a tale of Mythic Qin
The sun rose over Wu Bay province and the rice fields were full and green, terraces overflowing with bounty. Only the encroaching thunderstorm on the opposite horizon spoke of an ominous change by midday.
A farmer sat on a rock, his wide brimmed hat tipped forward blocking the rising sun. His coat was long and thick keeping out most of the morning chill, but its tattered edges spoke of a long relationship with the tiny man beneath its folds.
Wooden clogs cover the bottom of his feet raising them out of the mud on the edge of the road where he sat on a stone looking eastward. He reached into his coat and pulled out a rice ball wrapped in waxed paper. He slowly and methodically unwraps it, as if it were a ritual, performed with reverence, for no one in particular.
He bit the ball of slightly sweetened rice and inhaled its fragrance. It still smelled of the field of its birth, redolent with earthy scents…jasmine high on the hills over the farm, its scent passing through the rice, on its way down into the valley below.
The farmer heard the man approaching long before he saw him.
A giant, whose footfalls, were as thunder on this tiny road, his every step leaving a crater of mud surrounding each foot.
He wore wooden armor, painted lacquer, a fiery red with persimmon flowers, tiny yellow buds, decorated it in bold swirls. His arms and legs were uncovered and showed massive thews flexing powerfully in the morning sun. He wore armored gloves and boots, of a matching blood red, which shimmered with their own sinister light.
He carried three weapons, a short sword, worn at his waist, a long slightly curved sword at his hip and a long, beautiful carved spear in his left hand. The characters on the shaft of the spear, would flicker in the sun, making different words which reflected the mindset of its warrior.
This morning, the word “magnificent” flashed on and off slowly, as its majestic master strode like a god across the earth.
“Good morning, sir.” The old man remained impassive and unmoving beneath his hat.
“Morning. Yep. It is. You look a bit out of place young man. No wars in these provinces for quite some time.”
“I am not here for a war. I am Shu Wang Lung, I am the Fist of the Emperor and legendary dragon master. Surely you’ve heard of me?” The warrior took off his helmet and turned face, left and right showing off his stunning profile.
A final bite of the rice ball is chewed slowly and thoroughly before answering. “Nope. Never heard of you.” The old man opens his wax paper back into a flat disk, before he begins refolding it, his hands flowing easily through the hypnotic pattern until the paper was a fan-like shape, complete with ridges. He then proceeds to fan himself as the morning sun heats up the air. In a few moments he takes off his jacket.
Shu Wang Lung undeterred by the slowness of the old man response, paused meaningfully before replying. “Forgive me, I have been rude. Please tell me your name, father.” He bowed his head and put his helmet under his arm.
“I am Di Qui, traveling farmer, at your service.” He raises his hat and bows with a flourish.
Shu Wang looked at the tiny man and a strange look crossed his face, as if he might not be sure what he heard. “Master Qui, what does a traveling farmer, do?”
“He farms, young warrior. I farm, then I travel.” Di Qui noticed the look on Shu Wang’s face still registered a lack of understanding. “I travel the land teaching and learning farming techniques to communities. For a modest fee, of course.”
“Oh, you’re a charlatan. I passed someone many days ago promising to cure a town of their rat problem, only to leave the rats and steal something more precious. The people were very angry and hired me to return their children. That charlatan received swift justice.”
“They executed him?”
“No, he is now the town rat-catcher. He will be free to leave when the rats are gone. Since his jutsu worked on children, but not rats, they figure it will take him a few years before he will complete his sentence.”
“What brings you to this humble province? I don’t live here so I am unsure of the name. I know it because of the unique pattern in its rice fields. When you grow old, your memory isn’t as reliable as it should be.” Di Qui took off his hat and scratched his head, almost as if he thought he might be able to scrape his way to the memory of the province’s name.
Shu Wang, stood to his full seven feet in height and spoke with a booming voice: “Go to where the tip of the White Spear Mountain, appears on the spring solstice. In the village of Dà Fēng, the Celestials will come seeking an audience with gods.”
“Dà Fēng, yes that’s the name. They say it means Land of Strong Winds. What is that you recited?”
“A Seer gave it to me. He told me it was my destiny to be the next chosen by the Celestial Court. He told me the recent shooting star meant Ovir the warrior had fallen in battle and they would need a new champion. Someone brave, fierce in battle and a proven leader. As the Fist of the Emperor, I have been all of those things.”
Di Qui’s looked at the knight and wondered if he might be just a bit addled. Then he thought about his own reason for being here and thought better of it.
