At the Imperial Stables of the Jade Emperor, a banquet of welcome and congratulation was being held for the new Protector of Horses. In just a few weeks of Monkey’s care, the thousand heavenly coursers and chargers had begun to grow sleek and muscular. The officials under him liked him as well, and so had gathered in his honor.
“What a wonderful feast!” said Monkey as he sampled all the dishes. “I certainly like the food here in Heaven!”
“This isn’t bad,” said his chief assistant wistfully. “Still, it’s nothing compared to the food at the Grand Banquet of Immortal Peaches.”
“What’s that?” asked Monkey.
“Each year the Lady Queen Mother holds a banquet at the Pavilion of the Jade Pool. Her guests all dine on Immortal Peaches grown in her orchard. Each peach has ripened for nine thousand years and adds that many years to the life of the one who eats it. And for dessert, they have Pills of Immortality, made from Elixir of Life refined by Lord Lao Tzu in the Crucible of the Eight Trigrams. A single pill will guarantee eternal life.”
“I can hardly wait!” said Monkey. “When is the banquet?”
“Today,” said the assistant.
“But I haven’t had an invitation,” said Monkey.
“Of course not,” said the assistant. “Your post is too low.”
“What do you mean?” said Monkey in alarm. “I thought Protector of Horses was a high-ranking position.”
“On the contrary,” said the assistant. “It’s so low, it has no rank at all!”
Monkey was stunned. “So that’s what they think of me, is it? Me! The Monkey King! Well, I won’t stand for it! I’ll go to the banquet whether they want me or not!”
He rushed outside, somersaulted onto a cloud, and sped off.
* * *
At the Pavilion of the Jade Pool, servants ran about, busily setting the tables. From where he had landed nearby, Monkey could see trays loaded with Immortal Peaches, and bowls brimming with Pills of Immortality. There were also large pitchers filled with juice of jade, and heaping plates of delicacies like unicorn liver and phoenix marrow.
Monkey’s mouth watered. “I won’t bother waiting for the other guests,” he said. “Change!”—and he became an exact image of the Spirit of the Great White Planet Venus.
Monkey stepped into the pavilion and announced in the chief minister’s voice, “A command from the Jade Emperor! You are all to go to the Cloud Palace of the Golden Doors for further instructions.”
“What in Heaven could that be about?” said the head steward. “All right, we’d better not dally.” And all the servants rushed off.
As soon as Monkey was alone, he changed back to himself and started grabbing peaches right and left. They tasted so heavenly, he wanted to eat them all—but since there were so many, he took just a bite or two from each one. He guzzled the jade juice and bolted down whole plates of delicacies. And he popped Pills of Immortality into his mouth like peanuts.
“At last!” he said. “A feast fit for a Monkey King!”
* * *
At the Cloud Palace of the Golden Doors, in the Hall of Divine Mist, the guests of the Lady Queen Mother had gathered to await the Grand Banquet of Immortal Peaches. Nearly all of the most important divinities were there, including ministers from all departments of the heavenly administration, heavenly generals, many star and constellation spirits, and a number of Bodhisattvas and Immortals. Seated beside the Jade Emperor and the Lady Queen Mother were Lord Lao Tzu, Supreme Patriarch of the Way, and Kwan Yin, Most Compassionate Bodhisattva and Goddess of Mercy.
As the Jade Emperor conversed with the guests, the head steward entered and bowed low before the Celestial Throne. “Your Majesty, your servants are assembled outside the hall, awaiting your instructions for the banquet.”
“Instructions?” said the Jade Emperor. “I have none to give!”
“But, Your Majesty,” said the steward, “the venerable Spirit of the Great White Planet Venus commanded us in your name to come and receive them!”
“The Great White Planet has been here the whole time, and I gave no such order!” The Jade Emperor turned to his commander-in-chief, the Heavenly General of Mighty Miracle. “Go at once to the Pavilion of the Jade Pool and find out what’s behind this. And take along the twelve Thunder Generals, in case there’s trouble.”
* * *
At the Pavilion of the Jade Pool, Monkey had eaten as much as he possibly could and was patting his stomach in satisfaction. But a moment later he looked nervously at the scene around him.
