The Dragon King’s Daughter Retold
Once upon a time there was a hard working student named Liu Yi, who lived in the central region of China near the great lakes. He was on his way home from the State Examinations, when his horse bolted and took the wrong turn, galloping quite a distance before he could regain control. Looking up the road up ahead he spotted a young maiden standing by a flock of sheep.
As he advanced and came within closer proximity, he was genuinely struck with her rare, exquisite beauty. She appeared distraught and quite distressed and, though she did her best to hide them, unrelenting fresh tears cascaded down her frail cheeks and on to her worn, yet immaculately clean, clothes.
Being a compassionate young man, Liu Yi could not pass by and, after bowing to her in greeting, he politely inquired as to the source of her distress.
She was a proud being but confronted with such kindness, her emotions took hold and she begun to openly sob. Liu’s heart was crushed and he immediately jumped down from his mount and, rushing to her side, offered her his silk handkerchief. She accepted it gratefully and dried her tears. Standing off to the side he, with a lowered head, tentatively asked if there was any way he could be of assistance to her. His voice was so soothing and his intent so genuine that the girl was pacified in but a short time. As she dried the last of her tears she took a good long look at this gentle stranger. Liking what she saw, she decided to place her trust in him and explained the cause of her dismay.
“My father is the Dragon King of Lake Dong Ting,” she choked back fresh tears, “and some months ago he arranged for me to wed the second son of the Dragon King of the Jing River, whom I do not love and never did. My husband can be considered rather handsome and is deceptively charismatic, but he is selfish and thinks only of his own pleasures and his heart is as dark as his face is fair. He revealed his true nature to me soon after I came to live with him and his family. Both he and his relations delight in inflicting cruelty and they torment me endlessly. When I pleaded with my Father-in-Law for mercy he became incensed and exiled me here to herd these sheep. Lake Dong Ting is too far away for me to journey. They always keep me under close scrutiny so I am prevented from ever contacting my father to give vent to my grievances. At the beginning I tried many a time to send word to my father but each time they intercepted my messages and tormented me even more. Hanging on to a hope that a slim chance would appear, I’ve carried this written note on me for many weeks now, praying that someone will come along who could take it to my father. They treat me like a slave, oh, I feel so utterly alone and helpless, I don’t know how much longer I can endure this humiliation!”
Touched by the girl’s plight, Liu at once volunteered to take the message to her father himself but at the next moment he hesitated, as he became anxious as to how he might accomplish the task. One thing for sure, he would never back out of the offer of help, not after seeing that ray of hope in her eyes.
“How could they condemn such a pure spirit to become a mere shepherdess? You are far too beautiful and delicate to be taking care of the Dragon’s food.”
“Dragons do not eat sheep.” The princess kindly corrected Liu, “and these are not ordinary sheep. They are rainmakers kept inside the bodies of sheep.”
“Lightning, thunder, tempests, winds and the like all have their uses for Dragons and must be kept within easy reach.”
“I see. “ After a moment’s reflection Liu clearing his throat then tentatively voiced his prior concern. “I’ve lived all my life on the shores of Lake Dong Ting, but I am a mere human. How can I ever travel to your father’s palace in the abysmal depths of that great lake?”
The girl looked up at him and held his gaze for a long time before thoughtfully speaking, “If you are as strong in heart as I believe you are; you must go to the sacred tangerine tree on the northern shore of the lake. There tie your belt around its trunk, put my sash around your own waist and knock three times on the trunk of the tree. You will be led to the palace.”
Liu, nodding readily, agreed to undertake the journey for her. Hope sprung anew in the girl’s heart and she joyfully placed the hidden letter from the folds of her gown into his hand and handed her sash over to him as soon as he had secured the message. As Liu remounted his steed he turned to gaze at her once more and called out, “Rest assured, I shall not fail you, but after you return to Dong Ting, I earnestly hope that we shall meet again.” He then spurred his steed on, anxious to undertake this very dangerous adventure. After a spell he did look back but the girl and the sheep had already vanished.
After several days of riding, Liu at long last arrived at the northern shore of Dong Ting Lake. Ignoring his tiredness, he at once sought the sacred tangerine tree and right away tied his belt around its trunk, donned the Princess’ sash, and then knocked three times on the tree.
Suddenly there was a thunderous noise as though the skies would rip open and the churning waves of the lake parted to reveal a giant rising from the depths. “Who dares to disturb my peace?” He growled at the young man stoically standing his ground.
“I must talk to the Dragon King.” Liu shouted in order to be heard over the tumult. “It’s a matter of utmost importance.”
