Once upon a time, a very long time ago, high up on Mount Mulli in the province of Kuku-khoto, a pretty little princess called Tandaradey lived behind the desolate walls of Hall Castle, locked up and guarded by a wicked aunt. The aunt, whose name was Fifidnoise, was as old and faded as the parchment in ancient books and she was filled with envy of the youth and beauty of her niece. In her evil jealousy, she schemed and plotted to deprive the lovely girl of her rightful place in life and in the world, tormenting her unbearably. The princess sat day and night at the tiny barred windows, her face pale, her eyes red from crying, gazing with longing towards the huge forests and the land beyond them. But her tormentor was always at her side, observing her every movement with the restless eyes of an owl. Not even when the poor child had fallen asleep at the window did the aunt leave her for a second; the false guardian of her virtue never closed an eye and never left her charge. So there was no escape. Furthermore the doors and gates were locked and the walls high. But worst of all: no living creature could approach the castle. A terrible monster, a dreadful dragon breathing fire and brimstone, lived outside the castle on the top of the mountain. From its vantage point it was able to survey the countryside within a radius of a mile; no deer and not even the smallest rabbit could escape those snake eyes surrounded by spines, not to mind a youth or a knight who might dare to approach the fortress to see Princess Tandaradey or even to carry her off. This dangerous dragon was fed with the most delicious food, given all sorts of pet names and was the aunt's loyal ally. It was as devoted to her as a lapdog and obeyed her every command.
But Princess Tandaradey never gave up hope. She had one loyal soul, a devoted servant: it was a nightingale. She hoped that this nightingale would be able to liberate her. The beautiful prisoner secretly wore around her neck a five-coloured jewel which came from the dragon's head and made every feathered creature in its vicinity invisible. Thanks to this magic stone, the princess was able to conceal the bird from her aunt's sharp eyes. The bird lived in the wide folds of the girl's sumptuous indigo cloak, which was covered in gold ornaments and trimmed with the fur of the rare Chinese fire mouse. Once every year, in the middle of summer when the wild roses were in bloom, the winged servant, the nightingale, flew out of the castle in order to sing of the grief and longing of its young mistress. But up to then all its laments had gone unheeded.
Mid-summer had come once again. Yet again the captive princess's messenger flew off, this time, however, in the opposite direction. After some days it reached a large park far from the province of Kuku-khoto, found itself a secluded hiding place and waited until the moon appeared. A wealthy mandarin by the name of Tchin-Tchin was staying in his summer residence in this venerable romantic Chinese park. He was a gentleman who enjoyed his comforts; he was a gourmet and a widower into the bargain. He looked rather like one of the statues in the pagoda of the great Montoro temple with his chubby, smooth cheeks and round tummy. - The moon appeared. - Now the nightingale began to sing. Tju tju tju tju, Tandaradey! Its song resounded through the night, through the sleeping summer splendour of the mandarin's garden; it passed through the open windows and doors into the house, made its way across the rooms until it reached the ears of fat Tchin-Tchin, who was unable to sleep and was bored. Tchin Tchin raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips, whistled "tju tju", and trotted out into the garden, his hands raised as though to conduct the song. The nightingale was singing its heart out. It warbled and sobbed, rejoiced and lamented like the infinite longing of a girl's heart. That appealed very much to fat Tchin-Tchin. For a long time he had been looking for a small, slender woman who would pine for him with as much longing as he heard in the nightingale's song. The mandarin stood on tiptoes to hear better. But the attentive listener got a terrible shock when the nightingale's warbling suddenly became a human voice. A clear girl's voice sang of her suffering:
Oh save me from this awful pace
I am a pretty little lass - Tandaradey.
Am locked up here all night and day
Dragonhead wants me to stay - Tandaradey.
At Mulliberg in Castle Hall
The old Aunt Fifi makes me bawl - Tandaradey.
Kill off the dragon - take his powers
Then gladly will I say I'm yours - Tandaradey.
Tchin-Tchin had always dreamed of such a wonderful adventure: of liberating the child of a king or prince from a dragon, of breaking some magic spell, and of earning the admiration and gratitude of a pretty little woman as her liberator and hero. Courage he had never felt before filled his soul. He hurried into the house and ordered his servants to help him very quietly with his preparations. The reason for his caution was his fear that his nephew, who was visiting him and in residence in the palace, might hear of his plan to get himself a wife. His nephew, O Okasi, was slender, tall, as strong as an iron cudgel and was serving as an officer in the imperial sword regiment in Peking. - A big mule was saddled. The mandarin himself cleaned his sword, put on his golden coat of armour and set off alone that same night for Mount Mulli.
