Wan-ui, the black rabbit, Nin’s faithful retainer—still she searched for her old master. At every warren or burrow or watering hole she’d ask the animals there for help in locating the lost prince. Had they met him? Had they seen him? Had they heard rumours of a travelling rabbit, more noble than all the rest?
Having long forgotten Nin’s appearance, his mannerisms, even the sound of his voice, the prince in her memories began to take on mystical qualities, and slowly, over time, her image of him grew ever more idealized.
“He is a rabbit of the upmost compassion,” she said to a group of blind moles as she helped them with their daily chores.
“A noble spirit, a leader of rabbits,” she explained as she ferried a clutch of younglings across a raging river.
“Take shelter in his teachings,” Wan-ui preached as she fed a congregation of beggar-mice.
“Is this some sort of rabbit fable?” asked a beaver one day. “A koan? This Nin you’re searching for, is he a metaphor of some kind?” Earlier that day Wan-ui had helped him patch a hole in his dam, and now they were chatting over a light meal, during which time she had explained to him her quest.
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Wan-ui, confused. Nin, after all, was a very real rabbit, not some imaginary protagonist of a fairy tale or parable.
“You say you are searching for a good and noble rabbit. Kind and compassionate, a beacon for all.”
“Oh, yes,” replied Wan-ui, and she went on to describe Nin in the most loving, grandiose terms. Her praise of him bordered on worship.
“Isn’t that you, though?” said the beaver. “I can’t imagine this Nin of yours being any better of a rabbit than you are.”
Wan-ui tired to humble herself. “Oh no, no,” she said. “I am but a retainer—a mere servant of Nin. It is in his name and in his service I work.”
“That may be,” replied the beaver, “but he’s not here, is he? You are. Nin didn’t help me fix my dam. You did. I think you are deserving of, at least, a little praise and credit? What noble qualities could your master possibly possess that you yourself do not?”
Wan-ui wasn’t sure how to respond to this.