A Victorious Spirit

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
This story was born on the bus ride home from school, as I was contemplating a Chinese phrase used to describe a dilemma, mao dwun. The literal translation is “lance shield”, the idea being that if an all-piercing lance ran into an all-blocking shield, what gives?

Submitted: November 30, 2015

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Submitted: November 30, 2015

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The reclaiming of their border lands from the Southern Kingdom progressed incredibly smoothly; in two short months, three successful engagements led by General Fong Hwo left the defenders’ buffer cities in flames. He was a gifted strategist, using his army’s hate for the Southlands as fuel for even more victories. The surging tides of invaders looted, desecrated, and destroyed the land lost from the Southern Kingdom.

This practice was frowned upon by the Emperor, who believed the land belonged originally to him and so viewed such acts as self-defacement. General Fong Hwo argued that it demoralized the enemy, giving his warriors incentives for fast and violent action and bringing fame under his banner. The Emperor was unwilling to lose a highly successful campaign to such debate, so he allowed the General to carry on.

None of the neighboring kingdoms voiced concern, as the land under question had long been hotly contested, changing hands as often as the maple trees shed their leaves. Such was the rule of the time: vicious action, or suffer subjugation.

Three days later, however, the invasion was abruptly put to a stop. Disastrous news had reached the Emperor - General Fong Hwo had been assassinated; his command fell to an inexperienced young lieutenant that saw only the wealth of war. He squandered his troops in minor engagements, looking for loot and women, forsaking valuable land in exchange. The army was falling apart. Without a strong leader, the Emperor’s advisors cautioned, an army is a tiger without fangs.

Emperor Da Ghe thus ordered the execution of the lieutenant and proclaimed the selection of a new general to his countrymen. They saw the invasion as a guaranteed loss, except for two ambitious men, eager to please, who jumped forward and vowed to fulfill his wishes.

The trial would commence as such: The contestants would choose from a selection of weapons and participate in a duel with the Emperor’s guard captain, Chong Min. The winner would be granted command of the army and wealth beyond imagination; the loser would be given a painful death. The arena was filled on the day of the test.

“I would gladly die for my country!” The first, a burly young man, proclaimed as he saluted Emperor Da Ghe. In return, the Emperor waved him forward, towards the weapon rack where Chong Min was waiting.

“The trick, sir, is not to die... remember that.” He whispered, loudly enough so that only the emperor would hear him. Da Ghe suppressed a chuckle at his friend’s apparent lack of concern at fighting a man twice his width.

The contestant donned his helmet and squared his shoulders, ignoring the weapons rack and walking towards the middle of the sandy arena. The murmur in the audience rose as they realized his intentions.

The Emperor leaned forward on his throne and quietly asked, “Why do you fight without a weapon?”

The man confidently replied, “This set of armor was given to me by the beautiful Maiden of the Moon. It is a bulwark against all dangers - swords, fire, and acid. I have spent my life training in feats of strength and endurance, pulling up trees by their roots – I will not lose. With a strong defense, I can wear down that skinny guard and wring his neck with my bare hands!”

Emperor Da Ghe raised a skeptical eyebrow, but nonetheless sat back and motioned the start of the match. The gong sounded, and Chong Min picked up a mace. The two fighters circled each other twice before Chong Min charged. The first contestant braced for the impact, but at the last second Chong Min twisted around him, using his momentum to propel the mace at the back of the contender’s helmet and knocking him on his face. He was out cold. Chong Min kicked away his helmet and Emperor Da Ghe looked away as steel mace met flesh.

The second contestant had been following the match, and stepped up after the body was removed. He was a man close to middle age: more experienced, confident in his skills with a lance, and gifted with a wily tongue. When he saw the bloody mace, he knew his time to shine had come. Thumping the butt of his lance on the wooden platform below his feet, he saluted the Emperor and declared, without being asked,

“My Imperial Lord, I pray you will forgive me for not using a weapon of your armory. As our ancestors have said, the best defense is a strong offense. Thus I have chosen the lance given to me by the Lady of the Sun: It is a good lance, unbreakable and able to pierce the thickest hide, the sturdiest armor. I am certain it would have proved superior even to the armor of the previous contestant, but alas, he is dead and it is my turn to fight.” With a low bow, he walked to the middle of the arena, adopting a firm stance with his lance pointed straight at Chong Min’s heart.

The Emperor looked to Chong Min inquiringly and raised his hand for a pause as Chong Min threw down his mace. Chong Min nodded, and the crowd hushed as the gong sounded again. For a moment, no one moved. Then Chong Min began to walk slowly towards the second contestant, stopping well out of reach of the deadly barbed lance. He began to circle again, with his hands behind his back.

“You sly dog, planning a trick for me? Come here so I can pound you into the ground!”  The second contestant roared. His impatience grew as Chong Min remained in place. He twirled his lance above his head and taunted, “I’ll teach you honor and dignit--” but he never got to finish as the hilt of a throwing knife appeared in his neck. He dropped his lance and staggered backwards, furtively grasping at it as blood spurted out to the beat of his rapidly dying heart. Finally the man tottered backwards and was still save for a twitching of his fingers.

