Robert Fortune

Everybody Hwang Cha Tonight – Gamnong Style

Previously on Steep Stories: Our fearless (or rather, fearful) protagonist was whisked away to an underground, dwarven tearoom in Darjeeling – one that was overrun with dancing snake-people. The crisis was averted by a well-placed Hindi movie musical number…oh, and splendid tea was had in the interim. Afterwards, the pajama’d thirtysomething, a gnome, and an undead botanist hastened their escape. And, now, the continuation…

“Well, this is awkward,” I said with feigned levity while sipping my green tea.

“You have a penchant for snark,” the once-living Robert Fortune grumbled.

The deceased-but-animated Scottish botanist had every reason to be ill-tempered. We were stuck in a rather large bird cage, guarded from all corners by birds. Worse, they were armed with what appeared to be glowing spears. I had no desire to discover what the “glowy-part” could do. On the bright side, though, the tea they served was good. Sipping it gave me time to think why all of the birds spoke Korean.

The only occupants of the cage were me, Zombie Fortune, and a rather disheveled, multi-tailed, yellow fox. Thed – our gnomish compatriot – was nowhere to be found. How we came to be caged by birds was the subject of debate. One moment we were escaping under Darjeeling – the next, we were greeted by pitch blackness, then…birds happened. When Fortune and I awoke, we were caged and served tea.

The bird-guard (?) that had handed us tea said only one word, “Teuksun.”

I assumed he meant the tea. The leaves were small by Chinese green tea standards, curlier than Japanese greens, and possessed a very different aroma than any green tea I’d come across. There was a sweetness and a smokiness to them that was strangely tantalizing. A bit of nuttiness also showed up in the after-whiff.

The liquor was a very light green with a yellowish tinge, very similar in appearance to a Chinese green. However, the scent was nut-sweet, almost like sencha by way of green rooibos. A lingering vegetal underpinning was also present. That same vegetal feeling showed up on first sip but transitioned to a bouquet of sweetened grass, chestnuts and autumn air. While excellent, a second steep turned out better.

“This is interesting tea,” I said, trying to distract from my predicament. “Hints of vanilla and caramel with a vegetal underpinning.”

“It’s Korean tea,” Fortune stated flatly. “Of course it’s unique. “

“How do you know?” I asked.

“’Teuksun’ sounds like a Korean word,” Fortune answered, staring at nothing.

“I wonder what it means,” I said.

“It roughly translates to, ‘You’re annoying.’” Fortune offered with a half-smile.

“You’re an ass,” I said with a glare.

“Arse, lad,” the Scotsman corrected.

The disheveled, five-tailed fox to our left pushed his tea tray toward us.

“Here,” he said. “This one’s called ‘Gamnong’.”

“You’re not going to drink it?” I asked – greedy hands at the ready.

“I’ve been drinking it for the last six months,” the yellow fox said.

The leaves for this looked just like the Teuksun – vibrant, forest-green, curly leaves. What was different was…well…everything else. The scent was less smoky and sweeter. There wasn’t as nutty a presence, either. Instead, it was just very pleasant to the nostrils. Not too strong; not too soft.

On the flavor front, the darker liquor that resulted imparted a way different profile than the Teuksun. The sweetness was doubled, and there wasn’t as strong of a vegetal note either. Grassy, yes. (It was green tea, after all.)

“Kinda silky and sweet,” I said with a swallow. “Comparable to some good spring Long Jings I’ve tried.”

“Agreed,” Fortune said perkily, awaking from his funk. “A sweet, white winy note.”

“You said this was ‘Gamnong’?” I asked. “As in, the rich part of Seoul, South Korea?”

The fox sighed. “No, that’s Gangnam. Common misconception, actually.”

Ah, I thought to myself. It sounded absurdly close to “Gangnam” – a place I had only become aware of thanks to a song. A catchy song, at that. “Gangnam Style” by Psy – the first Korean crossover hit of its kind. I had a feeling the fox knew of that as well, hence the misconception.

“I’m surprised you speak English,” Fortune said between happy sips.

“I’m surprised you’re both human,” the fox chortled.

“He is,” Fortune said, pointing a thumb at me. “I’m not…well…anymore.”

“Undead,” the fox pondered. “That’s rough.”

