The Yellow Chrysanthemum
A long, long time ago there was a fierce and mighty general named Geronwu Muer who never lost a single battle. His military prowess rendered him invincible, so the very mention of his name was enough to send ripples of fear through the enemy ranks. Each time the battle would be won even before it had started. In his mid years his glorious vocation suffered a serious setback when he received a devastating blow from the axe of an opponent. It crippled his sword arm and put an end to his invincibility.
Forced to retire to his country state he allowed his well meaning friends to coerce him into a marriage. The day a boy was born to him was the greatest day of his life and filled his heart with hopes and dreams. The son, bereft of his mother at birth, would still be expected to fulfill Geronwu’s great aspirations. Hence, at barely five years of age the boy was subjected to gruelling military discipline and tutelage.
“I’m greatly disappointed in the boy.” Geronwu Muer confessed to a confidant one day as they shared a fine wine out on the veranda. “No amount of threat, pressure, or coaxing will deliver the result I seek. He is intelligent enough, physically fit, and agile enough in wielding the sword,” he shook his head grumpily, “but just doesn’t have it in him to be a warrior.”
“Do not lose heart my friend.” The confidant reached over and placed a comforting hand on Geronwu’s shoulder,” The boy is only five years in age after all,” he paused for emphasis, “and he does have some mighty boots to fill. Perhaps he will surprise us all by sprouting martial wings in his subsequent years.” He chuckled as he swallowed another mouthful of the fine wine.
“No. I have always been farsighted in such matters. I can see the writing on the wall. He will always be a disappointment to me.” Geronwu Muer shook his head morosely.
True enough, the subsequent years proved him right. The boy, Narcore, showed more inclination towards the literary arts and horticulture and excelled in them with the least effort whereas he struggled to achieve more than a mediocre rank in every aspect of his military training. As a result Geronwu Muer refused to have anything to do with the boy and spent his days drinking and carousing with his close associates. However, the boy had more in common with Geronwu than the father realized; for one thing, Narcore was courageous, passionate in his pursuits and rather strong willed and as hot tempered as his father.
“There is no denying it; I have a father that hates me. Never once has he tried to see things my way…. Heaven knows I’ve tried and tried to appease him but his expectations are far too unrealistic. How can anyone achieve those high standards of his. Why should I hang around only to be berated from dawn to dusk?”
The dejected ten year old Narcore, simply seized the opportunity one day when his father was away and fled his despised circumstance. He took with him only a few of his prized possessions, a small knife, some dry food and the water skin then quietly snuck through the back gate without anyone knowing it.
“I will take my chance in the outside world. How much worse can it be?” A coward he was not. Fording the river he headed straight for the wilderness and the woods, knowing it would be harder for them to track him there. However, he soon came to regret his decision.
Suddenly violent gusts of wind arose, billowing up the clouds in the sky into an ominous flotilla that soon swallowed the sun. The forest creatures scurried off to seek shelter and Narcore was no exception as he too sought refuge from the impending heavy downpours. Crouched under a lip of rock in a crevice, he felt famished and decided to consume the last portion of his dried meat rations. He had been subsisting mainly on berries and roots, as he felt uncomfortable with hunting any animals.
As he swallowed the last bite a white hare, sheltering under a bush, caught his eye. He recalled the succulent morsels of meat the cook always provided every day of the week. Rabbits were his specialty. On many an occasion Narcore had snuck into kitchen and watched the procedure. “It won’t be the same cooked over a campfire, but ….Hmmmm! “he hissed under his breath; nevertheless his mouth had watered in anticipation. He did excel in running, “I suppose I must try. “ With this thought in mind, he kept his eyes on the hare.
The moment the hare moved to scurry off Narcore darted from his shelter in hot pursuit of the game. But the hare was far swifter and maddeningly so. Just as they reached a clearing it suddenly stopped, and turning to face Narcore, growled. What happened next was unbelievable. The hare quickly grew in size to a monstrous proportion. Narcore brandishing his knife courageously fended the fierce attacks and even managed to wound the beast. Suddenly a shrill cry coming out of nowhere shook the earth and at that very instance the monstrous hare now seemingly reticent, vanished into thin air.
