Monday, March 10, 2014

The House of Green Waters (Southern Swallow Book IV) excerpt by Edward C Patterson

The House of Green Waters by Edward C. Patterson
Book IV of the Southern Swallow Series:

“Exile is a state best experienced to understand. To spend thirteen years in a fly-infested wetland, slogging through jungle streams and unfurled on deserted beaches - to be blown hither and thither by storms and falling palms, is a lesson no book can teach. Still, I, K’u Ko-ling, had lived so long to tell of the fire, which heats the back until noodles could be tossed on it and stew made from the sweat.” Thus begins the sweeping fourth installment of The Southern Swallow Series - a tapestry of historical adventure and intrigue set in 12th Century China. While Li K’ai-men and his companions are in exile on a tropical island in the south, the political world explodes as a mad prince invades the Sung Empire. It’s a time for heroes and riveting warfare, including the first recorded battle in history to deploy poisonous gas as a weapon.

Book IV of the Southern Swallow series, The House of Green Waters, like its predecessors (The Academician, The Nan Tu and Swan Cloud) is told by K'u Ko-ling, servant to the exiled-Grand Tutor, Li K'ai-men. It depicts the harsh life on Hai-nan Island and the progress of family – fathers and sons from Emperor, to officials, to commoners. The roots of modernity stir within the soul of the daily life of Sung China and nowhere greater is it witnessed than in the fabric of this tale.

The House of Green Waters 
 Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (January 18, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1495256359
  • ISBN-13: 978-1495256356


Chapter Seven

Heaven’s Panoply

Chang Chun established his camp to the west of Lake Chao Hu, above Chou Min temple and beyond the passes at Lu-jiang. He meant to control these two escarpments, driving the Jurchen through Chou Min-kuan pass straight into an ambush — that is, when the enemy deemed to ride south again. Although the ambush was not devised to smash them utterly (the odds were in the invader’s favor on land), the sortie would shove them through the Chou Min-kuan pass and bound to a river crossing near Tzai-shr. Ou-yang Tan explained this strategy to me many years after the fact, so whether his tale conforms to the events, it’s hard to tell — but does it really matter? I’m not a military man and Chang Chun’s mind is as fascinating as a trap door in a whore house.

The usurper came south, easily taking the town of Fei-xi. The expected bloodshed, however, did not prevail, because Hai-ling decided to enjoy his harem, burying himself in mounds of bosoms and napes for a week or more, much to General Sung Xu-go’s chagrin, not to mention to the ladies’ detriment. This delay sent frustration through the Jurchen camp.

The delay also made Chang Chun anxious, because he was itching for a fight. He sent word to General Tsung Fei to ready his forces on the eastern flank of the Chao Hu Plain and instructed the Outlaws of the Golden Marsh to take up a position to the plain’s west. Between these forces, the enemy could be squeezed into the desired direction — scant opportunity to drift to a river crossing further east. That the usurper would roar forth and expect victories along the way was a certainty. However, a fierce snowstorm also contributed to the delay. For two weeks, all parties hunkered down until the skies cleared.


Chang Chun grasped his chariot reins tightly, snapping his steeds forward through the snow. The night camp at Shen-chung came to life amidst roaring fires and warriors rumbling with the mischief that only delay’s ennuicould invoke. A few men stirred from their rice bowls to hail their leader as he rode forth, a heavily cloaked bear, grinning his approval as he passed. The snow, deep in places, allowed the horses (matched in size and color — brown brethren) to kick through the drifts creating a new path.

The night air could chill less hearty men, but General Chang Chun thrived in the crisp breeze, a subtle wisp rustling his beard and dancing over his chins. As he left camp and noise behind him, he embraced the night’s liberation — the vast expanse of sky peppered with stars — Heaven’s panoply welcoming him with each wink. His thoughts might have rattled with the approaching action — maps of plains and passes, lakes and temples, but above him was a chart of his soul. He tugged gently on the reins, the chariot coming to a halt at the edge of a ridge. He inhaled, the steam gathering around the bow of his lips as he surveyed the terrain in the full moon’s light. The hill sloped sharply toward the plain, a wooly garment of trees cloaking pitfalls — much in the enemy’s favor as it resembled their homeland. All the better to push them from it — to deny them pleasure in recall. Chang Chun surveyed the horizon, a breach of hills to the east, a natural strategic barrier. But it was to the heavens his head was drawn — a shooting star catching his eye. He sighed, his hands relaxing on the reins. The horses whickered, steam cast from their snouts. Then Chang Chun realized that he was not alone.

