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I remember the next day, a man came to town. He wore a tattered broad brimmed hat and worn sandals, looked just like many of the men that lived in my village, but people hurried us into our houses when he arrived, like he was something dangerous. I spied through the slats of my neighbors fence and saw the man go into the saki house to speak with my father. Though he looked like one of us, he had a walk that was different, graceful and deadly, like a stalking tiger, but without caution.
He left the Saki house, and made for the gates of our village just before sunset. No one ever left at sunset. We children gossiped among ourselves while he was meeting with the adults. Was he a demon, come to demand a payment, perhaps one of us!? We hoped he had come to help, and some said he was a demon hunter the village had sent for.
Before he left, I worked up my courage and approached him. I was a stupid boy worried about my sister. I asked him if he was going to find her. I remember what he said to me
Gill trails off and his eyes go somewhere else as he recites the next words
Do not worry for your sister, and do not hope for her return. I will see to it she makes it safely to heaven, where she will watch over you and your father for all time, and I will avenge her.
He was telling me she was already dead. I collapsed in a fit of grief. I remember the man lifted me up and carried me back to the steps of the Saki house and returned me to my father. I could tell he had said the same thing to him. Then the man left our village. We mourned that night like at no other time. Chi Lee was….
Gill trails off again. There is an almost imperceptible twitch in his throat followed by a hard swallow, as he pours himself another cup of saki and downs it.
My father told me the man was a hunter who had come to kill the creature that had taken away my sister. That he would avenger her, and one day things would be ok because of it. I asked him what would happen if the monster killed the hunter, and he told me we would have to leave the village and live out on the road selling trinkets, so whenever I am not working, I must pray for the man as hard as I can, and pray for the soul of Chi Lee to be at peace.
Well days and days passed….more than a week. I prayed and prayed. It saved me from my grief. It gave me something to do. I imagined my prayers like arrows shooting off to help the mysterious hunter.
Finally the hunter returned with 3 bags slung over his shoulder. He had killed the monster in just one night, but it had taken him days to recover all the bones of Chi Lee, and Leebu, and the little boy who used to throw the dirt clods at me…He had taken all that time to find them, and he had brought them home to us, so their souls could rest, and so we could perform the rites and make peace with their passing.
We had believed him when he told us they were all dead. He was right to tell us not to hold out hope, and when I saw him return I felt peace that Chi Lee’s spirit would be running through heavens meadow, just as father had told me through his tears, and that she would be up there to shower blessings on us and await us. I saw my father give him a bag that contained his payment, and for a moment as I saw him walking away, I felt alright. But then, I felt anger. I wanted to fight against the evil that had taken my sister away so soon. I wanted to go with the stranger.
I ran after him and begged him to take me with him. I told him I could wash is cloths, carry his things and pour his saki each night. He bent down and looked me straight in the eye. It was like locking eyes with a cat of prey, but I tried not to look away. My father had always taught me to look a man in the eye when serious matters are being discussed. Are you sure you can serve me faithfully little one, he asked. I nodded. Then your service to me begins now. I nearly jumped up and down but wanted to look serious and adult like as he did. Then he told me:
Your duty to me is to stay here and look after your father. You must learn all you can from him and learn the ways of his trade faithfully. You must be kind to all in your village and always work hard. In this way you will have served me well, and one day perhaps I shall return to check up on you, and perhaps I will ask you to serve me again.
He had tricked me in the same way adults had always tricked me in the past. He had made me believe, for just a second, that he might take me away to become a hero like him, only to command me to live the life I was already living. I could not contain my disappointment but before I could protest he smacked me over the head. It didn’t hurt, just shocked me and shut me up where I stood. I said your service begins now he said, pointing back in the direction of my father’s saki house. With no argument I turned and left him, suddenly filled with a passion to make good on my new commitment, even if it was not what I had hoped. As I ran he called to me one last time and told me there was one more thing he wanted me to do. He tossed me the bag that contained the payment my father had given him. Hide it somewhere safe he said, and tell no one of it. One day your village will have a great need for it, and they will be glad to have it.
With that he left.
That was White Carp.
Gill Deftly fills both cups again and raises his in salute, a look of fierce nostalgia in his eyes
To White Carp!