© 2008 by Walter D. Reimer
(Rosie Baumgartner and Chauncey Fleetik courtesy of M. Mitch Marmel. Thanks!)
(Inspector Stagg courtesy of Eric O. Costello. Thanks!)
(Keith Lawton and the Chang Brothers courtesy of John Urie. Thanks!)
Just after sunrise that morning, early risers and late partygoers paused to watch the cruiser IJN Nagara making its way through the lagoon at a sedate pace, bound for Japan and home. It was dressed out in all its signal flags and those of its crew who were not actually running the ship were in tropical white uniforms and manning the rails.
A salute was not fired.
Since the Gunboat Wars, the Spontoonies had been understandably wary of allowing foreign powers to fire off their guns within the lagoon. The only reason the Althing had reluctantly allowed Lawton to use the visiting cruisers as a starting gun was that the ships were outside the harbor.
The other ships would be leaving throughout the succeeding days.
Spontoonies going about their morning routine - janitors, waiters and waitresses, and others – would pause in their work and look up to watch the cruiser pass.
Briefly, so quickly that a regular tourist would never catch it, eyes narrowed as if they squinted at the ship through telescopic sights.
After breakfast Hao had asked Peng-wum to join him in the hotel’s garden. “For a private talk,” he said, glaring at Shin.
His sister giggled. “Fine,” she said, “if that’s your attitude. Fang, should we head back to the Kahuna to see how the customers are doing? Otherwise the staff will try to rob them blind.”
The tiger gave a soft growl. “If they know what’s good for them, they’d better not try – or at least they’d better not get caught.”
“Or forget to give us a cut.”
Once in the garden, Peng-wum sniffed at a hibiscus blossom, paused, then bit it off at the stem and ate it. Swallowing, he said in Chinese, “You wanted to talk with me, little brother. What’s going on?” Hao looked hesitant, and the older red panda asked, “Is it about Xiu?”
“Yes. How did you feel when you asked Nailani to marry you, brother?”
Peng-wum chuckled. “Terrified. Exhilarated.” He leaned close and whispered; Hao stared at him and then started to laugh. “And you’re wondering if you’ll feel the same?”
“I already do. I was just wondering if what I’m feeling is normal. Is being married worth it?”
“I think we’ve already had this conversation, but here goes again. Hao, it’s wonderful. Especially when you both start having children.”
“’Children?’ Is Nailani - ?”
“We’re going to wait until Mikilani’s one year old before we give him a baby brother or sister.” Peng-wum smiled fondly at the thought of his son. “Is Xiu - ?”
“No. She knows how to prevent that.”
“More than you know.” He then told Peng-wum about the preparations the girl had made, and his older brother’s tail dipped.
“Interesting. Well, Hao, you’re getting yourself quite a catch – someone who obviously plans carefully and isn’t backward about telling you what she wants.”
“And that’s another thing. Am I good enough for her, Brother?”
Peng-wum’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“Well, look at it this way – she’s from a good family, she’s rich, she’s been to better schools – “
“Enough. You were too young to realize it, I think. Our clan was pretty respectable back in China, and it still is now, so her match with you is a very suitable one by any measure. We’re rich, too, relatively speaking, and your educations complement each other. Mother and Father didn’t go to the same schools, but they seem to get along quite well, don’t you think?”
“Yes. So, what do you think?”
“Do you love her?”
“I think so – or, at least, I’m starting to love her. I think.”
Peng-wum chuckled. “Then I think you should ask.”
“I’ll ask at the right moment.”
The right moment, he judged, came after lunch.
Hao stood up from his place at the table, took a deep breath and looked at Xiu.
Xiu looked up at him, her eyes going moist.
Hao closed his eyes, opened them again and looked at the rest of the two families. The parents were exchanging grins, and the others were watching him.
He took another breath. “Honored Hu Renmin, Honored Hu Qing, I wish to formally ask for the paw of your daughter Hu Xiu in marriage, and for your blessings.”
Both Qing and his mother started to cry, and hugged each other.
Fang asked, “Why just her paw? Don’t you want the rest of her?” and was promptly smacked by his wife.
