Dragon Sword

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


49. the bamboo flute


The bamboo flute seems to chill every human being in Kut Habba's Great Hall. She finishes. She lowers the flute. Silence. Silence. Then, strangely, in small ethereal gestures, Blind Zu dances. Her eyes are shut. It is as if she might weep. Some people watching do weep. There are sniffles. Shoulders vibrate. The torches sputter.

With her flute Blind Zu has told a story of grief, ghosts, anguish, revenge, plotting, and total disillusion. She has mapped the sordid regions of China. She has shown dragons falling from the sky and stars exploding and midwives wrapping up the bloody corpses of stillborn children.

All. Everything at once. Even lightness and joy appeared; to vanish just as quickly.

General Khang's dark brows draw together, as Zu dances.

He sees her. He sees the little girl. Sees the Buddhist pilgrim nun who tried to cut off his head on the mountain road. Sees the Sanskrit letter "A." His lips draw back from his teeth.

Khang remembers. He remembers raping the beautiful woman in red silks after carrying her off over his saddle. Zu is the very picture of this woman, pale and lithe but blind. Yes. Yes.

Zu's dance finishes. She stands very still. Then she turns and walks slowly -- strides, as if in a dream -- back to her cushion.

Silence so shattering it might be the silence before the birth of the universe.

Guttering torches. Then a few small sobs. Thieves are sentimental. Kut Habba wipes his eyes with a silk cloth. A clap. Scattered clapping. Then a roar of clapping. Zu bows her head. A tear runs from one of her sightless eyes. It runs down her nose and falls to the floor.

The Wolf Girl is sitting still with her eyes shut but all the hairs on her body are raised and she is trembling.

And now Zu seizes her bamboo stick, rips it open, and leaps -- soaring like a lightning bolt -- at the dais.

Straight at General Khang.

Shrieking KAI!

To cut the man in half before he can blink.

In the air, she shatters the samurai's thrown sake cup with the bamboo sheath of the sword she holds in the other hand.

As her feet touch down, only a few paces from General Khang, she strikes aside a blow from the Witch Warrior's short sword, sparks bursting from the contact of steel on steel. With the hollow length of bamboo in her left hand, she hits the Witch Warrior on the forehead. Crack!

As she thrusts at General Khang, he takes hold of her blade.

He hits her with the other fist.

Square in the chest.

Zu falls.

General Khang tosses away the Dragon Sword, clanking.

He looks at his hand. It's cut. Blood is falling from it.

The Mongolian leaps astride Zu and takes her head by the hair.

He bounces her head on the paving stones. Bang. Bang.

The Witch Warrior leaps up, groggy. Blood is pouring down her face.

The Samurai has whipped out his katana and he holds it two handed, at ready.

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