The queen bee

25/10/2019 17:04

This story hails from the Treasury of Vietnamese Fairy Tales

Illustrated by Nguyen Hoang Tan

Once upon a time, there was a poor student named Si, who lived with his sick mother. Because he was poor, he couldn’t get married. He had to work as a lumberjack. When the morning dew still clung to the trees, he climbed the mountains to chop wood to sell in the market. He only had time to study in the evening.

Time went by until one day, he finished his studies. That year, the king organized an exam in the capital to find talented men. Si was eager to compete in the king’s exam but lacked the resources. Who would tend to his old mother while he went away? He had no money to cover his journey to the capital. The exam was just three days away. Finally, he took a chance and hit the road, although his pockets were empty.

Upon entering a thick forest, he soon grew lost. His stomach was empty. He was cold and breathless. Luckily, he came upon a small house and nervously knocked on the door. To his surprise, it opened as if someone was waiting for him. A girl stepped out, holding a candle. In the candlelight, Si could clearly see her beautiful face and her blind eyes. She  spoke warmly: "Good evening ‘thy khóa’." This was the title for those who had passed the king’s exam. "I have been expecting you. Please come in."

Upon hearing the words of the house's owner, Si was scared witless. How could she know and wait for him? He hesitated but his hungry stomach and fatigue would not allow him to walk further. Accepting the risk, he entered. Beside her was an elderly caretaker.

After telling Si to sit down, the girl asked the caretaker to bring the heater closer so he could dry his clothes. Just as he was getting dry and warm, the caretaker brought in a tray of food. The blind girl followed and invited him: "We have nothing but this simple and plain meal. Please make yourself at home."

The meal was indeed simple and plain, but its warmth made him feel like it was the best food he had ever eaten. When he finished, a mat had already been prepared for him. Exhausted, he laid down and slept in the blink of an eye. At midnight, he suddenly awoke. The wind had grown fierce. He heard the girl tell the caretaker: "The wind has switched to the North. The nest on the third branch has been blown down. Please check it."

Si found it strange for a blind girl to act as if she could see clearly. While lost in his thought, he fell back asleep.

Not long after, the wind roared as if it wanted to blow the roof away. Si woke again. Again, he heard the girl speak to the caretaker: "If the wind is this strong, many will get lost. Many are trying to get inside the seventh beehive!"

Si got up and stepped outside. Through flashes of lightning, he saw the young woman standing under a tree with far-reaching branches like an umbrella. Swarms of yellow bees covered the lower branches. Some rested on her hat and shirt. The buzzing of the bees overshadowed the sounds of the storm.

While the girl and the housekeeper worked outside, Si went back indoors, now full of doubts. There was a book on the table. Si hastened to open it. It was a book about Buddhism. He read with enthusiasm.

The storm faded as the sun began to rise. The blind girl and the caretaker walked in. Si closed the book and said: "I appreciate your giving me food and letting me rest. But I find it hard to understand why you two live out here, isolated in this forest? How do you make a living? How could you know I was coming and on my way to take the exam? I hope you can clear these things up before I depart."

The girl answered: "This house originally belonged to my parents. My father was an officer. Following disputes with his seniors he resigned moved here, making a living by raising bees. Three years ago, my parents died, one by one, leaving me with our old caretaker and our swarm of bees. The bees give us honey and wax which my housekeeper exchanges for rice in the market. My eyes began to hurt and I went blind. Even though I can’t see, I can sense everything. If I feel like the bees will be in danger, they will be. Like yesterday, I felt like a student would be lost on his way to the exam and in need of help. As I lit a candle, I heard you knocking on the door. The book you found was left by my father. You can read it."

Si felt even more sorry for this blind girl whose circumstances were even worse than his own. When it was time for the exam, he bid farewell to the pair. The girl gave him some rice and money. Si returned the money but took the rice. He said: "I sincerely thank you and the housekeeper. If I succeed, I will never forget your golden hearts."

That year, the king included many classic Buddhist references in the exam. Thanks to reading the book about Buddhism in the blind girl's house, Si could answer correctly. He passed the exam and gained the title of doctor, along with riches and servants granted by the king. On his way home to pay respect to his ancestors, he intended to visit the blind beekeeper to express his gratitude.

As he stepped over the mountain pass, Si caught sight of a black-eyed girl waiting for him at the top of the pass. She had flowers in her hands. Yellow bees covered her shirt, like glitter. Si remembered the stormy night on which the bees had covered her like that. It was definitely the beekeeper, but she wasn’t blind anymore.

Si rushed to her and asked: "Are you the beekeeper girl? But who healed your eyes? Oh! If it hadn’t been for your father’s book, I would have failed just like my friends. I can’t thank you enough in words!"

She replied: "Thanks to the queen bee who collected the pollen of a magical flower and dropped it in my eyes, I can see again! This morning, I felt that the valedictorian would come this way, so I came here to greet you."

She looked at him, blushing pink. Si invited the girl and her old housekeeper back to his home village. He asked his mother if he could marry the beekeeper girl.

A magnificent parade to fetch the bride went into the forest with flags, thundering drums, and gongs. Swarms of bees, all bearing flowers in their mouths, flew over their queen’s head, as beautiful as an iridescent cloud.

About the illustrator: Nguyen Hoang Tuan majored in graphic design at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture. He works as a graphic designer in Ho Chi Minh City and posts his work on his Facebook page, titled “Tn và cái bút” (Tan and the pen).

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