Tag Archives: Ancient China

Green Iron

Since the magic of #1lineWed and Camp NanoWriMo coincide for the first time today, I am going to crawl all the way out to the end of the furthest limb and share not only a bit of context for some of those lines, but a piece from my Camp project, Earthbound!

This lovable doom of a novel has been in the making since my first November attempt at a Nanowrimo, and has grown in the telling…considerably.

Enjoy a sneak peek!

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The door closed behind the servant, and his sister’s hands pulled Lu Yin down into her bed as she slipped from his arms.
He stumbled away, tangled his legs in the sheets and fell to the floor.
Bells.
But no, there were no bells, only the sound of his sister’s laughter shattering in his ears.
“I know what you want now, Lu Yin.  Did you not want me to know? Or did you want it too much?”
He stood slowly, disentangled himself from her sheets and tossed them back on the bed. Red silk pooled around her legs, and she drew it up, up, over her knees, her thighs –
“Are you listening, elder brother?” He wet his lips. “You should be listening. You should -”
“Enough!” And then, more quietly. “Enough.” He pinned her to her pillows, and oh, those eyes.
Blue, so flashing, all the amusement in the world when she was on the verge of breaking him – could he not even have the silence to console him?
The silence and the scent of her, when that was all he had.
He held her throat in his hands, slender and bruised, white but for where she had been bitten, and squeezed for a breathless moment. He traced the dark-marked places with slender fingertips, as if they were wounds.
“Why? Who would dare to mark the Fourth Princess?”
Her dancing eyes. No promise of the truth in them – had there ever been? But now the old, dim lifelessness was laughter. Why would she still be so amused?
“I should tell father -”
“You won’t tell father.”
“I must -”
But the pressure of her mouth against his lips brings him to tingling silence. Forbidden pressure. Forbidden kiss.
“You won’t tell father. Or did you never mean it when you said you loved me?”
“I love you.” Helpless. What else to say? What lie could be enough in the face of her certain knowledge, the gleam and promise in her face?
Her kiss tasted green as the wild frontier mountains from which he had come. Her hair, too, smelled of the wild, and the iron taste of the blood on her skin was the taste of war.
There was war, too, in her hands and against his throat. Iron in her eyes, and in her hands.
The point of his own gilded dagger was sharp against his throat as she spoke.
“Did I say you could have me? Did I say, come, take, this which belongs to my lover belongs also to you?” Shadow in her eyes. Shadow in the green of her warm breath against the side of his face.
“No. I did not say that.”

 

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King’s Daughter

It’s #1lineWed again! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Earthbound, that book which will one day consume  us all. But me first, so you’ll have warning! 

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From the inner chambers of the court, past the Golden Lotus Pavilion and over the covered bridges, the King made his way past the flares he’d ordered lit. Some of them, poorly placed, guttered in the rain.

As he crossed the last bridge, the sound of strings came to him, though faintly. A low arpeggio of sound brought green to mind, swelled like a mountain growing in the back of his thoughts. Beautiful, Liuxing’s playing, and more lush than he remembered. Quietly, careful to make no sound, the king passed through the open door at the northwest corner of the Hall, then up the stairs to where the outline of the prince was barely visible, staring down from the shadows, visibly enraptured.

The king smiled, then stayed where he was, waiting. Trickling sound filled up the room and spilled out its melodies around them. Deep, plucked notes slid down the walls, pooled on the floor, then sprang up and splashed down again, rippling outward.

But the longer he listened, the more the king frowned, and deeper.

This…was not a song he knew, or one he had heard her play before. The falling arcs of sound were slow…so slow, but there was passion in them and unease crawled down his shoulders. Passion. Not love or excitement, not gentler emotions. Something as real as the passion of the spring for rain –

That green, flowing sound. Did she already have a lover? Was that the reason behind her avoidance, the reason she chose to ignore every suitor he selected?

He hadn’t even considered that, when perhaps it was the most obvious reason…but how could it be? The first man he’d picked, she had rejected without a second glance, and all the others since. She was watched, accompanied, guarded and attended, so how could she have had a lover? One or many, it was equally impossible.

Still, he couldn’t deny what he was hearing. If he closed his eyes and shut out the sight of her, her playing rolled over him and spoke of things she shouldn’t know. One of his own consorts might play such a melody, one of the palace concubines. It was seductive, a lure, a song designed to enchant a man, and it should not have been coming from the fingers of his innocent daughter.

But there was more than desire in it to disturb him.

Mountains, hills, the river moving – moonlight – they were all in her music, but they were sounds of the wild world, far beyond her experience. She played them all the same, and his mind chased the straining sound of her strings back to their source. A shadow. It moved behind his eyelids, silent and saturated with green.

A green…shadow. The rhythm moved in waves that summoned more than sound, layers of melody speaking a language he didn’t understand.

A whisper disconcerted him, a human noise rising through the falling tones of longing Liuxing was sending out into the rain. It was the prince, speaking to a servant, but the king heard nothing of his words. He was on the edge of approaching, making himself known, when the woman came back and the Prince reached out and took something from her –

A flute. He lifted it to his lips and played a clear, strong note that chased the sound of Liuxing’s strings in eerie harmony.

There was a gasp in concert with the first note of flute, discord as Liuxing’s hands came down across the strings, as she looked up and caught sight of the Prince standing on the gallery, looking down at her.

“Don’t stop, Princess. Play something with me. I’ve never heard anyone as good as you.”

