Folklore retold: Mid-autumn festival

Once upon a time, there were ten suns in the sky. The suns took their turns and nourished the earth with their warm, life-giving light. But one day, all ten suns rose at once and scorched the earth in a devastating drought none had seen before. Many on earth perished that day, and many more in the days to come.

The carps saw their river drying up began to escape upstream. The journey against the current was treacherous and many lost their lives to exhaustion. At the end of it all, they faced the greatest barrier in the journey: a waterfall many times higher than the highest branch they could see from beneath the surface.

Refusing to give up, the carps struggled and sprang up the waterfall. Most died bashing themselves into the rock and their corpses swept away by the stream. But as many courageous carps had tried, one finally succeeded.

As soon as the carp made it above the waterfall, a miracle took place. The carp’s scales turned golden, its whiskers grew long, and its body transformed into that of a mighty dragon. The dragon rode the winds, scattered the clouds, and arrived at the jade palace where the gods resided. It brought before the god emperor the cries of men and beasts and, in response, he sent a hero to rein in the suns.

The hero descended from the heavenly kingdom with a divine bow and an elixir of immortality. He journeyed to the far east where the suns rose and scaled the highest mountain in the lands.

On his way, he encountered a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit who provided him with shelter, fruits, and medicine. That night, when he was fast asleep, the fox and the monkey plotted to kill and eat the man for nourishment. But the rabbit stopped them and offered up its own body. It threw itself into the fire. Yet, it was not burnt.

Touched by the rabbit’s action, the man revealed his true identity and poured on the rabbit a bit of the elixir. Soon afterward, the rabbit rose with the smoke to the moon where it resided for eternity, pounding more elixir so that it could one day make the rest of the trip to the jade palace.

The fox and the monkey fled in fear and forever lived as despicable thieves.

When dawn broke and the ten suns once again rose, the suns were confronted by the champion of the gods. The heavenly warrior drew his bow and took aim at the suns, shooting down all but one of them. When the suns fell to the earth, they broke up into a multitude of tiny suns, which were encased in a hard crust of dirt and became food for the mortals. Those who consumed this miracle food immediately regained the vitality lost in the drought.

And thus, the world was saved.

Even though his quest had come to an end, the hero did not return to the jade palace. He wandered the earth and slew foul beasts that had been corrupted by the suns’ calamity. Years later, he fell in love with a mortal and settled down among the humans. He buried his bow in the backyard, where a large banyan tree grew, and gave the elixir to his wife for safekeeping.

But o so cruel were the hands of fate; one of his apprentices learned of the elixir and broke into his home while he was away. His wife was powerless to stop the invader. In order to prevent the elixir from falling into the wrong hands, she drank the elixir herself. She became a goddess and had to leave the moral realm forever.

The apprentice, who was restraining her in his broad arms, also ascended to the sky but eventually lost his grips and fell to his demise.

When the villagers learned of what happened, they lit lanterns and searched high and low for the hero’s wife. Finally, they found her shadow in the bright full moon next to that of a rabbit. The hero shed tears of joy and poured what little of the elixir was left on the banyan tree. Along with the tree, he floated to the moon where he was reunited with his beloved wife.

They lived happily forever after.

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