03/07/2010

The legend of Dã Tràng: a tale of endless pursuit

Long time ago, there lived a hunter named Dã Tràng. Everyday he would take his bow and arrows and head to the forest in search for a worthy prey. He follows the same trail everytime he hunts, passing by the same shrine along the way where lived two spotted serpents, which he feared at first, but as they never harmed him, he became accustomed of their presence. Later, he grew fascinated of their graceful movements and the remarkable beauty and shimmer of their scales.

On the way to hunting one day, Dã Tràng heard a great noise coming from the shrine, so he came close to see. Witnessing a furious struggle between the two spotted serpents and a huge deadly snake, he quickly took his bow and arrow and fired at the unfamiliar fiery creature, cutting through its neck while it quickly slithered off into the forest. One of the spotted snakes set out in pursuit of the wounded attacker while the other laid lifeless on the ground. Full of pity, Dã Tràng buried it before the shrine.

During his sleep that night, Dã Tràng dreamt about receiving a strange visit from the surviving serpent. It thanked him for saving them from danger and for giving its mate an honorable burial. As a token of gratitude, the serpent dropped a shiny white pearl from its mouth and said, “Place this pearl beneath your tongue as this will help you understand the language of animals. This will greatly help you as you hunt.”

Dã Tràng woke up and found a beautiful pearl beside his pillow. Recalling everything the serpent had told him in his dream, he placed the peal beneath his tongue as he set out for the forest to hunt that day. The first animal that he chanced upon was a deer. But when his arrow missed, the deer ran off to hide. To his surprise, a crow screamed, “I see the deer’s flight, it’s a hundred paces to the right”.

Having understood the crow’s language, he realized that what the serpent said about the pearl was indeed true. So he followed the crow’s advice and easily brought down his prey. Again, the crow spoke to Dã Tràng asking for its reward. In return, the hunter gave the bird all the deer’s parts which served him no use. Since then, Dã Tràng and the crow agreed to hunt together. As the bird leads him to the prey, the hunter would have to leave the entrails on the ground for the crow to feed on.

And everyday, both Dã Tràng and the crow would keep their part of the bargain and help each other hunt. One afternoon, Dã Tràng had shot and killed a wild pig. As usual, he cut the pig open and left its entrails on the ground for the crow but another bird came and stole them. When the crow arrived and discovered nothing had been left, it angered the bird greatly and assumed that Dã Tràng failed to leave his share.

Quickly, it flew to the hunter’s house and protested. Dã Tràng insisted that he left the entrails as promised. But the bird did not believe him and accused him of being a liar. The young man became angry by this. He fired an arrow at the crow, but missed. The crow seized the arrow with its claws, furiously screaming its revenge, and flew off. Several days later, Dã Tràng was arrested. A poisoned arrow bearing his name had been discovered in the body of a drowned man. In spite of his protests of innocence, he was thrown to jail.

The young man then spent days and weeks in prison. One day, he noticed a parade of ants on the prison walls, hurrying by with food on their shoulders. Curious to know the reason for such hurry, he called out to the ants and inquired. The tiny creatures told him that a great flood is coming. Dã Tràng told the guard to pass on the warning, who, reported this to the warden and hastened to inform the king. Though skeptical, the king ordered that the necessary measures be taken. And indeed, three days later, a very big flood swept across the land.

Grateful for having saved everyone in the kingdom, the king ordered Dã Tràng to be released from prison and appointed the young man as his adviser. Dã Tràng used his abilities to keep the kingdom safe from storms and floods, and to receive news from the birds and horses when enemy armies are approaching from a distance. But he never revealed the source of his powers.

On one beautiful spring morning, as Dã Tràng went sailing with the king, he heard strange voices beneath the waves. Looking over the side, he saw a cuttlefish swimming alongside the royal barge, singing a joyous tune. The sight of the cuttlefish singing and rolling along with the waves amused the young man greatly. Dã Tràng began to laugh, and soon he was laughing uncontrollably. As he did, the pearl slipped from his mouth and fell into the water.

Appalled, Dã Tràng leaped from the boat and began desperately searching the waters. He quickly called out to the king and told him of his precious pearl and that his men should help him find it. So the king ordered dozens of his men to wade out into the shallows and churn the waters in search of the pearl, but their efforts were fruitless.

The following day, Dã Tràng continued his search. Still, he found nothing. Day after day, week after week, he never stopped searching. Months and years passed, Dã Tràng stayed by the seashore, still searching and sifting through handfuls of sand, but he never found the pearl again. He wept endlessly over his irretrievable loss. He retreated to misery, and soon, Dã Tràng died an unhappy and discontented man.

He passed on his inconsolable soul to the tiny sand crabs, which, if you notice, scurry from hole to hole, endlessly turning every grain of sand in an attempt to search for the magic pearl. This story serves as a reminder to those who attempts to go beyond the limits of their human abilities and pursue and impossible task which reaps no rewards. Just like Dã Tràng, who transformed himself into millions of sand crabs to roll the sand in perpetuity, but never achieved his goal.