Dragon Sword

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

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19. three bandits

 

 

Zu steps back, draws the sword smoothly out of her cane, and slices the rope. You would not see this movement if you blinked. The rope drops away. She steps between the boy and the three men.

 

The slave trader drops the rope, retreats three quick steps and bumps into a wall. He even drops his cloth bag of coins, the gold clinking.

 

But the bandits, howling together in their rage, draw out swords.

 

Zu hears the swords slide out of their leather sheaths, and the sound they make tells her that these are short, single edged curved steel blades no longer than the span between her elbow and wrist. These are the short swords used by the northern tribes, the Mongols.

 

The bandits' scuffling steps on the dirt as they rush at Zu tell her how heavy, how wide, and how tall each bandit is, instantly, just as the rustle of clothing on their skins and the creak of leather tells her if they are wearing armor (they are not). She does not need to think, nor to form any idea of these things; she knows.

 

Zu strikes the nearest bandit, the man in the center, with the iron shod tip of her bamboo cane. Hits him on the forehead with a solid thud, like splitting a coconut with one blow. His frayed straw hat splits open. He drops to his knees, drooling blood and saliva, his face a mask of gore, and then falls sideways.

 

As the two others fly at her, Zu spins, and her sword cuts through flesh and bone as if through paper. They too stagger, gurgling, and fall to the dirt. Dead.

 

She has cut through the two bandits' torsos in one dazzling flash of steel, severing their spinal cords and some vital arteries, thereby causing them to faint from shock; the blood spurts wildly into the air, columns of spraying blood twice the height of a man, for just a few seconds. A few shorter, uneven spurts as the hearts stop pumping, and it's done; the blood begins to soak into the dirt. It attracts flies.

 

A sickening ancient odor.

 

 

People draw away from Zu and the boy in a stricken, awed silence. The slave trader is whimpering, and by the smell Zu knows he has messed himself. The bandits under the awning draw out swords, nailed clubs, and hatchets.

 

Zu flicks blood from her sword blade and resheathes it in a slow, majestic movement. She then reaches out with her right hand and takes one of the boy's hands. Clasps it.

 

 

Shush. You're safe.

 

 

He stops groaning.

 

 

Take me to the horses.

 

 

He grasps Zu's elbow in both his hands, tight, and leads her straight toward the shying horses and the scared, bleating mule.

 

They can smell the blood, Zu says. Help me calm them please.

 

 

The boy leads her up to the horses and lets go her arm and she touches and pats them, one after the other, trying to calm their wild nerves. The boy goes back and forth between the horses and the mule, also reassuring them with his gentle, deliberate touch and his familiar smell.

 

 

He doesn't try to talk. He has always spoken to these animals fondly, sung to them in whispers, but no more.

 

 

Zu stands back now. Tilts her head. She is listening.

 

 

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