Chapter 6: Left hand of God

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

Reads: 52
Comments: 1


In the village of Tsukimi, inside the Jade Teahouse the atmosphere was airy and light, with nary a whisper as anxious patrons hung onto virtually every word of the bearded storyteller. Having recently returned from China he had an aura of worldliness about him the work-a-day locals held in high regard. The daily lives of the inhabitants of Tsukimi revolved around their responsibilities, work and family duties, which kept them from ocean voyages and grand adventures. So every time Jubai the Dreamer returned to their tiny Japanese village, the Teahouse filled to capacity, the customers eager for new tales of high adventure. Jubai enjoyed his celebrity status as he downed one gratis cup after another. The cups were filled with the best hot sake the Jade Teahouse provided, so Jubai’s stories became more intriguing as the sake did its job and the night wore on. Presently, he was entertaining his listeners with what he called a ‘samurai ghost story’.

“In the great Capital,” he proclaimed, “it seemed as if everyone knew the name Ahn Sung Ji…”

“The Left Hand of God’?” cried out a man from the crowd. “He was in this village just two years gone…or was it three?”

The interruption signaled total silence for a brief moment. Then a woman shouted; “Let him tell his story!”

Jubai cleared his throat, with just a subtle hint of indignation, slowly sipped his sake as the assembly impatiently waited, then continued… “You know him as a Korean national and former samurai in the service of the emperor. He eventually became a wandering mercenary who, in his own words, serves the cause of justice. He is a left-handed swordsman and a brooding, fierce warrior famous for his exploits in battle and skill with the katana. Many outlaw swordsmen faced him in contention, only to meet defeat or death. His confidence at times borders on conceit, yet he holds tightly to the bushido (warrior way) code of ethics that personifies the samurai of this, his adopted island nation. Always seeking new challenges and adventures, he was intrigued by a story told by nomads and travelers returning from China. They spoke of the plight of a wealthy landowner, Chiang Vu Tien, in a southern province who had spent a fortune on the construction of a toll bridge across the widest river in the region.

The immense, imposing stone and wooden structure was the only means across the wide impassible river and connected the ancient road from his village to the main thoroughfare to the city of the governor. During daylight hours many travelers and merchants used the bridge, but at nightfall all traffic stopped. No one dared cross the foreboding structure after dark, as it was rumored the malicious, unhappy spirit of a young maiden at times appeared on the bridge, playing a haunting, melancholy tune upon her spectral flute. There were those who dared cross the bridge in darkness and lived to tell of it, but there were also those who had done so and either heard the lonesome dirge or saw the ghostly, gossamer figure. All who heard her forlorn melody were filled with dread and apprehension, while those who saw her spectral form died within three days.”

Jubai paused, looking sadly into his empty cup. The sudden stillness was interrupted as the landlord quickly poured a fresh cup, and a long-haired, almond eyed waitress hurried to place the drink on the table within the storyteller’s reach. So focused on the drink, Jubai failed to notice the frightened expressions masking the faces of several patrons, nor was he aware of the murmuring that followed his mention of the specter’s flute.

“A flute…?” voiced a waitress.

The landlord glared at her: his youngest daughter, Asuka, which prompted her to hurry over to retrieve empty cups from a table. The little drama escaped Jubai as he took another drink. After sipping the hot sake and savoring its effects for a moment he continued his tale.

 “Chiang Tien feared Heaven, ‘yu-lai’ (ghost) and spirits, but he loved money more than he feared these things. If travelers were afraid to cross the bridge at night his toll profits would dwindle. Not wishing to tempt Fate, he never visited the bridge after dark, nor personally investigated the rumors that had spread throughout the region. Over time the sightings increased, the tales becoming more sinister as they were passed from one person to another, which is the nature of rumors. Travelers even carried tales of the haunting back to their homelands. The ghostly events prompted Chiang to offer a reward to anyone who could end the curse. Every Taoist priest, monk, mystic or ghost chaser who tried failed, some meeting the same fate as others who had seen the transparent image of the young girl floating above the polished planks of the infamous bridge.

When the story of Chiang’s plight reached Ahn Sung Ji, he sent a message to the landowner offering his services. Immediately Chiang Tien invited him to his homeland and castle. Unknowingly guided by Fate the warrior accepted the invitation, secured passage on a sea faring vessel and began a predestined journey that would lead him to a place he could never imagine…to a confrontation with the dead.”