The botanist shrugged. “I’ve had time to adapt to it. I’m Robert Fortune, this living lad is The Lazy Literatus.”

“I have a name!” I snapped.

“No one cares,” Fortune returned.

“I’m Hwang,” the fox said. “The English sort call me Yellow. For obvious reasons.”

“Any idea where we are?” I asked

“A pocket realm known only to magically-imbued birds,” Hwang explained. “Awaiting judgment.”

“For?” Fortune pressed.

“Me? Thieving. You? No clue.”

“There was a gnome named Thed with us…” I began.

“He’s being sentenced right now,” the yellow fox added gravely. “By the Sparrow Prince himself.”

“Sparrow Prince?” I repeated. “Seriously?”

“Yes, what’s odd about that?” Hwang asked in return.

“Oh, nothing.” I chose to leave the South Park reference alone.

“Wait…did you say, Sparrow Prince?!” Fortune demanded.

“Indeed I did,” Hwang rolled his eyes. “So glad you’re paying attention.”

“Damn,” Fortune seethed. “They’re gonna kill him! We have to get out of here.”

“What do you know?” I queried.

“I know that Thed is dead if we don’t rescue him.”

Why?” I yelled.

“Because the Sparrow Prince is convinced that Thed sold actual sparrow tongues to humans in Korea two thousand years ago,” Fortune said through a heaving sigh.

“That’s stupid,” I said with eyes narrowed.

“Sparrows are stupid,” Hwang interjected.

Fortune continued, “Korean green tea is also known as jaksul-cha, which translates to ‘sparrow’s tongue’. Thed was one of the first magical creatures to bring tea leaves to the land that is now known as Korea.”

Hwang went wide-eyed, “He’s that gnome?! The one that was in hiding from Guan Yin?”

The undead Scotsman nodded. “The very same. He was part of Queen Suro’s caravan that brought tea seeds from India to ancient Korea. He was in hiding from the bodhisattva.”

“He’s famous among the fox-folk,” Hwang said with glazed eyes. “One of the greatest thieves and tricksters to ever ride the ley-lines.”

“He never intended to be,” Fortune countered.

“I didn’t either,” the fox winked.

“So…” I clapped my hands. “How do we get out of here?”

“Leave that to me,” Hwang said as he clanked his cup against the cage bars. “Guard! More hot water!”

One of the birdmen mumbled a curse in Korean, but sauntered off to fetch a kettle. When he returned, Hwang grinned with eyes closed. He, then, removed some dark-colored leaves from behind one of his tails. Appearance-wise, it looked like any typical black tea one would find on the market. The pieces resembled a BOP – dark brown, small, and with some curly pieces thrown in. Their aroma was straight nuts. No, not as in crazy, but actual nuts – almonds, I’d reckon. Only a few oolongs have had that type of scent. Before I could ask, he explained.

“This is what I was caught for – stealing tea leaves from a Korean bird merchant. How could I not? They were called Hwang Cha’. It had my name on it, literally. I was framed, I tell ya.” He detailed his claim to “innocence” further as he brewed up the leaves.

The leaves gave the water a yellow gold color – like the namesake suggested – with a pleasantly sweet and roastly aroma.

“Is this really the time for –“ Robert Fortune began.

“Just you wait,” the fox said, pouring the liquor into our cups.

On taste, there was an initial creaminess that transitioned to the expected nutty mouthfeel, and all the while there was this sweet underpinning to the palate. In character, it was a lot like another oxidized “yellow tea” I tried from the Goomtee estate in Darjeeling, yet much more refined. It is as complex as all the other Korean teas I’ve tried. A bit on the pricey side…but you honestly do get what you pay for.

Hwang motioned us to come nearer to him. “Now, blow the steam at the guards,” he whispered. “I could’ve escaped this way at any time…but never had a reason ’til now.”

Fortune and I shrugged at each other but did as we were told. We each went to a corner of the cage, faced our cups to one of the spear-birds, and blew as hard as we could. A funny thing happened…and I do – literally – mean funny. When the tea steam came in contact with the guards, each one sniffed, shook their heads, and promptly collapsed into a feathered heap.

The fourth guard noticed his fallen comrades and seemed poised to signal for reinforcements. Hwang was faster, however, leaping clear across the cage – blowing steam right before he landed. The bird fainted in mid-caw!.

