Disclaimers: See Chapter One for all disclaimers, warnings, etc.

I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think. I'm at: ljmaas@yahoo.com

The Conqueror Series

Tale Two: The Petal of the Rose

By LJ Maas

Chapter 13: I Dare No More Acknowledge My Own Name

I found her at the lake, not too far from the castle. During the warm summer days, it had been a favorite place of hers, to lie about and write in her scrolls. It was the first place I looked.

She never turned around when I walked up behind her. She was seated facing the water, her knees drawn up under her chin, and her skirt tucked around her. The wind blew her hair about, shrouding her face in a cloak that prevented me from seeing her features. I heard her sniffle, though, and I knew she must have been crying. The pain of that notion sliced into my heart like a dagger.

"Gabrielle?" I touched her shoulder.

She didn't pull away from me, but she turned her head aside.

"Are you angry that I stayed to comfort Solan?" I asked.

"He's your son," she answered flatly.

"And you are my wife," I retorted.

"Not yet." She sniffed.

"Perhaps not by a ceremony, but in my heart we are already wed. You know this, don't you?"

"How could he?" she asked tearfully. "How could he have been there, and done nothing? What sort of a human can actually do that?"

"I don't know, love, but I do know that it has affected him deeply. If it's any consolation at all, his very soul seems tortured over his actions."

"I don't take solace in his pain, but how can I forgive him, Xena?" she whimpered.

"Did I not just hear you say that forgiveness is not so much about absolution for another, but for the peace it offers you inside yourself?" I answered. "Gabrielle, know that you have to do nothing that you don't want to. You are a free woman now, and no one can ever again force you to do anything you don't want to do."

"But, he's your son!" She answered as if everything hinged on that little point. Perhaps, to her, it did.

"Gabrielle," I reached out and drew her face toward me. I brushed the golden hair away, and cupped her cheek within one hand. "Solan is my son, and I have come to care for him, but hear me when I say this. If you were to ask, I would send him back to Kaleipus this very day. If it were your wish, there would never be contact between Solan and me again."

She looked up at me, and I feared that I had said the wrong words anyway. Her tears began anew.

"Why would you do that? He's your flesh and blood."

"Yet you are my life," I answered. "You are the air that I breathe, the water that I drink. You are what gives meaning to my life, and the reason that I live. You are my sustenance. When all others left me at the wayside, dying of thirst, it was you who offered me a drink. If those reasons aren't simple enough, I would do this because I love you, little one."

It was then that she fairly dove into my embrace, and I smiled.

"Oh, Xena, I don't want you to lose your son."

For once, I had spoken from the heart. I said the right words, and that pleased me greatly.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Yes, I admit, I recognized the young man immediately." Yu Pan said as he slowly poured tea into a cup for each of us.

Gabrielle and I sat with the healer in his room. We had agreed to go to Yu Pan first, believing he might know more of that night. We sipped at the steaming brew, and waited as the old man settled himself into a comfortable position on the floor.

"The night is not one I will soon forget." He nodded in Gabrielle's direction. "It made even an old man such as me thirst for vengeance. I used to lose my temper too easily as a young man, and I thought my ways of violence were mended. When I looked upon my small nǚér, I felt all the old anger bubble forth.

My student woke me in the middle of the night. I peeked through the curtains and saw a young man. In his arms, he held a small woman, but being unable to see her face at the time, I never would have thought it to be our Gabrielle. By the time I put on my robe, the young man fled. He left a pouch of talants, telling my student to heal the woman, and that her master would come for her later. The young man was your son, Tong zhi zhe."

"Solan attacked me, then brought me to you?" Gabrielle asked in wonder. Her question made it apparent that she didn't quite believe Solan when he said he didn't join the men in their debaucheries that evening.

"I have found that it is extremely rare for a man to treat a woman so, then to bring her to a healer. No, nǚér, I do not believe the young man harmed you in any way. I saw non of that blackness within his heart. He never returned throughout the whole season you lived in my home, and he never told your master where you were either." Yu Pan responded.

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "You mean you lived with Yu Pan for a year? What of the man who owned you? How did--"

Yu Pan held up a hand and I went immediately silent.

"Perhaps we should shed light upon the past. Some little time after delicate Gabrielle had been lost in a game of chance to the Pirates who owned the ship in question, I was given my freedom. I had saved and purchased my freedom from a forgiving master. It was my home that Gabrielle was brought to that evening. I practiced the healing arts, and taught my students the same.

The night in question, I did not think I would have a patient to care for come the morning. She was badly off, many hurts to attend, physically as well as mentally. It took much time for the girl to finally fight her way back. She accomplished what no other patient of mine has ever done, and she has truly become my best pupil."

