“So what’s it worth?”
“As a book? Maybe twenty bucks. But let me ask you: What’s that story worth? And every bit of it’s true. No, this I won’t sell — not for twenty, not for a hundred. Someday, to the right person, I’ll sell it. Because that’s my job; it’s why I’m here. But it has to be someone the story means something to.”
She nodded now, understanding. “Because there aren’t many of that kind of collector. I’d imagine most are only in it for the money.”
“That’s exactly right!” He was delighted; she’d caught on. “They all hunt for buried treasure; it’s just that some of us define the term differently. These will go to someone who knows the Tauchnitz story and fell in love with it — at a fair price, of course. People don’t appreciate things they don’t pay for, so I always make sure price is proportionate to value. That’s part of it; knowing the tale of Tauchnitz is the rest. And who to tell it to.”
“Hah. So you’re a collector yourself, then,” she said, amused. “Except you don’t collect the books. You collect the stories about them…”
Master Sun was having trouble with his chess game.
He had created such a lovely pattern, an ideogram of sorts. And General Huang had cooperated until that last move, playing the part of the inexorable antagonist perfectly. But nobody could have predicted that… that gross error, born of frustration. Clearly, Master Sun had misjudged his opponent’s self-control.
He would need to move quickly or even the obtuse General Huang would notice — but if he missed so obvious an opening, the General must certainly notice that too, which would never do. So near to the fruition of all his years of planning, the General must suspect nothing. And yet he had not at all intended to win today; it was vital that the General leave in a happy mood.
Master Sun reached out his hand…
Brother Doj had just finished tending his bonsai with the students. He loved the bonsai, though he had been slow to learn at first. But patience had served him well, and by now he had become quite proficient.
Brother Doj had three trees, all of the same bristly thorn that every student used. They sprouted a thousand scarlet leaves only briefly after the rains came, and when they did they were beautiful. One spread serenely, peaceful and contemplative. The second bent back as though in a stiff wind, all the leaves sprouting in the same direction; that had taken him years, but he didn’t much like it. The third, his favorite, was twisted and gnarled, stooped over as with age — like an old woman with her cane, he thought, smiling to himself as he adjusted them just so on their table, that they might catch the light.
He then went to tend to his other charge: The books.
The collection had grown in its time here. As the General came across military treatises, he sent them up with the students, or brought them himself. Once he had sent a large tome devoted to the art of topiary, which had both delighted and amused the Master; thinking of it made Doj sad for a moment.
They were displayed on a set of shelves to one side of the Master’s private dojo, on the ground floor below his private quarters. The shelves were away from direct light and well away from the windows. There was only the one chair, placed to catch good reading light in the afternoons. It was rarely used.
When Brother Doj came in, a filthy soldier was sitting there, flipping through a small volume; several were piled haphazardly on the floor next to him, some splayed open and others folded back on themselves. A few loose pages had spilled. Doj was scandalized. “You–” he began, then quieted himself; the General must be here today. It would not do to interrupt his Master at his chess game. Instead, he began gesturing furiously at the soldier, to put the book down and leave.
Corporal Kimba had advanced as far as he ever would in his profession, and he was content. When there was fighting he carried orders and got to tell people what to do; when there was peace he guarded the General — and got to tell people what to do. He asked little of life but the chance to be idle when he wasn’t bullying his inferiors, and life was good to him.
Today was no exception. Here he was, sitting around bored while his General played games, and along came the little Brother to entertain him. He tossed the book aside and followed as he was bidden. He knew this one of old, and he had a score to settle.
When they were outside, the insolent young pup turned and began to tell him off in a low voice, shaking his finger. The Corporal looked down on him and, ever so slowly, a grin spread across his face. It was not at all a pleasant expression; Kimba had practiced it for years, and private soldiers quickly learned to dread it. The Brother was startled, and paused, finger mid-shake.
“I know you,” said Corporal Kimba. “You’re the boy that stole those books from the burn pile, all those years ago.” Doj wilted slightly, his mouth hanging open, and Kimba went on. “Against the Colonel’s orders. Against the instructions of our Great Leader, General Mbuto himself, who said that all English books were to be burned. Punishment for disobedience of the Great Leader is death.”
The grin grew wider. “And you disobeyed. I remember it well. You stole those books and ran away. I could not catch you then, but today — today, you are mine.” And Kimba reached for his bayonet.
You know how this works: Send me money and I’ll keep writing.
It’s finished. There’s one more part coming, but it’s written. It doesn’t say what I want it to say, but sometimes stories are like that. This one took on a life of its own, and in so doing it ignored my expectations. That’s neither good nor bad; it just is — but now I don’t know what to do with it. So I’m setting it free.
I hope you enjoy it. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t care whether you do or not.