The Snakeman

A certain man of Dongjun trained snakes for a living. He once kept two tame snakes that were both green; the larger one he called Big Green, the smaller was Green Two. Green Two’s forehead had a red spot, and it was particularly obedient, always performing exactly as desired. The snakeman treasured it above any other snake. After a year, Big Green died. He thought of finding a replacement, but had no free time.

     One night he lodged at a mountain temple. At dawn, when he opened the basket, Green Two had vanished. The snakeman was utterly distraught. He searched everywhere and called again and again, but there was no trace. However, it had been his habit every time he came to thick woods or lush grass to let it out for some freedom and it would soon come back. Because of this, he still had hope it would return of its own accord.

     He sat down to wait for it, but his hope evaporated as the sun rose high in the sky until eventually he left despondently. Several steps outside the gate, he heard a rustling sound in the undergrowth. Stopping and looking round apprehensively, he saw Green Two approaching. He was as delighted as if he’d found some precious stone. He put down his load at the side of the road and the snake also paused. Looking behind it, he saw a small snake following. Stroking his snake, he said, “I thought you’d gone and left me. You’re introducing a little partner, are you?”

     He took out some bait to feed Green Two and at the same time fed the small snake. Although the small snake didn’t leave, it cowered and didn’t dare to eat. Green Two held some bait in its mouth, just like a host offering food to its guest. The snakeman fed it again and this time it ate. When it had finished eating, it followed Green Two into the basket. The snakeman carried them off and taught the small snake to perform the set routine; as it was no different to Green Two, he called it Little Green. He showed their skills everywhere and made quite a fortune.

     In general snake charmers train snakes up to two yards long; bigger than that, they become too heavy and they’re soon replaced. Owing to Green Two’s intelligence, the snakeman was in no hurry to discard it. After two or three more years, it was more than three yards long and filled its basket when prone, so he decided to let it go.

     One day, when he came to Zi County’s East Mountain, he fed it some good food, wished it well and set it free. It left but soon came back and coiled around the basket. The snakeman waved it away and said, “Go on! There’s no free meal that lasts forever. From now on hide yourself in remote valleys and eventually you’re bound to become a dragon. How could you live for a long time in a basket?”

     Only then did the snake leave. The snakeman watched it go – but then it came back. He waved at it but it wouldn’t go – instead it struck the basket with its head. Inside, Little Green also became agitated. The snakeman understood, and said, “You mean you want to say goodbye to Little Green?” So he opened the basket.

     Little Green came straight out and they proceeded to link heads and put out their tongues, as if they were telling each other something. Then they wound away side by side. At that moment the snakeman thought Little Green wouldn’t return, but it soon came all alone, and finally lay down inside the basket.

     From then on, wherever the snakeman looked, he couldn’t find any more fine specimens. Furthermore, Little Green was also getting bigger and couldn’t be used for performances. Later he did get one that was also fairly intelligent, but not in the same class as Little Green. By this time Little Green was as thick as a child’s arm.

     Meanwhile, in the mountains Green Two was seen by many woodcutters. After a few years, it was several yards long and thick as a bowl and it started to come out to chase people. As a result, travellers warned each other and didn’t dare to go along its route.

     One day, the snakeman passed through that place and a snake charged out like the wind. Terrified, the snakeman fled. The snake accelerated in pursuit – he turned to look and it was almost upon him. But when he looked at its head, he saw the familiar red spot and only then did he realize it was Green Two. Putting down his load, he shouted, “Green Two! Green Two!”

     The snake stopped. Holding its head up high for quite a while, it leapt up and wound around the snakeman, like in their old performances. He felt its intentions were completely benign, but its body was so big and heavy that its coils were too much for him. He fell to the ground crying his prayers, at which point it released him.

     Again it knocked the basket with its head. The snakeman understood its meaning and opened the basket to let Little Green out. When the two snakes saw each other, they intertwined like candyfloss, only parting after a long while. Then the snakeman wished Little Green well, saying, “I’ve been meaning to part with you for a long time, and now you have a partner.”

     Turning to Green Two, he said, “That which you brought in, you can take away. I have one more piece of advice: the deep mountains don’t lack food or drink, so don’t harass travellers and earn Heaven’s wrath.”

     The two snakes hung their heads as if accepting this. As they suddenly started off, the bigger in front, the smaller behind, the forest parted in the middle where they passed. The snakeman stood for a long time gazing after them, leaving when they were out of sight. After that, travellers could pass as normal and it was not known where the snakes had gone.

 

The Cryptohistorian says: A snake is only a low crawling creature, yet it showed the loving affection of an old friend. It even followed advice as willingly as turning a circle. It’s strange then that those with upright human form will turn around and throw stones at a decade-long companion or a patron of several generations who’s in need of help. Or else, when offered correction, brazenly ignore it and even angrily swear revenge – such people are lower by far than this snake.