One of the annoyances of aging is the inability to sleep soundly. Most nights I wake frequently and can seldom tolerate laying in bed more than seven hours, regardless of how much rest I have managed to accumulate. Accompanying these issues is the fact that I often find myself wide awake at 11 pm, even though I was exhausted earlier in the evening.
One answer I have found to being wide awake when I should be in bed is to write myself a bedtime story. I have a great fondness of fairy and folk tales, as longtime readers are aware, so I will often sit down at my computer and either write an original story or retell an existing story in my own way.
The story below falls into the later category. It is based on an old Chinese tale titled “The Bright Pearl.”
Long ago, in a land populated with fairies and gods, there lived a great dragon whose home was a cave on the east side of the Celestial River. His scales were silvered and, in the bright sun, seemed to sparkle with a thousand rainbows.
In the forest on west side of the same river lived a great golden eagle, larger by far than any eagle anywhere else in the land. When he soared through the sky on a sunlit day, his feathers gleamed and people on the ground often mistook him for a second sun in the sky.
During the day, the dragon swam in the waters of the Celestial River, while the eagle flew through the sky and each day they would pass one another before going their separate ways. One day it happened that the eagle decided to rest on an island in the river. Moments later, the dragon came ashore the same island to sun himself. Within moments, both spotted a shining rock lying on the beach.
“Look how beautifully that rock shines,” the dragon said to the eagle.
“It is the most beautiful rock I have ever seen,” replied the eagle. “We should work together to carve it and make a pearl unlike any pearl the world has ever seen.”
And so it was agreed that they would carve the rock to create a pearl. Day after day, they labored on the rock. Soon days became years, but after many years of hard work the carving was complete. Eagle flew to the peaks of the highest mountains and returned with ice and snow to polish the carved rock. Dragon gathered the clearest water from the Celestial River to wash their polishing and the shining rock transformed into a dazzling pearl.
By now, eagle and dragon were close friends and they both loved what they had created. Neither wished to return to their homes in the cave or the forest, so they made new homes on the island and stood guard over their pearl.
The pearl soon revealed itself as magical. Wherever its brilliant glow shone trees would stay green all year, flowers of all types would bloom simultaneously, and crops became doubly bountiful. Eagle and dragon were even more pleased with their creation.
One day, the Queen Mother of the Gods saw the brilliant glow of the pearl. Stunned by its beauty, she became eager to possess it but finding it guarded by the eagle and the dragon, she waited until nightfall and then slipped quietly onto the island and stole the pearl.
When the dragon and the eagle awoke to find their pearl gone they were heartbroken. Eagle took to the sky, hoping to spot the pearl from the air while dragon dove deep into the Celestial River, searching the river bottom for any sign of their prized pearl. Day after day they searched, but to no avail.
On the birthday of the Queen Mother, all the gods and goddesses assembled in the heavenly palace to celebrate the occasion. A spectacular feast was followed by music and dancing. Finally, on an impulse, the Queen Mother said, “My fellow immortals. I wish to show you a precious pearl whose beauty cannot be equaled either in Heaven or on earth.”
With these words she left the banquet hall and went to the innermost room of the entire palace where the pearl was kept behind locked and guarded doors, which is why eagle and dragon had never spotted its glow. When the Queen Mother returned, the banquet hall was flooded by the glow of the pearl. The gods and goddesses marveled at its radiance and the Queen Mother beamed with pride.
Meanwhile, dragon and eagle were still continuing their search, and when the pearl was removed from its locked room, eagle instantly spotted its glow.
“Look,” he called to dragon, “our pearl is in the heavenly palace!” Within minutes they both arrived at the palace and strode into the banquet hall.
“That is our pearl,” dragon and eagle called into the crowd of gods and goddesses gathered about the pearl.
“Nonsense,” shouted the angry Queen Mother. “I am the mother of the Emperor of all the Gods. All treasures belong to me.”
“Heaven did not give birth to this pearl, nor was it grown on the earth. That pearl was created by our hard work over many years. It belongs to us and to us alone,” replied dragon and eagle.
The Queen Mother ordered her guards to throw dragon and eagle from the palace and a great fight broke out. Soon the guards were overwhelmed and only the Queen Mother, dragon, and eagle continued to fight while the rest of the gods kept their distance. As the three struggled, the pearl suddenly slipped from the Queen Mother’s grasp and rolled across the banquet hall floor, out the great doors, and off the balcony.
Dragon and eagle leapt over the side after their pearl, hoping to save it from being dashed to pieces when it struck the earth. At the last moment before the pearl struck the ground, however, it suddenly lost speed and landed lightly on the ground. Immediately the pearl gave off an even more brilliant glow and then dissolved into a clear blue lake and as soon as dragon touched the earth on one side of the lake, and eagle touched ground on the other side of the lake, they were instantly transformed into mountains.
The gods and goddesses, who had been watching from the heavenly palace were amazed, until they noticed the Emperor of the Gods standing in their midst.
“Dragon and eagle were selfish with their creation,” the Emperor said. ‘Now their creation will be shared by everyone on earth. But because they created such beauty, I have allowed them to watch over their creation for all eternity.
“And you, dear mother, though you are my mother, were equally selfish and your vanity embarrasses all gods,” the Emperor continued. “Therefore you shall live on the shores of the lake until you can return to this palace with the proper humility and selflessness.”
Whether the Queen Mother ever returned to the Heavenly Palace or not remains uncertain. Some say, she still lives on the shores of the lake, rising each morning to spit into the lake and then curse each of the mountains in turn before beginning her gardening. Whatever the case, neither heaven nor earth has ever again seen a pearl like the one dragon and eagle created together.