“Blast!” Narcore stamped his foot in a hot fury. Unwilling to forgo the fight, he avidly scanned the perimeter but found not a trace. The tall grass all about him swayed violently in the thrashing wind.
“What’s that?” He rubbed his eyes in disbelief and looked closer. “Is that a flower, a yellow chrysanthemum?” Forgetting his woes, he rushed towards it. But when he reached the exact spot, instead of a flower he saw a little girl in beautiful yellow dress crouching and poking the ground with a stick. She simply looked up and smiled at him unafraid.
“Are you lost, little girl?” he inquired. She answered him with a gentle shaking of the head.
He looked about him and lo behold, beyond the trees he spotted a trail of smoke which told of a dwelling. Then he noticed that twilight was encroaching upon them. The recent danger still fresh in his mind, he shook his head and said, “You shouldn’t be out here at this time and all alone! Come, I’ll walk you home.” He reached out a friendly, concerned hand. She shyly took it in hers and together they walked towards her home. Her parents were delighted at her safe return. They had just discovered Yechris’ absence and were about to go look for her when they spotted the two children walking towards them.
Narcore spend a warm, cosy night and few more days and nights with Yechris and her parents. They had only exchanged a curious look between, when Narcore one night decided to unburden his fear about the monster he’d encountered prior to meeting Yechris and smiled politely at his deep concern about their daughter’s well being should she encounter the same beast. Their subsequent reassuring manner and words soon put this fear out of Narcore’s thoughts.
He ate strange, but delicious, food and spent his days tending the herbs and flowers planted in a fine enclosed garden at the back of the house. He would have been content to stay there forever but one day Yechris, looking very said, told him, “Tomorrow is the last day I can play with you.” And before he could inquire further she ran off into the house. The dinner was consumed in silence and everyone went to bed early that night.
Following morning when Narcore woke, he found himself beside a grove of trees in the midst of plush pile of grass that had kept him both dry and warm. Strangely enough, there was no sign of a house or garden anywhere. Just then he heard the sounds of hound dogs and then sighted numerous mounted, armed man loaded with game of the hunt, racing towards him. They had been searching the countryside for him for the past several days and promptly delivered him to his home.
He expected the welcome he received from his father; “You ungrateful beast; how dare you be so defiant; if you weren’t my only offspring I would have had you whipped within an inch of your life then have your body torn asunder and fed to the wild dogs, for this! But don’t think your punishment will be any less severe. You deserve no leniency from me, and be assured, there are ways to make you regret your actions!”
In the subsequent days and weeks, Narcore faced the wrath of his father whose anger could not be assuaged no matter how much he yelled and threatened. Narcore received his punishments stoically however, enduring an even more restrictive, austere existence that was supposedly to build his character.
After his eighteenth birthday, when his father passed away Narcore, now the master of the house, gave full reign to his suppressed, but no less diminished passions for the literary arts, and began cultivating many varieties of chrysanthemums.
His garden soon had the best blooms and became the envy of all. He’d invested the family money in rental properties to give him income enough for him to live frugally and contentedly. Often he would frequent the city markets and purchase new varieties of flower to enrich his garden.
Though he was of age, he refused to consider marriage and instead devoted all his spare time to creating magnificent chrysanthemum paintings, writing poems to the flower or simply, tending the large chrysanthemum beds that flourished under his loving care.
After his twentieth birthday, having saved up some spare money, he undertook a journey to the capital for the purpose of acquiring some rare chrysanthemums that his close friend Zoi had told him about. The introductory letter to this eccentric dealer procured him an appointment. Narcore’s genuine interest of chrysanthemums impressed the vendor enough to have him part with a very rare, coveted variety.
Armed with this prize, Narcore headed back home at once. While staying at an inn along the way he made the acquaintances of a very distinguished looking literati named Reijon who, along with his sister, was travelling in Narcore’s direction. As it was lonely on the road, Narcore befriended Reijon and, finding much in common especially their mutual love of chrysanthemums, invited both him and his bashful sister to be his guest for a time.