“I was certain there would be others. It isn’t everyday the Seat of the Celestial Heavens descends to find a new god-to-be.” Shu Wang stared up and down the twisted road of Dà Fēng finding not even a sign of habitation in the town.
“They will be out this way shortly, this is their rest day and most will stay in bed for as long as they are able. I always rise to catch the sun. I have a confession to make.”
The armored knight turned away from the road and focused his dark eyes on Di Qui. “I too, am here seeking an audience with the Celestial Heaven.”
“But you’re old. Not just anyone can get a seat in the Celestial Heaven. One of the criteria is you have to have become immortal before you can even be seen. Meaning no disrespect, but you have not aged well. Not at all. Sir.”
Di Qui got up from the bolder he was sitting on and moved his coat to a place a few feet from the jagged spar of rock. “Move that rock.” He pointed at it with his long but strong looking arm.
Shu walked over to the boulder, walked around it for a second and pushed it with his hand. It was about his waist high above ground and three or four feet wide. He pushed the rock from all four sides, one at a time. The ground around the rock wiggled, a bit at first, then on his second pass, he was able to roll the rock up out of the ground and rolled it to the old man. He smiled because he was sure the old man had not expected him to be able to do it.
“Very impressive. You do have the strength of a hundred men. As the legends have said.”
“You said you never heard of me.”
“I did, didn’t I. I was mistaken.”
“What else have you heard, old man.”
“You have the fastest draw in the land, no one’s iajitsu is quicker and more precise than yours. It is said you could cut the wings from a fly and return your sword to its sheath before the fly lands on the floor.”
Di Qui put his hat back on his head and leans against the rock. “They call you the Twice-Born. You have slain ten thousand men in battle and with the dark power of your spear, when mortally wounded, one of the ten thousand you have slain will die again in your place. You rise from the field of battle, slain, but alive.”
Shu Wang Lung, also put his helmet on his head and his eyes took on a tight squint, only a slight twitch of his hand revealed its lethal intent.
The old man reaches into his coat and pulls out a piece of candied fruit and puts the end in his mouth. “Your greatest feat, and the thing you believe will make you the chosen one is your pact with the essence of metal itself. No weapon forged of steel can harm you. Your defeat of the God of the Forge in a battle of strength and steel forced him to grant you this pact.”
“So, you know who I am. I am sorry for what I am about to do.”
“Before you give me the gory details, let me make myself comfortable and then I will listen intently. I promise.” Di Qui grabs the stone and lifts it into the air over his head. He takes it back to the hole it came out of and returns it, orienting it so that it is completely flat and more comfortable to sit on. The boom as he slams the rock into the hole, echoes off of several of the valley walls. It now only came up to Shu Wang Lung’s knees. Di Qui goes to get his heavy coat and sits back down on the rock. Looking up at Shu Wang Lung he notes the look of horror, and smiles.
“You are the Earthmover. An immortal who wanders the world changing the landscape for farming.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“Stronger than ten thousand men. Older than the trees of any forest in Qin. As wise as the Emperor in Jade.”
“That is a subject of much debate. On Earth as it is in the Celestial Heaven.” A voice powerful and rich filled the air before them and a throne surrounded by fierce-looking contingent of men slowly came into view. The man sitting in the throne wore an armor of beautiful dark green jade. His gaze was also a warrior’s gaze, penetrating, like staring into the sun, one resisted the urge to avert one’s eyes. “Only two? I had hoped there would be more.”
“Your entry requirements are a bit much for most to aspire to Oh, Emperor in Jade. I am Di Qui.”
“And I am Shu Wang Lung.”
One did not give a title to the Emperor in Jade, for names and titles meant nothing to him. He was knowledge and wisdom itself. He knew of these men, their gifts and their powers. It was he who sent them here posing as seers in different guises.
“Begging your pardon, Oh Emperor in Jade, how will you be choosing between us? I hope it will not be combat, because it has been a long time since I have held a blade of any kind.”
“I know, Old One, but I have need of a champion. With Ovir gone, our battles grow more perilous and there is a chance we may not beat back the darkness before dawn.”
Both men bowed their head, knowing of the prophecy of the Never-dawning Day.
“Are you saying you cannot fight at all, grandfather? Or that you prefer not to?”
“Are you requesting a demonstration of my fitness?”
“No, no. I saw you move the rock there. Quite impressive and legends speak of your fantastic strength. What if you were needed to protect the Celestial Heavens? Would you be up to the task?” The Emperor in Jade strode forth toward the two of them, his height and weight between both of theirs, but his energy, his aura was otherworldly, he was clearly a thing not of this world.
