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Erotic Death Tales by Hitomi
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                                                                           "Mate"                                                    "The Condemned"
The Singer

(1)

They said she sang like a nightingale.
They said it would take a hundred years, even five hundred, before another singer like her could be
found.
They had no ears.
She was unique, unequal and irreplaceable.  Not for a thousand years, or ten thousands. Ever.
I first heard her sing three years ago.  I was a common doctor then and was invited by a quite wealthy
patient of mine who was grateful for the services just rendered, curing him of a disease which had
haunted him for years.  It was a banquet he threw to celebrate his recovery to health and hence could
commence a new cycle of gluttony and debauchery.  It was a common trait of our time, being the ninth
year of Tian-bao, the second title of the year chosen by the emperor for his reign. The Tang Empire
had emerged like a phoenix that had risen from the ashes .  Its more turbulent years of imperial family
power struggles had witnessed palace coups in which brothers slaughtered brothers, son forcing his
father stepping down from the throne and practically imprisoned till the latter’s dying day in a
neglected palace.  There was even a period during which a woman crowned herself Emperor after
the death of her husband, a thing unheard of during the long years of our history with its lines of
dynasties.  Only when she was on her death-bed did the throne was restored to the male blood-line
of imperial family.  But now the empire was again in full glory, its riches the envy of nations far and
wide, its power commanding obedience among the various princes of surrounding states.  Monks
and students eager to learn from us flocked to Chang-An, the imperial capital, mixing with turbaned
merchants and dancing girls from nations along the Silk Road to the west.
It was a most happy time to be living in the land of the Heavenly Empire.  
Or at least it had so seemed to us.
So, I was in the midst of the gathered guests, eating, drinking and having a good time at this banquet
when it was announced that the host had paid for the service of He-man to sing for us.  He-man was a
female singer and the fame of her singing had won wide renown in the capital. Hence, the
announcement caused quite a stir among us.  To be honest, I was less enthusiastic than the others,
suspecting her fame was the result of exaggeration.  Being a medical man, I had the privilege of in
touch with the best medicine, not only to cure, but to heighten the senses and I often boasted my
sense of hearing was beyond compare. I had listened to hundreds of “great” singers and though
some were worth their salt, I never found anyone who could really impress me.  So, when all eyes
were directed at the stairs from which the famous singer would climb up to the hall of the banquet in
anticipation, I merely took up a cup carved out of Kunlun jade and savored at the aroma of the
exquisite wine poured into it.
My lips never had chance to touch that cup.
It was not her beauty that that captivated my attention, though she could be called a beauty in her
own right; it was not her attire, rich enough in colored silk and possibly a gift from a satisfied client,
that clung to her slender body that suggested lithe and grace under it; it was not her youth (she was
around fifteen or sixteen by appearance though she might have been actually a bit more senior in
age as I had learned that outward appearance could be deceptive).  It was not even the color of her
hair, which seemed to have a sparkle of gold dust in it, suggestive of her origin far from the central
earth, which after all, was not that uncommon in the capital.
Rather, it was her pair of eyes, green like emeralds, penetrating and yet soothing at the same time.  
I could see the soul behind that pair of eyes, and it was instantly mesmerizing.
Without uttering a single word, those eyes could tell me her life was one full of stories. They spoke of
a troubled-childhood, a loneness like an icy lake hidden in the bowels of the mountains, a sorrow so
deep, a mystery beyond wildest imagination…
I was totally transfixed there, the cup inches from my parted lips, frozen in that idiotic pose as if
turned into stone. No, it was not desire or any design on her, I being long passed my fooling days and
neared the end of my life-journey.  I had my fair share of bed-sports with some of the most enchanting
women of the land and discovered the pleasure of the flesh was fleeting and in the end, quite
meaningless.  But this young girl was beyond such definition.  She was much more grand than her
tiny body that met our eyes, all our eyes.  It was only then that I realized all the noise had died down
and the quietness was so acute that if someone dropped a pin, it would sound like a roll of thunder.
The girl was accompanied by an old man, presumably her father or her guardian. He was holding a
pipa, a musical instrument introduced into the land, again from the Silk Road.
The gathering remained awe-struck as the girl glided towards the prepared seats.  She waited for the
old man to sit down first before taking a seat herself and bowed slightly towards the host.
It was the old man who spoke.
“Kind Sir. We are in deep gratitude for your kindness for inviting my daughter to sing before you and
your honorable guests.  Please choose a number for her.”
The crowd gasped in anticipation.  It was widely known that this singer, He-man, would sing only one
song for any occasion.  No much how high a promised remuneration to be, she would limit her
service to one chosen melody.  Hence, the choice was of great importance as everyone would love
to listen to some great singing to a well-chosen tune.
The host was a bit indecisive.  He was not to blame for it was a difficult choice.
“Sing us The Shui Xian Hua!” It was the little daughter of the host hiding behind her father who
shouted out.
“No!” Almost everybody voiced their disappointment.
The tune was a well-known song, fit as a kind of lullaby for children.
What a waste!
Anybody could handle that tune with ease!
But before the host could have the request, the singer made a light bow and the old man had begun
to pluck out the first notes.
Then, she sang the first line.

