Today I bring you a Mongolian folktale that is at once funny and thought-provoking.
Did the Khan Have a Head?
A long time ago there lived a khan, a lord, who had a very violent temper. He was so volatile that all the people were scared to even look at him.One day the khan set out for a long journey and his ministers, his entourage of servants and his guides were riding with him. They rode and rode until the khan wanted to take a rest underneath an isolated tree. His servants spread out a cushion on the ground for him to sit on. But the khan complained about his seat saying: “I am a khan and so I can’t possibly sit with you on the ground like a dog. Arrange a raised seat for me!”
The servants became very anxious and asked each other: “But how shall we arrange a raised seat for our khan on this flat ground?” When they didn’t know what else to do, they said: “Let’s bend this tree down and seat our khan in a raised position.”
But as soon as they had pulled down the top of the tree and had laid the khan under it, the tree’s top snapped back up. Pulling the khan with it, before he fell back down onto the ground. The servants hurried to help the khan up again. But when they rested him comfortably back against the tree, they realised that his head was missing!
“Has a branch of the tree maybe chopped off the khan’s head?” they asked themselves anxiously. And they started out and searched for the head. They actually did find a head laying not far from the tree. But there was nobody who had ever looked at the khan so they did not know what his head had looked like. Or if he even had one to begin with.
“Well, what shall we do now?” they asked and then they decided to go and ask the khan’s counsellor. Surely he would be able to tell them if the khan had had a head.
So they went to the khan’s old counsellor and asked him. But the counsellor only shook his grey head and told them: “Only God would know, my children. I don’t know whether the khan once did have a head or if he never had one. Whenever I was with the khan, I kneeled down in front of him and I never looked at his face. I do know, though, that he wore a hat with the small knot and the peacock feather, which the khaan had given to him to show his appreciation. But beyond that, my children, I don’t know whether he did have a head or not. But why don’t you go to see the khatan, the khan’s wife, about it.”
So the servants went to see the khatan and they asked her. The khatan replied: “Oh, I don’t know about that. I never had the heart to look into the khan’s angry face or his piercing eyes. But his sparse, bristly beard did sting me when he kissed me. If he did have a head or if he didn’t, that I truly don’t know, my servants.”
And so because the servants never found anybody who had actually looked at the khan, they never knew if the head they had found was the khan’s. Or if their khan had even had a head.
Copyright for translation and narration: TaleTellerin
Copyright for image: Commons WikiMedia