“…and a three-volume edition of Pendennis, by Thackeray; second printing. Rebound recently — and very well — but printed first in Liepzig, of all places, back in 1849.” The young man turned from his computer screen to confront his visitor, who was by now visibly bored. He sighed, but slogged on.
“Like most of these, it’s old, but not particularly valuable. The true first edition runs about four hundred, but that’s a two-volume set printed in London. This was run off in Liepzig by the Tauchnitz firm, and it’s one of the earliest ever printed under international copyright protection, which Tauchnitz actually helped pioneer. This is the only—”
“Please, just tell me what it’s worth,” said the young lady, who was afraid the impromptu lecture would go on forever. She came for money, not an education.
He sighed again. “…The only reason this is important. And it is actually an important edition in its own right, which gives it some value; and the fact that there aren’t a lot of these out there make it legitimately scarce — not rare, per se, but the closest of anything you’ve brought in. It’s lovely, beautifully if plainly bound, has some historical interest, and is worth about eighty bucks. Which means I pay forty.”
She blinked. “But my uncle told me it was a great treasure — that he was…” She was shocked; clearly she’d expected a lot more.
“He was wrong, I’m afraid,” the bookseller said kindly…
General Huang was playing chess with Master Sun. He was winning.
The general loved to play chess. He moved with a slashing, dashing style, careless of the individual pieces and always with the main objective in mind: The enemy’s king. General Huang played to win. He loved to win, and he loved to play because he usually won. Some days his luck was bad, but not today; today he was winning and loving it.
“I don’t understand about the plants,” he said. “You’re training them to kill people, not to trim shrubs. So why do you spend so much time on the plants?”
“I teach them to fight, yes. But the bonsai, it teaches patience and a keen eye. Lets me see the student, too, see his weakness and his strength. Helps me teach.” Master Sun moved a knight unobtrusively to one side, where it threatened nobody — a mistake. The general moved in for the kill.
“It seems to me, even the sword work is too much. We use rifles and the bayonet. Spear work and the staff, that makes sense; strength and quickness. But most of these boys will never hold a sword again after training. So why teach them that either? Check.” Master Sun moved his bishop to block, threatening the enemy queen. A few minutes of intense play followed; the general sacrificed a pawn but kept up the pressure.
“The sword, it teaches balance. Where to strike, how to guard. Economy of motion.” Master Sun frowned, moved a rook one space to the left.
“Surely you could teach that with spears and staves? The old bayonet drill, I know it well. And it’s served me well, more than once.” The general grinned as the memories flooded back. One thing he loved even more than chess was fighting, and he had done his share.
He had been a colonel then, had Huang, a foreign mercenary who had earned his promotions the hard way. He had started as common soldier under von Lettow, then became a consultant to the new regime. When General Mbuto put down the populist revolution of the Nandi, he’d served as aide-de-camp; during Mbuto’s own revolution, Huang stayed with him, battling against the European settlers and even the few regular troops that came in far too late.
It was near the end of one such action that Colonel Huang had discovered Master Sun on his knees in a clearing, tending to a thorn bush with a broken twig. He had a bloody sword in his hand and was surrounded by dead soldiers. Some were white, some black; the uniforms were different, but they were all dead. Each had been killed by a single stroke. Master Sun himself was bleeding from a bullet he had taken in the side, but apart from a quick dressing he appeared to have taken little notice.
Colonel Huang was not a man given to distractions. He had been ordered to slaughter the hated whites and he had done so. Then, when the English troops had come (Sikhs, but to Huang it made no difference) he had killed them in their turn, his own losses severe but of no particular moment. But this sight was enough to draw his attention from the battle, which he quite resented. Later he would deal with this anomaly. But for now—
“Capture him alive,” he ordered. His escort, seeing the carnage, hesitated; Huang knew this would not do. Obedience must be swift and sure or discipline would end and the army fall to ruin — even in the small things. The trick was to never give an order a soldier would not obey, and he had broken this rule. He acted quickly, waving his men back (they still hadn’t moved) and stepping forward into the clearing.
“Stranger! Why did you kill these men?” He spoke in Swahili, then L’tonga, then the hated English. At the last, the man responded; in English he said, “They would have broken my bonsai.” Observing Huang’s incomprehension, he clarified: “The bush.”
Colonel Huang nodded. He didn’t understand, but then he didn’t have to. “We must take you prisoner. You may bring the bush if you want.” Master Sun stared a moment, then nodded. Huang detailed two men to see to it, then turned back to the village. They would purge every remnant of the white settlers.
You know how this works: Send me money and I’ll keep writing. Don’t send money and I’ll write less or about other things. Someone mentioned he liked my ghost story, so here’s another one. And yes, he bought me a coffee or two — not enough to fund the whole tale, but maybe part of one.
More parts will come to you as and when they come to me. Remember, this is still a work in progress; it may change before we’re done.