Renmin stood, followed by Hei and their wives. The red panda looked at Hao and said, “Esteemed Ni Hao, you have our permission to marry our daughter,” and he took his wife’s paw and smiled at her before adding, “and you both have our blessings.”
Xiu stood up and walked around the table to face Hao. He bowed, straightened, and took another breath.
It was odd.
He’d been shot at.
He’d been questioned by police.
He’d been menaced by experts.
But this eighteen-year-old woman was making him squirm just by looking at him.
“Esteemed Xiu,” he said, swallowing while Shin and Nailani snickered, “I’d be honored if you’d marry me.”
A slow grin crossed Xiu’s muzzle as she bowed. “Esteemed Hao,” and she took him by the paw, “what took you so long? I am honored to accept.” They burst out laughing and she hugged him as the rest of the furs in the room applauded.
Peng-wum called down to the kitchen for champagne.
“When should we plan for the marriage ceremony?” Qing asked.
“We discussed this,” Xiu said, “and we think sometime around the ninth of November.”
“Yes,” Hao replied. “But since we want to do this right, I’d like to have an astrologer set the date for as close to the ninth as possible. Is that okay, Xiu?”
She grinned. “Perfect. Nice and traditional.”
“It’ll be a nice day for a white wedding,” Shin said.
“No,” Xiu said. “Chinese brides don’t wear white, Shin.”
Her future sister-in-law just grinned and hugged Fang tighter, the tiger returning the embrace. She looked at the two younger furs and snapped, “Well don’t just stand there, little brother! Kiss her!”
Hao was happy to comply.
Hei and Peng were having breakfast the next day with Renmin and Qing on their balcony at the Grand when Renmin remarked, “This has been a great vacation, Hei, but I feel that we need to get back to Hong Kong.”
“Of course. You have business to attend to, and I confess I do as well.” Hei laid aside the morning’s copy of the Elele, which detailed the devastation wrought by a typhoon that had struck the Japanese colony of Formosa two days earlier. Details were still sketchy, but the death toll was expected to be immense.
If they had all been Japanese, Hei would not have cared less.
It took almost three days to arrange plane tickets back to Hong Kong.
“So you’re leaving this afternoon,” Hao said as he and Xiu walked through the hotel gardens. He smiled at her. “I hate to see you go.”
She smiled back and squeezed the paw she held. “I’ll write, and I expect you to as well.”
“Of course, as often as I can. And I’ll tell you what I can of what I’ll be doing.” He winked. “Don’t want busybodies knowing what I’m doing.”
“And you’ll come to visit?” She blushed a bit. “Please?”
“I will, I swear. Should I send an advance warning?” he teased. “You know, so I don’t walk in on you?”
“Ooh, you’ll get a smack for that,” she giggled. She hugged him, pressing close. “You are the only one for me, Ni Hao. So do me a favor, please?”
She grinned. “Don’t get anything shot off, lover.”
There were hugs and pawshakes all round, and some tears as the two families said their farewells.
“Remember, you promised,” Xiu said. “You’ll write, and you’ll visit.”
“And if I say I promise, it’ll happen,” Hao said. “I’ll visit next month, if things aren’t too busy. I haven’t been all the way to Hong Kong in a while, so it’ll be fun.”
“Good.” They kissed again, and Xiu joined her parents as they made their way across the tarmac with other passengers to the waiting plane. At the top of the stairs, she turned and waved at him.
He waved back.
Amazingly, the youngest son of the Ni clan felt tears.
Hao stood and watched as the plane took off, headed west.
A paw came to rest on his shoulder and he gave a little start before looking around. Shin and Fang were already gone, as were Peng-wum and Nailani. It was just him and his parents, and soon they would want to fly back to Krupmark.
Life would return to normal.
"Well, Hao?" his father asked with a smile. "Was she everything you thought she'd be?"
As the plane dwindled to a speck in the distance, Hao grinned thoughtfully.
"No. Thank the gods."
ending this section:
"Luck of the Dragon: Arrangements"
continues in: "Luck of the Dragon: Dealing a Cold Deck":