Now as our story goes, Court Eunuch Lei entered the tranquil garden and Zhang Ying there presented Hu Mei'r to him. Just setting eyes on her made the eunuch completely feel her siren lure. "Let me guess," he asked, face beaming handsomely, "sixteen, seventeen or eighteen?"
"Why, sixteen, lord" answered Hu Mei'r.
Lei Chonggong silently ran his eyes up and down over her. "Good, good," he repeated as he mounted his horse and rode off. In a few hours he sent an official to ask Zhang over to the mansion for for a chat. Lei waited for his associate in the hall, and when Zhang's arrival was announced he rushed out to greet him. Now, Zhang was a face reader and discerned at once a change of heart in Lei. "He's many times brighter and more encouraging than usual," thought Zhang; "there must be something good behind this."
"Do you have orders for me that you call me here just now?" asked Zhang as soon as he was inside and seated.
"Earlier today I had the priveledge of inspecting your niece, a woman of charm and grace," answered Lei. "But unfortunately the Prince is only fourteen and so your niece at sixteen is too old for him according to tradition; I'm afraid it'll be difficult if not impossible to have her picked for the harem. But perhaps there are others, mere officials, who haven't yet been soiled. If I may ask, how would you feel about someone entering your family of wizards?"
"But we are already blood relatives, uncle and niece!" exclaimed Zhang.
Court Eunuch Lei laughed. "No, no, not uncle and niece," he managed to say between guffaws, "but her and your humble servant, little old me!"
"But you are officially the keeper of the harem, a confidant of the throne! This isn't a laughing matter!"
"There are things, Wizard, that you do not know. For one, although we eunuchs have been physically purified through castration we still have the same feelings and desires as everybody else. Of course I'm lonely at night and often long for a companion. And during the cold winter nights I always call some little kid to me, to hug their feet and behinds, but that's no real fun. Of course, I know of a brothel and I always go but it's illegal, and anyway it's all just physical, with no subtle joys or mystery. Not at all like starting a new branch of a family, with its long-time companionship. How beautiful!"
"Can such a thing be done?"
"History is full of stories of palace eunuchs taking wives. Shi Xian of the Han Dynasty had a wife and children, while in the Tang the Eunuch Gao Lishi married the lady Lyu and Li Fuguo wed lady Yuan. If you look at all the examples in the history books you'll soon put your objections aside, your holiness. Why, I've already been consulting the calendar and tomorrow's an auspicious day for a wedding. We can tie up the betrothal in the morning and come evening I'll call on you to escort the bride to the reception. Now if I may trouble you, your reverence, please go and explain it all to your niece, and remember, after she crosses the threshhold with me you can plan on great wealth and happiness coming both of your ways.
Seeing that his counterpart was completely serious Zhang Ying promised to comply, although there was surely no joy in his heart. After taking leave of Eunuch Lei he returned to the garden and told Hu Mei'r what had transpired.
"Uncle", she asked, "if you marry me off to a eunuch, how can I have any children?"
"I'm thinking along the same lines," replied Zhang, but he's holding all the cards and we don't dare defy him. Just go along with it for the time being and don't worry, because we're in the right, and I've got a plan."
The night then passed without further discussion.
Next day bright and early Eunuch Lei's house was decked out with red festoons and loud with flutes and drums as he prepared the wedding feast. First thing in the morning he officially began the wedding, and you can imagine what it was like: pearly phoenix crowns upon the couple's heads and red embroidered silk dragon gowns, jasper hairpins and gold bracelets two, and everything else they wore in double as well. Toasts of holy wine for bliss, no need to go into detail on this! He then took that girl of Zhang's and had her outfitted elegantly. Here's a poem:
Come evening, Eunuch Lei rode a fine horse to the garden to receive his bride. He was dressed in wedding clothes and jade finery, riding ahead of a flowery festooned float to the shrill accompanyment of pipes and drums. Just then Zhang Ying picked up an amulet slip and a fresh undergarment; reciting the charm to himself he instructed Hu Mei'r to put the corset on. Then he passed her the secret password, a chastity charm, to recite before donning that garment, and the one to incant when she wished to take it off. Mei'r could manage all of this. And so dressed up just like an immortal she mounted that wedding cart and followed Eunuch Lei away. Zhang Ying went with them as far as the gate and returned alone.
And so as the story goes Grand Eunuch Lei and Hu Mei exchanged vows and became man and wife without even the usual servant girls and old maids present. There were only a few young eunuchs holding candles and standing in opposing pairs forming a corridor to the nuptial chamber. Afterward they lifted cups of wine and exchanged toasts to the newlyweds. Now, the weather was still cold and a red wool carpet covered the floor under the bed in the center of Lei's room. A large fur comforter made of sable pelts covered the bed completely, along with an embroidered quilt and cover; everything was luxuriously elegant. When they were finally in bed they had a few seductive words together but there was one problem: Hu Mei'r, now free of her flowery crown and fancy gown simply could not remove that petticoat of hers! It was just like a layer of her natural-born skin, and even the little panties she wore were sealed under it. When Eunuch Lei put his own muscles to the task he got nowhere and could only look on in frustration as she finally fell asleep in her clothes. That unmarriageably sealed body of hers was all the work of a close relation. This was in fact the result of Zhang Ying's magic.
