Bill Meilen
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Sun clapped twice, and a file of men entered the main door to assemble and sit cross-legged in two lines until there were twenty of them sitting in freshly laundered grey cotton uniforms, crop-headed, still as effigies. They were of all ages and sizes, but all had one thing in common - the feral lean and hungry look, the hard sharp eyes, with scarred faces here and there, all toughs, from the boys to the older men.

The Family Chang looked them all over in a stretched silence. Then footsteps were heard approaching and Loy entered the room, bearing a silver tray covered with a white silk cloth. Approaching the dais, Loy set the tray down on a low lacquered table before his father and the old uncles, removing the silk with a sweep of his wrist to reveal one hundred one-ounce bars of fine gold arranged in four phalanxes of twenty-five.

“This gold,” declared Lee to the Elders, “is for the common good of the family, to lay in rice-stocks for the hard times which lie ahead, which show themselves clearly in the I Ching. There is going to be a great conflict here in China. It is important that the Family Chang continue their line into the future no matter what happens.”

The room was listening intently as Lee rose, stepping down from the dais. He walked along the room to face the seated soldiers for a moment, then he turned to address the room in general.

“These fighting men are in the service of the Family Chang. They are here to protect you, so wives must be found for them, and clothing made for them, so that they may live among you as ordinary people. As your guardians, they are prepared to die rather than allow the enemies of China to disturb the peace of this ancient household.”

The men of the family stirred and craned to look more closely at the tough men, eyes respectfully hooded to steal glimpses. Lee looked particularly stern for a moment, then spread his arms and smiled. “So! Tomorrow, you will all take a holiday. Nobody will work in this valley. All will enjoy themselves! Be happy! All will dedicate themselves instead to the preparations for my son’s wedding!”

A gasp went up when they heard that, and all heads swivelled to observe the handsome son of the family Head, young Chang Jing-loy. Lee stretched himself to his full height and proudly gestured his son to his side. There was a stir of whispers as the tall young man went to stand on the right hand of his father, bowed, and said, “Hi!”. Comparisons were made with other family members to note visual similarities, and some claimed quietly to themselves solid kinship with this young man with a foreign accent.

“Chang Jing-loy is my son. His authority as firstborn descends through seven strong generations of firstborn sons. His future was therefore written with his birth. When I go to join our ancestors, Chang Jing-loy will become Master of the many houses of Chang. In order that my son may be well instructed in his future duties, Second Young Master, Chang Suey-sun, will go with us when we leave. It will be the duty of the younger women to teach the children until another teacher is found. Less Fan-Tan playing.”

There was a round of respectful laughter from the assembly.

“That is my decision,” concluded Lee, and sat down.