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.