The Captain of Chi Lung--part six

Fiction By LoriAnn // 11/6/2009

 

“Ti-Ling. It is time to wake.” Ranu was shaking her shoulder.
Tears streamed down Lei’s face. “I have to go,” she said, pushing herself up and feeling around for her few possessions. “I can’t stay.”
Ranu stepped back. “I don’t understand,” she said, but her voice was surprisingly calm. She placed her hands on Lei’s shoulders, pulling her to her feet.
Lei grasped the older woman’s arms affectionately. “My name is Fa Lei,” she said softly. “And my past is not as dead as I once thought.”
Ranu stroked Lei’s hair soothingly. “I do not understand what you say,” she repeated slowly. “But I understand your heart. I trust that you are doing what is right.”
Lei nodded, and pulled away. She finished gathering her belongings, and stood.
“Ranu,” she asked, “Is there anyone who could lead me to Chi Lung?” she knew that – without her eyesight – it would be nearly impossible for her to get there on her own.
Ranu was thoughtfully silent for a moment. “The woman who brings me herbs from the bazaar told me that there was a spice caravan leaving today. She had thought I might want to catch them before they left. Perhaps they are going in the direction of Chi Lung.”
Lei stepped toward the door. “I must find them.”
Ranu took her arm. “I know where the spice merchants set up their stalls. We’ll go together.”
 
 
The bazaar of Hagi was a busy, noisy, overwhelming place. Lei felt as though she was drowning in a sea of bright smells, sellers’ shouts, bustling people and hot air. Ranu kept a firm hold on her upper arm, leading her gently through the throng of villagers and local tribesmen who had come in for the bazaar.
Finally, the rich scents of cinnamon and pepper filled her nose. Lei breathed deeply of the fragrant atmosphere, and sneezed.
“Be blessed by H’su,” a robust, man’s voice said in amusement. “How may your humblest slave assist you, mem sahib?”
Ranu answered. “We’re looking for the caravan that is to leave today.”
“You are fortunate, mem sahib, for you have found the object of your quest.” Lei heard the rustle of cloth as the man bowed. “I am the humble Rafik Jamul, caravan master and spice merchant of the highest caste.”
Lei smiled. The man – Rafik Jamul – spoke in flowery words and high-sounding phrases, but his voice was warm and friendly, with a note of self-deprecation that made her want to giggle. The apprehension inspired by her dream faded for a moment.
“Now, I ask you again, mem sahib, what can your humble servant do to win your favor?”
Ranu nudged Lei forward. “I need transport to Chi Lung,” Lei blurted. “Are you going in that direction?”
She waited anxiously for him to speak, knowing that he was probably measuring her with his gaze, taking in her disfigured face and disability.
“I am,” Rafik said at last, his voice slow and thoughtful. “But it is a long journey, small mem sahib. I do not mean to sound…rude, but perhaps it is too long for you? It is a good week’s trip, with fair roads, fresh camels and no storms or bandits to block our way.”
Lei drew herself up. “I must go, sir,” she said firmly. “I am strong enough to take whatever the road can throw at me.” Privately, she thought; I’d better be, seeing as whatever Chu Min throws at me is bound to be worse than a simple road.
The merchant was meditatively silent for another moment, and Lei held her breath.
“I will take you,” he said finally. “But you have been warned, little mem sahib, and once we are on the road, I will not turn back.”
She nodded, and squeezed Ranu’s arm.
“Do you have all that you require for the journey?”
Lei held up her small bag. “I can wash dishes or help cook in exchange for meals,” she said.
“And she has learned much of my herb lore,” added Ranu. “She can assist you with small injuries and illnesses.”
“Very well then, mem sahib,” Rafik said; the genial grin back in his voice. “We leave at midday. My assistant will take you to a wagon, where you may stow your things and prepare to ride.”
 
 
Lei cried when she said good-bye to Ranu, but the older woman hugged her and pressed a small bag of herbs into her palm.
“Be careful, safe and watchful,” she said, with tears in her own voice. “And may He who Lights the Stars go with you.”
They rode out of Hagi with the sounds of moaning camels and shouting caravaneers, and the smells of dust and sweat and spices filling the air. Lei sat on the floor of a small, hot wagon and clutched her belongings to her chest. What was she thinking? The very idea – going to the rescue of someone who very likely didn’t exist, in a place she wasn’t even sure how to get into, blind and with no idea how to carry out her task…it was madness – sheer madness!
They made good time, despite Rafik Jamul’s warnings: the weather was fair, the camels willing, and no desert storms or desperate bandits hindered their progress. Lei made herself useful around the caravan, and endeared herself to Rafik by treating an inflamed abscess on the leg of his favorite camel. He called her his “little mem healer”, and treated her as a daughter or a favored niece.
Soon, Rafik told her that they were a mere day from Chi Lung. “We shall enter the city by sundown tomorrow, mem,” he said. “Where will you go when you leave us?”
Touched by the concern in his voice, Lei reluctantly told him. “I’m…I’m looking for a place that is under the city,” she admitted, keenly aware of how foolish it sounded. She hadn’t planned on telling him, but the thought occurred to her that he might know something she didn’t. Sure enough…
“I have heard of a small temple to H’su on the southern slopes of the city,” he said musingly. “It is not somewhere I would recommend to a young lady, but perhaps I could send one of my assistants with you. At any rate, I remember the place because I was once told that it was a protection against some ancient curse that dwelt inside the mountain. Might this be what you search for?”
“It might be,” Lei said thoughtfully. “But what do you mean, “inside the mountain”?”
“Chi Lung is built on a mountain,” Rafik explained. “The Imperial Palace is on the very crest, and the city spirals down to the foot. The southern slopes are the poorest part of the city, but it is only at the very bottom where one would be wise not to venture.”
“And is this temple at the bottom?” she would do whatever it took to rescue Feng – if her dream was true and he wasn’t really a goblin prince – but she had no desire to venture into the bowels of the Imperial City.
“I do not think so. I believe it is near the middle – at the mouth of an old cave, if the tale I was told is true.”
Lei fought back the nervous jitters in her stomach. “I’ll take you up on that offer of your assistant,” she said.
He patted her arm. “Very good, mem sahib. I will send Kaki with you – he will keep you safe until you reach the temple.”
 
