Day 7

Instead of using the inspiration for day 7, I am going to expand on day 4 prompted by the picture and encouraged by Ridiculous Bharath.  I am trying my hand at Wuxia fiction. This is a new genre  for me so, if you are more familiar with it, I would love constructive feedback. Is it too predictable?

Tiger eye (2 542 words)

Behind her was her family’s burning farm and the warriors from the Wu kingdom. They had orders to wipe out all the members of the Xi clan- except for the young boys, of course. Su Yung had watched from behind the goat house as the unconscious body of her younger brother, Yan-lin, was carried out, bound hand and foot, before the farm was torched.

In front of her was the forest. All through her twelve years of life she had been warned about the dangers of the forest and of the tigers that lurked there. Now, as the evening sun was setting, she began running headlong into the trees. Her blue coat flapped around her legs uncomfortably but she was grateful for its warmth. The smell of pine trees mingled with the dank smell of the forest floor. Her breath was coming in short gasps but her legs continued to run, powered by a force that was stronger than her aching muscles.

Perhaps if she survived the night, she could still rescue her brother who would be taken to the kingdom of Wu and trained for their army. How dishonourable it was for her and her family if Yan-lin was forced to fight for the oppressors.

As darkness crept through the trees like a thousand black snakes, Su Yung began to move more slowly, straining her eyes to see the forest floor. She couldn’t go on much further in the dark.

She stopped and listened. The sounds of birds settling down in their nests had ceased and the comforting sound of the night insects had begun. Was that a rustling behind her? She had better move on again.

Su Yung shivered and buttoned up her coat. She looked around again. Straight ahead and slightly to the right was an area that was slightly lighter than the surrounding forest. She headed in that direction, trying to walk silently.

As she got closer, Su saw a fire ahead. It drew her with the promise of warmth. When she got to the edge of the clearing she lay down behind a large tree and surveyed the area. There seemed to be nobody around although she could smell food in the smoke. She lay entirely still for a long time and then, when there was still no sign of anybody, she crept forward.

On the fire was a metal bowl of soup. It was very strange. Nobody lived in the Tiger’s forest. The smell of onions and carrots taunted her, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since early morning. Su took off her coat and used it to take the bowl off the fire. It was still too hot to drink. She was taking it back to the protection of her tree when the warriors attacked.

Strong arms encircled her, pinning her arms to her sides. The bowl of soup went flying. She felt the cold edge of a dao at her neck. Two warriors in their blue livery were crouching in front of her, their daos glinting orange in the firelight.

“Wait!” said an authoritive voice from behind her. He was obviously the leader. “I am going to get a little bit of pleasure from her before she dies. Hold her down on the ground for me.”

Fear was in Su’s heart like a dao. Dishonour upon dishonour! She wished she could rather kill herself. The crouching warriors in front of her seemed reluctant. “But, honourable Prince,” said the one on her left, “It is against the code of the warrior to take pleasure from a woman when engaged in a kingdom mission.”

Su felt the arms around her tighten and she sensed the anger in him tying his insides into a knot. “Jen Lan, am I or am I not, a prince of Wu?” he said, in a low, threatening voice.

“You are,’ said Jen Lan. His sword quivered slightly.

“I care nothing for the warrior code. It doesn’t apply to me. Do you remember the punishment for disobeying a member of the royal household?” His voice was cold, like steel. “Now do as I say!”

They knocked her to the ground but she saw disrespect flicker in their eyes.

At that moment Su Yung saw the tiger out of the corner of her eye. His golden body flew through the air towards her, rippling in the firelight. “It is honourable to be killed by a noble tiger,” she thought just before everything went black.

 

Su opened her eyes. The predawn light outlined the trees. For a moment she didn’t know where she was. She felt comfortable as if she were lying on a pile of leaves. Her coat was wrapped around her, keeping her warm. As she started remembering, fear settled around her neck like a noose. She sprang up and looked around. In the centre of the clearing were the ashes of the fire and, unbelievably, the bowl of soup. She reached for it. It was pleasantly warm. It soothed her gnawing hunger. She felt like she had woken from a dream. Perhaps there were never any warriors attacking her. Perhaps there had never been a tiger.

Su walked between the fire ashes and the big tree, looking for signs of a scuffle. There it was! In the damp earth near the pile of leaves where she had woken up, was the distinct paw print of a tiger. It was larger than she would have expected – at least twice as large as her palm. In the middle and almost buried in the ground, was something shiny. She dug it out with her fingers. It was an oval stone, brown and shiny. In the middle was a hole, perfectly round, with orange stripes radiating from it. It looked like an eye – a tiger eye. She cleaned the stone with the corner of her dress. How pretty it was. She could see the reflection of the rising sun in its shiny surface. It felt warm in her hand. As she held it in both hands close to her heart, she felt the noose of fear loosen. She had been given the gift of life, the gift of courage. Looking further she saw a thin strip of blue cloth. It seemed to have been sliced neatly by a sharp sword. She twisted it into a cord and threaded it through her stone and tied it around her neck.

Two paces from where she found the blue cloth was another tiger footprint, then another. As the sun continued to rise, Su Yung followed the footprints. Just before noon she saw him, a huge golden tiger asleep in a tree. Next to him were the tattered remains of a blue robe. She no longer had any fear.

“Thank you, Noble Tiger,” said Su. “You saved my life. My life is now yours.”

She heard him although he didn’t open his eyes. His voice was like honey, pleasant and mellow. “You have been chosen,” it said, “You will save the kingdom of Xi from the hand of Wu. You will free the captive boys. Follow my steps to your new master. Learn and obey.”