The giant nodded, and slowly diminished in size to equal Liu. He next placed a blindfold over Liu’s eyes, and taking him by the forearm led him into the depths of the water. With each bold step Liu noted the growing silence engulfing him and his body’s temperature becoming colder and colder still, until he was rendered numbed all over. Then something extraordinary happened; after going through a sticky curtain all the warmth suddenly flooded back into his body and he felt normal again, neither hot nor cold. When finally the blindfold was removed, Liu found himself in a great big palace with many towers and arches of glittering marble, countless doors, columns and arches holding up tall azure ceilings that were inlaid with pearls, precious stones and innumerable other unnamed treasures that had no correlation in the surface world.
“What place is this?” Liu Yi asked his guide.
“The Palace of the Divine Void.”
His guide ushered him into the Pavilion of the Dark Pearl, a vast chamber where Liu saw a man clad in purple robes and holding the jasper sceptre whom his guide now proclaimed to him, as being the powerful Dragon King, seated amidst gathering mist upon a mighty throne.
Upon the King’s slight nod, Liu was led forward. Liu bowed low respectfully and waited to be formally addressed.
After a brief scrutiny, the King spoke: “Our Kingdom is occult and fathomless, quite unsuitable for those who live on the surface. What enterprise has brought you here from such a distance? You may speak freely sir.”
“I am Liu Yi, a resident of the land around this lake, and I met your daughter, the Princess, while returning from the examinations as she herded sheep beside the Jing River. She was ill-clothed and without shelter or any protection from the wind and rain, and she, teary-eyed, was beset with such sorrow that I felt obliged to do something to alleviate her suffering. I therefore asked her how she had come to this sorry state and she told me how her husband’s cruelty and the neglect of her parents-in-law had consigned her to this sad fate. I entreated her to allow me to help her and she gave me this message to give to you, her father, along with her plea for your loving kindness.” Liu retrieved the message from his inner pocket and, bowing low, humbly presented it to the Dragon King.
As the King read the letter his face filled with anger, then his visage became solemn. His eyes glistened with tears and his hands trembled slightly as he lowered the message and handed it to his steward along with orders to deliver it to the Queen. He addressed Liu next, “I have been both blind and deaf. Though I am indeed her loving father I had no idea of her suffering in her new home. It took you, a perfect stranger to her, to come to her rescue. As long as my Kingdom endures you shall not be forgotten and your bravery and kindness shall not go unrewarded.”
Just then however, he was interrupted by a loud wailing and weeping emanating from the Queen’s chambers. Quickly, he ordered an attendant to quell the commotion. “Tell the ladies to be quiet, lest they arouse Qian Tang.”
Lui, very much aghast, forgot his place and blurted out in astonishment, “Qian Tang?”
“Qian Tang is my younger brother, once the ruler of Lake Qian Tang.” The Dragon King answered him directly, overlooking in his gratitude Liu’s breach of protocol. “Unfortunately Qian Tang has a quick temper that lands him in terrible trouble. His ill temper has sadly, caused untold misery, devastation and floods in the region where once he reigned. You may have heard of the Nine Year Flood during the reign of your King Yao; that was but a small example of his boiling angers. When, in his rage, Qian Tang even threatened the Five Holy Peaks, the incensed Jade Emperor had him banished from his lake. I managed to, by entreaty, sway the Jade Emperor to show leniency, on the condition that I, his elder brother, would guarantee Qian Tang’s good behaviour and house him in my palace. “
“This news would infuriate him, as he is particularly fond of his niece. I fear that he would be unreasonable and exact revenge, therefore landing him in still more trouble.” As the Dragon king voiced his concern, there was suddenly a tremendous crash, the Palace shook and the chamber filled with blinding mist. In the tumult of thunder, lightning and deluge, a thousand foot long crimson dragon tore through the Pavilion of the Dark Pearl, issuing the most powerful roar as billows of cloud and flashes lightning steamed from his nostrils.
Liu was so terrified that his shaking knees buckled under him, and he dropped to the floor. Fortunately the fearsome dragon had disappeared as swiftly as he’d appeared.
“That was my unruly brother Qian Tang,” The Dragon King explained, as he helped the mortified Liu to his feet. “Hope he didn’t frighten you too much, he only takes that form when he is angry.” A gesture of the hand led them to a more private room where Liu, seated across from the King, was served wine and food by the attendants. They talked amiably then, about great many things, including Liu’s career and the life in the capital. They were deep in conversation when waves of soft clouds, borne upon gentle breezes drifted through the Palace ahead of the Queen and her attendants as, smiling and jovial, she glided into the room. Among the thousands of attractive girls clad in brightly coloured silk adorned with glittering jewels, Lui’s eyes were drawn to one whose exceptional beauty drown out all the others’ charms. As she drew near Liu recognized the Dragon King’s daughter, the same girl he had met on the road.