“Shu Wang Lung, I need you to attack Master Di Qui. I need to see if he would be able to bring a value to the Celestial Heaven.”
“Forgive me, Master Qui.” Shu Wang bowed and stabbed his spear into the ground. There would be no need for this.
The characters on the spear shifted and had begun to change their message. “Overconfident” the characters flickered again in the morning sun. Di Qui reached into his pocket and pulled out his paper fan and put his candied fruit in his other hand. He nodded.
Shu Wang Lung drew his sword, a blur of motion, his underhand cut sweeping through the air where Di Qui stood. His stroke, perfect slices cleanly through the hat of the old man, the separate sides falling to the ground. Di Qui is not there. Before the hat touches the ground, Shu Wang’s sword is again in its sheath.
Eight inches from where Shu Wang Lung struck, the Earthmover stood fanning himself, biting down on his candied fruit stick. Shu Wang’s eyebrow rose but he did not drop his guard, turning slightly to adjust. He struck again, this time focused, two slashes where he thought the crafty master might be standing, just to be sure. The first slash missed and Shu Wang was certain his second would find purchase. Di Qui held out his candied fruit and blocked the blade, holding it at bay. Shu Wang turned the blade trying to slide away from the tiny piece of fruit but the old man flowed with him keeping the blade away by sticking his candy to it. As Shu Wang Lung struck again, the candy seemed to harden and his blow could not land.
“You are very good at dodging and blocking, Master Qui. But a war cannot be won by candied fruit alone.”
“It is very good candied fruit, Emperor of Jade.”
The Emperor in Jade smirked and continued. “Nevertheless, I still require more than sticky fruit to strengthen the Seat of Heaven. Show me.”
Di Qui turned and bowed to Shu Wang Lung. “Please forgive what I am about to do.” Shu smiled and looked at Di Qui as he would a favored uncle and winked. “I understand.”
“No. You don’t”
Shu Wang Lung woke in the bottom of the valley, nearly two miles from where he was standing. The stream he landed in flowed into his mouth and nose and helped him to regain consciousness in about a half an hour. While he napped comfortably, Di Qui and the Emperor in Jade walked down to where he was resting. They woke him when they arrived.
“You left your spear.” Di Qui handed Shu Wang his weapon. The spear was smooth, no character markings adorned its surface. Its silence spoke volumes.
“What happened? How did I get here? How did my armor get so banged up? Why do I feel like I have rolled down a mountain?”
The Emperor and Di Qui didn’t say anything initially, only looked up to the side of the overhanging spear of the legendary White Mountain and at a small gash about a quarter of the way up the mountain. There were several deep depressions at regular intervals leading all the way down to the river and stopping abruptly.
“We have decided that Master Di Qui, will be going with us. Though he is armed with only a candied fruit stick and a paper fan, we have deemed it…sufficient.” The Jade Emperor turned and walked back toward his glowing ethereal throne. “Hurry along, Master Di Qui.”
“I will be there in just a moment your majesty.” The old man helped Shu Wang Lung to his feet lifting him as if he were light as a feather. “I owe you an apology and I would like to make amends if you will let me. You see, I think the Celestial Heaven is in need of me for certain kinds of things. Agriculture is changing and I believe I can do more for the people working here than solely on the ground. So I propose we share the duty.”
“How would we do that?”
“Since you live to fight, and during the winter the nights are long and terrible, the fighting for the dawn to return must be as great as it can be. During those peak months of martial delight, I relinquish my seat in Heaven to you. During the spring and summer, I take up the duty and return to Heaven after spending the fall and winter at the harvest and teaching our fellows the secrets of agriculture. The nights are shorter during the summer and the winds are strong. I imagine I can handle the struggle during the short summer nights.”
“Do you suppose the Emperor will mind?”
“No, I don’t think he particularly cares as long as the help is there when he needs it. In the worst case, I will call you my assistant because I am old and feeble and can’t get around like I used to do a thousand years ago.”
“Only two questions left, Master Qui.” Both men make their way to the portal of the Seat of Heaven.
“What might they be?”
“How did I get this many dents in my armor?”
Di Qui quickly puts his fan back into his jacket. “I told you before this is a land of strong winds. Let’s just say, armor wasn’t meant to protect you from mountains. And the second?”
“This armor was supposed to be indestructible. You can’t just get anyone to repair this, you need a master. Do you suppose the God of the Forge holds a grudge?”
Strong Wind Here © Thaddeus Howze 2012. All Rights Reserved