Another man drew a war wagon beside the general’s — a smaller chariot, drawn by a solitary horse; white — an image fading into the snow mantle. Chang Chun nodded to this familiar warrior — his adjutant.

“Ou-yang Tan,” he said, “have you ever seen such captivating beauty as this tranquility — death’s cloak in all its chilling finality?”

“I’ve seen snow rarely, my lord and only in your service. I’m from Shan-tung where the weather is frequently damp but never frozen.”

“Yes. Never frozen. But the truth doesn’t lie beneath our wheels, Ou-yang Tan.” He stretched his arms upward.

“Behold the sky. Behold the marker of life.”

“Charming, my lord.”

“Charming? If that’s all you can say about it, you’re blind to it.” He pointed toward the horizon. “Read the charts, sir. Keep your eyes firmly on the world gathering to watch our battle. Regard that star, sir. See it. There.”

Ou-yang Tan stared aloft following his liege-lord’s finger.

“There are so many, my lord. One is as beautiful as another.”

“Yes, yes. There are many. But I want you to watch that one there, not the many. See it. It’s bright, but fades near the horizon.” He grinned, his chest sinking tranquilly. “That is General Tsung Tse, that old bastard calling us to cross the river.”

“Tsung Tse, my lord?”

“Yes, it is he. He summons us to action.” He shifted his finger southward. “And that one, there. Why, that’s that son-of-a-bitch Lu I-hao, his one eye winking at us. He approves my battle plan — I know it. And there. There.” He wielded his hand high, pointing east. “Why that’s my old friend Han Shr-chung, sitting on his ass growing radishes. But what a warrior was he. Never doubt that a balless man does not have the balls for battle, Ou-yang Tan. No, sir. Never doubt it. Not Han Shr-chung. He outshone the best of us.” He took a deep sigh, and then pointed directly overhead. “And fixing us like an anchor on a great vessel is that bright shining glory there.”

“Yueh Fei, my lord?”

“Who else would it be on such a night? He scolds us, and yet shouts our liberation. We defend the motherland beneath his stern, knowing eye, Ou-yang Tan.” Chang Chun stifled a tear, and then stared to his adjutant, who still scoured the heavens. “If you are searching for Wu Shan-hu and Min P’ieh, they shall shine in Heaven’s army in time.”

“There are so many lights, my lord. Who could tell them apart?”

“A thousand lights wink at me, sir. They are the many steeds which have died beneath me. They are the adjutants who took arrows in my service.” He grinned again, his head nodding. “I believe I might be joining their numbers soon, Ou-yang Tan.”

“In time, my lord.”

“If Heaven deems me worthy, I’m ready to ascend to my place now.”

“You’re an inexhaustible example to us all, my lord,” Ou-yang Tan replied, bowing in place.

“An example, yes.” He grinned and sighed again. “Inexhaustible is a question, indeed.” He raised his arms to the sky again. “But if I should leave you tomorrow, I shall be in the best company, my comrades holding the night banners high.”

Chang Chun tugged on the reins, the chariot moving slowly forward onto the slope. Ou-yang knew not to follow, allowing his commander to ponder on this snowy hillside, the rumble of the encampment muffled in the breeze and the armies of Heaven winking their approvals.


General Chang Chun’s face reddened in the cutting cold wind as he raced into battle. His matched steeds snorted with dragon steam — his chariot plodding through the snow as if it were nothing more than a toy on white carpeting. To his right rode Ou-yang Tan. To his left rode Bo Xin-to. A thousand horses charged fiercely through the wintry bramble, the forest now at their backs. Archers and infantry swarmed behind the lead chariots, seeming to embrace action, although, since the strategy was to steer the Jurchen into an ambush, the chances of a face-to-face battle were slim. But the horsemen would have a day of it, they would; and their leader bristled at the pinnacle of happiness like a young buck riding his first love to climax.

“Into the wind,” Chang Chun shouted. “They’re going down the chosen path. Heaven smiles on us today.”

