Is it reckless waste of time? Wishful thinking? Idiotic delusion? Genius sent from the universe?
...We'll see.. In the meantime here's part of a beginning chapter from my third novel, entitled
"The Last Eunuch.":
The Last Eunuch.
At dawn, a hooded creature in a heavy wool coat padded his way backwards up a flight of some one hundred marble steps. An outsider catching a glimpse of him would never venture to guess that this was Ying Shan, a head eunuch, royal manservant to the emperor and empress and master of the palace household in the Forbidden City. Eunuchs were considered almost part of the woodwork at the Forbidden City, they kept to themselves but Ying Shan was different, one of the Palace's oldest and most trusted servants who just happened to be of that order. The Emperor insisted he wear the cheapest dark wool cloth in order to disguise himself as someone of common rank and to downplay his connection to the Imperial Palace around outsiders. Rising at four a.m. daily, trying to be as quiet as possible, Ying Shan’s duties at the Palace were many.
Yet he seemed almost offended if you were to accidentally recognize him. The palace guards, talking amongst themselves, often didn’t recognize him from any other wandering beggar who had lost his way but once they did, an opening path was immediately created by the guards in perfect unison, lining the balustrades, as stiff as statues. The polished thick body armor and long sharp spears contrasted starkly with the shrivelled old man in plain wool attire backing up the stairs. Though Shan, it was believed, had immense power. One day he went over and kicked one of the guards shoes, informing him that his feet were not straight. The next day the guard was beheaded. No one could really tell if this was merely a display of Ying’s power or part of a temper tantrum, and no one dared ask. Once he reached the top step Ying Shan pivoted, turning and bowing to each of the venerable Eight Immortals, engraved in sunken relief within the walls. Part of this ritual was performed as an act of supplication, that the idols might give him the strength needed to get him through his busy day.
Ying Shan’s daily tasks were indeed many and today there was much to do. In the space of a very few hours Shan's duties included mopping the floors, cleaning the latrines, ironing the satin tunics for the concubines and shaving the emperor’s beard with extreme care. If he drew blood, even so much as a drop, it could result in months of solitary imprisonment for the unfortunate Ying. He was also required to dress the emperor, at least partially, in a manner similar to a British manservant.
The chores were followed by a mid-day meal, after which he was allowed some time to contemplate and walk through the beautiful gardens to reflect, followed by two hours of seated Buddhist chanting with his fellow brethren.
Shan had not even begun his day yet, however, when in the midst of his prayerful ritual he was interrupted by the outline of a somber figure standing only a few feet from him in the shadows. Shan was so lost in thought at the time that he failed to recognize the figure. Or that it was non other than Zhang Li , one of the highest ranking members of the Imperial Council. The look of displeasure on the official’s face told Ying Shan all he needed to know. Obviously there was some new trouble brewing which Shan had not been aware of. He hated these meetings with the dour faced looking Zhang Li who criticized people at random and felt himself superior to any member of the household staff. This included of course Ying Shan.
Around this time the household cook would usually prepare a type of yoghurt mixed with fresh fruit for the monks, a breakfast meal Shan looked forward to each morning. Today obviously that was not to be and to cap it off Shan was feeling an odd mixture of hunger, apprehension and confusion. What was one of the heads of the Imperial Guard doing in an area of the palace he would have rarely frequented? a man Shan particularly disliked. What the hell did he want anyway? Shan clenched his teeth in preparation for what he assumed would be some sort of confrontation, he hated these pedantic and barbaric bastards. Today seemed like things would go no differently, then the mood suddenly changed and he found himself escorted down a hallway, flanked by an escort of four palace guards with non other than Zhang li striding ahead, leading the odd procession.
What was beginning to unnerve Ying Shan was that he noticed the escort was headed down a long corridor toward the emperor’s private chambers. This was not the usual method used by the Emperor to summon him. In general, if the Emperor wished to communicate with Shan, a note was handed to a high ranking official, after which it was passed down through a number of venerable palace guards until it reached the elderly eunuch, in order to insure both privacy and security. This new routine was highly unusual and it was beginning to make Ying Shan somewhat nervous. Was he being let go? Punished? Or even something worse. He racked his brain but could find nothing he might have possibly done in the short term to have caused any kind of anger or suspicion.
As Zhang Li approached the throne room, two concubines opened the ornately carved entrance doors from either side. Seated in the center of an elaborately gilded throne sat the Emperor, clad in, what was for him, a fairly shabby looking robe, beckoning Ying Shan into the throne room with two fingers of his left hand. The Empress and her attendants, sensing the private nature of this meeting made a hasty departure behind another set of double doors.
Ying Shan proceeded ten steps past his escort, got down on one knee and bowed his head. At which point the Emperor ordered all of the remaining attendants out of the room with the exception of the four guards who stood at attention outside, barring the doors shut to the throne room at both ends.
The Emperor, only in his early twenties at the time, motioned Ying Shan to sit onto one of the overstuffed red velour chairs in a corner of the room. Shan’s mouth almost dropped to the floor but he caught his own facial expression just in time. No one, and I mean no one, at any time was invited to sit in the presence of a Forbidden City Emperor, including many of the visiting dignitaries. To even murmur it was treason. The Emperor then proceeded to pour himself a glass of dark golden liquor from a large crystal carafe into a beautifully shaped frosted goblet, upturning another one and looking over at Shan indicating whether or not he would like to join him. Shan respectfully bowed and held up the palm of his hand with a slight wave. He had never been a drinker, nor was he about to start, even in the presence of an Emperor. The Emperor smiled in admiration at Shan’s display of willpower and downing a large quaffe of the golden brown liquor, seated himself once more with a huge sigh as if the weight of the world was upon his shoulders. Hi smile broadened into a grin. “You are the first person, man or woman, who has ever refused a drink from me.” The emperor noted, with an expression close to amusement. “I hope your majesty will take no offence,” Ying Shan replied.” But despite the many pleasures that can be derived from Western alcohol, I prefer to remain clear headed at all times possible. When the mind is clear, it suffers no unwanted intrusions or entanglements.” Shan replied, gingerly trying to distance the tone in his voice from someone who might sound as if he were giving a lecture. Shan contemplated saying nothing at first but being a man of considerable education in his day, often found himself straddling that peculiarly thin line.