He watched with heartfelt joy the warm embrace between the reunited father and daughter as she sat by his side. With eyes brimming with love, the Dragon King asked her forgiveness for allowing her to marry such a wretch then, with equal affection, she responded by bestowing a heartfelt kiss and a joyous tear upon his brow.
Suddenly all went quiet in the chamber as all eyes had turned on the elegant, vigorous young man that had just entered. The Princess was the first to rush over and embrace him.
“Behold the Dragon Prince of Qian Tang.” The Dragon King, with a slight incline of his head, said quietly to Liu, before he initiated the formal introductions. Liu was both relieved and delighted to make the acquaintance of this fearsome yet charismatic Crimson Dragon who so vastly differed in form than his previous appearance.
Then Liu was addressed by Qian Tang, “My unhappy niece was nearly undone by that black-hearted rogue. If it were not for your compassion and gentlemanly honour, she would have been condemned to endure that wretched life forever. My gratitude to you is beyond words.”
“As is mine,” said the Princess, standing beside her heroic Uncle.
After the Dragon King cleared the Pavilion of all save family and Liu Yu, Qian Tang explained how he had battled the Jing River Dragon and his army.
“Oh they, her late husband and father mounted a darn good defence but even so, it only took an hour to breach it. “ He chuckled. “I slew six hundred thousand of their supposed mighty warriors, like swatting flies. Still, my wrath was not assuaged, so I flooded three hundred squire miles of their fields, after which the battle was as good as won.”
Seeing the perturbed expression on his brother, the Dragon King, Qian Tang hastened to explain, “After it was all over, I visited the Jade Emperor to justify my actions and to apologize. I declared sole responsibility for the revengeful act and remained most willing to receive his worst punishment. Yet, Elder Brother, His Highness approved of the justice I had meted out to the Jade River Dragons and, in his leniency, showed me more kindness than I deserved. The Jade emperor expressed due sympathy for my nieces past plight and, after a word of warning, generously absolved me of all blame.”
“I am relieved to hear the Jade Emperor has already forgiven you,” Dragon King smiled, “otherwise I would have been hard pressed to say anything further in your defence. You’ve exhausted all good arguments. You must be less hasty in the future. “
He waited to receive an affirmative nod from Qian Tang before he continued, “Now enlighten me on one small fact; what became of my daughter’s erstwhile husband?” He knew well what the answer would be; still he wanted to hear the affirmation.
“I ate him.” Qian Tang replied casually with a shrug of his shoulders, as they both looked away and suppressed their laughter.
The dragon king, deferring the serious talk till later, called for the celebrations to be held in the Emerald Palace to commemorate the safe return of the Princess and to honour her champion redeemers, Qian Tang and Lui Yu. The Dragon King and Queen lavished numerous gifts on Liu. The King presented him with a rhinoceros horn casket inlaid with jasper and a key that parted the waves of the lake. Prince Qian Tang gave him an amber bowl bearing pearls that glowed when struck by moonlight and the Queen had her Maids of Honour pile silk and jewels around him until he could not see over them until he stood up; then they all drank countless toasts to his health and future.
After much delectable food, and even more choice wine, Qian Tang pulled Liu aside and said to him, “My favourite niece has been saved thanks to you. She is beautiful, is she not? She feels boundless gratitude towards you, but I can’t help feeling there is something more. I have also noted your covert looks, exposing the infatuation with her that you‘ve endeavoured to conceal behind your wine goblet. I therefore propose to speak to her on the morrow on your behalf, and make the suggestion that she be wed you without delay. What say you to that?”
Liu was tongue tied by this bluntness and did not know how to respond. He was in truth quite enamoured by the Princes but a marriage to the Dragon King’s daughter was not to be taken lightly. Besides, he deeply doubted his own worth, his suitability for such a high honour. He pondered: “Qian Tang is inebriated as he makes this proposal. If I were to take his words at face value and agree now to his suggestion, what would he think later when he is in a sober state? Surely he would regret this. Could I survive his fantastic anger at my presumption? Oh, my!” An involuntary shiver passed through Liu just thinking of the possibilities. Regretfully, Liu dissuaded Qian Tang of the thought of his niece ever marrying a mere human.
