NORTH WIND WAS not the only priceless possession to have gone missing in Cambaluc that morning.
The house of the late, honorable Wu Li was in an uproar as his widow stormed through every room, leaving chaos in her wake. Drawers were yanked out, their contents dumped on the floor, the drawers tossed aside. Shiny lacquered boxes were wrenched open, found wanting, and hurled against the wall. Tall porcelain vases were turned upside down and shaken in vain for anything that might have been secreted there, and when they proved empty were shattered into a hundred pieces on every hearthstone. “Where are they?” the widow said. Her voice rose to a shriek. “Where are they!”
The kitchen was a scene of bedlam by the time she finished there. The undercook bled from four parallel scratches on his cheek from the widow’s nails. Every pot was taken from its hook, every pan from its shelf, the spit pulled from the wall and used as a club to strike the drab assigned to turn it. The drab lay unconscious in a corner, breathing stertorously through bubbles of blood that extended and retracted through her nostrils. One of the maids was blinded, possibly permanently, having caught the brunt of the widow’s rings across her eyes. The rest of the servants had fled, or were cowering beneath tables and chairs and behind doors and bureaus, hoping against hope to escape her notice.
Gokudo was made of sterner stuff. “My lady,” he said.
She snarled and whirled, both hands curled into bejeweled claws. “Where are they?” she shouted, advancing on him.
“I do not know, my lady,” he said.
She raised a hand, long, now-broken fingernails already stained with blood. “Tell me where they are! The stables!” She stepped forward. “Get out of my way!”
Gokudo stood his ground. “Wu Li’s daughter is gone,” he said.
She didn’t appear to hear him, at first, the mad light in her eyes undiminished, the claw of a hand still upraised to strike.
He repeated himself, raising his voice, enunciating each word in a slow, clear voice. “The daughter of the honorable Wu Li is gone from this house. As is Shu Shao the kitchen drudge and Jaufre the stable boy.” This time she heard him.
I was fascinated by the idea of chops or stamps as a means of identification and to sign documents (still in practice in Asia today) and so I worked them into the plot. As any thief will tell you, the smaller a precious object is, the easier it is to steal. If Johanna was hoping for an uneventful journey, however, she would have done well to leave her father’s behind. –Dana
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.