“I’m surprised they didn’t hear us plotting,” I said.

“They’re Korean,” Fortune reminded. “And birds are idiots.”

“And so am I,” I deprecated.

“No argument here,” Hwang stifled a chuckle.

We dashed as best we could to the only source of light in the oddly-tunneled, avian catacomb. Upon reaching the illuminated opening, we were greeted by a grand amphitheater. All the seats were packed with flocks of birds, gulls, jays, and every other assortment of feathered beasty. At the center of the “stage” was a diminutive man in a pointed, green hat. To either side of him, a bird yeoman, and confronting him were a sparrow with a crown and sword and a heinous looking beak of a bird in robes.

“Oh my God, he’s real,” I said, in reference to the South Park-like Sparrow Prince.

“Of course, he is,” Hwang responded. “Why wouldn’t he be?”

“Nevermind.” I had no time to explain a cartoon to a talking fox.

The Sparrow Prince was orating fiercely, outlining the charges against Thed in perfectly cadenced Korean. The robed buzzard-pelican-thing nodded at the accusations listed. I thought I heard the word “cannibalism” mentioned in conjunction with “jaksul”.

“So, what’s the plan?” Hwang asked.

“Leave this to me,” Robert Fortune said, clearing his throat. “My fellow avian citizens!”

The interruption was met with alarmed squawks and siren calls. Fortune did his darnedest to academically explain the linguistic misunderstanding made by the Sparrow Prince and his ilk. The lecture was welcomed with deaf ears and deafening screeches. Hwang was right; birds were idiots.

“He’s dying out there,” I cringed. “Well…more than usual.”

Hwang nodded in agreement. “Zombies are horrible at speeches. Soul of the voice is the first thing to go with undying. “

“I guess I’ll have to give it a g-“

“No!” the yellow fox waved me back. “As a human, you’d be mauled on sight. I’ve got this.”

“But ho-“

“Just watch,” Hwang interrupted again, donning sunglasses.

“Oh no,” I said.

“Oh yes,” he said back, bearing a toothy grin.

The multi-tailed fox leapt into the air and landed right in front of the Sparrow Prince. The bird squawked something akin to gibberish. Hwang – in turn – held up a hand to the sparrow’s beak and said one thing. One thing that I had hoped he wouldn’t say.

“Oppan Gamnong Style!” the fox shouted. Electrosynth music blared to accompany his battle-cry.

Hwang had actually done it – took a well-known pop song (and Internet meme) and turned it into a tea pun. If I hadn’t been so embarrassed by it, I would’ve teared up at the ingenuity. The little trickster-fox trotted his way around the amphitheater, and the birds frenzied with him – enraptured by the retardedly addictive song. Fortune and I grabbed the chained gnome while the birds were distracted.

“Yet another adventure that ends in song, eh?” Thed commented dryly.

“Shut up,” Fortune said with exasperation. The poor zombie had been out of sorts this entire debacle. I guess being caged did that to the undead. Who knew?

As we made our way out of the bird tribunal, I looked back at the commotion. I briefly made eye contact with the fox – various chirping flyers swarmed around him. He smiled and winked before his form was enveloped by the fog of feathers.

I hesitated…then left.

Sacrifice by tea…and dance, was my final thought before leaving the “birdemic” behind.

Acknowledgments:

Special thanks to Hankook Tea for providing the samples for this write-up. To purchase their wares, go HERE.

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Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

A Tiger in the Taiga

It was, for the most part, a normal Sunday night. That is, if you consider coming home with a full body-ache normal. My work week had taxed me (both mentally and physically) yet again. Not something I ever wanted to be routine…but such is life. Typically, after a long night’s work, I came home, poured a pint of ale, vegged in front of the computer then slept.

I was about to do just that until I got a text from friends to meet them at a bar. The pint of Cascadia Dark Ale I was nursing was put back in the fridge. After two pints with said friends and a nice walk back home, I remembered the CDA still refrigerating. I was never one to exceed two pints (er…often?), but I didn’t want to let it go to waste. So, I nursed it lovingly. Again!

And felt a wee bit on the inebriated side.

