The Castle in the Lake
In the land of Tibet, there was a beautiful lake surrounded by hills and mountains. So beautiful and clear was the lake that people who passed by would gasp in wonderment. Some would say that when the sun was high in the sky, casting the shadows of the mountain peaks across the calm expanse of water, it looked just as if there was a castle in the lake, a castle of such vast proportions that it filled the water. So the lake soon came to be known as “The Castle Lake.”
Many stories grew up around the lake and its castle. Sometimes it was said that when the moon shone full and the stars gleamed like diamonds on the water, people could be seen rising from the lake, strange people, with eyes afire and flowing hair hanging like wet leaves around their faces. Or fiery dogs would appear to tear the flesh from lone travelers walking the beach in innocence.
But, as is often the case with legends, father told daughter and mother told son through many generations, until the stories grew bigger and bigger with each telling, and finally they conveyed much more than the original teller intended. Soon it was generally accepted that there was indeed a castle in the lake, and that the castle had a king. The king, it was said, had many retainers, men who by some misfortune had fallen into the lake, or who had been captured while walking alone on its shores and were thereafter forced to remain in the service of the king.
One day a young herdsman was tending his yaks on the eastern side of the lake. Feeling a need for refreshment, he left his herd and made his way down to the waters edge. After he had splashed the cooling water onto his face, he lay back against a large rock, took his cheese and barley bread from his bag, lit a small fire to heat up his butter tea, and began to have his lunch.
While he was eating, Rinchen began to reflect upon his life. His mother was a cruel woman; she forced him to work hard so that she could buy new clothes and eat well, while he had to be content with a few cast-off rags and the scraps of food his mother did not want. Thinking thus, Rinchen began to cry. The tears rolled down his cheeks and sobs shook his body; he could work no harder and yet his mother wanted more and more.
As the boy began to pack away his things he looked up and saw a man standing at the waters edge. The man was tall and dressed in a black chuba dripping with water, looking just as if he had come up out of the lake. Recalling the stories he had heard about the Castle Lake and the king’s retainers, Rinchen began to panick, and was just starting to run away when the man spoke.
“Why do you cry so?” the man asked. Rinchen turned to see the man and saw that his face was gentle and kind, and heard that his voice was soft and melodious. All the fear seemed to leave his body and he walked toward the tall man standing in the shallows of the lake. The man repeated his question and the man told him about his mother and how she forced him to work harder and harder in order to keep her.
“Come with me into the lake,” the man said, “for the king is a kind man and may be able to help you with your problem.” The young herdsman began to feel fear well inside him once more, for he was sure that if he went into the lake he would never return. The tall man sensed the boys fear, but in gentle tones which felt like music to the ear, he persuaded the young herdsman that he need not fear for his life.
“I am one of the king’s retainers,” said the man. “I will take you to see him and see that you return safely.” The young herdsman thought for a moment, “What have I to lose? My mother is so cruel that even death would be better than spending the rest of my life in her bondage.” And so, throwing his fear away, Rinchen followed the king’s retainer into the lake.
The water was warm and friendly, and the boy was surprised that he could breathe quite freely. The king’s retainer asked the boy to close his eyes as he led the boy through the water to the castle. When they stopped and Rinchen opened his eyes he saw that he was standing in a large hall, elaborately decorated in gold, shining silver, and beautiful shell. At the end of the hall was a throne, and on the throne sat an old man, the king.
The beckoned to the boy to come forward and as he did so Rinchen noticed that he was not alone in the room with the king and his retainer, for standing on each side of the throne were more retainers, dressed in black chubas just like the tall man who met him on the shore of the lake. When he reached the foot of the king’s throne one of the retainers sprang forward and placed a small stool in front of the throne for the boy to sit on. Nervously, Rinchen sat down and looked up into the watery blue eyes of the king.
“Why do you come here?” asked the king in a deep voice which resembled the distant rumblings of thunder. The boy told the king his story, just as he had related it to the retainer on the shores of the lake.
