The Moonlit Corridor

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 13 (v.1) - The city

Submitted: August 23, 2019

Reads: 17

Comments: 1

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Submitted: August 23, 2019

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Traveling to the city was slow by Kwai’s wagon, but the samurai had no complaints. On the way he asked the shaman about his daughter.

“She is an accomplished swordswoman,” he declared. “After her apprenticeship she became an assistant to her Master; a well-known and highly respected Sifu (Teacher), who is now close to seventy. She required the assistance of someone younger. My daughter loves her Master, and enjoys helping the young girls develop their skills.”

“Do you see her often?”

“Not often enough. Our responsibilities keep us busy.”  He paused, then as if recalling something from the past, said… “At her age now she is the image of her mother when I first met her…”

Kwai went silent without completing the sentence. Momentarily Sung Ji saw tears forming in his eyes. Out of respect the samurai remained silent as well.

By midday they reached the city and as they approached the samurai marveled at the height of the twin walls that surrounded it. The first was over two hundred feet and the second rose fifty feet above that. Kwai explained that both walls were maintained by skilled workers who consistently replaced stone or mortar when necessary. Even today, there were masonry artisans toiling on a major section of the main wall, just below one of the lofty towers. As the wagon passed through the massive main gateway and entered the area beyond the outer wall the Korean was intrigued by the design of the twin-fortifications. Just past the first wall was a wide area of perhaps six or seven hundred yards, lined with barracks for the several hundred guardsmen that manned the front gates, portals and turrets. There were also many small shops and food stalls, which served the needs of the guards and their families. The space between the walls was as busy as the inner city, where denizens and visitors flocked, many occupied with daily activities while others and groups of children scurried about, helping parents and grandparents with work or busy at play.

The second wall served as a double protective barrier for the inner city. If enemies managed to get past the outer wall, they would most likely never penetrate the second, which was higher and denser. Kwai pointed out the soldiers atop the second barrier… “They march twenty abreast,” he said, “in groups of two hundred.”

Sung Ji, impressed by their heavy steps and the metallic clanking of their armor, imagined that enemies would find it unnerving and intimidating.

Passing under the second wall was like going through a lengthy tunnel. Even in daylight, burning torch lamps, strategically placed and mounted along the corridor walls, were necessary so those who entered could see their way clearly through the dark passage.

The blacksmith’s stable was located just beyond the second wall, in an area of the city where livestock was kept. The blacksmith, Lau Chi Ming, was pleased to have his horse returned.  Yesterday he had tethered the animal to a hitching post outside of the building in which he plied his trade, and knew he had secured the reins securely. He was certain the horse didn’t just free itself and wander off, but assumed it had been stolen.

Kwai introduced the samurai and explained why he had come. Lau offered to loan Sung Ji the horse then, for the duration of his stay. The blacksmith, like many others in the city, was well acquainted with the rumors of the haunted bridge. He too feared devils and phantoms… “I have no reason to use the bridge,” he said, “since my work keeps me here each day. All of my family live either in the city or close by.” He told Sung Ji what he knew of those who fell victim to the curse… “They were all thorns in the side of honest society. The world is safer and more peaceful with them gone.”

The Korean expressed his gratitude for the loan of the horse and for the information. Before leaving he asked Lau, concerning the horse; “What language does he respond to?”

Lau Ming stifled a chuckle as his eyes made contact with those of Kwai… “Unlike old Kwai’s nag, my horse will respond well to your prompting. Spoken commands are not necessary. He’s well trained, and needs only to see the shadow of the whip.”

Meanwhile Miyamoto, having regained consciousness following his altercation with the pugilistic pixie Moon, stood motionless as he rubbed his aching head while struggling to clear his vision. Afterward he stumbled out of the deserted alley and stepped onto the crowded street, slowly making his way to that section of the city where livestock was kept. On his way he passed through one of the busy market sections where, through the crowd just a few hundred yards ahead he saw something that instantly shocked him into temporary paralysis. It was Ahn Sung Ji, the Left Hand of God. As quickly as the thought registered itself in his lethargic brain he darted into a small leather shop to avoid being seen. Gripped by fear, frenzied thoughts ran amok through his weary mind… “Is the price on my head so great this madman follows me here?” he wondered aloud. “If he has come all this way surely he’ll never give up.”

So intent was he observing Sung Ji, he failed to notice those around him, especially those within hearing distance. Once he began talking to himself people backed away, keeping a safe distance while gazing at him in morbid fascination.

Before leaving the store he decided to secretly follow the Korean, carefully observing as he and Kwai moved from one shop or stall to another. All the while the outlaw was trying to decide whether to vacate the vicinity immediately, or continue to stalk the samurai until he had the opportunity to put a blade in his back. As he struggled to gather the broken threads of his thoughts, it was the latter scheme that appealed most to Miyamoto. As far as he was concerned that was the best option; to eliminate the threat once and for all. “That Korean is as relentless as a hungry tiger whose mind is locked on its prey,” mumbled the outlaw.

Miyamoto was just as relentless in his evil designs as Sung Ji was in his pursuit of justice. Which is why he continued to follow the preoccupied pair until they entered the tunnel to exit the city. He was especially mortified when just prior to doing that they visited the blacksmith, who handed over to the samurai the very horse he had stolen just yesterday.

As they entered the tunnel Sung Ji slightly turned his head, as if to look back. When he did so Kwai spoke: “You sense it too…”

Sung Ji looked at his friend… “I feel as if we’re being stalked.”

“I believe we were,” said Kwai. “Your senses are keen.”

“It helps one survive,” he replied. “But you gave no indication you suspected anything.”

“Of course,” Kwai said as a matter of fact. “The hunter employs stealth, and so should the hunted, in order to make the predator the prey.  To be hunted but unafraid, then when facing an enemy eye-to-eye, remain free of emotion, agitation or fear. Thus one’s inner self is invisible, and the enemy perplexed. It is like bamboo shadows that move over stone steps, yet no dust is stirred. Like the moon reflected deep in the pool, yet the water shows no sign of penetration.”

“Wah,” said the samurai. “You speak like a Martial Art Master.”

Kwai smiled, nodding his head as they neared the end of the tunnel.

 

Miyamoto meanwhile, returned to the various shops and stalls visited earlier Kwai and the samurai. Eventually he found an elderly shopkeeper who knew the shaman and where to find him; “He is a fortune-teller and physician. If you fail to find him at his home, you may find him at the Temple of the Moon. He is caretaker there until the monks return.”

By the time the outlaw had the information he sought the day was almost spent. Still he had no horse. Soon twilight came, followed by darkness and the closing of the city gates. If he attempted to leave now he would only bring unwarranted attention to himself. He had no choice really, but to spend another night within the walls of the city. ‘It’s just as well’, he told himself, if he wanted to remain as inconspicuous as possible. He didn’t know if any of his mischief and misdeeds had been reported to local law enforcement. In his chosen field, anonymity was paramount.

Without money, save for the single coin Moon’s grandfather had placed in his palm, once he found an eatery inside an inn and after eating his fill he managed to leave without paying while the owner was busy with other customers. After putting a respectable distance between himself and the inn he returned to the darkened alleyways in search of a safe place to retire for the night.

 


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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