Ou-yang Tan nodded and spoke, but at this speed, very little could be comprehended between the war wagons. So, Chang Chun increased his speed, watching the enemy’s wake as it rushed southward.

“Now we got you, you son-of-a-bitch,” he shouted. “We’re not here today to crush your skull, but into the breach you’ll go.” He laughed, sweat pouring down his brow. “You might count this a victory, Hai-ling, and I shall allow it, because such victories as your timely demise shall be laid beneath my chariot’s wheels.” He hoisted his right arm high, a frantic gesture, one he had learned in youth when leading his first charge. “Into the wind!” he shouted. “Into the . . .”

Suddenly, the wind caught his throat. He choked. The arm stiffened, shaking like a palsied mule. His head twitched and his mouth gawped. He tried to shout the charge again, but the words stuck in his throat. He glanced toward Ou-yang Tan’s chariot, his eyes pleading for help, but the adjutant took it for another rally and returned the cheer.

Chang Chun faltered, his chest exploding from within. His control on the reins tightened and then loosened so that the twin steeds were confused and translated the crisis by slackening their charge. They pulled at odds to each other, the chariot wobbling off course.

“My lord,” shouted Ou-yang Tan, finally perceiving the problem. “Have you halted the attack? My lord! My lord!”

Chang Chun’s chariot slowed, rattling over a barren draw, the horses doubling back, confused and fearful, no doubt. Chang Chun’s eyes were wide, his arm still extended, trembling as if saluting Heaven. He sat with a thud on his cargo pack, and then tumbled backwards, his head over spilling the wagon’s rear.

“My lord! My lord!”


“My lord! My lord!”

Ou-yang Tan bolted from his chariot, rushing to Chang Chun’s aid, although there was no doubt the general was beyond it. Bo Xin-to had drawn back also, and darted to assist. Warriors on horseback and a horde of archers and foot soldiers piled up in confusion.

“Has he called off the attack?” Bo Xin-to stammered as he approached.

Ou-yang Tan had hunkered beside Chang Chun, cradling his liege-lord’s head, trying to awake the sleeping giant. But Chang Chun was beyond waking. The adjutant twisted about. He stood before Bo Xin-to.

“No. The attack proceeds.” He pointed to a cluster of soldiers. “Form a barrier,” he shouted. “Line up now.”

Bo Xin-to directed a dozen men to form a picket, their shields hiding the situation, while Ou-yang Tan rocked Chang Chun in his arms. There was no time for weeping. He pushed the general’s corpse up by the shoulders, but couldn’t manage it alone. Bo Xin-to came to his aid.

“What are you about, sir?’ Bo asked.

“Just help prop him up.”

They pushed hard until Chang Chun was righted, but it was difficult to maintain him in this position. Ou-yang Tan twisted about, and then pointed to a soldier in the line.

“You,” he shouted.

The warrior came forward, saluting.

“I am Hung Li-fa,” he stammered.

“Yes, yes, Hung Li-fa. On your knees in the chariot.”

The soldier appeared puzzled, but after hesitation followed the order.

“Just so, sir?”

“Just so. Now, a terrible weight shall come upon you and I cannot say you will not be crushed before this day is out. But all must do their part to defeat the enemy.”

“I understand, sir.”

“I don’t think you do, but no matter.” He looked to Bo Xin-to. “Help me settle our lord in place.”

Together they lowered Chang Chun’s body onto Hung Li-fa’s back. The soldier groaned upon becoming a human cushion, but Ou-yang Tan brooked no complaint. He straddled the man, coming behind the general’s back, fastened the reins to his arms, and then took charge of upper half of Chang Chun’s massive body, bringing it to a semblance of animation.

“Bo Xin-to, get them all moving again,”

Bo Xin-to appeared astonished, but leaped from the chariot, pushed the shield picket aside, and then waved his hand as a signal.

“We go,” he shouted.

Then Ou-yang-Tan snapped the reins, the twin steeds coming to life, pulling the great war chariot back onto its course.

“Into the wind,” Ou-yang Tan shouted, his voice mimicking his fallen lord.

A great rallying cry arose, and the attack furiously recommenced, led by General Chang Chun himself, now joined by his adjutant and friend Ou-yang Tan, who held on tenaciously like a puppet master in the wind.

