One day, he had to go on a long trip for about 10 days to perform viec muong, community work in the Thai-populated region.
A merchant with a flock of horses happened upon the hamlet and, of course, the young wife’s beauty did not go unnoticed.
“Hey, sweet girl! Where could a poor merchant rest his head for the night?” he said with a gentle smile.
“Girl?” said the young wife, a touch irritated. “Can’t you see my tang cau?” (A hair bun that signifies a Thai woman is married.)
“Perhaps you have just married and have yet to have a child, so you still look like a girl,” he said with a cocky smile. “Please, all I need is a place to sleep.”
“If you do not make light of my small house, you can stay.”
So the man came in and as usual when he did business, he presented a pack of tobacco for her husband, sweets for any children and boxes of thread. Then he pulled out some glittering silver coins and instructed her to buy a large chicken for his dinner.
That night, she asked a neighbour’s kid to sleep with her to thwart any advances the man might attempt. But the merchant was in no rush.
“I’ll just stay another night,” he said to himself as he fell asleep.
The next morning when he woke up, he saw the beautiful woman returning from a bath in the stream, shouldering a water tube made of bamboo and with the water still glistening on her shoulders the merchant only became more besotted by her beauty.
“My horses and I are still tired. I want to stay another night,” he said while handing over a luxurious piece of cloth. “Your complexion is white and soft. This cloth suits you well.”
“But I do not deserve it.”
“No. It doesn’t cost that much, nor do I ask you for money.”
Then as she had no jewellery, the merchant gave her a gemstone bracelet, two gold ear-rings and a silver hairpin, saying a beauty like hers should have all.
Although at first, the woman felt guilty accepting these lavish gifts, soon she was overwhelmed. She thought, “why shouldn’t I have jewellery and dresses?” It was only down to poor luck that she married such a poor husband. And so it was that the merchant came to get pretty cosy around the house.
Of course, when the husband returned he was so angry he took out a dagger, thinking he would kill the two of them, right there and then. But he could not bring himself to harm a hair on his wife’s beautiful head. Instead, he brought the case to the local court.
“We were living in happiness until this man came and wooed her with his fancy gifts. I can prove that she is my wife,” he told the judge.
“I don’t know who this poor guy is,” said the merchant. “But he suddenly came and said my wife was his. If he is so poor, how can he buy her these precious items she wears so well?”
“Hang on, there’s an easy solution to this,” barked the judge looking at the woman. “Which of them is your husband?”
But she could not answer. In fact, she burst out crying. The judge asked her again and again but he received no answer.
“You’re all wasting my time so you all should be punished,” roared the judge, who told his officials to bring in a big drum. “Now first, the poor man and the woman carry this drum together over the five hills yonder.”
So the real husband and his wife carried the drum away. On the way the man thought of the many sweet memories they shared but his wife kept silent and after one morning’s walking they carried the drum over the five hills and back.
“Now the rich guy and the woman do the same” said the judge.
So the merchant and the woman carried the drum away. On the way the merchant urged her to leave the poor husband and promised more precious beautiful gifts.
“Your assets have torn my family apart. You want to marry me but if I become your wife, you will treat me like a servant only,” she barked.
When they returned back to the court, the judge ordered the drum to be opened and a small man who’d heard all emerged. He said the poor man was the real husband.
The judge confiscated the merchant’s assets, had him beaten one hundred times by a wooden stick and chased him out of town.
As for the couple, well, it’s hard to know what ever became of them, and perhaps it’s better not to ask.