“I don’t think I’ll win any friends this way!” he said. “I’d better clear out before I’m spotted.”
But just then the Heavenly General of Mighty Miracle ran up with the twelve Thunder Generals. “Monstrous monkey!” he bellowed. “You’ve ruined the Grand Banquet of Immortal Peaches!”
“There’s not much doubt about that!” said Monkey, with a sheepish grin. “But what are you going to do about it?”
“You sickening simian!” roared Mighty Miracle. “Have a taste of my battle-ax!”
Mighty Miracle rushed at Monkey, who grabbed his staff from his ear and called, “Grow!” Just in time, he blocked the swing of Mighty Miracle’s ax.
“You’ll have to do better than that!” said Monkey.
Mighty Miracle swung again and again, but Monkey parried every blow. Soon they were moving so fast, their arms were just a blur.
Mighty Miracle bellowed, “Let’s see if you can face my magic powers! Grow!”—and he shot up to over a hundred feet tall.
“I know that trick too!” called Monkey. “Grow!”—and he was once more face to face with his opponent.
The noise of their battle was deafening, and their movements raised a wind that nearly blew away the twelve Thunder Generals. But neither could gain an advantage.
All at once Monkey cried, “Shrink!” and somersaulted into the air. At normal size, he sailed right by Mighty Miracle’s battle-ax. He brought his staff down squarely on the Heavenly General’s shoulder as he passed over it.
Mighty Miracle roared with pain, then quickly shrank to normal size and retreated.
Now the twelve Thunder Generals surrounded Monkey and attacked him with their battle-axes, swords, lances, halberds, maces, and scimitars. Monkey whirled like a top, countering every blow. But after a while he grew tired.
“This is hardly a fair fight!” he said. “But here’s a trick you haven’t seen yet!”
He yanked a dozen hairs from his tail, threw them in the air, and cried, “Change!” Each hair became a monkey that swung an iron staff against one of the Thunder Generals.
“Now I can take a break!” said Monkey. He put his staff away in his ear and stood grinning in the midst of the battle.
At that moment, the Imperial Chariot arrived at the pavilion with the Jade Emperor, the Lady Queen Mother, Lord Lao Tzu, and Kwan Yin.
The Jade Emperor was aghast. “What did I tell you! It’s that fiendish monkey again!”
“Just look at my banquet!” cried the Lady Queen Mother. “It’s a complete disaster!”
“Your Majesty,” said Kwan Yin to the Jade Emperor, “it appears that your generals could use a bit of help in dealing with the Immortal. Will you permit me?”
“Most Compassionate Bodhisattva,” said the Jade Emperor, “I am grateful for your offer. But I must point out that you have no weapon.”
“I have this porcelain vase of willow twigs, which I always carry with me,” replied Kwan Yin. “Allow me to show you how useful it can be.”
Kwan Yin stamped her foot, rose a hundred feet in the air, and landed on a magic cloud. Then taking careful aim, she dropped her vase right onto Monkey’s head.
Monkey dropped unconscious to the ground. The fighting monkeys at once changed back to hairs, returning to his tail.
Kwan Yin retrieved her vase and landed back in the chariot.
“Well done!” declared the Jade Emperor.
“It is not worth mentioning,” replied the Bodhisattva.
The Heavenly General of Mighty Miracle came up. “Your Majesty, what are your wishes regarding the Protector of Horses?”
“Take him at once to the execution block,” said the Jade Emperor. “Cut him into a thousand pieces!”
“Your Majesty,” said Lord Lao Tzu, “I’m afraid such a punishment is no longer possible. After eating so many of my Pills of Immortality, his body must be as hard as a diamond. No weapon could pierce or even scratch it.”
“Then what are we to do with him?” asked the Jade Emperor in dismay.
“Perhaps I can be of service,” said Lao Tzu. “Hand him over to me, and I’ll heat him in my Crucible of the Eight Trigrams. In just an hour his body will be consumed to ash—and at the same time, I can recover my elixir.”
“I accept your kind and considerate offer,” said the Jade Emperor. “We will return to the palace to await word of your success.”
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