A Fable About Storytelling | Cold Mountain by Ash Warren

Han Shan, his name means Cold Mountain. But is he the subject of the story, or the one telling it? A cheeky fable about storytelling by Ash Warren.


A Fable About Storytelling



by Ash Warren

For the LANTERN’S FLAME Fantasy Writing Award


Midwinter’s Eve.

Finally I’m ready. The snow is falling softly outside, the fire is crackling in the grate and I’m on the sofa, blanket pulled up over my legs, glass of wine waiting. I’m about to read the new fantasy story by Ash Warren, The Lantern’s Flame.

Ah… here it is….

The Abbot smiled at the children sitting gathered around him.

‘So then, are you ready for our story?’

They nodded happily.

‘Alright then. So it happened, long, long ago, during the reign of the Emperor Genroku, that all the land was visited by the greatest, the coldest winter in our history.

‘Food was in very short supply, and here at Raven’s Nest Monastery all the town’s folk had gathered to pool what little they had left. But, it wasn’t enough. And we realized that if we couldn’t get help from over the mountain…. that very soon…well, we would all starve to death….’

Silence filled the ancient room.

Suddenly a voice boomed from the kitchen and the cook, a huge fat monk, came stumbling towards them.

‘Are you telling them about old Han Shan?’ he asked, sitting down next to the Abbot uninvited.

The abbot nodded. ‘But you know the story so well….’ he said, ‘Why don’t you tell it?’

The cook stroked his wispy beard.

‘Very well then, I will….’ He cleared his throat loudly.

‘Han Shan… his name meant Cold Mountain, he had few friends here….. but we needed someone to make the perilous journey across the mountain. And…. nobody had the courage. Nobody that is, except him! Right then and there, he wrapped himself up in some old furs and the last people thought they would ever see of him was the tiny flame of his old lantern as it disappeared into the darkness and that endless snow…

There’s a sound outside, or am I imagining it?

I put the book down and go to the door. Starlight and a sharp crescent moon, standing on the jagged peaks.

There’s a faint light approaching, and soon I see a man leading a heavily laden donkey. They’re heading for the pass, dangerous at this time of year.

The man is huge, with a shaven head, a long black beard and shaggy black eyebrows ranging over his startling dark eyes. He’s wearing ragged yellow robes under some filthy old furs, and carrying a walnut staff from which hangs an old lantern.

As he draws near, he sees me and bows deeply.

I tell him to come inside.

He leans his staff against the door and takes off his furs, and I make hot jasmine tea, the last I have from the faraway mountain fields.

He sits down on my sofa and notices my book.

‘Is this what you’re reading?’ he asks.

I nod.

He glances through the story and laughs.

‘Ah…old Ash Warren! I know him. He’s quite a liar, you know… Now, you listen to Cold Mountain. I’ve got some real stories…..’

So we drank our tea and he told me one story after another, and each one was better than the one before. It seemed he was a bottomless well of wonderful tales, and when he stood to leave I begged him to stay, but he said there were people waiting for him, and he had to go.

He picked up his staff and headed off down the snowy track and I watched the faint, flickering light as it disappeared among the trees.

I closed the door and went back to my book. I wanted to see how the story ended… but that’s when I saw that someone (was it him?) had written something inside the front cover.

Where Cold Mountain lives
isn’t on a travelled path.
Meeting with the forest birds
each sings their mountain songs.
All day, just passing clouds,
they know me well by now.
At night, sitting on a high cliff
watching the moon raise its lantern.