Princess Aya is betrothed to the second son of Lord Ako. One night before the wedding, she walks through the garden, accompanied by her maids. She wonders about her bridegroom. How he looks, if he is kind.
The moon shines on her favorite peony bed beside the pond. She lingers and bends to smell their light fragrance. Her foot slips and as she is about to tumble into the pond, a young man appears and snatches her upright. He is clad in a robe embroidered with peonies. He vanishes before the princess can thank him.
A few days later, Aya takes to her bed. She is too ill to stand, her fever rages. The best physicians cannot cure her.
Her maid begs an audience with Princess Aya’s father. “I am sworn to secrecy,” she tells him, “but I am afraid for Aya’s life.” She confesses that Princess Aya fell in love that night by the pond with a young man wearing robes embroidered with peonies. “You must find him, Lord, or Princess Aya will die.”
Aya’s sickbed is moved to a pavilion by the pond next to the peonies. At night, musicians play their flutes and kotos behind a screen while the princess stares with hot glazed eyes into the flowers. Each night, a young man appears to Princess Aya. He wears the same silk robe embroidered with peonies. Aya weeps with yearning and her fever increases.
One night, Aya’s father orders a servant to dress in black and hide in the peony bed. The music starts, the princess turns her head toward the peony bed. She is weak, waiting for her vision. The mysterious young man appears and as he reaches to touch Aya, the servant grabs him. The servant binds the young man’s arms and cries for the palace guards. The princess sits up in bed, alarmed, fully awake.
The servant clings hard to the young man. A heady fragrance emanates from the captive. The servant grows dizzy and slumps to the ground. The Lord’s guards come running. When the servant regains consciousness, all he holds in his arms is a large peony.
“My daughter,” says Princess Aya’s father, “I see that it was the spirit of the peony which visited you and saved you from falling. Now you must take this flower and treat it with all kindness.
The princess returns to her bed in the palace and places the peony beside her in a vase. Each day, she grows healthier and the flower flourishes.
When she is well, Lord Ako arrives at the castle with his second son. Princess Aya marries her betrothed.
At that very hour, the peony dies.