Ehuang is an ancient river spirit who resides in Lan Forest, having acted as its spiritual guardian for countless centuries. She normally remains formless as part of the lake itself, but is capable of shifting into a beautiful woman with long, dark hair, white robes, and skin as clear as water. She rarely emerges from the heart of the forest in order to reveal herself to humans, and as such she has remained a mystery to the local villagers, who have historically feared and respected her. However, due to a string of recent calamities and the ten year drought that struck Lan Forest, many believe Ehuang to be either malevolent or weakened, while others doubt her existence at all. Nevertheless, there is a small shrine dedicated to Ehuang at the south entrance of the forest where food offerings are made in hope that she will continue to prosper the land.
Thousands of years ago, Ehuang lived with her sister Nuying together in harmony as the twin spirits of the two rivers that flowed through Lan Forest. Once each year, the sisters would rise from the rivers as mist and drift back to their headwaters in the western mountains, where the cycle would begin again. Then, one day, a warrior named Zhu Lim entered the forest. Badly wounded, he was fleeing from his enemies after his army had been defeated in battle. Reaching the river of Ehuang, he threw himself into the waters and begged for refuge. Ehuang decided to grant his request and hid him from his pursuers. Zhu Lim remained in the forest for several months, as he was waiting until he could rejoin his army in the north. Ehuang watched him whenever he passed the river, and she pined to hear the lonesome sound of the lute that he played each night. She realized that she loved him, and so at last she appeared before him. Zhu Lim recognized Ehuang as the one who had saved him, and professed that he also loved her. But this only served to stir jealously within the heart of Ehuang’s sister, as Nuying loved Zhu Lim as well, and she began to conspire against them.
At first, Nuying tried to seduce Zhu Lim and woo him away from Ehuang’s side, but after this failed she instead tried many times to kill her sister. Finally, Ehuang and Zhu Lim were driven away from the land in order to evade Nuying, and they resettled far away in the impassable mountains north of Ba Sing Se. They lived there together happily until Zhu Lim was once again called away to war. This time, he was to take part in the legendary Battle of Five Kingdoms under the first Earth King, a war which would later result in the establishment of Ba Sing Se as the capital of a newly unified Earth Kingdom. Having learned of the great battle from the blood carried in the rain, Nuying realized that this would be her best and final chance to steal Zhu Lim away from Ehuang. Disguising herself as a messenger from the battlefront, Nuying came to her sister with the terrible news that Zhu Lim had been mortally wounded in combat and would soon die of his wounds. Distressed, Ehuang flew from the mountains to find Zhu Lim, and Nuying followed her. Drawing upon the dark power of her corrupted spirit, Nuying sped in front of her sister and took the form of Zhu Lim himself, intercepting Ehuang on the road to Ba Sing Se. Ehuang was elated to see Zhu Lim alive and well, and rushed towards his open arms. But at the last moment the murderous gleam in Nuying’s eyes betrayed her intentions. Ehuang avoided the fatal blow meant to kill her, but she was wounded nonetheless and thus at a severe disadvantage as a violent battle ensued between the two sisters.
Meanwhile, Zhu Lim had felt a tremor in his soul when Ehuang was struck, and he realized that her life was in danger. Leaving the battlefield, he raced to reach Ehuang before it was too late. As the river spirits clashed the skies became heavy with rain, and Zhu Lim followed the storm. At last, certain of her victory, Nuying drew the poisoned blade that she had prepared beforehand in order to kill Ehuang. But as the dagger neared her sister’s heart, she found that it pierced not Ehuang, but Zhu Lim who had thrown himself in front of Ehuang to protect her. While the wound itself was not fatal, the poison worked quickly, and Zhu Lim collapsed into Ehuang’s arms, falling into an eternal sleep. Horrified at what she had done, Nuying fled to wander the world endlessly after gaining a new appearance from the Mother of Faces. Ehuang, carrying Zhu Lim, returned to Lan Forest to mourn his death. Her grief was so great that it caused the river to flood the entire land for five years, but when the waters receded the Ehuang river had run dry. Ehuang buried Zhu Lim in the Spirit World, placing him beneath a white cassia tree. While his soul had departed, his body continued to sleep as though it were unaware of being dead, and the peaceful form of Zhu Lim remains there to this day.
After Zhu Lim’s death, Ehuang secluded herself from the world, and has since only very rarely interacted with humans. Austere, noble, and aloof, Ehuang has shown mysterious compassion towards the villagers who live near Lan Forest, reflecting the same kind of love that Zhu Lim once had for the common people. She continues to care for and protect the land despite the ingratitude she is often shown, but is otherwise distant and disinterested in their daily affairs. Ehuang no longer resembles the spirit who once expressed so much emotion and human passion for Zhu Lim. Instead, she has become impersonal and even fatalistic, calmly accepting the events which she takes no active part in, as time no longer holds any meaning for her. The only remnants of her past self are the hatred she still possesses for her sister, Nuying, and an unfathomable sadness which at times drifts to the surface in the form of palpable expression.
Ehuang has the ability to manipulate water in the environment by connecting all surrounding water, in the ground, plants, and air, to her spirit. Thus, she is able to ensure that the land around her prospers by providing it with life-giving moisture. Ehuang is also a powerful waterbender while in physical form, and her skills include healing and weather manipulation. It is suggested that she is able to impart or share her powers with select, spiritually enlightened individuals whom she has formed a bond with, such as Zhu Lim. Similar to the spirit Hei Bai, Ehuang possesses the ability to carry individuals to and from the Spirit World, although she can no longer remain there for extended periods of time due to her connection with the mortal realm. Just as Ehuang is able to influence the forest, both positively and negatively, the state of the forest has a direct effect on her. She comes into full power during the monsoon season, and becomes weaker during the dry season. Most recently, Ehuang’s hair has turned white and her appearance in physical form has begun to grow more and more faint, which suggests that the forest itself is ailing or ill. Ehuang has stated that, should the forest die, she would die as well.
Ehuang (娥皇, Éhuáng) translates to “beautiful sovereign”
Zhu Lim was inspired by Zhu Jun (Gongwei), a famous military leader from Chinese history.