Somewhere in the partial mental haze, I got the notion that the dog needed a walk. My brother was out of town, and I’d been tasked with feeding and entertaining the pup. Well…”pup” is probably the wrong word. He was a two-year-old, 140-pound Saint Bernard who thought he was a pup – fittingly named Abacus. I let him out of his “kennel” – in reality, a bedroom – and leashed him up for a dogwalk. Or rather, a dog-stumble.

It really says something when the dog walks in a straighter line than his walker. Such was the case this night. In all honesty, he was extremely well-behaved. Midnight walks were becoming our little routine, and I enjoyed the distraction. Something was different about this night, though. Well, beyond the beer buzz.

As we turned down one particular, dimly-lit street, I caught whiff of a familiar smell. Tendrils of campfire, burnt leaves, and awesomeness crept its way to my nostrils. Naturally, even in my befuddled state, I sought out the source of the smoky smell. Somehow, I even managed to tweet about it. (Still not sure how that happened.)

We continued down the dark street for what seemed like a few minutes. Abacus let out a couple of warning barks. I tried to reassure him, but I – too – felt something ominous. Of course, that may have been just gas. The further we ventured, the darker the path became. The road was more uneven with each step. Asphalt turned to dirt. Street lamps vanished altogether. Then we suddenly came upon…

Daylight?!

We were no longer in the suburbs. What beheld us was a coniferous forest with thin trees and prairie-like shrubs. It looked similar to our usual environs, save for the cold, dry air. Abacus didn’t seem to care. He found the nearest tree, gave it the sniff once-over then relieved himself – happily making his mark on this strange hillside.

Dead ahead of us was a small campsite. That alone didn’t puzzle me; it was the occupants that gave me pause. One was a short, stout, bearded man in a pointy green hat. Short was an understatement, though – he was downright diminutive. The other appeared to be a man on first glance, dressed very dapperly like a British scholar. Mutton chops hugged his cheeks, giving him a jolly appearance. The problem? His skin was an off shade of blue.

The third occupant was the only normal one of the trio, and yet the one that stood out the most. He was thin, neighborly-looking, and possessed a perma-smile. He was stirring “something” with a wooden spoon in a rather ornate cauldron. And he was staring right at us, grin never fading.

“He’s here,” the small, pointy-hatted man said.

“Looks like it,” the mutton-chopped, off-skin-colored man replied in a Scottish baroque.

The smiling man said nothing.

Abacus tried to escape the leash and pounce his new “friends”, but I reined him in. “Who…” I began.

“You should already know the answer to that,” the Scot said. “After all, you’ve written about us.”

“You can’t be-” I pointed, mouth agape.

The sort-of-Scotsman stood and bowed, “Formerly Robert Fortune, at your service.”

“Formerly?”

“That means he’s dead,” the smaller man cut in. “-Ish”

“The polite term is undead,” the Scotsman countered.

“A zombie,” I said simply.

“That’s racist,” the smaller man responded.

“So that would make you-”

“Thedaius,” he said with a salute. “Thed, for short. No pun intended.”

“You’re the gnome I wrote about!” I said excitedly.

“You’re a quick one,” Thed said dryly.

“Don’t mind him, he’s always pissy,” Formerly Fortune muttered to me.

As my attention was diverted, Abacus escaped my grasp long enough to nose-molested the gnome. He toppled over and tried to ward the Saint Bernard off to no avail. Fits of laughter escaped the grumbling gnome as he was tackled and licked.

“Abacus, get off him!” I yelled.

“It’s okay,” Zombie Robert Fortune assured me. “He’s good with animals, despite his gruffness.”

And just like that, Thed had the wily puppy eating out of the palm of his hand – literally. He had fetched some strange snack out of one of his many sacks. Abacus feasted from his tiny hand and instantly turned docile. A puddy of a pup if I ever saw one. Amazing.

“Funny,” the gnome said. “You named him Abacus. I knew an Abacus once. Saint Bernard, too.”

“Don’t tell me he runs a flying tearoom,” I said, arms akimbo.

“He does, indeed,” Thed said with surprise. “How’d you know?”

“Lucky guess,” I replied with an eyeroll. “Who’s he?”

My attention was turned toward the smiling stirrer by the cauldron.

“No clue,” Robert Unfortunate shrugged. “He just showed up today. He hasn’t said a word.”

