#RPGaDay2021 – Day 30 – Mention

The #RPGaDay2021 prompt for this second-to-last day of positive posting about roleplaying games is the word mention. There are many things that we could take the opportunity to mention, such as the excellence of our friends and gaming companions, or the cool new or old game which has our attention right now, or a good publisher or creator that deserves to see more people playing their games, and so on. We have many things to share still, even after 30 out of 31 days of posting. For me, this year, I am feeling the urge to mention the country in which I live, Korea, and the fascinating folk tales which reveal a world so different from the modern age as to seem like the purest of fantasy creations rather than a culture’s way of communicating itself to itself.

Today it is going to be story time~

LISTEN to the Casting Shadows Podcast instead

Mention

A tale that I enjoy reading and rereading and telling and retelling is one about a poor seller of salt. That might not mean anything to us in the 21st century, but to the people for whom this tale was told, this was a very physical occupation that required much effort in obtaining the salt, in separating and bagging it, and then in carrying it on foot across rocky terrain, in a very mountainous country, with weather conditions ranging from uncomfortably cold and snowy in the winter to dangerously warm, humid, and flooded in the summer. Though a vendor of an essential good, he could not expect to make much from any individual sale, and to maintain any kind of living he had to be in constant motion – selling from household to household in a range around his home as large as he could physically stand to make it while carrying his wares on his back in an A-Shaped wooden backpack device. Yes, such devices, are as heavy as they sound, yet were great multipliers of physical force on the strong back of a skilled laborer.

See the source image
chiggye / 지게
A heavy load in itself, but enabling greater loads to be carried by a skilled person

The tale goes that the salt seller was making his way home as a storm was brewing on the horizon, and as he walked during the day, uphill and down, up mountain and down, he began to wonder if he would indeed be able to get to some sort of shelter before the storm struck. At the first sight of the storm speeding toward him on the horizon, he had given up any thought of making the entire journey home.

See the source image
70% of the country puts vertical rock in your way,
but often makes it attractive

As darkness fell, the storm moved in and the salt seller was forced to seek shelter in a small cave. Thankful to find even that shallow sanctuary, he noted that near the opening of the cave was a large pale rock that had caught his eye. Without it, he might have passed it by. Resigned to spending the night in the coolness of the cave as the storm raged and threatened floods and mudslides, he wrapped himself as best he could in his clothes, provided what comfort for his head he could on his bags of salt, and tried to sleep. As he lay in the cave, the storm lashed the mountain, and the rain lashed the rocks, but despite the crashing of thunder and the sibilant susurrus of the rain, he became aware of another sound.

It was the sound of grinding.

Fearing a mudslide or rockslide he left the cave to investigate. In a flash of lightning in the darkness, he saw a figure standing on top of the pale rock outside of his cave. The figure was hunched over, muttering, and was grinding something white and hard in its hands against the top of the rock. The vendor moved trying to see through the rain and darkness who could be doing such a strange activity in these even stranger circumstances. What he saw chilled him to the core.

Standing on top of the rock was a white fox with its long luxurious tails coiled angrily about its feet. In its hand-like paws, it gripped something light and round, which stood out white in the darkness. It was trying to reshape the object by grinding it forcefully against the stone while shrieking a furious exhortation in an unknown tongue. As he watched, the salt seller saw the fox take the object and try to place it on its head, but it would not fit. The cursing which followed made him bury his face in the mud and cover his ears. The grinding continued as did the chilling chanting, and the frustrated attempts to fit the thing over its head, until finally –  it fit, and the vendor, more afraid not to look than to look, could see once and for all what it was.

The fox had been grinding a human skull.

When the skull finally fit over the face of the fox, the fox was transformed as if the skull were a magical mask. Ending its chant and muttering to itself that it was going to be late, the fox, who now looked like an old woman in a wet and tattered cloak, leapt off into the darkness as nimbly as any youth, and headed toward the last village the vendor had passed earlier in the day. Fearing the worst, the salt seller himself began to trudge back down the road toward the village, fearing for his own safety and the safety of those he had sold salt to not long before.

On the edge of town was a large walled home – the residence of a very rich and very old man. Banging at the gate, the seller was finally able to rouse the caretaker to ask for shelter. Dripping wet and cold, he was taken quickly to guest quarters, but the caretaker was too tired to listen to his story and bid him goodnight. Feeling safer and much warmer and more comfortable in the guest room, the salt seller laid down on the soft bed roll and prepared for sleep.

Before sleep could come with its gentle embrace, he began to hear the rhythmic clatter of a gong and knife, and the low and steady chant of a shaman beginning to work her magic. Before too long it grew too loud for sleep to be a possibility and he wondered what affliction had befallen the house that they had brought a shaman so late at night and in such foul weather. He once again roused the caretaker to ask him what was going on. The caretaker even sleepier than he had seemed before, hastily answered his question saying only that the master had fallen ill and a most respected shaman had been brought to help him make it through the night so that his sons could make the journey back home to speak with him before he passed.

The caretaker bid the vendor good night and urged him to sleep. Intending to do just that, the salt seller rolled himself up in the warm blankets, appreciating the heated floor under his back through the thickness of the bed roll. However, the shaman’s chant became the shrieking shout in that alien tongue that he had heard on top of the pale rock next to the cave in the mountains, and he knew that the fox had found its way to this house this night.

Gripped by fear, he told himself he need do nothing for the family would rise up in defense of the rich old man. As he waited in the guest room, he heard no sounds of stirring, in fact he heard only the shrieking cry of the shaman and the heavy snores of the caretaker. The entire household was asleep! While the practices of any shaman were strange and could take hours, this did not seem like any shaman’s cries that he had ever heard before. As he wondered what to do, he felt himself growing more and more tired. His bedroll looked more and more attractive, and sleep beckoned him like a lover. Knowing as he did, though, that the shaman was not a shaman but a fox, instead of lassitude and surrender to sleep, he felt blinding rage. Leaping to his feet, he made his way through the guest quarters into the servants’ quarters and the kitchen, and found himself the heavy pole used for grinding grain and mashing nuts.

Rushing toward the sound of the chanting, he found the old woman, her old tattered cloak now thrown side and the colorful dress of the shaman revealed beneath. She was licking her lips and preparing to feast on the wizened flesh of the rich old man and the vital organs that lay beneath his dry skin. No stranger to tales of many-tailed foxes, the salt seller knew it was the old man’s liver she prized, and his death that she sought.

Carried on by rage, the salt cellar pushed her away from the man and smashed her over the head with the pole, cracking the bones of the skull mask which disguised her as the old woman. Head bleeding, plan foiled, and revealed for the fox she was, the fox fled.

The next morning, when the details of the story were revealed and understanding spread through the family that the old man was recovering his former health, there was cause for celebration. The family was incredibly grateful to the salt seller. The sent him on his way back home, but this time carrying bags of gold instead of bags of salt.

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