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       Dragon's Pupils - The Sword Guest (part 1), p.1
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           Martin Chu Shui
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Dragon's Pupils - The Sword Guest (part 1)


  Dragon’s Pupils

  The Sword Guest

  Martin Chu Shui

  Dragon’s Pupils – the Sword Guest

  Copyright 2009 by Martin Chu Shui

 

 

  For my father

  Prologue

  Fifth Century, China.

  Zhang lifted his calligraphy pen from the south wall of Anle temple, stepped back, stroked his long white beard, and smiled. He had been painting for three months, and now he had finally completed the last scale on the last dragon on the last wall of the temple.

  ‘What a masterpiece!’ the chief monk of Anle temple exclaimed. ‘Master Zhang, these have to be the best dragons you ever painted.’ He accompanied Zhang, followed by a large procession of monks, around the temple’s walls, now stepping back to see each of the four ferocious creatures in full, now leaning close to inspect the exquisite features such as a curve of a spur or a filmy twist of steam.

  Following along the dragon’s long wangled tangled body, the group reached the end of the west wall, where the dragon met the dragonhead stretched around the corner from the south wall.

  ‘Look at these talons—they could definitely cut your finger,’ said one monk.

  ‘You could almost pull their whiskers,’ said another.

  ‘Master Zhang, how many dragons have you painted in your life time?’ asked the chief monk.

  ‘Well,’ Zhang stroked his beard. ‘Today I finished my ninety-ninth.’

  ‘Ninety-nine dragons! Truly incredible! I’ll apply for the Emperor’s permission to rename the temple the “Four Dragon Temple”.’

  The chef monk heard a quiet babble behind him. He turned around. ‘What’s the matter?’

  A young monk in his early twenties blushed. ‘Sorry, chief monk and master Zhang. I just noticed that there are no pupils on these two dragons.’

  ‘What? Let me have a look.’ The chief monk stepped forward, staring at the dragons’ eyes from only inches away. ‘Yes, you are right; there are no pupils in their eyes. Master Zhang, could you please explain?’

  Zhang looked at the cloudless blue sky for a few seconds, and then said slowly, ‘I haven’t forgotten to paint their pupils. If I did, they would fly away.’

  Surprised noises rose from the crowd of monks.

  ‘Please be quiet,’ the Chief Monk said. ‘Master Zhang, we cannot have pupil-less dragons on our temple walls. You know the Emperor visits annually. It would be unforgivable if the emperor noticed the error…’

  ‘Chief Monk, it is not an error; the dragons would fly away if I painted their pupils.’

  More noise rose from the crowd.

  The chief monk raised his hand for quiet. ‘Master Zhang, as the chief monk of Anle temple, I formally request that you paint the dragons’ pupils.’

  Zhang looked at the endless blue sky for a long time, and then sighed. ‘All right, I’ll do it; but be prepared.’ Taking out his calligraphy pen, he made four rapid strokes on the wall.

  As soon as the pupils appeared in the dragons’ eyes, they winked and twisted their whiskers a bit; large chunky rain clouds gathered in the blue sky, and the two dragons wiggled their bodies.

  A bright bolt of lightning struck the walls, and they crumbled. The two dragons shook themselves and leapt into sky, against the heavy grey rain. There was a roar of wind and a howl of thunder, and they disappeared into the dark clouds.

  The two walls with the pupil-less dragons remained intact.

  Part one

  1

  Saturday Morning

  Perth, Western Australia

  ‘Time to go!’ Henry knocked on Liz’s bedroom door.

  Turning her bedside light on, Liz glanced at her clock. ‘In a minute!’ Eyes closed, she dragged herself to the edge of her bed, searching the floor with her feet. A couple of minutes later, holding her shoes and a pair of socks, she walked downstairs slowly. While Henry held the flyscreen door open waiting patiently for his twin, Liz sat on the floor and put on her socks and sneakers.

  ‘Ready?’ said Henry.

  ‘Yeah, let’s go.’

  It was very foggy. Along the Swan River, jogging on the damp grass, Liz could only see five metres ahead. Through the heavy mists drifting above the water, a large flock of black swans emerged.

  It was strange. Liz had never seen so many black swans before. Then, along the river bank, more and more birds came into sight—hundreds of pelicans, black water birds, seagulls, and ducks. What was going on here? These birds usually came out here at dusk, and in summer, not winter! Then she saw the reason—hundreds of little fish had jumped out of water and were flopping on the riverbank; the birds were having a feast.

  Henry pointed at the birds. ‘What’s going on?’

  Before Liz opened her mouth, a blast of screeching heralded a large group of white parrots swooping down at them.

  No time to think but act. Throwing herself to the ground, burying her face in the grass and crossing her arms behind her neck to protect her head, Liz felt the breeze from hundreds of fluttering wings only inches away. The noise was deafening.

  A few minutes later, although it felt like eternity, the world became quiet again.

  ‘This is mad! Fortunate I…we both reacted so quickly; otherwise God knows what would have happened to us!’ Henry spat out bits of grass and gave Liz a hand up.

  Liz stared at the clusters of birds fighting for a share of the suicidal fish, said. “Yes I agree with you that something was wrong with those parrots: we haven’t seen them for months, and there have never been so many of them and being so aggressive.”

  ‘We’d better go.’ Henry said.

  They resumed their jogging.