(What a nice Shui Xian Hua)

And all became speechless.
It was heavenly!

(Beautiful flower settling in my home)
(Beautiful flower settling in my home)
(When the land is ruled justly, the people are content)
(All sing in celebration of peace and bliss)

And none could help but to weep.
It was a simple tune, possibly one of the simplest that we all learned from childhood.  
But nobody could sing like that!
No one!
The girl stood up, bowed and the floor erupted into a thunderous applause.
I found my hand holding the filled cup shaking, the wine spilling over the edge.

(2)

I had He-man sing a second time during another banquet.
Then, she was gone, disappeared without a trace from Chang-An.
Some said she had earned enough money and had returned to her home village with her aging and
ailing father, others said she was bought by a wealthy merchant who made her one of his many
concubines, promising to take care of her father, some said she had eloped with a lover, a
swordsman, a paladin who took her round the country, some even said she had fallen ill and perhaps
had died.
None of these rumors was confirmed.
In time, the name of He-man became a past memory.  She was not forgotten.  She was just regarded
as a legend, a lost treasure that one would miss and shook one’s head in despair of recovering one
day.  
Then, suddenly, she made her come-back.
I listened to her sing again.
And I was so worried for her.
No, it was not that she had lost any of her singing talent and skill.
Rather, she had reached an even higher level of accomplishment.
Three years ago, everybody was touched by the beauty of her voice.
Now, her singing was stunning.
And almost immediately I realized her singing was dangerous.
I was no longer a common doctor.  The gods had smiled on me during the past three years. My
medical skills had earned me connections with the higher echelons: officials of the court, courtesans
rivaling for privileges using their beauty and wits,  powerful eunuchs who had the ear of the
emperor, and twice, even the favourite one, Yang Guifei, the woman the emperor found inseparable,
had used my service.  I was bestowed with the golden carp medallion which I wore at my waist, a
symbol of favor  denied to ordinary folks and access into the outer palace for urgent treatments.
And I had learned much from the inside.  Besides the dazzling wealth and splendor that met the eyes,
I had learned of the corruption, the cruelty, the under-current of rivalry for power, of mercilessness,
of the mortal risk of dropping a seemingly innocent comment.  I had witnessed the rise and fall of
powerful ministers, quite a few executions that turned my stomach upside down and felt the distant
rumbling of discontent that hovered at four corners of the empire whispered behind silk screens.
And I had woken up sometimes, sweat all over my body, after a nightmare of a failed treatment to the
emperor, to Guifei, to a prince or princess, or to one of the princesses’ puppies! I knew what wealth
and glory I could reap and the dire price I might be forced to pay.  And even worse, I knew there was
no turning back.  To quit without imperial permission was never an option.
And H-man, in her innocence seemed oblivious to the lurking danger.
She seldom sang songs like Shui Xian Hua now.  Instead, she sang of great tragedies that could strike
at common folks out of the blue; she sang of despaired lovers taking their lives together; she sang of
the stark contrast between the squandering of the rich and powerful and the plight of the down-
trodden; she sang of left-over meat rotting on golden and silver plates and the corpses of the
famished poor left lying in the snow; she sang of corruption among the mandarins, the injustice of the
law courts, the seizing of land from the powerless peasants by the nobles and their minions, she
sang of the riders on speckles horses that brought lychee, a kind of delicacy fruit from the south of
the empire to Chang-An for the pleasure of Guifei who adored it; she sang of the juicy fruit as ivory
teeth sank into its translucent flesh, of the joy of the emperor seeing that his love-of-a-lifetime laugh
with delight; she sang of the vacant eyes of the little girl tramped under the hoofs of the riders,
uncaring for what they had done as they had to reach the table of the emperor while the fruit was still
fresh, of the despair of the father, the shrieks of torment of the mother; she sang of non-stopping
draft of soldiery for wars at the fringes of the empire, to bring in more glory, more tributes, more
beautiful women to fill a palace already housing three thousands of them; she sang to rumbling of
minority tribes forced to bow low, of oppressed peasants left on the brink of starvation; she sang of
dangers that could threaten the empire, that could terminate the years of apparent opulence and
peace.
She brought comfort the under-dogs, tears to the common people and rage to the powerful.
My heart trembled at every song she breathed out of her lips, every line, every word.
She could not be so innocent to think all these would go unreported.
Somehow, she no longer cared, or she had learned to care so much that she could no longer remain
silent and complacent.
What had happened to her during the past three years?
Had she suffered so much? Or had she simply seen too much?
The rich no longer invited her to their banquets, fearing complications.
She no longer wore rich silk from adoring affluent clients.
Instead, she always dressed herself in plain white dress, with hardly any personal ornaments other
than her turquoise hairpin.
When she sang in the market to a quiet audience who would stop anything they had been doing to
listen to her.  They said even the birds stopped their chippings when she sang as if they too, were
eager to listen.
She brought comfort the under-dogs, tears to the common people and rage to the powerful.
The powerful called her a traitor, the common people called her “He-man-ji”, the last word an honor
address to a maestro.
She must be living a simple life as now the people, though appreciative, could only put down a few
coins which were all they could afford.  She would pick them up one by one and nodded, her
gratitude showing from that pair of emerald green eyes.
In three years’ time, she had grown to be more mature, more radiantly beautiful.  If she had looked
like a little princess three years ago, she now looked a goddess, a goddess full of mercy and
compassion.
I was moved beyond words and I dug my fingers into my pocket, which was deep enough and put
down a heavy tale of silver and was about to turn my back when she stopped me.
“I do not need this from the rich.”
There was a kind of coldness in her voice.
I did not feel offended.
“Maestro, I offer this as real appreciation, and my silver is honestly earned.  I am a doctor and I do not
only take care of those who can pay me well.” I said.
She was a bit surprised and after a while, she bowed to offer her apology.
“I misjudged you, kind Sir.  But I cannot accept your silver.  Since you are a doctor, can you do me a
favor and take a look at my father?”
“Is he not well?”
She became quiet. There was a deep sorrow in her eyes.
“Very well, lead me to him.” I said.
Her dwelling was in a back alley, neighboring families for whom she had offered her songs.
The room was dark, with a single oil-light.  But otherwise, it was orderly and clean.
The old man who had been playing the pipa three years ago was lying on a mattress.
I took his pulse.
There was little I could do for him.
I told her so and she sobbed silently.
“I will subscribe some medicine to help your father ease his pain.  My page would come and take it
with him.  Do not be too sorrowful.  It is just a cycle of life.”
She nodded and thanked me.  There was sorrow in her eyes, but there was pride too.  And courage.
I should have warned her of her placing herself in danger with her kind of singing. But somehow I
kept my lips tight.  It would hardly make any difference as she would probably go on with what she
had been doing.  I knew from her determined look that she knew the consequence and she would not
dodge it.
Three days later, the old man died.
I secretly arranged to pay for his funeral.

