Dragon Lady by Autumn Bardot Blog Tour and Giveaway :)
Dragon Lady by Autumn Bardot
A young girl is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a floating brothel. Xianggu begins as a servant, but soon her virginity is bought by the highest bidder. Ambitious and determined, she learns the business in hopes of earning her freedom from the madam. Her dreams are washed away when a midnight pirate raid changes her life.
Kidnapped by the notorious Red Flag boss, Xianggu embarks on a journey that demands beauty, brains, and brawn. But Xianggu must do more than learn to wield a sword, sail a ship, and swim across the bay, she must become indispensable to the pirate boss if she hopes to survive. The winds, however, never blow in the same direction, and Xianggu must make a decision that requires her to battle jealous men, ancient prejudices, and her own heart.
The triumph of the notorious Zheng Yi Sao is a sexy, fierce, and unflinchingly realistic story of how a prostitute became the most powerful and successful pirate in the world.
In 18th century China, when men made and enforced the rules, the Dragon Lady lived by her own.
Year of the Water Tiger
Sounds of success rise from below. Voices flow through a ceiling strung with silk lamps. Seep through floorboards covered by costly carpets. Swirl like an eddy into my second-floor office where I can hear whether it is a profitable day or an exceptionally profitable day for the gambling house. Today I hear Spanish silver and credit extensions. And my own impatient fingers tapping the desktop. I stare at the stack of blank papers, feel my lips sink into my chin, frustrated another day passes without a single word written. This is my burden. It’s a weighty task, one anchored by events long sunk into the depths of memory. I look up from the paper when my youngest granddaughter glides into the room. Zhenzhen is a beautiful tiny creature with intelligent eyes and a quick smile. She is my heart’s delight. Her charm and charisma remind me of my beloved. She has the necessary arrogance to go far, this one. Like me. Like him. Zhenzhen stands with her hands clasped in front of her. “I’ve come to accompany you home, Ggrandmother.” I lay a wrinkled hand on the blank paper. “The words won’t come.” “Still?” Zhenzhen furrows her perfect brow. “Maybe they’re better left unwritten.” I recoil at her disrespect. “You don’t want to know where you come from? How you come to live in wealth?” “I know you were once a sea bandit.” Zhenzhen smiles with the pity the smooth-faced have for the wrinkled. “That life is long over.” “You don’t understand.” I scowl. “This isn’t a story about my life. It’s a story about how to survive in a cruel world, how to claw one’s way to the top, how one must do horrible things to live another day.” “Ah, it’s a confession.” Zhenzhen shifts from foot to foot, impatient to leave. “You must tell your story, Ggrandmother, if for no other reason than as a way to purge the ghosts that haunt your dreams.” “I’m not haunted by ghosts, child.” I give her my most withering look. “I have no misgivings. No regrets.” “Then you want to commemorate your accomplishments,” Zhenzhen offers with a helpfulness born of sympathy for the stubborn old woman before her. “I suppose it must be both a confession and commemoration.” I pick up the ink stick and point it at her. “You’re forbidden to read this account of my life until I’m with my ancestors.” I shake the ink stick at her. “I’ll know if you do not honor my request. Your lovely face could not hide the shock when you discover the truth.” Zhenzhen’s mouth twitches. “Nothing you did would surprise me, Ggrandmother.” “Wipe that smug grin off your face. Though you are beautiful and intelligent you did not inherit the only thing that matters in this world.” Zhenzhen’s smooth brow creases with disappointed surprised. “What’s that, Grandmother?” I tap the blank paper. “It’s difficult to explain.” And now I know exactly what to write.
