The Golden Reed Pipe
March 5, 2011 in World Stories
|Once upon a time there lived in the mountains a woman and her daughter. The daughter liked to dress in red. Hence her name, Little Red.
One day they were plowing and sowing in the fields. All of a sudden, a gale blew up and in the sky there appeared an evil dragon who stretched down his claws, caught Little Red in a tight grip and flew off with her towards the west. Her mother vaguely heard daughter’s words carried on the wind:
Oh mother, oh mother, as dear as can be!
My brother, my brother will rescue me!
Wiping away her tears, her mother gazed into the sky and said, “But I only have a daughter. Who can this brother be?”
She staggered home and had got halfway there when her white hair was caught up in the branches of a bayberry tree growing by the roadside. While she was disentangling her hair, she spotted a red, red berry dangling from a twig. She picked it and swallowed it without thinking.
When she arrived home, the woman gave birth to a boy with a round head and red cheeks. She named the boy Little Bayberry.
Bayberry grew up very quickly and in a few days he was a young lad of fourteen or fifteen.
His mother wanted to ask Bayberry to rescue his sister but couldn’t bring herself to inflict such a dangerous task on him. All she could do was weep to herself in secret.
One day a crow alighted on the eaves of her house and cried:
Your sister’s suffering out there, out there!
She’s weeping in the evil dragon’s lair!
Bloodstains on her back,
She’s digging rocks with hands so bare!
Upon hearing this, Bayberry asked his mother, “Do I have a sister?”
Tears streaming down her cheeks, his mother replied, “Yes, my boy, you do. Because she loved to dress in red, she was called Little Red. That evil dragon who has killed so many people came and took her away.”
Bayberry picked up a big stick and said, “I’m going to rescue Little Red and kill that evil dragon. Then he can’t do any more harm!”
His mother leaned against the doorframe and through misty eyes watched her son march away.
Bayberry walked for miles and miles. On a mountain road he saw ahead of him, blocking the way, a large rock. It was pointed and rubbed smooth by all the travelers who had had to climb it. One wrong step would mean a nasty fall.
Bayberry said, “This is my first obstacle! If I don’t remove it now, it will be the undoing of many more people.” He thrust his stick under the rock and heaved with all his might. There was a great “crack!” and the stick broke in two. Then he put both his hands under the rock and tried to shift it with all the strength. The rock rolled down into the valley.
Just at that moment, a shining golden reed pipe appeared in the pit where the rock had been. Bayberry picked it up and blew on it. It gave out a resonant sound.
Suddenly, all the earthworms, frogs and lizards by the roadside began to dance. The quicker the tune the faster the creatures danced. As soon as the music stopped, they ceased dancing. Bayberry had an idea: “Ah! Now I can deal with the evil dragon.”
He strode away, the golden reed pipe in hand. He climbed a huge rocky mountain and saw a ferocious-looking dragon coiled at the entrance to a cave. Piles of human bones lay all around him. He also saw a girl in red chiseling away at the cave. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. The evil dragon whipped the girl on the back with his tail and shouted vilely at her:
Most ungrateful loathsome Mistress Red!
Since with me you would not wed,
Day by day,
Rock by rock,
Hew me out a handsome cave,
Or I’ll send you to your grave!
Bayberry realized that the girl was none other than his sister. He shouted:
Wicked monster! Evil fiend!
To torment my sister so!
Till your wretched life shall end
On this pipe I’ll blow and blow!
Bayberry began to blow on his golden reed pipe. The music set the evil dragon dancing despite himself. Little Red downed her chisel and emerged from the cave to watch.
Bayberry blew on the pipe. The evil dragon continued to dance, squirming and writhing. The quicker the tune, the faster the evil dragon moved.
Little Red came over and wanted to speak to her brother. With a gesture of his hand, Bayberry showed her that he could not stop playing the pipe. If he did, the evil dragon would eat them both up.
Bayberry kept blowing for all he was worth, and the evil dragon stretched his long waist and kept writhing around in time to the music.
Fire came from his eyes, steam from his nostrils, and panting breath from his mouth. The evil dragon pleaded:
Ho-ho-ho! Brother you’re the stronger!
Blow no more! Torture me no longer!
I’ll send her home,
If you leave me alone!
Bayberry had no intention of stopping. As he blew, he walked towards a big pond. The evil dragon followed him to the bank of the pond, squirming and dancing all the way. With a great splash the evil dragon fell into the pond and the water rose several feet. The evil dragon was utterly exhausted. Fire came from his eyes, steam from his nostrils and panting breath from his mouth. He entreated again in a hoarse voice:
Ho-ho-ho! Brother you’re the stronger!
Let me alone and I’ll stay in this pond
And torture folk no longer!
This is my bargain:
Stay at the bottom of this pond,
And never do harm again.
The evil dragon kept nodding his head. As soon as the golden reed pipe stopped blowing, he sank to the bottom of the pond.
Bayberry took hold of his sister’s hand and walked happily away.
Not long after they set off, they heard the sound of water splashing in the pond. They looked over their shoulders and saw the evil dragon emerge from the water pond. He raised his head and flew in their direction, baring his fangs and clawing the air.
Little Red cried:
Go deep when digging a well;
Pull up the roots when hoeing a field.
While that dragon is still alive
To kindly ways he’ll never yield.
Bayberry rushed back to the pond and began to blow on his pipe once more. The evil dragon fell back into the pond and began to dance again, squirming and writhing in the water.
Bayberry stood on the bank for seven days and nights, a fast tune blowing on his pipe. Finally, the evil dragon could move no longer and floated on the surface of the water. His days had come to an end.
Sister and brother joyfully returned home, dragging the body of the evil dragon along behind them. When their mother saw her two children coming home, her face lit up with happiness.
They peeled the dragon’s skin to make a house, took out the dragon’s bones to serve as pillars and beams and cut off the dragon’s horn to make plowshares. With the dragon’s horn they plowed the fields quickly and had no need of oxen. In this way they plowed many fields, sowed much grain and enjoyed a life of plenty.
Source: Favourite Folktales of China, translated by John Minford (Beijing: New World Press, 1983), pp. 161-167.