“Keep firm and alive, Hung Li-fa.”

The soldier grunted, signifying he was still alive, although it mattered not as long as he bolstered the commander. Ou-yang Tan glanced at the rushing forces to each side, all fired by their leader’s overwhelming presence.

“Keep firm, my lord,” Ou-yang Tan whispered into the ear that no longer heard. “Keep firm.”

Ou-yang Tan wept, no wind capable of drying his tears.


General Tsung Fei dismounted from his gray steed, handing him over to the groom. The battlefield fires still raged, smoke melting the residue of the lingering morning frost. The paddies, corpse strewn, resembled a death marsh, shimmering with the blood of men and beasts. Both Sung and Jurchen were mucked on Sui-ching-xien’s plain. But the enemy had withdrawn southward — the Parley of the Wind strategy accomplished. Still, General Tsung Fei shook his head, surveying the carnage, and then cast a glance toward Heaven.

“You’ve taken many today,” he shouted. “You’d best give us a more fruitful victory at the River.” He shook his head again, watching for any signs of life stirring in the crimson pools. He watched soldiers tend the wounded and poke the dead. In the distance, he witnessed a struggle — a warrior fending off three enemy soldiers — an afterthought battle, yet as a battle, it lingered. He drew his sword and, leaping over the pool, found muddy purchase on the guide path.

“It’s over,” he shouted. “The battle is finished.”

“Tell them that,” shouted the combatant, ducking and parrying like a possessed spirit.

Tsung Fei rushed to the struggle, but, as he approached, another man charged — a massive man with a priestly look. In fact, the man seemed inspired to join the conflict.

“You’re getting old, Su Ling,” shouted the man. “These are piss ants and can be easily crushed by a single hand; and yet, you struggle.”

“Yet, I’m still on my feet, Fo Ch’i,” the warrior replied. “If you’re so concerned, get your fat ass in here and take one of these bastards out.”

Tsung Fei swung into the fray, latching his foot between one of the Jurchen warrior’s legs, and then drove his sword through the man’s chest. The soldier continuing to wield his weapon long after his body realized it had been summoned to another world, but, in the end, he crashed into the rice pool. Fo Ch’i engaged the remaining two with his club, while Su Ling spun to the mud, exhausted, watching. He nodded his approval, embracing the respite. Both enemies fell, easy pray to the big monk’s powerful club. Fo Ch’i laughed like the madman of Bu-shan-po, who was famous for dancing on hot coals while singing bawdy ballads.

“A merry mess we’ve made,” Fo Ch’i shouted. “We should muster everyone and pursue the Jurchen bastard to the last man.”

“No, sir,” Tsung Fei said, winded. “That’s not the plan. They’re someone else’s concern now.”

You speak with authority,” Su Ling said, pushing unsteadily to his feet. “I know Timely Rain would regard this action a failure if we didn’t smash the enemy once and for all.”

“Ah, yes,” Tsung Fei replied. “Timely Rain has been a mighty ally, but I’mthe authority on this battle field, such as it is.” He looked about, perhaps hoping the place would transform into a proper stretch of gore and grist instead of a boggy abattoir. “I’m General Tsung Fei. I follow Chang Chun’s orders.”

“Well,” Fo Ch’i replied, “I suppose someone has to do it. We’re too old to play the game for much longer.”

“Speak for yourself, Fo Ch’i,” Su Ling said, although his haggard appearance spoke to the contrary. “Battle girds me to youth’s memory.”

“A memory much distant,” Fo Ch’i laughed.

He bowed to the general, who turned to the men about him — soldiers searching for comrades and picking through the corpses, preparing them for tribute, although a solid patch still eluded them. Then, through the gathering mist, the savage allies appeared — the Outlaws of the Golden Marsh, men mismatched in uniform, but each war-heavy from battle. On a white horse came a wizen man — a wraith by any other name would be as spectral. Two men not much younger than himself helped him dismount.

“Ah,” Fo Ch’i said, “Here he is now. Our hallowed leader.”

Tsung Fei stood tall as Sung Jiang approached. Timely Rain didn’t bother to use the guide path, but sloshed through the water, stepping over the fallen, his dim eyes kept squarely on the general. When he reached the edge, Su Ling came to his aid.

“My lord,” Su Ling said, taking his arm and guiding him to Tsung Fei.

