Yen Lo Wang's Wife

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"Am I terrifying?" Yen Lo Wang said and removed his robes. His manhood rose. She did not respond to it.

"No," she lowered her head, as if she was taught to be demure and shy before her husband. Yet she glanced at him, arched eyebrows and all. A challenging look. Daring him.

He took her and she felt nothing. She was a virgin when she was alive. Yet death had rendered her void of feeling. She was stone.

"Sleep," Yen Lo Wang patted her kindly, fatherly. She only thought of sparrows and blue skies.


For the week after the banquet, the King of Hell introduced her to the rest of Hell, to his realm where he reigned as August Law Giver and Executioner to the sinful dead. They went on a tour down the Eighteen Levels of Hell in sedans and palanquins. Each magistrate responsible for his particular level of Hell bowed and scraped before her.

She saw all forms of torture. The dead – men and women – thronged in their thousands, naked and draped with long hair. They were worse than ye gui, the wild ghosts who wandered lost in the plains and above ground. They were lashed with whips made of thorns and hooked claws. Many were strung on racks, pulled until their limbs fell out. Their tongues were cut or – worse – yanked out by unsmiling animal-headed torturers with their bare hands; hundreds dangled by their tongues, pierced by meat hooks, swaying in hellish breezes. The dead stood in fires and broiled in burning oils, each begging for mercy from stone-faced overseers. Adulterers were joined to their hips and hung above roaring flames, mocked by hell officials who listed and repeated their crimes and misdeeds. Thieves had their fingers chopped off and their bodies cut by sharp blades. Voyeurs screamed while executioners gouged their eyes out with their fingers and tossed them away as if they were just removing fish guts. She watched everything without saying a word.

"Do the sights please you?" Yen Lo Wang asked his concubine, wanting to please her, wanting to get a response out of her.

"They are... enlightening," she said and nothing else. She was silent as stone.

They rested at the Yellow Springs. She declined staying in her palanquin and instead walked along the misty shores, her maids trailing behind her like a giggling comet tail of activity. The lady wanted to come out and walk! The springs bubbled and hissed, sending clouds of mist and other things. It was a lovely sight, barring the vision of souls drowned and dying in the burning waters.

"What would you like?" Yen Lo Wang enquired, intrigued by his new wang fei's reticence. He wanted to make her talk, smile. Anything.

She thought for a while, tilting her head like a bird, before saying: "Books. Give me books."


He gave her ermine robes, finery and embroidered slippers. He presented to her beautiful headdresses made of beads, jewels and pearls, bracelets of the finest gold and silver, anklets that chimed like singing children's voices. He also gave her rings made from the best of bone filigree, the color of cream, translucent under the light.

Yet she only asked for books, paper and paintbrushes.

Like the kind lord he was, he conceded to her requests.

The paper was of the best quality, made of the fibres of silkworms. The ink was the black ink distilled from fears, sorrows and agonies. She lifted her hand, a graceful dance of fingers when she curled them around the paintbrush (made from the mane and tail of qian li ma, the swift-running thousand-li horse). Her serving maids stood in a respectful distance away from their new and aloof mistress.

She wrote:

Flower. Tree. The sky.

When Yen Lo Wang saw those words, he wondered why.

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