(a Chinese folktale)
Long ago a widow wove brocades famous for their beauty. The woman supported her three sons by selling these brocades, but one day in the market a picture caught her eye — a painting of a white house surrounded by green fields and a lush garden. Plumed birds flew everywhere, and beside the house a river flowed.
The widow could not resist. She bought the painting and hurried home.
“How I wish we lived in such a place,” she sighed as she showed her boys. The older two laughed. “Idle dream,” they said.
But the youngest said, “Weave the image into a brocade and it will be as good as living there.”
From that day on, the widow sat at her loom working on this single creation. She worked as if possessed. After a month her eldest son grumbled, “Mother, we’re tired of chopping wood to earn all our money.” The second son agreed.
But the youngest boy said, “I’ll take care of everything,” and after that he went alone into the mountains to chop wood to look after the whole family.
The widow burned pine branches for light so she could work at night. When smoke caused tears to fall from her eyes, she wove the drops into the river.
One year passed, then two. Her tears turned to blood and dropped onto the cloth; these she wove into brilliant flowers. At the end of the third year, she was just weaving the last flower, when a sharp wind blew through the house, caught the brocade in its arms and flew it outside. The wind carried it up the hills, and the widow ran after it, but the wind carried it away, over the eastern mountains.
The widow begged her sons to find her brocade. “Without it I shall die,” she groaned.
The eldest son set off, and after one month he reached a mountain pass where an old woman sat with a stone horse beside a small house.
“Where are you going?” the woman asked.
“East,” he said, and he told her the story of his mother’s brocade.
“The brocade has been taken to Sun Mountain,” the old woman said. “The fairies are copying it. You’ll have to knock out two of your front teeth and put them into my horse’s mouth, and he will come alive and carry you to Sun Mountain.”
He was just about to follow her instructions when she said, “You must pass through Flame Mountain without complaining about the heat or you will burn to ashes. Then you’ll cross an icy sea. You must not shudder or you will drown.”
The eldest son shivered.
“Or take this gold and forget the journey,” the woman said as she handed him a box filled with gold.
“I’ll take that,” he said. As he was traveling home, he began to think of the life he could live if he did not share the wealth. He set off for the city, alone.
Back home, the dying widow sent her second son to find the brocade. When he reached the mountain pass, he too found the old woman. She told him the story, and like his brother, he took the gold and headed to the city, alone.
When another month had passed with no sign of the brocade, the youngest son set off. When the old woman told him the story, he immediately knocked out his teeth and placed them in the horse’s mouth. A moment later he and the horse were galloping east.
When they reached Flame Mountain, fire engulfed the boy, but he raced through the raging heat without a single cry. And when he reached the sea, waves of ice crashed on shore, but the boy and the horse made their way across and never shuddered. On the far shore, the boy saw a golden palace atop Sun Mountain. Up he went, and inside he found 100 beautiful fairies weaving copies of his mother’s brocade.
“Tonight we will finish and you may take your mother’s brocade,” they said. The fairies fed him a delicious meal and gave him a comfortable bed. As he slept, they went on weaving.
In the middle of the night, one of the fairies looked at her brocade; it was not nearly as beautiful as the widow’s. She could not let that brocade go, she decided, and so she embroidered a picture of herself in the widow’s brocade.
At dawn, the youngest son woke and saw the brocade lying before him. The fairies were gone. Clutching it, he rode off into the waning moonlight, crossed the icy sea and the mountain of fire and reached the old woman.
She removed the teeth from the horse and put these back into the boy’s mouth. She handed him deerskin shoes, and the moment he put them on, he was home.
When she saw her son and the brocade, the woman rose from bed, immediately healed. Together they carried the brocade outside to look at it in the sunlight, and as they unrolled it, a fragrant breeze rose up, and the brocade grew until it covered all the land. The silk threads trembled, and the picture sprang to life.
Plumed birds darted everywhere; animals grazed on the bright green grass. The white house stood exactly where she had woven it, on the hillside. Everything was as she had created it — except in the center, beside the river. There stood a beautiful girl. This was the fairy who had woven herself into the brocade.
Overjoyed, the widow invited her neighbors to share the abundance of the fields, and the youngest son and the fairy fell in love and married. Everyone lived happily. Then one day two beggars happened past. When they saw the house, they couldn’t believe their eyes. This was the place their mother had created.
For a while they stared, and then, blushing with shame, they crept away.