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Luck of the Dragon
by Walter Reimer
© 2004 by Walter Reimer
“I heard what you were saying before I came in, Hao,” Hei said, “and you can forget it.” The others stared at him in surprise as he added, “You are only seventeen, and I forbid you to get married.” He glared at his wife before she could open her mouth to protest, and she subsided, folding her paws in her lap. “Now, what’s this about those planes of yours?” he demanded.
“But, Father …” Hao’s voice trailed off as he blinked at the abrupt change of subject, and he knew from the look in his father’s eyes that he’d never get him to change his mind or back down on his refusal. Well, he was seventeen and Anna was twenty; he had time and so did she. He straightened slightly and said, “Father, those fighter planes are now burned skeletons on an island in the Kanim Group, the result of a deal between me and the Naval Syndicate,” and he quickly outlined the high points of the arrangement, concluding, “It was the best deal I could have made.”
Hei nodded, listening intently, then smiled. “And you did a good job, Hao. What kind of information does the Naval Syndicate want from you?”
“Well, they wanted some information on some of our competitors at first. I gave them what I knew, which is not very much, and none of it can be traced back to me,” he replied, smiling as he did so. The level of competition on Krupmark sometimes grew quite fierce, and informants, while an accepted part of the game, were frowned upon if they grew too overt. “Also, they wanted anything I or others could find out about what’s going on elsewhere. Basically anything relating to a threat to either Spontoon or Rain Island, Father,” Hao said. “Let’s face it, any real threat from the west would have to come past us. What better early warning could they have?” He smiled as his father nodded.
“Very good,” Hei said, only then seeming to notice Anna standing nearby. “And who is this?” he asked.
Hao said hastily, “Father, this is Anna Simonova.” He grinned sheepishly as he added, “Late of the Soviet secret police.”
Hei was about to take the canine woman’s paw. He froze and said, “What?” as the others looked on, amazed.
“I was an officer in the NKVD, Mister Ni,” Anna said,
seem to happen when your son is involved.”
“You definitely have some explaining to do, young man,” Hei said quietly as he took Anna’s paw and shook it gently. “You are welcome here, Miss,” and he smiled politely at her. She smiled back as he withdrew his paw and said, “Well, now that the entire family’s finally back together, we can start making wedding plans. Nailani,” he said, glancing at Peng-wum’s fiancé, “will you want to be married in your home village?”
“Yes, sir,” she said. At his look she added, “I was telling your wife that my home village is Pangai, on Main Island.”
“Excellent. Peng-wum, Fang, Hao, I want our plane made ready. We will leave in a few days.” He pulled his pocket watch from his vest and looked at it. “We shall have dinner shortly, and Peng and I want to hear about the things that have very obviously been going on behind our backs,” and he smiled as he spoke.
Over dinner, Anna kept looking curiously out the open window. Finally Peng asked, “What is it, dear? Is something wrong?”
Anna turned back to her plate, smiling. “Is that your family’s casino there, across the street?” she asked, gesturing behind her at the weather-beaten sign. At Peng’s nod she continued, “Why ‘Lucky Dragon?’ Isn’t the dragon an evil mythical beast?”
Hao chuckled and replied, “In Europe it is, Anna. In China the dragon is a symbol of luck and prosperity. Father chose it after we first came out to Krupmark and he and Mother set up the casino.” He winked at her, then kissed her cheek despite Hei’s disapproving glance. “So far, the Dragon’s brought us good fortune.”
* * * * * * * * *
After five days of preparation and several telegrams, two seaplanes (the family K-85 and Hao’s GH-2) lifted into the air from the waters off Krupmark’s encircling reef. The two planes circled for a while, gaining altitude, then set a course eastward toward the main island of the Spontoon Archipelago. Three hours later the two planes descended and landed within the huge, almost circular cove that sheltered several villages of Polynesian-descended Spontoonies.
Nailani’s family had assured her that as many of the family members and her friends as could manage it would be present for her wedding, and as the two planes taxied toward the shoreline a wave of canoes and small boats headed out to meet them. To cheers and greetings from the villagers Nailani and Peng-wum were hauled off the K-85 and rowed back to shore to be met by her parents. The rest of the villagers helped anchor the two seaplanes, then offloaded the wedding gifts and luggage.
Two nights later, torches burned brightly on the paths leading to a small temple in the forest as the wedding party approached the village priest. Hei and Peng wore formal Chinese costume in red quilted silk embroidered in gold and silver, while Fang and Shin wore matching gabardine safari suits in deference to the still-warm weather. Anna stood a short distance from the family, dressed in a borrowed knee-length dress of cream-colored watered silk that complemented her fur color. Hao stood close to her in his white Palm Beach suit, an arm around her waist as drums and blown conch shells announced the bride and groom.
