Sun tzu and the maiden a.., p.1
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       Sun Tzu and the Maiden Army, p.1

           Bill W.Y. Cain
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Sun Tzu and the Maiden Army
Sun Tzu and the Maiden Army

  A Short Story


  Bill W.Y. Cain

  Sun Tzu and the Maiden Army

  A Short Story

  Copyright 2013 Bill W.Y. Cain

  ISBN: 978-0-9920690-8-7


  Morning mist hung low to the ground under the pale morning twilight. Dew clung to the cherry blossoms blooming copiously on the peach trees that lined the finely chiseled pathway leading to the long and steep white marble stairway to the royal palace. So straight, perfect, and expertly crafted, the stairway looked like an arrow’s shaft aimed towards the heavens. Three flat landings perfectly spaced along the ascent, stood carvings of stone dragons standing on the handrails – sentinels to the great seat of power in the State of Wu.

  Sun Tzu’s young aid, Wai Bo, walked beside him, carrying the two and a half foot gentlemen’s sword with both hands, hugging it to his chest, and shuffling along quickly to keep pace with his master’s long strides. Protocol normally dictated that Sun Tzu carried his own weapon – a warrior and his sword had an intimate relationship – it was one of the first lessons of a martial artist. However, Sun Tzu decided that for today, a break in protocol was required for he held thirteen bamboo scrolls bundled in yellow silk, an accumulation of many years of studious labor, in both his arms.

  Sun Tzu looked at Wai Bo, the young aid of thirteen years old, as he stumbled awkwardly on the first steps of the stone stairs. Sun Tzu saw the boy was breathing rapidly; his face was tense, and his movements were jittery. “Mind your presence,” Sun Tzu said in a kindly tone. “Do not preoccupy your mind with what is to come, for the future is only an illusion until it arrives. Focus on what is before you, in the present.”

  “Yes master,” the boy nodded obediently.

  “And breathe like I’ve taught you during your sword lessons.”

  Sun Tzu watched the boy take a series of long deep breaths, tapering off to even and controlled inhales and exhales. The boy learns quickly, Sun Tzu thought as they continued to ascend the stairs. He could not blame the boy for being anxious; this will be the boy’s first time going before a king. The boy’s reaction was natural.

  At this thought, Sun Tzu smiled to himself because this was actually going to be his first time going before a monarch as well. Shouldn’t he be a little nervous? Sun Tzu had previously tried to show the Art of War to the king back home in the State of Qi, but fortunes did not favor him an audience, no matter how many connections Sun Tzu made or how much money he paid in brides to officials and ministers.

  Sun Tzu shook off the foolish thought. What have I to be nervous about? Uncertainty lies only in those who don’t know themselves. Sun Tzu was certain about every word in his treatise, the Art of War. Every character in the thirteen scrolls was chosen with care and consideration. Every premise was developed through careful study and experience. Every theory was a formulation of logic and insight. Sun Tzu was as certain of his work as he was certain the sun would rise every morning. No people of learning, whether kings or scholars, could dispute his work.

  “Sun Tzu!”

  The booming voice shattered the morning tranquility, echoing loudly in the air. A roost of songbirds took flight abruptly from their roosts in the trees, wings flapping in frenzy. A man emerged at the very top of the marble stairs; his long straight raven hair draped over the shoulders of fine embroidered court robes. The man held his body with stately composure as the first rays of the morning sun broke through small breaks in the mist behind him, framing his body in a brilliant glow as the rays fell onto him in straight slanting beams.

  “Sun Tzu!” the man’s voice challenged again. “If you desire an audience with the King of Wu, you must first get by me!” He unsheathed his sword with a flourish; the blade cut through the crisp morning air with a sharp swishing whistle. The man then dove down the stairs with long graceful strides of a leopard in chase, and with one powerful leap, he launched himself into the air, soaring and bearing down upon Sun Tzu with his blade posed for the kill.

  Sun Tzu reacted instantly. Taking the silk bundle, he pressed it to the boy’s chest and grabbed the hilt of his sword that was in the boy’s hands. In one simultaneous and smooth motion, he pushed Wai Bo away to the railing with one arm and pulling the blade from its sheath in the other. Sun Tzu brought the blading arcing over his head just in time to meet his foe’s deadly strike. The clash of forged steel rang loudly, resonating through the air. The moment froze for the briefest of time as the two swordsmen shared a look of determination and exhilaration.

  The attacker had landed lightly and agilely on the steps above Sun Tzu, without the slightest misstep or uncertainty; it was as effortless for him as if he were landing on flat land from an easy hop, not flying down long steep stairs. The attacker followed up his momentum by slicing his sword, quick swipes to Sun Tzu’s midsection, forcing Sun Tzu to retreat further down the steps.

  Sun Tzu realized immediately that this man was an expert swordsman, no less than himself. Both men were in their prime, and their prowess was evenly matched. Sun Tzu knew, if he met this man head on, force for force, he may perhaps be victorious, given time. But it would be far from certain and it would cost a great expenditure of strength and vigor. One on one competition was no different than a battle of armies; victory lies not only on brute force but on strategy and positioning. So Sun Tzu didn’t parry the attacker’s sword strikes – meeting strength for strength. Instead, Sun Tzu pivoted to the side avoiding the reach of the blade, and leapt, twisting his body until he landed higher up on the stairs.