Year of the Earth Monkey
I was sold as a slave at thirteen-years-old. Mama, her face shadowed with shame, called me into the house early one gray humid morning. She wiped a dirt smudge from my cheek, uncoiled my braids, and fanned my hair over my shoulders where it fell thick and shiny to my waist. “What are you doing?” I squirmed, not because her fingers yanked through my knotted hair but because of the guilt clouding her eyes. “You’re beautiful, Xianggu. We might have found a suitable husband for you if…” Mama stopped trying to detangle my hair. “The gods don’t favor us.” She examined my arms. “Too much sun. You’re too dark.” With a sigh, Mama took my hand and led me into the neglected courtyard. It was a small space made ugly by poverty. The pond was murky with fetid water. A tree sagged in the corner. Only one shrub succeeded to thrive, for it produced a single valiant blossom that unfurled its red petals in search of the sun. Mama pushed me toward Father, who in turn shoved me toward a stranger, an ugly man with a mole like a peach pit on his left cheek. “She’s not too ugly.” The moneylender stroked the long gray stands that hung beneath his chin. “Where are your other children?” Father swallowed hard, the large lump in his neck moved up and down. “This useless daughter is the only child my worthless wife gave me.” “What about this one?” The moneylender pointed to Mama’s distended belly. Father shrugged. “All my children die at birth or soon after.” The moneylender pointed at my feet, which were dirty and calloused from running barefoot through orange orchards. “She’ll make a good slave. Had you bound her feet she might have fetched a better price.” My eyes widened with understanding. “Mama.” Mama hung her head and refused to look at me. I loved Mama. She was a quiet hardworking woman. From before sunrise until well after sunset she was busy. Cooking rice, making tea, sweeping the hard-packed dirt floor, helping Father in the orchard, weaving baskets, mending our clothes…an endless list of chores. And yet she still had time to sing me songs and tell stories. But never in Father’s presence. Father beat her often. I heard her whimpers. The fault was never hers. Father was an angry man. The gods did not favor him and gave him no luck. He had no sons. His orange trees never produced enough fruit. Blights destroyed a good crop. Every year some misfortune befell him. Whatever wealth my paternal grandparents once possessed was gone. Or squandered. All but the most necessary household furnishings had been sold. The house itself wore its unhappiness. The clay roof sagged in the middle, the once-straight timbers warped. Mama blamed the house for Father’s bad luck. It was not situated perfectly south. The front door not at the precise southerly location. Finding fault and blaming bad luck wereas my parents’ favorite pastimes. “This settles my debt?” Father rubbed his hands together. “Paid in full.” The moneylender looped a rope around my wrists and gave a quick tug as he walked away. Too stunned to resist, I plodded behind the moneylender like a reluctant sow to slaughter. I glanced over my shoulders. “Mama.” Mama’s head bent like a wilted peony, her tears falling like raindrops. The moneylender lifted the door flap of a rattan-covered cart and a dozen eyes blinked from the shadows. Slipping the leash from the rope around my wrist, the moneylender grunted for me to get in. I climbed into the stench of urine and feces and sweat. The smell of fear and captivity. I scampered inside, settled in the hay as the door flap dropped into place. Through the wood planks I saw Mama sitting in the dirt, her shoulders shaking as the cart lurched forward. It hurt to breathe the pain in my chest was so great. I stared at Mama until the cart turned the corner. My parents, my house, my life were gone. Although the rain-thick clouds emitted only a melancholy light and hot tears filled my eyes, I turned to look at those who shared my fate. Boys and girls sold by their parents to pay a debt. Browned by the sun. Skinny from half-filled rice bowls. Filthy hands. Ragged nails. Calloused feet. Empty eyes crusty with dirt-mixed tears. Mouths slack-jawed with hopelessness. “What town is this?” whispered the girl slumped beside me. I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Xinhui.” “Does your family grow oranges?” She ran a tongue over cracked lips. “Yes.” But not enough. Never enough. “Did the moneylender say where he’s taking us?” Did it matter what becomes of us now that we were slaves? I opened my mouth to snap at her stupidity but stopped when one of Mama’s stories swooped into