Chong Min appeared above him and placed a foot on his chest, leaning forward so that his weight rested on the raised leg. He waited patiently for the dying man’s eyes to focus on him. Only then did he whisper, softly and inaudible to any of the spectators, “Honor, my friend, is awarded only to the victor.” He waited a moment longer as the man’s eyes bulged and then closed.

“Silence? So you agree with me.” He finally said.

The crowd was silent; Emperor Da Ghe was disappointed. He had lost his only applicants for general, and while his friend was still alive, he could not say the same for the fate of his army. The crowd thus prepared to disband, the spectators muttering their dissatisfactions at the shortness of the duels, while others praised, with reverent tones, the dexterity of the Guard Captain.

A lone boy of seventeen, employed by the castle guards to polish their weapons, looked on the din with curiosity. Suddenly, pushed by an unseen spectator, he crashed forward - down the stairs towards the middle of the arena where Chong Min was still standing. Their eyes met as the boy slowly stood up.

“Silence!” The Emperor commanded. Chong Min adopted a casual stance, but the boy could see calculating eyes behind the mask.

“I’m s-sorry sirs, I just fell, I had no--” the youth began to stammer, but an unseen pressure forced him to stand, chest out, and look around at the people whose attention he had captured.

“You know this arena is only for contestants, boy?” The Emperor addressed him. The seventeen year-old immediately sank to his knees, not daring to look up.

“My Lord, I am aware.” He replied.

After a long pause, Emperor Da Ghe ordered, “Stand up, boy. I cannot see your face.” The boy decided the best course of action was to comply and keep his mouth shut.

“What is your name?” The Emperor asked, stroking his beard.

“Shun Li, my Lord.” This prompted laughter from the audience. Chong Min continued regarding him with the look a man gave to a horse in a shop stable – not certain if it was what he was looking for, but unwilling to leave without a test.

“Fight me, Shun Li.” The guard Captain suddenly said.

“He is but a boy – I cannot allow this!” Emperor Da Ghe interjected.

“With all due respect, my Emperor, he has the qualities we are looking for in a general. Look at the way he is standing - proud, but with caution. Look at the way people react to him – he has their undivided attention. Now all it takes is to see if he has the prowess to back it up.” Chong Min responded.

“Your name means ‘victory’, boy. Prove your name.” The Emperor reluctantly agreed. He signaled and the weapon rack was brought out. Shun Li was scared, but he also knew that the only way out was death, and he did not want to die just yet. He closed his eyes and thought back to all the days he had spent sitting on the sidelines watching the castle guards’ drills. He thought of the nights he spent trying to refine their techniques - and the resulting joy as he discovered a fatal flaw in their battle plans.

He vowed that he would fix this as soon as he won - and chose a heavy shield to protect him from Chong Min’s harsh attacks. He selected a slender saber with his right hand. He was surprised to discover that the two items felt balanced, and he shrugged off his nerves as he walked towards the middle of the ring.

Chong Min mirrored his selection. Mindful of his lack of armor, Shun Li decided that he needed an advantage, sticking the point of his saber into the ground and switching his shield to his right hand. Holding the sword in his left hand did not bother him much, as he was left-handed by nature, but Chong Min narrowed his eyes. It was a big risk – now they would fight sword-to-sword, giving both brawlers a much larger window for attacking the unprotected side.

Chong Min slowly advanced, striking two crushing blows to his shield. His arm went numb, but Shun Li used the lack of pain to his advantage and blocked two more strikes that would have crippled most men. He pivoted a half circle on his right foot, striking the top of Chong Min’s shield with the pommel of his saber and following up with a lightning quick slash to his head that took off an inch of hair.

“Boy!” Chong Min warned, but Shun Li merely laughed and turned back around. He threw his weight against his shield, pressing into Chong Min in an attempt to upset his balance. Chong Min anticipated the movement and stepped back to compensate. What he did not anticipate, however, was the snake-like speed of the young fighter: Shun Li took that time to slam his shield down on Chong Min’s momentarily exposed foot, and sent him reeling backwards. As his eyes teared up in pain, Shun Li pressed his advantage, landing five blows on the Captain with the flat sides of his saber. A last kick pushed the captain onto the floor, his saber falling beside him.

The Emperor half-stood anxiously in his throne, but Chong Min raised an arm. Nevertheless, the emperor frantically declared, “You have won, Shun Li. Please step away from the captain.”

Shun Li flicked his sword away and spoke. “Sir, I do not wish to kill him. He saw something in me that no one else did, and it would be too much of a waste to end his life now. If your Honor be so kind, appoint him as my second.”

The Emperor, awed at how someone so young had so much integrity, agreed. Immensely satisfied, he gave command of his armies to the one man who understood the importance of using both offense and defense in a battle, of using wits to outsmart a stronger opponent, and of behaving with discipline and respect to the defeated in the glory of victory.

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**Although it is easy to understand a story just by knowing the names of the characters,

I believe that the actual meaning of names give a very accurate representation of a character’s personality. Below are the Mandarin translations of all the characters in this story, in order of mentioning.

General Fong Hwo – to set on fire

Emperor Da Ghe – Big Boss

Captain of the Guard Chong Min – Intelligent

And of course, Shun Li - Victory


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