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Scraping Hot Ashes

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Illustrious readers, I put brush to paper several dozen days after the fact, hangover permitting, to chronicle the long-awaited and riotously celebrated occasion of Master Li’s wedding.  The bride, our beloved Grief of Dawn, spent her week’s bride’s retreat before the wedding in the Pavilion of Increasing Perfection, hosted by the Captain of Prostitutes.  Her companions in the Cock Loft[1] were her best friends, all fellow ladies of negotiable virtue, under the delightedly sinister leadership of Moon Boy.

As the groom's only family of any cordiality, let alone any condition, it fell to your humble author to go forth with the sedan chair and open more or less joking negotiations with the bride’s doting family to secure her release to our own.  You who know so much more about the world than Number Ten Ox will immediately understand why I loaded the chair with red-painted jars of Haining Mountain Dew wine as well as the traditional ang pau, red packets of “wedding-bribe’ money.  It took exhausting my supplies of both to win Grief of Dawn, and had it not been for the oddly doubled growls of both the bride-to-be (from behind a curtain) and, to my embarrassment, Moon Boy, I might myself have been too exhausted for the ceremony.

It was only once the haggling was finished and the curtain being drawn back by a square, strong-fingered hand that I thought to wonder who the Captain of Prostitutes might have found to stand as the Lucky Woman, to pass on her good fortune by dressing the bride’s hair, giving advice and carrying her from bride-threshold to sedan chair. Perhaps it was callous of me, but Master Li and I certainly knew very few women with happy marriages to a living spouse and a house full of healthy children; surely the ladies’ profession was equally prohibitive?

But then the curtain was swept aside, and the bells of Grief of Dawn’s beaded wedding veil were tingling, and I found myself staring directly into a blazing grin I could never forget and never thought to see again, no matter how many times I went around the Wheel of Transmigrations.

“Hello, Boopsie,” said Lotus Cloud.

Those readers kind enough to have set the scroll aside rather than watch my embarrassment will perhaps be reassured by the reminder that Lotus Cloud’s true name is Jade Pearl, and that complete bewilderment is only to be expected when suddenly faced with a goddess.

Especially when that goddess is one’s first great love, and a grin to beat all grins is spreading even more widely across her face.

“Your mother-in-law is wonderful, Boopsie,” Lotus Cloud was saying. “We’ve had so much to talk about, and I’ve just been giving her some advice about you….” She giggled. “And Master Li.”

I couldn’t see Grief of Dawn’s face through her beaded veil, but the sleeve going up to hide the smile I couldn’t find said it all for her anyway.

Complete bewilderment—indeed, a vertigo-inducing sense of forboding!-- is only to be expected when one is suddenly faced with a goddess and one’s honored mother-in-law, who have been trading  juicy stories about you.

While I was busy contemplating the awe-inspiring horror of this situation, the Princess of Birds demonstrated her strength and her practicality by sweeping Grief of Dawn up into her arms. “We’ll be out in the chair when you’re ready, Boopsie,” she said cheerfully, and began to saunter out.

I raced to hold the door.

My recurring readers may have noticed that while Master Li’s friends and acquaintances (including, I must admit, my humble self) are probably most politely described as unusual, he and they are all quite inclined to the practice of tradition, particularly when it gives them some benefit—and when it comes to the shared values of the friends of Master Li humour most definitely counts.

To that end, and for the good luck of the bride, Fat Fu had veiled the sedan chair so thickly that the bride would be in complete darkness, and then hung the back curtains with a thousand mirrors, to reflect away evil sights. From the front poles hung two sieves with fine silver mesh to filter out evil influences, so brightly polished they shone.

Grief of Dawn nearly laughed herself out of Lotus Cloud’s arms.

“But Ox,” she giggled through her veil, “what good is it hiding me from evil influences when I’m marrying Master Li?”


The writing is obscured in this section, first in a great smudge as by a dropped brush and upset ink. A note in shorthand accompanies this section, but little is legible aside from ‘bed,’ ‘spilled wine,’ and ‘the moon’s enthusiasm.’  The translator hesitates to guess the possible causes, but the damage has been further spread by what appears from the marks of corrosion and erasure to be Kao-liang wine.

There is also a more legible note that the details of the groom’s preparations were to be rewritten on another scroll, as well as the Princess of Birds’ explanation of Her appearance and the details of the ceremony itself, but that, alas, has never been found. 



[1] In preparation for her impending departure, the bride-to-be retreated from the ordinary routine and lived in seclusion in a separate part of the house with her closest friends. During this period, the young women sang laments, mourning the bride’s separation from her family and cursing the go-between, as well as the groom’s family and even the girl’s own parents. Since this extended ‘sleep over’ often took place in the cock loft, the bride’s emergence on her wedding day was sometimes referred to as "coming out of the cock loft."