She held the sword lightly in her hand. Then she lifted it and began advancing upon her opponent. She thrusted, but he parried. He thrusted, she parried. She feinted, dodged, sliced, hooked, used all the techniques she knew, feeling the red string of the sword against her skin, so soft, so sensual. She did the best, but he was better. He knocked the sword out of her hand and slid the edge against her throat.

"You're getting better, but you need to practice more." He withdrew his sword.

"Yes, die." QingXía replied.

"Go and practice more." The father walked out of the courtyard, leaving the daughter alone with her thoughts.

She practiced hard. She practiced thrusting, upward, downward, diagonal; parrying, everywhich way; slicing, sideways, with the arm bent, diagonally; everything her father had ever taught her; a few combinations she had thought of, to distract her opponent from her real purpose, to disarm him, to slide the edge of her sword against him throat, to triumph over him; and of course, a few techniques she had invented herself, never before seen in swordplay. These were crafty techniques, not like usual methods, all straightforward and out in the open. With a final downward slice, she stopped. QingXía carefully slid her sword into its sheath, toying with the soft, ruby string that she loved.

After practicing with her sword, there was wu shu to practice. First were the basic punches. Those were always the easiest. Shoulders square, using all her strength, a snap was audible everytime she punched, low, high, middle. After punches, lightning fast jabs and crosses, and uppercuts, short but powerful. Of course, she couldn't forget knife hand and ridge hand, and also elbow strikes. Now the defensive hand motions. High blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, inner forearm, outer forearm, knife hand block, twin forearm, twin knifehand, each was done very precise, with a very slim margin of error. The power, combined with the speed and concentration, made her blocks very powerful, capable of stopping almost any martial arts attack, whether jujitsu, karate, wu shu, or any other kind. The kicks came after. Rising, front snap, inner crescent, outer crescent, roundhouse, side, hook, back, tornado, twist, sweeps, all these with both legs, front and back, left and right, reverse and step-in. And the jumps. Each kick executed with a jump, some kicks with two or three kinds of jumps, and then the 360 degree jumps, spinning, with the world in a blur, then kicking out, with deadly accuracy and precision. There were also a few things she invented herself, some combinations, others completely different kinds of attack or defense.

These training sessions always left the young girl red-faced, with sweat on every inch of her body. She was brought up to be tough though, and she never complained. They were for her own good, for defense against predators, bad people. Her father had told her about bad people, but she had never met any; if she did, she would be ready. QingXía was still naive in some ways; still, no one should mess with this girl. She was too deadly and had been taught to have no mercy. Mercy was for the weak. To get out on top, she must be ruthless, ready to trample on everyone in her way.

QingXía took the sword and went into her room. There, she hung the sword at its place on the wall, right above her desk. Afterwards, she went outside and walked around the courtyard, finally reaching another room. The girl pushed open the door and walked inside. Whenever one walked in, they would see the portrait. It had a golden frame around it and portrayed a lovely young woman. This young woman had beautiful black hair and dark brown eyes that was a combination of several different shades of brown. Her hair had been twisted into several buns that rested at the back of her head. There was a pink star ornament that hung from a pin on the left side of her hair. On the right side, in similar fashion, was another star ornament, in magenta this time. The bridge of her nose was short, and her mouth was drawn in a slight smile. QingXía knelt before the portrait and bowed her head.

"Níang, may you look upon your daughter favorably and guard her on the day of her eighth birthday." The girl lifted her head and looked at the portrait, stared it, memorizing once again the beautiful face of her mother, every line, every pore. Slowly, she backed out of the room, not wanting to leave the only picture she knew of her mother, who had died when she was only two.

The girl then walked around again until she stopped in front of another room. She pushed open the door and went in. This room was laden with books, shelves full of nothing but books. QingXía went to the mahogany desk at the far end of the room and sat down in the matching chair. She picked up a book off of the table. The girl opened it to where her placemarker was and started reading, right to left, up to down, memorizing the words as she read. Maybe she would never have the chance to be Zhuàng Yuán, but an educated woman was better than a noneducated one. Her father had always stressed that she needed to be good at wén and wu. One without the other would lead to her downfall, her ruin, and would bring shame upon the family.

After a long time of reading, her father came into the room.

"It's time for dinner," he told his daughter, who promptly put the placemarker in the book and laid the book down. She joined her father at the door and the two left the room, leaving no indication that anyone had been there except for the placemarker's new position.

QingXía's father had cooked dinner, as always. There was the usual rice, plus a few vegetables and some meat. Father and daughter spent the meal in silence. The father was absorbed in his thoughts. Tomorrow, his little girl would be eight, and he would have to let her into the world plus teach her new things that any respectable woman would have to learn. After his wife's death, he had devoted his life to raising his daughter, who was now strong as any boy, but she lacked a feminine side that her mother would have taught her. He must teach her that as well, for otherwise, others would think badly of the family.

QingXía had no thoughts like that. She had always thought that girls were meant to learn wén and wu, that they need not learn cooking and sewing and other domestic skills. Her ignorance went far. She did know why she couldn't be Zhuàng Yuán, that only men could, but it didn't bother her too much. Her life was perfect. Her father was caring, she was learning everything she would ever need, and nothing was wrong. Tomorrow would be her eighth birthday, marking the beginning of the third year of her studies of wén and wu. That's all a birthday meant to her, for she did not know how others celebrated birthdays. The only holiday to her was New Year's, which everyone celebrated with great joy, usually with a parade in the streets for everyone to watch. The girl liked the parade, but she didn't know that New Year's was also the time when friends visited and drank and ate together, old ones reminisced about old times, and young scamps ran around, thinking nothing of the future. New Year's, to her, was a day when she can slack off and play pranks on her father, and receive money and gifts from her die. She had saved up her money and had quite a considerable amount compared to other children of her age.

The meal ended, and father and daughter parted their ways. QingXía, having no means of recreation, went straight to her room and to bed. She fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, with her mother's spirit watching over her.

________________________________________________________________________

bao bèi-treasure

bù-no

wo zhi dào-I know

dài fu-doctor

die-Father

wu shu-kung fu

níang-Mother

Zhuàng Yuán-scholars take a test to become this, an official

wén-literature

wu-martial arts

QingXía: Qing means clear, pure

Xía is the scene one sees at sunrise, when the sun rises and the world, especially the clouds, is stained a magnificent gold and red