“I’ve noticed that about you” The Emperor answered “..and some other things as well.” Ying Shan braced himself. This could have been good news or the worst news possible. Often his words had a tendency to sound haughty and might have landed him in some sort of trouble. Shan squirmed nervously in his chair as he was not familiar with either the amazing array of comforts nor the opulent surroundings. Both dazzled him, but he managed to retain his composure and the evenness of his speech.
Believing that his words had been sitting well with the Emperor, Shan continued to speak in that same vein but was abruptly cut off with a wag of the Imperial Majesty’s finger. “We have more relevant matters to discuss.” He grunted dismissively.
“Majes’…” Shan began but was curtly interrupted, since the sublime ruler had not yet finished. Shan bowed and held his tongue. “One of my most treasured Concubines is having an affair, and we both know who we are talking about.” He said, turning his head fiercely and glaring at Shan. “The Countess Bai Jian.” They said almost in unison. After a pause that felt endless, Ying Shan made a timid attempt to reinitiate the conversation. “Before we get into this again..” He began trepidly but was once again cut off by the Emperor. His Royal Majesty continued. “I am also extremely concerned for both her and the daughter as they seem have fallen in love with the same man. His Royal Majesty continued as if talking to himself, waving his arms about agitatedly and carrying on as if he was no longer aware that Ying Shang was even in the room.
This was more than a little frightening to Shan. He’d never seen the emperor exhibit this kind of behavior in front of anyone, let alone some lowly priest. His hands were sweating but he was determined to avoid any exhibition of nervousness before the emperor’s dramatic gaze and tortured wrath. Almost as soon as the storm began, it subsided as softly as the onset of a gentle rain. “Will you not have a drink with me Shan?” The emperor was asking him again in a tone that sounded almost like a plea. Shan shook his head bowing once more while seated. “Perhaps a glass of tea.” Shan once again refused continuing to bow, then sat ramrod straight on a couch multilayered with satin pillows for comfort. What did the man want? Thought Shan irritably, this overly clad royal merchant, marching to a fro across the room from one side to the other twisting the long beard sprouting from his chin, dressed head to toe in gold satin with servants and concubines at his feet, ready to serve him at every desire?
“What you are saying sir describes idle palace chatter and should be of no concern to your majesty. the thing will pass within a week or so and should cause no trouble for your highness.” Shan said quietly. “Don’t be too sure.” Grunted the emperor. “Weren’t these the same people who stirred up all those priests and caused them to stage a revolt?” “That was only alleged your majesty.” Replied Shan gently, “Besides, the people said to have stirred up the monks had no contact with the woman nor could they have even had occasion to meet or speak to her as she keeps to herself, surrounded by her ladies in waiting, and is rarely seen in public. “Majesty,” Shan paused, “what does this matter have to do with…
“Bah!” Yelled the emperor, interrupting again. Suddenly his royal majesty’s voice lowered until it became barely a whisper. Shan, who’s hearing was as sharp as that of a young doe had to strain to hear him. “I sleep with one eye open these days.” The emperor muttered softly. The countess Bai Jian’s sleeping quarters were a mere few doors down the hallway from his as was carefully arranged. “Even the courtiers no not whether I am asleep or awake. And they know everything, that gossiping lot.” He finished with a hint of irritability. “I have grown accustomed to recognizing the sound of her bare feet on the carpet and the glimpse of her kimono as she makes her way downstairs at three in the morning. I look at myself in the mirror after she’s left…” He said despondently.”…and my candle shows a face awash in tears.”
He sat down heavily upon his royal seat looking more forlorn than Shan had ever seen him. “The doctors can only offer potions that are supposed to help me sleep and tell me that I am afflicted with some kind of love sickness that can only cure itself with the passage of time. However, the potions don’t work and I feel myself crumbling apart in small pieces as if soon there will be nothing left.” “Calm yourself majesty, I have rarely seen you look healthier, besides worry and anxiety will only weaken you and not be of any service; you are obviously in deeply in love with this woman, does she know your depth of feeling for her as opposed to the other concubines?” “….Have you consulted with the oracle Xiu Li?” Shan ventured carefully. “One question at a time my venerable compatriot.” Replied the Emperor, pouring himself another liberal glass of brandy. Besides, you, a eunuch, what do you know of women.” “More than your majesty might suspect.” came the confidant reply from Shan. At this they both laughed.
Through howls of laughter the emperor cried, “Here I am trying to catch one and here you are trying to be one. Ha ha ha ha!” Shan laughed along good naturedly, wishing he was as far away as possible from the emperor, the throne room, the gilded surroundings. Even the good coffee, the graciousness of the emperor and the fake smiles from the courtiers that gave Shan such immense satisfaction as they so often sneered at him. “I will answer your last question first,” the emperor announced. “Xiu Li is a whore and a charlatan, besides that, she is too old and has long ago lost all her powers of second sight. ”The answer to your second question is yes, the concubines all know, but they manage to carry on as if they didn't. I feel terribly bad for them and guilty for my actions, but the truth is I think of no one else besides Bai Jian night and day."