Once upon a time the jelly-fish was a very handsome fellow. His form was beautiful, and round as the full moon. He had glittering scales and fins and a tail as other fishes have, but he had more than these. He had little feet as well, so that he could walk upon the land as well as swim in the sea. He was merry and he was gay, he was beloved and trusted of the Dragon King. In spite of all this, his grandmother always said he would come to a bad end, because he would not mind his books at school. She was right. It all came about in this wise.
The Dragon King was but lately wed when the young Lady Dragon his wife fell very sick. She took to her bed and stayed there, and wise folk in Dragonland shook their heads and said her last day was at hand. Doctors came from far and near, and they dosed her and they bled her, but no good at all could they do her, the poor young thing, nor recover her of her sickness.
The Dragon King was beside himself.
“Heart’s Desire,” he said to his pale bride, “I would give my life for you.”
“Little good would it do me,” she answered. “Howbeit, if you will fetch me a monkey’s liver I will eat it and live.”
“A monkey’s liver!” cried the Dragon King. “A monkey’s liver! You talk wildly, O light of mine eyes. How shall I find a monkey’s liver? Know you not, sweet one, that monkeys dwell in the trees of the forest, whilst we are in the deep sea?”
Tears ran down the Dragon Queen’s lovely countenance.
“If I do not have the monkey’s liver, I shall die,” she said.
Then the Dragon went forth and called to him the jelly-fish.
“The Queen must have a monkey’s liver,” he said, “to cure her of her sickness.”
“What will she do with the monkey’s liver?” asked the jelly-fish.
“Why, she will eat it,” said the Dragon King.
“Oh!” said the jelly-fish.
“Now,” said the King, “you must go and fetch me a live monkey. I have heard that they dwell in the tall trees of the forest. Therefore swim quickly, O jelly-fish, and bring a monkey with you back again.”
“How will I get the monkey to come back with me?” said the jelly-fish.
“Tell him of all the beauties and pleasures of Dragonland. Tell him he will be happy here and that he may play with mermaids all the day long.”
“Well,” said the jelly-fish, “I’ll tell him that.”
Off set the jelly-fish; and he swam and he swam, till at last he reached the shore where grew the tall trees of the forest. And, sure enough, there was a monkey sitting in the branches of a persimmon tree, eating persimmons.
“The very thing,” said the jelly-fish to himself; “I’m in luck.”
“Noble monkey,” he said, “will you come to Dragonland with me?”
“How should I get there?” said the monkey.
“Only sit on my back,” said the jelly-fish, “and I’ll take you there; you’ll have no trouble at all.”
“Why should I go there, after all?” said the monkey. “I am very well off as I am.”
“Ah,” said the jelly-fish, “it’s plain that you know little of all the beauties and pleasures of Dragonland. There you will be happy as the day is long. You will win great riches and honour. Besides, you may play with the mermaids from morn till eve.”
“I’ll come,” said the monkey.
And he slipped down from the persimmon tree and jumped on the jelly-fish’s back.
When the two of them were about half-way over to Dragonland, the jelly-fish laughed.
“Now, jelly-fish, why do you laugh?”
“I laugh for joy,” said the jelly-fish. “When you come to Dragonland, my master, the Dragon King, will get your liver, and give it to my mistress the Dragon Queen to eat, and then she will recover from her sickness.”
“My liver?” said the monkey.
“Why, of course,” said the jelly-fish.
“Alas and alack,” cried the monkey, “I’m grieved indeed, but if it’s my liver you’re wanting I haven’t it with me. To tell you the truth, it weighs pretty heavy, so I just took it out and hung it upon a branch of that persimmon tree where you found me. Quick, quick, let’s go back for it.”
Back they went, and the monkey was up in the persimmon tree in a twinkling.
“Mercy me, I don’t see it at all,” he said. “Where can I have mislaid it? I should not be surprised if some rascal has stolen it,” he said.
Now if the jelly-fish had minded his books at school, would he have been hoodwinked by the monkey? You may believe not. But his grandmother always said he would come to a bad end.
“I shall be some time finding it,” said the monkey. “You’d best be getting home to Dragonland. The King would be loath for you to be out after dark. You can call for me another day. Sayonara.”
The monkey and the jelly-fish parted on the best of terms.
The minute the Dragon King set eyes on the jelly-fish, “Where’s the monkey?” he said.
“I’m to call for him another day,” said the jelly-fish. And he told all the tale.
The Dragon King flew into a towering rage. He called his executioners and bid them beat the jelly-fish.
“Break every bone in his body,” he cried; “beat him to a jelly.”
Alas for the sad fate of the jelly-fish! Jelly he remains to this very day.
As for the young Dragon Queen, she was fain to laugh when she heard the story.
“If I can’t have a monkey’s liver I must needs do without it,” she said. “Give me my best brocade gown and I will get up, for I feel a good deal better.”
From Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James, used under Public Domain.
Note: There is another version of this story in the Purple Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang here and Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki here.
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