Dragon Sword

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


8. hunter and boy


Was it that day or was it the next that Zu heard horses on the road not just horses but a mule and she smelled the sour reek of bearskins and when the shambling train overtook her she moved aside to let it pass slow-plodding and fly-stung and weary in the fading sunlight she holding the bamboo sword-cane to her skinny chest and then a man's rough voice hailed her above the clopping iron-shod hooves and the jangle of fittings and the rattle of steel bear- traps he cried out Ho blind woman will you camp with us tonight we have food to share and she smiled because she sensed the boy riding the mule behind how his eyes were fixed on her and his body gone rigid with surprise and expectant delight to find another human walking in this desert perhaps she'd smelled him too he had that fresh clean smell children exude even when they're dirty so she said Yes and her voice sounded to her like the pure trill of a bird though it too had the same tastes of dust heat and weariness vibrating in it. So they made camp on a ridge just as dusk fell and she feeling the pale moonlight on her she sat against a rock with her head turned to this streaming light and the boy crouched down on his heels at her bare feet and said are you blind really and she said yes and he said how long and she said since I was about your age. Five. How can you tell how old I am? I've got senses other than sight. Don't trouble that blind woman the man cried she's tired and hungry just get over here and help start the fire I need some of those twigs so blind Zu listened to the man and boy starting a fire she heard them snapping twigs and then the man scraping a flint on a piece of steel and she heard the sparks leap into the tinder and the boy puffing breaths to start the flames dancing and then the thin crackle and she smelled the plumes of sweet grass and pine smoke that went up toward the stars while far away wolves began crying and then a small owl started up its repetitive hoots in the tangle of trees just over this ridge for they had climbed up out of the bowl of the desert and were now in broken but wooded country. She heard the man stirring in an iron pot and soon she smelled the stew rich with meat and the boy walking carefully over the stones brought her some in a banana leaf. She took it with a polite bow and placed it on the ground beside her and solemnly opened up her bag and took out the thin folded barley cakes and handed two to the boy who shouted with his delight and dashed holding one in each hand back to his laughing father. Don't talk now he said mock-harshly to the boy's chatter just eat you need your strength for the road and so they all ate their stew and barley cakes in utter silence and the boy finally said look at the stars they're faraway aren't they? Not at all, the father said, since they're made of light you could say they're right down here in your eyes. Zu laughing.

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