Telling Tales 67
I am the sorriest of men, for I was placed under a battery of enchantments that would prevent me from keeping my love.
In spite of my burden, my cunning allowed me to find a wife, but as you may well know, finding a wife is not the same as finding one’s love. To find love, one must be as true as possible. And as fortunate as possible.
I say that it was my cunning that found me a wife but that is only partially true. I wore a full snakeskin in those days and appeared nothing more or less than a fairy serpent. I saved a merchant from dying and he placed himself in my debt, not realizing what he was doing. I told him that he could discharge this honor if one of his daughters would agree to wed me. Each of the three turned me down, but I did not relinquish hope. I came back to the merchant three times with different songs in the voices of wasps. Time and again, his daughters said no and slaughtered my messengers. Finally, however, their father’s remorse – the death of his honor hung on their disposition – moved the youngest, and she agreed to be my bride.
She is passionate and forthright and impulsive and determined. Together, that is our blessing and our curse.
I treated her as the princess she became in becoming my wife, not only in spirit but in fact, for I am of noble birth originally. My generosity to her and my kindness to my people and my lands finally won her over.
So you see, my cunning brought me a marriage, but it was the woman herself who determined whether or not she could and would love me. I do not think she knew herself, or was not willing to admit so, until she found me dying. The spirits who had cursed me with this form drained the water from my well when I was at my weakest. My wife, respecting me but not loving, in her wisdom, found me expiring of thirst. She took my torpid body and threw me into a river that it took her three days to find. It was during that walk that she decided – decided, yes – to let herself love me. She did not know that this river would free me of the first of my enchantment and it was to her surprise and amazement that I emerged from the water as you see me now.
In this way, you see, her nature is a blessing.
I warned her, I swore to her that she must never look upon me at night, but in this way her nature was cursed. She asked her mother’s advice, you see, and her mother told her to light a candle over my body in the night. She saw me as I truly am, pale and smooth of skin, but she dripped wax upon my person and I woke, and the second enchantment flew to life.
If she had waited, if she had been patient for a year and a day, the magic would have evaporated, but I cannot curse the same nature that freed me from my first prison. She comes after me now, seeking, but she has already traveled far and I am afraid that it is not distance but time that governs her steps. So yes, I will travel with you. My love is a thirst that can never be slaked. I could drink the ocean in its entirety.
Yes, I will board your ship.
You may call me Kou Ke.