A Mongolian Legend
The Bag of Stories
Centuries ago the Black Plague raged among the Mongols, killing thousands, if not millions, of people. Desperate and terrified, the people of their domains fled in every possible direction, hoping to escape. The cities were deserted and the roads were filled. Along the paths, those who were beginning to show symptoms of the disease, however slight or confused, whoever they were, were quickly abandoned by their relatives and comrades, waiting for fate and the gods to determine what to do with their souls.
One of these poor derelicts, left behind by his family, was a young boy named Tarväa. When crossing the Great Desert heading west and feeling dizzy, his family abandoned him, leaving him only a small gourd with water in its interior.
Weak and without strength, the boy lost consciousness, and, preparing to die, his soul decided to head to the underworld.
There, the Great Khan of the Realm of the Dead received him with great astonishment. It was not unusual for a boy his age to appear before him in those days, for many younger than Tarväa had gone to stop there in the previous months. However, the name of the boy was not on the list the Khan kept on his desk and, puzzled, he asked:
“How come you came here?” You are not sick.
Tarväa, somewhat confused, replied:
“I felt weak and dizzy. My parents and siblings thought I was dying and they left me on the road. I didn’t want to wait for more suffering in the desert so decided to come here.
The Khan could not believe the fatality of the boy and the foolishness of his family:
“But, boy… your parents don’t know how to distinguish between the symptoms of the Black Plague and those of thirst?
Tarväa was silent.
“Your time is still far off and this is not the time for you to come here. So return to the world of the living, since that is the place that corresponds to you. But before you go, I’ll let you ask for a wish that it will be granted to you when you return.
The Khan took Tarväa by the shoulder and, walking him through the different lands of the underworld, showed him everything he could possess back to life. There was beauty and health, wealth and fullness, power and wisdom, but none of those things interested him. Finally, when the Khan’s patience was beginning to wear thin, Tarväa’s gaze fell on an object that did seem of great interest. It was an old esparto bag of which it was said to contain all the stories and tales of the world. That was his choice.
And so the young man returned to the dusty and dry plain on which he had been prostrated, but with great regret, he found that a vulture had eaten his eyes while he lay unconscious. The idea of being blind terrified him and it broke his heart, but not daring to contradict the Khan of the Underworld, he decided to return to life.
In this way, Tarväa became the greatest and best storyteller the Mongol Empire ever knew. He travelled all over their corners, sharing their stories and knowledge with as many people as he came across. Able to predict the future despite not being able to see. Merchants and khans came to be creditors of his services and it is said that from then on, telling and listening to stories became one of the great pastimes of the Mongols.