During their stay Narcore one day accidentally saw the sister without her head cover. He was immediately quite taken with her beauty. What’s more he could not shake this uneasy feeling that he’d seen her before. “In a painting, at the Pavilion or at a market? “ But of course that was preposterous; for a fine upstanding lady, such as she was, would have had a very sheltered life.
As this gnawing notion that he had met her before persisted however, and during tea time with Reijon one day he delicately approached the subject of the sister and asked, “Your sister seems to be of an age, may I be so bold as to inquire: why it is she’s not yet married?”
Reijon smiled and said, “She’s been promised to a suitor for some time prior to this. We are waiting for him to turn 21 before the marriage can be arranged.”
Narcore’s heart sank, for he had been quite smitten with her from the first moment he’d laid his eyes on her. He quietly grumbled under his breath, not intending for Reijon to hear, “I shall turn 21 in two months. Pity I have no such luck.”
“Don’t be so sure, friend.” Reijon’s words just than startled him. He looked up aghast, looking into Reijon’s eyes in search for answers.
“Perhaps this may clarify things for you.” Reijon then smiled knowingly. “Though we’ve enjoyed your hospitality for over a year, with your upright manner you’ve never inquired after my sister’s name. As I have full confidence in you now, I shall divulge it: she is called Yechris, and I dare say you two had already met previously. Do you recollect?”
He waited for the information to sink in, and then nodded in the affirmative. “Yes, it was fate that brought you two together back then. I happened to be away with my tutor at the time. You have no idea of the danger you faced when you followed that white hare. He was truly an evil spirit that lured wayward travellers into his trap, and then devoured them. “Seeing Narcore’s horror, he explained, “In answer to your unspoken question, no we are not the same; and the truth will be revealed to you all in good time. For now, I shall only say this; for some inexplicable reason my little sister and our parents happened to be in that hare’s meadow at that precise time and place. And that is why I say that you and my sister were destined to be together.
My parents have since passed away but, as her guardian, and if it is agreeable to you, I am willing to accept you into our family as my brother-in-law.
Narcore was so overjoyed at this that he blurted, “Of course, of course, nothing can be better.”
Soon after Narcore’s birthday he and Yechris were married. On their wedding night, after the bride was escorted to nuptial quarters, a most queer thing occurred that now warrants a mention. You see, during the celebrations her brother, against Yechris’ advice, consumed an inordinate amout of spirits. Seeing the state he was in Narcore excused himself from the celebrants in order to safely escort his new brother-in-law to his quarters. Along the way however Reijon simply collapsed on the ground and no amount of coaxing would get him up. Fortunately they were alone at the time and the few remaining, extremely intoxicated; guests were preoccupied with the acrobatic performances of the entertainers. For the very moment Reijon’d collapsed on the ground, he had transformed into a wine-colored chrysanthemum and sprouted roots that had reached deep down into the earth. Bewildered Narcore rushed off to his quarters and, finding his new wife seated coyly on the bed, told her all that had happened. She was mortified with the fear of discovery and, exiting through the back door, rushed off with him at once to where her brother taken up root. Gently pulling him out of the soil, they replanted him in a pot and secretly brought it back into their private chambers.
Needless to say, in all the excitement neither the bride nor the groom got any sleep that night as Yechris made a full confession to her husband. She and her family were chrysanthemum spirits, living as humans, and in her contrition she gave him the option of annulling the marriage if he so desired. But he would not hear of it, and furthermore he declared his increased fascination and undying love for her, promising to be a faithful, good husband to the end of their days. That night she willingly forfeited her immortality. By the following morning the brother had turned back into a human, suitably embarrassed and apologized profusely.
From that day forth Reijon took care never lose control again. One day he took his leave of them to start his life elsewhere, after promising to visit them from time to time.
The married couple lived happily and were blessed with many children whom they named after each variety of the Chrysanthemums.