This story was adapted from the Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Tales

 

 

Illustrator: Cam Anh Ng

Once upon a time, an elderly couple lived in the basin of the Tranh River in the Eastern Province. They were well off but childless. One day, while going about his farm work, the husband spotted two eggs the size of his palm. Curious, he took the eggs home, where they hatched to reveal two baby snakes, which were always in the couple’s company. One day, as the husband hoed the soil, the snakes slithered around searching for food in the freshly disturbed soil. The old man accidentally chopped the tail off one snake.

After that, the snake with the cut tail became increasingly aggressive. As the snakes got bigger, they grew more and more ravenous, sneaking into the neighbors’ hen houses to steal their chickens. Faced with their neighbors’ ire, the old couple released the two snakes into the river.

As soon as the snakes were released the Water Emperor appointed them to rule the Tranh River. As a result, the two snakes ran roughshod over their vast territory. A shrine was dedicated to them, colloquially called the ‘Patrols of the Tranh River’, or sometimes ‘The Long and The Chopped’ – in reference to their tails. Nonetheless, these huge snakes still sometimes devoured men and cattle carried on the river.

One day, a disciple with the family name of Trinh and his wife anchored their boat on the river. The wife, surnamed Duong, was so beautiful that The Chopped was enraptured at the sight of her. The Chopped sent two maidens carrying betrothal offerings to the disciple to ask him to give up his wife, but was rebuffed. Terrified, the disciple took his wife ashore. They had walked for some time when The Chopped chased after them and threw up a brutal storm that prevented the couple from going further. The disciple and his wife took shelter in a nearby temple. In the morning, when the storm was over, the disciple woke up to find his wife had vanished. He traced her to the river and found tatters of her clothing on the river bank.

Stricken with grief, the disciple with the surname Trinh wandered around looking for his lost wife. One day, by chance, he met the White Dragon God, who was in charge of making rain. Upon learning of this unscrupulous act, the White Dragon God decided to help the disciple to retrieve his wife by telling the Water Emperor about The Chopped’s misdeeds. Upon learning of his underling’s sins, the Water Emperor was so enraged that he banished The Chopped to the end of the world.

The day The Chopped was exiled, his small aquatic subjects stirred up the entire Tranh River. Soldiers escorted The Chopped toward the sea and headed northward. Days later, they reached a barren land full of eerie woods and no hearth fires.

The Chopped asked them: “Where are we?”

They replied: “We are in the borderlands of the Viet Kingdom. Cross it and you will reach another country.”

The Chopped told his escorts: “So, we are in the hinterlands. At the behest of the Water Emperor, I will stay here.”

The prisoner and his escorts turned into an estuary. However, the river had long been reigned by a serpent that would not bow to The Chopped. As soon as it spotted The Chopped, a horrendous war broke out, raging from the estuary to the river’s source. The Water Emperor decided to divide the region and mark a clear red line between the land of The Chopped and the serpent. The Chopped had a huge rock that resembled a head placed on his side of the river’s bank. To mark its boundary, the serpent used its magic to set a giant bell on the other bank.

However, the serpent sometimes broke the rules and attacked The Chopped, so it was put under the guard of the local Mountain God. The Chopped was granted both riverbanks to rule. Nowadays, on the southern bank of the Ky Cung River, a huge head-shaped rock rests at the abutment of the bridge in the provincial capital of Lang Son. On the far bank, in an ancient pagoda, rests a chained bell. It is said that the head-shaped rock is the landmark created by The Chopped, while the bell embodies the serpent tied up by the Mountain God. The name of the Ky Cung (The Hinterlands) River is also derived from the story about the exile of The Chopped.