Jubai paused once again to eye his empty cup. Many of his captivated listeners did likewise, much to the displeasure of the landlord. Hanging on to

every word spoken, some of the patrons were neglecting their drinks. Anxious for profit the landlord, Toshiro, prompted the almond-eyed girl to bring Jubai more sake, then called out… “Mariko Chan, help your sister Asuka serve the tables.”

“Hai,” declared an elderly man. “Bring a fresh container here!” 

Moving his empty cup aside, Jubai immediately grasped the new one Asuka chan placed before him, took a long drink, sighed heavily and then continued his story.

“The voyage began beneath a blue sky that soon became overcast and dark. The blue sea became gray, reflecting the changing sky, while dense, black clouds billowed and swirled. The winds increased, blowing with fierce intensity over massive waves that rose and descended, speedily driving the small ship toward an uncertain destiny. Eventually, having successfully weathered the storm, it reached the China coast intact and from the tiny seaport the samurai traveled five days by wagon to the nearest village, then proceeded on foot.  Patiently walking on the main road he soon reached the fabled bridge, where he explained to the toll-master why he had come. “There will be no charge for you to cross,” said the man. “Once you reach the other side follow the road to the village. When there, anyone can direct you to the city and the castle of Chiang Tien.”

“What is this bridge like?” queried a man in the crowd.

“The bridge is long…serpentine,” replied Jubai after a frustrated pause, “more than a half mile in length, and is wide enough for two wagons going in opposite directions to pass each other and still there would be room on either side for those walking or on horseback. It was fashioned similar to our bridges, but different in design, since there are very few Japanese artisans on the continent. The Chinese engineers constructed this bridge partially with Japanese wood, and with Chinese mortar and stone. It is a great accomplishment, built in the way of Chinese bridges to withstand the river’s currents, the elements and ravages of time.”

Jubai took another long drink, causing his body to shake involuntarily. After gathering his composure he continued... “No one can know the sensation of having finally reached that bridge, or what Ahn Sung Ji’s thoughts were as he stood before it.”

“There is one who knows!” said a voice abruptly. Startled, Jubai turned his attention toward a dark corner. All eyes were suddenly averted to the man seated there in the shadows. Jubai was mortified. The stranger’s voice was confident and commanding, like that of someone in authority.

The storyteller stammered as he inquired…”May I ask, sir,” Jubai stammered. “Who are you?”

“One who knows what Ahn Sung Ji’s thoughts were as he stood before that bridge,” he answered curtly. “I can tell you that it was springtime, and although the weather was mild beneath a sun lit sky an air of tragedy permeated the atmosphere of that place. He sensed an ominous presence and an icy chill ran up his spine as he stepped onto the massive wooden structure. Briefly surprised by the involuntary spasm that shook his tensed shoulders, he paused, as if frozen in mid stride. His heart raced and beads of perspiration formed on his furrowed brow as sense of dread abruptly shifted to one of danger. He imagined his soul had been gripped a dark force of extreme fierceness and violent rage, threatening to pull him into a malignant maelstrom. It was as if the bridge knew he was a man of blood.

The toll-man, puzzled by his behavior, asked… “Why do you hesitate?”

The question was followed by silence. A mournful wind rose abruptly, blowing briskly with purpose amidst the sullen, icy quiet. The wind and the toll-man’s voice, still resonating in his mind, pierced the gloom, bringing the samurai back to the moment… “The air seems colder on this bridge,” he said, “as if death itself resides here.”

”You’re not the first one to say that,” mused the toll man. “Most likely you won’t be the last…”

Without turning to look at the man, Sung Ji asked: “About the curse, is there any truth to the rumors?”

