07 February 2013

Excerpt Thursday: The Ming Storytellers by Laura Rahme

This week, we're welcoming author Laura Rahme, whose latest title is The Ming Storytellers. Join us on Sunday, when Laura will offer a free paperback copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb: 
It is the 15th Century. At the dawn of the Ming Dynasty, three women's path will cross.
And of their journey, a tale will be born.
An imperial concubine,

A Persian traveller,
And a mysterious storyteller.
Three women: one story.

This is BEIJING. A city seething with mystery and royal intrigue.
Once a palace orphan, the wilful Min Li has only ever sought to please, even if that means pleasing Emperor Zhu Di. Now a powerful concubine, Min Li unearths a terrible secret concealed within the walls of Beijing's Imperial city. Driven to despair, she seeks help from her lover, Admiral Zheng He. But this will spark a chain of events that even sets Beijing's palace on fire. Min Li's fate is sealed but her true enemy is not who she thinks.

The Ming Storytellers is a historical tale of 15th century China that sweeps across the palaces of Nanjing and Beijing into the mountainous villages of Yunnan, where a mysterious shaman holds the key to a woman's destiny.

Across the oceans, from the bustling bazaars of Southern India to the lush shores of Zanzibar, nothing is quite what it seems.

For the eyes and ears of the Ming Emperor are ever near.

A tale of the far East replete with dark secrets, The Ming Storytellers is set during the early Ming Dynasty, soon after the reconquest of The Middle Kingdom from the Mongols. 

The Ming Storytellers delves into the political and personal intrigues of the Zhu Imperial family. On the eve of the great Beijing Palace fire and the Ming fleet's sixth expedition, an imperial concubine is swept up by dark forces of obsession and revenge. 

The Ming Storytellers is a must journey for historical travellers and for those who believe in the bridging between worlds.

 **An Excerpt from The Ming Storytellers**

 The Royal Chamber - Chantefables

 One would have thought that the concubines would be highly influenced by Empress Ma’s verdict, so eager were they to emulate virtuous conduct. On the contrary, the secret longing for precious, forbidden literature and the thrill of finding one that had been dissimulated into their room by a worldly, trusted eunuch, afforded the concubines with a glimpse of the danger and adventure that their lives lacked.
Min Li met one such eunuch on a cold evening, soon after dinner, while the younger concubines were gathered in the warmest chamber they could find. She soon recognised him.
As he slinked in, unannounced, the girls quietened and sat up. Some of them eyed each other, their mutual silences charged with understanding. Intrigued by this, Min Li observed both the visitor and the effect he had on the Royal Chamber.
He had entered, ever slowly, much like a snake among doves as it searches for prey. His sharp eyes pierced through the large room, feeding on every detail with a raw hunger. He watched the lazy limbs stretched out on cushioned bunks and onto improvised couches. He watched the lotus feet barely hidden beneath peach and azure silks. His quick gaze contoured the gentle curves undulating beneath sheer and silken fabrics. They writhed before him, those feminine forms, entwined as they were, among the cats, like the cats, to keep warm. Like the many feline creatures he encountered, idling and stretching in this infernal compound, there rose from these sprawled female forms, a titillating sensuality that irked him savagely.
As he absorbed that sweet, musky odour rising from the room, the man’s upper lip curled into a faint sneer. Min Li could not discern whether the twitching on his lips betrayed repugnance or something else, something more predatory. Given her earlier experience with this eunuch, her senses were awakened by a warning that she could not explain but it sent a cold chill down her back.
Now whispers rose around her. Ji Feng is here! It’s Ji Feng! It was as though the women were all back in the selection hall and the Royal Chamber director were tapping on his cane, vying for their attention. In this case it worked. The concubines interrupted their idling and sat upright on their knees, attentive to the visitor.
Ji Feng raised his head high, assessing whether all eyes were on him and perhaps, intuited Min Li, as a show of his power. Still, that unmistakable sneer remained on his lip as though he were afraid of being contaminated by the occupants in the room but all the while enjoyed breathing them in.
Xun Guifei shuffled towards him with apprehension. “You were not to come until the next day,” she reproached quietly, looking behind the door to ensure that no other eunuch lurked in the corridor.
“I, alone, choose when I come.”
“But you said—”
“Times are difficult. You should be pleased that I managed to come at all,” hissed Ji Feng.
Xun Guifei said nothing then. She lowered her gaze apologetically.
Up to now, Min Li had dismissed the rising tension in the room. But as the Guifei’s gaze became resigned to the carpet, the young concubine looked around only to see that all the other women were submissively eyeing this Ji Feng. She couldn’t believe it. Here was the officer who months earlier had tried to beat her in the Royal Chamber director’s bureau. Disgust mounted inside her. Yet she reasoned that if she were to reveal him, her own conduct would come to light. So she chose to remain silent.
At last, he slowly unfolded the bundle he held in his wiry arms. With a glimmer in his eyes, he smiled, revealing a row of yellow-stained teeth that further repulsed Min Li.
“The latest tales from the printing houses of Fujian,” he began, presenting the first book for all to see. “What do you think, hmm?” breathed Ji Feng, waiting for their response. “Ah, yes, and this one!" He licked his lips. “This one is my favourite! Chantefables from the South! Hmm?”  His knotty fingers ran down the book’s spine like a hideous caress.
Ji Feng fed on his audience’s wonder. A savage glow lit up his pimply complexion and his eyes darted to every corner of the room, savouring every beaming face.
And it was like a magic spell. Min Li watched the concubines emit gasps and smile with glee. She watched them lick their lips, eager to devour every page and be transported into worlds they would never see or experience. Ji Feng had them captivated. And they paid him well. Each would raise a little of their stipend and hand them over to Guifei Xun.
When he had received his due and made motion to retire, Ji Feng’s eyes surveyed the room one last time and saw a figure he had not previously noticed. Min Li returned his gaze, hinting that she was no longer afraid of him and confident in their mutual understanding. She had remained to the far corner of the room, her knees drawn up towards her chin, a kitten resting on her warm lap, her eyes partly concealed behind a rebellious hair strand.
She knew that her large feet had caught his eyes. She responded by hiding them beneath her skirt, not out of shame but out of fury that he had dared to regard her. Foreign to the ritualised delivery of forbidden books, she showed little enthusiasm, remaining quietly in retreat while the other concubines leapt to their feet and scrambled to take a look at their three new treasures.
Ji Feng observed her, a calculated smile etched on his face.
“This is Min Li,” explained Xun Guifei. "One of our new girls this month...Min Li, come and say hello to Ji Feng.”
“Come and see what Ji Feng has brought for us,” cheered one of the concubines.
Min Li did not budge. She feigned somnolence, closing her eyes to wish the man away.
“Ah, she is too shy,” lied Mei Guifei in Min Li’s favour. "Min Li...Where are your manners?"
As though he accepted the Guifei’s apology, Ji Feng tilted his narrow head with a mixture of feigned lenience and damaged pride. But Min Li saw through his charade. In the last glance he shot at her, she sensed his raging resentment.

Novel Links:

The Ming Storytellers on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/themingstorytellers

Digital editions available on AmazonBarnes & Noble , iTunes and Lulu
Paperback available on Amazon

Author Links:
You can find Laura Rahme on Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest and Amazon.
Or visit her blog, Teranga and Sun