"I'd really like to see her myself and find out about her meeting with the bodhisattva, but with things this way I won't for now. Why not hang around here and have a nice vegetarian breakfast while my better half goes over to consult with Holy Auntie? If your reverence will just wait in the east room for awhile I'll be right back to keep you company." Thus having spoken he went in and informed Granny, who happily got ready and, attended by a slavegirl, mounted a palanquin for the journey to the west garden.
As for Bonze Dan over in the east room, well, he'd never customarily adhered to the dietary restraints but having seen that monks' dining hall and wishing to eat had falsely said he was a vegetarian. So today he was provided with monk's food and that was nothing he could say about it.
Granny Yang arrived in the west garden and went right to that meditation room. She reckoned it had been two months since they had last met, and this made the occasion especially joyous. Her temperature and chills had also long since subsided. "I've heard that Holy Auntie met with the Bodhisattva Guanyin in person last night" she said. "Fate wasn't with your disciple and I had to go back home early, thirsty and exhausted, and now I'm filled with regret at having missed the vision."
"The Teacher Puxian said she had already met you once, Granny."
"It was in mid May of last year, around the time we first met you, Holy Aunt."
"Guanyin told me that you and your husband had been Jade Girl and Golden Boy in Heaven before your descent into this life. During a prayer festival in Heaven you two had been naughty, fencing playfully with your banner poles, and as punishment you were sent down to the mortal world as husband and wife. Because of that advantageous beginning you have loved Dao in this life. And if your accomplishments are complete you can still be promoted back to Heaven. I, your lowly Daoist, now want to stay here and build a temple to Guanyin and cast a golden idol of her to receive sacrifices. I want to reside there reading and teaching the sutras and the faith, ensuring that you two are ultimately selected to fly back up to Heaven. What do you think of the idea, my Lady?"
"I'm really moved by Holy Aunt's beautiful intentions. In our estate's east farmlands there lies an empty parcel of mountainous land, perhaps forty or fifty mu. In days of old there was a monastery on the site but it's been gone for many years. With the way our family has been straining to give charity I'm afraid we haven't got enough money to put up a building or cast an idol."
"It won't cost a cent of your family's funds. Your lowly servant has got a son by the name of Zuo Chu. Right now he's under vows as a Daoist wizard in the Guanwang Monastery at the foot of Swordgate Mountain. Since boyhood he's had the magical gift of being able to turn white into yellow, if you get my meaning. He hasn't been able to practice the craft very much because he hasn't yet found a patron so blessed as you. And as for this blessing, well, it isn't your ordinary one, oh no; it's a gift of the fairies! For example, producing gold at a touch: for the masters the future holds the creation of elixers and pills that will keep their faces forever young and drive away all illnesses, crowning them with radiant glory so that they may rise back up to Heaven as of old. And as for their servants, their future assures them another life as humans, with all its many advantages over lower rebirths. If your estate can provide just a bit of ordinary coin for me to have changed into gold there will be not only great profit but the interest to be gained as well. And if a bit more gold is thus produced you could use it on good works for the poor. Yesterday I mentioned this to the Teacher Guanyin and do you know what she said? 'How perfect! What a truly priceless undertaking!' Now, if you hadn't indeed been blessed, the Great Teacher would never have so lightly given her approval. However, this is all secret. Should word of it leak out these things will be difficult to accomplish and the outcome wil be less than beautiful."
"Let me go back and discuss your proposal with my husband" answered Granny.
Granny Yang then returned home and told Deputy Yang what Holy Auntie had said. Now, his mind and body had already been thrown off balance from seeing that phoney bodhisattva of Holy Auntie's. It had truly been a heart-stopping shock for him! If Holy Auntie Auntie now commanded him to cut off his own head with the glib promise that it wouldn't hurt, he would enthusiastically start slicing away! And yes, the Midas touch would be an ordinary attribute of a family of immortals! How could anyone doubt it?
Deputy Yang finally returned as promised to Bonze Dan and told him of all that he'd just heard. Next he rode on horseback over to the east farmlands to have a look around and then went over to the west garden to ask Holy Auntie about this business of conjuring up gold and building a temple.
"There's nothing to it," she said. "It just requires a quiet room in the midst of a desolate open space, far from dogs or roosters and seldom if ever before visited by people; in there the most profound wonders can be worked!"
"Your disciple has already been out to that old hamlet of ours for a look," replied Deputy Yang. "The place is wide and secluded enough, and it's suitable for building on. It's said that it was originally the site of a religious side-venture of Lord Commander Guo of the Tang Dynasty and there still remain a few ancient cedars along with the thirty four dwellings; I've naturally had them boarded up and placed off-limits as you've instructed. The estate slaves themselves are in another area, and they've been told they've got absolutely no business trespassing in there, and they are of course responsible for any incursions."