“Don’t regard me as a lord, old friend,” Sung Jiang chided. “When it comes to the sword, we’re all comrades.” He looked about. “I’m glad we could assist in this. I’m truly glad.”

Tsung Fei bowed.

Timely Rain,” he said. “I’ve long heard your name and respect it. Now we’re joined in this mighty cause.”

“Not so mighty as you would suspect, General Tsung,” Sung Jiang replied. “And why are you bowing to me, sir? I’m a bandit of long standing — beyond the law and, by all accounting, should be placed in a k’ang and tried summarily by your jurisdiction.”

“I wouldn’t presume, sir,” Tsung Fei protested. “We’re allies.”

“We’re men, Tsung Fei. We bleed and shit and fuck and die, like all men.” He laughed. “What makes us different is that you lived shackled to the laws of the land, while I am the law unto myself. Today I chose to support the Emperor because the Jurchen lord would have my head.”

“But we would have your head, as you’ve just told me.”

“Yes, and you might still want it.” Timely Rain clapped his hands on Tsung Fei’s arm. “But I like you better. You’re the son of a farmer, while I’m the son of a clerk. And Fo Ch’i is a son of a bitch and Su Ling is the son of a whore, which I suppose is much the same thing.”

“Proud to be so, my lord,” Su Ling said.

“Although he insists on paying me homage even when I ignore him.” He turned toward the silent soldiers, who gathered their brethren into a stack in a precious dry stretch. “But in the end, Tsung Fei — in the end it all amounts to this. Men fall for men to rise. Some day the world might be different. Some day folk will serve themselves better than their overlords. Some day the nation might be governed by a pack of bandits like mine. Then everything will be held equally and everyone taught to think the same way. And they will tell themselves that the old ways have been abandoned, but the shackles only will have changed names. Folks will tell themselves they’re free of Heaven’s weight. But still men will fall so men might rise.”

Tsung Fei was taken by these words, although it had no place in his understanding. He had always followed the law and the order of things, which, if upset, would mean the end of all under Heaven. But still Timely Rain’s words stirred him. He sighed, and then shrugged.

“Perhaps you’re just an old bandit after all,” he muttered.

“I aspire to nothing loftier.”

Fo Ch’i and Su Ling laughed, out of place for the moment, but in keeping with the order of rogues, to which they were charter members.


To the north, the sound of hoofs could be heard — a slow procession of cavalry and chariots followed by archers and infantry.

“Chang Chun comes,” Tsung Fei said, rousing to action. “Clear a way for the commander.”

The soldiers took to the boundary paths, torches lit to disburse the marsh mist. As the foot falls increased, Tsung Fei discerned a two-horse chariot’s silhouette — definitely the commander’s vehicle. He came to attention as the vision clarified. He saw the unmistakable form of Chang Chun at the reins and a shadowy figure standing behind him, unusual but not without precedent. The chariot halted just short of the bog line.

“Hoy, General Tsung Fei,” came a call from the chariot.

“Hoy,” Tsung Fei responded, but was shaken by the call. It was not Chang Chun’s voice, but the adjutant’s, General Ou-yang Tan. Strange. “I greet you with a victory,” he continued.  “The enemy has been engaged and turned to the River, to the crossing of your choice.”

No response came from the chariot. Then Ou-yang Tan emerged, standing beside the twin steeds. General Tsung Fei noticed that Chang Chun had not stirred. Something was wrong. He rushed to Ou-yang Tan’s side.

“What has happened, sir?”

Ou-yang Tan kept silent, but then guided Tsung Fei to the chariot.

“The Commander has perished,” Ou-yang Tan said, his voice betraying sadness. “He was taken before the battle, but who are we to question Heaven’s judgment? I acted as he would have me.”

Tsung Fei touched the chariot, assessing its cargo. He saw Chang Chun slumped forward and, beneath him, the corpse of a soldier.

“Who’s that beneath him?”

“A hero. Hung Li-fa, who expired somewhere on the journey.” He turned to Bo Xin-to, who had tracked behind him. “Remove that brave soldier and be sure he’s given every honor. He’s warranted it.”

Bo Xin-to directed three soldiers to remove Hung Li-fa’s body from beneath the commander, and then to settle Chang Chun’s corpse more easily in the chariot.

