Dragon Sword

A blind swordswoman in China seeks revenge on the cunning and deadly Manchu general who killed her parents.

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44. brevity

 

It's right after that scene. Blazing afternoon sunlight.

 

 Blind Zu walks from the dusty marketplace straight to Kut Habba's compound.  Why? It's clear she's going to try to get the gold to buy the Wolf Girl.

 

She does not know that Edward Savage is trailing her through the fetid, crooked alleys. He stays well back, in the cool shadows, moving with a sinewy, coyote-like ease. There is really something thrilling about the way he moves. We want him to get together with the beautiful Blind Zu. They'd be a fabulous movie couple.

 

At the gate to Kut Habba's compound, she clanks the iron bell and stands silent, unmoving, and unbowed. Long stillness, with a lot of noise and movement in the background. A lot of shouting and clanking in the soundtrack.

 

A panel slides open in the heavy oak door. Edward glimpses a pair of bloodshot and yellow tinged eyes. He steps back into the shade of a red curtain -- it's the door of a wine shop. Dark, dark within.

 

What do you want? cries a rough voice from inside the gate.

 

Zu says, An audience with Kut Habba.

 

Who are you?

 

A flute player.

 

A what?

 

She plucks the bamboo flute from her shirt and holds it up. The yellow eyes blink.

 

Any good?

 

She puts the flute to her mouth and blows a hard, pure tone at a keening pitch then plays a fluttering run of notes, ending with a breathy, almost inaudible low note. Cut to Edward. He shivers.

 

You want to offer your services as a musician for the Autumn Festival banquet, is that it?

 

Yes.

 

You're a peach. You'd look nice if you took a bath. Blind, aren't you?

 

I am.

 

           

I noted the stick. Clever. You're a pretty little piece. Where else have you worked?

 

           

Zu replies: All over Han China.

 

Pah, the voice says.

 

The iron bar inside clunks. The gate opens. Edward sees a bowlegged, tough looking man with a broken-nosed pockmarked face, leering eyes, a wet mouth -- the gatekeeper.

 

A former wrestler. Used to cheerfully break necks in the ring. Edward knows the type; has killed it before.

 

The gatekeeper steps aside with a sweep of his hand and a hard laugh.

 

Come in, that is, if you trust me.  The Boss might see you. He likes beautiful girls. Might retain you for some fluting. People like to hear the flute played well when they're stinking drunk. Do you do anything else for money?

 

Zu doesn't reply. She bows her head, enters.

 

The gate shuts. Thud. It locks. Clank.

 

Edward turns to look inside the wine shop. It stinks of spilled wine, lamp oil, sweat, and kif. One drinker clad in rags is slumped over a wine-stained table. Two young Circassian whores with blank eyes -- kif-drowsed -- are seated on a bench. The owner, in greasy leather apron, is gazing at Edward Savage. He cracks a brown jagged smile and gestures to a table by the door.

 

Sit down, please, honorable sir. What will you have?

 

            Edward sits at such an angle that he can keep the gate directly in view. The hard sunlight glares on its rusted iron hinges.  He keeps his head turned so the owner won't see that his eyes are stark blue. He doesn't like having to explain who he is, where he hails from. And what's the point? His face is so tanned he might as well be an Arab.

 

            A jug of rice wine, he says.

 

            Oh yes. Right away, sir.

 

 

 

What a lewd, stupid, sweaty, reeking old fart.

 

 

 

He hates China. He hates the border even more. He hates Dragon Gate most of all. Everything here is tired, sick, or tawdry. Maybe he'll go back to England. Or better yet to the Americas. Cuba. San Domingo. Far Tortuga. There's good work in those bloodwarm seas for a seasoned privateer. More gold pieces than you can ever bury on some godforsaken bleak sandspit of an island.

 

Life is brief; play 'ere you die. It's tattooed on his shoulder. That's his motto. Life is brief; a cascade of days.

 

Like a dewdrop, a lamp in the night, an autumn cloud, a shooting star, a children's play of a single hour in the dwindling afternoon. Isn't that what Lord Buddha said? We have to be able to "get" all or most of this just from the way Edward sits there in the ugly little wine shop, drinking.  Maybe we can see a few quick glimpses of his pirate life, mysterious shots of a sail filling with wind, a palm tree waving on a desert island, a sea turtle swimming, &c all in total silence with black space between each image.

 

 

 

Edward pours his wine into the wooden bowl. Drinks. He's sweating. He feels rotten.

 

Tonight. It must be tonight. No reason to delay it any longer.

 

Blind Zu won't help him do it. That's clear. It was all just a fever dream, his thought of pairing up with the blind swordswoman to cut down the odious Kut Habba.

 

She's even gone in to see the old pig. To offer her services as a flute player. And what else besides?

 

Will she strip down and dance, showing the drunken crime bosses that milky skin?

 

He shivers. He swallows the last of the jug and bangs it on the stained table for another. Squinting into the hard sunlight, he waits.

 

 

 

Waiting. Most of life is just dead waiting. Waiting for rain to fall, waiting for rain to stop.  Waiting.

 

           

 

 

 

Will you see her dead in the rain. Will she ride away into another sunset. Out of Han China into the trackless Gobi where it never rains anything but stars and dust.

 

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