(An old Chinese tale retold by me)
A long time ago it was a norm for scholars, ‘wandering with sword and lute’ as it was known then, to travel the countryside, seeking knowledge from ancient sites and attaining wisdom from men of learning.
It so happens, one such scholar was trekking along a road south of Anyang, on rout to the city. He’d arrived late at a village some twelve miles short of Anyang, and as night was closing in fast, he asked an old woman if there was an inn nearby.
Her response was that the nearest inn was some miles distant.
“That would not do.” The scholar hummed. “Oh well, I may as well stay the night at that pavilion I’ve just passed.”
Such pavilions were common in China at that time, used as resting places for weary travelers and looked after by neighboring villagers. But hearing this old woman paled and at once barring his way, she cautioned, “You must not do that! The place is haunted by evil spirits and demons! No one who had stayed there had ever lived to tell the tale.”
The young scholar however dismissed her dire warnings with wave of a hand and smiling said that he was quite adept at taking care of himself. No amount of protestation from the gathered villagers would deter his intention and he set off for the pavilion.
When pitch darkness blanketed the earth, far from going to sleep, the scholar instead, lit a small lamp and, retrieving his book, began reading the passages out loud. Time passed and, for a long while, nothing stirred until, on the stroke of midnight, the scholar heard loud footsteps on the road outside. Peering out of the door he saw a man dressed in black. The man stopped and called for the master of the pavilion.
“Here I am,” ejected a petulant voice from just behind the scholar, startling him so that he jumped in surprise. He turned but there was no one there.
“What do you want?” The huffy voice, emerging from thin air, asked.
“Who is in the pavilion?’ the man in black demanded.
“A Scholar is in the pavilion, but he is reading his book and not yet asleep,” the voice replied.
At this the man in black sighed, and turned his steps towards the village.
The scholar shook his head and, with a slight grimace on his lips, he settled back on his makeshift bed and resumed his reading. Some while later he was again interrupted by loud footsteps and this time, as he peered out of the door, he saw a man in a red hat halting on the road outside the pavilion.
“Master of the Pavilion!” the man bellowed.
“Here I am,” again the grumbling voice came from just behind Scholar.
“Who is in the pavilion?” the man in the red hat with a fiery voice demanded.
“A scholar is in the pavilion, but he is reading his book and not yet asleep,” the voice responded.
At this the man in the red hat sighed too and turned towards the village.
“It looks like I’m not going to get any peace tonight.” The scholar put aside his book and waited for a few minutes until he was sure there was no one else coming down the road. After a time he crept out of the door and, standing on the road, called out, “Master of the Pavilion!”
”Here I am,” came the same response from within.
“Who is in the pavilion?” the scholar asked.
“A scholar is in the pavilion but he is reading his book and not yet asleep,” the voice responded.
The scholar sighed and then asked, “Who was the man in black?’
“That was the black swine of the North,” the voice answered.
“And who was the man in the red hat?”
“That was the Red Cock of the West.”
“And who are you?” the scholar then demanded.
“I am the Old Scorpion,” was the reply. At this the scholar quietly snickered then slipped back into the pavilion. He did not sleep however; instead, he stayed awake the rest of the night reading his book, undisturbed.
The next morning the villagers who’d rushed to the pavilion to see if the scholar had survived the night were aghast to see him seated on the veranda with a calm composure and strumming his lute. As they gathered around him bombarding him with questions the scholar held up his hand for silence.
“Patience, soon all will be revealed.” He smiled and then rising, added, “Follow me; I shall venture to remove the curse from this building.” He quickly went back inside the pavilion with many of the villagers trailing him. He fetched his sword, unsheathed it then, turning, signaled for them to stay back. Advancing swiftly he pulled aside a rotting screen in the corner of the room. Many gasped as they witnessed a gigantic black scorpion behind it, poised to strike. With one sweep of his sword, the scholar split the creature from head to tail; the two parts collapsed lifeless to the floor. There was a hissing sound, then black coils of smoke rising from the ashes, it all simply evaporated into thin air.
Not in the least bit perturbed he next asked the villagers where they had kept a black pig.
“In the house north of the pavilion,’ those finding their voice answered, and then showed him the place.
Indeed, exactly where they had directed the scholar, he soon discovered a huge black pig. He looked up, its eyes glinting with demonic fury. Being daylight however, the possessed beast’s powers were greatly diminished. Before it could strike the scholar wielded his sword and struck a deadly blow dropping the pig stone dead at his feet.
“Now where do you keep a large red rooster?’ facing the quivering crowd, he asked.
“In a shed to the west of the pavilion,” some brave souls answered and pointed at the direction of the place.
Sure enough there was an enormous red cockerel there, with a huge red comb, and long, sharp talons. Once more, with another swift strike of the blade, the scholar decapitated the demon disguised as the bird. He too lay dead at scholar’s feet.
Later, at a feast given in honor of the hero, the scholar graciously explained to the bewildered villagers how he had discovered the identities of the demons.
And so from that day on, with the demons vanquished, no harm ever came to anyone wanting respite at the pavilion south of Anyang.