Peony chirped impatiently. Tai-yu looked to his left at the bamboo cage hanging from a long chain attached to the pagoda roof. A small bird cocked an expectant eye at him. His colours were kaleidoscopic, and seemed to change with each hop from perch to perch as does a kaleidoscope with each turn.
"So, my little Peony, you are hungry. Here then." Tai-yu pinched a crumb from his cake. With trembling, enfeebled fingers he offered it to the bird. It was received as tribute, with a sharp "chirp" of acknowledgement. The tiny head bobbing forward in quick jerks left no doubt that Tai-yu would be sent to dark places unless more tribute was forthcoming.
"Greedy, greedy. You are even worse than those beggars in the lotus pond. Not too many sweets for you, my friend."
"And so, today," Tai-yu went on, "what shall I lecture to you about? It must be a lecture you know because you aren't much of a conversationalist. Of course, that is the best of all audiences." The bird jumped across the cage and considered himself in a small mirror hung on the side. Liking what he saw he burst into song as would any good Mandarin opera star under such circumstances.
"Without mirrors," Tai-yu wondered, "would the world ever have any generals?"
The old man sat nibbling at a rice cake (he never finished even one) and savoured the delicate green tea. The breeze had died down and there was only the distant sound of drying, rustling bamboo leaves and an occasional gentle swish of water in the lotus pond as a fish snapped at an insect.
Suddenly, Peony shattered the silence with an alarmed chatter, jumping rapidly from perch to swing. Annoyed, Tai-yu looked at the bird. But the bird was not concerned with him. His attention was riveted on the rear garden wall. Peony was very agitated.