Three brothers set out on the road one day to find their individual fortunes in life. They came to a three-way fork in the road.
The oldest said, "Well, here's where we shall part. Each of us will take one of these roads. Let's meet up here in three years from today. We'll then see how far each of us has gone in life."
It was agreed and they went their separate ways.
The oldest brother walked and walked and followed the path up into Hairy Mountain. By now he was weak with thirst. Up ahead was a farmhouse, and outside the house was a lovely young woman preparing hot food over a fire.
"Da Sao, could I please trouble you for a drink of water?" he asked her.
She plunged a sieve into a tub of water and then took it out, handing it to him so he could drink from it. He drank what he could, thanked her, and was on his way.
Hmm . . . he thought. I didn't have much to drink, but what I did drink has truly refreshed me.
On and on he walked. It wasn't before too long that he suddenly came down with a terrible stomachache. He doubled over and grabbed his stomach from the excruciating pain.
"Young man," a voice from nearby said, "what is troubling you?"
He looked up. An old farmer was standing nearby. He told the man about the farmhouse and the young woman and how he had drunk water from her sieve.
"Oh, young man! What were you thinking? Drinking water from a . . . sieve? Of all things! Who drinks water from a sieve? That's just courting trouble!" The old man shook his head. "Listen. I can definitely relieve you of your stomachache and cure you. Would you like that?"
"Yes, please, sir!" said the young man.
"Very well. You must come with me. For me to help you, you must agree to one thing."
"Yes, yes, oh, yes, please . . . whatever it is!"
"You must swear to marry my daughter who has never married before. Do you agree to become my son-in-law?"
"Good. Now, come with me . . . "
The young man, though absorbed with pain, slowly followed the old man. To his surprise, the old man led back to the very farmhouse where the young woman, now revealed to be his daughter, had given him water from a sieve!
And now he was to marry her . . . Well, an oath is an oath. The old fellow had him over a barrel, and, seeing as how he was bent over, holding his gut in sheer agony, the young man could not do a whole lot about it. He needed relief, and he needed it now!
And so he was married to the young woman on the spot. The old man, now his father-in-law, indeed then cured him of his severe bellyache.
The newlywed couple spent their first night sleeping on a kang, a brick bed heated by coal and wood found in colder Chinese regions.
All through the night, he perceived a deep abyss separating him and his wife, preventing him from inching closer to her. He looked down and saw nothing but the space of an endless darkness between them.
Imagination? Nerves? Dream? He couldn't fathom what was happening.
Gradually, he drifted off to an uneasy, restless sleep.
The next day, the father-in-law said, "Now that you and my daughter are married, some family members and friends will want to come over to celebrate, so we need to get ready. I'll need you to go farther up the mountain and bring back some firewood. Tomorrow, our guests will begin arriving."
The young man went up the mountain. Not long after he had arrived in an area where he could easily chop and collect wood, the sky turned dark and inky. Thunder and lightning shook the mountain, and a huge torrential rain soon followed.
He scurried for cover.
Up ahead was the mouth of a cave. He dashed in only to discover it was inhabited by a very old woman, who greeted and welcomed him. He told her his story.
"Oh, my dear," she said, shaking her head, "you're actually married to someone living on this accursed mountain. There are no good, decent mortals living on this mountain, only demons! And you've gone ahead and married the daughter of one, a spider shapeshifter. Your wife is one herself, too! Her father has already enabled her to eat ninety-nine young male travelers before you came along. You're supposed to be the one hundredth!
"If you hadn't been such a good-looking youth, you'd have been eaten last night. She clearly spared you for that reason. You can be sure that your father-in-law is enraged with your wife for sparing you last night. That's why he had you come up here looking for firewood so he could give his daughter time to conjure up a sudden storm and so you could somehow get yourself killed up here by a falling tree, rolling boulder, whatever . . . "
The young man was now scared out of his wits.