“You’ve interrupted me, and spied on me, and you still ask that question? Do you have my father’s permission to make such requests?”

“I could not say I do.”

“Oh? Very well then.”

She returned her hand to their places on the strings, and the king smiled. Perhaps Liuxing had finally taken interest after all? He looked down and moved along the gallery away from the prince, until he could see her face.

Her expression set off a tingle of warning at the base of his spine. She looked – so calm. But calm was not the word for it. Her expression was deep ocean, still on the surface but something moving beneath. For a moment the king saw that something clearly, and didn’t understand. A monster, terrible and lovely, lifting her head to discover what had dared call her out of the deep…

For the second time that morning he remembered Liuxing’s mother.

He closed his eyes, but the music had changed. The green shadow behind his eyes turned black and cruel as the night.

 

Goddess

As accompaniment to my latest Rant, have this snippet, which comes to you from the first draft (ooooo! scary!) of the prologue of Earthbound!

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Pine for me, and I will return from the moon to love, brown earth and green leaves and the flowing water. Pine for me, but that means to remember my name.

Tell me, beloved, how do you forget what you cannot remember? I have been drawn to you from the beginning. Timeless, I am still enamored of time, and all its passing shadows…you are those shadows.

What lives in them is a man, and a woman. You and I, beloved. Shall I tell you their story? Once, it was for her, not the world, that he would have done all things, any thing. And so it was for her, not for the world, he shot the sky. His arrow past the moon, white-shining in a world made clear as glass by the fall of night.

The sun rose. The sun rose. The sun rose and rose and rose and rose until the face of the earth heaved and flame rode its curves and settled in the hollow throat of the world and cried out from the curled and hidden core, hidden at last in its own petals.

“Enough, enough, we can bear no more!”

He heard. You heard. Hou Yi, the archer. Did you know then? No… But the price of heroism would be steeper than the mountain, steeper than the curve of the sky. Nine times, you lifted your bow to heaven. Nine times, slew the sons of the brightest light. So that the fire fell, gleaming, bolts brighter than lightning piercing heaven and earth together…and not to be undone.

Your reward was your punishment. To put on the robe of heaven is to forget the world left behind, and you, you forget even now what you have done that was forbidden, even in the name of saving the whole of the earth. I remember, what you do not. That is my punishment.

To slay a god with mortal hands…

But this is not the first time I have told this story. This is the last, because you do not understand it, do not hear me, and you are the one it is for.

What speaks the shadow to the one who casts it, what speaks the shadow to the sun? Ages of ardor and ages of agony, and they were mine – as I was like you, doomed from that first stretch of the bow. 

Now I must acknowledge having planted temptation in your path – but in the manner of all good things, what I give is no more, no less than I sought. Whatever you suffered in the light, yes, all those eons in which I begged and you did not listen, do you suffer more in the darkness?

What are the thousand woes of your new existence? Are you still the lord of frigid stars? Are you still my darkest king?

What are you?

Crouching Tiger, Hidden…Doom?

Having just finished draft two of book four (Woo!) I find myself wondering what it’s time to write now – because there’s the obvious – book five; the less obvious – Glass House; and the completely insane, why am I doing this to myself, why did I DO this to myself.

Earthbound.

You see, Earthbound is my beautiful baby. My gorgeous wunderkind. My masterpiece – or at least, it is so far. It’s a bit like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Alice in Wonderland – if Alice was a bronze age Chinese princess and the Hatter was the outcast god of stars.

Aha.

The trouble is, it’s…one hundred ninety thousand words long. And a bit. I rounded…um…down. Now, the truth is that this monstrosity of a manuscript is really possibly TWO books (and that’s half the problem). Therefore, whenever I go to start editing, I’ve been having the exact opposite of my usual writing nemesis, Blank Page Syndrome. You know it – that thing that happens when you have all the ideas in the world, and the words are at your fingertips, and you feel your soul swelling with creative impulses…and then…

The Page.

Is.

BLANK.

So much space! So much pressure! So much! Something! It’s evil. But anyway, the problem with Earthbound is the exact opposite of this. It’s so many words! What do I DO with them? As I stare, they start to waver on the page until they turn into a tiny army of spear-wielding word-natives, desperate for my soul.

I need my soul, so as you can see, this might be a problem. But – I digress. The real truth is, I’m doomed to Earthbound, and because of that it is time for Project: Immersion!

You see, Earthbound takes place in the mysterious past of China’s Sichuan region, where the ruins called “San Xing Dui”, linked to the long-lost ancient kingdom of Shu, hold terrible secrets!

What this means, of course, is that I must take my brain OUT of the west, out of Irish Mythology and into the shadows of China’s most ancient past. This means movies, music, books, everything has to change so my poor brain can recover from the doom that is the Eight Kingdoms.

I’ve watched some excellent documentaries today, detailing the fine bronze, gold, jade, and ivory pieces that have been discovered and cataloged – as well as some scary truths about flooding and ancient human sacrifices!

I think my next step is to re-read Genji Monogatari, for ambience, then watch Takahata’s Kaguya-hime, which is a Japanese retelling of the Chinese mythology that Earthbound addresses. And perhaps then, the Dream of the Red Chamber?

Because beauty and agony, that’s why. Beauty and agony!

Wish me luck! (And if you have any suggestions for Chinese movies, books, or music, that will help me get in the spirit of San Xing Dui, send them along in the comments!)