The first Chan Tsu knew of trouble was the blow that broke his back. After that the fight was a series of set pieces played out in his field of vision and large sections he couldn’t follow. He heard someone giving orders and he knew that young Que was standing over him, replying to both gi and physical attacks. The lad won, surrounded by his unconscious attackers by the time the police arrived, but it was already too late for Chan Tsu’s control of his lower body.
According to his doctors it had been from that very first blow.
From the moment he was loaded into the ambulance, he barely saw Que. It was for the best in some ways – he had lectured his student on personal cleanliness often enough, and now he couldn’t even tell when he was lying in his own waste. The hospital staff were very kind about that, and everything really, and when he asked about his bills, he was always told not to worry about them – an admirer had come forward and was covering them.
It was possible, of course.
When he became capable of more activity, Chan Tsu grasped the opportunity with both hands and applied himself to relearning as much self-care as he could. With what felt like a tremendous effort, he was able to manage his bodily functions himself and that improved his state of mind immensely.
Que dropped in a couple of times, looking as if he were living on cigarettes, liquor and, maybe, tea; so he was business as usual. He didn’t even bother sending Chan Tsu, his teacher, a note when he reached the national championship for the second year running.
Chan Tsu may not have been able to attend the championships but he was able to tune his radio to hear the competition broadcast. The commentators made particular mention that Que was unsupported at the tournament and Chan Tsu wasn’t sure whether to be pleased he hadn’t been replaced or annoyed that his erstwhile student thought he didn’t need help. Not that being unsupported seemed to hurt his fighting, because Que went through his opponents as quickly as a child’s cough crossed a village. It seemed almost inevitable when he won. Chan Tsu regretted that he wasn’t there to see the Solar Emperor knock the arrogant little sod off the perch he’d grabbed for himself.
“Ah yes,” said one of the commentators, “the Solar Emperor and the champion appear to be conferring. As you all know, this is the second year in a row that Shui Tzu Dan has faced the Solar Emperor for the exhibition match and no doubt they are exchanging extended greetings.”
The bout that followed was, from the commentators excited, and sometimes puzzled, descriptions a very technical affair concentrating on technique rather than power. Que was merely brusquely efficient, instead of brutally so, while the Solar Emperor dodged and wove like a butterfly. They were almost at the time limit for the bout when, suddenly, the Solar Emperor dodged into one of Que’s attacks instead of away from it and tapped out.
There was some confusion from the commentators when the boon Que asked of the Solar Emperor wasn’t announced – the nurse who’d come in to check on Chan Tsu commented acidly that they probably had a space in their script that they were supposed to fill with discussing the boon, but now they had nothing to discuss. Chan Tsu couldn’t help but laugh at that.
Que didn’t come and see him after the national tournament either. Chan Tsu assumed he was off somewhere in a haze of hedonic indulgence and resigned himself to being ignored and forgotten.
Then, in the week following the New Year celebrations, he received an afternoon visitor. The middle-aged man paused in the doorway and said, “Excuse me, I’m here to see Chan Tsu. Am I right in thinking that you are he?”
“I am.” Chan Tsu surveyed his visitor and asked, puzzled, “I’m sorry, am I supposed to know you? I don’t think we’ve met before.”
“I don’t believe we have either.” The younger man bowed. “My name is Wang, Wang Wei and I used to be a primary school teacher.” He paused and Chan Tsu realised that the name was familiar, at least partly because the combination was so common that you met a Wang Wei practically everywhere you went. His visitor went on gently, “And then they dragged me back to the capital to be Solar Emperor again.”
Shocked, Chan Tsu bowed as low as he could in a sitting position. “Forgive me for not rising, Excellency.”
“Not to worry,” the Solar Emperor waved formal etiquette aside with one hand, “your student explained that you are permanently inconvenienced. In fact, it’s because of him that I’m here.”
Chan Tsu asked resignedly, “What has Que done?” Please Heaven, he thought, don’t let him have offended the Solar Emperor!
He was given an odd look in response to his question, and the answer, “Used the boon he won to get your medical expenses and care picked up for the rest of your life. He seems to think you need a more reliable arrangement than him winning every available paying bout he can get.”
“What?” Chan Tsu was stunned. “But I’ve barely seen him since this happened!”
“My sources tell me that he’s been quite busy since the attack on you two: helping the police track down and arrest the people behind the attack; earning enough to get you the best care money can buy; and helping bankrupt the larger organisation your attackers belong to.” Wang Wei shrugged. “It’s not surprising that some things have been slipping, like visiting you, remembering to eat and paying one or two personal debts.”
“I had no idea,” said Chan Tsu humbly and a little ashamed.
“I suspect that he meant you not to,” replied his visitor. “He’s very good, you know. He could tell almost right away that my health isn’t what it was twelve months ago.” When Chan Tsu said nothing he went on, “It turns out that there’s a family heart weakness on my father’s side. If I’d been asleep or hadn’t known the symptoms from previous incarnations, I would have died from that first attack. As it is, I won’t see another decade and I may not see another year.”
“I, I, I’m sorry,” stammered Chan Tsu. “So why are you telling me this and why did Your Excellency fight Que? Did he force you into it?”
“Not at all,” Wang Wei made a negative gesture. “In fact, he told me that I didn’t have to do the exhibition match if I didn’t want to. I, however, don’t want to give up the fun parts of this job when I don’t absolutely have to.” He grinned broadly and Chan Tsu found himself grinning back. “As for why I’m telling you this, there’s this little medicinal gi project that some people are working on that I think you might be interested in. I think they need someone, at Master level, from another school of thought. They think they need more participants with long term problems. Frankly, I’m going to put you to work, Master Chan Tsu.”
“As Your Excellency wishes,” and Chan Tsu found himself smiling broadly.