When the white man arrives, the storm clouds make him appear an ugly baboon growling at the rain. But Little Pearl's missing master owes him money, and Little Pearl owes the Tans. They had saved her from abject poverty and disgrace, set her feet on the Taoist path. And so, barbarian or not, Captain Jonas Storm is welcome. In the alien depths of his eyes, Little Pearl sees the impossible promise of paradise. Even with the shadows growing in the Empire, Heaven is within reach--and this barbarian could take her there.
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January 01, 2007
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Excerpt from Cornered Tigress by Jade Lee
Number One Slave paused outside the doorway. Without moving a muscle, he took stock of his clothing and his thoughts, even ran a hand over his shaved head. All were in order, and yet he could not stop the rising panic in his chest. Rather than fight it, he nurtured it. He allowed his fear to tremble in his hands and narrow his vision. In this manner, he stayed alive in his master's presence.
He entered Su Jian Lie's eating chamber on his knees. Master Su did not require such acts of his top slave, but Number One had seen many others before him become overconfident in their status. Even his older brother had succumbed and it had eventually cost him his life. So Number One remained on his knees before his master to remind himself that for all his wealth and status, he was still a slave.
Master Su's eyes did not even flicker as Number One entered the chamber. The morning ritual was well established, and so the Master finished his tea in silence while the breakfast congee porridge was removed and sweet leaves were thrown in the brazier to chase away the smell. Sparks momentarily flashed on the master's jade bracelet: a 5-toed dragon, an imperial gift to the most well-connected businessman in all of Shanghai. Then, with a twitch of his finger, Master Su commanded his first slave to speak.
"The day dawns bright, plum blossoms open to the sun, and a branch trembles in the wind. Mayhap it will fall. The dog whimpers in fear and awe." The poem was not his best, but the meaning was clear. It had nothing to do with the actual weather. In truth the sun was middling today, the sky gray even in this most exclusive neighborhood of Chinese Shanghai. Winter was fast approaching and no early spring blossoms appeared anywhere.
"Speak of this branch," Master Su said.
"Farmer Luk has an ill crop. His debt is only three quarters paid."
"Already sold and not very pretty." Barely enough to pay the interest.
Master Su tightened his lips. It was a grave thing to sell a man's eldest son. "Speak of the dog."
Number One hesitated, weighing his words as was appropriate when passing judgment on a man and his family. "Farmer Luk acknowledges your power and trembles in all humility. The dog acts as a dog should."
Master Su's eyes flickered. He would be merciful, not because he was a forgiving man but because, on this day, he appeared bored. Whipping a beaten dog would not entertain. "Sell the youngest to the Emperor as a eunuch. Then sell the ox. Let the other boys pull the plow. He shall have an extra month."
Not so merciful then. Number One dipped his head in obedience. No farmer could pay the debt in one month when the harvest was already counted and sold. And the loss of the ox would make even that a hardship. But another month as a free man was no small thing.
Master Su poured himself more tea. "Speak of the blossoms."
"Two grow upon the branch. One is dark and ready to wither, the other small and barely begun."
Master Su's eyes did not rise as he drank with reverence, but Number One had seen the twitch in his fingertips. Master Su was surprised that two blossoms had appeared. As was his custom, he dispensed with the dullest first. "Mr. Wang does not pay his tax?"
"He has cheated the receipts as you predicted." The smallest touch of admiration colored Number One's tone. It was not feigned and it helped to hide the anticipation that quickened his heartbeat. Master Su was innovative in his murders, especially when bored.
But the expected death was not to be. Instead, Master Su raised his eyes to the calligraphy on the wall. It was a Confucian adage about the timely use of all resources, including the people. "Then opportunity is given to the dog."
Number One acknowledged the statement with humility. Farmer Luk would be allowed to force Mr. Wang to confess his lies and pay appropriate recompense.