The story of Cowherd and Weaver Girl
In late summer, the stars Altair and Vega are high in the night sky, and the Chinese tell the following love story, of which there are many variations:
A young cowherd named Niulang (Chinese: 牛郎; pinyin: niú láng; literally "the cowherd", the star Altair) happens across seven fairy sisters bathing in a lake. Encouraged by his mischievous companion the ox, he steals their clothes and waits to see what will happen. The fairy sisters elect the youngest and most beautiful sister Zhinü (simplified Chinese: 织女; traditional Chinese: 織女; pinyin: zhī nǚ; literally "the weaver girl", the star Vega) to retrieve their clothing. She does so, but since Niulang has seen her naked, she must agree to his request for marriage. She proves to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang a good husband. They lived happily and had two children. But the Goddess of Heaven (in some versions Zhinü's mother) finds out that a mere mortal has married one of the fairy girls and is furious. (In another version, the Goddess forced the weaver fairy back to her former duty of weaving colorful clouds in the sky because she could not do her job while married to the mortal.) Down on Earth, Niulang is very upset learning that his wife is gone. Suddenly, his cow begins to talk telling him that if he kills him and puts on his hide, he will be able to go up to Heaven to find his wife. With tears flowing, he killed the cow, put on the skin and carrying his two children with him and off he went to Heaven to find Zhinü. The Goddess found out he had come and was very angry. Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratches a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever (thus forming the Milky Way, which separates Altair and Vega).
Zhinü must sit forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang watches her from afar and takes care of their two children (his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae or by their Chinese names Hè Gu 1 and Hè Gu 3).
But once a year all the magpies in the world take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge (鵲橋, "the bridge of magpies", Que Qiao) over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so the lovers may be together for a single night, the seventh night of the seventh moon.
It is said that if it rains on the night of Qi Xi, they are the tears of Niulang and Zhinü crying at the misery of their life.