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Historical Fiction

The explosion rocked the whole building and Hui stooped low to avoid the hanging ceiling. Another explosion came from a long way off. This war had to stop and Hui was determined to be the one to stop it. 


7 days later 

Hui whooped with delight and accomplishment as the metal ladle spun in a circle stopping as it reached the halfway point. It had worked! Hui’s invention had succeeded which might just help them win the underground war. 


Hui stopped as the ladle spun again and stopped, quivering between the sword and where it was trying to go. What was happening he had thought he had gotten it right. It had worked; it couldn’t be failing now. He needed it to work. It had to work! Then he gasped as it spun and stopped quivering, pointing directly behind him. Maybe it did work was the last thought that crossed Hui’s mind before he slammed to the ground knocked unconscious by the side o of the great battle axe of Qiuyue Zhang.


Hui woke up to the cloaking darkness of the night laying in the destroyed remnants of his workshop. He tried sitting up and raised his hand to his head as he felt a searing pain. The side of his head was sticky with blood and as he carefully raised himself up to survey the disaster before him, he felt the dried blood crack with strain. He sat up brushing debris off his legs. His workshop was ruined that was plain enough to see but as he looked closer he slumped with relief as he saw the metal ladle lying untouched in the wreckage. At least he didn’t have to start from scratch anymore, he thought with a sigh. Slightly swaying, he gently got up to a standing position and reached out a hand to steady himself. He made his way stumbling across the courtyard to a fountain which was still mostly intact and sat down on the edge slowly stooping down to wash his hands in the water. He scooped some up and washed the blood off the wound. It wasn’t clean water but it was better than letting it sit there. He got up again and scavenged through the scraps for anything whole. After a while he let out a sigh and set out with his ladle and what looked to be an insignificant metal plate with designs scratched into the surface. 


Hui limped down the road for a few minutes stumbling a few times until he came to an offshoot that wound its way all the way up a stone path to a small house. He limped up the drive and knocked on the door wishing for something to lean on as a candle was lit in the house and a person made their way across the room to the door. 


Hui winced as Yanyu wrapped a clean linen around his freshly washed head. She was soft and gentle in her touch and she was beautiful, with the aroma of flowers weaving around her. Hui closed his eyes breathing in her scent and relaxing as she continued hum a chinese tune as she bandaged his head. 

“You should be more careful,” she gently scolded him as she finished winding the linen. 

“I am careful,” Hui complained, secretly glad he had gotten to come to her house. 

Yanyu sighed and made her way to the kitchen where she poured two cups of green tea. She walked back across the room and handed a cup to Hui who accepted it with a grunt of thanks. After he finished his tea Yanyu helped Hui out of the room and into a bed before turning out the candle and going to bed herself. 


Yanyu smiled at Hui as he entered the room and Hui thoroughly rested, smiled back. 

“Good morning” Yanyu said as she turned her back and kept making breakfast. Hui replied in kind and his mouth watered as Yanyu set down a steaming bowl of congee, (a typical chinese breakfast porridge), in front of him. Hui stirred the cinnamon that was delicately sprinkled on top of the porridge into the rest of the mixture and then spooned a mouthful of the congee into his mouth. Closing his eyes as the warm silky mixture enveloped his senses Hui smiled and slowly enjoyed the rest of the bowl in pleasant silence. After the meal Yanyu changed Hui’s bandage and he walked outside to contemplate what would come next. 


Yanyu came out of the house a few minutes later to go to the marketplace. 

“Stay out of trouble while I’m gone,” Yanyu said as she came out of the house to go to the marketplace. Hui smiled in response and Yanyu strolled down the path towards the village. Hui sighed and relaxed as Yanyu turned the corner and disappeared. He didn’t want to leave but he couldn’t stay either he couldn’t let Qiuyue Zhang win. 


Yanyu sighed as she turned the corner. She didn’t want to leave but she knew that Hui would leave if she did and she knew that he had to leave. He couldn’t let Qiuyue Zhang win. 


Hui got up and went into the house and grabbed his ladle and metal plate. Hui knew that the ladle would spin and point to the direction of Qiuyue Zhang’s axe if he was near but the ladle wasn’t spinning.  


Yanyu got home later that day and sighed as she confirmed what she already knew in her heart, Hui was gone. 