Nailani entered the clearing before the temple first, surrounded by her female relatives. She wore native dress and an elaborate headdress made of braided palm leaves and adorned with mother-of-pearl, flowers and small cowrie shells. A necklace of pearls, coral and small gold disks with matching bracelets and anklets adorned her, and Shin had to elbow Fang in the ribs again as he stared. Nailani stopped in front of the priest, her eyes down in a demure expression as she waited.
A shouted chant, and the males of the bride’s family came into view with Peng-wum in the lead. He, too, was dressed in a native grass skirt with a crown made of plaited palm leaves. A necklace of shark’s teeth and boar tusks was around his neck, and in his right paw he carried a lei o mano, a short sword-shaped piece of dark wood rimmed with embedded shark’s teeth. Nailani’s ancestors before coming to Spontoon had traditionally used the weapon.
He smiled at Nailani as he took up his position to her left. Both of them had had their fur oiled, and designs had been laboriously combed onto them. The designs would have been termed “quaint” by a passing tourist, but to those who knew, the inscriptions translated as ‘I’m married now,’ or ‘Taken,’ with several ribald comments and jokes that Hao translated for Anna. He hugged her, laughing, as her ears stood up in shock at some of the translations before all of the people quieted down and the priest began to speak.
The ceremony was actually quite simple. The priest announced the couples’ names, their family lineages and offered blessings on them in the names of the gods. Three prayers were offered: the first for their families, the second for themselves, and the third for their future children. Nailani and Peng-wum both blushed at that, and blushed again as the priest raised his voice in a loud chant that included their names. All of the villagers shouted and swarmed around the newlyweds, lifting them up and carrying them down to the village.
A feast had been set up for the entire village. There was fruit, baked and grilled fish, and several whole roast pigs, along with jugs of home-brewed liquor. As the family members and guests started eating, Peng-wum turned to his father and father-in-law, who were talking good-naturedly while breaking open several fish that had been wrapped in mud then baked. “Father, Mr. Mahoku? I have an idea that I want to discuss with you.”
Hei chuckled and said to Nailani’s father, “What did I tell you, Jason? He’s always thinking of something. What is it, Peng-wum?” He and the lepine finally broke open the hard-baked casing around the fish and turned toward Peng-wum.
“Well, Father, what I thought was that – in time, not immediately – our two families could expand the tourism business here in Spontoon to include Krupmark.” At Jason Mahoku’s quizzical look he continued, “We offer package tours to the usual sites that tourists are interested in, along with side trips to Krupmark. Naturally, such things as taxes would be included in the package rates.” Taxes on Krupmark usually involved protection payments paid to the local hierarchy. While the Ni Family weren’t actually members of that small and closely-guarded clique, they did have some influence.
The elder Mahoku licked his fingers after eating some of the fish and said, “Krupmark is not usually for the general run of tourist, Peng-wum.” He paused to adjust his native skirt, which was barely holding in his slight paunch. He was a large fur, almost as powerfully built as Fang.
“I know sir,” he said as a slow smile crept across his face, “but suppose we built a tourist-only area in an uninhabited or unclaimed part of the island?” Peng-wum saw a look come over his father’s face just then, a look usually associated with thoughts of potential profit. Jason merely put a paw to his chin and nodded musingly.
A sudden rattle of drums and everyone turned as an impromptu dance floor was cleared. Nailani, garlanded with flowers, stood up along with her mother and sisters as a hula began to play, the music of drums and ukuleles accompanied by clapping paws as she started to dance a bridal dance for her husband. She smiled in genuine pleasure as Shin stood and joined the dancing, carefully copying the moves of the other dancers.
Peng-wum gazed raptly at his new bride as she danced, smiling at an occasional murmured comment from one of the men clustered around the tables, and joined in the applause as the dance finished. Then, to another rattle of drums and the complete surprise of his parents, he stood up along with Nailani’s brothers and male cousins and began to dance for his wife.
Hao joined the dance about midway through the song, and smiled as some of the women giggled and the men roared with laughter at his antics. When the dance was over he said to Peng-wum, “I didn’t know you knew that dance. What does it mean?”
“I’ve been practicing it off and on for over a year now, and every day since Father gave his blessing to our marriage,” the older panda said as they went back to the table. “It signifies love and devotion, along with a hint of the wedding night,” and he winked. “Of course, I’m sure you didn’t actually mean what you were dancing out there.”
“Huh? What was I saying?” Hao asked.
Peng-wum laughed. “That you have a more than familial attraction to Nailani’s uncle,” and he pointed toward a very broad rabbit who sat surrounded by his wife and children.
* * * * * * * * *
A week later the two planes took off from the cove, serenaded and cheered on their way by the villagers and most of Nailani’s family. Her father and mother were traveling with the Nis to attend Fang and Shin’s wedding on Casino Island. As the K-85 banked around and settled into its descent path, Jason Mahoku remarked to Ni Hei, “I’ve thought about Peng-wum’s idea. It has some merit.”