my mind like a swallow. A story that had no meaning until today. I smiled at the girl. “A big house,” I lied. “A place where there’s enough rice to fill our bellies.” The other children gaped. “Slaves must eat if they’re to be fit for work,” I said with false confidence. The hay rustled and a body uncurled itself from the corner. A pretty girl with a delicate face dragged a slender pale hand across her nose. She lifted her leg and presented a tiny foot encased in an embroidered shoe, a shoe too beautiful and costly for a peasant. “I’ll be sold to a brothel or flower boat.” Fresh tears ran down her porcelain cheeks. “What’s a flower boat?” I gathered my hair and began to braid it. The girl scowled at me as though I was the village idiot. “A place where men use women for their pleasure.” I stopped braiding. My hands fell like rocks on my lap. Pleasure woman. Prostitutes. There were two in our village. Bad women, Mama said. “I’m Xianggu.” I changed the subject. I didn’t want to think of that possibility. “What’s your name?” “Mei.” She smeared a tear across her face. The young girl sitting beside me scooted closer and her warm body nestled into mine. I wrapped my arm around the child. “Would you like to hear a story?” Mei scowled with disapproval, but the child nodded and snuggled closer. I told the story that had swooped like a swallow into my mind. The Old Man Who Loses His Horse was an old tale, one every mother told her children. “A poor peasant named Sai Wang owned a beautiful horse, a magnificent stallion that filled his heart with pride and his soul with thankfulness. One day, Sai Wang’s stallion broke out of his stall and disappeared over the mountain. The villagers, who probably were gloating over his misfortune, said, ‘Oh, Sai Wang, you have terrible luck. The gods do not favor you at all.’ But Sai Wang said, ‘Who can know what is good or bad.’” I shrugged for effect. The other children listened. I saw it in their eyes. And their interest emboldened my quiet voice. “The very next week Sai Wang’s horse returned. And not only that, the stallion brought back a magnificent mare. The villagers were amazed and told Sai Wang, ‘You’re so lucky. The gods favor you.’ The wise Sai Wang replied, ‘Who can know what is good or bad.’” I looked at each child, each future slave. “Well, Sai Wang had a handsome son who loved riding above all else and rode the new mare every day for hours. But the mare was not as calm as the stallion and when a mongoose crossed the path the mare reared up in panic. The son fell off the mare! ‘Ahhh! My leg is broken!’ cried the son.” I gripped my leg and a few of the children smiled. “The healer came and said, ‘I can’t fix this. You will be a cripple the rest of your life.’ ‘The gods do not favor you,’ said the villagers. And Sai Wang replied…” “Who can know what is good or bad,” the children said in chorus. “That’s exactly what he said. A whole year of sadness passed before the emperor’s army marched into the village and commanded all the young men in the village to join them in battle. ‘We have no use for lame men,’ said the general after seeing Sai Wang’s son hobble around. Many months later, a messenger came through the village. ‘The battle was lost. All your sons are dead.’ The villagers wailed and ranted about their misfortune. They told Sai Wang he was lucky he still had a son. But Sai Wang said, ‘do not question or guess at what may be luck or not. Misfortune can be a blessing in disguise that you do not recognized until many years later.’” Mei frowned and looked away. A few of the older children’s eyes brightened with a glimmer of hope. The younger children asked for another story. Two days, four improved versions of Sai Wang’s story, and four bowls of watery congee later our journey ended at a great harbor. Squinting into the sun’s glare, we tumbled from the cart one by one. The dock bustled with people. Bare-chested men wearing bamboo dŏulì hauled crates and loaded boats. A yellow-haired mongrel sniffed our cart. Rickshaws rattled by. Slaves carried sedan chairs, the rich men they bore on their shoulders kept above the mud and muck. Some chairs were ornately carved wood and had a sun-blocking canopy adorned with tassels. But most were simple rattan chairs affixed between two bamboo poles. Across the way, crude huts encircled a large building that flew colorful flags above its entrance. “Your life changes this day, little worms,” said the moneylender to our motley little group. “Many people are here. Wicked and virtuous. Who will buy you?” His loud laughter made his peach pit mole bob up and down. Who could know what was good or bad?