As Tzu Tam, the Master of Yamane, stepped from the grove and looked upon the youthful adventurer seated against the base of a Guì Yuán tree, never before had he seen such an alien looking man. Wondering what his purpose might be in staying there, Tam took his time about assessing him. He was lean of frame and his sharp pale features were framed by a mass of black hair. The long strands were tangled into oily curls and longed for a good washing. He was seated, but even so his legs resembled fence posts and Tam could tell that the stranger would stand well above his own height. He was a well-muscled and apparently very determined, for he’d sat in an awkward pose beneath this same tree for three nights now and was obviously suffering from cramping. Certainly he possessed vitality, but more impressive was that he exercised the discipline to control it.
Hailing from the outlands he was dressed in leather pants and blouse, like the men of the distant Steppes, but it was plain that his heritage lay much farther to the west. Coupled with boots of black ox hide his appearance was in all rather outlandish, but the most striking feature about him was his eyes. They were the color of water falling through blue skies. Limpid with intelligence, there were shadows haunting their transparent depths.
Looking up, Rowan studied the monk in return, but declined the opportunity to be the first to speak.
“I am Tzu Tam.” The monk’s tone was questioning, but friendly and his voice vibrated with an engaging resonance. Offering a brief bow, he continued. “Shan Lo has told me of a man sitting in the orchard. What is it you seek from us?”
Though his knees were stiff from sitting, Rowan forced himself to rise as gracefully as he might. He’d witnessed the odd, deferential custom many times, but had never before considered bowing to another man. Yet there was something about this monk however that made it seem a natural act of respect and found himself returning the gesture. The senior monk’s manner was similar to those of the monks he’d seen in Rasa, but there was something about his presence that wasn’t the same at all. This Tzu Tam seemed earnestly diffident and his voice lacked any trace of condescension, but there was a note of quiet self-assurance also present that would cause an aggressor to have second thoughts before acting. Though advanced in years he radiated health with no trace of feebleness in his stance or stride.
“I’m here because there is no other place for me.” Feeling as though he did not belong to the world through which he walked, Rowan expressed his situation with disarming honesty.
A slight smile broke across the old monk’s face as Tzu Tam continued to assess this novel situation. When he did speak, the smile scurried away.
“There is a tortoise that used to walk past the base of this tree we call the dragon’s eye. Every morning for many years he has followed the same path to reach our cabbage patch on the other side of the hill. He is fond of our cabbage and I was wondering if you might have seen him?”
“Did he go around you?”
“No, I rose to let him pass.”
“Why would a man give consideration to such a lowly creature?”
“It’s his path.”
“Ah, that is so. But you are much larger and surely more powerful than a tortoise.”
“If I am, it doesn’t give me the right to force changes on him. Besides, he was here long before myself.”
“I will consider your request.” When he finished speaking, Tzu Tam watched closely for any reaction.
Rowan thought that he kept his relief from showing, but Tzu Tam’s smile reappeared and before parting he bowed once more. After returning the bow, Rowan reseated himself against the Guì Yuán.
On the fifth morning of his vigil, hungry but well rested, Rowan was invited by Shan Lo to visit the temple and instructed to enter. Finding Tzu Tam inside, he was given a second, more in depth interview in which he revealed all of his mixed history to the master of Yamane.