"Now we need only wait for the day my little Zuo Chu arrives," said Holy Auntie; "then you can take him to the site and have him approve it, and that'll be that!"
"And just where is the young master? I'll send someone specially to fetch him back, overnight if possible!"
"My son is crippled in one leg so he's known by the holy name of 'Que'r', meaning 'Little Limper'. He's at Swordgate Mountain right now, pretty far from here, and perhaps he'll need porters to bear him here as it would be hard going on foot for him. And there's another snag: they depend on my young wizard's talents for everything at Guanwang, and they keep him in a room deep inside. If they hear his family wants him here, the other Daoists surely won't agree to release him. Only if you yourself write out some orders in your official hand telling them the way it is will they be persuaded to let my boy go."
Deputy Yang was overjoyed. "If I may trouble you, Holy Auntie, I'd like for you as well to hurry up and write a letter and I'll send my agent there with it first thing tomorrow. And if your boy's legs aren't up to the journey there'll be money to hire some help."
He then left. Holy Auntie quickly wrote the missive and called on Bonze Dan to deliver it to Deputy Yang's house. The master then called for his customary agent in these matters, Yang Xing, handing him Holy Auntie's letter and carefully explaining all he had to know. He was ordered to off on the journey early next morning. And he was given over twenty ounces of silver for expenses and to hire a horse for Wizard Zuo to ride, told to look after him carefully and to make haste going and coming.
Yang Xing went home with his master's orders and began preparing for the journey when his wife caught sight of that big bag of silver and began nagging him to death, begging him to let her buy new clothes, jewelry and accesories for her hair with it. He broke down at last and gave her one or two lumps, equal in weight to several coins.
At dawn he went to the estate store and got his own clothes, jacket and so forth out of hock. But when folks heard that he was being sent on a mission with money in excess of expenses they came round to press him for a few odd small debts. He had to pay them and there went another few bits of silver. Now he was only afraid he wouldn't have enough for the journey, and that he'd have to live on ginger and vinegar, saving and scrimping on everything. And finally when the time came to go he hesitated and dreamt of pocketing all that cash and building his own house. But then this is just an ordinary human desire, not worthy of further comment. Here's a poem:
Now, it has been said that the Wizard Jia Qingfeng of the Guanwang Monastery had been dreaming of Hu Mei'r day and night, drunk with infatuation, ever since parting with her in the second month of the previous year. He bared his heart daily to Quezi, spending a few hours asking about her wheareabouts and lamenting before leaving. Quezi tried his best to humor him, sending him back with advice to burn a joss stick and worship.
Later, however, the chief priest came more often with his doubts and fears, two or three times in the course of a day, and Quezi eventually grew impatient.
"Teacher, you make me laugh!" he finally burst out in contemptful anger. "I'm in here, the same as you! Only the gods know the answers to your questions. They've got legs attached to their bellies and where they've wandered on them beats me! For all I know they're on a peak in the Himalayas by now! You talk about them being your stepmother and stepsister but they're my flesh and blood and I'm not heartsick over it like you. And what's with an old geezer like you asking about her; isn't that really a bit out of line?"
Wizard Jia had been despondent bordering on depression, and now the bottom had been pulled out from under him. His illusions laid bare, he had nothing to say in reply. He tried to rationalize it, dismissing Que as a troublesome relation of hers; he could only bear it in silence, prefering to avoid a clash. But in a few days he came back with some questions and Quezi said nothing, doing his best to show a complete lack of interest. Months later he was still unwilling to answer, and Jia Qingfeng didn't know what to think. When he ventured to speak, Zuo Que'r was silent for quite awhile and then turned away. Seeing his brother sitting silently there he could see just why that old woman might be totally without any maternal feelings in her belly. And on all the occasions he'd asked for private divinations on various things, Zuo Que'r had variously spoken, been silent, scolded Wizard Jia, spoken too fast or taken all day. So not surprisingly Jia was in turn happy, angry, hopeful, pensive, jealous and hateful! And a certain young troubador created this little verse on hearing the story, really fun to recite or even sing:
Now, unrequitted love falls for the most part into two classes. In the first category are the successful, talented boy and the well bred girl; one longs and the other loves. Throughout the ages there have been myriad stories written about this. No matter how hard people or circumstances try to keep them apart, it just makes them more attractive to each other and alone by moonlight they feel each other's soul; this love is mutual.
The other type of unrequitted love is where a man chases a woman or vice versa and the one being chased feels nothing. A woman if sought after doesn't often take it to heart, and a man when chased frequently feels no longing inside of him. Love's onset drives away reason and brings on confusion, with its attendant sighs and gasps. The afflicted one is easily rebuffed, and from then on their feelings are known as an infatuation. Not knowing where Hu Mei's soul might be, Jia Qingfeng's eyes only searched compulsively for any sign of her return. And he made entirely too much of that onesided lovey-ducky promise of his that they would meet again, even indulging himself in fancies of a joyful sexual union with her. Now isn't that infatuation?
