The Flock of Ba-Hui

Chapter II

Even alone, Zhang managed to uncover more information about the leather scroll. Lab records indicate that between March and August of 2008, he conducted three large-scale investigations in Sichuan’s southwestern mountains, covering Ya’an, Garze, and the three cities of Liangshan. The few pages remaining in the archives sketch only a rough picture of this period. What is blindingly clear, by contrast, is that he not only somehow located the Yi tribe village that Claude Jacobs once visited, but he personally interviewed a council of septuagenarian relics who still recognized the leather scroll in his painstaking diagrams.

The elders called it the “Zi Suo Mo”1. The name meant nothing in the Yi dialect—it was a loan word from another language. The ancient villagers told Zhang it meant “exuvium of the dragon” or “dragon’s shedded skin”, which was obviously a metaphor passed down in oral tradition. They did not know how the scroll had been treated, nor the animal from which it came. One often heard similarly clouded tales to explain artifacts of unknown origin in other corners of south Sichuan. The myths were more ancient than even Jumu Wuwu2; nobody knew whence or from whom they originated. In legend, the Zi Suo Mo was a certificate of mountain-, or perhaps earth-godhood—received from one, or possibly made by one—granting the bearer transcendence from mortality, along with the ability to enter the subterranean realm of the mountain gods. The painted symbols on the scroll belonged to the gods’ grotesque script.

I recognized the importance of this information, and sought out a way to find that Yi village. I studied the traditions and legends of the surrounding towns intensely, but the results of my research only cast me deeper into despair. It seemed that the inexorable millstone of time had ground any myths surrounding the Zi Suo Mo to dust, leaving only specious fragments of half-truth behind. Mercifully, however, there was one legend favored by the Yi that had, through many retellings, gradually blended into the folktales of their everyday lives, concealing its grains of truth among the sands of time.

For several reasons, I’ve included the complete story below. It hints ever so slightly at… something, and might assist me in explaining better what I must tell you happened next.

It is said that before ancient times, humankind did not know fraternity, and tribespeople slew their kindred. There were six brothers who sought shelter from their murderous foes among the tall mountains, although they knew not the hardships of life among the treacherous peaks.

One day, the eldest of the six brothers went hunting deep within the mountain range. He walked over many summits, climbing finally to the timeless southern peaks of Mount Nanyu until he could walk no more, and collapsed, weeping at the entrance to a cliffside cave.

Soon, the spirit of Mount Nanyu heard the sound of weeping, and appeared inside the cave, asking: “Why do you choose to weep here?” The eldest brother said: “O, mountain spirit, why must the mountains be so tall? We walk until we grow tired. Wilt thou not flatten this precipice into a plain?”

The spirit of Mount Nanyu answered him: “This I cannot do, but I shall make you tall and strong, for to carry your brothers over the high mountains.” So, the eldest brother thanked the mountain spirit, and returned to tell his brothers what he experienced that day.

On the second day, the second brother came to the cliffside cave and began to weep. Soon, the spirit of Mount Nanyu heard the sound of weeping, and appeared inside the cave. The second brother said: “O, mountain spirit, why must the wolf’s sight be so sharp? He attacks me before I know he is there. Why must the deer’s ears be so clever? He eludes me before I can capture him. Wilt thou not cloud the wolf’s eyes to blind him to me, and stuff the deer’s ears to deafen him to me?”

The spirit of Mount Nanyu answered him: “This I cannot do, but I shall make your ears clear, and your vision bright. This way, you shall hear the wolf before he discovers you, and see the deer’s tracks before he hears you.” So, the second brother also thanked the mountain spirit, and returned to tell his brothers what he experienced that day.

On the third day, the third brother came to the cliffside cave and began to weep. Soon, the spirit of Mount Nanyu heard the sound of weeping, and appeared inside the cave. The third brother said: “O, mountain spirit, why must the jackals, wolves, tigers, and panthers boast their claws to strike, and jaws to bite and kill me, while I have not a thing? Wilt thou not dull their claws and pluck their fangs?”

