Henry Holt & Co., 1989; Heinemann (U.K.) 1989

Book of the Month Club 1989; Fawcett (U.S. paperback) 1990

Centrum (Denmark) 1990; Rizzoli (Italy) 1990

Mandarin (U.K. paperback) 1991; Heyne (Germany) 1991

Divisione Euroclub Italia (Italy) 199

four beginnings from SILK ROAD

             Before the beginning, blanker than an eggshell, blanker than the blankest scroll, blanker than all the hungry wordless pages in the hungry word-filled dynasties of what will someday be the future, is the uncarved block.

            And then there is Nu Wa. Who gets bored.


            My name is, for the moment, Parrot, though it has been by turns Little Imp and Dragonfly and Bordermoon and Skywhistle and Heavenglaive and Greenpearl and more. I’ll tell you the story of how I got each of those names, though that is rather a forward thing for a woman of Tang to do. Or a man [and I was that too, for a little while]. But no matter. Here the rules are different, are whatever you and I can agree for them to be.

            But to proceed: I was born out in the Tang garrison town of Khotan, on the edge of the dry wastelands of the Takla Makan, far out along the Silk Road that stretches west from China across the desert toward Samarqand and Persia and the fable empire of H’rom. My father was the garrison commander…


                    Song by the River’s Edge


The White Jade River rushes.

The Black Jade River flows.

Two streams of lifeblood, mingling, wet the sands.


A fire in the Chinese watchtower

Signals, The pass holds firm.

But the desert folk and the tribes of the West roam free…


            Once above a time, deep within the rosy cloudbanks of the morning sky, in the great Yang-Purple Palace of the supreme Taoist deity, the Jade Emperor Himself, the Assistant Undersecretary of Baubles humbly presents a newly arrived gift of tribute to His Divine Majesty. All the spirits, sylphs, and sages of the court gather round to see it: a board for playing Go, made of rhinoceros horn inlaid in squares, and two bowls of Go stones, each bowl studded with violet cowrie shells. The courtiers draw in their breaths and move closer…