Rafik was true to his word – the young Kaki did keep her safe until they reached the temple; and the boy even stayed long enough to make sure that the priests knew she was there. Then he was gone, and Lei was alone in her quest once more.
Lei stood in the coolness of the temple’s entrance hall, waiting for the priest who had met them to return.
“Lady?”
She turned toward the voice. “Yes, sir.”
The sound of slippered feet across the tiled floor echoed in the large room. “My acolyte said that you have a request of the temple.”
Lei nodded. “I was told that you guard the entrance to a secret labyrinth under the city. Is this true?”
“It is.” The priest sounded puzzled. “But why do you wish to know?”
“Who do you serve?” Lei asked abruptly in return.
She could hear the smile in his voice when he answered. “We serve H’su,” he said. “Who created the world and all that is in it by the mere sound of His voice. He forms the clouds, makes the world turn through its seasons, and places each star in the sky.”
One phrase caught her attention. “Do you know of the one the desert people call “He who Lights the Stars”?”
“You come from the desert? Yes, He who Lights the Stars is what the people of that place call H’su – in their language, the word “hasu” means stars, and H’su also sounds similar to—“
Hu-sin,” Lei finished with a smile, the pieces finally clicking satisfyingly into place. “To light.”
“You know Shunglin?” the priest asked in surprise.
“I’ve lived there the last few months,” Lei answered. “In fact, I’d still be there, except—“ it sounded so ridiculous “—I had a dream.” She waited for a mocking – or worse, a pitying – reply.
But the priest only said “Sometimes, H’su does send dreams to those who need guidance. Did this dream lead you here?”
“Yes,” Lei said, relieved. “I need to enter the labyrinth.”
“May I ask why?”
Lei was unsure how to answer. “I – It’s a long story.”
“Hmm.” The man hummed. “I don’t like doing this, you know. We have long guarded the entrance to the labyrinth, and we know well the perils that lie below. But something tells me to let you go – I don’t know why.” He sighed in resignation. “What will you need in the way of supplies?”

Comments

I think I'm about to have

I think I'm about to have some kind of breakdown.  A blind girl going all by herself into some underground place looking for something that she doesn't even know for sure is there?  Agh!  I will admit that this chapter wasn't as intense as the last one, but still ... hurry up and post more! 

Mary | Tue, 11/10/2009

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Brother: Your character should drive a motorcycle.
Me: He can't. He's in the wilderness.
Brother: Then make it a four-wheel-drive motorcycle!

...?

Is breakdown a good thing? And sorry about all the cliffhangers...NaNo has me in the mood.

LoriAnn | Tue, 11/10/2009

Wow! I love how you're

Wow! I love how you're fitting all the pieces together, with H'su and He who Lights the Stars and everything. That's so cool! And the thought of Lei venturing underground--shivers! Mary's right not quite as intense as the last chapter, but still very good.

BTW--I'd say Mary about having a breakdown is a good thing, considering I've just about given her one a couple of times and it's always turned out to be about something good in my stories. :0)

 

Heather | Wed, 11/11/2009

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And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

Ditto

She's right. Although, if the maze repeats itself, being blind might be an advantage. And Hsu, cool. I want more

Julie | Fri, 11/13/2009

Formerly Kestrel

Were do you come up with

Were do you come up with these amazing story ideas?! I'm always struggling with finding ways to make my stories "mine", if you know what I mean.

This chapter wasn't as insanely riveting, but I still had my nose all but pressed up against my laptop screen. I would be flat out lying if I said that I wasn't a fan of this story ;)

Ariel | Sat, 11/14/2009

*****************************************
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

...

This story actually started out as a challange: retell the fairy tale of Repunzel, and make it interesting. My first thought was ok, let's reverse the rolls. That's why its the "prince" who's a prisoner, and the "princess" who is blinded by the witch.

Anyway, glad ya'll like it. The next time I post, (after part seven, which I just submitted) it will be the end of the story.

LoriAnn | Sat, 11/14/2009

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