Sitting and drinking wine at the Dragon Gate Inn
Posted 01 November 2006 - 03:24 AM
Two people, actually, entered the room. One was the familiar Nangong Ling whom we encountered yesterday. I recalled his parting shot to Meng Ju that he'd win Lady Serenity's hand, but I would never have expected him to dare take the pill. I suppose he's as mad as the rest of us, but my estimation of him was raised considerably for proving me wrong.
His face was ashened, his eyes a little wild, his walk a little unsteady and required some assistance from the figure besides him. I was more than surprised to recognise Nangong Ling's younger sister, Nangong Yan (南宮燕).
Unlike her brother who was an obnoxious fellow, Nangong Yan was quite a pleasant girl. She didn't deck herself with jewelry like most girls from socially prominent families, and she possessed a streak of daringness associated with native girls of Sichuan but seldom demonstrated among her peers.
She's one of the girls from priviliged background that I actually liked. I heard that they were stricter about conduct in the Imperial Capital, but in this province, we were more relaxed and scions of both genders from elite families had more interaction with each other, though a chaperone would always be around. I brought Nangong Yan to attend a couple of performances and I quite enjoyed her company.
What was she doing here? Providing moral support for her brother?
Nangong Yan saw me and quickly sat her brother down on a couch. Then, grabbing my arm, she took me to the verandah and whispered with desperation in her voice.
"Brother Zhuge, you got to help my brother!" she pleaded.
It transpired that the Nangong clan had sent a sizable party, including Nangong Yan who begged for permission, to accompany Nangong Ling to woo Lady Serenity. When they learned of the conditions upon arrival, they were more than ready to turn back, until some hecklers jeered and hooted at Nangong Ling. Apparently, Nangong Ling had repeated to more people the bragging he made to Meng Ju the day before. It came back to haunt him today in the presence of his clan elders, exposing the family to ridicule. This was despite the fact that many scions of prominent families had also balked at the conditions, but none had been as boastful like the insufferable Nangong Ling.
Nangong Yan was vague whether Nangong Ling had taken the pill under duress from his own clan or on impulse from the tauntings that Meng Ju had been first to take the pill. But it was clear the experience was very distressing to him, and the clan had ordered her, the only Nangong female, to accompany him and help him win. No one else in the party had volunteered.
"Brother was practically trembling all the way in. I couldn't get a word out of him at all. Please, brother Zhuge, you got to help us!" She entreated frantically.
"I wished I know how to, I really do." I replied glumly.
"You ... oh! You did too ..." She cried with sudden realization.
I could not bear to see her so distraught, so I put on my most mischevious smile and said, "Don't worry, it'll work out. Did they make you take the pill too?"
She shook her head, "No, she said it has ... *unsuitable* effects on maidens ..." pointing to the seneschal who just appeared at the saloon's doorway, she must have come after closing the main gates.
Posted 06 November 2006 - 11:14 PM
"In one of these casket is a portrait of our Ladyship. In this first round, you have but one attempt to choose that casket. Indicate by presenting to the maid beside you the corresponding token to the casket of your choice."
We stared at the three caskets on the table. The Lady Seneschal had led us all silently to another square chamber, all bare except for a table in the middle. The room had two doors, one to the south from where we entered, and another door to the north, closed. Daylight entered from side windows.
All the caskets looked crafted exquisitely by the same maker. The only difference was their materials.
Looking carefully, we noticed each had an inscription in archaic scripts on the covers.
On the gold casket were the words "Who chooseth me, shall gaine what men desire."
On the silver casket were the words "Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserues."
On the lead casket were the words "Who chooseth me, must giue and hazard all he hath."
This is it? That's the first round of trial? Just one of three by figuring out some nonsensical riddle, if it can be called that at all?
The apparent simpleness of the test, in contrast to the ultimate stake I had put up, caused a swelling of indignation rose within me.
I looked at the faces of the others present : besides my sworn brothers, Prince Shangkon of Tubo, the Nangong siblings, and Master Chen Xian. I thought all their faces reflected similar expressions of disbelief.
Putting an arm on Meng Ju, I gave him the look that said it all, "Choose well. Whatever happens, I will not blame you. But please, choose well."
Posted 07 November 2006 - 10:14 PM
Chen Xian shut her eyes, hoping that others would take it as a sign of deep thought and not the headache threatening to descend upon her. She was no academic; she was a simple girl, albeit of noble blood, raised by a woodsman. And what use did woodsmen have for book-learning, nobles though they be?
She tried to squelch the drums and gongs and cymbals bashing out a merry dance in her head, cursing the day she was ever born.
On the gold casket were the words "Who chooseth me, shall gaine what men desire."
On the silver casket were the words "Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserues."
On the lead casket were the words "Who chooseth me, must giue and hazard all he hath."
What the heck did they mean? She stilled her inner being and decided to utilise all the native intelligence she possessed, which she admitted was not much.
"Who chooseth me, shall gaine what men desire." Well, she was no man, and she sure as heck did not desire Lady Serenity. Those luckless sods beside her were more than welcome to the giggly, flirtatious chit she was sure Lady Serenity was.
"Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserues." Oh, for all her troubles, she'd better darn well get what she came for, Chen snorted mentally.
Who chooseth me, must giue and hazard all he hath." Oh no. Not a good portent. Spies were suppose to put their lives at stake for their country, and right now she felt as if it were her sanity at stake and not her life. But what good was a deranged spy to Nanzhao?
No, she had to stick this out. And, taking a deep breath as well as the plunge, she went along with her female intuition.
"Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserues." She opened her eyes as she uttered the second riddle, to the astonished murmurs of her fellow suitors.
Chen snapped a sharp, courtly bow, and moved out of the way, hoping that she had not sealed her fate with the riddle she uttered. Whatever else happened now, was in the hands of the gods. One could only hope and pray for their favour.
Posted 07 November 2006 - 10:49 PM
The intonation from the Nanzhao aristocrat broke the silence as all of us looked at her.
Was that her choice as she bowed and stepped back? The silver casket?
Nangong Ling, who had been looking dazed, suddenly changed his expression into one of seriousness, and urgency. He took the silver token from the collection he was given, and swiftly stepped up to the Lady Seneschal, pressing it into her hands.
Some of his flamboyance returned, as he turned around and sneered, "I was first."
"You have to give me the token in person, Master Chen Xian." Seneshal Zhong reminding the rest of us along.
Prince Shangkon frowned, and then gave a confident grin as he selected the gold token from his collection and presented it to the Seneschal.
I looked at the three tokens held up by Tang Xiong for Meng Ju to examine - gold, silver and lead.
Meng Ju smiled, and nodded to Tang Xiong.
"You know which I'll pick. If you would be so kind ..." he said.
Huh? Did the two of them now mind-read each other now? On some rare occassions like this, I had gotten the feeling that despite our camaderie, the two of them shared something I am not privy to.
Edited by snowybeagle, 07 November 2006 - 10:51 PM.
Posted 07 November 2006 - 11:12 PM
Her real choice, her gut choice, was the 3rd...she stepped forward and pressed the lead token into Seneschal Zhong's palm, smirking to herself at Nangong's slack jaw.
Posted 08 November 2006 - 09:29 PM
My jaws DROPPED!!! The lead casket ??!!!!!
How did that clue go again ... "Who chooseth me, must giue and hazard all he hath." ...
That lead token is giving and hazarding the most important thing to a man for me all right!!!
Seneschal Zhong accepted the lead token from Meng Ju who carried a blank expression.
I looked at Meng Ju and Tang Xiong ... had they figured out the riddle? How?
The three of us had spent countless hours playing games together, sometimes at each other's houses, but mostly at our downtown club with other friends, or in "professional recreational establishments". Among the games we played were riddles, and all these while, it was accepted that I, nicknamed "Little Kong Ming" after my illustrious ancestor, was the most witty of us all.
I shook my head. I had trusted Meng Ju implicitly with his choice, and I do not regret it.
But still, I could not help wonder why he and Tang Xiong had known to select the lead token ... was it their superior willpower to remain unflappable. I admit, I'm not at my best now ... no ordinary man, I thought, should be expected to be at their sharpest after taking that d***** pill.
Recalling an old saying ... Alia iacta est ... I forced myself to regain composure and await the verdict.
Seneschal Zhong moved to take her place behind the table and announced, "All candicates have submitted their choice. We will proceed to open the casket in the order of the submission." as her hand moved to open the silver casket.
I strained my eyes for the moment of truth ...
Posted 24 November 2006 - 02:57 AM
Regarding the three caskets again, he affected his snobbish airs and recited in the old tongue (I didn't know he paid any attention to those classes, I know I slept through most of them.)
To my hearts hope: gold, siluer, and base lead.
Who chooseth me must giue and hazard all he hath. You shall looke fairer ere I giue or hazard.
Who chooseth me, shall gaine what many men desire: What many men desire, that many may be meant
By the foole multitude that choose by show, Not learning more then the fond eye doth teach, Which pries not to th' interior, but like the Martlet Builds in the weather on the outward wall, Euen in the force and rode of casualtie.
Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserues: And well said too; for who shall goe about
To cosen Fortune, and be honourable Without the stampe of merrit, let none presume
To weare an vndeserued dignitie: O that estates, degrees, and offices, Were not deriu'd corruptly, and that cleare honour
Were purchast by the merrit of the wearer;
Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserues. I will assume desert; giue me a key for this, And instantly vnlocke my fortunes here
Unrolling the scroll, his expression of triumph froze ... dropping the whole thing to the floor, open for us all to see ...
A portrait of a clown's mask ... and some words at the side ...
The fier seauen times tried this,
Seauen times tried that iudgement is,
That did neuer choose amis,
Some there be that shadowes kisse,
Such haue but a shadowes blisse:
There be fooles aliue Iwis
Siluer'd o're, and so was this:
Take what wife you will to bed,
I will euer be your head:
So be gone, you are sped
Nangong Ling fell to his knees, breaking down and sobbed uncontrollably ...
His sister sped to his side to try to comfort him and calm him down, but he was becoming more and more hysterical.
Feeling obliged to help her, I step up to put a firm grip on him. Nangong Ling stopped thrashing about, but he continued wailing non-stop.
Shaking her head with a cryptic expression, Seneschal gave a nod and two maids appeared, "Assist Young Master Nangong to the guest room for a rest."
Despite their dainty appearances, the two maids seemed to exert a strong hold and managed to lead Nangong Ling out, still whimpering pitifully. Even I felt sorry for him, until I remember I might be sharing that fate too. Then I began to feel sorry for myself instead.
As I escorted Nangong Yan to the doorway, she whispered to me before stepping out, "Help him, please ..." in a such an earnest pleading voice ...
I turned back to the gathering in the room, and Seneschal Zhong addressed the now slightly ashened Tubo Prince, "Your Highness, are you ready to proceed?"
[Snowy's note: according to one tradition, the Chinese masks used in opera originated during the Tang Dynasty. For some reason, Emperor Taizong liked engaging his courtiers in entertainment like plays, by having actual participation instead of just watching. The venue was known as the Pear Garden in the Imperial Compound, and thus the term Pear Garden came to denote the stage (opera).
One of his courtier, Wei Zheng, was rather shy when it comes to making a spectacle of himself. Thus, the idea came that he'd overcome his self-consciousness by wearing a mask.]
Edited by snowybeagle, 24 November 2006 - 03:09 AM.
Posted 25 December 2006 - 10:29 PM
I have traveled non-stop for more than three days, and had changed horsed a couple of times. It was a good thing that I had some money my sifu had left behind for me. Angry Boar’s mission continued to haunt me. I had known for sometime the excesses of the Imperial court. The current Emperor, Li Longji, the grandson of the Empress Wu Zetian had turned from a hardworking and diligent emperor, to a man enamored with his son’s wife, his current favorite Imperial Concubine, Yang Yu-huan or Yang Gueifei as she is now officially known.
The country had been in turmoil for sometime, with wars against the Khitans, Uyghars, Tibetans and Western Turk. I closed my eyes in silent prayers for all the lost souls that had died during these wars. I guess I am fortunate for being a woman and a nun, had it not been my gender and my vocation, I might have to serve in these never ending wars.
I arrived at Chang’an just two days short of the deadline given to Angry Boar. I went to the nearest nunnery to seek for refuge as well as board and lodging. I have no problems as when I showed my wooden badge, the abbess of the convent made me welcome. I am after all is the leading disciple of the abbess of Mt Emei’s largest and most prominent temple.
They allocated me a small cell in the far end of the abbey to rest and pray in. I was glad for the roof over my head, as I had not slept for almost three days. I shut my eyes and slept as I had never slept before.
A discreet knock at my door and I almost jumped up from my bed. A young nun came in with a tray of food. She placed the food on the table and quickly bowed to me.
“Elder sister Hui-en, I have the pleasure of serving you, your breakfast.”
She spoke courteously and she smiled. I returned her smile and bow.
“Thank you younger sister, and how may I address you?”
“My name is Wu-cheng. I am the Abbess Wei Kong’s youngest disciple.”
I sat down at the tiny table and looked at the spread of food, a small bowl of white congee, a couple strands of green vegetable, and a small plate of tofu. It is indeed a feast, coming from a small nunnery of this size. I bowed to Wu-cheng gratefully for the food.
“Hui-en Elder sister, I heard from my sifu that you are Abbess I Kong’s disciple, and I saw your spear headed staff. I had long admired I Kong sifu, if only I had a chance to meet her. I would have loved to learn some martial arts from her. We are always bullied here.”
I smiled at the young innocent face. I realized that it only in Emei that we are fortunate enough to practice martial arts. This opportunity is not given to smaller convents.
“Wu-cheng younger sister, I need a fresh horse and some information.”
The young nun looked at me curiously, as I asked her about the city of Chang’an, the people, the places and of the palaces. She was able to give me some information; and so immediately after breakfast, I set off from the convent.
I arrived at the nearest wig maker and purchased a wig for myself. My request had obliviously troubled the man but I pretended that I had enough of being a nun and planning to return to the secular world. He took my money and handed me a rather nice looking wig. I then went to the shop where they sold ready-made clothes. I quickly selected a couple, paid for it and went away. I went to a small and dingy inn and asked for a room; again, I had caused some worries to the innkeeper, until I told him the same story as the one to the wig maker. The old man looked sympathetic and gave me a room faraway from the main thoroughfare. I changed to the new clothes and put on the wig. I stared into mirror and saw a strange reflection staring back at me. I almost could not recognize myself. I sighed softly and knew that it is time for me to carry out Angry Boar’s mission.
I walked on the main street of Chang’an and could see many beautiful buildings, along side the street, some had huge lions guarding the entrance, but most of them had guards standing outside guarding the place. I knew that they must belong to some high officials living in the capital.
I walked for a while, before I arrived at the grand huge red door, with both giant stone lions and four guards standing by the door. I looked up and saw the placard above the lintel of the door - “Yang Residence”. I knew I arrived at my destination.
I wandered about the streets surrounding the mansion for a while before deciding that it would be difficult to enter the place without been detected. I thought hard; it would be silly to enter in the first place without a map of some kind or knowledge of how to get about the place. I finally hit upon an idea of how to get in.
Posted 27 December 2006 - 10:11 PM
I walked in unsteadily gait towards the four men guarding the huge mansion. They pointed their spears at me, shouting out warning that I should stop coming forward. I reached them and they were surrounded me, shouting angrily at me for not obeying their commands. I closed my eyes and fell backwards, fortunately, there was one man standing just behind me. He caught me, as I pretend to fall unconscious into his arms.
“Hey, Miss, hey are you all right?”
He held me in his arms; I could feel the strong garlic smell from his stinky breath. I controlled my breathing as I pretend to faint.
“Hey, she is a looker.”
I heard one of the men saying to another. I was afraid to play the role of a fainting woman for too long. I needed to time the situation well. I opened my eyes and looked at the men.
“Miss, are you all right?”
The person who was caught me, asked again. I nodded and tried getting up, but each time I would fall back into his arms. I could see the look of envy on the face of the other men, but I ignore them and continue to pretend to be very weak and sickly. My fainting spell did attract some attention, especially from the doorkeeper who had came out of his post. He peered closely at me and then immediately told the men to help me into the side hall.
I did not have to wait long, and soon a rather sly looking man walked into the room and smiled at me.
“Young lady, I see you are getting better. Do you need a doctor? We could arrange for one, if you need one.”
