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Synopsis

Western China, 1196: Yun Cai, a handsome and adored poet in his youth, is now an old man, exiled to his family estates. All that is left to him are regrets of a growing sense of futility and helplessness and the irritations of his feckless son and shrewish daughter-in-law. But the 'poison dragons' of misfortune shatter his orderly existence. First, Yun Cai's village is threatened with destruction by a vicious civil war. His wayward second son, a brutal rebel officer seems determined to ruin his entire family. Meanwhile, Yun Cai struggles to free an old friend, P'ei Ti, from a hellish prison- no easy task when P'ei Ti is the rebels' most valuable hostage and Yun Cai considers himself merely a spent, and increasingly frightened old man. Throughout these ordeals, Yun Cai draws from the glittering memories of his youth, when he journeyed to the capital to study poetry and join the upper ranks of the civil service: how he contended with rivalry and enmity among his fellow students and secured the friendship of P'ei Ti. Above all, he reflects on a great love he won and lost: his love for the beautiful singing girl, Su Lin, for which he paid with his freedom and almost his life. Yun Cai is forced to reconsider all that he is and all that he has ever been in order to determine how to preserve his honour and all that he finds he still cherishes. Only then can summon the wit and courage to confront the warlord General An-Shu and his beautiful but cruel consort, the Lady Ta-Chi.

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