Jofuku was the Wise Man of China. Many books he read, and he never forgot what was in them. All the characters he knew as he knew the lines in the palm of his hand. He learned secrets from birds and beasts, and herbs and flowers and trees, and rocks and metals. He knew magic and poetry and philosophy. He grew full of years and wisdom. All the people honoured him; but he was not happy, for he had a word written upon his heart.
The word was Mutability. It was with him day and night, and sorely it troubled him. Moreover, in the days of Jofuku a tyrant ruled over China, and he made the Wise Man’s life a burden.
“Jofuku,” he said, “teach the nightingales of my wood to sing me the songs of the Chinese poets.”
Jofuku could not do it for all his wisdom.
“Alas, liege,” he said, “ask me another thing and I will give it you, though it cost me the blood of my heart.”
“Have a care,” said the Emperor, “look to your ways. Wise men are cheap in China; am I one to be dishonoured?”
“Ask me another thing,” said the Wise Man.
“Well, then, scent me the peony with the scent of the jessamine. The peony is brilliant, imperial; the jessamine is small, pale, foolish. Nevertheless, its perfume is sweet. Scent me the peony with the scent of the jessamine.”
But Jofuku stood silent and downcast.
“By the gods,” cried the Emperor, “this wise man is a fool! Here, some of you, off with his head.”
“Liege,” said the Wise Man, “spare me my life and I will set sail for Horaizan where grows the herb Immortality. I will pluck this herb and bring it back to you again, that you may live and reign for ever.”
The Emperor considered.
“Well, go,” he said, “and linger not, or it will be the worse for you.”
Jofuku went and found brave companions to go with him on the great adventure, and he manned a junk with the most famous mariners of China, and he took stores on board, and gold; and when he had made all things ready he set sail in the seventh month, about the time of the full moon.
The Emperor himself came down to the seashore.