Wu Cheng was seen to be pacing impatiently up and down in front of the East Gate of Chang’an, alternately kicking and cursing any camel unfortunate enough to get in his way.
Johanna waved. “Uncle Cheng! Uncle Cheng!”
He halted, staring at the three horses galloping in his direction, and then waved back vigorously before turning to shout at the packers. There was a great flurry of movement and the sounds of disgruntled camels spitting and snapping and groaning as they levered themselves up, one half at a time.
“Nice horse,” Wu Cheng said when Johanna reined in. If North Wind looked familiar to him, Wu Cheng, an inveterate gambler, possessed the discretion not to say so. He scowled at Shasha. “You had to bring her?”
She grinned. “Of course, Uncle. It wouldn’t do for you to be bored on the journey.” The scowl deepened. Unintimidated, Johanna said, “How big is the caravan this year, Uncle? It looks enormous.”
The scowl faded. One sure way to divert Wu Cheng was to praise his caravan. “A thousand camels.”
Johanna knew her duty and was properly impressed. “Imagine!”
Wu Cheng grinned. “Well, maybe nine hundred, and of course not all my own.”
“How many other traders travel with us?”
The scowl came back. “A dozen, so far, and a more useless pack of ninnies I never saw—”
“—in all my days on the Road, and they are many—” Jaufre said.
“—no more idea of the dangers than a newborn babe, and of less use—” Johanna said.
“—and all I’m doing by agreeing to take them into my caravan,” said Shasha, unable to resist, “—is inviting disaster down upon all our heads.”
Wu Cheng stared, and then threw back his head and laughed: a big, booming noise that turned the heads of everyone in line at the Gate. “Well, well,” he said, “it may be that I have guided this caravan before.”
Wu Cheng might have been my favorite character in this book. I wish he could have gone with them all the way. –Dana
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.