Serving as a mercenary soldier in the Northern District, Rowan first heard rumor of the monastery from Yen Wan, a fellow soldier, who possessed an unshakable aloofness to the prevalent carnage of his chosen profession and an enduring knack for storytelling. On this occasion, he’d told of a legend concerning a group of robed monks living an austere and solitary life. Somewhere in the southern mountains, they sustained themselves by growing vegetables, fruits and grains in a lush and fertile valley. They did not involve themselves in affairs of the world beyond their borders and spent their days as good monks should, Wan quipped, in celibate contemplation.
Though he’d heard other tales of a fabled Shangri-La, Rowan found this version particularly intriguing. Rather than being inhabited by a race of magical beings, the mountain valley was home to a clan that sought the serenity of inner peace while being at the same time the fiercest warriors ever idealized.
An abiding image of the place remained with the youthful Rowan as he wandered. Soldiering had turned out to be nothing like what he expected. The food was horrid, his fellow soldiers never bathed and the only battles they’d been involved in were with farmers armed with pitchforks and sticks. The army of the South District was presently in retreat and he could find no honor in fighting poorly armed and untrained men.
It wasn’t long before his disenchantment fully blossomed into loathing and self-reproach. When the day came that his battalion was ordered to burn a out a sleepy village, he’d rebelled. No longer able to stomach the slaughter of innocents, he refused to take part. Screaming obscenities, his commander derided him as a weakling and incensed by disobedience, the man had attempted to use Rowan to illustrate the color of a coward’s entrails. In defense Rowan drew his own sword and cut the man down. While the others stared on in disbelief, he’d run for his horse. Fleeing a volley of arrows he outdistanced their bows and made good his escape.
His unexpected retirement from the Emperor’s service labeled him an outlaw and as a deserter with a price on his head he rode west. No one seemed to find the price of pursuing him worth a trespass into the Steppes where they would risk running afoul of the Huns.
Banding together in mobile groups, the Huns claimed the grasslands as their own and though it was a freer way of life, it was certainly no less violent. Traveling in wagons and on horseback, they survived by scavenging the land and raiding competing tribes. For a time, Rowan allied himself with one of them, but a recurring restlessness soon forced him to move on. From there he’d wandered further north, but no matter where he roamed, bloodshed and ignorance always prevailed. So it was that toward the end of his second summer in China, disillusioned and despairing, he began to wander south.