Dragon Sword

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


42. the wolf girl



She's walking in the Dragon Gate marketplace. Soup of bone marrow simmering, smoky haze lifting over the stalls, ducks quacking as the butcher sharpens his knife in long scraping strokes. Morning. It's two days before the autumn festival, the martial arts fights in the great ring of sand. Zu is walking seemingly without a goal, the iron-capped point of her cane gliding just in front of her shadow, when she smells the stench of wolf. She inhales, her nostrils thrilling wide. It's a big Northern wolf.



She stops in the buzzing, shattered, Mandarin-loud sunlight with her head cocked, listening and breathing in that feral damp scent, the scent of the Northern forests, the empty wastes of the far north where ice reigns supreme and the rising moon is greeted by an expansive nightly chorus of bawls, yips, brays and howls.




            She hears the wheels of a cart jolting and rumbling through the market, and something rattling inside the cart -- iron chains and shackles -- and that smell intensifies, yet it has to be a great wolf, a she-wolf, caged no doubt, lying stunned and hurt with festering wounds on a bed of soiled straw.




The cart is drawn by circus type strongmen, Mongolians attired in scraps of fur and crudely cut and sewn animal skins, all wearing greasy leather caps. They're dragging it along in the dust, and their leader strides ahead, striking the dusty floor of the marketplace with his staff. He's obese, puffing for breath, and he also wears a motley of wolf, beaver and deerskins, and the wolf's head connected to his cloak flops on his big mishapen head, the yellow-toothed jaws clicking. He's urging them onward, toward the broken Doric columns where human slaves are bartered and sold.




Selling a wolf? Zu is interested in this. Why would they transport a wolf from the Northern Wastes, a great she-wolf, to Dragon Gate to try to sell for gold? Who would want such an animal for a slave?








She follows the tracks of the creaking wagon through the dusty haze to the Slave Market, where it stops, the strongmen dropping the tongue of the cart so emphatically that it bounces on the packed earth, and the cage jumps and rattles, and Zu hears a girl's sharp abused whimper -- it's a dirty naked flat chested skinny girl in the cage, wearing an iron collar and chains, sprawled on a bed of feces and urine-soiled straw. Her black hair is cut short and sticks out in all directions and she is covered in dust and straw and the many small wounds on her arms and legs -- inflicted cruelly with a length of green cane -- are bloody and festering.




Then the leader begins shouting-chanting in high nasal dialect: Wolf-girl from the Northern forests, gather around brothers and take a look,  this is a little girl who turns into a wolf when the moon rises, she growls, she bites, she kills, who wants to buy this wonder of the world from the magical and fearsome north where witches and sorcerers brew spells from the Unseen and the gates of Hell yawn wide on the snowy wastes? When the moon appears you've got to keep her in chains to be safe or you will surely be sorry when she chews your bones for the marrow and spits out your teeth.




He bobs and hops a little comical jig as he chants, the wolf jaws clicking. He's working himself up into a fool's frenzy. He must have rehearsed his speech. It flows as if practiced in a hundred villages. He's streaming sweat. He smells foul, of antelope grease and putrid wild garlic. The Arab slavers are beginning to gather around to peer at the girl in the cage.




Zu's nostrils widen and relax as she breathes the feral scent. The nude girl in the cage is pre-pubescent; there's no sexual trace in the odor, no hint of the lunar bleeding. Yet she has the reeking wild wolf-smell. Zu hears an Arab make an clipped offer: ten gold pieces. The Mongolian girl-slaver sounds hurt. Offended. In the tone of the bitterly maligned and unjustly despised he cries out:




Ten gold pieces? Even just the girl alone, with no changing, is worth more than that. But when she turns into a wolf, she's worth ten times your offer, my friend. Take her on tour, charge dumb peasants admission to see the little changeling turn into a slavering, bristling hell- beast.




There is some heads-together babbling and muttering and another Arab voice pipes up. Twenty five gold pieces for her.


The Mongolian slaver dances his jig, chanting, No, no, no, no. That's not right. Don't try to rob me, don't try to kid a kidder, this girl is for real, this girl will make you a cartload of money, why I'd show her  to the world myself, I'd take her on a tour of the Han regions and make a pile of jewels, but I don't own a circus. Buy her from me, sell her to a circus, keep her as your pet, exhibit her before the Emperor, whore her to a Sultan! At least one hundred gold pieces, my sweet brothers. Anybody game? Are you man enough? You aren't afraid of a feral little magic wolf girl are you?




How do I know she is really what you say, a changeling? a reedy voice asks.




The Mongolian says, Look in her eyes, that's one mark, her eyes are blue as the sky, take a look, and look at the hair on her legs and arms, it's fine and black though she's not sexed yet, that's another mark of a wolf-changeling, and lastly see if you can talk to her, she's mute like a wolf, all she does is howl, she can't hear your words, she just hears the wind and the rain and the dust storms, she can hear drum-beats, they make her whimper, and she knows when she's about to be whipped, otherwise she's as stupid as any dumb Northern wolf. Break her, train her, she'll do what you want. You've got to whip a beast to make it obey a man's words. Am I right?




Zu now lifts her head and cries out in a hoarse, almost croaking, yet shockingly loud voice: Eighty pieces. Han imperial gold.



All heads turn toward Zu, whose eye-whites gleam at them under the half-shut lids. The Mongolian slaver leers. The dark Arabs look bemused. This is a blind beggar woman. With eighty gold pieces to her name? Hardly. What does a dust soaked blind Chinese bitch like this want a wolf-girl for? Then one Arab whispers to another and a kind of astonished ripple goes through the assembled men, and it gets lightning- whispered from ear to ear: This is the swordswoman who killed the bandits yesterday, that's her sword in the cane, it's a frightening quick deadly sword and she can split your lip with it, flick off your nose or both your ears, before you've even drawn a breath. Is she going to liberate the girl? Kill the strongmen? Halve the master of ceremonies? No. Zu licks her cracked lips and says,




Eighty gold pieces. Tonight.




Someone whispers into the Mongolian's misshapen right ear. He takes a step back, his eyes rolling a little, wild. Then he says, So far, eyeless beggar beauty, yours is the best offer I've heard. So yes. Assuming nobody offers more, I'll keep the little slut for you. Bring me the eighty gold pieces at your leisure, tonight, and you will have a girl-wolf, yours alone to pet and play with, or sell, or even torture and kill -- whichever most amuses you.



Zu turns, walks off tapping the dusty ground crisscrossed with footprints and cart ruts. So that's the Wolf Girl Scene.




The camera shows us the wolf girl in her chains, lying still with her cheek on the dirty straw, blue eyes not blinking. Then she shuts her eyes. 

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