In my previous post regarding the Dark Warrior, Huyền Vũ 1: The Black Tortoise, I detailed my search for this mythical hero. I bounced around from historic materials, to mythology, to star charts, and I was able to determine a couple of things concretely.
257 BCE was the initial point in time when we Viets first met up with the Black Warrior. We are sure of this date because it is engraved into the stones of Cổ Loa Citadel, which was personally built by our then-King An Dương Vương.
I touched briefly upon this story in one of my previous posts, Enigma of Lao Tzu 4: The Temple of an Immortal. In that post, I tied Lao Tzu to the site itself, but I need to tell the strange eerie story behind the building of the citadel.
Here then, is the story of The King, the Dark Warrior, and the Demon of Thất Diệu Mountain.
The King, the Dark Warrior, and the Demon of Thất Diệu Mountain
It was the year was 257 BCE, roughly 2,277 years ago, when King An Dương Vương had just united the Viet warlords into a unified country called Âu Lạc.
To maintain the defense of the country, he ordered a citadel to be built on a rocky hilltop in the area of Cổ Loa, the ancient capital of Âu Lạc, in present day Đông Anh, Hà Nội.
At first, the builders and the generals were eager and enthusiastic about the project. They dug foundations and hauled bricks and timber non-stop, toiling night and day to finish the citadel for their new king. It was going to be a magnificent citadel.
Every day, the king and his advisers would visit the construction site to admire the progress. The walls got taller and taller, the construction was strong and mighty. He was very confident that neither thunder nor rainstorms could shake the fortified citadel.
But suddenly, one morning, the entire citadel fell apart. Not one brick was left standing. The king, hearing this news, rushed over to the citadel and saw the damage first-hand. He was beyond livid and asked the people what had happened overnight.
The people said: We heard many loud stampede of footsteps everywhere, coupled with murmurs, like demons. It sounded as if there was an army of demons here, so we were afraid to look. We also heard crashing and explosions, like thunder and lightning. In the morning, we rushed over and this was the result you see.
A furious An Dương Vương ordered the generals to immediately rebuild the citadel, this time even stronger and more fortified. The people resumed their vigorous labor, non-stop, for weeks. Every day the wall grew taller and taller, and within a very short time, the citadel was reconstructed better than before.
But then, on the seventh day of the third month (March 7th) in the year 257 BC, the citadel again collapsed!
An Dương Vương, at wits end, ordered his generals to find out the cause for the destruction. Again, the story came back exactly as before.
The people questioned, reported hearing the sounds of many warriors, along with thundering steps, like thousands of horses stampeding back and forth, quaking and rumbling like thunder.
Pissed beyond belief, king An Dương Vương was ready to send some heads to the gallows for not securing the perimeters properly when suddenly, a messenger arrived with a message from the outskirts of the city.
An old man had approached Cổ Loa city with a message for the king regarding the building of the citadel. Curious as to who the old man was, king An Dương Vương mounted his quickest horse and made his way to where the old man was last reported.
There, on the hillside near the crumbled walls of the destroyed citadel stood an old man with white hair and beard. king An Dương Vương approached the old man and dismounted.
Good day to you, esteemed old man. My name is An Dương Vương. I am in charge of this area. May I ask your name? king An Dương Vương asked.
The old man replied: I am the Earth god of this region (Thổ Điạ). I see your citadel has failed yet again.
He pursed his lips and looked around. If you build it like that, there’s no telling when it will ever get done.
Hearing this, king An Dương Vương knew he was in the presences of an Immortal. and quickly fell on his knees.
Venerable Thổ Điạ, please help me. I have built and rebuilt this citadel, but it repeatedly falls down for no known reason. Why is this happening???
The Thổ Điạ (who I have previously revealed to you to be Lao Tzu) told the king: Do not worry. You only need to wait by the river at dawn. There will be an ambassador from Thanh Giang (Sky Realm) who will come to help you rebuild the citadel.
After saying this, the old man disappeared.
Early the next morning, king An Dương Vương waited with high hopes at the river bank to meet up with the Ambassador of Thanh Giang. He had no idea what to expect, but since he had just seen the Thổ Điạ disappear right before his eyes, he knew the ambassador would have to be some kind of an amazing spectacle.
Sure enough, just as the dawn was starting to tint the sky a rosy pinkish orange hue, a dull roar could be heard, and from beneath the dark waters of the river, a huge metallic turtle the color of rich gold emerged. It slowly approached him from the eastern side of the river, and once it reached king An Dương Vương, it stopped.
From within the tortoise, a figure emerged and proclaimed himself to be the emissary of the King of the Oceans (at that time, there was no actual name for king of the oceans, although we could probably think of him as someone akin to Poseidon or Enki).