I knew I held tears in my eyes as my mind's eye conjured up the images of my little Gabrielle, and her broken body. She reached out, took my hand, and smiled at me in reassurance. How like her, when it should have been me heartening her.

"It must have been so painful for you, my little one." I said.

"I don't know, Xena. I don't remember any of that season that I lived with Yu Pan." Gabrielle responded.


"No," she answered quickly. "It's missing time from my life."

"But--" I began.

"Perhaps the rest of the tale should be told with an audience of only one." Yu Pan interjected tactfully. "May I suggest that we reconsider young Solan's healing?" He looked between the two of us.

"I'm not sure Gabrielle's up to confronting Solan just yet." I added.

"No, Xena, if Yu Pan believes that this might soften Solan's heart to the healing, then we can't deny him this chance. I can do this."

When she set her jaw in that determined sort of way that she possessed, I absolutely believed her. "She truly is your best pupil Master Yu Pan." I said. Then I watched as Gabrielle blushed.

Perhaps it was unnecessary, but I bestowed the title of Master on this old man, for truly there was much more to him that met the eye. If Yu Pan had one jot of influence in Gabrielle's edification, then he was indeed a Master educator.

"There is no better time than the present," Yu Pan said.

The old man rose, fully expecting us to follow him. I allowed him to take the lead for one reason only. He walked through the door, and out into the stone corridor. It was then that I slipped an arm about Gabrielle's waist and stole a most pleasant kiss.

* * * * * * * * * *

I paced and Yu Pan watched. His head never seemed to tire from swiveling to and fro, watching my movement. The man's calm demeanor could drive a Hestian Priestess to hard drink. Gabrielle sat at Solan's bedside for a long time. They whispered to one another in voices so low that even my hearing couldn't pick up but a few of the words exchanged.

I wondered if Gabrielle would share with me what they were saying. I knew, however, that I would not ask her to. I suppose I mostly wondered if they were discussing only their own mutual past, or if my pitiful presence as a mother figure in Solan's life came up.

Gabrielle cleared her throat, and when I looked up, she was standing there in the doorway, her eyes swollen slightly from another bout with tears.

"Yu Pan, Solan regrets his earlier behavior, and wishes to know if you would consent to meet with him again?" Gabrielle asked the healer.

We all knew it was a formality, but I still think I held my breath a bit before I saw the old man rise, and walk into the other room.

"Are you well, little one?" I asked as tenderly as possible.

"Yes, love, I am."

"And . . . between you and Solan? Is it settled between the two of you?" I continued to prod.

"Xena, he was a boy in a man's body. He did what he did because he was afraid." Gabrielle responded with her usually compassionate tone.

"Fear is no excuse!" I hissed in response. Now it was I who was angered. I feared that perhaps Gabrielle was doing this because she knew what it meant to me. I should have known her better.

"My love," she squeezed both my hands. "Who am I to discount someone's fear? I lived most of my life in abject terror for my life, doing whatever others forced me to do because of it. I won't disregard Solan's fear."

We moved to the other side of the room, out of eyesight, but within earshot of Solan and Yu Pan. We sat on the low-lying couch so I could hold Gabrielle close to me. Still, I listened to the sounds emanating from the other room.

* * * * * * * * * *

"We meet again, my young friend." Yu Pan greeted Solan as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened on what was turning out to be an exceedingly long day.

"Let me explain my life's work to you, my friend. Would you mind indulging an old man?"

"Please, I'd like very much to hear." Solan answered.

I was growing sleeping, having leaned back on the couch, Gabrielle snuggled close to me. I closed my eyes and listened. Solan sounded like someone else just then, and perchance he was. Have I not changed? Am I the same Conqueror who ruled this land five, or even ten seasons past? Hades, am I the same woman that crept down on my knees to convince this woman, I now hold in my arms, that she needn't steal food from my table? I opened my eyes and found green eyes staring right back at me.

"I felt you thinking of me," Gabrielle commented dreamily.

I chuckled and pressed her closer. "Indeed I was. All happy thoughts, little one . . . always happy thoughts of you."

Again, I shut my eyes and relaxed. We are such different women now, grown different in such a short time. Why should it surprise me that this magic that now coils throughout my life, should not touch every single person living within these walls. I relaxed even further as I heard Yu Pan explain the philosophy of his art.

"A well and healthy body is a perfectly balanced machine. The idea of pairs of opposites hanging balanced against one another, such as day and night, sun and moon, light and dark, is expressed by yin and yang. Qi, which you pronounce, ch'i is often translated as vital force, vital energy, or life force. Qi is both energy and matter. Qi flows in, around, and through the body in channels or meridians.

