Chapter 9: helping hand

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

Reads: 53

Sung Ji awoke to discover Kwai’s smiling face just a couple of inches from his nose.  Startled, the Korean sat up quickly and cleared his throat before he accused the shaman: “Are you trying to sabotage my day, showing that face of yours so early in the morning?”

The old man moved back briskly, laughing as he offered a hand to help the samurai rise. Once on his feet, Sung Ji marveled; “Wah!” You’re stronger than you appear. You almost pulled my arm from the socket.”

“Perhaps you are more delicate then you seem,” taunted Kwai. “I barely exerted myself.”

“Well,” said the samurai, “perhaps you don’t know your own strength.”

Kwai laughed as Sung Ji rubbed his shoulder, after which he stretched, yawned, and proceeded to brush the dust from his clothes before asking; “What brings you to this place?”

“Responsibility,” Kwai replied. “Did you think I was following you? I’m the caretaker of this temple. It was once the duty of the monks, one of whom is a nephew. But all of them left on a pilgrimage to Tibet. I promised the abbot I would care for this place until they returned.”

The Korean had heard of Tibet, with its vast plains, dense forests, majestic mountains and snow covered peaks that were home to many Buddhist monasteries and retreats.

“Is Tibet far from here?”

“Very far,” said Kwai, “or not that far. It depends on one’s perception.”

Sung Ji was speechless a moment. Kwai had a way of confusing even the most simple of questions, which was typical of monks and mystics. “Well, I suppose that answers my question…” said the samurai, “…or perhaps not.”

Kwai ignored the statement. If Sung Ji could discern his thoughts he would know the Chinese healer was beginning to like him.

“It is rather odd indeed,” Kwai remarked, “that anyone not born Japanese could become a samurai. But then, I’ve lived long enough in this world to know that anything is possible. Did you think you would find the answers to your puzzle here?”

“No. I was curious about this place. When passing by last night I decided to rest here and have a better look after sunrise.”

Kwai nodded; “There is a well behind the main building, if you wish to drink and wash that dusty face of yours. When you’ve finished you can help me sweep the steps and main courtyard. I’ll let you attend to the area behind the living quarters; it’s paved with loose stones and cleaning it of leaves and small debris really gives me a backache.”

“What about my investigation?” inquired Sung Ji.

“I’ve been giving that some thought,” said Kwai. “We can talk more about that when the work is finished,” he added with a smile.

The morning hours were thus spent in quiet labor, neither of them speaking to the other, with the exception of Kwai spouting orders now and then. At one point Sung Ji had just opened his mouth to speak, and without looking at him, Kwai commanded… “Don’t interrupt me when I’m ignoring you.”

The samurai closed his mouth. ‘How did he know’, he wondered, ‘that I was going to speak’? He shrugged his shoulders and returning to his task realized he had been right the previous night; in the light of day he could better appreciate the beauty of the temple buildings and grounds. There was olive green moss on some of the freestanding stone lamps, gravestones, and at the base of the foundations of the well and some of the buildings, but that gave them character and an aura of timelessness. The buildings were colorful, but paled in comparison to the emerald green of the bamboo and the pink and white-hued blossoms of the plum trees. The blossoms, whose petals fell like snowflakes, reminded him of the sakura trees in Japan.

As they busied themselves, Sung Ji embraced the moment. There was a peace in the silence between them, which drew attention to the humming of the cicadas and the singing of the birds. The samurai enjoyed being close to nature and as far away as possible from the chaotic drama created by humanity. As a pair of dragonflies passed by, he thought it is truly a beautiful world that Hananim (God) created, and such a shame mankind creates so many useless and unnecessary problems. His reverie was abruptly interrupted when, while removing twigs from a garden Kwai disturbed an emerald green snake. As it coiled to strike the samurai was amazed to see Kwai quickly dart to one side while simultaneously tossing his rake in the air, grabbing and twirling it and with the opposite end lash out while spinning the shaft, wrapping the snake around it and flinging the reptile safely onto a nearby tree limb. Immediately he flipped the rake over andcontinued cleaning as if nothing had happened. Sung Ji wasn’t certain who was more stunned, he or the snake that found itself suddenly looking down rather than up at the diminutive Chinese. The samurai was shocked the old man could move so quick and dexterously, all the while showing absolutely no emotion. Kwai, aware of Sung Ji watching him, abruptly stopped what he was doing and eyed him with a stern gaze. The samurai opened his mouth to speak but before he could utter a word was told… “Don’t interrupt me when I’m correcting you.”

