The Wicked Stepmother
Once upon a time, on the very tiptop of a big flat mountain, there was situated a country over which ruled a king named Genchog. He married a beautiful wife who gave him one son whom they named Nyema. In giving birth to him she died, but the baby lived. The king got him another wife and had another son whom they called Däwä. One day, thinking to herself, she said, “There is no chance for my son to be king, for the older son has the birthright and he is sure to be the ruler.”
So she began to plan and plot and see if she could think of some way to kill the older son and let her son rule the kingdom. One day she feigned to be very ill and rolled over on the floor groaning and crying. The king saw her and very much alarmed exclaimed, “What is the matter with you?” And she answered, “Oh, I have had this sickness since I was a little girl, but it has never been so hard as it is this time. There is a way to cure it, but it is too hard and bitter, so I will have to die this time.”
The king asked, “What is the way to heal you? I don’t want you to die, for it would break my heart and I wouldn’t want to be king any longer. You must tell me the remedy so I can save you.” She demurred for some time but finally said, “Well, one of your sons must be killed and I must eat his heart with butter, but you see your older son is the prince and heir to the throne and the younger son is my own flesh and blood, so I could not eat his heart even if it were to save my life.” The king was dreadfully grieved and finally said, “Well, I love one son as much as another and my heart would ache the same for each of them, but in a day or two I will kill the elder, as it would do no good to kill the younger.”
After a while the younger brother found out what was to be done and went to the older brother and told him, and asked, “What shall we do about it?” The older brother said, “Little brother, you must stay with your father and become the king. He won’t kill you and I’ll run away.” The younger brother felt very sorry about it and his heart was sore as he said, “If you are going away I want to go too. I don’t want to stay here without you.” “Very well,” answered the other, “you may go if you wish.”
So they arranged together to slip away that night at midnight and tell nobody of their going. They could take no tsamba for fear some one would find out they were going. They had some tsamba bags and in them were some dried tsamba tormas that the lamas had been using. Now these tormas are little cone-shaped bodies made of tsamba and are used when the lamas are reading prayers. They are supposed to be full of devils, which the lamas coaxed into them when they read their holy books.
They started about midnight on the fifteenth of the month and traveled day and night, over the mountains and through the valleys, until their dried tsamba was all gone and they were very hungry and thirsty. They finally came to a village, but there was no water. The younger was getting weak now as they had had but little food and no water for some time. So Nyema said to him, “Wait and rest here in this little village, and I will go and see if I can find some water.” He kept on going until he had gone entirely around the mountain in his search for water, but found none.
Going back to the place where he had left his younger brother, he saw that he was dead. He was very much grieved and built a tomb for him of prayer stones and prayed that in his next incarnation he would have a happy life and not have to have so much sorrow as he had had this time. Nyema then left and, crossing two mountain ranges, came to a cliff in which was a big door through which he entered, and there found an old hermit lama in the cave. When the old man saw him he said, “You are a good man, I know by looking at you. How did you happen to come here?” Then Nyema told all that had happened to him and why he had run away from home, so the old man said, “You can stay here and be my son and I will pray to the gods to bring your younger brother to life again.” In a few days the younger brother did come to life, and following his older brother’s tracks came to the old hermit’s house, and the two stayed there as the old lama’s sons.
Below this cave, which was high up on the mountain, was a city where dwelt a very good king, and near the city was a big lake by which all the people watered their fields. Every year an offering had to be made to the snake god who dwelt in the lake, so that he wouldn’t be angry and keep the water away. For this offering the people must sacrifice a human being who had been born in the tiger year. But the time came when all the people born in this year were dead and gone, and none was left to offer. One day the children, seeing the king, said to him, “Every day when we go up on the mountain to herd the cattle, we see a lama who lives up there. This lama has two sons, and the older one was born in the tiger year.” So the king sent three men to see if it was true. The men went up to the cave and knocked on the door. The lama opened it and asked, “What do you want?”
