Short Story: “The Emperor and the Heavenly Maiden”

I wrote this short story for a creative assignment for an Extension English Unit, “Tragedy”. ; I created my own legend using a Korean folktale, “The Woodcutter and the Maiden” as the idea. 

Long ago, in Ancient China, An-Li, a wise man, made a prophecy: “Daughters of China’s ancestor, Au, will come down from heaven to bathe in earth’s waters. Men will take these strange and beautiful women for their own, by hiding the maiden’s wings. A man named Hom, a servant to Emperor Mei- Long, was on his way back to the palace, when he heard this part of the prophecy and immediately set off to tell him. Mei-Long had been looking for a suitable wife for a long time and Hom thought that if he told him of the prophecy, he would be rewarded. However, after Hom set off, the prophecy continued: “If men are to succeed in keeping the maiden with them forever, they must not give the wings back until they have had three children. If they are given their wings back, they will be able to fly up and tell their father, Au, what happened to them on earth.”

Hom reached the palace and told Mei-Long what he had heard. Mei-Long dispatched him immediately, to look for the heavenly maidens. Hom hurried off and, after days of travel, he found the place where An-Li spoke of. It was an intriguing lake, black in the shadows of the moon. He sat down and waited patiently. Suddenly, a group of beautiful maidens drifted down from the heavens. He watched as they hung their wings on trees and glided into the lake. 

While they were bathing, Hom stole the prettiest-looking wings and hid them in his satchel. When the maidens had finished, they put their wings back on and flew to the sky – all except one. Hom stepped out from his hiding place and strode over to her. He told her that he had found a handsome emperor for her to marry and that she must follow him.  He started back to the palace and she followed. She told him her name was Cai-Bao, meaning “colourful jewel” in Chinese.

Arriving at the palace, Hom requested to see emperor Mei-Long. Hom and Cai-Bao were taken to the emperor, who was speaking to a peasant. They stood at the door, listening to what Mei-Long had to say:

“Wise emperor,” the peasant woman said, “My house burned down and I have no money to rebuild it. What can I do?”

“My daughter,” replied the emperor kindly, “I will give half your neighbours land to you. That way, both of you will have enough land to earn money and you will be able to rebuild your house. I will repay your neighbour for allowing you to use his land.”

“Thank you kind emperor” said the woman, and she left.

Mei-Long then spotted Hom and Cai-Bao standing in the doorway and summoned them to him.

“My lord,” Hom said, “I have found a heavenly maiden to marry you.”

Turning to Cai-Bao, Mei-Long asked, “Will you be my wife?”

Cai-Bao, who sensed his compassionate heart after his good deeds to the peasant, agreed. Mei-Long was overjoyed, and told Hom that he could leave the palace to search for payed work. Hom was delighted and left at once.

Years later, Mei-Long and Cai-Bao were happily married and had been blessed with two little boys. The empire thrived and was a happy place, because the emperor was a happy man. He had never loved someone as much as he loved Cai-Bao. Whenever he was with her and their boys, he felt he would burst with joy.

One night during dinner, Mei-Long asked Cai-Bao about her family.

“Years ago, I came to earth with my sisters to bathe.” Cai-Bao said sadly. When we finished, they all put their wings on and flew back to heaven. I couldn’t find mine. Then, Hom came from behind a tree and asked me to meet you and I agreed. I miss my family and my wings; I wish I could see them again.”

Mei-Long felt sorry for his wife; he hated to see her miserable. He remembered that Hom had hidden her wings in the cellars of the palace. What he did not know was the second part of the prophecy, about how he must not give her wings back until they had had three children.

So Mei-Long excused himself from the table and went down to the cellars. His intention was to surprise his wife with the wings. He located them and went upstairs to show Cai-Bao. Seeing her wings, Cai-Bao had an overwhelming desire to put them on.  She did, and then flew to her children. Holding one boy in each arm, she headed straight to the palace doors. Mei-Long ran after her and watched in complete horror and despair as she and their boys soared out of the palace and disappeared into the heavens. He called after her, but Cai-Bao did not look back.

Mei-Long stormed back inside and demanded An-Li to be brought to him immediately. An-Li arrived, old and frail, and slowly made his way to the impatient emperor.

“Tell me what I don’t know about the maidens of the heavens.” Shouted Mei-Long

If men are to succeed in keeping the maiden with them, they must not give the maiden’s wings back until they have had three children. If the maidens are given their wings back, they will be able to fly to heaven and tell their father Au what happened to them on earth.”  Said An-Li

Realization hit Mei-Long with a force like the waters of the flooding Huang He River. He had not known that he should have waited until they had three children, before giving her wings back. That way, she would not be able to hold them all and would not return to heaven.

Mei-Long then heard a great rumble. He rushed to the windows and watched as the heavens opened and rain plummeted to earth.

He realised that Au would punish him by hurting his people whom he loved as if they were his own family. The anger of Au flooded the land for many months, all the food was washed away and no more could grow. Mei-Long was left alone in his ruined empire without his wife, children or people as they had either died or left the empire in search of another.

Years later, Mei-Long travelled to the lake where Cai-Bao and her sisters had once bathed. When he arrived, he sat down to wait. To his astonishment, a giant golden bucket appeared out of the sky. Mei-Long watched as it filled with water from the lake and was lifted back into heaven. His heart filled with hopelessness as he saw that Au no longer trusted earth and so sent the bucket to collect the water for his daughters to bathe in. Mei-Long wept because he knew that he would never see Cai-Bao or his boys again.

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