|Xing Ren, for that was the name of the Taoist hermit who was approaching the Huang’s farm, paused for a thousand heartbeats as he observed the home and the surrounding terrain. In the dusk he could, because he had practiced for many years, discern the Qi flows of the earth. They fire, wind and water, stirring and swirling in patterns beneath the surface. And they were not. They were Dragon Lines. Quietly, Xing Ren stood, only a faint breeze stirring the tip of his beard. He blinked, then continued his steady walk toward the farm; this was the place and there was something else for him to do here. He sighed, the smallest of sighs, recalling his mountain hut, bare and sturdy, perfectly perched on the side of a mountain.|
Before long the hermit was inside the farmhouse, a cup of tea warming his hands. Mother and Father Huang were telling him the story of Little Fish’s illness, starting from the moment of his conception. The sisters peeked in at the adults in the kitchen and wondered at the curious old man. Xing Ren listened attentively, when Father mentioned the name of the thing he sought his breath barely changed, but Second Sister saw it.
“What is wrong with Little Fish? can you help our boy?” pleaded Mother Huang.
Xing Ren sipped his tea, wondering why all elderly strangers were thought to have extraordinary healing gifts.
“Let me look at your son.”
Mother Huang showed Xing Ren into a small clean room. Kneeling down the hermit placed his fingers on the boy’s thin wrists, feeling for the twelve pulses. He looked at the boy’s tongue, examined his face, and palpated his abdomen.
“Can you help him?” Mother Huang persisted.
Xing Ren rocked back on his heels and squatted, as limber as a child. In his mind he recalled the particular pattern of the Dragon Lines he had observed earlier that evening. He could cure the boy, what was the easy part. The difficulty was deciding whether to do it here or at the temple on Wu Dang Mountain. His mind pursued each possibility, turning over different combinations and permutations of potential destinies. As he peered into the face of Little Fish again Xing Ren thought not of the boy, but of the twisted Pine, which stood sentry duty on the path leading to his hut. What was he to do? Who was he to decide? Ina sense all fates were equal; life ending in death, when the Corporeal Soul returned to the Earth and the Ethereal Soul flowed back to the world of the Subtle and Non-material. Even if this little fish died before jumping the Dragon Gate, it was still a life. ‘Please let someone else decide’, Xing Ren silently prayed to his twisted Pine. He heard the family pressing closer, mutely urging him to say anything.
“Mommy” whispered Youngest Sister “is Little Fish going to have to go away?”
That was all Xing Ren needed. Straightening up he bowed his head to the parents. “I do not have the ability to heal the boy.”
Both parents choked back sobs, Youngest Sister moaned, and Second Sister knew lied from the flutter of his eyelids.
“I must take him to my teacher’s temple on Wu Dang Mountain. There he will be healed.”
The family exploded with questions as Xing Ren ushered them out of the sick room.
“When will he be back?”
“Is he well enough to travel?”
“How far is Wu Dang Mountain?”
“What can we do for you in return for saving our boy?”
Second Sister hung back as the rest of the family flowed into the eating room; she turned and looked up, straight into Xing Ren’s eyes. She was terrified to do this; it was an act of boldness beyond bad manners or social taboo. She had considered this act alone could kill her.
“Take me with you” she intoned.
Xing Ren suppressed a smile, which even Second Sister did not see, such interesting children the Dragon Lines of this valley sparked.
With the family settled Xing Ren spoke, pacing the room, as if already on his way to Wu Dang Mountain. “My teacher can heal the boy, I know this. Although he is weak Jing Liao can travel on an ox. I will need an assistant to care for him on the road; your eldest daughter had best come with us. Of course, my teacher will accept no payment until the boy is well. In a year I shall return with the children, at that time I will collect ten bales of you Jin Yin Hua herb.”
Father Huang’s eyebrows rose like ravens taking wing, ten bales was twice his most bountiful harvest of the gold and silver trumpet flowers, but he and Mother Huang agreed to the plan. Second Sister bounced on her heels.