Hui stopped in the courtyard market and surveyed his surroundings, it was narrow and busy but there was a small offshoot that he could test for Qiuyue Zhang. He walked into the alley and set the metal plate on the ground and placed the ladle in the center to see what would happen. The ladle didn’t spin and Hui knew that meant Qiuyue Zhang wasn’t near. Hui picked up the two items and wove his way through the crowd. He knew he couldn’t fight Qiuyue Zhang. He wasn’t strong enough. Hui made his way down the street thinking as he walked, who could he go to, Hui felt a pull in his hands and he glanced down to see the ladle pulling away from him. He glanced where it was pulling, turned, and ran. 


Hui didn’t notice where he had gone until he was at the door knocking. It was his friend's house who used to be a part of the same organization until he quit to take care of his family. Li Qiang came out of the house and looked around before seeing Hui who was standing to the side. 

“Hui,” Li Qiang’s voice was deep and kind. 

“I need your help, Li Qiang,” Hui replied. 

“You know I quit to take care of my family,” Li Qiang’s voice had a slight edge as if he knew he would not be able to say no to Hui. 

“The Grasshopper is dead,” Hui had long wished never to say the phrase. 

Li Qiang didn’t seem to show any outward signs but Hui could tell when the full implications of what he had just said hit. Li Qiang turned around Motioning for Hui to come inside. 


Hui and Li Qiang sat around a low table facing each other and sipping green tea in silence. Hui waited for Li Qiang to break the silence but instead he kept sipping his tea in quiet contemplation. After what seemed to be hours Li Qiang spoke,

“So, the grasshopper is dead,” 


Hui nodded but kept quiet and again Li Qiang fell silent. 

“Why do you need me,” Li Qiang questioned Hui closely until he felt he did not need anymore information. 

“I will think about this and consider its implications, until then you may stay with us in peace,” Li Qiang got up from the table and Hui followed his lead. 


The next morning Hui got up to a breakfast of steamed buns and dumplings, one of his favorite meals which Hui took to be a sign of a good day. Over breakfast Li Qiang was as silent as ever and Hui barely tried to make any conversation. Finally Hui and Li Qiang sat on the little house's porch and Li Qiang silenced Hui’s doubts. 

“I will help you,” Li Qiang said in answer to the unspoken question hanging in the air. 


Hui and Li Qiang stood in the marketplace looking around, after a while Li Qiang and Hui by unspoken consent fell into step besides one another and walked to a point in the market where there were several offshoots going in different directions Hui stopped at one and Li Qiang stood besides the entrance guarding. 


Hui walked past a few people but for the most part the alley was empty. As he walked down the street he kept his head low and after a time he stepped to the side where a curtain blocked the entrance to a small shop. He had to bend over slightly to enter the dimly lit room. It was small and cluttered with knick knacks and books. The small bit of light came from a single candle that was already mostly melted and as Hui watched it sputtered and plunged the room into utter darkness. Hui was already on edge when he had entered the room but this set his teeth on edge and sent his hand straight to the hilt of his sword. However as his eyes adjusted to the dark he could make out another curtain with light seeping out from under it and Hui made his way towards the light. 


“I had wondered when you would come,” A small man was in the corner, his face away from Hui. Hui winced as the man's gravelly voice hit him but recovered as the man turned around to show his face. 

“Master Cheng,” Hui bowed as the man turned around. 

“Hui,” Master Cheng turned back around as he said this, “You need my help I suppose,” the man continued in his gravelly voice. 

“Yes master Cheng, if you would give it,” Hui said in a respectfully quiet tone of voice. 

“And should I give it,” the man asked. 

Hui stuttered at this and stumbled through his answer saying, “That is up to you, I mean, um we would like you to,” 

“And who is we,” the old man questioned. 

“Li Qiang and I,” Hui responded, grateful for a more direct question. 

The man raised his eyebrows at this answer and responded with another question, 

“It must indeed be serious if Li Qiang agreed to help,” 

“It is, the grasshopper is dead,” Hui replied, not sure how Master Cheng would take this news. 

“Indeed it is,” the man replied

At this it was Hui’s turn to raise his eyebrows 

“You knew,” Hui asked in astonishment 

“Well I was waiting for you wasn’t I,” the man answered with a slight chuckle, “but yes I knew.” 

Hui gaped at the man, “why didn’t you come help us,” Hui asked.

“Well you came to me didn’t you,” the man replied seeming not to notice the sound of hurt in Hui’s voice. 

“But, but,” Hui stumbled around trying to find an excuse for why the man should have come to find them until he realized there wasn't one. The man was right, he had come to him, there was no reason for the man to have come to him instead of the way it had laid out. After a moment Hui replied 

“Pardon my hasty conception,” The man didn’t reply but Hui knew that Master Cheng knew the lesson had gone home. 

