Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Thunder Underground - Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about using an oracle to “randomize” my life and writing.  I mentioned that I was using a book entitled, “The I Ching Pack,” which includes a book written by Richard Gill entitled “I Ching - The Little Book that Tells the Truth” and a set of cards to use with the the book that were illustrated by Anthony Clark.  
This process has an something of an impact on me, the extent of which I’m still trying to figure out.  I think it’s helping me think through the things that happen in my life and see things in a different way.  
More on that later, though.  One more obvious thing that has happened is that I’ve reacquainted myself with the beautiful illustrations of Anthony Clark’s that adorn the cards in the I Ching Pack.  Each one is meant to represent one of the 64 hexagrams in the I Ching.  This week, I realized that I was weaving together a story in my head based on these illustrations.  
I’ve decided to start writing out and sharing this story.  It’s very much a work in progress.  Right now it’s really only a bunch of scenes in my head that I “Know” are somehow bound together in a single narrative.  I’m not big on sharing unfinished work, but I said I wanted to do things differently in 2014 and it looks like this is one of them.  
I make no promises about the quality of the story, or even that I’ll eventually reach an ending.  I’m taking this journey along with you.  I have no idea where it will end up.  
With that, here is the opening scene.  I hope you enjoy it.  
Part One
Zho Chu was crossing a swaying rope bridge near the Cha-Tzun falls when the earthquake struck.  The bridge’s gentle swaying turned into a madman’s dance, with Zho Chu holding on to the guide ropes even as they felt like they would saw through his hands.  
Zho Chu heard something go “Bang!”  He looked to his left to see that the treasure box Master Zhing had entrusted him to deliver the the magistrate of Boshuun Province had fallen from the top of his cart where he had placed it.  
“No!”  Zho Chu feared for his life, but he feared the ire of Master Zhing even more.  He released his hold on the guide ropes and scrambled on his hands and knees, the swaying bridge threatening to pitch him into the frigid waters of the Soo-Han river, to reach the box before the bridge did the same to it.  
The box sat there, dancing on the planks bound together with knotted ropes, as if waiting for him to save it.  Then, when it was a little more than an arm’s length away, the box skittered across the plank, just under the guide ropes and fell into the river.  
“No...!  No, no, no!”  Zho Chu slapped his hands on the wood planks, in the same spot where the treasure box had been.  It had teased him, no doubt.  That cursed box that had turned this into a cursed trip!  May the Spirt of the Water drown that thing!  May the Spirit of the Earth crush it with falling rocks!  May the Spirit of Thunder shatter it with a bolt--
His pony screamed and reared up.  His hooves nearly crushed Zho Chu’s head.  Zho Chu fought the swinging bridge to get to his feet and grab the pony’s bridle to calm it down.  
The earthquake subsided.  The swaying stopped.  Zho Chu whispered sweat, incomprehensible sounds into the pony’s ear.  Just like his wife at home might do when he did the same with her, the pony nuzzled him and snorted into his ear.  About as attractive, the two of them were.  And about as sturdy and pleasant a ride, the two of them were, though a comparison would would tell to his shadow-self only and no other.
The pony calm, Zho Chu looked out over the river.  
There it was.  It looked like a turtle, floating in the water.  A turtle with a shell the color of jade and sides of gold.  A turtle that had nothing better to do that float toward the edge of the falls, not more that fifty spans away.  
If the Spirit of the Wind has finished cursing me, Zho Chu thought, it will get hooked up on those rocks.  It will get lodged there, and then I can jump from that big rock there to those smaller ones and haul it out of the river.  Heavy as it is, it will be trial, but at least--
The treasure box changed course.  It spun in the water and glanced off the rocks it was heading toward.  It bobbed along until it reached the falls edge, where it dove over the edge, its gold sides winking in the winter sun like the eye of a woman teasing you with her beauty.  
Zho Chu took a deep breath and let it free.  No.  The Spirit of the Wind, who oversaw travels and travelers, was not done tormenting him.  Or maybe it was Master Zhing that was cursing him.  For some unnoticed slight he had done the sorcerer.  
“It will attract attention, Master Zhing,” Zho Chu had complained when the red robed sorcerer had told him to place the treasure box on top of the other items he was carrying.  “Thieves and bandits and the like.  Better to put it on the bottom, and cover it with--”  
“No.”  Master Zhing shook his head, once, then nodded toward the top of the pile of goods Zho Chu was transporting.  “It will perch on top.”  
“I can put it under the tarp though, yes?”
“May I tie it down, at least secure--”
“But, Master Zhing...”  Zho looked down at the treasure box, sitting on the ground between them.  It had taken two strong looking boys to carry it from Master Zhing’s front gate to Zho’s cart.  Though only a distance of two spans, they looked exhausted from the effort.  “If I’m to ensure that it reaches its destination...”
“It will get to where it needs to go, my good Chu.”  Master Zhing nodded at him and almost, though not quite, smiled.  “As long as you continue to head toward the magistrate in Boshuun, it will get to where it needs to be, I promise you.”  
And Master Zhing’s word had been as good as his word over the many days of travel.  Every morning, heaving and huffing, he’d set it on the top of his goods.  Every night, certain a thief in the night might rob him of it, he would take it down and sleep with his arm around it.  Despite the steepness of the road, or sudden wind gusts or the one time coming out of Cha-Tzun pass when a motley group of peasants turned bandits tried to rob him and his pony had shown some of her hidden mettle, it had stayed there, like some potentate in a procession.  
Until now.  Zho Chu sighed.  It would be too much to hope it had shattered itself into a million splinters, he supposed.  And he’d have to bring back proof of its destruction to avert Master Zhing’s ire, no doubt.  
Stroking his pony‘s muzzle, Zho Chu realized he had a decision to make.  To go back the way he came would bring him to the bottom of the falls faster, but he’d be losing time, and money, with the goods he was carrying.  To go forward meant winding his way through the mountains until the road finally exhausted itself and slid down the slope into Boshuun.  It would take two extra days of travel to reach the bottom of the falls on this side, giving someone else that much more time to find and recover it for his own.  
Once more, Master Zhing provided him with his answer.  
“As long as you continue to head toward the magistrate in Boshuun, it will get to where it needs to be.”
So be it.  As you command, Master Zhing.  Taking another breath, he gave his pony a kiss on her muzzle, halfway between eyes and mouth, then urged her forward with a tug on her bridle.  They made their way across the bridge and started the first of two hands worth of tight switchbacks down.  
It was when Zho was on the fourth turn from the top when his memory pointed out how easily the box had floated in the river.  As if it were as light as cork.  Had its contents tumbled out when it went over the bridge?  Since Zho Chu had no idea what was inside, he had no way to answer that.  He would just have to wait until he found the box to find that out.  


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