The Fairy Grotto
Fairy tale from Folk Tales of China
Many years ago there lived two boys named Liu Ch'en and Yuan Chao who were cousins.
One day they went into the hills to fetch water. It was in the midst of spring, and the hills were carpeted by all sorts of red and green flowers. The boys were so overcome by the beauty of the scene that they put down their pails by the stream and set off for a walk. The country became more and more lonely as they wandered from hill to hill, until the path finally came to an end and they found themselves at the entrance to a cave, with an enormous stone on each side on which two fairies were seated playing chess.
The two boys stood in the mouth of the cave and watched the game without saying a word. At the feet of the fairies a white hare was springing up and down. Much to their wonder, the two boys noticed that each time it sprang up the flowers bloomed at the entrance to the cave, and each time it lay down they faded.
When the game was finished, the fairies looked around at the boys and asked when they had arrived. "A few hours ago," they both answered, and turned to leave. But the fairies said to them, "Stay here in our grotto and don't go home. No one will recognize you." But they did not understand what the fairies meant, and said firmly, "No! No! We must go home." Seeing that they could not persuade them to remain, the fairies gave them each a piece of reed, saying, "If you find everything changed at home, come back here and point the reed at the cave, and it will open."
They took the reeds and returned to the stream by which they had left their poles and buckets. All they found was decayed earth and tall pines growing on each side of the stream, where formerly there had been open ground.
In great perplexity they entered the village, but there they could find no trace of their homes. They asked two old white-haired men whom they saw sitting in a meadow where the house of Liu Ch'en and Yuan Chao was. The two old men replied, "Liu Ch'en and Yuan Chao were our ancestors. We are their descendants in the seventh generation. Why do you young fellows talk about them in this casual way?"
This was still more confusing, because how could two young men have descendants in the seventh generation? Perhaps the white hare jumping about in the fairy grotto represented the seasons, and the afternoon they had spent in the cave had lasted for four or five hundred years. When the two children heard the words of the old men, they said, "But we are Liu Ch'en and Yuan Chao!" This made the old men so annoyed that their beards waggled to and fro. They called-out to other people, who came up and beat the two boys.
"You young rascals," they cried, "how dare you come and bother old men!"
The boys fled back to the cave, but the doors were closed tight. Then they remembered their reeds, but they could not recall where they had left them. They did not dare to go back and look for them for fear the people would beat them again. They knocked and knocked, but there was no answer, and in their grief they banged their heads against the wall and died.
The ruler of heaven took pity on their sad fate, and appointed Liu Ch'en the god of good luck and Yuan Chao the god of ill luck.