Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Last Fortress

I. Perfect Convergence
Clear Valley--a classical convergence of the five elements and eight types of Mem Toj—earth energies. A long, high valley, with a mountain wall rising to the east, another terracing to the west. Tree-dotted limestone mountains rise like mythical beasts to guard north and south approaches. Smaller karst up-thrusts dot the valley like strategically placed chess pieces. A river cradles the valley like an artery. In such a place, a house will prosper, a city will be impregnable, an interred ancestor will bless nine generations of descendants.

II. The Last Fortress
Into Clear Valley--Long Cheng--comes a young general, named Vang Pao or Lord Protector, to build a new base and to unify the Hmong tribes for a last stand. A runway is carved out of the valley center. Curving roads crisscross the valley. Markets, houses, and compounds hug the roads. Military installations and supply depots abut the limestone outcrops for protection. On a hill sits a Buddhist temple of red tile roofs and golden dragons. On the highest western terrace, the king’s summer palace watches the whole valley.

Long Cheng's runway receives arms and supplies, supporting forward bases on mountaintops. Raven spotter planes, T-28 bombers, troop transports, cargo carriers land and take off hourly.

The enemy attacks yearly, but they can’t overwhelm the eastern wall’s military defenses. Of their artillery, only the most skillful or the luckiest manage to hit the valley floor.

III. City of Ghosts
The fortress stands impregnable for fifteen years, at the cost of thousands of Hmong lives, all interred in the valley. But the day comes when Long Cheng falls: not through arms, but through diplomacy negotiated by superpowers half a world away. Betrayed and friendless, Clear Valley is abandoned to her old inhabitants.

When the runway was built, installations constructed, earthmovers leveled the land, revealing bodies long rested in their colorful funereal clothing—the living had out of necessity carved a fortress out of the property of the dead. A borrowed land that has to be given back.

Long Cheng's population of fifty thousand disperses to the five continents. A reaping. Or a sowing. A curse. Or a blessing.

Only the nine generations will tell.

No comments: