I've had the fortune of two friends travelling to the U.S. this month and so I begged them to bring the paperbacks of Princesses Don't Get Fat and Princesses Don't Fight in Skirts!
Long time no update! Although it will take another month or so before Girl with Flying Weapons is out, I'm 100% sure the opening scene will be kept. Hence, I'm going to celebrate my birthday by posting it here. I LOVED it and hope you will, too!
OPENING SCENE OF GIRL WITH FLYING WEAPONS
On a clear moonlit night, the Yang-tse River was aglow with several golden boats bedecked with flowing silk curtains and exquisitely painted windows. Laughter and cheers rang out as goblets were passed around and filled to the brim. For many of the rich and wealthy, nighttime offered a better excuse to be decadent, indolent, and free of social regulations. Although the Tang dynasty was now less prosperous than it used to be, the southern area, which was not wrecked by war, still retained some of its former splendour.
On one of the biggest boats, melodious music was dripping through the air, as intoxicating and sweet as the ruby red wine poured into semi-transparent goblets. A courtesan, around the age of eighteen, sat on the rear of the boat, her head modestly bowed, her long slender fingers moving on the lute. Her makeup was done in the latest fashion—powdered cheeks, painted eyebrows, ruby-red lipstick, cut-out paper flowers pasted on her forehead. Her midnight-black hair was pinned up like a small mountain, and adorned with several golden lotus-shaped hairpins. Large, luminous pearls adorned her earlobes.
She was beautiful, though by no means outstanding. Her lute music, however, was extraordinary.
When she finished the song and bowed, the applause was tumultuous.
“Another song! Another one!”
A man who looked about fifty waddled through the audience. A few had to stand aside for him to pass; the man was clearly drunk. Drops of wine splashed down his front and dripped on the floor. Yet no one dared to tell him off.
It was Chu, the richest businessman in Yangzhou city. He made a fortune producing and selling salt. As salt was a staple in food, his income could rival the salaries of the highest-ranking officials at court.
“So… tempting…” he slurred. “Such… a pity… to be in the whorehouse… why don’t you come with me?”
The courtesan kept her head down, the pearls dangling from her head swaying. It was difficult to gauge if she were frightened or shy.
Chu burped, spread his arms, and lunged forward.
She moved—not fast, yet deft enough to miss his arms by a hairs-breadth. Chu’s sleeve brushed past her shoulder as he pitched forward and almost ended up leaning half of his body out of the boat.
He shook his head and let out a hiccup. Seeing that she made to leave, he reached out to her again, this time determined that she should not evade his embrace.
She ducked. For a second, her gossamer sash, like a yellow mist, flashed before his face and he caught a whiff of her perfume. Yet why couldn’t he touch her? His arms met air and he lost his balance, tumbling on the floor.
The courtesan was still holding the lute, looking down at him.
“Mr. Chu, I am afraid you had too much to drink,” she said sweetly.
“Nonsense!” he blurted, trying to get up.
She extended her hand, caught the folds of his long sleeves, and helped him up.
“Is it true,” she breathed near his ear, “that the wife of the bricklayer Dong-Fong is at your residence?”
She was so near, so tempting… Chu didn’t even think.
“You’re tired.” She interrupted, and her fingers brushed lightly across his shoulder blades. “Please allow me to assist you to rest.”
She smelled of peach blossoms and wine. Chu tried to grope her—how slender and shapely her waist looked! But for some dastardly reason, he couldn’t lift his arms. He couldn’t touch her. Had the wine numbed his senses?
The courtesan had her arm around his waist, half-carrying him toward the rooms built on the boat. It was obvious what they were heading for. Except for a few envious glances, most could only sigh and wish they made as much as Chu did.
Near dawn, a boat man was up and preparing for the day. His job was to escort people across the river, and though it was still ridiculously early, there were people who needed a ride, especially those who were arriving from another town.
There was something wrong with the waters. Something large—too large to be a duck, yet too small to be a raft—was floating on the river. The unknown object drifted nearer. It was a human body, the skin bluish and purplish and coming off the flesh.
Soon, the word spread like fire through Yangzhou city. Chu Tou, the affluent salt merchant whose personal assets rivalled aristocrats, had somehow lost his balance in a bout of heavy drinking and fallen into the river.
It's Saturday, but still keeping busy! First draft of Girl With Flying Weapons goes out to the first beta tomorrow, and final draft of Princesses Don't Fight in Skirts will go to my copy editor in a week. Yay!
Here's the opening scenes of Princesses Don't Fight in Skirts. It has been a really difficult book to write! So glad that it'll be done soon :）
Unlike her royal contemporaries, Her Royal Highness Princess Arianna Rosalind Cordelia of Linderall was quite content to be a conventional princess. While other princesses and noble young ladies were running away from arranged marriages to fight ogres and trolls, Ari preferred to stay indoors, curl up in a comfortable rocking chair, and take her beauty nap.
It wasn’t as if she didn’t try to stay up-to-date with modern princesses. When the sword master, Tobian, offered to coach her, Ari did not refuse. She even thought it would be fun to strike an intimidating pose and brandish a sword. But within five minutes of her first lesson, Ari performed a downward slash and whacked her own ankle. If she hadn’t been using a wooden sword with a blunted edge, she might have cut off her foot. Still, the ugly bruise on her ankle was enough to make her put off the sword fighting lessons. Being a warrior maiden might be exciting, but she had no desire to risk any more limbs.
Then the archery instructor, Johan, was summoned to give her lessons. At first, Ari had fun fitting the arrows on her silver bow and releasing them. Shooting an arrow wasn’t as physically demanding as the sword work. However, the novelty soon wore off. Her fingers were getting sore and bruised from pulling on the linen string, and her shoulder was stiff and numb from staying in the same position.
“I’ve had enough,” Ari said, tossing the bow back towards the instructor. “Thank you for the lesson. You may leave.”
She called for her maid to prepare for a scented bath. She could not wait to peel out of her clothes and relax her sore muscles.
After her brief contact with fighting, Ari concluded that she didn’t understand modern princesses. Why would one choose to risk life and limb to take on a dragon, when one could easily employ a knight or soldier to do the dirty work? Why would one elect to stand in the sun and swing a heavy sword, when there was the option of staying inside? It didn’t make sense.
Ari tossed away the breeches and trousers that came with the training, and opted for long, flowing dresses instead. Breeches were tight and uncomfortable, and moreover, they looked unflattering. She would rather stay in the castle, sewing or spinning or whatever princesses were doing in the past, than take up what modern princesses were doing now.
The king of Linderall did not interfere. Since the queen had died, when Ari was three, he was too busy with state affairs to be concerned with Ari’s education. If the princess wanted to beat up menacing creatures, he would supply the weapons. If she wanted to get married and settle down, he would ask the prime minister to draw up a list of potential suitors. As long as Ari was happy, he didn’t mind whatever she was occupied with.
And so, the princess of Linderall was thus free to enjoy her life of luxury and idleness, and would have very likely stayed that way, had not her Great Aunt Matilda, the greatest woman warrior in history, dropped by one day and changed everything.
Great Aunt Matilda was fifty-five years old, but she remained as spry as a spring chicken. More than thirty years ago, she had saved Linderall from being attacked by a powerful evil wizard, even before the Linderall king was born. She had achieved worldwide fame as the first woman warrior. She was known to have singlehandedly defeated an army of cavalry men during a raiding attack, a group of ogres armed with clubs and axes, and a herd of sea monsters encountered when traveling to an island in the Archipelago. Nowadays, she mostly spent her time traveling as a wandering swordswoman, aiding towns that had been attacked by bandits or villages that were raided by ogres. She only visited Linderall sporadically, and after an absence of six years, she suddenly dropped by again, with the intent of seeing how her grand niece was doing.
And she wasn’t impressed.
“Do you mean to say—,” she thumped her lead-tipped staff on the ground, “that that piece of fluff is my grand niece?”
The piece of fluff was currently admiring herself in one of her many mirrors. The best tailor of Linderall had designed an elegant gown the color of rich cream, which went well with Ari’s sapphire blue eyes. Yards of silk, trimmed with bows and lace, made her look extremely fashionable. She had her hair pinned up in the latest style, entwined in pearls and diamonds. A ruby necklace glittered at her throat, and matching earrings gleamed on her ear lobes. She looked exactly how traditional princesses were supposed to look.
“Here is a ribbon that matches the dress,” Ari’s personal handmaid, Gladys, offered. “It will look especially nice in your hair.”
“Hmph!” Great Aunt Matilda cast a disapproving look at Ari’s long golden hair. “Golden hair, indeed!”
“Why, what is wrong with it?” Gladys asked in surprise. Anyone could see that the princess’s hair was splendid. Long, luxurious tresses that resembled living gold, they held up well to whatever hair style Gladys fashioned.
“The color’s wrong,” Great Aunt Matilda snapped. “Everyone knows that blond hair shows that you are a dumb twit.”
“Papa is blond.”
Great Aunt Matilda ignored the statement. “Why don’t you dye your hair red, Arianna? Red shows a fiery spirit.”
“Absolutely not,” Ari was horrified. She couldn’t imagine dying her beautiful hair, it was one of her best features. Besides, many of her gowns would clash horribly with red hair. “I’d sooner cut off my head.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” Great Aunt Matilda stalked away, thoroughly disgruntled. Really, she had to have a word with the king.