“The king has heard you have two sons and that one was born in the tiger year,” answered the men, “and we need him for the offering to the god of the lake.” The lama answered, “I am a lama, how could I have two sons?” Then he shut the door in their faces and hid the boys in a big water cask. This treatment angered the men so they took some rocks and beat the door down. They looked everywhere for the boys, but they were so care-fully hidden they couldn’t be found, so in their disappointment they took some rocks and beat the old man. The boys couldn’t stand this, so they came out of their hiding place and called, “Here we are, don’t beat him any more.” Then the men tied the older son and took him with them to the king. The lama and the younger brother felt very sad after he was gone. The men led Nyema to the king’s palace, and since it wasn’t quite time for the offering to be made, he was allowed his freedom in the courtyard of the palace. The king had a daughter, who fell violently in love with Nyema when she saw how handsome he was, and watched him wherever he went.
The day finally came and they took Nyema to the lake to throw him in. The king’s daughter followed, saying pleadingly, “Please don’t throw him into the lake, but if you must, throw me in too.” It made the king angry to see his daughter act in that manner, and he called out, “Throw her in too.” So they threw them both in. Nyema felt very sad and he thought, “It doesn’t matter if I am thrown in, as I was born in the tiger year and the people will all starve if the snake god is angry, but it seems useless that the princess should die on my account.” The girl thought to herself, “I am only a girl and it doesn’t matter if they do throw me in, but it is too bad to kill this handsome young man.”
The god that ruled the lake thought it would be a pity that since they loved each other so much either should die, so when they were thrown into the water he carried them to the shore and neither of them was drowned. Then the god told the people it wasn’t necessary to sacrifice any more, that he would see that there was plenty of water without it. Nyema said to the princess, “You go to your father and tell him what the snake god says. I want to go see the lama and my brother for a little while. In a few days I will return and we will be married.”
The princess went back to the palace, and Nyema to the cave. When he knocked on the door a faint voice answered, and when he opened the door the old lama said weakly, “I had two sons, but the king took one away from me to sacrifice to the snake god and now myself and my other son are about to die.” Nyema said, “This is your son returned.” Then he washed and fed them and they were soon better and very happy to have him with them again.
When the princess returned to the palace every one was glad to see her and rejoiced. Her father asked her if Nyema was dead and she answered, “No, and it is because of his goodness that I live. The snake god doesn’t want any more human sacrifices of the tiger year nor any other year, and the water will always come and will never be stopped.” The king and his head-men thought it miraculous that they had been saved and that the god of the lake had been so kind. The king then ordered Nyema to be brought before him. So they sent messengers and this time invited the three to come down the mountain, and when they arrived the king set them on high benches to give them honor.
Then he said to Nyema, “You are a worker of wonders, are you really a son of this old hermit? Nyema answered, “No, I am the son of King Genchog. My brother and I ran away from the kingdom and from my father’s wife, who was not my real mother, to save our lives.” So the king, knowing him to be the son of a king, was much pleased to give him his daughter in marriage. Not only his daughter did he give him, but his scepter as well, and let him rule in his stead, for he was growing old.
Then Nyema made a feast for all the people and gave them a happy time for a period of seven days. When he had mounted the throne one day he said to Dowd, “Little brother, you must go back home and see your father and mother, as it has been a long time since we left them.” The new king gave his brother jewels and gold and silver, and then decided they would all go. They took yak loads of goods, many presents, all their servants and the two sons with the princess, started on their way. About half way over the big mountains they wrote a letter and sent it on ahead by a runner, telling their father they were coming. When the father heard his two sons were still alive he was very happy and sent out people to meet them. When he had welcomed them and found his older son had a kingdom, he turned his crown over to the younger son, which was just what the mother wanted. After a visit the older son took his princess and went back to his king-dom, where the two ruled long and well and lived happily ever afterwards.
(from the book ‘Tibetan Folk Tales’ compiled by Albert Leroy Shelton)
Image Attribution: The image above from Wikimedia Commons, is an illustration by Arnold Henry Savage Landor (1865-1924). An English painter, writer, and anthropologist, he traveled the world, penning witty accounts of foreign lands and recording his experiences in the form of paintings. Landor visited Japan, Korea, China, Russia, Tibet, Nepal, India and Persia. He wrote a number of books about his adventures – ‘Alone with the Hairy Ainu’ (1893), ‘Corea or Cho-sen’ (1895), ‘In the Forbidden Land’ (1898), ‘China and the Allies’ (1901), ‘Across Coveted Lands’ (1902), and ‘Tibet and Nepal’ (1905).