The tale of the sad Queen


Once upon a time there was a great king of China. This king had everything he wanted. He had rare treasures, a beautiful palace, fine horses, the bravest warriors and a people who loved him. But one thing the king lacked. He didn’t have a wife. So one day he gathered seven of his most trusted warriors, saddled his strongest horse, and departed in search of a wife. They travelled many moons and called in at all the great palaces and cities on their way, and met many beautiful princesses and great ladies, but nowhere did the king see a lady who made his heart beat faster. After a long days’ ride the party arrived at a lake, and the king decided to halt there and make a camp for the night. As he was taking his supper he heard the faint strains of a tune coming from the direction of the lake. He got up and walked towards the water. There he saw a boat drifting by, and on the boat the figure of a woman. By the light of the moon he saw her face and he knew immediately that here was he woman he had set out to find. He called his warriors, and they waded into the water and pushed the craft to the shore. The king helped the lady step onto the land and introduced himself. He asked the lady to be his guest and join him for some supper. The king stated the purpose of his quest, and asked the lady if there was any reason why she could not travel back with him to his palace to be his wife. The poor woman was taken somewhat aback, You wish to marry me, she asked, when I am a complete stranger to you?

The king was adamant. He declared that he had never seen a more comely woman with such fine features, and she would make him very proud indeed if she consented to be his wife. He promised her a life of luxury and comfort, maidservants to see to her every little need, and his own undying lifelong devotion, if only she would agree to be his wife. The woman bowed her head, and said Yes, my king, in that case I shall be very happy to accept your offer of marriage.

On the journey back to the palace, the king talked to his bride-to-be ceaselessly, but she did not say very much. She disclosed that her name was Jin-a, and that she had travelled far, but she would not say whence or why. The king noticed that she never once smiled, but he did not pay this too much regard, putting it down to the strains the long journey was imposing on her. He was sure that once they were back at his palace and married, her mood would improve. The marriage took place days after their return to the palace, and the country celebrated for three days. The new queen took to her duties very well, and the whole court was impressed by her demeanour and grace. But still Jin-a would not smile. The king asked her if anything was the matter, but she replied that everything was perfect and she could not be happier. The king asked if there was anything at all he could do to make her smile, but she told him not to worry, it was just a matter of time. The king of course tried everything: he had jesters from far afield brought to the court, and travelling players were summoned to appear before him and his queen; he played tricks on his courtiers and warriors, but the queen never smiled. Then one day he had an idea which he felt sure would definitely do the trick.

He instructed his most trusted courtier to come into his private quarters that evening, and tell him that the enemy was at the gate, ready to take the palace!

That evening after supper the king and the queen were together in their bedroom. The queen was brushing her hair, and the king was practising his calligraphy, when suddenly the door burst open and a courtier appeared, apparently out of breath, his dress dishevelled. Sire, he shouted, sire, there is an army of foreign warriors at he gate, preparing to fire their cannon! The king jumped up, his ink and brushes scattering over the floor tiles. He threw his arms up in the air, Where are my warriors, he shouted, where is my guard? When the courtier had entered he room, the queen had turned to her husband, and now, seeing the expression on his face, she suddenly burst out laughing. She covered her mouth with both hands, but the king was overjoyed. He jumped up and down, and shook the courtier’s hand. It worked, it worked! She laughed! At last she laughed! He then confessed to his wife the trick they had played on her, and to his great relief, she smiled again at this revelation.

The next day, however, the queen had reverted to her sad demeanour. The king once more tried all the tricks he knew to make her smile but to no avail. Several days passed, and the king himself was becoming sad, coming to the belief that perhaps there was something in his wife’s past of such great unhappiness that he would never be able to make her forget. He watched his wife read a book of poems. Suddenly there was a loud bang, and the door to the room was thrown open, a courtier appeared, out of breath, waving his arms and shouting: Sire, Sire, there is an army of foreign warriors at the gate! They are firing their cannon!

The king shook his head and walked up to the courtier, and took his arms, My good man, he said, you mean well, but it won’t work a second time. But the courtier continued: No sire, this time the enemy really is here! The man was telling the truth, the king stepped outside, and heard the sound of cannon balls smashing into the palace walls; he called out to his guard, but it was already too late. Enemy warriors were already in the palace, killing everybody they came across. Half a dozen of them came running down the corridor just then, and slayed the king and his faithful courtier. They spared Jin-a, and the victorious warlord, who proclaimed himself the new king at the end of the battle, took her as his queen.