Next morning at the break of dawn a number of officials and ordinary friends of his as well as the usual loafers and freeloaders came around to kowtow and have the customary morning-after look at the new wife. Now, Lei spoke to them, but having declared himself a groom before all of the eunuchs his refusal to call out his wife provoked considerable joking and laughter. And in a little while Zhang Ying arrived to pay his felicitations. Eunuch Lei invited him to have a seat in the study and told him of the strange episode.
"This happened because the marriage has not been ordained by Fate," said Zhang. "Perhaps your excellency already has a fine marriage fated for you to some other woman, and that is why my niece cannot serve you as a wife. "
"Let's see what happens tonight!" answered Lei. And leaving some food and drink for his guest the eunuch left the room.
Come evening Hu Mei'r undressed and lay as naked as ever. Eunuch Lei was really aroused and whipped right open that silken knot in the chord of his embroidered finery, but had a difficult time getting himself up for action. And when it finally stood an ugly boil appeared! What could he do but spend another chaste night in misery next to his beloved Hu Mei'r, only appreciating the sight of her beauty. And so on the second night as well he failed to consummate the marriage, receiving only one blow after another. For the third night he had a seperate room prepared and sent Hu Mei'r there to sleep alone.
Zhang Ying had by now also realized that things weren't working out and that there would have to be a way out. Who'd ever suspect that much as he disliked what was happening he was far from willing to have her sent home! "It's better for me to keep my mouth shut and think of a way to exploit this turn of events," he thought ever so smugly. "I've put Hu Mei'r under a soul spell and when I spot a convenient chance I'll just cast another little charm to make sure she wins the heart of the supreme one. And if the Emperor favors her perhap's I'll be granted a title at court! For the time being it's better she be the wife of a eunuch than have no official stature at all. As soon as it gets dark I'll ask the fairies for the soul magic I'll need."
Now, dear reader, can you imagine just what sort of charm he wished to employ? Well, if one desires to transmit a person's soul one needs only to clean and prepare a quiet room with paper, brushes and inks of various colors set out on a table, and to provide some fruit and wine as an offering. First of all, one writes out a prayer for the dead with all of the details of that person's life on it, and then one calls on the fairy with the magic words. Then one burns the written charm to attract its soul while calling it by chanting the prayer, and then one leaves and locks the room. Regardless of distance one can summon the living soul of the immortal, who will paint something and leave. While brought back to life that soul will appear to be mumbling incoherently. Even the spirit of one from the remote past can be brought back as a true-to-life active being. And as you have described the attitude and attributes of that deceased , so will the captured soul resemble it in every way. As soon as the spirit arrives and begins painting one can hear the wild stirring of the brush, and when one hears the brush cast down the presence has already left. One can slowly open the door and enter now, as the living soul has been transmitted into that work of painting or poetry.
Now, most of those who summon a poem fairy succeed only in attracting a ghost that can write some verse, and most appeals to a painting fairy only result in calling forth a demon that can draw. If one has really been in touch with true immortals their poetry or paintings will be so profound, deep and mysterious as to penetrate and affect the souls of living people. Well , that very night Zhang Ying summoned a painting fairy by those holy laws right in Mei's bedroom, and around midnight he heard the sound of the brush. Unlocking the door and going back in for a look he found a painting of two cheeks, just like flowers, flirtatious and full of desire, looking very much as if alive and signed with three cursive characters. From the name Zhang knew at once that it was indeed Zhang Sengyao of the long past Jin Dynasty who had come down to earth. It had long been said that "Sengyao painted dragons with just the white of eye; when daubing in the pupil up to Heaven they would fly", and it really was him, a true painting fairy. Zhang Ying was delighted. The next day he mounted the picture on a silk and paper scroll between two rollers and hung it in the room. He need only wait until his next meeting with Eunuch Lei, and when he would begin his complaining Zhang need only interrupt with that little poem and then tell him all about this.
As it happened, Hu Mei'r had been neither touched nor sought after in Eunuch Lei's home after those wedding night debacles. She had now just spent an entire night talking to herself incoherently in her disturbed sleep and come morning felt as weak and tired as ever; indeed, she had already begun to sense her health slipping away when she walked up to one of the younger eunuchs with a question. "Are there any sorytellers around here?" she asked.
"There's a blind man here who tell's the best tales around," answered the servant; "his voice is clear and sharp and he can portray emotions very clearly. He lives outside, under the eaves of this mansion in fact."
