Dragon Sword

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


25. the last dragon cult member


When the Dragon Cult hermit began teaching Zu the sword he tied a rope to Zu's waist and threw a loop of rope he'd made of the other end up to a high pine branch and knotted it fast, and he told Zu to spin as fast as she could, to the right then to the left then back again without stopping, and he gave her a stick to hold and as she spun he struck her on the back, shoulders, and chest ringing blows with his own stick, and he told her she had to learn to parry his strikes and even learn to hit him back despite her blind eyes. Hit me as hard as you can, as fast as you can while spinning, he said, open your ears and keep them open wide because you've got to learn to see with them. Listen to these twigs cracking under my feet, to the roar and woosh of my breathing, to my heartbeat. Listen to me blink my eyes. In the end you'll learn to feel the heat of my body when I'm two arm lengths away, and to smell me wherever I am. You'll learn. You'll learn if you work hard and never stop trying. One day you'll hit me so hard with that stick of yours I'll fall down dead.




At first little blind Zu couldn't even keep on her feet while spinning so fast, she got dizzy and her feet slid out from under her, and then she'd find herself dangling by the rope, swinging gently back and forth a few inches from the leafy floor of the forest, the knot creaking and scraping the pine branch, weeping with exhaustion and pain as the rope squeezed her middle and made it hard to breathe. It's to keep you from breaking your nose or knocking yourself cold, the hermit said. Suck it up. I had to train twice this hard when I was your age.




And once she learned to keep on her feet while spinning to the left then right then back again without pausing for an instant the old hermit started hitting her harder than before, so hard sometimes she cried out and gasped at the pain. This too, he said, was normal. My teacher did it to me, I do it to you -- would you like to learn how to kill people with a sword, or not?




Then he was old and quite frail, all the ribs showing when he bathed, and he shuddered all the time when the soft heavy snows fell. And one day this wretched sooty impoverished old hermit presented Zu with the Dragon Sword of ancient forging and told her that she should use it to avenge her mother and father and also to kill anyone else she'd like to kill -- why not? He said he'd cut and carve a piece of bamboo to create a resting place for the blade and also a clever way to disguise who she was, to hide her quite unbelievable skills. He'd set the blade in a handle cut from the same length of hollow bamboo so it all fit perfectly together to all appearances an ordinary blind woman's cane.




He also gave Zu a tattered book, saying it contained the secrets of the Dragon Cult's martial arts, not that she'd be able to read it of course but maybe someday she could bequeath it to some noble and deserving swordsman or swordswoman if she happened upon such a one in her quest for revenge. Maybe.






He did as he'd said, he painstakingly made her the cane-sheath for her sword that she has carried ever since. Then, slowly and fitfully, coughing his congested lungs out, he died. One morning it was a corpse lying there under bearskins by the ashes of last night's fire. Zu shut the hermit's eyes and bundled him up in skins. She dragged his body from the cave and buried it in the deep forest under the moaning wind amid the pines where he'd taught a little girl how to kill. She took the bamboo flute from his cave and the Dragon Sword and the tattered Dragon Cult manual and a few other small things to remember him by, then she walked out of the forest back into China. 


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