The king listened, and when Rinchen had finished his story he turned toward his group of retainers and motioned for one of them to come to him. The retainer approached the king and bent low while the king whispered instructions into his ear. The young herdsman strained but could not hear what the king was saying. The retainer left the hall and returned a few moments later with a dog.
“Take this dog,” said the king to the young herdsman, “but take care that you always feed it before you feed yourself, that is very important.” Rinchen took the dog, and with his eyes closed let himself be led to the shores of the lake. When he opened his eyes he was alone with the dog.
The young herdsman went home with the dog, and from that day on, everything he desired appeared before him. He would wake up in the morning and find that barley had been placed in the barley chest, butter in the butter chest and money in the money chest. Even new clothes appeared in his clothes chest. He was very happy and always took great care of the dog, heeding the kings instructions to always feed it before feeding himself.
Rinchen’s mother was amazed that suddenly her son should become so wealthy, and one day she decided to go out with the herd of yaks to see if she could discover the source of infinite plenty. While the mother was out of the house the young herdsman decided to watch the dog, for he was curious and wanted to know how the animal managed to produce the money and food. Hiding himself in the house, he watched the dog as it entered the door, walked over to the hearth, and violently began shaking itself.
Suddenly, the dogs skin fell to the ground, revealing a beautiful woman, the most beautiful woman Rinchen had ever seen. The woman went to the barley chest, opened the lid, and placed in it the barley, which appeared from nowhere. Then she did the same with the butter chest, the tea chest, the money chest, going all about the house producing everything that the boy and his mother needed.
Rinchen could contain himself no longer. He seized the dog’s skin and threw it into the fire. The beautiful woman begged him not to do so, but it was too late, the skin had burned quickly and was soon just a pile of ashes. Frightened that the chief’s son would see the woman and take her for his wife, Rinchen covered her face with soot to hide her beauty, and kept her in the house away from the eyes of the people.
Soon, the young herdsman grew very rich, and with his wealth he grew exceedingly bold. “Why do I worry,” he thought, “I have much money; the chief’s son will not dare to steal the woman from me, for I can buy weapons and men.” Thinking this, Rinchen washed the soot from the beautiful womans face and took her into town to show her to the people, for he was very proud of her beauty.
The chief’s son was in town and he saw the woman. He was determined that she should become his wife, and sent his men to fetch the woman to him. The young herdsman was distressed and called upon the men of the town to help him, but they were too afraid of the chief and his son, and not one man would come forward to help Rinchen save his woman.
Feeling very sad, the young herdsman went down to the shore of the lake, sat down by the large rock and began to cry. Just as before, the king’s retainer appeared. “Why do you weep this time?” he asked. “I have lost my woman,” the boy replied, and told the whole story of how he had burned the dog skin and kept the beautiful woman hidden from the eyes of the people by covering her face in soot, but growing bold he washed her face, showing her beauty to the chief’s son, and so lost her forever.
The retainer asked Rinchen to follow him into the lake again, for the king needed to be told the story. “Perhaps,” said the retainer, “the king may be able to help you again.” The young herdsman soon found himself in front of the throne once more at the feet of the king of the lake. After he heard the story of how Rinchen had lost the beautiful woman, the king gave him a small wooden box.
“Take this box,” the king said, holding it out to the young herdsman. “Now” the king continued, “go to the top of a high hill and call the chief’s son to war. When he has assembeled his armies at the base of the hill, open the box and shout ‘Fight!’ ” This the young herdsman did, and when he opened the box and called “Fight!”, thousands of men charged out of the box and defeated the cheif’s son’s soldiers.
Rinchen won back his beautiful woman and took her for his wife. He also took half of the chief’s lands and became a rich, benevolent leader of the people. The young herdsman also returned the box to the king of the lake, thanking him and living in fruitful contact with him for all of his life.