As promised, here is a teaser scene from Wei-wei’s story–if it were to ever see the light of day. This is completely unedited and hot off the presses, so you can see what typically goes into an ugly draft. Please excuse any mistakes. It’s also in first person unlike the rest of the Lotus Palace books because I’m RIGHT in the middle of editing a first person book and I just found it too hard to switch at the drop of a dime.
Come vote for The Jade Temptress for DABWAHA Round 1 from midnight to noon on 3/20! I’m up against Sarah MacLean’s Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover…which, has a pretty cool cover. 🙂
If I make it to Round 2, I’ll type up another scene. This one will feature another potential hero as well as possibly Wei-wei’s first kiss. 😉
This is an unpublished and unedited excerpt from an untitled and unproposed story featuring Wei-wei, a secondary character from the Lotus Palace mystery series.
It occurs after the events of The Lotus Palace and The Jade Temptress.
Tang Dynasty China, 849 A.D.
The moment I entered the second courtyard of our house, I knew there was something amiss. The garden doors of our main study had been propped open and I could see my half-brother inside, seated at his desk. That was nothing strange. Chang-min was the most studious of us, due in part to my iron fist when it came to his lessons.
Standing over Chang-min was my elder brother, which was certainly strange. Huang had always hated the study. When we were younger, he’d half-heartedly flipped through Father’s lessons while I diligently pondered every character. I loved the crisp feel of pages beneath my fingertips, the earthy smell of ground ink stick, and the way the black stroke flowed from my brush onto snow white paper. That was why I had taken over our younger brother’s studies.
Another man in a dark-colored scholar’s robe and headdress stood beside my elder brother. At first I thought it might have been Father. Who else would be hovering over Chang-min’s shoulder as he bent over his writing?
But I knew from the breadth of his shoulders and his strident that he was certainly not father. My father had a quiet, commanding presence that he carried wherever he went, whether it was the Ministry of Defense or our parlor. This stranger was a visitor in our home, yet he took up space in a way that was jarring, intrusive. Space that was usually mine.
“Elder Brother,” I greeted, stepping into the study.
I spared our guest the barest of glances, but long enough that he was aware of it. He straightened to his full height to regard me curiously.
“Wei-wei.” Huang gave me a brief nod. “I’ll be with you shortly.”
His tone was brusque, dismissive. Sounding nothing like himself. I narrowed my eyes at my brother. He may have earned the high degree of jinshi and a minor imperial appointment, but both Huang and I knew what a struggle it was for him. He was neither a scholar nor a bureaucrat at heart. This gravely serious demeanor didn’t fit him.
“I came to check on our brother’s progress,” I said coolly. Huang flicked his hand in a furtive gesture, trying to usher me away, but I ignored it. “He was assigned an essay this morning.”
“Sister, this is Yu Jin-Quan,” my elder brother introduced, resigned. “His family comes from an esteemed line of imperial scholars.”
I squared off against the intruder as if doing battle. “Honored to make your acquaintance.”
“Lady Bai.” He bowed, but barely. “And I yours.”
His tone was flat, his broad jaw fixed. For a moment we stared at each other, neither of us blinking. My younger brother glanced up from his essay, then wisely ducked his head back down to continue writing. My neck ached from staring up at this man who dressed like an academic, but had the brutish quality of a…of an ox.
“Our brother has been reviewing the course of his studies with Master Yu,” Huang began.
I felt my fingertips going cold. “Why would he have any interest in that?”
“I understand Lady Bai has been in charge of her brother’s studies,” Yu Jin-Quan remarked. “A woman with any familiarity with the Classics is certainly….commendable.”
Commendable? With a pause?
“Young Lord Bai has made adequate progress,” he continued. “He will have much more to cover to be prepared for the provincial exams, but this servant believes that the student has a grasp of the basics required.”
Heat rose up the back of my neck. I had more than a passing familiarity with the Classics. These were my books. My study. At five years old, I’d been the one sitting at that desk with Huang beside me. I’d read through all of these shelves in the years since then.
And Chang-min was my pupil. Aiding him in his studies was my one valuable contribution to our family. It was the source of my freedom. But now this Yu Jin-Quan had appeared, from a long line of imperial scholars. Using the words of a servant, but the tone of an equal.
I couldn’t even gather my wits to give him a cold farewell as Huang thanked him for coming. Instead, I remained frozen, staring at the characters flowing from Chang-min’s brush as the two men moved around the desk to go.
“We have some things to discuss,” Huang said quietly to me as he passed.
We did. But I was afraid I already knew the answer. It didn’t matter how much I’d read and studied from our personal library. I could never attend the academies in the city or engage in tea room discussions between candidates and scholars. I didn’t have the experience, or the respect that someone like Yu could offer.
I was trapped in the silk robes of a woman, the prettiest shackles in all the world. And those chains were about to tighten.