“Why do you need my help,” Master Cheng asked after a pause. 

“Li Qiang nor I are strong enough to defeat Qiuyue Zhang. You are strong enough though,” Hui finished and let the unspoken question hang in the air for a bit before asking it, “will you fight Qiuyue Zhang,” Hui watched Master Cheng closely but couldn’t discern anything, his face was as impassive as ever. 


“No,” Hui was startled out of his concentration as Master Cheng abruptly spoke and in one fluid motion rose, flung the curtain back, and left the room. 


Hui was startled and for a moment just stood there looking at the spot he had last seen Master Cheng, but he didn’t reappear and after Hui recovered his wits he strode to the curtain and flung it aside. Hui walked down the alley in both directions but couldn’t spot Master Cheng anywhere. 


“Where’s Master Cheng,” Li Qiang’s deep voice hit Hui as suddenly as the sunlight as he exited the alley. 

“Gone,” Hui hated the look on Li Qiang’s face as he told him this information.  

“What do you mean gone,” LI Qiang looked from Hui to the alley and back again as he said this. 

“He wouldn’t help us,” Hui responded 

“But that can’t be right, Master Cheng knows we can’t afford to lose this,” Li Qiang sounded almost frantic which worried Hui. Li Qiang was always so steady and reliable. 

“Hui what’s that sound,” as Li Qiang spoke Hui stopped and listened. It was the sound of metal scraping against metal as it turned. Hui looked at his feet and saw the ladle set on top of the metal plate, handle quivering as it pointed slightly to the right of their backs. 


Li Qiang was the fastest and spun around only to crumple to the ground unconscious after getting whacked in the face with the side of Qiuyue Zhang’s battle axe. Hui, fortunate because of his slowness, drew his sword and met Qiuyue Zhang’s battle axe. With a clash of steel Hui turned and fled down the alley with his now badly bent sword. Hui ran and ran, his only advantage being his knowledge of the streets of Xi'an. 


Hui knew he couldn’t run forever. He had to stop and fight sometime but he also knew he could never win. Qiuyue Zhang was too strong. Hui came to a turn and slipped as he made it too sharp. He barely got up in time and the battle axe of Qiuyue Zhang nicked his shoulder sending fire down to the tips of his fingers. As Hui ran he scarcely registered the screams of peoples terror as the pair of warriors rushed by, chasing one another. Hui stumbled to a stop in a courtyard and turning around, he met Qiuyue Zhang. 


Hui was exhausted and he could tell that Qiuyue Zhang was too. They had fought long and hard and by now the clash of steel as it echoed around the courtyard was all their ears were attuned to. As their blades met yet again, Hui slid back a few inches. His back was almost to the wall of a house and Hui knew he would not win this fight. As their weapons met again Hui fell back and heard the gasp of everyone who was cautiously watching from the safety of a few streets branching off of the courtyard. Hui futility threw up his sword as Qiuyue Zhang’s battle axe sweeped down for his last blow of this fight. 


Just like that the fight was over. Metal clanged to the floor as a man fell down and died in front of all the spectators. The crowd was hushed at this sudden eucatastrophe. 


The crowd suddenly started cheering as Li Qiang stooped down to help Hui up. They had won. Qiuyue Zhang was dead. 


Off on a side street Master Cheng watched in pride as the two boys picked one another up. He had known they could do it. That is why he had said no to helping them; he knew that if they worked together they would beat Qiuyue Zhang, and they had. Master Cheng chuckled, even after they had graduated, he was still teaching them. He guessed it would always be that way. Master cheng glanced one more time at the two men and smiled. 


And so, after Qiuyue Zhang died Hui and Li Qiang alone knew the secret of the ladle. Some thought it was used for fortune telling and still others adjusted it to tell directions but the real reason has long been a secret. The real reason the compass was made was to find Qiuyue Zhang. 


Epilogue

Hui smiled as he made his way down the street accompanied by the sounds of gongs and firecrackers. His face broadened even wider as Yanyu’s friends came out to haggle the price of her. He did flips and cartwheels and put piles of gifts forward before they were satisfied that he deserved her. Hui sighed with relief when they stepped aside and Yanyu stepped forward in her red dress covered in flowers. Their eyes met and they smiled at one another laughing. Yanyu and Hui walked with one another back down the street oblivious to all of the people surrounding them. As they approached Hui’s house firecrackers were set off on either side and a red carpet was rolled out underneath Yanyu’s feet. They stepped inside and smiled. They were married. 






June 05, 2020 16:02

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