Since he'd lapsed into this illness of one-sided infatuation, Jia Qingfeng payed no mind to everyday matters. He sat as if about to nod off with drunken eyes, and neither read the sutras nor conducted sacrifices. And for months on end he failed to attend the worship services, with joss and candles, before the idol of Guandi that were regularly held on the first and fifteenth days. As for their food he was now dependent on Wizard Nie to go around and noisely beg provisions. Nie carried on as best he could in support of his master for a few days before slowly falling into rivalry with Zuo Que'r and the mad Wizard Jia was in no condition to handle the feud. After passage of a year like this he slowly began to show symptoms of a debilitating tubercular illness, with body aches, arthritis, muscular weakness and jaundice. There was no pain or itch from the onset but it still left him between life and death, for although it didn't kill him it made passing the days extremely miserable.
Now as we have learnt, there was that Fujiang Rapids Convent over at the ferry station on the River Fu, and Wizard Jia's old aunt was prioress there. Hearing that her nephew had taken ill she came over to the monastery especially to visit him, bringing an extremely ugly pagegirl as a servant. Nonetheless the flames of desire in Jia Qingfeng's lecherous heart were fanned to life and he once more put on his act of seduction, and in a few days he was upon her. Upon discovery of this the old nun was furious and gave the maid a tonguelashing. And as she was about to leave she swore that she would never again be back.
Well, enough of the mad Wizard and his affliction; let's focus our attention on Quezi. In the beginning Wizard Jia had granted his every desire for food and drink, and having had his full the boy gradually became lazy and unreliable. And when it happened that the Wizard became afflicted with consumption, Quezi was all of a sudden without a patron. On the few occasions that food or drink were to be had it was now all up to Wizard Nie to decide who could eat and when and how much they could have. And what he could get into his mouth, even including leftovers, was not really enough. All of a sudden there had been shortages of this and that and they had even made him pawn his clothes to buy rice. Realizing how bad things now were made Quezi suddenly remember his kinswomen.
"Oh, my ladies," he addressed them in his mind, "the three of us left home together but we took shelter here because with my bad leg I couldn't keep up. 'Stay safe in here and we'll send for you later' you said. But it's been a year and a half now...have you been swallowed up by a storm in your travels? How thirsty, hungry and lonely I am here...you must know what I mean! If I were a whole man I'd walk right out of here and become a wandering priest of the clouds, flying away from these petty squabbles. I feel as if I'm in limbo here, unable to advance or retreat. Gosh, it's really true, a thousand days of human happiness is as rare as a hundred days' red blossom! And the priests are so mean and nasty compared to when we first met, why, I'll hate them until my dying day!"
But no more talk of Quezi's resentment. Let's get get back to Yang Xing, ordered to be on his way as a courier. Off on his mission at dawn he arrived at Swordgate Mountain in less than a day and took the path leading up to Guanwang Monastery. Overwhelmed with thirst, he asked on arrival in the compound for some soup. Wizard Nie took him at once for an official messenger, not to be mistreated. As Wizard Jia was down with his illness, Nie took it upon himself to ladel out an overflowing bowl of gruel and had little Lali, the temple waif, carry it out. He then summoned Quezi to attend to the visitor. Now, nobody in the world was easier to spot than Zuo Que, and Yang Xing was delighted to recognize him at once!
Quezi bowed deeply. "Where is your excellency from," he asked in greeting.
"I've been sent from Huazhou."
"I've never had a taste of Mt Hua's tea" answered Quezi as he carefully presented the bowl of gruel.
"That'll sure quench the thirst" replied Yang, satisfied, as little Lali took the bowl away. Yang Xing then stood up and went out of the gate with Quezi.
"Is your surname Zuo?" asked Yang.
"Why, yes, it is!"
"Let's go away where we can talk." And the two men walked off about a hundred paces from the main gate.
"I've been sent here by my lord, the Deputy Magistrate Yang Chun of Huayin County, Huazhou. Sorry it's got to be trash like me. I've got official orders here in the form of a letter from Holy Auntie, commanding your reverence to accompany me back at once, no delay!"
When Quezi opened the letter he found a poem of four lines:
Now, Quezi recognized his old mother's handwriting and looked off happily into the distance, then turned to go back and gather up his bundle.
"Not necessary!" replied Yang Xing. "I'm at your service. Anything you need, just ask and it's yours. It'll be a bit rough on the road but as soon as you get home you'll have everything you want!"
"Huazhou is so far and I've only got one good leg..."
"We'll press on down Swordgate Mountain on foot, I'll help of course, and then hire a horse for you to ride on for the rest of the journey. No need for you to walk."
