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South Korea: Part Two: A debt of gratitude

A magpie caught (by a camera) in a woman's backyard.
A magpie caught (by a camera) in a woman's backyard.

To recap the beginning of the story from the previous article…

A man was walking through the forest on his way to the city when he came across a snake about to eat some baby magpies in their nest. Like most men of that time he carried a bow with him so he notched an arrow and quickly killed the snake. The birds were very grateful and he continued on his way to the city. Later, when his business was concluded, he began the return trip home. He came across the same wood that night but couldn’t go farther so he stopped at a house there. The woman who let him in turned out to be the snake’s wife and wanted revenge for her husband’s death…

But the snake’s wife made a deal with the man anyway. She pointed to an old temple bell that could be seen out the window. If that bell tolled before the night was done, the man could leave unharmed. If not…

Now the bell hadn’t made a sound in years but the man didn’t know this and agreed to her deal. All night long he waited for the bell’s toll but there was only silence. Despair filled him as the night came to a close, but just before the sun rose and shed its light on the world, a deep vibrating sound rang over the forest. The snake woman hissed and screeched in her fury but she could not hold him or harm him and the man walked free, overjoyed to be still alive.

He went to the temple where the bell was, wanting to see who had saved his life and thank them but, search as he would, there was no one there. The only thing he found were the small bodies of dead baby magpies.

He had saved them from the snake who was about to eat them in the tree. Finding out that his life was in danger and knowing how to save him, the magpies joined together and flew into the bell, creating the loud noise that freed the man. In so doing, they gave up their own lives and repaid their debt of gratitude.

Credit for this story must be given by Sung-Bong S, from Colorado State University. The title remains unknown as it was a story his mother had told him during his childhood.


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