"Upon your return," said the Wizard, "you must come back to the temple to see me. Tomorrow I'll send a letter of introduction to my Aunt over at that nunnery by Fujiang Rapids. If you still want to enter cultivation of purity and original goodness there's no better place." And to Mei'r he added: "Take care of yourself; we'll meet again someday." Then his eyes became red and swollen with tears and he was wracked with sobs and, ashamed, ran off with his hands over his face. Mei'r was truly moved and saddened.
Now, dear reader, do not forget this point: none other than Zuo Chu himself has just become a novice Daoist priest in the Guanwang Monastery at the foot of Swordgate Mountain!
To get on with our story, mother and daughter left the monastery and headed for Swordgate Pass; Quezi not being along they made good time. They were confronting steep terrain, ever rising higher and higher, and dusk was falling when they spotted a small grove on a distant slope, roughly ten li ahead. "Mei'r," said the mother, "let's spend the night in those woods; we aren't far from the holy peak now." The two women hadn't taken many more steps when suddenly they met a fierce black squall; against its fury they could only close their eyes. Indeed they couldn't stand, so great was the gale. It was really like this:
After the first gusts subsided two burly warriors came forth, chests thrust out and shoulders back and announced: "The Queen of Heaven has decreed that Holy Auntie appear at the Imperial Audience!"
The old woman was astounded. "Who is this 'Queen of Heaven'," she asked.
"None other than the Holy Mother, Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty!" answered a warrior.
"But it's been centuries since Empress Wu left the world," said the woman, "how can it be that she's still with us? Anyway we've never met; what could she want from me of all folks?"
"Our Empress and you," answered one of the men, "share a common fate and you are destined to meet her, so please cooperate with us." He continued: "She has known your whereabouts all along, Holy Auntie, and that you would pass by here!"
Now, the old woman wasn't at all afraid and had no desire to escape, though the soldiers had in fact seized her and she couldn't have gotten away if she had wanted to. When she could once again move freely she found herself suspended in midair, and in less than an hour was transported to a place where ancient trees touched the sky, where vines hung as far as the eye could see, where a cool breeze blew and the dark smell of night was all-pervading. Passing a pair of stone tablets she saw the outline of an audience hall. The original two warriors were nowhere to be seen; instead there were now two girl slaves from the harem carrying purple Chinese lanterns. They came forward to welcome her, saying: "The Empress has been waiting for awhile now."
When the old woman entered the audience hall she saw only an incense altar with the design of a swirling dragon and nobody in there. "Wait here for a moment, Holy Auntie," said one of the slaves.
After a short while her two escorts reappeared, announcing: "The Queen of Heaven has decreed it; let it be done! Holy Auntie, please come to the rear chamber for the Imperial Audience."
And so the old mother followed the slaves in, to see a high curtain of beaded pearls sparkling brilliantly in the lamplight. The Empress sat upon a throne in the center, between vermillion pillars and under a purple ceiling; on either side of her were woman officials clad in purple and wearing veils, and they ordered Holy Aunty to kowtow. She performed the knockings and kneelings reverently, then stood at attention. The Empress Wu thereupon granted her permission to sit.
"How dare I show such disrespect to your Majesty," answered the old woman fearfully.
"There's no need for such humility," answered the Empress. "Today's meeting is no coincidence; the Throne wishes to discuss a matter of Fate with you, my servant, in fine detail. How can we do justice to this topic with you standing throughout?" The Empress then called for a cushion and passed it to her guest.
"Those awful brutes in the meadow," said the woman, "didn't tell me anything about thy intentions, my Empress!"
"My minister," began the Empress, you mustn't feel ashamed of not being human. For you are indeed a person posessed by a fox, while I am a fox residing in a person. Reading that manifesto of Prince Luo's still makes me tremble with fear! I, the Exhalted One, am truly ashamed to receive you, my minister, under these circumstances." And she chanted the following poem:
"Oh," she continued, "how I'd once valued the talents of Luo Binwang. When they presented the heads of the rebels I asked if his was among them, for I couldn't bear to look. Little did I know that his head was another's and that he had escaped dressed as a monk. All bad officials who have ever hoodwinked an Emperor have been like him! Outsiders accuse me to this very day of excess cruelty, but I think that the killings were justified in the public interest!" Her face then turned pensive and sad. "In the end," she added ruefully, "Luo became a bonze, redeemed himself and went to Heaven, while I remain bottled up in this cold darkness. Who would have ever thought that our world of the Tang would end at the hands of that Huang Chao and that my decaying bones would be repeatedly desecrated and my tomb looted. So today, I, the Exhalted One, can only wear the few crumbling trinkets that remain of my jade girdle as I meet you."
And sure enough, when the woman looked she saw that the crown atop the Empress's head had neither diamonds nor other gems and that her gown was unadorned.
"Huang Chao and the vandals must have been terrible, why didn't you forbid their trespasses with your supernatural powers?" she asked.