Now Quezi suddenly thought of that frightening Wizard Nie and the seriously ill Jia Qingfeng over in the temple; he didn't really have any tender feelings toward them to speak of. If he brought this up they would only start talking about the days when they all first met and the kindness they'd once shown a mother and her two children; what could he then say? He had only a sheet of paper from her, not even a gift in appreciation. It would be best not to tell them. And there were his remaining clothes, winter and summer garb; he need only run over and pick out the best from the closet... Quezi held back. "This fellow standing here may have called himself 'trash'," he thought, "but he's the trusted courier of a high official, ordered to bring his man right back... the clothes might hold him up." So, sighing, he acquiesced.
"Mother said to be back with the speed of lightning, so what can we do? Let's go! I'm afraid if I dilly-dally around here your master might misunderstand and blame you."
Thereupon Yang Xing took hold of Quezi and, in three-legged fashion, they fled Swordgate mountain. For the remainder of the journey they hired a saddle horse for Quezi to ride, with Yang Xing walking apace, leading and lagging, alternatively coaxing and reigning the beast. And off they went down the road to Huayin County.
Now let's branch off for awhile and get back to Wizard Nie. He felt strange when Quezi didn't return for supper. When he was still not back much later in the evening it was time to inform Wizard Jia.
"When did he leave?" asked Jia.
"Earlier today a private courier stopped by on foot to ask for some soup. Quezi went out the gate with him and never returned."
"And where was that runner from?"
Little Lali now spoke up. "I went out to give him the bowl of gruel and I heard a line or two...seems as though he was from Huazhou."
Now, when Wizard Jia heard the name "Huazhou" his heartbeat quickened. "Why, that's where Mt Hua is at. But if Mother and Sis are there, why in the world wasn't there a message for me?"
"Huazhou's a huge district with big counties," said Nie, "not your little family village or squire's borough. The two women are probably praying on the mountain and they sent the messenger to bring Quezi."
Wizard Jia was cranky in his illness. "You rotten son of a bitch excuse for a priest!" he scolded. "You're so damn clever it amazes me. Folks have long said that 'as fallen leaves float back to sea, so will friends some day reunited be.' His mom and sister had sent that messenger from Huazhou and then you went and decided he couldn't see me, and you sent out Quezi instead! If he went off like that there must have been a letter from Mother and Sis or they even came themselves for him, or perhaps he was even abducted. You didn't ask enough questions! And now you've got nothing but a bunch of crap excuses for me!"
Little Lali ran from the room in fear. And Wizard Nie, seeing his master so angry, tried to mollify him. "You're right, sir; tomorrow morning I'll go find that messenger and we'll know everything."
"That's just closing the barn door after the horse has run away! Where do you expect to find him?"
"Didn't you say, sir, that friends would all some day be reunited?"
Hearing this reply Wizard Jia's face went purple with rage and he suddenly sat up in bed, reaching out to strike Nie. And then he fainted back onto the pillow, exhausted as before. Wizard Nie left the room mumbling under his breath, and finding Lali in the hall beat him with several cruel blows of his fists. The little waif just cried and cried, and Wizard Jia was even more disturbed to hear this. But with his mind unclear and body weakened there was nothing he could do.
Come evening the lamps were still unlit. Now, it was the eighteenth night of the ninth lunar month and the moon had risen early. Calling up his remaining energy he managed to sit up in bed and gaze at the moon in the window above him; countless feelings and thoughts rushed through his heart and mind. He wondered where his stepmother and sister were at the moment, and seeing that big round face in the night sky he wondered if the Lady of the Moon might have a letter of theirs for him. And just as he started longing wildly for Mei'r, in ran little Lali.
"Teacher Que has returned," he announced, "and he's with his mother and sister outside the gate."
Hearing this, Wizard Jia felt encouragement coursing through his veins and was filled with boundless joy. He hurriedly called out for them to enter, and tried to get out of bed but his limbs wouldn't obey and he drifted back to sleep. He then heard the sound of his folks talking and sensed the three of them entering his room, his mother asking about the cause of his illness and comforting him with tender words. "We'll have a talk," she said, "as soon as I get the bags all squared away."
Quezi ran off, leaving only Mei'r, giggling as she climbed onto the edge of his bed. "Big brother, I've been away for so long, only to find you ill like this!"
Wizard Jia spoke weakly while kneeling on the bed. "This illness came because of you, dear sister, but because I've seen you today I can die without regret!" And he raised his hands, gently placing them on her neck, while Hu Mei'r lowered her head and made ready to kiss him. Wizard Jia then suddenly awoke. It had all been a dream. Opening his eyes he saw only the quiet room with half of that full moon framed in the window, and a cool breeze was blowing in on his body.
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