(3)

I leaned of her arrest a month later.
Though I had expected it to happen sooner or later, it still gave me the shudder.
What would become of her?
I called my connections and their replies confirmed my worst fear
Treason!
The punishment was always death!
I wept for her the whole night before her execution was to take place.
When dawn broke, I reluctantly dragged my feet towards the execution ground, which was in the
market place.
I had prepared some flowers, to be placed in front of her after what was to happen.  Once in the
street, however, I discovered I was not alone.  Hundreds of people were moving in the same
direction, flowers in their hands.
When I reached the place, it was nearly packed. It was with great difficulty that I managed to get to the
front row.  There, fifty paces or so in front, knelt the famous singer He-man-ji.  Dressed in pure white,
hair was let down her back, her arms bent to have her wrists tied.  
There was no fear I could detect.
She was calm in the morning air, pure as a drop of dew in her dazzling white dress.
My heart raced, pained and fell into the deepest despair.
Was it true that nothing could save her from such fate?
I was a doctor and my duty was to save life and this was a life I would be willing to give up anything to
save.
I turned around and see an equally distraught crowd.  There was sorrow; there was anger and then,
out in the distance, I saw a tint of hope.
A palanquin
I could recognize it even it was disguised like one used by commoners.  The eight bodyguards
surrounding it betrayed the identity of the one who was inside.  It was not for nothing that I had
served the emperor and his loved one for all these years.
The emperor was an artist himself, priding on his achievement in composing and his drum skills.  He
must have heard of the case and would not wish to miss attending this and not seeing for himself the
singer who had shaken the base of his empire.
A thought flickered across my mind.
“Let her sing!” I shouted and it was echoed by the crowd.
The soldiers became uneasy and the mandarin who was presiding the execution was just about to
order clearing the place when a runner came up to him and whispered something into his ear.  The
face of the mandarin paled and immediately, he gave order that the condemned was to sing one last
song.
Hope flared up inside me.
If she would be allowed to sing, there was a chance the emperor, appreciate of such a rare talent,
might grant her a pardon!  It was not unheard of before.  He had granted pardon to much graver
crimes when he read a poem by a condemned man, and there were thousands of poets in Chang-An
whereas there was only one He-man-ji!
The order was relayed to her.  She turned her head and looked at the messenger.  Finally, composing
herself, she began to sing her last song:


