(a Chinese folktale)
Once upon a time there was a woman called Sister Lace, for she made the most breathtaking lacework anyone had ever seen. She looped and twisted and braided her thread, creating exquisite animals of lace, so vivid they seemed almost alive. Everyone in her village treasured Sister Lace’s handiwork, and girls from everywhere came to study with her. Sister Lace loved teaching her trade almost as much as she loved making lace.
Word spread of her talent, and when the emperor saw a tablecloth she had made, he called to his servants. “Bring this woman to my court,” he ordered. “She must be here, making lace for the emperor!”
The servants hurried to the village to bring Sister Lace to court, but she had no interest in leaving her village or her students. Her only desire was to stay in her little cottage, sharing her skills and creations with the people.
However, the servants had their orders, and so they dragged her away, taking her by force to court.
When she was brought to the emperor, he was struck not only by her immense talent, but by her beauty as well. “You will marry me,” he pronounced, “and you shall make lace only for me.”
Sister Lace shook her head. “I will never marry you,” she said. “I wish to be with my people.”
The emperor was not used to being thwarted, and exploded with rage. “Take her to prison,” he commanded his guards. And then he turned on her. “You are a fool. Think over my offer. If you marry me, you shall have every luxury.”
She shook her head again. “I do not care for luxuries,” she said. “I only want to make my lace and teach those who wish to learn my trade. I love my students, not you!”
Again the emperor raged. “Very well, you love making lace?” And he thought of the stories he had heard, of lace so nearly lifelike, the animals she made seemed real. “Make me a live rooster of lace and I shall send you home. You have one week.”
The guards took her to her cell and gave her silk thread, and there Sister Lace worked day and night, looping and twisting and braiding until she had made a magnificent rooster. When she had finished, she pricked her finger and rubbed blood along the rooster’s comb. She began to cry, and one of her tears dripped into the rooster’s beak. At that moment the rooster flapped its wings and crowed. It was alive!
The guards quickly called the emperor to see this miracle, and when he saw a live rooster straining at the lace to break free, he was enraged. “What trick have you played on me, woman?” he cried. “You have stolen a rooster from the palace!” At that moment the rooster broke free of the lace and flew to the emperor. It scratched at his head, then escaped out the window and flew away.
“You have failed!” he cried at Sister Lace. “Seven more days. Make me a partridge, and I shall set you free. If you fail, you’ll have to marry me.”
For seven days Sister Lace worked — looping and twisting and braiding until she had made a partridge so lifelike, no one could tell the difference. She pricked her finger with a needle and brushed a drop of blood onto the partridge’s feathers, and one of her tears dropped into the partridge’s beak. The creature came to life.
When the emperor saw the partridge, he cried, “You did not understand my request. I wanted you to make a dragon!”
At that the partridge broke free of the lace, attacked the emperor’s eyes, and flew away before the guards could stop it.
“Seven days or you shall die!” the emperor thundered.
For seven days and nights, Sister Lace worked, though she was in despair. On the seventh day she completed the dragon, more stunning than anything she had ever made, and she pricked her finger and swept her hand along the dragon’s scales, staining it red. Her tear dripped into the dragon’s mouth, and it instantly came alive, breathing fire.
Sister Lace held the dragon in her arms and wept, for she knew when the emperor saw the dragon he would only want something else, and she feared she would never again return to her village.
When the emperor appeared and saw the dragon, he roared, “That is not a dragon; it’s a snake!”
But the little dragon roared in return. It raised its head and breathed, and a blast of fire swirled around the emperor and his guards. Soon the entire palace was in flames.
Magically, the dragon grew, and Sister Lace climbed upon its back, and off they flew into the sky, and behind them they left a trail of beautiful color, a rainbow of lace.