  Across the Narrows Bridge and across the overhead pathway they ran, up the steep hill of Kings Park. It was hard to keep jogging on the zigzag uphill paths. After reaching the hilltop near the war memorial, Liz and Henry bent, hands on their knees, panting heavily. When they raised their heads again, the river, the bridge, and Perth city were nowhere to be seen. The only thing in sight was the mist drifting over the hill.

  ‘We’re already five minutes late.’ Henry glanced at his watch trying to encourage Liz to hurry up.

  ‘I heard you,’ said Liz.

  They jogged downhill towards a flat grassy area, and Li Ping and Sue materialised from the fog when they were only a few metres away. ‘Sorry we’re late,’ panted Liz.

  ‘It’s all right,” said Li Ping. “We’ve only been here a couple of minutes. Shall we start?’

  While Li Ping walked among them, Liz, Sue and Henry started the slow, graceful Tai Chi movements, moving smoothly from the ‘Immortal Crane Stretching Her Wings’ to ‘Wild Horse Galloping’; then from ‘Single Arrow Shooting Two Eagles’ to ‘Fishing Moon from the Bottom of the Sea’. In the next hour, they accomplished the seventy-two cycles of Tai Chi.

  ‘You are doing very well,’ Li told Henry, ‘but recently you seem to have been losing your concentration a bit during class. Can you tell me why?’

  ‘We’ve been doing this Tai Chi for so many years, and now we’ve mastered all cycles you taught us, so it’s a bit boring. I wish that I could learn something more exciting, like hand to hand combat skills.’

  ‘Henry, you may think you have mastered all seventy-two cycles of Tai Chi, but I haven’t even started to teach you the real stuff yet.’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘Do you know that Tai Chi can be used in real combat? Moreover, it is far more powerful than any other martial art you have ever heard about.’

  ‘You must be joking; these slow moves can be used in real combat?’

>   The fog had become much thinner, so now they could see quite a distance. Henry pointed at a tree near the footpath. ‘Look at that dog; it’s climbed a tree.’

  Li turned around. ‘That is a bit strange.’

  ‘I almost forgot.’ Liz told Li about the strange behaviour of birds and fish earlier that morning.

  The smile faded from Li’s face. She counted on her fingers, mumbling words that Liz did not understand; Mandarin, she assumed. A few minutes later, Li said. ‘That is all for today; I’ll have to fly to Beijing tonight, but I should be back in a couple of days. Hopefully, we can still have our class next Saturday.’

  ‘Are you going to teach us combat Tai Chi next weekend?’ Henry asked.

  ‘Wait and see.’ Li left.

  ‘I thought Li Ping was flying to Beijing on Tuesday,’ Sue said.

  ‘That’s what I thought. Sue, I feel so tired…’

  ‘If you’d gone to bed a bit earlier last night, you’d have had more sleep,’ Henry interrupted.

  ‘I had so much homework. I never have time to do it all, because I have so many after-school activities.’

  ‘Maybe you should drop some of them,’ Sue said.

  ‘That’s what I thought; actually I’m thinking of dropping Tai Chi class…’ Liz’s voice trailed off.

  ‘What? Are you serious? You can’t do that to Sue and me! Remember the combat Tai Chi?’

  ‘Henry, stop it. Liz, I have the same problem. My mother actually suggested dropping the dancing class.’

  ‘But you want to be a model…’ Liz said.

  ‘Mum doesn’t think it’s a good career for me.’

  Liz glanced at her watch. ‘Let’s talk about this another day. Anyway, see you at the tree planting this afternoon.’

  As Liz and Henry walked in the door, their parents came downstairs, seemingly ready to go out.

  ‘Happy birthday, sweeties, I can’t believe that you’re fourteen years old!’ Their mother hugged Liz and then Henry.

  ‘Happy birthday,’ Liz’s father patted her head and then Henry’s shoulder.

  ‘Thanks, Dad.’

  ‘Dad and I are going to a swap meet (similar to car boot sale). Oh, I almost forgot; Dad’s going to cook a Sichuan banquet for your birthday tonight.’

  Oh, no—not a Chinese meal for her birthday, particularly her father’s cooking! And he didn’t even have the courage to tell her directly. Liz shook her head and went upstairs to have a shower.

  ‘A dozen scholars have gone missing from a conference in London…still under investigation…’ Pushing his empty plate aside, Henry read the newspaper while engulfing a large bowlful of rice bubbles, cornflakes, and soymilk.

  ‘Here’s more news: rare parrots have been spotted near Wave Rock—they were supposed to be extinct two hundred years ago... Hang on, I can’t believe this—the government has approved the mining project!’ He pounded his fist on the table so hard that the contents of his bowl splashed over the newspaper.

  ‘I already knew.’ Liz did not raise her head from her part of the newspaper.

  ‘So what should we do? Just sit here and watch the multinational mining companies destroying another Aboriginal sacred site, and cutting down more forests? How can you sit there so calmly?’

  ‘Calm down, little brother. Sue told me that Fred has already organised a protest in front of the State Parliament House during lunchtime this Monday.’

  ‘Thank God for that. Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Where was I when Sue told you?’

  ‘It was yesterday. I forgot to tell you. Please forgive me, little brother.’

  ‘Can you please stop calling me “little brother”? It embarrasses me in front of others. I’m fourteen years old, for God’s sake. You’re only a few minutes older than me.’

  ‘All right, I promise I won’t call you “little brother” again, little brother … whoops, slip of the tongue.’

  ‘So tell me, what exactly are the arrangements for the Monday protests? When, where, and who are going to join the action?’

  ‘I really don’t know. Sue didn’t
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