Dragon Sword

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


36. empty moments




Edward falls asleep again in the late morning. He's snoring. His chest rises and falls. His naked arm is outside the blanket. His fingers rest on the grip of the sheathed Toledo sword.




Zu "looks" with her ears at Edward for a long time, smiling subtly, then she gets up in a quick movement and throws her tea leaves onto the coals. They hiss.




She sets down the clay bowl, picks up her sword cane and goes out, through the curtained doorway. She glides down the dark hallway without a sound.




She's on the street. Dust, smoke, the smells of charring meat and soup.




Hubbub. Raw noise.




Converging from verywhere, that flooding Chinese sing-song.






At a corner, seated on a frayed straw mat, an old man is sawing away at his two-stringed instrument.




Zu passes him in quick steps, hearing the music and then not.






The boy wakes up, rubbing his face. Wipes the running nose on his sleeve.




Bends over the fire and spits into it. The saliva bubbles on warm coals.




He studies the saliva for blood-pink.








His tongue stump has stopped bleeding. He can't taste anything.




He glances at Edward, the Blue Eyed Devil.




Edward turns on his side and the snoring jolts to a stop.




Sunlight glares hot on the wall. It's almost noon.








The boy goes. He walks out into the alley, into drifting smoke.




He makes his way in deft supple strides through the crowds, jumping over the legless sore-pocked beggars rattling brass coins in their bowls and holding up those naked stunted and wailing babies smeared with a gruesome mixture of blood dirt and ash.




He crosses the marketplace at an angle hearing the two-stringed instrument wail and screech, that plaintive seesawing music from the guts of China falling quickly away into crowd-babble and hawkers' shouts, and then he ducks under a peeling stone archway and cuts through an alley between the crazily leaning tinderwood and bamboo shacks and finally he enters the straw-and-manure smelling temple-like calm and cool darkness of the Dragon Gate stables.




The daytime watchman -- another mute, it seems -- nods at the boy from his seat just inside. Not much more than a boy himself, he's slowly and serenely carving something, slipping his knife against it, peels of raw white wood dropping to the dirt floor between his bare feet.




We see. It's a Bodhisattva image. Kwan Yin, maybe. Hands forming a mudra. Radiant calm face surrounded by light-rays.


His horses snort. The mule bleats and kicks a clump of dry manure against the wall.




The boy goes to them, murmuring endearments.




So the novel could be nothing but these quiet moments. Empty moments.



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