“I would not have believed it,” Tsung Fei remarked. “You’ve acted meritoriously, Ou-yang Tan.”

“I’ve acted as only I could have. The attack had broken off when the commander was taken. These men still believe he’s alive, perhaps slumbering from the heat of battle and the long ride south. Without him at the fore, the Jurchen might have stampeded through Lu-jiang pass and . . .”

“And we would be assessing a defeat now instead of burying our glorious dead in Sui-ching-xien’s infernal bogs.”

“Exactly so.”

“But now?”

“Now, we must honor the man.”

Sung Jiang approached, inspecting the chariot, shaking his head like a mourner for hire.

“Tragic,” he said. “Mighty men must fall for mighty men to rise.”

Ou-yang Tan curtly bowed to the man.

Timely Rain,” he said. “Chang Chun was happy for your aid and confided as much to me. When the enemy is defeated, many honors await you.”

“Just the silver ingots promised will do, sir,” Timely Rain remarked, reaching in and touching Chang Chun’s side. “You’re lucky he died in winter. Just think of the flies if he had taken a summer plunge.”

Ou-yang Tan suddenly jumped into the chariot, startling Timely Rain.

“The time has come,” Ou-yang Tan said, loudly. “Be it winter or summer, flies or frost, the time has come to honor my friend and commander.” He pointed to a brace of soldiers, who stood closest to the chariot. “Come — bear your lord’s body. Bring your shields and strength. Let all who knew him see that the Hero of Shao-xing is a hero still.”

The soldiers scurried on board and, with difficulty, lifted Chang Chun’s body from its place, hoisting it onto their shields, locking them as they would in a battle picket. Then, they braced themselves beneath it, straining under the weight, other soldiers buttressing the effort. Ou-yang Tan moved them forward through the ranks and, as they passed, warriors took a knee, bowed their heads and slapped their chests in salute.

“Look for him not in his chariot tonight,” Ou-yang Tan intoned. “You will not find him there. He has made his last ride and that to the honor of His Majesty, may He live ten thousand years. Look not to him on horseback for commands now, for his last strategy was issued and has been fulfilled with the enemy’s passage south. But look to his greatness as he reviews you for one last time. Look to your martial hearts as they stir in his example.” Ou-yang Tan halted, raising his arms aloft, tears streaking his cheeks. “Look not for him here in the crimson bog, but in the night sky, for there you shall see him among his brethren, a guiding star for the nation.”

General Tsung Fei stepped forward, his sword drawn. He placed the blade’s edge in the crook of his hand, between his ring and little fingers. He pressed the steel firmly and, with quick action, sliced off his little finger, the blood gushing. He passed the sword to Ou-yang Tan, who did the same. And so the sword went around the camp, digit after digit lopped off in tribute to the Hero of Shao-xing, who now waited for summer and the time of flies.


If ever Emperors ceased to rule this land, I think it would be necessary to invent a new manner of rule, where heroes would be martyred for ideas instead of landlords, and little fingers would be lopped off to feed the pigs and not the memory of celestial heroes. But even then, we are such creatures that I think we would invent ways to let ideas go to our heads and pigs to go to our bellies. So even if no Emperor existed, we’d have our Emperor still, even if we called him something grand and fine, like Director of Big Deals or Chairman of the People. But excuse your servant’s lapse into treason, because despite the clever sound of it, such a thing could never happen. We are too accustomed to grovel to one lord at a time.

Read more excerpts from The Southern Swallow Series:
The Academician – 4/13/09
Nan Tu  - 1/18/10
Swan Cloud –


Victor J. Banis said...

Those of us who paint little pictures can only stand in awe of a great mural such as this. Splendid, indeed.

AlanChinWriter said...

I finished House of Green Waters a few days ago. Wow. Ed Patterson has written a touching and beautiful love story, with dashes of delightful humor and suspense. Adored every page. Exquisitely written, touching deep emotions. Too lovely for words. I'll write/post a 5* review in the next few days.

This is #4 in a series. I've read them all and think this is the most enjoyable. In truth, they are all wonderful.

edward c patterson said...

Thanks, Guys. I'm speechless.

Ed P.

Jon Michaelsen said...

Hauntingly spectacular! Mesmerizing even. Poetic fluidity at its best.