In China, a long time ago, a huge serpent was menacing the village—eating animals and crops, and sometimes, people. The villagers, tired of losing neighbors, crops, food, and livelihoods demanded their magistrate protect the community, but no matter what he tried to do, he was unable to stop the rampaging serpent. As a last resort, he sought the advice of a sorcerer who advised the villagers to sacrifice one 13-year-old maiden in the tenth month of each year if they wanted it to stop plundering the village. For nine years, offering the maidens kept the villagers safe from the serpent’s devastation.
In the tenth year, Li Chi, a young girl from a poor family, spoke to the magistrate. She volunteered to go up the mountain and sacrifice herself to the serpent if the magistrate would guarantee that her mother and father would be taken care of until they died. She knew that as she and her five sisters married, they would have to leave home to live with their husbands’ families and when the last girl was married, the old parents would be destitute, alone, and without help.
Unlike the maidens who were forced to go with nothing to protect them. Li Chi made a plan. She asked the magistrate to give her a dog, food, flint, and a sword. Although he was reluctant to provide her with what she requested, his relief that this year he would not have to struggle to find a maiden from increasingly unwilling families overcame his reluctance and he satisfied all her requests.
Li Chi went up the mountains with the dog. Although she wasn’t sure how to find the serpent’s cave, the closer they came, the more powerful was the stench. The dog whined in protest. Li Chi, almost overcome by the horrible odor, found it harder and harder to continue, yet they kept walking toward the smell. When they reached the cave she began her preparation, telling the dog what she must do. Using the flint, Li Chi made a fire to cook the food she brought. Soon delicious smells wafted back into the cave, enticing the hungry serpent. It slithered out from the cave, rearing its ugly head in search of the food. With a nod from Li Chi, the dog leapt up and clawed the serpent’s eyes. Immediately, Li Chi stuck the sword into the neck of the blinded beast, continuing to strike it until the serpent lay dead.
Instead of leaving immediately, Li Chi entered the serpent’s cave and collected the bones of all the nine maidens who had been sacrificed to appease the beast’s appetite. Reverently, she carried the bones back to the village, not only to show the villagers the serpent was dead, but to remind the people that the young girls had died for them. Li Chi ensured that they were buried with the proper ceremony and respect.
Wit and wisdom from around the world and through the ages. Tales by Nancy King.