Dragon Sword

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

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17. mute

 

As she leaves the wine shop she feels the sun glare on her skin, slick and hot, that's what the sunlight is to her. She doesn't see anything, it's all dark, it's not even dark because she has stopped seeing images in the depths of her head; she is merely listening, feeling, tasting, and smelling. This is her world, and it's whole, it's not broken into fragments. She doesn't see images and she barely needs words.

 

She crosses the marketplace. The furor, the dust, the hectic and rioting babble of human voices speaking all dialects, shouting together, all these human bodies crushed together and milling about in the marketplace of Dragon Gate between the wine-shops and the big noisy restaurants and inns. The air is thick with smells of jasmine, peanut oil, charcoal fires, soup. They make a path for the blind women, people even leap out of her way not knowing why. She walks with her head lowered, you can barely see her face in the shadow of that peasant's straw hat.

 

As Zu reaches the heart of the marketplace she hears the jangling of traps and smells the sour reek of bearskins. She stops, immobile in the dust and the furor of mingled voices, the shouting mob. Listening.

 

Then she hears a kind of burbling groan, a voice that sounds mangled, like someone trying to speak without a tongue. A boy's voice, or an animal's. Shouting out in hate and despair.

 

She whirls toward that cry.

 

She walks fast, sweating, in shattered sunlight and thick shadows, toward the cry she has just heard emanating from the far end of the marketplace, rushing so as not to lose it, toward the broken arch opening onto the Western deserts and the three tall sandstone pillars, the area of Dragon Gate where slave traders gather every morning to barter human beings. Dodging bodies in the packed and milling crowd.

 

There it is again. Louder.

 

She hears a mule braying and the jingling of the metal bear traps and now she is within a few steps and she knows this is the hunter's pack train, the horses stamping and turning in place, and that the voice was that of the hunter's boy, now a mute, now without a tongue, and Zu knows also that the tongue has been cut out of his mouth, that he is tied with rope (she smells the heavy, oiled hemp rope mingled with the boy's smell), and that he is being pulled stumbling toward the slave trader's auction block by a man who is not his father, and so the bear-hunter must be dead, murdered in the desert, his body thrown into a pit to be gnawed by animals and birds. But the bandits have brought the hunter's boy to Dragon Gate to sell as a slave for a few gold pieces, cutting out his tongue first to make sure he cannot say how and where he was captured. That too, is as it always is, it has happened just this way for the last two thousand years. Always it will be thus.

 

 

 

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