The Captain of Chi Lung - Part Three

Fiction By LoriAnn // 8/17/2009

 

Part III
 
Curse her and her promises! the present Lei thought as she sat down on a fallen log to remove a pebble from her shoe. “What was I thinking?” How many times had she heard the old tales, where maidens made foolish vows and paid for them dearly?
The sun was setting. Lei could feel the cool breezes of evening beginning to blow over her ruined cheeks, soothing her pain momentarily. Wistfully, she thought of the cool mud-banks of the river that flowed down the mountain, past Hang Po. If she had some of that smooth mud now, to plaster her stinging face, she was sure it would relieve the burn. When she was a child, and had been stung by a bee, her father had applied the thick brown ooze to her injury. It had stopped hurting immediately, like magic. Then later, when he had removed the dry mud, it had pulled the stinger painlessly out of her skin.
 But in this dry, tortured land? There was little enough water to drink, let alone to waste and make mud. No, she would just have to suffer. Served her right, too – she deserved what she got, after letting herself be deceived by the silver-tongued “prisoner” in the woods.
Lei pulled her cloak close around her and stood to go on. Darkness made no difference to her, and she might as well go on a bit further while it was cooler. Perhaps she’d come upon a village with a well that she could drink from.
As she walked, she let herself remember more, each memory both precious and chafing at her heart.
 
 
She had gone to visit Feng many more times after that first intentional meeting. Day after day, she would slip out of the house and courtyard, through the gate, and go into the woods. There, she would sit and talk with Feng, listening to his stories of the Imperial City; its red-topped walls and red-roofed houses, with gold on all the lintels, and the scent of rich incense floating in the air. He told her about the places of worship to H’su, and the great festivals held in the city every year.
He spoke of his own family very little, except to say that he had three sisters and a stern father, and that his mother loved to wear jade ornaments.
Then Feng would ask to hear about Lei’s own life – how old was she? What was her father like? Did she miss not having a mother? Who were her friends? What was it like to live in a small village?
Lei answered every question as well as she could, telling him about everything he wanted to know. Every once in a while, a nagging little voice would whisper into her mind that all was not well; she shouldn’t be doing this; her father should know. But she pushed the voice away, or drowned it out with another question about Feng’s old life.
She was especially curious about the holy festivals in the Imperial City. In Hang Po, they had no priest of their own to perform the rites ordered by H’su’s Law, so the villagers had to travel to the nearby town of Gal Tern for all of the holy days. Feng told her that the ceremonies in the Great Temple were elaborate affairs, and that the smoke of the incense often drifted above the city for days.
They avoided talk of Chu Min, but the malevolent presence lingered in the background of every conversation, and Lei was careful to count the days until the full moon every month. Gradually, they began to speak of escape – guardedly at first, but more and more boldly as the time ticked down to Chu Min’s visits.
“We must get you away,” Lie finally said firmly. “I don’t know how, but there is always a way in the old stories. Why shouldn’t there be in real life?”
She could hear a sad smile in Feng’s voice when he answered. “Real life is not always like the stories, Fa Lei,” he said. “But I am willing to try. There’s just so much we don’t know – that we can’t plan for.”
Lei frowned. She had asked everyone she could think of about this “one who is willing to go” – discreetly of course. But no one knew anything. In fact, most of them had never even heard that bit of the legend.
The only person who had given her anything close to a hint was a traveling mendicant friar who had passed through about a week ago. Lei had asked him about the one “willing to go”, but he had been aged and befuddled with years of hard life. He had given her an odd look, as though he were trying to remember something, and said “Aye, that’s the one. It all leads back to him.”
Then he blinked his rheumy eyes in confusion and continued on his way, muttering incoherently.
Lei shook her head and sighed. “I…I wish I could see your face, Feng.”
For a minute, there were only the sounds of the wood – a nightingale singing, a wind through the tree-tops, the distant murmur of the river – and then Feng spoke. “And I wish I could see yours. When you bend down, only your eyes show through this crack, and when you move further off, the light is too bright for me to see you. But your eyes alone are beautiful, Fa Lei.” He hesitated, and Lei held her breath. “I do believe, Fa Lei…I do believe I am in love with you.”
Hardly daring to move, Lei listened.
“When you are here, even this cramped hovel feels richer than my father’s palace; and when you leave, it is as though you take the light with you. I have never felt this way about anyone before, Lei, and I don’t understand it. But…if I ever get out of here, and if we survive the attempt – will you marry me, Fa Lei, and let me take you home to my father and mother?”
Lei couldn’t speak, her heart felt so full. For weeks now, she had known herself to be in love with Feng, even though she had never known his face. She had seen his heart though, she believed, and her own heart jumped with a thrill of joy. “Yes, Feng,” she whispered. “Oh, yes I will.”
He laughed aloud. “You make me richer than the emperor himself, Lei!” Then he sobered. “But first, we have to figure out a way to get out of here.”
She nodded thoughtfully, the butterflies receding as the toad-like image of Chu Min formed in her mind. She had never seen the old woman, but Feng’s description was enough to turn her stomach.
“We’ll think of something, I promise,” she said fervently. “Perhaps my father—“
“No, Lei.” Feng’s voice was firm. “We cannot risk anyone else, unless we find this one “willing to go”. I saw with my own eyes the bodies of those who Chu Min killed. I would not wish such a death on my worst enemy, let alone the father and friends of my betrothed.”
The butterflies exploded again. Betrothed! She could hardly believe it. And to an imperial captain, nonetheless!
 
 
The present Lei blinked back a fresh bout of tears from her torn eyes. Such a fool she had been!
 
 

Comments

Poor Lei

Oh, poor girl...foolish, but poor girl... Now, if only I could read chapter 2...someone needs to talk to Ben about that....

Julie | Mon, 08/24/2009

Formerly Kestrel

:`(

I think he thought it was too gloomy...I got a message from him asking me to "let a little light into" my imaginary world...

LoriAnn | Tue, 08/25/2009

editing in progress

Working on edits! I'm glad Ben said something - I'm likeing the way this is turning out.

LoriAnn | Fri, 08/28/2009

Editing done

Attention!

I just finished edits for this story - go back and read again, if you can, bacause a few things have changed.

LoriAnn | Fri, 09/11/2009

I can't believe I haven't

I can't believe I haven't seen this before! It's amazing! I just went through and read all you have far and I would be extremely dishonest if I said that it was just good...it's excellent!!!!! Can't wait for the new chapter..hurry up and approve, Ben!

Ariel | Fri, 09/11/2009

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"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

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