“He might have something to do with why you’re here,” Thed offered.

“And he’s French,” Zombert Fortune growled.

“That’s a bad thing?” I asked.

Thed shook his head. “Not necessarily…unless you’re British.”

“I’m Scottish!” Zombert Fortune snapped back.

“Fine, British ‘citizen’,” Thed amended.

“What are you two doing here?” I asked. “And where is here?”

“We’ve been traveling for…” Thed paused in thought. “Shit, how long have we been traveling?”

“Going on forty years, I think,” Un-Robert Fortune-Zombie said, tapping his chin.

“And ‘here’ is Mongolia,” Thed answered. “Not sure what part.”

“We took a break from our trip to India,” Former-Robert sighed. “Ley-line travel is exhausting.”

“And thirst-inducing,” the gnome added. “I said I was parched, and the Frenchman appeared.”

“We think he’s brewing tea,” Undead Fortune whispered to me.

Sure enough, when I went up to smell the contents of the Smiling Frenchman’s cauldron, I whiffed tea. Smoky tea. One of my favorite types of tea. The Smiling Frenchman just kept right on smiling as I smelled.

“Have you guys tried any of it yet?” I asked.

“We haven’t dared,” Robert Unfortunate replied.

“Uh…you,” I addressed the Frenchman. “Three cups, please.”

The Smiling Frenchman’s grin widened, and three cups winked into existence – as did a smattering tea leaves that circled about our heads. He poured the contents of the ladle into them. Said cups hovered over to the gnome, the departed botanist, and myself. I took a sip..and instantly knew that it had a name – a fitting name.

“Pause in the Taiga,” I said aloud.

Pause in the Taiga

This was an interesting blend to look at, mainly because of the different leaf shapes present. There were the regulars – the BOP pieces, a couple of gold-tipped ones, and a few stems – but what was really shocking was the presence of some ball-fisted oolong leaves. Even more surprising, they were greener-style like an Ali Shan. The aroma was gently smoky with a floral underpinning – as expected from a Russian Caravan variant.

The liquor brewed to a rusted copper color with the same gentle, smoky aroma – like the last vestiges of a campfire. Taste-wise, the fire-fueled feeling hit first on the forefront, followed by a bit of malt and tobacco, and the aftertaste was oddly smooth. Not so much creamy, but definitely smooth. A very decent manly morning pint.

“It’s like a fruit garden someone set fire to,” Thed mused.

Zombie Fortune nodded. “I quite agree. Smoky but with an underpinning of fruit and flowers. Most peculiar.”

Abacus attempted to lick the edge of my cup, but I gave his nose a diligent swat. He recoiled slightly…before making a second attempt. When the dog no longer acquired my immediate attention, I looked back up at the Smiling Frenchman. His cauldron had changed to one less ornate and colored differently.

Another tea?” I asked – unbelieving.

He nodded, but that was all.

“I dunno about this,” Thed warned. “The first one was fine, but now what’s he got planned?”

My fears were abated by the smell. The Smiling Frenchman brought more cups to the floating fray, along with a pastiche of dry leaves. It was like these blends were tailored to me specifically. Like the Taiga one, this was also on the smoky side. Not as strong but rather more like a Keemun with a kiss of smoke. The leaves themselves looked like a mix of Keemun with a BOP of some sort.

Shere Khan

Shere Khan

The liquor brewed straight copper like an Assam with a burly, malty-sweet nose. Taste-wise, it was incredibly smooth, somewhat winy on the front. The middle was dominated by a sense of strength, smoke and sweetness. The aftertaste gave no impression of dryness or bitterness.

What was particularly odd, though, was that while this was a darker cuppa, it was lighter on the smoke than the Taiga.

“Shere Khan, you say?” I said aloud.

The silent smiler nodded again.

“He said something to you?” Revenant Robert Fortune asked.

“Not really,” I answered. “It’s like they have a name the moment you sip ‘em.”

“You’re drunk,” Thed stated bluntly.

“That’s…beside the point,” was the only the rebuttal I could give.

The cauldron in front of the Smiling Frenchman vanished again. One that was vaguely Russian in appearance replaced it. The smoke smell was superceded by something more wildernessy with a dash of fruit on the fragrance. As before, three more cups appeared in mid-air, a display of leaves danced above each. Literally, they were dancing. Quite Disney…and quite bizarre.

