Shan slid down the ledge and onto the road. The driver was losing consciousness, and the lama had torn a strip from his robe to tie around the soldiers bleeding head.
The old lama cocked his head as Shan approached. Shan did not know the man, but he knew well from his years in prison the weary smile and the calm, unafraid countenance. "You have done what you can do for him," Shan said to the lama, his words urgent. "Please go." He knew what the lama meant to do, and it filled Shan with dread. "By stepping off that bus, you escaped. It wont matter if they find you ten feet or ten miles away. I will tend him," he said, kneeling by the unconscious soldier. "You have no idea what they will do to you. Go to your friends, they need you more," he said as the lama lowered himself into the meditation position. "The soldiers will - " the lama cut off Shans words by lifting a hand in a familiar gesture, an invitation to join in a mantra. Memories flashed through Shans mind, of monks in his former prison beaten senseless with batons and pipes, of old Tibetans kicked in the jaw until their teeth fell out, of lamas gazing serenely as their executioners aimed pistols at their skulls. The lama offered a small, wise nod, then began a low, murmuring mantra aimed at the injured soldier, an invocation of the Medicine Buddha.
"Lha gyal lo," Shan offered in a tight voice as he retreated. Victory to the gods.
A patch of maroon flashed among the rocks fifty yards away. He sprinted toward it, finding three monks hiding, trembling with fear. "Away from the road!" he shouted, gesturing them toward the maze of outcroppings on the slope above. The soldiers would return at any moment. They would have batons and electric cattle prods with which to deliver stunning blows. He grabbed the wrist of the first monk he reached, a young Tibetan with a jagged scar on his chin, whose eyes flashed defiance as he jerked his arm away. "These are prison guards, they will not stray far from the road," Shan explained. "But they will call in border commandos in helicopters. Get to the high valleys," he urged. "Get out of your robes. You cant go back to your gompa. Stay with the shepherds, stay in the caves."
"Weve done nothing wrong," the young monk protested.
"Rinpoche is correct," he said, using the term for revered teacher as he nodded toward the old lama sitting by the road. "There is just a misunderstanding."
"There is no misunderstanding. Youre bound for years in a Public Security prison." The other monks grabbed up the loose ends of their robes and began running up the slope.
The young monk took several hesitant steps toward the lama who was tending to the soldier. "I cannot leave him."
"They wont keep you together," Shan said to his back. "Go to him now and all it does is guarantee you will spend the next five years in a Chinese prison. Theyll crush your prayer boxes, burn your robe."
The monk turned, anguish on his face. "I have heard of a Chinese who was a prisoner himself, who helps our people now. How are you called?"
"You dont want to know my name, and I dont want to know yours. Go." Shan insisted, pointing up the slope.
"But Rinpoche - "
Shan looked back to the lama, his heart rising in his throat.
"The old ones in prison just consider themselves on a long hermitage. The best thing you can do for him is to flee, save yourself so you can keep being a monk. Spare him the pain of knowing he cost you your freedom."
The monk mouthed a silent prayer toward the lama, touched his empty wrist where his beads had been before the knobs tore them away, then sprinted up the slope.
Metallic whistles screeched from farther down the road, followed by sharp commands and a long anguished moan. Shan, fighting the panic rising within, surveyed the scene, spotting arcs of color among the debris of rocks on the slope above. A thick red climbing rope, a sling of black and yellow rope. He had found the stolen climbing equipment. Something rattled by his foot and he bent to retrieve a steel snaplink carabiner used with climbing ropes. He was looking up at the debris again, trying to decipher how the ropes had been used, when three loud cracks erupted from the ridge above him. Gunshots. He ran.
Excerpted from The Lord of Death by Eliot Pattison Copyright © 2009 by Eliot Pattison. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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