Dragon Sword

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


26. the blue eyed devil



She woke to slatted heat -- sunlight -- on her legs and the smells of dust and charcoal and also the boy crouched at her leaning sword-cane, stroking the bamboo with just the tips of his fingers. She knew he was touching it just as she would have known had he been touching her forearm or her ankle. He sensed at once that she was now awake and moved back to the little fire he'd made in the cooking stove and tossed a handful of black tea leaves into the iron pot. Zu sat up wrapped in the threadbare quilt and pulled the sword nearer.




She had no way of communicating with the mute boy except to speak to him calmly out there in the darkness. She wouldn't be able to see any signs that he made or know what he was thinking. She thought he probably wanted his own sword, to kill bandits with. He wanted to grow up and ride in the desert on his horses and mule and hunt animals and kill all the bandits of China. Nothing else. That's what she thought, and it was logical. Even if she objected there was nothing she could do about it. Anyway he was right to want a sword, to want to learn how to kill. So maybe she'd give him the battered up Dragon Cult book. She could do that. Given time, he might be able to teach himself enough martial arts using this book to survive out in the bleak desert wastelands of western China all alone. For she had no intention of taking him anywhere with her. He didn't belong on an assassin's path, she wasn't his mother.






He gave her tea in a small wooden cup. It was parching and unbearably hot. She blew on the surface for a while and finally drank it. The boy squatting barefoot the seat of his pants ripped and his dirty shirt askew on the dirt floor, looking into her lunar eyes. This blind woman killer from the north of China. He took back the empty cup bowing and brought it to the fire and dashed out the black twisted tea leaves into the fire where they hissed and sent up a thread of steam. Poured more tea from the iron pot.



He did not try to speak. It was strange to not have a tongue in his mouth it felt cold and empty and strange to swallow. He could still taste blood but perhaps that was wrong because how can you taste with no tongue? Or maybe the stump could taste a little but wouldn't it shrink and wither given time? He ground his teeth together hard. It was worse for the bandits.



The boy's thoughts shifted and changed like a mirage or summer lightning and he moved about patting the dirt with his bare soles putting away the quilts and he then threw dirt on the fire and the dirt hissed. He laughed. The laugh sounded burbling and animal to him, a dog's laugh, a mule's bray. He'd go to the stables and brush the horses and make sure they had feed and good water. He felt under his shirt for the pouch; still there. It hung against his silently beating heart.




Zu listened to the boy moving about the little filthy room of this Dragon Gate inn. She listened to dirt hissing in the fire and she heard the coins clinking a little as the boy fingered his leather pouch. She just let all the sounds arrive clear and whole in her ears.





Later that day Zu makes her way back to the wine-shop. Even while drinking she is keenly aware that she's dusty, her black hair is tangled, and she senses the men around her, their remote and heavy-lidded stares. She has been told that she is beautiful although she wouldn't know, she has never looked into a mirror, so she has no image of herself.









She's drunk.




She's on fire with alcohol.






When the Blue Eyed Devil walks into this filthy place, into the roar and darkness of this sordid wine shop where toothless idiots, pimps, and whores go to drink their brains out, she doesn't even stir. He sits down at her table. Looks at Blind Zu and the mute boy.






Zu knows this man. Has smelled him before. Yes. At the stone well near Beggar's Wall.




Knows his scent. His heartbeat. His walk. Knows he is not Chinese. Knows he is a swordsman. Though his training, what she can sense of it, feels all wild and distorted to her.




She smiles to her wine bowl.




Drunk, she slowly turns her blind eyes to the blinking Edward Savage. He’s just sat down at her table.






She "looks" at him with her ears. He perceives this subtle movement of Zu's ears and smile.



I saw you kill the bandits yesterday.




Zu raises her wine bowl. It's empty. The owner of the little wine shop rushes over with a sloshing jug, fills it again, scampers off.




Edward Savage asks, How is the boy?




Alive. Missing a tongue.




She drinks.



Will you allow me to buy you a drink? Edward Savage asks in the Mongolian dialect of this place.




She shrugs.




Edward Savage shouts into the roar: More wine for this lady! And a bowl for myself!




He is looking at Zu with his eyes narrowed. She reaches out and grasps her sword.




Only now does he understand how drunk she is.



A fly darts at the rim of her bowl. Zu snatches it out of the air. Then she opens her fist. It sparks off.









Drinking the harsh wine from a clay bowl she sinks into a kind of oblivion. She doesn’t talk to the man at her table. He drinks a few bowls, watches her, and gets up and leaves without a farewell.




Then just like that the sun sinks and it's night and the wine shop is crowded with stinking frantic drinkers and far too noisy. She picks up her sword, throws coins onto the rough wooden table sticky with wine and goes onto the street.



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