This is not a story about a princess in need of saving.
This is not even, really, a story about a princess.
This is a story about a girl with nothing, who fought and fought until she had everything.
This is the story of Li Chi.
Once Upon a Time…
Thousands of years ago, in the farthest corner of Fukien, there lived a giant serpent.
Fukien was surrounded by the giant Yung mountain range, whose peaks soared and touched the sky. The serpent made his home between two of the tallest peaks, deep in a dark, giant cave where only the yellow’s of its eyes could be seen amongst the black.
No one knew where the serpent came from, only that he appeared one day, and changed life forever. For the serpent had an appetite that could only be satisfied by human blood.
During the first months of the serpent’s reign, he devoured the leaders of the town, keeping everyone in a constant state of terror. After awhile, the serpent disappeared, and the townspeople breathed a sigh of relief.
The relief was not to last.
For the serpent came again, this time in the dreams of local wise men and women. In each of the dreams, the serpent said the same thing. He would stop the bloodshed, if the townspeople would deliver him one twelve-year-old girl in the eighth month of every year to feast on.
The townspeople raged and wept. They consulted mediums and oracles, they prayed to their gods. But nothing they did stopped the serpent. Nothing they did harmed him. And so, when the eighth month came, the townspeople stole a girl from her bed in the middle of the night and led her up the mountains to the mouth of the cave.
For nine years this continued until nine young girls had met their terrible fate and the communities surrounding the mountain lived in eternal dread.
But in the tenth year, everything changed.
The tenth year began as any other.
The local leaders began their terrible task of deciding which girl to feed to the monster. From home to home they searched, until they came to the home of Li Tan.
Li Tan had six daughters whom he loved dearly. When the leaders came to his door, he turned them away, trying to shield his daughters from their view.
But his youngest, a girl named Li Chi, saw the leaders and spoke up. “I volunteer,” she said.
Everyone fell silent. No one had ever volunteered to be sent to the serpent. None of the girls had walked willingly to her fate.
“What did you say?” one of the leaders asked.
“I said, I volunteer,” Li Chi said.
Li Chi’s parents cried out in fear and grasped at their daughter’s hands. “No, no, my daughter, you cannot do this,” Li Tan said.
Li Chi, it should be noted, was no ordinary girl. She was born with a hefty dose of courage and a heaping pile of wits. “Dear parents,” Li Chi said drily, “I’m of no use to you here. I’m a useless daughter. I eat your food, I take your clothes. Why shouldn’t I give up my life a little sooner?”
The local leaders looked at each other in shock. Li Chi’s parents hurriedly tried to back their daughter’s words. “She’s only joking,” Li Tan said. “Li Chi loves to be sarcastic, and we love her too much to give her to the beast.”
With that, the leaders left, leaving Li Chi with her grateful parents.
But later that night, when all the stars had gone to sleep, Li Chi left her bed. She hurried to find the leaders where they were staying at a local inn. “I meant,” she told them. “Give me a sharp sword and a dog, and I will take myself to the serpent.”
Unsure what to do, the leaders relented and got Li Chi what she asked for. When the sun rose, Li Chi set off on the path to the mountains with a small wave to the bewildered leaders.
On and on Li Chi walked, whistling a small tune and pausing only to scratch the ears of the dog trotting along beside her.
At last the little party arrived at the mouth of the cave. Li Chi reached into her pocket and pulled out three small rice balls, sweetened with malt sugar, that her mother had made days ago. She positioned them at the cave’s entrance and sat herself down just out of view.
Drawn by the smell of the sugar, the serpent soon stirred. Li Chi heard its arrival echoing throughout the cave and motioned for the dog to hide.
When the serpent finally appeared in the light, he was even larger and more terrible than the stories had said, with eyes as large as saucers and a body as thick as a tree. But Li Chi was not deterred.
When the snake bent its terrible head to eat the rice balls, Li Chi released the dog. Snarling and barking, the dog bit at the serpent, who reared back and aimed to strike.
While it was distracted, Li Chi pounced. Wielding her sword with the skill and strength of one twice her age, Li Chi attacked, piercing the serpent again and again.
With a great cry, the serpent raised itself up and then fell, dead. The sound of its body hitting the cave floor shook the mountains. Li Chi, as always, was unperturbed, taking one of the undisturbed rice balls and popping it into her mouth.
Munching on the rice ball, Li Chi went back into the cave, where she recovered the skeletons of the nine girls who had come before. She collected their skulls and placed them in their pack to bring back to their families.
When Li Chi came strolling into town later that day, the townspeople could not believe their eyes. For her achievements, Li Chi’s father was made the magistrate of the county, and her mother and sisters were given riches beyond imagination.
As for Li Chi?
Her only requirements were that she keep the dog and receive an endless supply of sweetened rice balls.
The townspeople were happy to oblige.