Dragon Sword

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


38. scene by the well




Zu settles down on that bench under the stunted willow, right next to the stone-rimmed well. That was where Edward was seated the day before yesterday, when she walked into Dragon Gate. She "looks" with her ears. Holding the sword cane lightly on her knees.




It's hot. Dust blows down the street. Zu wraps her mouth and nose with a scarf and she sits still, her nostrils moving the light fabric of the scarf as they flare and relax, flare and relax.




Then she hears hoofbeats.




Four tired horses are coming down the curving street from the mountains, clip clopping slowly, past the Beggar's Wall.


Zu lowers her head a little to hide her face with the brim of the straw peasant's hat as the horses clop past.




Then -- at a murmured word, the horses stop. A rider dismounts smoothly and goes with bowlegged steps to the wall and pulls up a bucket of water and drenches himself with it.






He's a big Mongol, soaked in dust, wearing two pistols in his belt and an ammunition belt over his tunic. He drenches his head with the water and then he takes a long thirsty drink.




His face is scarred, an old sword wound maybe.




The other rides are waiting. The horses barely stir, they shuffle a little bit maybe, flick their tails. Flies zoom and buzz in the hot air. The Mongol fills the bucket again and lifts it from the iron hook and carries it over to the waiting horsemen without a single world.




He hands it up to the first horseman, who takes it -- also without a word -- and drinks deeply.






That's the General, Gyo Meng Khang.




He's sun-black, bearded, fearsome-looking, dressed in a strange desert finery, ribbons and beads, a silk and brocade vest, worn-down deer-leather trousers.




Wild, almost deranged, his eyes at once cunning and drunken.




He sits his horse with calm and confident indifference. You could never imagine him getting thrown. The horse obeys his lightest urging, the glancing touch of a knee.






He drinks and hands the bucket to a Japanese man, a warrior with his black hair pulled back into a ponytail who is wearing white. This is a samurai from Japan. He is wearing his katana -- the samurai's soul -- slung over his shoulders. It's in a black lacquered sheath that's very beautiful, with a red silk cord wound about it.




The Japanese bows slightly, drinks and then hands the bucket to the woman rider.




She, covered with road dust, wearing eagle feathers in her hair and a necklace of bones, light and graceful, thin as a hawk, is terrifying.




We had better not even look at her.




Nor at the strange short sword attached to her saddle, its grip made out of carved black hardwood -- hell-scenes.  She drinks, she splashes dust from her mouth and nose, then she tosses the bucket onto the dry earth, clank.




She looks evilly at the dark-clad figure on the bench by the wall, resting in the heat and spidery shadow of the stunted willow tree.




She looks, her eyes wild and demented, then she turns her horse and turns it again in a circle and looks again, but Zu does not move, there is no tremor in her.






The Japanese is looking, too. Calmly. He's looking down at Zu. At her fingers on the bamboo sword-cane. Silence.




The General spares Zu only a glance. It's no one. Just a blind woman, clearly.




The Mongol rises into his saddle and taps his horse with the heel of his boot and the General urges his mount forward with the lightest brush of a knee and in unison the group jog off down the dust-blowing street into Dragon Gate.




That's the Scene by the Well





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