He asked me kindly. I smiled sweetly to him and shook my head.
“Sorry, good sir, I had not had a decent meal for a few days, I am here looking for a relative, but I was told she had moved away. I am now without food and lodging. I am so sorry to have troubled you.”
The foxy man grinned as he heard my story, and nodded sympathetically at my *** story.
“Young lady, you might perhaps like to consider a job with us? You are very lucky; this is the official residence of the Prime Minister. My master is Prime Minister Yang Guozhong. We have an opening for a young woman like you at the inner court. If you like, I could speak with the His Excellency about your employment. Incidentally, I am the Chief Steward of this household.”
I looked at him and gave him my most grateful look. I then got up and went down on my knees to thank him for the job offer. The man smiled and stopped me from going on any further.
“Come with me, first you need to change into something appropriate. You will be meeting the His Excellency.”
I nodded and went with him. He took me through several courtyards and long corridors. We finally arrived at the inner court. He whispered softly to the girl standing outside the door of a suite. She nodded and took me into the chamber; it had a room and a hall. She took out from the cupboard some clothes and passed them to me.
“This should fit you. You could change now; I will be waiting for your outside.”
She then left the room, leaving me to change out of my clothes. I quickly changed and walked out the room. The Chief Steward was waiting outside. He looked at my changed appearance appreciatively and then took me to another part of the mansion. He stopped and told a young man standing at the door, that he would like to see the His Excellency. We waited for a few minutes and the young man came out, telling the Chief Steward he could go in.
“You wait here for me. I will speak with His Excellency about your employment. I will get you after I get His Excellency’s approval.”
I bowed to the Chief Steward, although I stood some distance away from the door, but I was able to train my ears towards the conversation inside the room.
“Your Excellency, there is a girl outside waiting for you.”
“Who is she?”
“She is someone who came from the country, and is looking for some lost relatives, and she is alone, hungry and without money.”
“Hmm, so give her some money and send her off.”
“Your Excellency, if you see her, you might not want to let her go.”
“Your Excellency, I would never dare to lie to you. I told her we have a job in the inner court. If Your Excellency would like to see her and you might then consider, if she is worth the while keeping.”
There were a long pause and then.
“All right send her in. I will see her for myself.”
“Yes, Your Excellency.”
The Chief Steward came out and waved to me.
“Come, His Excellency would like to meet you.”
I quickly walked in with my head bowed low. The Chief Steward looked pleased at my humility.
“Your Excellency, this is umm…”
He had forgotten to ask me for my name. He looked at me hoping that I would assist him. I smiled at him and then at the man he called Your Excellency. The man looked middle aged and seemed like had a lecherous look on his face. I knelt down before the man. He is the current Prime Minister of the Great Tang, Yang Guozhong, and cousin of the Imperial Concubine Yang Yu-huan.
Posted 28 December 2006 - 07:54 PM
I did not have to wait long; a pair of hands quickly came forth to help me up. I allowed him to help me, know that this is the only way to get near to my goal. I pretend to continue to feel faint and deliberately fell against him. The Prime Minister looked extremely gratified with my deliberate acquiescing actions. His hand reached out to touch my face. My right hand strike out and grabbed his hand, with my left, I drew the small sharp sword from the scabbard hidden in my voluminous sleeve.
Yang Guozhong jumped back in a fright, the Chief Steward was stunned for a moment, before he quickly stepped between his master and I. I twisted my right hand in a quick and smooth movement, summoning the inner strength from within my body, and slammed hard at the chest of the Chief Steward. He did not expect the hard strike as his eyes were anchored to the short sword in my left hand. He fell backwards, spewing out a mouthful of warm blood. Yang Guozhong, horrified by the sight, was shouting out loud for help.
“Help, Assassin. Help!”
He shouted for help, it only made me realize that the Chief Steward is not my target, Yang Guozhong was. I shove the Chief Steward aside; he slammed against the wall and pass out. I rushed forward at the Prime Minister. I could see he was trying to unsheathe his sword, but, in his panic, he dropped the sword. I grabbed the sword and draw it out of the scabbard. I pointed the sharp pointed sword at him. He immediately dropped onto the floor and begged for mercy.
