re-grown so fully and perfectly he could swear it had never been touched at all. “The field is enchanted; there is no need to look elsewhere!”
Once more he set to work, this time fearlessly harvesting all the grass once more and returning home with his heavy burden. This he repeated day after day as their circumstances became more comfortable, then luxuriant and secure. They now lived happily. However, there was only one hitch; the long, arduous, sometimes hazardous, trek had begun to wear the boy down. Consulting with his mother on this matter the alternative suddenly presented itself. If the patch was enchanted it could perhaps deliver the same abundance if it was planted elsewhere, preferably at closer proximity.
With this in mind, he made the journey the following morning, and instead of harvesting it he dug up each segment of the turf, roots, soil and all and tied them into rolls. Midway through this toil he spotted a most magnificent, luminescent pearl resting in a tangle of root and soil as he rolled up the clod of turf. “Hah, what a pretty find. Mom will like this. ” He stopped long enough to put it in his pocket then continued on with his work, not giving it another thought.
Wrestling this heavier burden down the mountain he replanted it at closer proximity to his home. And it wasn’t until all the patches were laid down next to their cabin that he realized his fatigue and hunger. He quickly got washed up and entered the home to sit at the table already laden with food and satiate his hunger. Stomach quickly filled he leaned back for a reprieve before they cleared the dishes. Then his hand, roaming in his pocket, happened to touch the pearl. Elatedly he presented it at once to his mother. Even with her failing sight she could tell its brilliance and value, especially when it lit up the dim room with a warm glow. Fearing losing it, his mother decided to store it in the unused old rice jar that she kept as a memento from the lean years. It still contained those few grains of rice they had left before their stroke of luck, just enough of them to cover the pearl.
Following day at the crack of dawn the boy jumped out of bed and wolfed down some bread and cheese then, careful not to wake his sleeping mom, dashed outside to begin his harvest. What greeted him however, wrenched his heart. There was no lush grass, just a dried withered bald patch with a few dried brown stalks poking up from the dust. “I’ve ruined everything.” His eyes brimming with tears he turned towards the house to relay this terrible news to his mom. Just then a scream from the house hastened his steps.
“What is it mama?” He shouted the moment he entered the premise.
“Look,” She pointed at the old rice jar, “See it for yourself.”
Indeed, the moment he lifted the lid, a miracle that greeted his eyes: the jar was full of fresh white, fragrant rice and, on top, the large pearl glowed warmly.
Mother and son exchanged a knowing look. Later when the son told his mom of his failure with the patch, it became crystal clear that the pearl was the true source of magic. In order to be absolutely sure however, they now placed the the pearl in the money box that contained only few coins, then carefully hid it under the bed.
The following morning, even before breakfasting the son was asked to retrieve it, as it was too heavy and cumbersome for her to fetch. True enough, it did feel heavier. It came as no surprise to both when, after the lid was lifted, the bounty of cash was discovered, the pearl perched on top.
This being proof positive they knew how to proceed from then on. They used the magic pearl sparingly and wisely, reciprocating the kindness of neighbours that had once aided them in their time of need. Knowing what it is’s like to be poor their unstinting kindness extended to those others, even strangers that happened to be caught in dire straits. Despite all the goodwill, the mother and son’s apparent improved fortunes, in time drew unwarranted attention, curiosity and some envy from their neighbours in their small village.
The secret could no longer be contained. Through coercion and trickery the source of their wealth was eventually discovered. The word spread like wildfire and soon after a mob of villagers, some friendly, a few not so friendly, gathered by the house demanding in a loud uproar to see this phantom pearl for themselves. Goaded to prove that the reasons for their recent prosperity did not involve thievery, the boy foolishly fetched the pearl then held it up for all to see. The glow at first mesmerized all the onlookers but, far from being assuaged, the crowd grew restless and resentful.
Why should they be the sole possessors of such a gift from the Heavens? Everyone wanted a turn at possessing it. Each coveted it; and some demanded immediate ownership of the pearl for more righteous, personal reasons. Tempers flared and faces became distorted with loathing, greed and revulsion. The tumult grew increasingly uglier and the situation more volatile.
Fearing the impending assault on himself, on his mother, or the theft of the pearl, the boy impetuously popped the pearl into his mouth to keep it safe. In that pandemonium, however, the boy was shoved to and fro and, giving in to reflex, the pearl dropped through his oesophagus. All at once he was overwhelmed with the sensation of being scorched from inside the stomach; an unbearable, searing fire consumed his innards.
“Water! Water!” Screaming, he dashed to the well at the side of the house and, as fast as he could haul the buckets out, consuming the water until the well ran dry. Still burning up, he ran in a frenzy to throw his body down to the bank to the river and began to lap it up. He drank and drank, but nothing could assuage the all-consuming sensation of burning. The stunned villagers watched in horrified amazement as the once mighty river Min was diminished to a trickle, then that too disappeared. As the last drop flowed down the boy’s throat, a huge crack of thunder tore up the sky. The Earth trembled as countless forks of lightning flashed across the sky heralding the eruption of a violent storm and a deluge of rain that threatened to drown them all.
“Now you’ve done it! Heaven is angered. Flee, flee for your lives!” The shouts scattered most of the crowds. Others, with wobbling legs, fell on their knees and covered their heads and faces in terror. Amidst curses and lamentations they bewailed their ill fate in wavering voices.
Meanwhile the boy had begun to tremble uncontrollably as he grew and grew. His desperate mother, forgetting her own terror, hung on to his legs with all her strength, but he was beyond help. Horns sprouted on his forehead and his eyes grew wider and larger their red glow emitting tendrils of fire. His skin was also altered gradually but surely into scales. Now at mammoth size, his dismayed mother watched in sad resignation, as her beloved son transformed into a Dragon. Too late she remembered the legend of every water dragon possessing a treasured magic pearl, and only then grasped that the pearl had originally belonged to the dragon guarding this river.
The deluge meanwhile had filled the river once more and her darling boy, now a dragon, started to glide towards it. With courage only a mother has she clung onto his scaly foot but, with a gentle pull, he freed himself. He slithered towards the torrent as his very motion threw up mud-banks along the sides of the river. Love is a powerful bond and so, each time that she cried out to him, the dragon did turn his mammoth body to briefly gaze her. After an angst-ridden roar however, he slid beneath the torrent of the river Min. To this day the mud banks on the river Min are referred to as the “Looking Back at Mother” banks, in memory of the boy who’d swallowed the pearl and transformed into a mighty River Dragon. True to the boy’s generous nature, the Dragon of the River fed and nourished the crops of the villages along his banks from that day on, and there has never again been such a taxing drought in that province.