Long ago in ancient China, a general was fishing on the Tung Lake. When he spied a huge fish swimming beneath the surface of the lake, he shot an arrow and Founded the creature in the back.
The fish was pulled out of the water and attached to the mast of the ship. But the general's servant, a young man named Chen Pichiao, could not bear to watch the fish dangle helplessly in the air.
"There is something about this fish that fills my heart with sympathy," he said to the general. "May I please put it back in the water?"
Chen persisted until finally the general agreed to let the fish go. Chen was so concerned about the fish he even put a piece of plaster on its wound before lowering it back into the Tung Lake.
A year later, Chen was crossing the Tung Lake alone, and his small boat was caught in a sudden squall. As the boat began to sink, Chen saved himself by clinging to a bamboo crate. After drifting all night, he caught an overhanging tree branch and scrambled onto the shore.
Exhausted from his ordeal, he rested on the lake shore, beneath a waving willow. He saw not a single human being. But around noon, he heard the galloping of horses.
Chen quickly hid behind a tree just as a beautiful princess rode by. She wore a crown of pheasant's feathers and carried a bow and arrow. Behind her rode a host of lovely attendants, also carrying bows and arrows.
As the hunting party galloped on, Chen trembled with amazement. What strange land was this? he wondered.
Chen hurried away from the shore. He traveled over the green hills until he came upon a palace surrounded by high walls. He crossed a stone bridge and ran up a winding path to a red door. Then he opened the door and stepped into a courtyard.
The air was filled with the fragrance of flowers. Bird song came from the swaying willows and tall elms. A swing seemed to be hanging from the clouds.
As Chen wandered the grounds, he heard galloping. The hunting party had returned! He hid behind a bush and watched the princess lead her attendants into the courtyard. Her hair was like a cloud of dark mist. As her entourage served fragrant tea, they glittered about her like beautiful embroidery.
After tea, the princess climbed into the swing. Chen nearly fainted with admiration as he watched her swing high into the fleecy clouds, as light as a swallow. After a while, the princess stopped swinging, and she and her attendants wandered away.
In a daze, Chen tried to follow them. But suddenly he heard guards, and before he could hide, the guards captured him and imprisoned him in a locked room.
Chen waited alone in his prison, certain he would be put to death. He imagined that anyone caught spying upon the princess would be greatly punished.
After a day and night of fearful waiting, Chen was escorted to the Great Hall. The guards drew aside a bamboo curtain and announced him to the princess. Chen trembled with fear, for he expected that in the next moment the enchanting princess would sentence him to die.
But the moment the princess laid eyes on Chen, she could only stare in utter astonishment. "Please excuse the rudeness of my guards," she said softly. "And please accept my love and gratitude."
Chen could not believe his ears. "But why, magnificent one, do you spare me?" he asked.
"Last year as I was traveling over the surface of the water," the princess explained, "I was suddenly wounded by an arrow. But you saved me. You even put a plaster on my wound. For this reason, I am indebted to you forever."
"Ah, so you were the fish I saved!" said Chen.
"Yes." The beautiful princess lowered her eyes. "I would like to be your friend forever," she said.
"Oh, how wonderful," he said.
The princess then ordered her servants to pour wine and serve a great feast. The whole place was lit with colored lamps. Bands played; and beautiful mats were laid down for dancing.
As Chen danced with the lake princess, he said, "You need never worry again about your debt to me. Having you as my friend is the greatest reward of all."
Chen Pichiao cared deeply for the lake princess. But after three days, he began to worry about his life back home. In fact, he was certain all his family and friends would be grieving over his absence.
"I want you to live with your human family," said the lake princess, "but I will make it possible for you to visit with me also."
The next day it surprised everyone in Chen's village to see him ride up on a splendid horse. He wore handsome clothes and carried many valuable jewels. From that time on, Chen kept a magnificent home. He often told his relatives and his friends about his adventures with the princess of the Tung Lake. Though everyone enjoyed his stories, no one really believed them.
But then one day a man from Chen's village named Liang was crossing the Tung Lake. Suddenly Liang saw an ornamental barge with carved woodwork and red windows. He heard music and singing. When he peeked into the barge he saw none other than his friend Chen sitting with the lake princess.
"Chen! It is you!" said Liang.
"Why are you so surprised, friend?" said Chen. "I have been telling everyone all along about my life on the Tung Lake."
"But - but -" sputtered Liang.
"Won't you join us for wine and food?" said the princess.
Liang visited several hours with Chen and the lake princess. "I must be on my way, now," he said.
"Please say hello to my wife and family," said Chen.
"Indeed, " said Liang, a bit dazed. "This news will surprise them all, I'm sure."
Liang said good - bye and headed for home.
But as soon as Liang stepped foot in his own village, whom should he see but Chen! Drinking with a party of friends in the local tea house!
"How did you get back home before me?" cried Liang.
"I don't know what you mean," said Chen. "I have been here all day."
"No you haven't!" said Liang. "I saw you on the lake with the princess!"
"You are mistaken. Chen has been here all day with us," said one of Chen's friends.
"Indeed he has, " said another.
"No! No! He can't be in two places at once!" Liang shouted.
As Liang kept ranting and raving, everyone only laughed and told him he was crazy.
After many years of a long and happy life, Chen passed away at the age of eighty. When his coffin bearers carried his coffin to its grave, they thought it was remarkably light. They opened it, and found his body had disappeared. In its place was a bit of seaweed and some water. The coffin bearers gasped in astonishment.
"The lake princess must have worked her final magic," whispered Liang.
From: Mermaid Tales
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