The paw prints continued and Su followed until she finally came out of the forest. In front of her was a small, rustic house of wood surrounded by a vegetable garden. In the garden was an old man, digging with a fork. His face was wrinkled like the bark of a tree and his grey beard was pulled together to make a point. On his head he wore a sunhat shaped like a flat bowl.

“Whom do you serve, honourable Sir?” asked Su Yung.

“I serve the king of Xi and Prince Ming Yong, known as the Tiger Prince.”

“I am sent to serve you,” said Su. She placed her hands together and bowed respectfully.

“I have been awaiting your coming, Daughter of the Gift,” said the old man. He put down his fork and raised himself to his full height. “I am Woo. You will help me tend the garden and look after the house and feed wandering travellers and students. I will teach you the ancient art of Qing-gong. Before we start, is there a message you would like to give your brother?”

Su thought carefully. “I would tell him and all the others, ‘Pretend to obey. Work with diligence and honour. Learn all you can from your masters and wait for me. I will free you.’”

 

Training began the next day. Every morning she would rise at dawn and meditate. “Stand like a tree,” said Master Woo. He planted his feet a little wider than his shoulders and bent his knees. Su imitated him. “Keep your spine straight! Now imagine you are hugging a tree but drop your hands a bit. Good.” He nodded. “Now while you are standing like that, get in touch with your qi. It is your life force and you must learn to master it. Breathe deeply.” Without another word he went outside.

Su stayed in the position until her leg muscles ached. She told herself that her body no longer belonged to her but to the Lord Tiger. She breathed deeply and felt the warmth of the stone around her neck. She wished he would come back. After what seemed like forever he did. “Relax your shoulders. You can’t breathe deeply enough if your shoulders are tense.”

After meditation she prepared food for the day and tidied the house, sweeping, airing the sleeping mats, cleaning the walls.

In the afternoon there was physical training. In time she learned the circle walk. Master Woo laid out a circle of logs. “You walk on the logs, keeping your centre of gravity low.” Every day he made her go faster and faster.  Over time the logs got turned upright then they got thinner and more widely spaced.

One day Master Woo came to Su even before the sun was up. “Daughter of the Gift,” he said, “today you have been with me for a year. Today you are going to try and catch me. I will run a course and scale obstacles and you will follow me, going as fast as you can.”

Su was surprised to find out it had been a year already. On one hand it seemed like yesterday that she had come and on the other hand she seemed to have been here forever. She had learned to run up planks which were leaning against the wall and every day the angle had got steeper. She had done ankle jumps into and out of ditches; she had learned to do high jumps over a horizontal tree branch the height of a horse. She could do the long low distance sprint for 10 miles in 30 minutes. She felt ready for the challenge.

They started when the sun rose. Master Woo ran in the direction of the village, away from the forest. As he ran through the wheat fields he made barely a ripple in the tall leaves. Su was right behind him, close on his heels. She lost a bit of pace when they came to the wall of the fortress. Master Woo ran straight up the wall but Su had to jump on a tall tree stump and then jump to the top of the wall. Running down again was easier. When they came to the gorge, her master jumped right over but she fell short of the distance and had to clamber up the other side, ignoring the pain in her ankle where she had hit it on a rock as she landed. When they came to the lake, Master Woo ran across the surface of the water but Su could not. She stayed on the bank, doubled over and trying to get her breath back.

Master Woo came back, running on the water again. “You thought you were ready, didn’t you?” he asked solemnly. ”You were filled with pride. If you have self in your heart you cannot control your qi. Now breathe like I taught you and not like a tree chopped in the middle. Think yourself light like a feather.”

Once she had gained control again he handed her a handful of green leaves. “These are special herbs that will make you lighter and faster,” he said. “Eat them now.” Su obeyed. “Now we go back.”

They were off again. This time Su was able to run up the fortress wall although it might have been lower on the north side. She still couldn’t catch the master though.

“When you catch me, you will be ready to fulfil your destiny,” he told her once they were back at the wooden house again. “We will do this every year.”

And they did. By year five Su Yung could do the circle walk on chop sticks and jump distances she had never dreamt of.

“You are nearly ready,” said Master Woo. He had begun to show signs of aging. Often he coughed during the night and he seemed to be losing weight. “One last thing you still need to learn. “There is still hatred in your heart for the prince of Wu. If you don’t respect your enemy you cannot vanquish him. Anger blocks the channels of qi.”

At the end of the fifth year there was only one second’s difference between them and at the end of the sixth year Su Yung caught the master. She felt neither pride nor elation, only humble gratitude for the training he had given her.

“Now you are ready,” Woo said to her that night after she had settled him in bed. His voice was gruff with emotion and quiet with age and she had to lean over to hear. “My task is accomplished. Tomorrow you are to make your way to the Castle of Wu and free the young men who were taken captive. Do not take any personal revenge. Lead them to the fortress we ran over today. Prince Ming Yong will meet you there.” He put his hands over the stone that she still wore around her neck. “This stone is the eye of the tiger. I grant it all my powers. It will protect you, it will guide you, it will heal wounds. When you see another like it, you are to marry the man who wears it.”

The next morning, Master Woo was dead.

 

Legend recounts how a beautiful young girl called Su Yung ran all the way from the Kingdom of Xi to the Wu castle. She ran over the river, bounced on the high wall, flying over the moat and into the Guard house. She jumped over the guards, grabbing the keys from them in mid air. She released 120 young men. They had trusted the message, learning everything they could about swordsmanship and martial arts. Su Yung led them to Prince Ming Yong who wore a tiger skin as a cloak and had a blue cloth belt fastened with a stone that looked like a tiger eye. Together they trained the men in qing-gong and learned swordsmanship and weaponry from them.

After five years the kingdom of Wu was totally defeated and annexed into the Xi Kingdom, reigned over by King Ming Yong and Queen Su Yong.

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