The following day Liu, with the longing to be united in matrimony with the Dragon Princess still lodged deep in the private corners of his soul, attained a private audience with the Dragon King and expressed his urgent desire to return home.
“We shall all miss your company; however, we understand your homesickness.” The Dragon King acquiesced and gave his permission for Liu to depart at the earliest convenience.
Soon after Liu met with the Princess, Queen and the Dragon King, and left his best wishes for the absent Qian Tang, who had returned to take up his duties at Lake Qian Tang now the Jade Emperor had forgiven him. The Queen instructed her daughter to thank her benefactor, which she did then, with deep sorrow written on her face, she turned to Liu Yi and asked, “Is it too much to hope that we two shall meet again someday?” Liu Yi was filled with remorse at seeing the Princess’ true feelings and deeply regretted spurning the Dragon Prince’s suggestion. Soon afterwards Liu left the Dragon Place mounted on a fine stallion laden with gifts and accompanied by the many servants needed to carry them all the way to his home. Once he was back on dry land and settled in, with the gifts stored in a safe place, he gave his permission for the retinue to take the horse and return to their home and King.
Many months passed, and the now affluent Liu still could forget neither the haunting beauty of Dragon Princess nor her enchanting ways. Whether awake or sleep, daily he yearned for his lost love and the life that he’d forsaken so foolishly. Regrets being of no use and mindful that he could not pine for the Princess forever, he finally consented to marry a beautiful girl from a very good family. Their wedded bliss was short lived however, as she was inexplicably stricken with a high fever and died soon afterwards. Liu remained a widower for many a year, but over time loneliness again haunted him and once more he consented to marry. As bad luck would have it she, too, succumbed to a strange illness and passed away a short time later.
Often he sank into despair and lamented, “I am cursed. I shall never find ordinary happiness, having forsaken the rarest of Heaven’s gifts!” With some reluctance he was again persuaded by concerned family and friends to again marry. He stipulated one condition however; that his chosen mate is obtained from outside the region. This time around he actually did attain matrimonial bliss and his beautiful wife soon bore him a fine son. As time went by, Liu began to detect some odd similarities between his young wife’s appearance and mannerisms and those of the Dragon King’s daughter.
“How can that be?” he wondered. Twenty years had passed since his visit to the underwater Kingdom and his young wife by that account would have been but an infant at that time.
After the birth of his second son, when his suspicions again surfaced, this time not holding back, he voiced a direct question to his wife, in a tone that boded no argument.
“The time is at hand; I shall be frank.” His fair wife acquiesced and, after moment’s hesitation, admitted that she was indeed the Dragon King’s daughter. She had been so bitterly disappointed when Liu rejected her uncle’s generous suggestion and had secretly mourned for many a year. Then she had recollected Liu’s last words to her when he left the Jing River and hope sprung anew in her heart. “Do you remember your words to me then?” She hesitated; worried that he would scorn her for her deception of all these years.
“Yes,” He nodded. He remembered every minute detail of every word, everything pertaining to her. He smiled affectionately, as he repeated the words, “Rest assured I shall not fail you, but when you return to Dong Ting, I earnestly hope that we shall meet again.”
“I did return to Dong Ting and when your second wife died I seized the opportunity to become your third wife”. She was uttering these words more to herself.
“And I am most grateful that you did. You’ve given me a rare second chance; I love you all the more for that.” He took her hands into his and looked lovingly into her eyes, erasing all doubt from her heart.
They lived happily for countless years and raised a large family. And whenever she was homesick, they took all their family and visited the Dragon King’s palace beneath the deep waters of Lake Dong Ting. In time even Qian Tang forgave Liu, noting the enduring happiness of his favourite niece. Besides, he loved his new nephews and played with them often, getting them into countless, endearing mischief. The Dragon Princess, being immortal, had stayed just as fresh as the day Liu had first met her, but the same could not be said of Liu. His advancing years necessitated increasingly extended visits with the Dragon King, the Queen and Qian Tang, as it revitalized Liu and prolonged his life. Then one day Liu, the Dragon Princess and their children all left the land of mortal men and took up permanent residence beneath the waves.
At the celebratory feast that night Liu was presented with the elixir of long life, which the Dragon King had obtained from the Jade Emperor as a reward for Liu’s lifelong rectitude. Liu with deep gratitude accepted this honour and ingested the nectar whereupon he was instantly transformed to his former young self. Though he never could become a dragon and live ten thousand years, he did live a long and happy life and saw all his sons grow up to be fine young dragons themselves.