Just like the other two, I had no idea what to really make of this one, and the Smiling Frenchman was leaving no clues. I saw some obvious leaves in the fray – some Long Jing, maybe some Mao Feng – but there were others that were darker still. Some were even ball fisted and added a grapy lean to the scent. That made me think that some Formosa oolong had made its way into the recipe.

Origine

Origine

“Origine, huh?” I said.

The Smiling Frenchman winced slightly at my butchering of his language.

The liquor brewed a dark amber with a mineral and berry aroma. The taste was a collision of different sensations. On the one hand it was light and fruity, on the other, vegetal, graphite-like and slightly bitter. A part of me liked its harshness, but another part – the one that expected a lighter brew didn’t care for it. Given the oolongy inclusion, this would’ve probably handled a gong fu prep better.

“Definitely my least favorite of the three,” I said, pursing my lips.

My announcement of which actually caused the Smiling Frenchman’s grin to diminish somewhat.

“Actually, I prefer this one to its smoky counterparts,” the gnome chimed in. “Reminds me of home.”

“Quite a strong green tea presence, for my tastes,” said the undead Scotsman. “But it has enough of an orange pekoe palate for my liking. I wonder what’s in it.”

“Company secret,” came a German accented growl from behind us.

Thed’s face went as white as his little gnomish beard. Formerly Fortune paled even more than he already was. I stood there aghast…and promptly wet myself. Abacus wagged his tail happily in anticipation. Mere feet away from us was a half-man/half-tiger dressed – in what appeared to be – a double-breasted suit. He adjusted his tie as he came forward.

“A were-tiger?!” I yelped.

“That’s racist,” Thed muttered to me.

“Tiger-man, thank you very much,” the suited feline rumbled.

Abacus could no longer contain himself. How could he? There was a large cat in front of him. Before the tiger-“man” could do…whatever he was going to do, he was mauled (with love) by the 140-pound pup. The suited tiger shouted and “ROWR!”-ed in desperation as he was bombarded by licks, sniffs and drool of the fuzzy kind.

“That is one useful dog,” Thed smiled, arms folded.

“Sometimes,” I mumbled.

“Get him…” the tiger-man managed to start through the struggle. “…OFF of me! This is Armani!”

“W-what are your intentions?” I stuttered.

“I’m a tea merchant!”

“Abacus, leave it!” I snapped.

To my surprise, the Saint Bernard did as he was told. The tiger-man got up, dusted himself off, and attempted to wipe off the muddy drool with a handkerchief. It didn’t quite work.

“The name is Khan,” he said with a sigh. “I’m with him.”

He pointed at the Smiling Frenchman, who – in turn – waved innocently as he continued stirring.

“You could’ve just said so,” Thed grumbled.

“It’s enough that your partner doesn’t say anything,” the departed Scot-botanist interjected. “But a tiger-man showing up out of nowhere would cause even seasoned travelers a fright.”

“It was supposed to be a blind taste-test,” Khan explained. “For the Tee Faktorei.”

“Never heard of ‘em,” I said.

“No one has,” the tiger replied. “Yet.”

“I don’t think you understand how blind taste-tests work,” I continued. “You’re not supposed to surprise the participants, and they usually have to volunteer.”

“Oh,” Khan mused. “I was told you three liked to be caught by surprise.”

“By whom?” Robert Un-Fortune asked.

“Guan Yin.”

That name made all three of us groan.

Thed cursed first. “Damn woman sure holds a grudge.”

Zombie Fortune shook his head. “Guess it’s time we start packing.”

“Forgive the miscommunication,” Khan said with a bow. “We hope you enjoyed the experience.”

The tiger-man went over to the Smiling Frenchman, snapped his fingers, and both vanished with a flash of light. That left us – three disparate companions, all joined by a similar dilemma – alone by a dying daytime campfire. Only the whiff of smoky tea remained.

“So…” I said with a clap. “Now what?”

“Now, we head to Darjeeling,” Thed said while gathering his duffel bags – all twice his size.

“We’ve been trying to stay ahead of the Bodhisattva of Mercy for four decades,” Zombie Robert replied. “For awhile, we thought we lost her. Turns out her attentions were directed at you for the writing you did.”