“Perhaps… perhaps not. I’ve heard it said that a forest died so this bridge could live. There is something unearthly about the bridge, nothing that can be seen, but rather felt. As for the un-dead…my predecessor claimed to have seen the girl; the face of an angel, he said, her petite body delicate and transparent, floating amid a swirling mist. I’m not certain if he heard the haunting melody of her flute. It is said that all who have seen her died within three days.  He died within that time. Fell from a balcony I was told, his face twisted in terror. But then, he was a drunk and was drunk when he died. He was beating his wife after she caught him with another woman. It was she who told authorities he cried out in fright, something about a devil woman in blue, just before he backed over the railing. She claimed she saw no woman there. There are more tales like that, of the specter in blue and this cursed bridge. They are just stories I’ve heard. I’ve stayed here after sunset only once, but didn’t linger. The night is different here; darker…malevolent… I’ve seen and heard nothing, but I’ve felt the cold and sensed tragedy in the air. At times I’ve detected the smell of jasmine, even though there is no jasmine anywhere near this place.”

Sung Ji scowled, muttered a curse, pouted and then proceeded on his way. With each step his apprehension grew. He felt as though he was precariously approaching an appointment with Destiny, just as you’ve said, Jubai the Dreamer.”

Jubai flinched at the mention of his name, then took a long drink as the stranger continued the tale… “Sung Ji paused once more on the bridge as the scent of jasmine suddenly filled the air, and for just a moment he thought he heard the lilting melody of a flute carried on the late afternoon breeze. The jasmine stirred something secured deep within memory…something familiar, yet he could not quite determine what. Straining his ears, he heard only the wind and the distant, forlorn cry of a lone seagull. “That tune a moment ago,” he said to the man at his back, “I’ve heard it before… long ago.”

Following a pause, the toll man said… ”I hear only the wind.”

Sung Ji turned to face him… “Only the wind…?”

The man nodded his head. “Perhaps the flute is not for me to hear. I’ve heard stories of those who were accompanied by others when crossing this bridge, some may swear they hear the specter’s song, while their companions hear only the wind.”

“Ara-so (I understand),” he replied. “Kam-saham-ni da (Thank you), for your help.”

Shaking off the feeling of impending doom he quietly proceeded, angry with himself for the hesitation and confusion that stifled his resolve. He was, after all, a warrior who had bravely faced overwhelming odds many times. But this was different…this was the Unknown. Yet in spite of the warning signals he had his duty and could not afford to waste time over concern for feelings and fables. Refusing to give it any further consideration, he crossed the bridge in the failing light.

He soon found his way to Chiang Vu Tien: a man who wondered why a samurai who didn’t believe in spirits would accept the task of lifting a curse. Sung Ji explained that in his experience, where there was death there were usually men to blame and not phantoms. “If I fail,” he told the landowner, “you owe me nothing.”

Thus he began his investigation, speaking first with local authorities, religious leaders who had failed to find a solution and those who had known victims of the haunting. In every case he discovered that those who had fallen victim to the curse were either self-proclaimed priests or magicians who proved to be charlatans that took unfair advantage of believers, or were disreputable, ruthless men who bullied or were abusive to others.

“Seems to me,” concluded the samurai, “this girl, phantom or not, is doing the community a service.”

 Of course Chiang Tien could not accept that conclusion and just let matters be, as it did nothing to solve his problem. Whether innocents or troublemakers were falling victim to the curse was incidental. The haunting had a negative effect on business, and since it was a matter of money, Chiang would be relentless in his efforts to remedy the situation. Too, Sung Ji could not just walk away, permitting his reputation to suffer. Never before had he failed to fulfill a commitment or complete what he had begun. The more he looked into the matter the more his curiosity was aroused and the more determined he was to solve the mystery.”

All those in the Jade Teahouse listened intently as the man in the shadows told his story, which, some believed, rivaled those of Jubai the Dreamer. The stranger was articulate, obviously educated, knowledgeable, and weaved an interesting tale. Meanwhile, although mortified, a brooding Jubai held his tongue and dared not interrupt. Some instinct warned him the stranger was a man was one to be wary of, like a sleeping tiger.

“In his search for truth,” the stranger continued, “the samurai heard of a magician who lived outside the city; a healer who seemed to be in tune with Heaven… In fact, said one of the citizens, that mystic looked into the situation for Chiang, but for some unknown reason chose to do nothing about it. Still, if anyone can help you solve the puzzle, it is Kwai the Seer”.

And so, without further hesitation, the samurai left the safety of the city walls behind and entered the wilderness in search of the wizard.” 







Submitted: August 22, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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A haunting atmosphere to this chapter.

Fri, September 6th, 2019 7:03pm

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