The Manchurian Princess
by N. E. Luciano
||Untreed Reads Publishing
N. E. Luciano
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The Manchurian Princess is a romance set in the time of the building of the Great Wall of China -- to many, a time of great betrayal by the Boy Emperor, Shihuangdi. He had at first welcomed those who fought with him to vanquish the various kingdoms that had chosen to remain independent, and so opposed and prevented the country from becoming united. But now that he had emerged as the victor, his overriding obsession was to build a "wall of defense" against the wild peoples beyond. Not a bad idea in itself, except that, for the most part, the ones to build it were to be non-Chinese, which included many of his former allies…such as Manchurians. What was worse, even unacceptable, was that those conscripted were to be no better than slaves, millions of them, as the task was superhuman.
Xu Lu Xun, over-lord of Manchurian Najinjiang, resists the arrogant, arbitrary enslavement. He rebels against this edict which results in war with the Han Chinese.
It is in this war, then, that his daughter, Yan Shan, becomes involved; and, with her, Wes Reinhardt, an American from our time who, mysteriously, finds himself in the year 221 BC.
What these two experience together -- war and death and love and hope -- makes for a sweeping epic of a story.
Nearing Jiling, the Princess began speaking a language I’ve never heard before; and the men, with her, took her lead and switched, as well.
When I asked her what tongue it was that she was speaking, she said, “Xibe,” pronouncing it “shee-bay.”
“This is the language spoken here. My language, really. We are Jurchen. We are the Manchurians. And so what you are hearing us speak is our native tongue…”
I shrugged. I was just glad she understood the Chinese I spoke, as ungrammatical and broken as it was.
She laughed at what must have been a lost look on my face. “You’ll now have to speak Xibe…”
When I protested, she pointed to a shimmering sliver of something in the distance. “Alin Muku,” she declared. “Mountain Water—we bathe there. Say it. Repeat after me: ah-lin moo-koo.”
I pronounced it “ailin’ moo-ko,” and she laughed, delighted at my American attempt.
And then she urged her horse ahead, leaving me behind.
Alin Muku was, apparently, well known to the Manchus. The nearer they came to it, the more boisterously cheerful they became, the more ribald with their jokes. I heard them wondering aloud if I bathed at all; and, if I did, would they get a look at my you-know-what and how big it was. And in no time at all bets were going around as to how long it was in its natural state…
“With a barbarian like that, it is always in an unnatural state…” someone said authoritatively, and everybody laughed—a few insanely enough to fall off their mounts.
I decided to not let their jokes bother me. The coming bath appealed tremendously, and if someone won or lost a bet it would truly be no skin off my nose. I was going to be neck-deep in that water. It was a promise I made myself.
Alin Muku, I learned, was water that came from inside the “belly” of the mountain, so distilled, so pure, that at one time only the Manchurian royalty could drink from it.
We made camp there late in the afternoon, but remained until almost noon the next day before we went on toward Jiling. And at the little gullies and holes and shallows filled to overflowing with the water from that mountain, the men thirstily drank from; and, afterwards, bathed in, naked and splashing and laughing, like children.
I found some privacy a way away, in a dip, but was soon “visited” by the “cock-measuring committee” who took stock of my manhood with exaggerated, staring, critical looks.
”Seven,” said one of them, in Chinese.
“More like six and a half,” said another.
“Not bad for a baby-making tool shriveled as it is in cold water.”
“How long do you think it can be in favorable conditions?”
“Between six and a half to seven, then, at the minimum; and seven to seven and a half, maximum?”
They rode away splashing and laughing, one of them giving me the equivalent of an all-out, full Manchurian approval: A left-handed, sky-poking, middle finger.
I returned him a right-handed up-yours—to his great delight.
It was there, near where I dipped, that I found her, the Princess, later, bathing.
I hadn’t at all meant to spy upon her. I was exploring the area, as where I had bathed was nearer to the wall of the mountain where on its face, it seemed, were caves.
She was bathing dressed, in a loose outfit—coolie pants over which was a large, ill-fitting over-all jacket of the same material—one hand pulling her top away from her body, the other, with a washcloth, wiping under.
I caught her washing her breasts.
She didn’t see me, nor I, her, at first. When she did, she was but a second after I did—and so we stared at each other, struck.
I bowed. “Duibugi,” I apologized, backing away, my eyes lowered.
She didn’t panic, nor displayed any unease. She said nothing. She just stared at me with those very direct eyes, so unlike the Chinese, her hand still, on her breasts, under that garment.
Later that evening, Ren Ming Zhu came to my tent and very directly asked me if I liked what I saw.
I knew he meant me catching the Princess bathing.
But I knew, too, that he couldn’t have caught me if he, himself, were not spying on her.
“Where were you hidden?” I asked him.
“I would be careful,” he warned me, and then left angrily.
That night I wondered at the beauty of the girl I saw at the water hole, and then I fantasized shamelessly about her before I fell to an uneasy sleep.
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