“Then you found us,” Thed spat. “Thanks.”

“I didn’t mean to,” I said defensively. “I was walking the dog.”

“Ley-lines are tricky,” Un-Fortune returned. “Sometimes they’ll whisk you away without a moment’s notice.”

“You’re welcome to come with us,” Thed offered – albeit begrudgingly.

“I’ve…” I had to think of something. “…gotta get the dog home.”

The gnome shrugged, “Suit yourself.”

The undead Scotsman stretched out his hand and motioned for me to take the cloth-covered item in it. I unraveled it and found an oft-used white gaiwan.

“Her name is Liddy,” Zombie Fortune said. “Just ask her, and she’ll find us. Should you change your mind about joining our little trek.”

Thed interrupted. “Ley-line travel requires a vessel of some sort – magical, obviously.”

“Take care,” Robert Fortune waved. “And do be careful what you write about.”

“I will,” I lied.

The two disappeared in a flash. I looked down at the gaiwan, sniffed it for a second. Then I uttered a phrase jokingly, “There’s no place like home.”

Before I could chortle, the dog and I were back in our driveway. I looked down at the little lidded cup. Whatever beer buzz I had was replaced by tea reverie. The dog looked up at me expectantly. I smiled at him, and spoke to the gaiwan in my hand.

“Darjeeling, huh?” I said to no one. “Maybe…”

All custom blends used for this write-up were provided (and produced) by Teaconomics.

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Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Fortune and the Goddess

This week I was accused of writing soft-core tea porn. Last I check, I had no soft-core tea porn in my repertoire. If I’m going to be accused of something, it damn well better be true. So…here’s some soft-core tea porn to make it true.

He was a Scotsman and a botanist. Strange occurrences followed him like flies to food. “Trouble” was his modus operandi, but nothing from his homeland compared to this. Being chased by a dragon mounted by a beautiful Chinese woman; this was entirely new to him. And all over a bag of seeds.

Robert Fortune’s “humble native merchant” disguise hadn’t worked as well as he hoped. Being run down by a mythical creature was proof of that. It was just his luck that the one garden he chose to steal tea seeds from happened to belong to some famous sorceress – a normally even-tempered sorceress. Apparently, she didn’t take to kindly to thievery. Stern resolve lined her face as she directed her dragon mount forward – fire pluming from its serpentine maw.

The last flaming blast had singed his fake, raven-haired queue. The ponytail smelled like burnt dog. He barely survived the last fireball directed at his person. Never had he run so long and hard in his life. After hours of this chase, he was close to the breaking point. His lungs burned.

Nary a few moments later, he ran out of breath. Fortune could go no further. He collapsed in a heap at the shore of a solitary lake. Moonlight basked the eerily calm water in an ethereal, pale-white glow. Night-blooming jasmine and lotus blossoms dotted the aquatic surface.

Odd, he thought to himself while panting. Sipalika is not native to China. It’s from Ceylon.

He heard a low rumble behind him. The dragon had coiled to the ground a mere few feet from him. The sorceress dismounted the now-docile wyrm’s head. She looked at him quizzically – fury dissipating from her face. It was an oddly “knowing” look, as if she was reading his very soul.

“Those flowers were a gift from the goddess Indra,” she said softly. “They normally don’t grow on water, but these were a special breed. Spiritually-imbued.”

The tired botanist sat up, “You practically kill me. Now you want to talk flora?”

“You stole from me. It is only natural you be hunted down, foreigner,” the sorceress stated firmly. “But now…you fascinate me.”

“How so?

“You went through a lot of trouble to steal my sacred tea seeds,” she said.

“I didn’t know they were sacred,” he replied hurriedly. “You want ‘em back, here. Just don’t kill me.”

“Oh, I’m not going to kill you, foreigner,” she giggled. It was strangely melodic to his ears. “It’s far too late for that.”

“Too…late?”

“Too late,” she repeated, undoing the sash that held her white robes in place. They spilled off her like a garment waterfall, revealing skin as pale and shimmering as moonlight. Fortune nearly thought she emitted her own glow. It was quite possible. She did own a dragon.