“You too?” Hei smiled. “I agree the idea’s a good one, and Spontoon can always use alternative sources of revenue. We may not see it, but our children will see marvelous things.” The rabbit nodded as he and the others braced as Hei set the seaplane down and taxied to a stop, awaiting the towboat.
Nearly the entire Chinese population of Spontoon awaited them, quite willing to play surrogates for the Ni and Wo clans. Cheers, volleys of firecrackers and the harsh clanging of gongs sounded as the wedding party made its way to a hotel near the Chinese quarter. There it parted, half escorting Shin to the house of a family friend, the others following Fang into the hotel.
It was traditional for the bride to stay at a friend’s house until her marriage. An astrologer had been consulted and after careful consideration the feline had fixed the most auspicious date for the wedding to be one day after the full moon – fourteen days hence. Shin’s friend had agreed to take the role of the “good luck woman,” who would (it was hoped) shed some of her fertility and good fortune onto the prospective bride.
It was also traditional for the bride to make a showy display of lamenting her impending separation from her family.
Peng made her way up the road to the house two days
paused as a heart-rending howl erupted from an open window on the
Peng patted his arm consolingly. “I shall speak to her,” she said. “You are her host, and can not be expected to tolerate her for two weeks in her present state.”
“Agreed, Madam Ni,” he said, bowing, “but Shin is normally a very polite young woman. To see her like this is unsettling.”
“I am certain. No, thank you very much; I know the way,” Peng said as she politely refused his unspoken offer to escort her up the stairs.
Shin was seated on a window seat, about to howl again when her mother walked into the room. She froze, shut her mouth and said cheerfully, “Hello, Mother. How are you today?”
“Just fine, Shin,” Peng said as she sat down beside her. “I was coming to see how you were doing, and I find you rivaling an ocean liner’s horn. I was sure that you would grow a softer tone as you grew up. Perhaps I was wrong,” she said in an offhand manner, and watched as her daughter’s expression fell.
“I guess I have been a bit too loud,” she confessed, and leaned against her mother, resting her head on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Mother.”
“I forgive you – although the neighbors may not,” Peng joked, stroking her daughter’s headfur, then hugging her. “My darling daughter, soon to be married.” Shin looked up and hugged her mother as the two started to cry.
Shin did tone down her laments and outraged howls, and finally the moon rose full and round, and tension grew between the house and the hotel as the appointed day neared.
The next morning Fang stood looking at himself in a mirror with faintly disguised disgust. He was dressed in an ankle-length robe of midnight blue silk embroidered with lions and dragons. Red shoes peeked out from under the hem of the robe and a red sash crossed his chest, culminating in a braided silk ball at his shoulder. “I look ridiculous,” he grumbled.
“Nonsense, you look great,” Peng-wum said. He, Hao, and their father were dressed similarly to the tiger, but in red rather than blue. Hei held a hat adorned with cypress leaves and placed it on Fang’s head as the latter, still grumbling, knelt. Straightening, he bowed toward three plaques representing Heaven, Earth and his family, then bowed to Hei and Peng before walking out of the room and heading to the hotel entrance. The rest of the family followed.
A sedan chair was waiting, and Fang stood still while Hei removed the braided silk ball from his son-in-law’s shoulder and placed it on top of the sedan chair’s canopy. Bearers picked up the chair and the party began to make its way to the house where Shin was staying as gongs and firecrackers raised an ear-flattening racket.
Shin’s friends were waiting, barring the way to the house and some friendly haggling ensued over presents and Shin’s dowry. Finally Shin, headfur immaculately coiffed, gowned in red silk and face veiled, was carried to the sedan chair on the back of her friend. This, and the small mirror hanging from the back of the heavily curtained sedan chair, served to deflect any evil that might mar the marriage.
As the procession marched to a nearby shrine for the ceremony, more firecrackers were lit and tossed. Two furs dressed in the traditional “lion dance” costume cavorted behind the sedan chair and a small boy strode alongside Fang, who started to smile at the child’s self-conscious pride. The boy was a symbol of the children that the marriage was expected to produce.
Upon reaching the shrine Shin stepped out of the sedan chair onto a small red mat, then gingerly stepped over a small fire and an old packsaddle that looked like it had been taken from an antique store (it had). The packsaddle represented tranquility, because the symbol for the one was similar to the other, while the fire would avert any evil.
The shrine held no priest, only three large tablets of polished wood bearing symbols for Heaven, Earth and the Kitchen God, Tsao-Chun. Smaller tablets bore the names of prominent ancestors. Shin and Fang bowed to each of the tablets, then an attendant poured a cup of tea for them to present to Hei and Peng. After they had accepted it, Shin raised her veil and bowed to her new husband.
The ceremony was over, and as they emerged from the
were raised in celebration.
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