"Well then, let's call him in and enjoy ouselves by gosh!"
And so the eunuch consulted with Grand Eunuch Lei and had the storyteller fetched and assisted to the main hall, where he was excused from the usual ceremonies and allowed to get right down to his trade. Using a small table and stool he had his audience sit on the railing before him, Hu Mei in the middle, and listen to tales of women behind the throne. He was free to tell whatever stories he wanted. And so that old blind storyteller cleared his throat; calling up all his strength and leaning forward he grasped the edges of the table, recited a four line opening poem and then launched right into a story.
He began by telling the tale of Daji, a beauty married to King Zhou of Yin-Shang. On her way to the king one day there arose a sudden fierce gale, obscuring sky and earth in darkness and forcing her attendants to the ground in terror. When the squall had passed and they struggled back to their feet they saw the consort Daji just sitting there as if nothing had happened, unmoved. King Zhou pronounced her blessed with good fortune and made her his main consort, so truly delighted was he with her. But little did he know that Queen Daji was no longer her true self but an old, beautiful fox-spirit who had ridden that strange black squall, snatched away the soul of that beautiful queen and changed right into her body!
King Zhouh was then haunted and driven by the myriad charms and tricks of her siren soul; he could only favor and adore this concubine. And so he entered a long night of drunken wickedness, gorging himself with oceans of wine and forests of game, putting his loyal officials to death for remonstrating with him, and carrying out unrestrained evil. All the people of the land finally railed in anger against him, causing King Wu of the new Zhou Dynasty to mount a punative campaign and to defeat the wicked last king of Yin-Shang, reducing him to a horse tender and killing Queen Daji in her palace. Having finished the tale, the old storyteller recited another four line poem in conclusion. And here it is:
Hu Mei'r took it all in with delight. "The ancients tell us that human beings never manage to fulfill their hearts' desires," she said, voice full of appreciation; "even those who live to be a hundred still only wish to be young again. Folks are never happy until one fine day death ends their frustration." Then she had the blind man paid a string of cash and sent him on his way with words of gratitude. But meanwhile she harbored very different thoughts. "Hmphh!" she angrily sulked; "The same kind of hujing as me and she could take Daji's mortal place as queen! Am I less of a ghost than she? "
She slept alone in her room that night, and dreamt that she had been selected into the Imperial harem and become the absolute farorite at court. She had been declared Queen, escorted everywhere by the palace ladies and showered with extraordinary wealth and happiness. Her old mom Holy Auntie was invested as Queen Mother and her brother Hu Chu appointed to a top official post. Her maternal relations were all flourishing without peer! But soon enough she was revived by cruel reality, for indeed it had all been a passing dream. Thin beams of red light were streaming in throught her small window, and she saw only a young eunuch servant presenting her silver washbasin, richly reflecting the deep red dawn's light.
"Today is the third round of concubine selection," said the boy, "so our old master has already gone to the Board of Rites. Wash and groom yourself, bride. We young fellows have already prepared everything because we're all taking a holiday and going over for a look too."
My poor little body is too exhausted for me to wash or do my hair," said Mei'r; "if you want to go watch, just go!" Hearing her words those kids ran off in a gang just as if they'd just been dismissed by the village schoolteacher. "Already the third round of selection," sulked Hu Mei'r. "The so-called beauties who've made it this far all gathered in one place! Why don't I go have a look too, just to see how it's all going?" And so she did indeed wash and groom herself. "A woman with appeal like mine is rare among humanity," she told herself in the mirror; "Still, being holed up in this place is bound to take its toll on my charming soul." She then tied a blue-green scarf over her hair and dressed herself in the style of a village girl. Lashing the door shut from the inside she then made use of her hujing skills as of old, climbing the wall and slipping out under the edge of the ceiling to the outside. Then she opened the back gate and was gone in a puff of smoke, off directly to the square in front of the entrance to the Board of Rites where she pushed right on into the sea of onlookers. She next saw the great doors of this important ministry opening, and from afar could discern Grand Eunich Lei seated in the hall with the officials of the Board of Rites. The official matchmakers were escorting each of the daughters of renowned families across the hall , entering from the east gate and exiting out the west, while their names were ticked off in the record by those in charge. There were also the loving parents of girls of poor families waiting outside the gates for a chance, daughters and family members in tow, and the priviledged daughters of officials, together with their coteries of attendants and maids. There had to have been hundreds of them from all walks of life! All were thirteen or fourteen years old; elegant brows, gentle eyes, red lips and white teeth were really in evidence. But there was no truly outstanding radiant woman, exuding real beauty, to be found among them. "Beautiful people are truly hard to come by," said Hu Mei'r after taking all of this in. "It's sad to think that this is all the beauty and talent to be found in a world capital like this!"
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