The Tale of Monkey's Daughter, con't
For some years, Chou was a content man. His wife was attentive, obedient, and dutiful. The daughter she bore was likewise attentive and dutiful, but also curious and prone to mischief. Whenever she was not helping her parents run the restaurant, she was found running about like a boy, listening to the storytellers and playing rough and tumble games.
After seven years, his silent wife took sick during a bad winter and died in spite of all that could be done for her. Heartbroken with loss, Chou left more and more of his business in the hands of employees and took to the bottle in search of solace. His daughter, unable to comfort him, swallowed her tears and ran even wilder for a time. Eventually she was caught at the temple, sneaking in for the sake of mischief, and there she was brought before the old priest who had guided Chou's steps.
"You are Mister Chou's girl, are you not? From the restaurant?"
"Yes," she said, taking a proud stance as if prepared to fight the holy man off.
"I have something for you," he smiled. "It used to belong to your mother, and she left it here for safekeeping." He clapped his hands and an acolyte brought out a set of prayer beads. "It was her wish that you have them when you were old enough." And so saying, he placed them around her neck and chanted a sutra before dismissing her.
That night, at home, she fell into a listless sleep. And the following morning, she was much quieter than before. Old Chou did not complain about the change: she was easier to live with, and his heart was heavy with grief.
Thus she grew to womanhood, quiet and obedient, the perfect daughter for an aging widower. Every so often the priest would visit and bless the prayer beads for her, and then the kitchen. The restaurant flourished, and Chou was happy.
But the day before she was to turn seventeen, a coarse and unkept vagabond came to the restaurant. He roared with laughter and called for drink, chasing other customers away with his horrible manners. Finally, Chou came out to accost the man, only to find himself invited to join a drinking contest.
"So," the vagabond belched. "I understand you have a daughter. Bring her out!"
"Oh, I couldn't..."
"Bring her out, I say! She can serve us."
Reluctantly Chou called his daughter forth, and the scruffy stranger started at the sight of her hair like fire and her eyes like molten gold.
"Ah! Most exotic! Her mother must have been quite the woman! Here, girl, pour the wine for us."
Chou frowned at the man's tone, but made no objection as the girl knelt beside their table and filled their cups again and again. They drank and sang as heroes of old...until the stranger's eye fell upon the prayer beads around the girl's neck.
Slamming his cup down on the table hard enough to shatter both, he leapt to his feet and grabbed Chou by the tunic, pinning the old man against the wall and shouting.
"Who has done this to your child? Who has bound her with this rosary? Did you do it?"
Chou fumbled for the words, but before he could defend himself his daughter rose and bowed to the ruffian, her lip trembling as she spoke softly.
"If you please, sir, it was the kindly old priest at the temple. He said they belonged to my venerable mother. Please release my father and go."
"Your father?" The vagabond laughed and dropped Chou. "If he is your father, I am the Dragon King's favorite concubine! And unless your mother is the Benevolent Goddess Herself, those beads never belonged to her, either!"
The drunk capered about the restaurant, while outside a sudden storm let loose peals of thunder and heavy rain.
"Tell her the truth, Chou," the drunk crowed, so startling the old man that he cried out even as the ruffian dashed the doors to pieces and raced out into the street, into the pouring rain and the growing dark.
Sulan knelt by Chou, helping him to his feet.
"What did he mean, Father?"
Drunk and dazed, Chou turned to smile sadly at her.
"Your mother was already carrying you in her womb when I married her," he confessed. "You are not the daughter of my body...but you have been the child of my heart..."
The girl cried out in astonishment, and the rosary around her neck broke at that moment, spilling beads across the floor. Grabbing Chou by the collar and shaking him, she tearfully begged him to take back those words, to tell her that he was only joking. Yet the old man had already sunk into a deep slumber from the wine.
Instead, she tore herself away from his side and went tearing after the villain who had thus slandered the man who had raised her!
(to be continued)