Between sessions of stillness with Tzu Tam and the physical demands of his daily training, Rowan rarely found time to dwell on much else. Becoming immersed in this new life drove the sins of his old life further from mind, in time eliminating all but one thorn from his efforts in purification; the same lust for wandering that had led him here.
At the death of his parents, the arising of this condition was as timely as it was educational, allowing him an avenue of escape from the race riots in Indus. At a mere seventeen years, his skill with a sword won him a much coveted post as guardsman for a merchant caravan into Cathay and upon successfully surviving the vastness of China, he’d suddenly found himself without work. Merchants returning westward chose the more modern method of travel by barge to move their goods and a swordsman’s skills were less in demand.
His father, a Scot, had been a seagoing merchant before settling in Indus, but Rowan had no desire to remove his feet from solid ground. A ship, no matter its size, was but a toy for the gods to toss about on the seas. Believing all gods were no more than anthropomorphic extensions of fickle and vengeful elements, as a stranger in this foreign land, his prospects for employment were limited. The only two options readily presenting themselves were thievery and soldiering.
Already familiar with the murderous guilds native to his mother’s homeland, he presumed those operating at the mouth of the Yangtze to be of similar ilk. As slitting throats for coins held no appeal for him, he elected to take a mercenary post with the army of the Northern District. Upon the eve of his first battle, a companion soldier who’s nervousness forbid him to silence, acquainted Rowan with the story of the warrior monks. He spoke of their history, their phenomenal prowess, spiritual achievements and mysterious disappearance. According to the soldier, their legend was responsible for the birth of an entire mythology.
Rowan took the accounting to be more fantasy than fact, but the idea that men of such character might exist somewhere in the world held his fascination and was in part responsible for his subsequent desertion. The other, and more salient reason, being the debilitating emotional wages of slaughter.
Taking part in a one-sided skirmish against untrained peasants, who sought nothing more than to toil in the sun, rebelled against his naive preconceptions of what warfare should be. This disturbed him to the point, that in an effort to mitigate the remorse he felt for his own complicity, and also to escape the persecution of being labeled insubordinate, Rowan fled. Finding life among the Huns and their Scythian neighbors filthy, no less brutal and thoroughly steeped in ignorance, he elected to dismiss altogether the company of men.
On the back of a large and surly brown stallion liberated from a rival clan’s expectant stewpot and despairing of finding grace among his own kind, Rowan rode west. In time it was guilt that dictated life would be better spent in defending innocents, rather than taking part in their oppression. This activity would earn him the brand of outlaw, but it possessed a youthful charm and seemed a better alternative than squandering what was left of his heart.
Refraining from entertaining illusions as to what difference one sword could ever make, he romanticized the idea that redemption could be won. Considering how he might best go about being of some use to those in need, he awakened from a day of absent wandering to find himself trespassing an unfamiliar route through a rugged range of mountains.
Disappointed at first to find it occupied, upon realizing who these people might be, he was wonderstruck at having walked into a fable. That the monastery’s master eventually allowed him to enter was a boon beyond warrant and that he also took the explorer under his tutelage seemed a miraculous change in fortune. Of all the places into which he might wonder, Xi Tian exceeded his most fervent day dreams.