He introduced himself as Huyền Vũ (aka the Black Warrior Trấn Vũ).
With much haste, King An Dương Vương ordered his men to carry the Black Warrior on a golden litter back to the palace. This was a special guest indeed.
After serving fine wine and good food to Huyền Vũ, the king then asked him what he should do.
Huyền Vũ said: At Thất Diệu Mountain, there is an ancient white chicken that has lived for such a long time that it has turned into a demon with the ability to transmute itself into many forms. It often harms passersby and guests who visit the inns around this area.
Why does it do this? The king asked.
Huyền Vũ narrowed his eyes. The former kings of this land you just conquered, along with their dead wizard musicians, are buried at Thất Diệu Mountain. Those souls, charged with keeping this land safe, have never been able to pass on, and instead, have long been lurking in the ravine of the deep cave. They are after you, your highness.
Me??? King An Dương Vương gasped.
Huyền Vũ nodded and pointed to King An Dương Vương. Those souls have a grudge against you, your royal highness. Now that you have taken over their ancestral lands, they have taken a vow to protect it from you, so in the depth of the night, they gather in groups to encourage the white chicken to destroy your citadel.
Wh–what do I do??? The king asked, eyes bulging.
Huyền Vũ responded without emotion: It was the white chicken that led the souls to use black magic to destroy your walls, then at predawn, they all fly back to the mountain. In a previous lifetime, that white demon chicken had a relationship with the daughter of an inn owner named Ngộ Không near the foot of the mountain, so he often appears as a traveler, visiting that inn.
His eyes grew more serious. Sometimes, that demon will possess the girl, at other times, he possesses the white chicken. If you want to build your citadel, the first thing you must do is kill the demon and the innkeeper’s daughter.
Without hesitation, the King ordered a few generals to position their troops around the base of the mountain. Then he disguised himself, along with Huyền Vũ, as travelers and made their way through the thick forest, to the inn at the foothills.
Since the inn’s location was situated between two fairly large cities, the path was fairly well-traveled, but when they reached their destination, the inn was completely boarded up.
Huyền Vũ walked up to the door and banged on it with the butt of his sword.
Open up old man Ngộ Không, or I will kick down your door! He yelled.
That did the trick. From within, there was the sound of footsteps, and then the door slowly opened. An old innkeeper poked his head out, his eyes filled with fear and dread.
Go away! He waved them off. This place is not open for business.
Why not? Huyền Vũ asked. It’s getting dark and we need a place to stay.
Have you not heard what just happened to the king’s citadel? Ngộ Không asked. There is a band of demons loose and not only have they destroyed our king’s fort, they have also been killing travelers along this path. It is too dangerous here. Go back! The old innkeeper insisted as he attempted to close the door on the king and Huyền Vũ.
Within seconds, the king had wedged his foot in the doorway and Huyền Vũ had brandished his sword.
Old man, do you not see that the sun will set in an hour? If what you say is true, then it is even more dangerous for us to be out here after dark. Open up or we will break down your door! Huyền Vũ advanced on him menacingly.
Seeing no other choice, the innkeeper reluctantly allowed them to enter, muttering to them as he led them to their room.
You will not find safety within these walls. The demon often kills people at night in their rooms while they sleep. If you want to avoid danger, go quickly now.
The King laughed and said: Life and death is driven only by destiny, what can a demon do? I am not afraid.
That night, Huyền Vũ and king An Dương Vương stayed up to await the demon. It did not take long.
Midnight had barely passed when they began hearing loud steps outside on the veranda. The loud thudding footsteps went back and forth, back and forth, and then suddenly, there was a loud insistent banging of a heavy hand hitting against the grill of the door. A low guttural, growling voice called out the name of the innkeeper’s daughter.
Oh shut the hell up! Huyền Vũ shouted at the demon. We’re all trying to sleep here, and you are just too damn loud!
The demon howled at the sound of Huyền Vũ: You, in this house. Open up!
Huyền Vũ laughed and bellowed his response: I’m keeping the door closed. What are you going to do about it?
Oh, the cacophony of enraged and howling demons filled the courtyard of the inn with such a ruckus that it was enough to make anyone insane with fear.
The area around the inn turned into a zoo filled with hundreds of demons of every shape and size. Mad with rage, they howled and hollered like beasts out for blood. They shook the doors and windows, rattled the walls and banged on the rooftop, demanding to be let in, but Huyền Vũ had placed a protection ward on the inn and no amount of force could break the spell.