  As Sun Tzu landed on the steps, their swords came together and locked. Elated grins were on their faces as they stared at each other. The attacker knew what Sun Tzu had just accomplished – Sun Tzu using one simple move had taken away the attacker’s advantage of high ground; now they both stood facing each other on the same level step.

  The two warriors pushed off each other’s swords and tore up the stairs, each trying to get higher on the stairway than the other. Side by side they ran, parrying their blades as they went up, each trying to gain the higher ground. Their speed and skill were evenly matched, neither gaining an edge over the other. If nothing changed, this duel may continue indefinitely, but Sun Tzu had no intention of winning by an exchange of force alone.

  Sun Tzu delivered a sudden thrust of his sword point, over extending his arm and body, giving him an unexpected reach with his sword. This shocked the attacker who jerked violently backwards, but he recovered quickly, parried, and returned Sun Tzu’s follow up strikes.

  Sun Tzu delivered another overextended thrust and once again the attacker jerked backwards defensively, keeping well away from Sun Tzu’s reach.

  Sun Tzu delivered the same strike a third time. This time the attacker was waiting for it. Instead of jerking back defensively, the attacker sidestepped by the strike and went for the open flank that an overextended strike always exposed – this was Sun Tzu’s right side torso.

  However to the attacker’s amazement, Sun Tzu did not follow through on the overextension as he did on the previous two strikes; instead, Sun Tzu yanked short his leading foot, planting it firmly, allowing him to swivel his hips around suddenly. His sword slid over his right side in a slicing motion right as the attacker was coming in to strike. The edge of Sun Tzu’s blade landed on the attacker’s exposed throat.

  The duel was over.

  The attacker stood motionless, the sword hot against the skin at his neck, and he gave Sun Tzu a tentative smile. “Is that what you mean in your Art of War by, positioning your enemy by enticing him with bait he is certain t
o take?”

  Sun Tzu retracted the blade’s edge from the man’s throat, placed both his hands together on the sword’s hilt with the point directed at the ground, and gave a polite bow. “You do me great honor, Minister Shao, for quoting words from my work.”

  “Words of which I plan to commit to memory.” Minister Shao returned the gesture of greeting and sheathed his own sword. “However, I just come to realize that reading the words are not enough. There are deeper connotations that go beyond the face value of the words...many other possible...applications. Is that not so, my friend?”

  Sun Tzu bowed his head humbly from the compliment.

  “During our duel, you bested me several times,” Shao said.

  “The outcome of our match could easily have gone the other way,” Sun Tzu replied. “You are a truly accomplished sword master, Minister.”

  Minister Shao waved his hand in a dismissing gesture. “That is not what I mean. I have no reservations about my ability with the sword. You out positioned me throughout our fight. Even when I had the advantage, you took it away, not by better sword skills, but by outmaneuvering me. All of it – is part of the Art of War, no? You were able to apply your theories of warfare to individual combat. So there must be many other variations of application, no?”

  Sun Tzu again gave a humble nod in reply.

  “I must have the opportunity to read your manuscript in its entirety,” the minister insisted.

  “It would be an honor. My manuscript is at your disposal.” Sun Tzu caught a stark glint in the minister’s eyes, revealing more in the minister’s words than just a mere request. The minister was not a man accustomed to losing. Sun Tzu had estimated Minister Shao to be a true gentleman of China, meaning a man of erudition in politics, literature, philosophy, and poetry, as well as being a skilled warrior and swordsman. Sun Tzu believed he may have found a true kindred spirit in Shao, but from time to time, he’d noticed a hidden hardness in the minister, a biting edge of ambition that can often overwhelm men of ability.

  “No, no, the honor of reading the Art of War will belong to His Majesty first,” Shao said firmly. “I’m grateful to you already for allowing me to read portions of it.”

  Young Wai Bo came running up the steps, breathing rapidly. His eyes were wide and bright from witnessing such a thrilling display of swordsmanship. Sun Tzu handed the boy his sword. “Minister Shao, I cannot thank you enough for arranging this audience with His Majesty,” Sun Tzu said. “You do me a great service.”

  “My service is to the State of Wu,” Shao replied. “We require talented and accomplished men like you if we are to defend ourselves from our enemies. We live under constant threat of attack from the other states. The State of Wu may not be the biggest or the strongest, but we will not succumb easily. If nothing else, the people of Wu possess noble and determined spirits.” Both men shared approving smiles. “Plus, if the State of Wu does not utilize your erudition then the danger will be that your talents will be acquired by another. I’m knowledgeable enough to realize that that would be a grave mistake. The Art of War must not fall into the hands of others.” Minister Shao stretched out an arm, gesturing invitingly up the stairs. “Please, allow me to personally escort you to the king’s royal council chamber.

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