“Master, the children have disappeared into there.” The words tumbled out of Xing Ren.
“Ah, yes” replied the Master in his very best knowing tone, both disciples relaxed for it seemed that the Master knew the entire situation.
“What is the best way to rescue them?”
“And why should they be rescued?”
This turn was exactly what Xing Ren had feared.
“It is a incident, an action, a shift. Is it for us to undo it? Or is inaction the correct action?” The Master raised his eyebrow a hair for emphasis.
“Surely they are not supposed to die. What purpose could that serve?”
Xing Ren stared at the Master and the Master stared back, eyes locked. Xing Ren was sure that the Master could rescue the children as easily as a mother stooping to pick up a fallen toddler.
“It is not my decision, there could be something at stake we cannot fathom, let the sticks tell.” The Master rose and from his alter gathered his yarrow sticks.
Settling down again on the platform he arranged his robes, smoothing their folds and straightening their qi. Sitting very still he held his sticks, encompassed almost completely in his hands. He sat so still he seemed not to be breathing; rather the air was moving his lungs for him. Ma Huang and Xing Ren, too, sat as still as still. Suddenly, for in that stillness any movement would seem sudden, the Master threw the yarrow into the air. The sticks seemed to float above his head in a slow, churning cloud. Ma Huang tried to think how she felt, but she realized there was no she, no Ma Huang the person the individual. How the sticks fell didn’t matter. What happened to the children didn’t matter. Whether they came back or not, it was all the same. And then the sticks fell in perfect solid and moving lines in front the Master. Unconsciously both disciples grasped. The Master was inwardly pleased, exquisite stick control was his most flamboyant qi trick. In the days of the Old Master it was considered little better than a party trick, but these days it never failed to impress. He had often tried to control the trigram the sticks indicated, but could only manage good order. This, he felt, was an expression of his mediocrity.
Xing Ren and Ma Huang rocked forward on their knees to see the pattern, “ah yes” intoned the Master “ah yes.”
Ma Huang and Xing Ren saw instantly that the trigram was the number one, by name Qian, Initiating, with moving lines that transformed it into number forty seven, by name Kun, Exhausting. On a cursorily reading it seemed to be saying that they should go ahead and do whatever it took to rescue the children as Qian was an auspicious trigram that portended good results to any undertaking. Kun seemed to indicate that they would be a bit tired when it was all over, but wouldn’t it be worth it?
The Master clasped his hands inside the sleeves of his robes, he had cleared his mind for the toss, but here again for the interpretation he had to put his personal concerns aside. He sent them away in swirl of incense from the burner behind him. Ma Huang noticed that the incense, curiously, moved faster and wondered how that could be. His mind had been squirming, almost painfully, then turned into smoke, formlessly moving through the atmosphere, and then he had it.
“As you can see we have two trigrams, the first Qian is for me. Although auspicious, on examination of the moving lines I see that, in fact, it is not the time for me to do anything. I will surely regret my actions, there is a dragon lying low. The second trigram Kun, that one is for Xing Ren. The situation is exhausting and difficult, only the most steadfast and upright can succeed. If you have any doubts you will only make matters worse.” The Master paused and looked intensely at Xing Ren. “I think we cannot proceed with action, if the children find their way out that is all well and good, but………” and he dismissed his disciples with the wave of a hand.
Walking back to the kitchen the two were silent. Ma Huang too thoroughly bothered to speak and Xing Ren so down cast he could not move his mouth. Back in the kitchen Ma Huang made tea, as she poured Xing Ren’s cup the name “Old Auntie Wu” slipped from her lips.
“Auntie Wu, Old Auntie Wu.” Still unable to speak much Xing Ren regarded her with questioning concern.
“Old Auntie Wu used to come to our house at the height of Summer and help us get rid of any accumulated Yang that might cause illness during the winter. She had this funny way of interpreting the I Ching, she called it “bridging the river”, and it gives you three trigrams if the first one has moving lines. So why couldn’t I have a trigram too? I was in the room, I’ve spent a lot of time with the children, my qi is just as involved as anyone else’s.”
Xing Ren nodded trying to be encouraging, but he felt that Ma Huang was taking being left out of the divination too seriously.
“If we apply “bridging the river” to the first trigram we take lines three though five and put them on top and lines four through two and put them on the bottom.” As she spoke Ma Huang drew on the table with a finger dripped in tea.
“And we get this.” She finished with a flourish. There on the table was Qian, clean and crisp with no moving lines, the most auspicious trigram of the I Ching.
Xing Ren stared at the table thinking 10,000 thoughts. The trigram had dried without trace before he opened his mouth to speak.