Three blissful summers had come and gone since he’d traversed that fateful pass to emerge into a vale of dreams. Slowly at first came the healing of his troubled spirit, but the effects of his growth were lasting and over time he acquired understanding into his existence. Coupled with the rigorous physical training he received, this combination facilitated a profound overhaul of his relationship with the external world. Regret and remorse were made ghosts of a dysfunctional past, allowing room for a tacit self-forgiveness.
The only specter he was unable to thoroughly eradicate was the lingering longing for adventure. Over the months into years that he shared with Master Tam, Rowan learned to manage these feelings, agreeing that this was the dis-ease that truly denied him rest. As a result, he found it easy to understand why this unique and gentle man was so beloved by all, including the enigmatic plum.
Upon shedding her summertime bounty of blushing fruit and prior to being stripped of her gown altogether, the unveiling demeanor of autumn would transform her sheath of green into a mottled mantle of reddish gold. When finally bereft of foliage, she would bare leafless limbs of torturous beauty against the august sky. Silently, she would await the gibbous moon most near the mid-winter solstice and only then, when misted with frost, would she reawaken. In defiance to the bleakness of season, she would array once again her branches in a nightdress of poetic elegance; inscrutably donning in the chill of winter, an ethereal filigree of pink and white blossoms.
Wanting to emulate his master in every possible way, Rowan also took to meditating beneath the branches of the ancient plum. Stilling his mind, he listened in silence and soon realized that the Lady of Winter Moon possessed a will and voice of her own. Discovering what he understood to be a mystical revelation, he embarked upon the task of learning the language in which she spoke.
His success however, was fitful, with youthful impatience often at fault in creating a barrier between them. As for the Lady, she found the sapling intuitive and rational of mind, but the boy’s wild blood made him far too willful to entirely charm. Secure on her hilltop, she enjoyed the benefit of perspective associated with her longevity and venerable as Rowan might consider this trait, it was not a virtue he could fully embrace.
Eternally constrained by her deep-seeking roots, the Plum was forever forbidden to freely wander field and stream, and in this he came to think of her as a metaphor for life as a monk. Though envious of her steadfast determination, he knew the day would eventually come when his own restless spirit would demand he travel on.
Even so, no matter where he might roam, if his thoughts should turn homeward, the garden at the base of the plum would be the place that he recalled. This serene and tranquil valley was like no other place on Earth. Xi Tian, and the people who made it their home, had salvaged much more than just his life. They’d rescued the world beyond from his ignorance and taught him what it meant to be a living part of the Tao.
Still, for all his love of the people and place, he understood it was not his future to forever remain among them. For existing as in a dream, somewhere beyond the mountains and the western seas lay the island home of his father. Erin, the birthplace of his history hung in the distance like a solution to the riddle of his life.