“Mercy, Mercy, have mercy on me. Spare my life, I beg off you.”
The order was to have Yang Guozhong eliminated. The many atrocities and governmental malpractices as well as corruption had been attributed to him. There had been a plot to get rid of him, however, he had been always careful with the people around him. I had wondered why did they chose Angry Boar to handle such a dangerous task, but I suppose, Major Liang is not what he seemed to be. The few days I had been traveling with had shown me that he could be a righteous man if he wished to be. The thought that my sifu should lose a nephew like him and that Great Tang should lose a good man like him would be unthinkable. They had stipulated that Yang Guozhong had to die before the sixth day of the new month. He had done harm to the country and moreover, there had been evidence that he had been lecherous and rampant in his desire for young maiden. I cannot allow such a dishonorable man be left on the face of this earth.
I drew circles with the tip of the sword, the tip nearly touching the face of the kneeling Prime Minister. I had much I wanted to say to him, about his evil deeds and his corrupted actions. The sound of rushing feet hit my ears. I know reinforcement for the Prime Minister is on the way. I was about to slash his throat with the sharp blade of the sword.
“Amithba, Hui-en, desist from your action, come follow me.”
I heard my sifu, I Kong’s voice at the side of my ear. I looked around and knew that she had been using her internal strength to send out her words to me. I have no idea how far or near was she, but I received an order and I will have to obey it. I jumped up to the rafters of the building and using the sword punctured a hole through the roof as I burst through the tiles onto the rooftop. I could see my teacher standing at one far end of the building, waiting for me. I sped towards her. I could see she too turned and made her way away from the Prime Minister’s compound. The sounds of pursuit receded, as I got further and away from the place.
We finally came to a stop, actually, it was my sifu who had waited for me, and not that I was able to over take her. I quickly knelt down and pay my teacher the respect of a disciple.
“Hui-en, the assassination of Yang Guozhong would only push the empire into another phase of anarchy. We have enough of wars for some time. If only our Emperor had been more attentive at his duty instead of spending time, with his musical troupes and writing musical scores; our borders would be safe and our people would live in peace.”
My sifu sighed softly.
“What prompted you to this assassination attempt?”
She asked me gently.
“Sifu, this was not my assignment, it was an assignment Major Liang had received.”
My sifu frowned as my incoherent reply.
“It was Jiemeng’s assignment, so, why are you involved? I think you have been too long out of Emei, you forget that you are a nun. You cannot kill; it is against the precepts of the Lord Buddha - to avoid taking the life of beings. This precept applies to all living beings not just humans. All beings have a right to their lives and that right should be respected. It is also against the rules of Emei.”
She reminded me. I hang my head in shame.
“Sifu, I had committed several errors, perhaps the most important was my failing in pride. I had allowed Major Liang’s provocations got better of me. I took away the document that contained his mission, and instead given him a sutra as replacement. He missed doing his duty, and I felt responsible for it. I therefore decided to complete the mission for him, knowing that I would be condemned by the government as well as my fellow disciples for such indiscreet actions that would bring calamity to Emei.”
My sifu had a slight smile on her face.
“So, that is why he is hurrying towards Dunhuang? I was wondering since when this nephew of mine had been such an ardent follower of Buddha. I suppose you are unable to convince him to return home to marry?”
I shook my head.
“Well, then, I guess, you will have to go in his place. You will have to leave Chang’an immediately and head for Sichuan.”
My heart missed a beat. I am going back to Emei. My sifu must have read my expression.
“You will be going to directly Chengdu, to the Serenity Villa, and look for Lady Serenity. You will stay with her. As for the rest of instructions of what needs to be done there is inside the pouch.”
My sifu took out a small pouch and handed it to me.
“You will let your hair grow and dressed like any ordinary woman. I have a feeling Lady Serenity is facing a group of lecherous suitors, and you will mingle well without your nun outfit.”
She looked at me and smiled. I still had my disguise on.
“Well, you do look good out of the nun outfit, but you make sure that they don’t mistaken you for Lady Serenity.”
I bowed low to my sifu and soon, it was only her footprints that were left behind.
Posted 01 July 2007 - 07:20 PM
1 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 1 guests, 0 anonymous users