When the Sea Turned to Silver Page 14

I am? Pinmei thought with surprise. She had thought herself many things before—a scared mouse, a quiet girl, a coward—but never a storyteller. But before she could think further, the woman gave her a smile.

“Well, I’m not sure if I am ready to get up yet,” the woman said. “So perhaps a story would be good medicine.”

Pinmei began to shake her head in protest, but the woman’s eyes were weighted with so much worry that Pinmei found her own heart pale. The green of the jade bracelet shimmered at her, like a thread in one Amah’s embroidery silks. Again Pinmei felt the familiar longing pierce her. Amah would never refuse to tell a story—how could she? So, with her voice slightly trembling, Pinmei began.

There was once a widow who was extremely skilled at embroidery. When she embroidered a flower, bees would try to nestle in it. When she embroidered a tree, birds would try to land on it. She was known far and wide and supported herself and her young son with the embroidered pieces she sold.

One day, when she was at the market, she saw an old man selling a painting of a palatial estate. There was an elegant villa with lakes dotted with orange fish and moon gates that led to courtyards lined with trees. She stared at the painting, and a yearning she had never felt before filled her. Without thinking, she spent all the money meant for rice and bought the painting.

When she returned home, she showed the painting to her son.

“If only we could live in this painting,” she said to him with tears in her eyes. “I feel as if my heart will break if I do not live in this place.”

“Well, Mother,” the son said, trying to comfort her, “your embroidery is so lifelike perhaps you should embroider this picture. Then you will feel the same as if you were living in it.”

The widow’s face lit up and she nodded. “Yes, of course,” she said, and immediately went to work.

And she did not stop working. Hour after hour her needle moved, and at night she lit a lantern to continue. She carried on like this for days, and the days turned into months. Her son, without complaint, began to cut wood to support them.

The months turned into years. The widow’s hair turned white, and when strands fell from her head, she embroidered them into clouds. Her needle pricked her fingers, and when her blood dripped, she stitched it into the red peonies. They could no longer afford lantern oil, so she burned branches, and when her eyes watered from the smoke, she sewed her tears into the lotus ponds.

Finally, after eight years, the old widow put down her needle. She was finished. Her son, who was now a young man, stood in awe as he looked at the completed piece. It was magnificent. The widow sighed a soft sound of contentment.

The door banged open, and a wild wind burst into the room. The embroidery flew into the air and out the door. The widow and her son rushed after it, but only saw it fluttering in the distance. The widow collapsed to the ground.

When the widow finally opened her eyes, she begged her son to find her embroidery. “I shall die without it,” she said.

So the son left his mother in the care of his neighbors and went in search of the embroidery. After many days of traveling, he found himself by the sea. The moon was rising and its reflection on the water made a long silver-white path that connected seamlessly with the ground. As the young man followed the moon path with his eyes, he was startled to see a small figure lying on the shore. It was a boy.

“Hello!” the boy said as he fixed his red cap. “What are you doing here?”

The widow’s son then saw this was not an ordinary young boy. He must be an immortal of some sort, the son thought. So he told the boy his story.

“Oh, that embroidery,” the boy said. “The Sea King’s daughter sent a servant for it. She and all her ladies in waiting are copying it for their own pieces.”

“I must get it back,” the son said. “My mother will die without it.”

“You’d have to go to the Sea King’s palace, and that’s a hard journey,” the boy said. “First you must swim the sea until you reach frozen water and dive into it without a shiver or moan. If you make one sound of discontent, you will turn into ice and shatter into ten thousand pieces. Do you still want to go?”

The son nodded and started immediately to walk to the ocean. The boy grabbed his arm.

“Wait!” the boy said. “I’ll get you a ride.”

The boy put two fingers in his mouth and made a shrill whistle. The waves of the sea roared, and as the water rolled off the shore, a huge white stone appeared. The boy went over to the stone and knocked on it.

“Come out!” he said. “This fellow needs a ride!”

Did the stone quiver? The widow’s son rubbed his eyes.

“Hurry up!” the boy said. “She’ll never even notice you’re gone. She’s busy sewing. Come on!”

The waves smashed into the stone and made a crackling noise like a porcelain plate breaking. When the water withdrew, a white horse stood among some broken pieces of matching white stone.

“Good,” the boy said. “He’s in a hurry.”

The boy made a motion with his hand, and the horse walked up to the son.

“Now you’ll make it,” the boy said with a grin.

The widow’s son, after closing his gaping mouth, nodded his thanks, climbed on the horse’s back, and galloped into the water.

The horse and the young man swam through the piercing cold water. The dark waves flung shards of ice at him, and the blood from his cuts steamed and froze. When the water no longer churned and all was silent, the horse plunged into the bitter water and all was black.

When the son opened his eyes, he was warm and dry and still on the horse. The sun was overhead, and a majestic palace of crystal was before him. Without his urging, the horse entered the palace and brought him to a grand hall, where his mother’s embroidery hung in a place of honor. Dozens of beautiful women were sitting around it, each sewing a copy.

“I’m here for my mother’s embroidery,” he announced.

The women looked at him and whispered to one another until one, dressed in blue and the loveliest of them all, rose. It was only then that he saw she had a fish tail instead of legs. “Let us keep it for the rest of today so we can finish our copies,” she said. “You may take it tomorrow.”

The widow’s son was awestruck by her beauty. Even with her fish tail, she was the most stunning creature he had ever encountered, and he, who had not been turned by pain or possible death, found he could not refuse her. So he let himself be led to a golden bed at the back of the hall, where he soon fell asleep.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next