Excursions from the Citadel- Excerpt from A Thread of Chance: An Overdue Reunion

Each Mortal is bound by a Limit, a Geomancer is also a Mortal.

Every Reading comes with a Price, Know the Worth of the Price.

Every Situation is accompanied by Chance, a single Thread of Chance.

 

It is the idle season. Clusters of women gather to gossip under the rows of willow trees at the village front. A stranger catches their eyes, garbed as he is in a cotton robe worthy of an entire year’s upkeep for a family of three generations.  Their gazes track him as far as they can follow: he’s heading for the rear of the village towards the lodging of Xian Sheng, the Teacher. He walks on the mud track with a stroll which proclaims that he belongs elsewhere, to the wide expandless world beyond the village that is both exciting and frightening. The sight brings the villagers into a state of awe. They had never seen such prestige projected through so simple a motion.

The stranger, Xun Zhen whose name means Seeking Truth, creases his brows in reflection over what he had seen on the way to this village. The prices for staple food have gone up in all the towns but there isn’t a drought in the surrounding regions. That usually means someone has been stockpiling them. Could news of my mission have already leaked out? To whom?  Xun Zhen shudders to contemplate the possibility.

Xun Zhen feels anticipation building within himself for the upcoming encounter. Quickly overtaking, and prevailing over it, however, is a feeling of unresolved mystery resurfacing. Why had He left? Why did He choose this way, of all possible ways? Unwilling to relinquish his grudge, Xun Zhen refuses to refer to the Old Man as anything other than a generic He. He’s no longer worthy of being anything other than a faceless being in my world. He abandoned me along with all that He was, why should the Deserter earn any respect from me let alone still have my affection? Xun Zhen wishes that that he has come today to simply collect his due from Him rather than an actual mission. Least of all his mission today.

Reluctant to move further, he stops on the mud track, which is still a fair distance from a bamboo fence enclosing a grass hut standing aloof and lonely. He can only see the structures from where he stands but his instincts tell him that this most ordinary residence is his destination.

Sa Sa Sa. His gaze turns to the left where a gale is sashaying among the bamboo forest. Despite the wind, no single bamboo stalk bows. The sight recollects to him the words once spoken by the Old Man while viewing a similar scene. “That’s how a man of virtue needs to be. That‘s how We need to be. Break rather than bend.” That is why He chose here. It is the fitting abode for His character.

Xun Zhen moves forwards towards His hut.

“This is Two,” a cultured voice states. It comes from a man who is all white in hair and beard but with a visage of one in his thirties.  He is sitting cross-legged in the middle of the front yard on a seat of stone that the Elements seem to have crafted specifically for him. About a dozen or so children of various ages, wearing patched clothes, sit facing him in the same posture. A surprisingly orderly sight for young children of this social class.

The Old Man has always had that effect, He imbues his unique aura onto everything he touches. I could have been, no, I was one of these children sitting in rapt attention.

Xun Zhen’s mind wanders back to his own childhood, to the first meeting between him and the Old Man.

He looks exactly like the first time I saw him except his hair and beard were the color of ink rather than snow. “Mischievous One, would you like to go with me?” He asked. I thought he looked very ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. I cocked my head to one side as I pondered this puzzle. My eyes roamed across the stranger from head to foot in that way that got Niang – Mother – scowling at me whenever she caught me.

He was wearing a Daoist robe. It fitted him in somewhat but not quite with those men with white beards that they stroked as they prattled about things that we common people don’t, and won’t, know. I didn’t really have a concept of what it meant to be part of the common people, it was just what Niang said I was. So I wasn’t as in awe of Daoists as most of my playmates but more curious.

I stuck out my tongue at him. “Old Man,” I called in retort. I went with him but the name stuck as my special term of endearment for him. He taught me to read and write. He gave me the name of Xun Zhen. “Zhen, Truth, is the core to every being and object. Life is the search for Zhen within and without. Do honour onto the name by never forgetting the meaning behind it,” He said when he gave it to me.  He raised me to be who I am.

So why did He betray me by leaving the way He did? Xun Zhen’s hands clench up into fists.

Xun Zhen watches Him draw three horizontal lines on the muddy ground with a twig, each lower line successively longer than the one above it. The Teacher points to what he just drew, “This is Three.” Next to it, he draws a rectangle from the top of which dangles two short curved lines heading towards left and right respectively. “This is Four.” He continues drawing until Ten, a horizontal line dissected by a vertical one.

“Nine is the ultimate number rather than ten. Does anyone know why?” the Teacher asks his students.

The children all shake their heads and look at him expectantly.

“Because Heaven always leaves a single Thread of Chance. Thus we should always leave a single thread of chance for ourselves and others in any situation.”

Xun Zhen enters. “Well said, I come precisely for a Thread of Chance, Teacher.” He put emphasis onto the last word to mock the Deserter.

Above is excerpt of the first scene from my solo piece in this epub: A Thread of Chance. I’ve decided to give this part the subtitle of “An overdue reunion” since I’ve also included a short meta fiction piece that goes in front with the story itself in the actual publication. Anyone who has read my About page knows already that I’ve always dreamed of producing one day a fantasy series LoR style but based on an ancient Chinese setting. A Thread of Chance certainly isn’t an epic but it is set in my Dragon Empire setting which is what I call this fantasised ancient Chinese setting that I’m still crafting away at.

I’m fairly happy at how this piece has turned out and the process of writing it is quite joyful to myself who often struggle with my perfectionist streak that manifests often in the form of a Writer’s block or procrastination. Ideally, I would have wished more time for editing since this is a piece that came to me late relative to the deadline for submission but I do think it is ready for public eyes. Hopefully, you will judge it to be so too. And if you have comments and thoughts on this piece you would like to share, you are more than welcome to leave a comment.

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