Sung Ji blinked, sighed and abruptly went back to sweeping fallen leaves from the shaded courtyard. Satisfied, Kwai returned to work as well. They spent the rest of the morning cleaning quietly until there was nothing left to do. As they sat resting Sung Ji brought up the incident of the snake, still lying contently on the limb upon which it landed. Before the samurai knew what was happening, Kwai, rather than give a verbal reply, rose suddenly, reached for and pulled the jade handled dagger from Ahn’s waist belt and slashed twice at a falling leaf, cutting it into four equal parts. Before the pieces touched the ground Kwai spun in a circle, returned the dagger to the belt and himself to where he was seated, then spoke… “My father was a General in the army. “He trained me in Martial Arts since I was very young. It was the only thing he did that my mother complained about. She wanted me to be a man of books and medicine. To please them both I labored constantly to develop all three skills.”

“You’re full of surprises,” said Sung Ji, “I believe I know how that green snake feels.”

“Of course,” said Kwai. “That’s the point. Be unpredictable. One should never reveal all there is to reveal about oneself. If so, one’s enemies would always know what to expect. The element of surprise. I’m certain it was one of the first lessons you learned in your martial training.”

They both laughed, then Kwai asked what the samurai planned to do next regarding the haunted bridge. He admitted that after speaking with local authorities, relatives and friends of victims of the curse, Chiang Vu Tien and Kwai himself, he wasn’t left with many options.

“Have you considered,” suggested Kwai, “going to the toll bridge before dusk? Keep a vigil there after dark and see what, if anything, transpires.”

“The thought occurred to me,” said Ahn, “as a perfect last resort. I’ve faced men in battle, either a single man or many. I’ve faced armies whose war drums, coupled with the footfalls of the infantry and the hooves of the horses sounded as thunder and shook the earth like a quake, unnerving even the bravest of men. But this bridge, even crossing it in daylight…” his words trailed off. “It’s uncanny.”

“Most people,” offered Kwai, “fear what they can’t see. Often that fear is of something that does not exist outside of their minds, like children fearing the dark. It is natural to dread confrontation with things not of this earth, but for one whose conscience is clear, there should be no concern. Those who honor the dead have no need to fear the dark.”

“You have a way,” said the samurai, “of simplifying even the most complicated of matters.”

Elsewhere, Miyamoto, who had the unenviable habit of complicating even the most simplest of matters, was nursing a severe headache, the result of too much rice wine the previous night and a head on collision with a stone wall. The outlaw was not certain which pained him more; the after effects of drinking too much, the brick wall he blindly ran into, or the after effects of physically exhausting himself fleeing for his life from an angry bloodthirsty crowd. Sadly, he lacked common sense and wasn’t intelligent enough to realize his problems were the direct result of bad judgment, bad choices and improper actions. His lack of manners, rude and unlawful behavior had become a way of life, and the thought of changing bad habits never occurred to him. He was incorrigible beyond hope, like many of the criminals and fugitives Sung Ji dealt with in the past. All were marauders or murderers, and being unmanageable there was no reforming such men. They were a threat to honest society, which justified their elimination by all means possible. It was that equation which kept swordsmen like the ‘Left Hand of God’ free from guilt when forced to punish or dispatch such depraved and delinquent individuals.

Shaking his aching head, Miyamoto decided to forget his physical complaints and focus on his need for food, funds and transportation. He was hungry, but had spent what little money he had the night before at the Twin Dragons. Too, he managed to lose another stolen horse when he fled on foot from the men he angered there.  His current needs and evil crafty mind thus prompted him to desperately plot and scheme once again.

Submitted: August 23, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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