Dragon Sword

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


46. parched lips


They rush through the ill lit streets of Dragon Gate. They can hear the chaos behind them -- ducking through the little alleys, they move fast as shadows. Zu is still gasping for breath. Edward's heart feels it will explode.  

There. It's almost silent here. They're near the inn and Zu slumps down on a decrepit goat cart. She shakes her head a little. Edward crouches by her. In shadows.  

The night reeks of dung smoke, hashish, and alcohol. Also cooking smells -- knives clatter in a nearby kitchen.  He's hungry. Edward touches Zu, who barely flinches. She turns her lunar eyes to him. He wipes away the dark hair stuck to her brows with cold sweat.  

You saved my life again, girl. I am grateful.

It was nothing, she tells him. Nothing. 

She's smiling now, has gotten back her breath.  

You're right, he says. You're right that my life is worth nothing. Yet it's all I have. I live it because I don't want to die. Life is brief; we must play 'ere it passes. So thank you again, blind stranger.  

He gives her his arm. She rises. They walk together through the senseless, despairing,  perverse night clamor  of Dragon Gate,  back to the inn.  We'll part here, he says. I've got my own room to sleep in. She nods.   

She goes up the stairs. The boy is there. He's sitting against the wall. The wolf girl is there also, lying on a straw mat.    She smells them both strongly, her nostrils quivering. She senses the shape of their bodies in the dim, fetid little room lit only by a single guttering wick in an earthenware dish.    

The boy jumps up. He pours tea for Zu from the steaming kettle. She takes it in both hands, nods thanks. 

She sits  crosslegged,  leaning her sword-cane within close reach.    

The girl quivers in her sleep.  Moans. Her eyelids tremble. She draws her knees tighter  to the skinny chest. She's wearing some rags now.  

Eighty gold pieces  spent on this northern orphan. Paid to Zu -- for what?  For nothing. For merely her word that she'll play the morose, haunting bamboo flute  at Kut Habba's lavish banquet tomorrow night, for the black hearted General Khang.     

The camera stays on Zu's face. For a long time. Then it moves slowly, across the dirty floor, to the girl. She's moaning in her sleep, covered in a fine sweat. The light flickers on her. She licks her parched lips. 

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