It was a difficult journey. Tchin-Tchin had to bear much hardship and all sorts of big and small tribulations. Wild dogs, malicious pheasants, huge swarms of forest birds, large sun spiders with their webs crossed his path and sought to prevent the knight in armour from carrying out his plans. Both his courage and his armour had already suffered considerable damage when the mandarin decided to give up. On his way back, he passed through a dense forest in which a terrible hullabuloo reverberated against the mountains like water being released from enormous sluices. Tchin-Tchin saw why. He nearly lost his senses. The whole forest was swarming with monkeys. The northern wool monkeys had declared war on the Bibjjuutes, a tribe of silk-blue long-tailed monkeys, and had gathered in vast numbers in the treetops to attack each other, armed with missiles, stones and sticks. To find its way in the dense forest, Tchin-Tchin's mule was using the deep dry river bed created by raging torrents after heavy rains, which - together with a clearing in the forest - separated the hostile armies from each other. As soon as the pugnacious monkeys caught sight of the strange rider, they forgot their mutual hatred and, as though under one leader, instantly fired all their ammunition at the gleaming golden mandarin and his mule. The mule went wild and gallopped off. This was what saved Tchin-Tchin's life. As the mule in its terror had taken a different direction, the discouraged suitor reached his aims without realising it. He had crossed the border into the province of Kuku-khoto and as evening fell, through the huge fir trees Tchin-Tchin saw Castle Hall shining in the light of the setting sun. But the dragon had also seen him and made after him into the forest. The fat mandarin had believed the story about the beautiful girl, but not really that of the dragon. In his fright, he dropped his sword, threw himself down on the ground, wrung his hands and prayed to all the Chinese gods for help. The hail and fire god came to poor Tchin-Tchin's aid. A terrible taifun arose, uprooted the trunks of the huge fir trees like matches, smashed them and flung them around, whereby the dragon was killed. Tchin-Tchin sighed with relief and soon regained his courage. His longing for Princess Tandaradey was stronger than ever.
The mandarin dipped his sword in the dragon's blood and climbed up towards the castle, making a lot of noise with his armour. Once up there he raced through the rooms, eager to catch sight of the beautiful girl's face. "Tandaradey! Tandaradey! Your rescuer has arrived!" But the castle remained silent and empty. Oh, what a disappointment. So all his pains, all his fears had been in vain? Suddenly he felt himself being carressed from behind. Red in the face with delight he turned round and held out his arms. - But instead of the lovely princess, it was her ugly old aunt Fifidnoise who pressed herself to his thumping heart. When he pushed her away from him in disgust, she adopted a threatening attitude and said sharply: "I suspect you have been involved in the kidnapping of my niece Tandaradey; furthermore I suspect you have killed my dragon. I shall punish you by taming you, you inconsiderate creature, just as I tamed the dragon." Tchin-Tchin fled. But it was no use. The wicked aunt remained at his heels.
When the disappointed mandarin arrived home in the company of the aunt, he found a celebration taking place in his garden. There were coloured lanterns everywhere and illuminated paper fishes to show what a joyous occasion it was. And in the midst of all the splendour stood his nephew, O Okasi, the slender little princess holding on to him. He had reached her before his uncle and had brought her home. He too had heard the nightingale's lament from his bedchamber. He had got up immediately, set out without weapons and reached Mount Mulli in just 15 hours. He had not woken the dragon, had climbed the mountain from the other side and had leaped over the castle walls. The brave young man had torn the iron bars out of the window frame attached to a rotten beam. He waited until the wicked aunt had turned around to sneeze, and then lifted the slender princess out of the open window to freedom. He carried her effortlessly in his strong arms, and hurried back at once to his uncle's residence, singing hymns of praise to morning, midday and evening. He ordered a feast to be prepared. Princess Tandaradey was as beautiful as a night in May with lotos flowers and both she and her rescuer listened with delight to the nightingale, to whom they both owed their great happiness.
Due to these events, Aunt Fifidnoise forbad her fat Tchin-Tchin to ever go into the garden at night to listen to a nightingale.