Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Councilor Tam Finds a Phoenix Egg

Storm King had amused himself all day leaping from mountain to mountain. It was especially fun to jump into a river and get his feet wet before leaping onto a mountain, sprinkling the trees with the water that fell from his feet. Soon, though, he got bored and tired, and he decided to lay down for a nap on the soft sand beyond the Western mountains. Storm King had behaved very well for a very long time, not frightening any Han soldiers or stealing any peaches from beautiful goddesses. It wasn’t easy to be good when mischief was Storm King’s basic nature.

The white fur on Storm King’s head grew long and fluffy right into the white beard on his chin and cheeks. When he howled with laughter or shrieked with joy, he would shake his head side to side. His snowy fur would whip around and catch in his mouth and teeth. When Storm King closed his mouth quickly mid-laugh, he would chomp down on a clump of fur, causing angry yowling from the pain. Storm King was a noisy, fearsome fellow, who growled loudly when he chased Han soldiers, leaping just far enough to land where the soldiers’ next footsteps would fall, looking like a demon who was friends with death.

Accompanying Storm King everywhere was his most faithful attendant, Councilor Tom Tam, who was also Storm King’s loyal cook and food taster. Councilor Tam was the most hardworking man in Storm King’s entire kingdom. Tom Tam was wise enough to give the king advice about everything from how much in taxes to demand from the village lords before they raised a rebellion to how much poison the king could ingest before it became dangerous. Tam cooked sumptuous meals truly fit for a king even when on military campaign with Storm King, using ingredients that he found wherever he found himself to be when it was dinner time. Councilor Tam was possessed of a nose that was like no other nose in all the land. He could sniff poison in food in the smallest proportions. So long as Councilor Tom Tam served Storm King, the king never had to worry about danger from poisoning.

Upon waking from his nap, Storm King was mightily hungry. He bellowed to Councilor Tam, “I’m hungry. Feed me. Feed me now.” Councilor Tam heard the great hunger in his king’s bellow. He hurried as quickly as he could scurry, hunting in all the little dips in the sand, looking for eggs hidden there by desert snakes and other egg-laying creatures to prepare for his king’s dinner. This night he was lucky and found four eggs, two small white ones, one small brown one, and one very large mottled gray egg. When Tam brought the eggs back to the camp where Storm King was waiting for his dinner, he showed the king what he had found.

“Wait,” roared Storm King, in a loud voice. “What do you have there, Councilor Tam? Why, it looks like . . . could it be?” said the king.

Tom Tam was confused. All he had in his basket were the four eggs. What was Storm King pointing at?

“That large egg, the mottled gray one, Councilor Tam. What have you got there? Why, it looks like a phoenix egg!” remarked Storm King, who actually was someone who was friends with the ones who live in the underworld.

“No, it can’t be. Why would a phoenix egg be buried in the desert sand?” asked Councilor Tam. The great phoenix was a mythical bird, who had the rare ability to rise from the ashes even after it had fallen in battle and was burned in the fires of the kingdom below the earth, the one that we commonly call Hell. Now Councilor Tam was worried. Why, if this gray egg were really the egg of a phoenix, he couldn’t possibly cook it up and serve it to the king. Who knew when the great phoenix would return looking for her buried egg? What would the great bird do if she learned that Councilor Tam had cooked her hidden egg and that Storm King had eaten it for dinner?

What did Councilor Tam and Storm King do? Would the lady phoenix come to reclaim her egg? Well, my friend, that is a story for another telling.

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