(What a nice Shui Xian Hua)
(Beautiful flower settling in my home)
(Beautiful flower settling in my home)
(When the land is ruled justly, the people are content)
(All sing in celebration of peace and bliss)

We were all stunned!
The voice was crystal, powerful and haunting.
The emperor could not fail to be touched.
And I was right.  Another messenger came running, carrying a small basket and had it placed in front
of her.
Even from a distance I could see what it was: a basket of lychee!
I knew what it meant.  It was a sign of favor and just one step from a full pardon.
We held our breadth and waited.
She shook her head, refusing it!
“Why? Why?” I almost shouted out my disbelief. Was she so foolish, so blind to a given opportunity to
save her own life?
Then, it struck me.
She fully understood the meaning.
It was the same kind of fruit she had sung against, the same kind of fruit that had cost so many acres
of farmland that the peasants had tilled and toiled, only to be tramped under the hoofs of the rushing
riders; the same kind of fruit that the little girl lost her life for, the mother wept for.  To accept it would
make her a collaborator to such injustice; it would feel like sucking the blood of the dead girl, the
sweat of the peasants, the ills of the empire!
She knew the price of refusal and she was willing to pay it!
“No!” I rushed forward.
Two soldiers shouted at me and pointed their spears at me.  Then, they saw the medallion of carp and
immediately bowed politely, lowering their weapons.
I ran towards the slightly raised wooden platform on which she knelt.
“Maestro, please, take a bite, a tiny bite, I implore you.”
She looked at me, smiled and once again, shook her head.
She was stubborn, and so brave!
I refused to give up.
“Then, at least sing.  Sing a song, a line, in praise of the emperor.  I will speak on your behalf and get
you his pardon.”
She stared at me long and hard.
Then smiling, she sang.

“ Mother River, nourishing me since I was born
How I love thee tender and warm
I have life’s share of pleasure and pain.
I have travelled to Hell’s dungeon and flew on a bird’s wings.

How tempting life can be, how frightening is death
How does it feel to enter the unknown
How much I long for a safe and warm home

But tell me, how can I forget those who have been wronged?
How can I give up dignity
And bow to the strong?
I love the land, the people and leave them my songs
To sooth their sorrow after I am gone.”

I felt tears rolling down my face.
She had just sung her own death sentence.
When I looked into the distance, I found the palanquin was no more.
Two soldiers helped me to a chair at the side.
I saw the executioner, naked waist up, walked up the platform with his ugly weapon: a huge cutting
sword.
He-man-ji remained calm, she looked at the crowd whom she knew loved her dearly, bowed once to
thank them and then closed her eyes and offered her swan-like neck.
The blade sang.
When her head hit the ground and rolled to a stop, the crowd uttered its cries of anguish and silent
anger.  They, and I, witnessed the body toppled forward, blood spurting out from the truncated neck,
dyeing the front part of the platform crimson red.  When the head was picked up and shown to the
crowd, there was no usual cheering, The uneasy executioner hurried backed away and after
presenting it to the officiating officer, beat his retire as if in fear of his life.  Even before the head was
hoisted up the prepared pole, a sea of flowers covered the place.  
We all knew someone precious in our lives had died; something valuable in the empire had died, the
empire was dying itself.  
When the voice of justice was silenced, evil would creep in, rotting the base, changing the world we
knew forever.   
Being an old man, I have no wish to see how all these end.  
I pray that my remaining days are not that many and if it is more than I can endure, well, there are
always way out for a medicine man.
I do not fear death anymore.
My heart has died on this day.
May be a new era will come one day, a happier one than the one which is imprisoning us.
But there will be no He-man-ji, not for a hundred years, or a thousand, or ten thousand.
Ever.