Near the crack of dawn, when the first cocks began to crow, Huyền Vũ told king An Dương Vương to ready his troops, because the demons had to retreat back into the mountain before daybreak. The king gave a sharp piercing whistle and all the troops poured out of the inn.
The demons, seeing the sunshine beginning to peak above the ridge of Mount Thất Diệu, knew they had run out of time. They turned tail and made a hasty retreat back into the mountain, with the soldiers fast behind.
The generals and the troops, along with the king and Huyền Vũ chased the demons back up the mountain. As they ran, the soldiers raised their crossbows and fired silver-tipped arrows at the demons’ retreating backs. With each set of flying arrows came cries and screams of wounded and dying demons.
As they continued to chase after the horde, the screams grew less and less until finally, the sunlight broke through, dissolving the last of the demons with the final howls of anguish.
The soldiers broke through the cavern where the demons were headed and dug up the ancient remains of the corpses. They also removed all the cursed musical instruments they could find. Then they piled the instruments up, on top of the bones and remains, and burned everything down to ashes. Then, they released the ashes into a nearby mountain stream to completely destroy the demons’ souls.
Once they were done, the king and Huyền Vũ returned to the inn, just in time to see the innkeeper dragging out the body of a traveler who had died of fright the night before.
When he saw the king and Huyền Vũ, walking into the inn and laughing as if nothing horrifying had just happened the night before. The innkeeper ran up to them and prostrated himself.
You truly are saints, please bless us so we may be protected from harm.
The king commanded: If you want to be safe from harm, hand over your white chicken. We will sacrifice it to the heavens and the demons will disappear.
The innkeeper nodded and ran to get the chicken. As he went to prepare the chicken for slaughter, Huyền Vũ motioned to the king to follow.
Get ready, your highness. The demon is going to try and escape. We can’t let it go.
The king nodded and they both made their way to the kitchen area, where the innkeeper and his daughter were about to slaughter the white chicken. As soon as the innkeeper chopped off the chicken’s head, his daughter collapsed and suddenly died. In the ensuing chaos of the innkeeper’s anguish over the abrupt death of his only child, an owl from somewhere inside the house flew through the kitchen and out the doorway.
As they always say, 36 kế tẩu vi thượng sách, which means, of the 36 best fighting methods, running away is always the best option, and the demon was taking advantage of that premier method.
Knowing this was the demon trying to escape, once again, the king and Huyền Vũ gave chase, all the way back up the mountain. By this time, it was almost afternoon. The demon-turned-bird flew directly to the cavern where the corpses and musical instruments had been, only to find nothing left there. He then flew to the top of a nearby tree, holding something that looked like a letter in his mouth.
Huyền Vũ turned himself into a rat and ran up the tree where he promptly bit the owl’s feet. In the ensuing melee where the owl tried to get away, the letter fell to the ground. The king immediately snatched it up and destroyed it, even as Huyền Vũ finished off the owl for lunch.
The letter turned out to be a lá bùa (magic spell) which had been the demon’s key to remain in the land of the living yang. Once the lá bùa had been destroyed, the demon was forever banished from this realm, never to be seen again.
As Huyền Vũ had promised, king An Dương Vương was able to finish rebuilding the citadel in half a month, and the citadel was an amazing architectural wonder.
Huyền Vũ stayed at the palace for three more years before departing on the turtle. On the day he was to leave, the king asked him:
Thank you for your strong support, if foreign soldiers come, what can I do to hold out against them?
Huyền Vũ responded: Fortune and fatality, prosperity and safety of the nation, all are bound by the laws of universal karma. As king, you can cultivate virtue that may prolong your fortunes. But since you have made a wish, I have no regret.
Then he pulled from the golden turtle a claw and handed it to the king.
The nation is still danger. If there are enemies, use this sacred claw to make a crossbow. Aim it at the enemy and shoot. One shot will clear out thousands of enemy troops. As long as you still have this, you still have your country, Huyền Vũ said. Then he then entered the turtle and left.
The story of King An Dương Vương continued afterwards, but here, the story of Huyền Vũ and the Demon ends, so I will also pause my writing here. I did not add anything new to the story, nor did I leave any important details out. The only thing I did was to rewrite it so that it reads more smoothly, and more as if it was a short story, as opposed to an oral retelling of a very ancient tale that should be considered part of Vietnamese history, rather than a strange fairy tale about demons and aliens from outer space coming down in a turtle-shaped (disc-shaped?) space craft. We have many more strange myths from our shadowy past.
I hope you enjoyed it, as I surely have enjoyed translating it for you.
It was very exciting, I like your translation, thank you.
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I’m working on the story behind the white demon chicken. It’s very interesting too.
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