Excerpt: Chapter 23, "Slippers of the Giantess" (COURT OF THE LION)
It was not unusual on festival nights for the Yang sisters to glow more brightly than the Son of
Heaven. But tonight, the night of the Festival of the Weaving Star, they glowed even brighter than the firmament they honored.
As they got closer to the hot springs, disturbing memories that he associated with the place began
to rise to the surface: the way the lights in his room had gone out on the night of the attempt on the Emperor’s life; the cats yowling in the bushes; the voice that had addressed him out of the darkness, perfectly mimicking the Lady of Kuo. He slouched
down into the cushions. And now a celebration underneath a huge sky blazing with stars. He had never been able to explain to anyone just what it was that he loathed and dreaded about the stars. It had to do with their icy, timeless indifference, he supposed,
that made the lives of men, his own in particular, seem so puny, futile, and brief. Some people thought they were beautiful. To him, they were a nightly reminder of emptiness, nothingness ...
“What is wrong with you, Cousin?
You do not seem to be having fun tonight,” the Lady of Kuo said with light irony.
“I am tired of festivals,” he answered, drawing the curtain closed.
“Is it because you hate the stars
and they hate you?” she asked. They both laughed then; she had broken through his mood. “May I offer my handsome cousin the particularly simple solution of not looking upward tonight?”
“You will have to distract
me,” he said, playing at being a sullen child, teasing her a little, trying to cover his melancholy mood. She said nothing, but took his hand and brought it down onto the soft satin of her inner thigh. No, he thought at first; not now. I have nothing
to offer at this moment. But his body spoke differently. Arousal, sharp and sudden, against his will, pushed aside his gloom and reticence. His “old man” jerked, stiffening slightly, taking his breath. He looked down and watched it move: a life
of its own. It jerked again, straightening itself, until it was pinned, hard and painful, pulling against the fabric of his trousers, his heart beginning to pound in his throat. A heavy, unpleasant burning spread from his groin through his chest. He wondered:
have I no will of my own? He wanted her. No, he wanted it. The act, separate from himself, separate from her. For one brief moment he tried to resist.
“Why now, Dear Cousin?” he whispered. But it was too late. She was already
moving his hand upward along the cool flesh of her thigh until his fingertips caressed the silken hair, the velvet fold of her body.
“Because you are so distracted, my love, and because you will not talk to me about it. You have
scarcely talked to me about anything for days. Weeks. You sit and brood. I cannot reach you.” Now she left his hand where she had put it and began to untie the front of her robes. His reluctance evaporated, leaving him consumed with impatience: the anxiety
and despondency of recent days transformed itself now into pure desire—hungry, willful, demanding satisfaction.
She opened the silken blouse beneath her jackets. His member, as if it could grow any harder, strained between his
legs; she leaned over onto him and pressed her breasts against his chest, at the same time forcing the fingers of his right hand to enter her. Now, her face close to his, she reached behind her head and removed the hairpins. Her hair spilled around them both
like a curtain, and she moved so that the tip of his “old man” rubbed between her breasts; she changed her motion then so that she moved slowly from side to side, brushing his hardness with her soft flesh.
She opened her
legs again ever so slightly and with a small rotation allowed his fingers to go deeper into her. He cupped his left hand behind her neck and brought her face down to his. He traced his tongue along the full red line of her lips and up into the hollows of her
eyes, inhaling the child scent of her unrouged skin. She let him linger for a moment before pulling away; then she began to move up and down with a slow, deliberate motion while he kept his fingers still and rigid until her entire body shuddered with gentle
paroxysms and she groaned, sucking her breath in, squeezing her eyes tightly shut and baring her teeth. He watched her face, fascinated, and waited for the tremors to subside; then, slowly, carefully, drew his fingers out. She positioned her knees on either
side of his lap, and with her eyes fixed on his own and her hair hanging loose around her face and shoulders, challenged him.
Quickly, he opened his robes and undid the silk cord of his trousers, struggling awkwardly to bring them
down below his knees in the close confines of the moving carriage. She bent down, and bringing the head of his “old man” into her mouth, inflicted a rush of unbearable pleasure on him that made him drop his head backward in surrender. Her tongue
glided along the smooth velvet of his stalk, caressing the underside of the head with practiced delicacy. Then, abruptly, she raised herself, and with his fingers stretched nearly around her narrow waist, came down onto him, enveloping him in the warm, soft,
moist folds of her gate. He breathed the richness of her hair and sank down, like a stone in dark water ...
“I tossed the sticks last night,” he said. He did not bother to cover his nakedness. He preferred it now.
He pushed open the carriage shutters and let the cool air waft over his belly, damp with sweat, and his “old man,” lying limp and spent against his thigh. It seemed to him that beyond the jolly noise of the processional, the singing, laughing,
and tinkling of bells, there was a deep silence reaching into the hills and woods. He waited for her to speak; she said nothing for a long while.
“You?” she asked finally, politely incredulous.
he replied. “I consulted the I Ching.” He resolved now to hold nothing back. It was the passion they had just shared, the intimacy, that had dissolved his reticence.
was not entirely my own doing,” he said, hearing immediately how absurd those words sounded. “How should I put it? It was a perverse temptation that I gave in to. I wanted to do it and didn’t want to do it, all at the same time. So I did
it.” He looked out the window. “And now I regret it.”
“This does not sound like you, Cousin,” she said, tying a silk cord around the end of her braid and fussing with the loose strands of hair over her
ears. He watched her feeling around among the satin pillows for the hairpins and ornaments she had discarded. He found a clasp and handed it to her.
“I have been thinking too much about the future. Wanting just a look at it.
A glimpse. So I consulted the I Ching, telling myself that it was harmless, a parlor game, an amusement. That was my mistake. It was as if it were talking back to me, reminding me of the serious forces I toyed with.”
did it tell you?” she prompted him.
“It confirmed what I already suspected. That we do not have a future.”