Once upon a time, a carp found a dragon prince meditating by the banks of a great river.
“What are you doing?” asked the carp.
“Cultivating divinity,” the dragon answered.
“I wish to enter Heaven’s exalted halls. I need to study for eighty-one years, and then I will be honored with a position in the Jade Emperor’s court.”
The thought of the dragon’s words, bobbing up and down in the waves. “You’re willing to waste an entire human lifetime of effort just to coil around a heavenly pillar?”
The young dragon laughed despite himself. “If you put it that way, it does seem foolish.”
“What a way to waste youth.”
“What about you, fish?” the dragon countered. “What are you doing with your life?”
“Well I learned to talk, didn’t I?”
“Is that all you want to be, a talking fish? What a waste of potential.”
Frustrated, the fish swam in a tight circle, splashing the prince with flicks of its strong tail. “Carps don’t have the gift of longevity as dragons do.I’m lucky to have learned to speak in the time I have.”
“What if you had more time? What would you do?”
“A legend says if a carp jumps across one hundred bridges, they will become human. Three hundred, and they will become a dragon. But,” the fish sighed sadly, “there aren’t enough bridges to jump over in my lifetime. The course charted by those before me have it so one bridge is crossed per year. And I have already wasted my youth.”
The prince thought on the carp’s words for a long time, so long that the carp thought he had returned to his meditations. Then, he brought one of his fingers to his mouth and pierced the tip with his sharp dragon’s teeth. He approached the water and held out his bleeding hand to the carp.
“Then here is time,” he said. “Jump over those bridges, so I may meet you in my grandfather’s court.”
A drop of blood fell from the wound, and the carp leapt up to catch it in its mouth. Immediately, its silver scales turned gold, and it swam away, not wanting to waste the prince’s precious gift.