Dec 11, 2022
Martin Goodson

Monkey | Chapter 10

Stories Retold: Journey to the West

In this Episode, the Dragon King makes a bet with a fortune teller unaware that his bet is against Fate itself.

The Emperor Tang and the Ghosts by Roberta Mansell


Roberta Mansell

The Emperor and the Dragon King

In the city of Chang-an, there lived two good friends: a fisherman named Chang and a woodsman named Li. Between them they had no formal education. However, they were known for their intelligence and their cultured talk.

Whenever they were free, they would carouse at the wine shops and then amble together along the river. One day, saying goodbye at the bridge, Chang said to Li:

”Beware of the tigers in the forest, my friend. I wouldn’t want to lose you”

“It’s unlucky to speak of such things,” retorted Li.  “Your boat could just as easily capsize on the river!"

“My friend, that is very unlikely. I know an excellent fortune-teller in the marketplace. His skills are sublime and he is always right in his predictions. For the price of a few coins each

morning he tells me where I should fish and as you know I never come home empty-handed."

Now there is an old saying that what you tell to the air will be heard in the grass. Underneath that bridge happened to be a nature spirit whose job it was to patrol the river. He raced to the dragon king in charge of the river and its denizens and told him what he had overheard.

“If you don't stop this soothsayer, your Majesty, he will deplete the waters of this river of all your watery subjects.”

The dragon king was incensed. He immediately sent for his sword and vowed to cut off the head of the fortune-teller. But his ministers restrained his hand. Would it not be wiser to see for himself if these things were true?  It would be an offence against Heaven to execute someone who was innocent of a crime. The dragon king saw the wisdom of this advice and the following day he disguised himself as a scholar and made his way to the marketplace.

The fortune-teller was not difficult to find. There was a throng of people milling around his stall. The dragon king pushed his way to the front of the crowd and sat down before him. After the customary polite exchanges, he enquired as to whether or not it would rain that day. The fortune-teller gave a detailed reply, stating not only when it would rain but also when it would start and stop and exactly how much rain would fall.

The dragon king laughed, but then informed the fortune-teller that these prophesies were in fact no laughing matter. If the fortune-teller was right, he would come back the next day with a reward of fifty gold pieces, but if he was wrong, he would tear down the imposter's stall and drive him out of the city so that he could no longer cheat its good citizens of their hard-earned money.

The dragon king was confident that that the fortune-teller would be proven wrong. After all, the king was the Supreme Regent of the Eight Rivers and was himself in charge of the rainfall in his area. However, as soon as the dragon king returned to his palace, there was a voice in the sky announcing a messenger from Heaven dressed all in gold. He bore the Jade Emperor's detailed plan for rain that day. It was exactly as the fortune teller had predicted. The dragon king was aghast:

“I never would have thought that the mortal world contained such a magician,” he gasped. “He has mastered the principles of Heaven and Earth.”

“Calm yourself,” advised one of his fish generals.

He advised the king that all he had to do was change very slightly the Emperor's instructions for that day.  This would be enough to make the fortune-teller look like a charlatan in the eyes of the people.

The following day the dragon king returned to the marketplace. He made a great show of turning over the store and smashing the fortune-tellers sign, declaring him to be a fraud. However, the fortune-teller was unperturbed.

“I know exactly who you are,” said the fortune-teller. “It is not I who have disobeyed the laws of Heaven. The Jade Emperor has already signed the warrant for your execution which will take place tomorrow at noon.”

Terrified by this news, the dragon king threw himself at the fortune-teller’s feet and begged his forgiveness.

“Please, you must help me!” he pleaded.

The fortune-teller told the king that one of the court officials, a minister by the name of Wei-Cheng, had been selected by the Jade Emperor to carry out the execution. If the dragon king managed to persuade the Emperor to keep this minister occupied, his life might be spared.

That night the dragon king entered the Jade Emperor’s dream and implored him to help. The Emperor felt sorry for him as he understood the heavy responsibility that he shouldered looking after his subjects. In the end, the Emperor agreed to keep his minister busy playing chess the following day.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan. At precisely 11:00 o’clock the Jade Emperor summoned his minister, Wei-Cheng, and they passed an agreeable hour playing chess. However just before noon, without warning, the minister dozed off for about a minute. Time on Earth and time in Heaven are very different and in that one minute the minister’s soul was summoned to Heaven. He was given his instructions and he carried them out immediately. After returning to Earth, the Jade Emperor and his minister Wei-Cheng carried on playing chess and half an hour later two of his Majesty’s officers rushed in carrying the dragon king’s bloody head.

“We have never seen such a thing,” they exclaimed. “It fell from the sky!”

The Emperor was very upset. Wei-Cheng, who knew nothing of the plan that the Emperor had hatched the night before, apologised deeply for being the cause of so much unhappiness. Yet there was nothing more to be done. The Emperor felt very badly about the whole affair but he could hardly blame his minister for what had happened.

From the series

The Stories of Monkey

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