Sifu used to tell me a story, when I was still new in the world, of the river next to Wudang, where all animals came to drink. Everyone was welcome, he told me, but there was one spot – where the shade was best and the water was coolest – where no one was allowed, for it belonged to the Tigress, powerful queen of the cónglín.
Until one day, when the tigress was coming back from a hunt, and it saw a black creature running right in front of her. The Tigress leaped, but before she could grab it, the strange animal had already hidden behind the shrubs.
Tigress growled and paused. Silence. So she resumed her march.
Three steps down, the audacious creature crossed her for a second time. So close to the floor that Tigress’ strike came back empty-handed again.
“Who dares to invade my territory?” – she said, eager to tear the insolent creature as soon as it tried its comedy a third time.
She waited. And growled. Nothing. Some reason must have grown into that clown’s head. She marched. But the sneaky dark animal did it again, this time crossing straight through the legs and back of the queen, so fast she didn’t even feel it.
Now she was furious. She paced and roared for real. “Show your face, filthy demon!”
The cónglín dropped quiet. Absolutely quiet. Not even the water ahead or the wind behind dared a hiss.
“It’s me, you majesty.” – said a squeaky voice from the top. “I mean no disrespect.”
She gazed up at the shaking foliage as the creature revealed himself: black-furred, big eyed, flimsy. The mysterious Shadow Monkey. The one so few had seen in flesh, because he is always leaping from above.
“So what are you doing in my path, sad little monkey?”
He rose to a higher branch. “I bring a warning, your majesty.”
Tigress laughed so loud the birds, for miles, flew in fear. “And what in the world would warrant me a warning, silly creature?”
The Tigress prepared to spring. But Monkey, hanging from its leg, looked straight into her yellow eyes and revealed: “There’s a creature on your shade, your majesty. I told her the spot belongs to the mightiest. But she laughed at me. Said nobody has the guts to move her away.”
The almighty feline jerked its head to the side. What kind of creature would risk saying such a thing? An ancient dragon from the heavens? Another tiger coming to challenge her?
So she ran. Fast and strong. Letting her steps echo ahead, roaring rowdily to let the intruder know. The queen was coming. to reclaim her place.
When she arrived, though, there was nothing there. Just a strange earthy fruit hanging from a branch. She looked at the ape. “What kind of joke is that? Have you decided to die early, you stupid buffoon?”
But monkey carried no laughter. No gag. Just apprehension. “Shhhhhh.” – he said, and leaped to the top of a kumquat tree. He tugged a small yellow fruit and threw it right onto the mud ball hanging over the water. The mysterious sphere was roughly the size of the queen’s head. At first, nothing happened. But suddenly they heard a buzz. The earth ball began to shake. And from inside came a cloud of tiny flying creatures with the same stripes carried by the queen.
“Who dares to invade my territory?” – said Tigress, ready to strike once again.
The shapeless haze of bees mocked her in unison: “Who dares to invade my territory?” Then laughed.
In every little gap and branch around them, a little critter observed in awe. Tigress looked around, astonished, and for a second, allowed her neck to sink into her shoulders. Confused, she reacted the only way tigresses know. She pounced. One leap, one hit. The hive was cracked on the floor, its amber blood oozing into the stream.
But though she was the Queen of the Jungle, and there was no one more powerful, the bees were fearless. A vicious army of thousands.
The clash was a black and yellow swirl of yang, the aggressive energy of the universe. Strike after strike, the queen kept sending the bugs lifeless to the floor. In the dozens. But there were always more. The bees that survived stung the Tigress, and as all bees do after losing their stingers, those ones also died.
They battled for hours, until the last bee fell dead.
At first, Tigress thought she had won. But soon she felt the burn coursing inside her veins. Though her enemy was dead, they had defeated her too. She fell to the ground, and the Queen of the Cónglín died as well.
All was silent again.
So the Shadow Monkey came down from his branch, hopped over the bodies, and drank the cool water himself.