Love is ruthless.
A beautiful lady picked lotuses by the autumn bank, her narrow and thin sleeves fleetingly revealed a pair of golden bracelets.
The reflection of the water cast light on her face as she realised that the flower she plucked looked like a face, her heart was but a thread in a tangled mess.
Mandarin ducks on the banks as night approached and the wind stirred waves, as visibility became low they could not find a companion.
The girl picks lotuses by the autumn bank, as she pulls on her narrow sleeves, two gold bracelets are revealed. On the surface is a picture of beauty, but underneath her heart is like a string struggling to be untangled.
The fog has lightened due to the strong winds, but as time approaches, solitude lies by the stream. A mysterious song is heard from afar, seemingly from the Jiangnan province. A soft and graceful tune was played which carried across the lake’s surface under the cover of the mist. Once the song had finished, a small boat appeared. Within the boat were five girls who were singing and laughing, picking lotuses into the boat. The lyrics the girls sang were from the poem The Butterfly Loves the Flower, written by the Song poet Ouyang Xiu, the words sung matched what the girl was feeling inside; though only sixty words were sung, the season, time of day, place, scenery and the girl’s face, clothes, hair adornments, emotions were all described meticulously. The next part of the song is as if someone is narrating a scene, a love story, which is close at heart yet far away, but a love which isn’t yet exhausted.
Ouyang Xiu was in Jiangnan as a court official where he lived a leisurely lifestyle, doing as he pleased, absorbed in what he was doing (reading, writing etc.,). People of Song shouldn’t use their position to abuse the town’s people, but it is not forbidden to use poetry for leisure. As long as a line of poetry came out, as long as there is well water to accompany a song, as the Jiangnan spring comes and the willow buds, as lotuses are on the autumn lake, everything that follows is an Ou poem.
It was during the year when Southern Song was established, and when the South Lake became popular. It was near mid autumn, as lotus leaves began to decay, and when lotus pods were at their best. A song spread across the lake to a Taoist priestess’s ear. As she sat alone underneath a willow tree quietly, the night winds forced her to place an apricot yellow robe on. The winds managed to brush a piece of dirt on her neck. She hid her feelings, as ‘a lonely heart like a string struggling to be untangled’. The song gradually moves away, the song is a verse of Ouyang Xiu’s Butterfly Loves a Flower. A light breeze carried two sentences; “there are no lovers meeting under the wind and moon, the past is like a dream cut short”. The song comes to a rest. A smile came upon her lips.
She let out a sigh and raised a left hand revealing a bloody palm. “What do you find so funny?” she mumbled to herself. She sang to herself, without understanding the regret and sorrow within the poem.
Standing about one hundred feet away from the priestess, a plainly dressed bearded old man was standing silently unmoved but as he heard the two sentences he let out an extremely quiet sigh.
A little boat gently glides across the blue jade lake. The girls on the boat were young; three of them about fifteen or sixteen, the other two were around nine. Two of the girls were cousins. The older of the two was called Cheng Ying; the younger was called Lu Wushuang. The difference in age was about six months.
The other three girls were singing songs constantly, the boat emerging from a pile of lotus leaves.
Cheng Ying said, “Cousin, can you guess who that old man is?” pointing to the man underneath the willow tree.
The hair on that man is all messed up, his beard loose, the colour of his beard was black like a crow’s, indicating that he is not very old, although his face has traces of wrinkles like those of a seventy or eighty year old. He is wearing blue, around his neck is hung a bright satin bib. On it was embroidery of cat jumping at a butterfly, though the picture is now old and fading away.
Lu Wushuang said, “That strange man has sat there for half a day now, why doesn’t he move?”
Cheng Ying said, “If you want to call him something, call him old grandpa. If you call him strange, surely he would get angry.”
Lu Wushuang laughed, “Is he not strange? He’s old yet he is still wearing a bib. If the bearded man gets up and becomes angry, that is surely something to be watched.”
From within the boat a disheveled lotus was lifted up and is thrown towards the man. The boat is about ten feet from the man. Lu Wushuang is young but the strength in her arms is not feeble, the one stroke was very accurate.
Cheng Ying shouted out,” Cousin!”
It was meant to delay her but she saw the lotus was in front of her face and flew past.
As the man looked up, he saw the lotus flying towards him, but he didn’t put his hand up to catch it and let it hit him in the face. He started to eat the petals from his face and clothes even though the petals were bitter, and smiled as the boat is rowed closer and eventually came ashore.
Cheng Ying ran towards the man and tugged his clothes saying, “Old grandpa, those are not nice to eat.”
She reached into a pocket and pulled out a lotus flower, split it open, peeled off eighteen petals, then split open the blue green skin of the lotus and removed the bitter core, and then passed it onto the man’s hand. The man put it into his mouth and started to chew, and felt an extremely sweet taste, completely different to what he had eaten before. He cracked a smile at Cheng Ying and nodded his head. Cheng Ying did this again and gave another lotus to the man. The man put it in his mouth and chewed for a while and then looked up at the sky and said, “Follow me?” While he said this he was striding in a westerly direction.
Lu Wushuang grabbed hold of Cheng Ying’s hand and said, “Cousin lets follow him.”
The one of the other three girls spoke up and said, “Let’s go home, if you go now, Lady will scold at us.”
Lu Wushuang put on a naughty face after she saw the strange man had run away extremely quickly and said, “If you don’t come, fine”, then released her cousin’s hand and chased after the man. Cheng Ying had come out to play with her cousin and couldn’t leave her alone and so followed.
The other three girls were older than them, but they didn’t have the same courage and just called out a few times, as they watched the old man disappear into the mulberry forest followed by the two cousins.
The old man ran very fast, but saw that the two cousins couldn’t keep up so stopped and waited. However, in the end he would not wait any longer and turned around towards them, grabbed the girls, put one underneath each of his armpits, and flew towards his destination. The two girls could only hear the sound of the wind in their ear, the stones and grass on the ground flew past their eyes. Lu Wushuang became frightened and shouted, “Let me go! Let me go!” The strange man ignored her, and instead moved even quicker. Lu Wushuang looked up, and bit fiercely on the man’s hand. Teeth marks were left on the man’s palm but he hid the pain. Lu Wushuang loosened her teeth. She shouted and screamed with all her life. Cheng Ying stayed quiet.