(Postscript)

The golden age of the Tang Empire ended two years later.  In AD755, nation-wide rebellions broke out
Warlords fought imperial armies and against each other. Foreign tribes invaded the land.  Millions of
people were slaughtered.  Somehow, the Empire lingered on for another one hundred and fifty two
years, but only as a shadow of its former self.

He-man-ji was not forgotten.  Many poems were written to honor her after her death.  A melancholic
tune was named after her and it was said that whenever this tune was played, people could not stop
their fears running down.  There was a record of a consort of a late Tang emperor who died of heart-
breaking when she was about to sing this song in front of her husband’s deathbed before she had a
chance to go to her voluntary death to accompany her husband in the next world.
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Comment from: Hitomi
Date: February 8, 2012

I just love this picture.


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Comment from: Nighthawk
Date: February 9, 2012

Hitomi,

You already  know how much I love this story, I have already told you so on
DS.

As I love all of your writing.

I saw that there were no comments for this story, this is too well done to
not receive a hundred, so maybe I'll get the ball rolling.

Your great fan

NH
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Comment from: Hitomi
Date: February 10, 2012

I love this story too.
I have to admit that the silence is a bit disappointing but may be everyone
is busy and I guess I must respect the right of readers to remain silent.

I am cooking up another story but it will take some time to finish it as i need
to do more research first.

We may have to think about posting one of my former stories when you are
less busy.

Thanks.
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Comment from: Nastassja
Date: February 10, 2012

I have to say, this is one of my favorites of your stories, Hitomi.

This "lyric"...

“ Mother River, nourishing me since I was born
How I love thee tender and warm
I have life’s share of pleasure and pain.
I have travelled to Hell’s dungeon and flew on a bird’s wings.

How tempting life can be, how frightening is death
How does it feel to enter the unknown
How much I long for a safe and warm home

But tell me, how can I forget those who have been wronged?
How can I give up dignity
And bow to the strong?
I love the land, the people and leave them my songs
To sooth their sorrow after I am gone.”

...made my heart ache.

Thank you, as always, for sharing your transcendent skill as a writer.

Nat
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Comment from: Hitomi
Date: February 11, 2011

First of all, apology to Nighthawk.

I was not very much of myself these days and I mistook you for Othello.  So,
if you feel confused at my message, don't be.  I was just plain silly.

And Thanks for you and Nastassja for being so supportive.

Nastassja, I made up that song as I wrote this story.  Well, perhaps I did not.  
Perhaps it was the spirit of He-man-ji putting those lyrics into my brain.

China has always been notorious in persecuting its poets and writers who
dare speak against the regime.  Many brave men and women lost their lives
just because they spoke the truth.  Even with the abolishing of the imperial
dynasties, this did not stop.  During the cultural revolution, many people
with conscience were persecuted, imprisoned and even executed.

Just this week, a poet in Jijiang province was sentenced to seven years in
prison for writing a poem alleged to call for the people of China to fight for
their given rights under the constitution.  His name is Wu Ifu.

The regime does this because it wants to intimidate the common people; it
also means those in power are afraid.

It is our duty never to let those poems and songs become silent.  May be it
is the same with stories..

Hitomi
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Comment from: Othello
Date: February 11, 2012

Hitomi, no problem about the mixup; when I read your earlier comment I
simply assumed your were directing it to both Nighthawk and to me.

The theme of this piece, as it describes the terrible fate that sometimes
(more often than seems possible in a sane world -- but of course our world
is anything but sane) befalls creative people at the hands of repressive and
intolerant regimes, is one that strikes a powerful chord with me. I have
always believed that creative people (writers, artists, singers...the medium
doesn't matter) can be the soul and conscience of a society, and really, to
humanity. The fact that writings that touch the mind and heart and spirit
have survived for thousands of years, far longer than any regime, speaks of
their immense importance.

Yet even in western society, which prides itself on "openness", artistic
people seem alternately admired and vilified...how many times, trying to
make my way as a writer in the world, have I heard derisive comments like
"you should get a real job", or "when are you going to stop wasting your
time with all that writing?" How strange that will always seem to me.

Ah well.

Your "singer" and her songs touched me too, Hitomi. Through her vision
(which of course is your vision), our souls are so richly enhanced.

(And I'm glad you like the picture, too.)
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