This tale was adapted from the “Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Tales” by Nguyen Dong Chi
Illustrator: Tran Tuan Long
Once upon a time, Ming invaders forced the entire population of An Nam into slavery. Their cruelty led our oppressed people to hate them bitterly and revolt. But with superior weapons and resources, the Ming invaders quelled every uprising. Seeing this dismal situation, Duc Long Quan (Dragon King) decided to help our people.
At that time, a fisherman by the name of Le Than lived in Thanh Hoa province. One night, he released his net in a secluded harbor. Hauling up the net, Than felt something heavy. Believing he’d caught a big fish he was thrilled, but found only an old iron bar. Dismayed, Le Than threw the bar back.
Having casted his net the second time at a different location, he again hauled up this iron bar. Again, he threw it back into the sea. When this happened a third time, Le Than realized it was too great of a coincidence. He shone his light on the heavy bar, then cried: “Alas! A blade!” He took it home.
Eventually, Le Than was enlisted into the troops of the Lam Son resistance. He risked his life several times at the frontline trying to slay the Ming oppressors. When Lord Le Loi and his vassals visited Le Than’s home, they spied the old iron bar, which suddenly shone brightly.
Picking up this shining blade, Le Loi read the words “Acquiescence to God” inscribed on its surface. At that time, however, nobody realized this blade was a treasure.
Once with the enemy on hot pursuit, Le Loi and his men fled in many directions. Crossing a forest, Le Loi caught sight of something shining in a banyan tree. He climbed up and found the jade-studded haft of a sword. This reminded him of the blade he’d seen in Le Than’s home. Le Loi tied the haft to his back.
Three days later, Lord Le Loi rejoined his warriors, including Le Than. He joined the iron blade and the jade-studded haft together. They fit seamlessly and fused! Everyone rejoiced at this miracle. Le Than raised the blade to eye level and cried: “This has been entrusted by God to you, my Lord, to perform this grand task. We vow to sacrifice ourselves to follow you and this sacred blade to revenge our fatherland!”.
The spirits of the insurgents were lifted. In the hands of Le Loi, this sacred sword mowed down the Ming invaders. The fearsome reputation of the Lam Son insurgents spread far and wide. They came out of the woods and attacked the enemies’ garrisons. They broke into the enemy troops’ granaries and armories, stocking up on food and weapons. The sacred sword guided the rebels from victory to victory until the enemy troops were swept from our homeland.
One year after overcoming the Ming troops, Le Loi – now the Emperor – was sailing on a Dragon Boat on Ta Vong Lake outside the citadel. When the boat reached the center of the lake, a huge golden turtle emerged from the green water, exposing its head and shell. At the king’s behest, the boat slowed.
The emperor immediately understood and unsheathed the blade. All at once, the sacred blade flew from his hands towards the golden turtle. The turtle opened its mouth and held the blade lengthwise, then dove into the lake. Long after the turtle vanished, a glimmering flash could be seen on the lake’s green surface.
When the boats of mandarins approached the Dragon Ship, the emperor told them: “Duc Long Quanlent us the sacred blade to obliterate the Ming invaders. Now peace presides again, so he ordered the turtle to retrieve it”.
After this, the lake was renamed Sword Lake, or Lake of the Returned Blade.