The spirit of Mount Nanyu answered, “This I cannot do, but I shall make your teeth grow sharp and your legs grow long. This way, you shall drive them all out.” So, the third brother also thanked the mountain spirit, and returned to tell his brothers what he experienced that day.

On the fourth day, the fourth brother came to that cliffside cave with his wife and children and began to weep. Soon, the spirit of Mount Nanyu heard the sound of weeping, and appeared inside the cave. The fourth brother and his family said: “O, mountain spirit, why must our children grow so slowly? They cannot hunt alongside our brothers. Wilt thou not make our children grow, to help us make a living together?”

The spirit of Mount Nanyu answered, “This I cannot do, but your tribe must bear children to survive. Return to your brothers, and tell them I have bade you never to hunt, and hence only care for the children of the tribe.” So, the fourth brother and his family also thanked the mountain spirit, and returned to tell his brothers what he experienced that day.

On the fifth day, the fifth brother came to the cliffside cave and began to weep. Soon, the spirit of Mount Nanyu heard the sound of weeping, and appeared inside the cave. The fifth brother said: “O, mountain spirit, why must life in the mountains be such hardship? Wilt thou not make the fruits pick themselves from the trees, and the animals yield themselves to slaughter, that we might never work nor suffer again?”

The spirit of Mount Nanyu answered, “This I cannot do, but you may return to your brothers, and tell them that I have bade you never to work again, and they shall take half of what they glean and give it to you.” So, the fifth brother also thanked the mountain spirit, and returned to tell his brothers what he experienced that day.

On the sixth day, the sixth brother came to that cliffside cave and began to call out the name of the spirit of Mount Nanyu. Soon, the spirit of Mount Nanyu heard the shouting, and appeared inside the cave.

The spirit of Mount Nanyu said to him, “Your five brothers have already come to me and made their demands; and why have you come?” The sixth brother simply said: “O, mountain spirit, thank you for your willingness to help my brothers. But wilt thou not always remain here to protect us?”

The spirit of Mount Nanyu answered him, “This I cannot do, but I shall teach you enough to guide your brothers to live on the mountain forever.” Taking his hand, the spirit of Mount Nanyu gave unto the sixth brother the knowledge of calendars, rituals, and sacrifice, and disappeared into the mountain cave.

When the seventh day came, the promises of the mountain spirit all came true. The eldest brother grew tall and strong, tall as the pines when he stood, his hands wide as canyons; so he carried all of the brothers over ridges, peaks, and valleys to level ground. The second brother grew the eyes of the wolf and the ears of the deer, so he led his brothers to find prey, and away from danger. The third brother grew the claws and teeth of a tiger, so he killed the prey for his brothers, and drove away the beasts of the mountain. The fourth brother and his family bore many more children, and nurtured them, to the joy and flourishing of the tribe. The fifth brother received the boon of the mountain spirit, and the others gave unto him half of all that was theirs, that he might never work again. The sixth brother mastered the calendric knowledge of the spirit of Mount Nanyu, and helped his brothers manage the sacrificial rites of the gods of earth and sky.

After one cycle of the calendar of the mountain god, the spirit of Mount Nanyu emerged once again from his cliffside cave. The sixth brother had bade his brothers to go and sacrifice, but they said: “We work all day long, but make no surplus; how then shall we make tribute?” The sixth brother saw the sense in this, so he feasted and spent the day in rest, treating the others’ offerings to the fifth brother as tribute to the mountain spirit. The spirit of Mount Nanyu saw that the fifth brother grew hideously fat, living easy off the sacrifice of his five brothers.

Then, the spirit of Mount Nanyu taught the sixth brother to make the Zi Suo Mo, for to bring their sacrifices once more to the cliffside cave. The sixth brother crafted the Zi Suo Mo, and he became the new spirit of the mountain, to bless and protect his brothers to live on the mountain for ever.

1 See Pronunciation.

2 See this thread (Chinese). Jumu, like Noah, survived a world-ending flood.