tiger, burning

-a chuck wending friday flash fiction challenge (1000 words)- here

San Chou was a dangerous place. Everyone in Li Jiang knew that. The news of brutal robbery and gruesome rape and murder reached us. Governor Zhang Dee Yang was more than worried. He seemed so distant, I feared he’d fall ill. Even his wife was concerned enough to call for a doctor. After the doctor went, I visited him and we drank tea in the garden.

All together the band of San Chou seemed to be only gossip, but the governor took it seriously. “A good governor is like a  good general, Bolin. Just like a good father, his soldiers trust and obey him, because they love him, not because they fear him. They would never betray or disgrace their general’s name,” he said to me, with the saddest smile. He seemed so fragile, I never seen him so worn out. After all, he was more than my high official, he was a father to me. “The good governor can rely on his subjects, as they equally rely on him. But I can’t rely on the officials in that village. Who knows what they are up to. They must be corrupt. Maybe they supply the band with secret information.”

“Possibly…”I nodded slowly, “but how could one verify?”

“Bolin, that band is like a snake. It finds its way into every crack of the wall… Surprise it! Pull it’s fangs, so it can’t bite. No bite, no venom. Take it’s head, and the body dies slowly.” The governor was right. To restore order in San Chou, it was necessary to free the village from the criminals. The most effective way was to do it from the inside. One capable man could do it. Zhang Dee Yang looked at me with a curious expression, pulled a grimace, which made me laugh. “Bolin! You look so serious, my boy. Take care, your face could get stuck in that expression!” He laughed a warm laugh, one that I missed.

I made up my mind. Zhang Dee Yang saved me, when I was a baby boy, he took me in, nurtured my body and mind. I was more than grateful, that’s why I volunteered for this task. He wasn’t happy, but needed someone to trust in San Chou. That day, the governor sent for a man and a woman. They appeared like shadows from a side of the garden.

I didn’t needed to go alone. And all three of us had better chances to succeed. The way they moved, how they stood and sat, I suspected they were fighters. Really good ones. “This is Fang Hua Xing, beautiful and deadly, her virtue is the dancing of the blades. This is the famous Jinhai Wei Fu, master of the lance. And this is my oldest son, Bolin.” The governor introduced everyone. How did he know such people?

We exchanged courtesies, drank tea and discussed the matter extensively. Fueled by the excitement of my first mission, and the two fighters, I couldn’t sleep a wink. We decided to approach the village from three different directions. In disguise, we would behave like strangers to each other. No one should suspect any trace of links between each other. Especially the connection to the governor of Li Jiang, my father should stay secret, to prevent further disturbances. Our true identities were to remain concealed, so we chose new names too. I went with Monkey, Fang Hua Xing called herself Jade, and Jinhai Wei Fu was Tiger. We all had our specialties, as Jade was a master with swords, Tiger with the lance, my abilities were not so spectacular, I admit. After years of studying, I mastered acupuncture and was sent for training into the monastery of Mt. Songshan.

I reached San Chou on foot, five days after we parted at the governor’s house. Dressed as a wandering astronomer, nobody took noticed of me and I had no trouble reaching the village. In the first hostel I asked after martial arts schools. San Chou had three. That was a start. “If you look for trouble, search for the troublemakers.” My master used to say, and martial arts scholars had a clear stroke of trouble on them. I thought of myself, and my training. The monks were firm, not allowing anger, fear or joy. I thought of the hunger and the many hours of work in the house of Zhang Dee Yang. Master was right, troubled souls had an affinity to martial arts. They were attracted, like moths to the fire.

I paid a boy three wen to show me around. One coin for each school. I gave him another, for food. I heard nothing of Jade and Tiger, so I started my observations and made notes. Each school had one active teacher, and one older master. The number of scholars were variable. Southern Fist had eleven boys, Wing Chun had fifteen and Northern Legs had seven. I tried to remember each of the scholars. It was most likely that the criminals had some training. I had to ask the masters for drop-outs without attracting too much attention. After that, I checked the administration, from the outside it looked fine. Then I caught a glimpse of Tiger. He leaned at the garden wall of a house nearby, in a beam of sunlight and threw me a disgusted look. Where was Jade? What was she doing?

I had a brilliant idea. I went to the entrance of the administration and knocked at the door. A soldier let me in and I demanded to see the high official. Truth was a tool, as much as betrayal could be.

I was shown into a small dark room, with one chair and one table. A thin man came in, walking on a cane, with grey hair and mustache, clothes richly embroiled. As he sat down he nodded and smiled a rapid flash of teeth. Only as he indicated with his hand, I started speaking: “My Lord. I am a wandering scholar, an astronomer. I’m here to warn you. A man I noticed on the other side of the street is spying out the administration.” The man showed no reaction. “I know him from my hostel, where I made a horoscope for him. A very dangerous and brutal man.” He indicated me to stop, stood up and left the room. Surely, to check my claims.

Four soldiers barged in, with drawn swords all pointing at me. The man came back in, with a most satisfied smile. “So we caught you, Monkey. Call miss Jade in, so she can verify. You’ll see that our prisons are as comfortable, as the ones in Li Jiang.”

-to be continued -

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