Lo Shu and the Story of Emperor Yu

An original story by Richard Alejandre

Version in Spanish by Georgette Baker

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Standing at the river's edge, the Emperor Yu-Huang watched the mighty Huang-He (Yellow River) rush before him. Evening's darkness was soon to come and this was good. The emperor had had a very difficult day.

Today, Emperor Yu had dealt with taxes, an underpaid army, and his angry wife, who said that she never saw enough of him. Looking out across the broad, dark back of Huang-He, Emperor Yu could feel his problems slip away. It was as if the rapid river were dragging the emperor's concerns along with it.

Emperor Yu enjoyed the river. He wished that he could visit it more often. Tonight, he was glad that he had walked to the river's edge alone. Huang-He (Yellow River) was something to visit by yourself. Looking out to the opposite side of the river, Emperor Yu slowly allowed his gaze to drop until he was looking at the river's edge right below his feet. It was at that moment that he saw the divine turtle.

Emperor Yu had seen the divine turtle before, but as a pattern in the stars, never this close. Every night, right before he went to bed, Emperor Yu would look out his bedroom window and see the turtle in the night sky. The emperor knew the Lo River story and believed that the turtle was a symbol of good luck. Just before he went to sleep the emperor would look at the turtle to ensure continued good luck. Now it was right before the emperor, swimming slowly at the river's edge.

Wanting to get a better look at the magic turtle, the emperor took one step closer. The turtle didn't notice the emperor and continued to move its legs slowly in the clear water. There was no mistaking the divine animal, for Emperor Yu had watched it with great care for many years. The emperor was familiar with the shape of the creature, but the detail of the shell that Emperor Yu now saw was new to him.

A turtle's hard back is half of the tough house that protects its body from enemies. The roof of this house looks like puzzle pieces glued together to form two circles around a rectangle. Emperor Yu looked long at these shapes on the turtle's back and noticed a pattern of dots etched on them.

Starting next to the turtle's right leg was a square formed by four linked dots. Traveling around the shell as the hands of a clock travel, the emperor came next to nine dots in a row. At the five o'clock position of a clock face there were two dots. At the bottom or six o'clock position was a row of seven linked dots. Next came a rectangle etched by six dots, and then a solitary dot at the nine o'clock spot. A long rectangle of eight dots followed, and at the top was a short line of three dots. In the center of all these dots was the intersection of two lines sharing five dots.

What did this all mean, the emperor wondered. Was the divine turtle giving a signal?

As the river became dark, Emperor Yu lost sight of the turtle and started for home. Walking slowly, the emperor thought about the different numbers and their positions one to another.

Emperor Yu added up the numbers many different ways. What did the magic sum have to do with him? Was it years of good luck? Or was it years to live? The questions came easily, but the answers were nowhere to be found. Emperor Yu was troubled.

He had come to the river's edge to seek tranquillity, and instead had found doubt. The divine turtle had visited, but instead of bringing good luck he had left uncertainty. What was the emperor to do?

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