Raven Swallows the Sun
In the second Year of Dragons during the reign of the illustrious Emperor Flying Cloud of Silk, of the tenth century of the Noble Dynasty of Sleeping Water, a great festival was held in the province of Exalted Daughter of the Moon in the capital city of that province, and citizens came from all corners of the province to celebrate. Among them were many who had never been to a great city before.
The queen of Exalted Moon (as the province was sometimes called in short form among the peasantry) presided over the festival; she was dressed in pale, flowing silks, her long hair most unconventionally and even scandalously unbound. It was she who announced there was to be a great contest of gastronomic proportions: an eating contest.
And this is what the pale queen of Exalted Moon proclaimed, as recorded by the festival scribes upon that day: “Listen, citizens of the ancient and most loved imperial province of Exalted Daughter of the Moon,” and here followed many minutes of the naming of things and reminders of glorious provincial histories and ritual Adorations of the Emperor and renewed pledges of service to him and such that were required at that time, “Happy citizens, today is a great day, for today one of you will become a champion of our festival and bring much honor and glory to your family! Today, champions of your families, you shall eat…and you shall eat the sun!”
Great cheers filled the square as each family chose a champion to represent them, for this was a contest held every year and spoken of across all the province with great vigor, with many of the contestants earning great fame or infamy during its course.
Yet in all the years of the contest, not one man had ever managed to eat the whole of the sun. Even the great monk One-legged Crane, who had promised his aesetic disciplines had given him the strength and fortitude to eat the whole of the sun, had given up in shamed defeat and now lived in a cave atop a distant mountain to atone for his failed boasts and devise some new mystic practice that would make his disciplines the most perfect of all.
Now, it was so that one of the peasant families from the far reaches of Exalted Moon, who had come from their tiny farm in the distant reaches of the province, were in attendance at the festival. They were an unremarkable and unknown but honorable family, and thus entry into the contest was necessary.
There was but one problem, and this is what the father said to his young son, who was so young he had not yet earned his manhood name and was still called ‘Little Black Hair’ by his mother: “Most Honorable Son, your mother cannot enter because she is my wife and it is not her place to do so. And I can not enter because I have no stomach,” he had lost it in a farming accident some years ago, “and so even though you are still very little, you must enter this contest to keep our family’s honor intact.”
Little Black Hair nodded solemnly and was quiet, for the sun was very large and he was very little. But he said nothing.
So they went to the great square where the eating contest was to take place, and to the judges his father said, “This is my son, Little Black Hair, and he enters the contest to honor our family.” And the judges wrote down his name and found him a seat.
The glowing sun was wheeled into the gray stone courtyard. It sat inside a simple wooden cart pulled by a dozen royal servants clad in robes of the greenest silk jeweled with jade. The sun was immense, and its top higher than even the palace behind it, though it still fit into the courtyard among the contestants. In its glorious presence, all the colors in the world faded to dullness or disappeared, with the exception of the blue of the sky. The sun was difficult to look at for it was very bright.
“Do not worry,” his father told Little Black Hair, “There is no shame in burning your mouth on the sun.”
Little Black Hair nodded solemnly again and remained quiet, saying nothing.
There were many honorable contestants there that day, as well as a few dishonorable rogues who sought fame and glory, but were certain to fail due their own dishonor. These were men like Pale Maggot and Sly Fox Robber, notorious and ill-liked at the very least for their foul smell. There were also great wrestlers whose girth was that of three men, and such that they seemed able to eat everything in the province without trouble. Men like Enlightened Son of the Heavens. There were fierce warriors who had served the Emperor’s armies and had the iron will and courage necessary for the contest. Men like Bronze Gong Rung and The Dragon Has Jade.
Boasts and laughter flowed among the men, along with scorn and muttered insults for Pale Maggot and Sly Fox Robber, and in silent moments hot, dusty slips of breeze across the gray stones.
Among all these great men sat Little Black Hair, staring up at the glowing sun very quietly and solemnly.
The contest began with a loud cheer from the crowd, and yelps of pain from Sly Fox Robber as he immediately burned his lips and became the first to withdraw, reciting “urgent” matters needing his attention elsewhere and boasting how he would have undoubtedly triumphed if he could have stayed.
Little Black Hair ate dutifully. The sun was large, filling, and very hot, and it burned his mouth, but he remembered his father’s words and did not let it bother him, taking one bite at a time.
Many others eventually declared their defeat and left; but those who won the most fame were those who ate until they passed out upon their small tables. This included the large Bronze Gong Rung, who made a sound like thunder when he collapsed, and even Pale Maggot, who won some respect that day for his feat! (Though he still desperately needed to bathe.)
Finally, the contest was between Little Black Hair and The Dragon Has Jade, who stared the child down across their respective tables, the sun between them as they ate.
His dark-eyes were hard like the obsidian jewels once favored in the south, he watched unsmiling as Little Black Hair dutifully chewed and swallowed, chopsticks moving slowly but steadily. He matched the child’s pace and maintained his intimidating stare.
Eventually The Dragon Has Jade wavered and slowed. Even with teeth clenched, sweating and straining, he could not force himself to raise his arm to his mouth again. Thus he admitted defeat to a skinny child barely a quarter his weight in stones, and so took his own life then and there to atone for such a grievous dishonor.
Little Black Hair had won, but he was not yet done. The contest was to eat the whole of the sun, not merely last the longest. And so Little Black Hair put down his chopsticks to take ahold of what remained of the sun and with a great calming breath, fit the whole of it into his mouth, swallowing it down into his stomach.
The sky was dark and the moon shone above! Stunned silence filled the great square at this feat. A child had eaten the whole of the sun and so certainly achieved fame as had never been achieved before! The emperor himself would hear of this and honor this family for generations.
Of course, the queen of Exalted Moon herself rose and honored Little Black Hair with a bow, asking his name. To which is father rushed forward and replied, as is proper, and after much honoring of the queen with her many titles and praises of her wisdom and excellence, told her, “My Honorable Son is not yet a man, and so his mother still calls him Little Black Hair.”
“Then I shall give him the name of a man and more!” the queen declared.
And that is how Little Black Hair became the youngest Minister of the province and gained his manhood name. Even One-legged Crane came down from his mountain to sit at the feet of the Minister of Exalted Daughter of the Moon and learn from the wise lips of Raven Swallows the Sun.