Dragon Sword

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


15. wine shop



Then I started to write again about Zu, the blind swordswoman. In this book she's walking alone through a desert, she's wearing dust-stained clothing, and in a worn blue pouch she carries her flute and some barley cakes, and roped to her sash is a gourd sloshing with brackish water. She carries a blind woman's cane of tough bamboo that has been lacquered red and inside it is a sword. She walks into the town of Dragon Gate, it is a place teeming with beggars and thieves and assassins, it's the time of the Autumn Festival so there are fighters everywhere, hailing from every part of Han China and Mongolia and the Western deserts and beyond, gong fu masters seated on stools and benches in the wine shops, birds warbling in wicker cages, little children running in the dust with gray lizards or parrots perched on their shoulders.


So she walks into Dragon Gate, the teeming mud-colored city that borrows the name of Dragon Gate Pass and the waterfall on that stark and looming ash-colored volcanic mountain capped with snow and ice at the cratered summit from which a thin column of black smoke unfurls. Walks slowly swinging her bamboo cane lacquered the glowering red of dried blood, past the seemingly infinite Beggar's Wall, ignoring the stench, the clattering, the groans and the pleas, you have to ignore them or they'll swarm and suffocate you like swarming ants, that's obvious. They pull on your clothes, shake their withered limbs in your face, expose their raw and festering wounds and hold out their stunted children. Zu walks on through the dust and the heat toward the open marketplace, where the fruits and vegetables and meats are displayed under fluttering awnings, toward the wine-shops and the noodle stands, her stomach is gnawing on itself and she is so weary she trembles. This is no time for bleak feelings or for wonderment at the suffering in the world, the torrent of injustice engulfing everything. You can buy some incense and burn it in your squalid little room tonight  Listen to the incense with all your heart as if to a deep ringing silent gong. Forget.


She enters a little wine shop through the hanging blue curtains, she lays down her blue cloth bag, the sloshing gourd, she leans the bamboo cane against her table, she slumps on a stool at the stained wooden table resting her elbows on its edge, and when the old man comes over rapidly as a bird, wiping his grimed hands on a leather apron, she asks for a jug of wine. He nods and bustles away and she senses all around her the tired drinkers, their breaths thick with wine, for this is a place for the real alcoholics, for the ones who start drinking as the sun rises or have never stopped drinking since the day or two days before. She too is tempted to sit here in the dank coolness reeking of spilled wine and drink until she runs out of brass coins but she has to find a little room for herself, a bare dirt-floored room in some nasty little inn with squawking chickens just beyond the wall and a blood-curdlingly loud rooster to jolt her awake every morning with the soaring sun.

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