This story has been sitting in my body for days. It wants to be shared.
Long ago, in China, there was a fearsome serpent who lived in the Yung Mountains.
His head was as big as a large rice barrel and his body was fearsomely long. When the magistrates tried to travel over the mountain for business, they ran the risk of being eaten.
To assuage the serpent, the people of the region sacrificed ox and goats to the horrid monster, but it was not enough. It kept picking off the men in charge of the district.
Then, one night, the serpent appeared in the dreams of the people of the region. The serpent announced that it would leave off eating the men if, once a year, they sent up a girl child of about twelve or thirteen. If they sent him this sacrifice, he would leave them all in peace.
The magistrates thought this was a fair trade for their lives. Besides, what else could they do? They were scared.
They chose girls whose fathers were criminals or girls who were bondmaids (slaves). These girls were the least amongst others, and so were thought expendable.
The children were taken from their mothers and fathers, or from the only homes they had known, and imprisoned until the appointed day. Soldiers marched them into the Yung Mountains and left them at the mouth of the cave. The serpent would appear, and swallow them whole.
This ghastly sacrifice continued for nine years.
In one of the provinces lived a poor man named Li Tan. He had the misfortune of having seven girls. His youngest daughter was named Chi.
When the magistrates began the search for the tenth victim, Li Chi went to her father.
“Father,” she said, “I am going to volunteer myself for the serpent.”
“What?” Li Tan couldn’t believe it. “Why would you even say such a thing? I am not a criminal! You are not a slave girl. You are perfectly safe from this fate.”
“Father,” she said, “You have seven daughters. You might as well be childless. None of us will be able to care for you in your old age. If I volunteer, the magistrate will give you money. It will not be much, but it will be better than you spending money to feed and house me for years before I leave and give all of my labors over to a husband and his family.”
Her parents were proud of her sentiment, but they refused.
Li Chi went to her grandmother. “I have told my parents I mean to go to the serpent. They need the money. Since they will not allow it, I will go in secret.”
Her grandmother nodded. She understood Li Chi’s feelings.
“All I ask,” said her grandmother, “is that you come and see me before you go.”
Li Chi went to the magistrate and told them she would offer herself to the serpent, and they promised to send the money to her family after she was gone.
The night before she left, Li Chi went to see her grandmother. The old woman gave her sweet sticky rice balls to eat, a basket to carry them, and an old sword.
“This was your great grandfather’s sword,” said her grandmother. “I have kept it hidden. If things got bad enough, I meant to sell it, but I think you need it more than we do.”
The edges were still keen and sharp. Li Chi thanked her grandmother and went down the road in the darkness.
She climbed most of that day, and arrived at the serpent’s cave before the sun went down. She took out her great grandfather’s sword and sharpened ten stakes. She pounded them into the ground near the serpent’s cave. Next, she put six of her grandmother’s rice balls between the stakes. Lastly, she climbed up onto some rocks above the cave and waited.
As the sun set, the wind changed direction and blew into the cave. Li Chi knew the serpent was going to be huge, but she was shocked by the immensity of it.
The serpent’s tongue flicked out sampling the air. It licked up the first of the rice balls, moving into the maze of stakes. It licked up the second and third. She waited until it took the last one. Its giant head was now over all ten of the stakes.
Li Chi leaped off of the rocks and with all her strength, plunged the sword through the snake’s head. The snake reared up, and she was thrown clear. When it brought its head down the spikes speared it. In agony, the serpent thrashed and rolled, driving the sword and spikes ever deeper until it pulled its enormous body clear of the cave, rolled into a field, and lay dead.
Inside the cave, Li Chi found the skulls of the nine maidens who had gone before her. She gathered them up with great sadness.
“It is ashamed you had to die because of fear.” She retrieved her sword and headed home.
The tale of Li Chi’s bravery spread across the land. The Emperor himself came to hear of it. In time, he asked Li Chi to marry him, for what emperor would not be graced to sit beside such an incredible woman.
Li Tan, her father was given a position in the royal court, and all of his daughters married men of means.
In the face of injustice by those in power, these are all we have.
Yours in Story –