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The Child Who Gathered Firewood

THE CHILD WHO GATHERED FIREWOOD

Once upon a time there was a child who gathered firewood for the king’s household. He also had an aged and blind mother. The child gathered firewood for their food and clothes from when he arose early in the morning and went to sleep at night. In exchange, the king’s household gave them some old clothes and a little dzamba; this is the way they lived.

When the young boy was at home, he respected his mother, and when he went to the mountains, he was used to the animals and creatures, and he stayed there happily.

One day he went to gather wood on a big mountain. That place was fortified with thick forest and upright boulders. When he was cutting wood there without any suspicions, there was a roar that sounded like the heavens were splitting, and simultaneously a fearsome cannibal-Demoness having eyes that played with lightning, baring fangs as white as a snow mountain, one breast thrown over her shoulder and the other dragging on the ground, suddenly appeared. She grabbed the little boy by the chest, shook him a few times, and gave him a few slaps on the cheek that made him see white, red and yellow at the same time. Then she said, “Ah, you little pisser, your life is over. These trees are my hair. Why are you cutting my hair before I’m dead? Like in the saying ‘When the goat dies, it’s at the wolf’s door, and when a bug dies, it’s at the opening to an ants’ nest’, there’s no way I’ll let you go.” When she was about to eat the wood-gathering child, he suddenly thought, “If I die, what will mother do?” and tears flowed from his eyes.

The Demoness was somewhat surprised and said, “Why are you dripping tears without saying anything at all?”

He said, “I have a blind old mother. I’d like to see her once before I die, but I can’t appeal to you as I would a human. I was crying over that.”

The Demoness thought, “There’s no one as powerful as me in the world. If someone can appeal to a human, why not to me?” She said, “Oh, I too can let you go to meet your mother before you die. If you don’t come back here in three days, I’ll seek you out and eat both mother and son.”

The wood-gathering child returned home and told his mother how he had met the Demoness, and, while he consoled her with the most pleasant conversation possible, the three-day interval seemed to pass in an instant.

On the appointed day, the wood-gathering boy went in tears to the Demoness. On the way, he met Father Hare, who asked, “Why is a happy child like you crying?”

The boy told Father Hare everything: how he had met the Demoness while collecting firewood, and how he was going to be eaten by her on the appointed day.

Father Hare thought about it a while and said, “Well, child, if we don’t “liberate” the Demoness, not only will she always harm us humble folk, but she’ll eat you right now. There’s a worldly saying: ‘A pig needs a nose and people need intelligence’. You make me a bow and arrow out of cane and I’ll go there. When I yell from far off, the Demoness will ask who just yelled. When she does, you tell her it’s the king’s huntsman. Then . . .” The hare told him his idea, and the child’s sadness disappeared, as if chased by the winds. Singing a little tune, he went to the Demoness.

The Demoness thought, “Why is the child so happy to come here?” She asked, “Hey, child, it’s very good you came at the appointed time, but why are you so happy?” The child said, “The reason I’m happy is that met my mother once before I die. Now will you eat me from the head down or bottom up?” The Demoness said, “You’re a respectful child. I’ll eat you from the head down, so as not to make you suffer.”

When she opened her cave-like mouth wide, from far off there was a cry: “Hey wood-gathering child! What’s that in front of you?” When the Demonesss looked, there was a champion carrying a matching bow and arrow standing atop a boulder in the sunshine. She thought, “Considering his conceited manner, it’s impossible for him to be small,” and she asked, “Hey you, who just yelled?” The child said, “It’s the strong royal huntsman who puts spooks under vows and grabs carnivores by the neck.” When she heard that, she got scared and said, “Wood-gathering child, reply to him that I’m a log!”

“Hey Uncle Huntsman, It’s a log in front of me!”

“If it’s a log, hit it once with your ax!”

The Demoness really got scared and said, “Hit me once lightly!” The child struck her head once according to her advice.

Father Hare asked, “Hey, if it were a log, I’d hear the crack. The log in front of you didn’t have that sound. How come?”

The Demoness got scared and said to the child, “Hit me a few times!” The child hit her again like before.

Again Father Hare put an arrow on the bowstring and said, “I didn’t hear the log crack.”

Again the Demoness ordered, “Hit me harder a few times!”

The boy swung the ax around his head and struck hard one time. He split the Demoness’s head and scattered her white brain matter on the ground.

From that time on, the wood-gathering child collected firewood at that place like before and looked after his blind mother. Father Hare relied on his intelligence and is busy with his work of suppressing demons and protecting the meek.

—Nag po Skal bzang

Folk Story Amdo
The Child Who Gathered Firewood
Collection Tibetan Children's Stories
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)
Author Nag po Skal bzang
Translator Larry Epstein
Subjects
Places
Creative Commons Licence