She pointed her slender index finger at him and twirled it slowly. Before he knew it, his own merchant disguise was gone, leaving him clad only in skivvies. The sight of them made the sorceress titter. The sound was hypnotic to him. Fortune desired that laugh for all eternity; there was serenity in her mockery of his foreign undergarments.

“Ao Bing, be a dear and warm the lake,” she ordered the dragon.

With a loud harrumph, the dragon uncoiled and slowly slithered to the lakebed. He parted his scaly lips only slightly, just enough to let flecks of flame part his mouth. Ao Bing kept this up until steam rose from the body of water. The steam – to Fortune’s nose – smelled of flowers, butter, and…peace. If the latter part could have a smell.

The nameless sorceress slowly waded through the water. Her naked form glistening in the rising steam, like a shroud of spirits providing a transparent nightgown. She took water with both hands and spilled it over her face and hair, letting the droplets caress her porcelain – almost ageless – frame. She was like a goddess statue made human – if “human” was the right word.

“Aren’t you going to join me, foreigner?” she beckoned.

Reason dictated that he make a run for it. Alas, after hearing her tantalizing laughter, he was no longer subject to reason. He did as he was told.

“Ah-ah,” she tisk-tisked. “Your remaining garb.”

The drawers dropped on command.

He waded nowhere near as gracefully as she did. In fact, he splashed and tromped his way into the water – eagerness and nervousness guiding his feet. This caused her to laugh even further until he clumsily reached her position. She pressed her tiny bosom to his chest and wrapped her arms around his neck. Her breath was like warm silk to his nostrils – her touch, pure softness.

“Long ago, I was known as Miao Shan,” she began. “I was human once. Make me feel human again…then I’ll let you go.”

Fortune pressed his lips to hers as his hands dutifully explored every inch of her. The more he touched her, the more he longed to remain in her embrace. This was no ordinary woman, nor a typical being. He had no other words to describe her other than “goddess”. When his hands failed to grasp her essence, his mouth took over. His tongue was humbled by the flesh it caressed, it curled around her as if in worship.

The once-Miao Shan returned the favor in kind, bestowing his unworthy form with pleasure by way of simple touch. Every flick of her finger sent waves of warmth throughout his body, like acu-pressure points of pure ecstasy. It was almost too much to bear. A mere mortal like him wasn’t worthy of her; he could barely keep up.

Before he knew it, he was one with her. The feeling was like being one with nature – a feeling akin to Buddhist attainment only more primal. They writhed together as one being in the water, causing ripples to flow out from their pressed bodies. Steam still rose, floating blossoms bobbed in the water, and the chill night air contrasted the heat within.

They crescendoed together, and then the world fell silent. Fortune found himself floating to shore, arm-and-arm with this unknown woman. When they hit the pebbled surface, reality return. She parted from his embrace and whispered “thank you” in his ear – in a long-lost dialect. He stretched out a hand as if to grasp her, but she was too far away now. His vision blurred. And before he knew it, he was asleep.

***

“Boss!”

Tap-tap.

“Boss!”

A shrill voice brought Robert Fortune back to the waking world. Sun beamed down through the canopy of trees. One of his Chinese assistants was poking him with a stick. His first reaction was to cover his vitals, but he suddenly realized he was fully clothed.

“Enough, Shin,” he grumbled. “I’m awake!”

“Oh, thank goodness!” the assistant sighed. “We were worried sick. You were gone all night. What happened to you?”

“I was…” he paused. They would never believe him. He looked down at his hands. In a simple cloth was a gaiwan – a lidded cup for pouring tea. On it, etched in blue marble, was the figure of a woman standing atop a green dragon. He held the cup up to his eyes and fixed his gaze on the image.

“Where’d you get that Guan Yin cup, boss?”

“Guan Yin?” he asked.

“Yeah, the Bodhisattva of Compassion,” Shin explained. “That’s her on the cup. Fancy, too. Where’d you get it?”

“I…don’t know.”

“That must have been some tea you had,” Shin chuckled.

“I guess so,” Fortune replied to no one in particular.

He parted the lid from the gaiwan. In it were spent oolong leaves that smelled of lotus, earth, spice, and something else. It was her scent. He could never forget it.

He clutched the cup to his breast, eyes closed, wishing that night had never ended.

Image "Mooched" from Chan Teas

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Thursday, October 27th, 2011 Prose, Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.

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