history lesson-


by Wendy

For all of the fuss that is made by my mother about foreign influence in China, she is quite happy to take their money. Living in this city full of dishonest officials and archaic values, their money is as good as ours.

My mama took payment from a foreigner when I was nearly three to not bind my feet in the traditional manner. She always claimed he was an Englishman, and she was most surprised when he asked after her daughter. For some years I believed this man might be my father, yet when I asked my mama she laughed and said I was a silly girl. My father had been a poor China man, long before my mama had entertained foreign gentlemen. She had used the small fortune he had paid her for me - she did not explain that the footbinding was out of fashion and that she had no intention of binding my feet - to set herself up as a higher class of prostitute, opening her own teahouse in the centre of Beijing.

My mama always took the best from any situation. My birth was not at all expected, yet not regretted, as she taught me many of the things that a good Chinese girl needs to know. She taught me music and dance and how to protect myself from men. While common thought has it that two woman under one roof means disharmony, we were happy and content. With the turbulence in our country, she felt that I needed to know how to save my life and my dignity. It was troubled times indeed, with everyday more soldiers in our streets.

My mama swore it was good for business, and laid in supplies of food and tea. We were prepared to wait out any trouble. It was unfortunate for her that trouble came chasing us.

The Englishman came back into our lives. He called himself Mister Jonathan Trelawney and was, according to my mama, not as rich as he seemed. He came into our lives three days after I had the first dream.

A girl, a European from the cast of her features, barefoot and hunted. She ran through the forest, not glancing behind her. It was then that I realised that she was not hunted, rather hunting. She ran fast and free and right into a group of strange and villainous creatures. Holding a wooden stick, she turned them all to dust. She seemed to look straight at me before I woke slowly, holding onto her fierce joy of slaying. My next night's sleep was interrupted by another dream about another girl in the same situation. The third night's dream was more of a nightmare. The girl this time, with skin the colour of bitter tea, was caught by these monsters and thrown between them. I watched her dying breath as she slipped away blood pouring from a wound in her throat. He came the next day.

You have the dreams, he said. I nodded, laughing inwardly at his awkward accent. That means you are the Slayer. I did not know what he meant, and ducked my head and nodded. He grasped my chin in his broad hand and told me, You may not understand now, but soon you will.

We sat outside the city walls in the darkness. I could hear the birds calling near the tombs of our ancestors, the nightingale sweet and loud above all others. I was shocked that we would come so close to this place where ghosts were known to walk and disturb the bones. It was not long before something more sinister destroyed the peace of that tranquil spot. A ravening beast, as those I had seen in my dreams, ran at me from out of a grave. Trelawney threw a wooden stick at me, ad with reflexes I had not known, I struck it through the heart. It dissolved into specks of dust that swirled around my feet as I swung around, searching for anymore of the interlopers.

None came. Next day, Trelawney bought me from my mama. She was reluctant, but the freedom of the life he was offering me was a strong attraction. She tearfully agreed, and took his money with a calm face. She was calculating how she could save it best, I imagine. I bear her no malice for this. Trelawney and I began what he termed training. I suppose I would have called it torture, had I been of a mind to disagree with him. However, the strength and speed of my new body carried me well, and I soon perfected the ancient arts he taught me. It was three weeks before he took me out to meet the beasts once more.

In the new words he as teaching me, I learned he called them vampire. In my language, they have another name - xeugui. In my mind, they remained beasts, as my mama had termed unruly patrons who tried to rape her girls. Everyone I killed was one who would not rape my mama, who would not destroy what fragile life she had left now that I was enjoying wearing men's grab and revelling in the strange power that I now possessed. I fought and Trelawney watched me from the sidelines. Tossing me another weapon occasionally, and always writing in his little books. I did not like the chicken scratches of his writing, and told him that he should write his diary in a proper language, with tones and sweet flowing penmanship. He laughed at me, and made me do another twenty rounds with a friend of his, one he jokingly named Boxer.

It was the Boxer who told me of the rebellion they were planning. He too had enough of the foreign influence, when we would talk in corners too quickly for Trelawney to pick it up. I felt sympathy for him and his friends, even when I laughed at his friendship with Trelawney. It turned out that my Watcher had saved his life, a claim I found unlikely in the extreme.

In the end, it was fate that forced me to participate in the rebellion. Tales from Beijing scared me more than any of the lessons Trelawney was giving me in demon lore. Stories of the siege in the city made me escape his eyes and follow the railway tracks to my home. None of those fierce steam dragons were running, and I made fast time along the level surface. I avoided all groups of refugees and fighters alike, focused on my goal.

I was too late. The house was a charred husk, and all my mama's dreams had gone to ruin. I could find not one of her friends and decided to search out her usual hiding places. It was in the temple that I found him, one of my beasts that I was born to fight, slobbering over the body of my mama. A rage coloured red entered my heart, and I swung my sword from its sheath.

"Slayer." He grinned. "I've been looking for you." He as a foreigner, like Trelawney in accent.

A blur of punches not following any of the careful schools that Trelawney had drilled m in. Still, I followed his instructions relying on the taught regime to carry me through this fight. I knew that it was going to be more difficult when he evaded my sword thrusts. I danced the steps, but he refused to follow. No skill behind the punches, no delicate understanding of why I could move like I did. His speed and strength and unpredictability proved to be too much for me.

"Tell my mama, I'm sorry." I tried to say. He snapped my neck quite efficiently for such an ignorant opponent.