The Empress Wu continued: "When my worldy Fate was over Heaven sent me back to rule as the Devil Queen. Now, I was a child of the early Tang while Huang Chao was born at the end of our epoch. Mortal men and women are different according to their times but we spirits are the same throughout the ages. When I was Empress Wu on earth, the time when anyone could take the throne had obviously arrived. So how could I prevent that salt merchant Huang Chao from doing exactly that? Fair's fair, after all!"
"I've heard," said the old woman, "that during your reign you patronized the casting of holy icons and statues, had pagodas and temples built and supported them throughout the land, and that your good works on behalf of Buddhism were truly glorious. So why are you being kept here in the cold dark reaches of eternal night?"
"Ordinary mortals," answered the Queen, "first purify their souls and then receive the grace to begin good works and and to cultivate blessings. In my life I was impure of heart and I cultivated devilish ways. I enjoyed all the benefits of womanhood, yet I secretly harbored great resentment at not having been a man; my prayers and flattery to Lord Buddha were all due to this. So today my desired Fate has come to pass, and by the grace of God I've become a man in body!"
The woman was puzzled. "Has your majesty," she asked, "been reincarnated with honor, riches and power as of old?"
The Queen spoke: "Now that I've become a devil in accordance with the way of Fate, I must remain on the path of a devil's life. If I had no special privileges and powers, how could I ever perform my magic? Although I was originally born a woman I have nonetheless become Emperor. Why not become a man while I'm at it? Now, your daughter Mei'r is secretly fated to be an Imperial Concubine," continued the ghostly sovereign to the astonished old mother; "she's already entrusted to my Prince Chongxiao, so don't worry."
"So," exclaimed the mother, "you've become a man under that gown and again usurped a throne! And now, having lost your palaces, pleasure halls and handsome satyrs of old you've decided to take a woman of the spirits as your own..."
"There are many things," responded the Queen, "that you , my servant, do not know. In her previous life, Mei'r was Zhang Liulang, a man with the bearing and grace of a lotus blossom. I, the Exhalted One had such deep feeling for him that I made him a pledge, swearing that we would be husband and wife forever, throughout all subsquent lives. Unfortunately we were seperated by the course of events and have been truly star-crossed lovers down to this very day. But now I've become a man, so he can come back to me as my Queen. We're predestined to remain together like a pair of mandarin ducks; isn't it truly touching? I, your Sovereign, shall now set out for present-day Hebei Province and I shall meet you there in twenty-eight years, in the district of Beizhou. Please, my servant, polish up your sorcery in order to best serve me!"
"We were captured while seeking those skills at any cost," replied the mother; "where shall we go for them?"
The figure on the throne answered: "I've got a prophecy of sixteen characters for you, which you may write down. The charm goes like this:
"In three years," the Empress then said, "you'll be contacted by one of us, you can be sure. You needn't go to any special trouble on this account." And she had someting else to say: "Heaven's secrets must be guarded ; they must not be leaked out carelessly. If 'Old Eighty' hears of this, something terrible will happen!"
"Who" asked the woman "is 'Old Eighty'?"
"The Prince of Hanyang, Zhang Jianzhi," answered the Queen. "He's been an opponent of mine down through the ages so you, my minister, should avoid him."
And then there was a moment of silence, followed by shouting from the front of the hall. Suddenly a woman slave, alarmed, rushed in and warned everone: "The Prince of Hanyang has heard of our Lord's ambitions to the throne and is commanding an army of a hundred thousand to come and crush us!"
Her face ashen with fright, the Queen ran behind her throne and fled. The old woman was terrified. "That thing made a pact with me," she thought, trembling, "I'd better get out of here right away!" And in panic she fell off of her cushion and tried to beat a path out of there but her limbs wouldn't move and she awakened soaked in sweat. For it had all been a dream, and a bad one at that. She had been sleeping under the stars at the foot of an old burial mound, and there was of course no audience hall. But neither, to her alarm, was there any sign of Hu Mei'r. She cried out in each direction with no trace of an answer, and she had no idea where the girl might have gone. And then she sobbed for awhile, thinking. "Yan Banxian said my daughter had an unfortunate end awaiting her; perhaps it's this incredible affair!"
Now, it was already nearly dawn, and by the pale light of the eastern sky she saw a stone monument lying on its side in the thorns right in front of the mound. And engraved upon it were the characters of a prophecy given, the marker said, by the Empress Wu Zetian of the Great Tang Dynasty.
"In my dream," said the old woman, "I floated to the Queen's Palace in Hell and I still remember a bit of what she said in parting. This is so very strange; these are the very same sixteen words here on this tablet. How can it possibly be? I don't even know what it means!"
And it having come to this she thought of the day they left their earthen burrow, mother and two children, and of how she had just lost her daughter. How sad and lonely she felt; the rest of her journey was spent in a daze and she lived on her feet until she reached the great Mt Hua. Then she only sought a quiet place to collect her thoughts and decide what to do next.
Now the point is that when,as prophesized, the old fox-spirit meets yet another supernatural being, still another strange episode will unfold...it's really like this:
End of Chapt 6, Ping Yao Zhuan Click to continue to Chapter 7, Back to Homepage Table of Contents