I use my knowledge, and my ability of my own Qi, along with nature's Qi, to look at what is out of balance within your own vital force. Through sight, sound, touch, the incessant questions I ask you, and my stories, I treat the cause of your illness directly. I treat the cause and, at the same time, support and encourage your body's own ability to cure the illness. In this case, to mend broken and bruised areas that exists within you. In my language, this is called fu zheng."

A rustling sound of cloth moving reached my ears. I was becoming as hypnotized as Solan must be by the healer's tone.

"Whether you realized it, Gabrielle already taught you the breathing and meditative techniques called Qigong. This works by manipulating or affecting the flow of Qi through exercise, breathing, and meditation. Qigong exercises produce very strong healing effects. You may note that even the Conqueror has a daily practice, of using Qigong. I have seen her on the balcony. This daily use of Qigong maintains good health and prevents illness before it starts.

What you have already experienced is the massage techniques on your hands. This is Tui Na, and is translated as pushing and pulling. It refers to a system of massage, body manipulation, and stimulation of acupuncture points by hand."

"Listen, my young friend, and I will tell you a story as I work." Yu Pan finally said.

"Wang Zhaojun was born Wang Qiang in Zigui county, Hubei province. She was a Han dynasty court lady married off to a ruler of the Xiongnu, or as you say, Huns.

In her teens, she entered the palace as one of the numerous candidates from whom Emperor Yuan Di chose his concubines, said to number in the thousands. Again, I do not know this to be fact, as I did not see them all, but I suspect some exaggeration may have occurred." I could hear the smile in Yu Pan's tone.

"Wang Zhaojun was a daring and determined young woman who entered the court willingly to save her father, a scholar-official, from persecution. She was beautiful, intelligent, and well read. So confident was she of her own beauty, or perhaps so honest, that she refused to bribe the court painter. The artist, Mao Yanshou, accepted bribes when he did portraits of the candidates, from which the emperor used to choose his concubines. As a result, he painted an unflattering picture, and she was passed over by the emperor. She did not like the thought of wasting her life in court, and hoped that some day something would happen that would free her from her baneful existence.

Some time later, Xiongnus, a nomadic people to the north  who you call the Huns, wished to establish friendly relations with the Han dynasty. Their Chanyu, or Khan, came to the Han capital Chang'an and requested a Han princess as a bride. This was a way of cementing relations between two lands. Instead, Han Emperor Yuan Di thought he would send one of his imperial concubine candidates, and give her away like his own daughter. He asked for volunteers. Of course, the idea of leaving their homeland, and comfortable life at the court for the grasslands of the far and unknown north was abhorrent to most of the young women, but not to Wang Zhaojun. She saw it as a chance to leave the empty palace life, and possibly play a far more important role than she ever would in Chang'an. She requested and was accepted.

She left her home in China and died many years later in a country far to the north. It is an unfortunate event in life that women have always been so married in the interests of diplomacy. Wang Zhaojun, was the exception to that rule, however. She chose her life's path; she did not let it choose her.

You see, my young friend, selecting your own path is of the utmost importance. Choose for yourself, Solan…do not let the fates choose for you."

* * * * * * * * * *

I stood on the balcony and breathed in the early morning air. Cool and crisp, it still held the pungent aroma from the recently harvested olive trees surrounding the castle. Yesterday's turn of events sapped a great deal of my energy, and I came outside to stretch. Sometime last evening during Yu Pan's healing, and stories, Gabrielle and I both fell asleep. When the moon was low in the early morning sky, Yu Pan awakened us, and I carried Gabrielle down to our own rooms.

I stared across the courtyard and out onto the training field. I watched the man to whom I owed so much. Yu Pan was confident that Solan would be well in the morning, and it comforted me on many levels. Most of all, I was glad because it meant that Solan had managed to purge himself of the anger and guilt he had been living with for so many seasons.

I continued to watch the old man in the sparse light dawn provided just before the sun rose. Dressed in a long black robe and loose fitting pants, he began to do his own daily Qigong. I had to take a step back in shock as I watched the healer go from old man, to a blur of complex movement. All my suspicions were answered as I watched his routine. I was completely mesmerized, not only by his ability, but for who I now suspected he was. I may have been correct in thinking that Yu Pan was more than simply an old man. Old, to be sure, but his skills were what kept him young.

As if reading my very thoughts, he stopped in mid-motion, and turned to face me. He looked up at the balcony where I stood and bowed deeply at the waist. I grinned at the apparent secret we now shared. I bowed in turn to the healer, and returned to my bedchamber to dress. I chose loose fitting garb, as opposed to my customary leather trousers.

Gabrielle was already awake when I entered the room, saying she wanted to check on Solan. . Impatient to prove myself correct, I kissed her on the forehead and told her to meet me on the training field later, that there may be something of interest there.

I shouldn't have been surprised when I found Yu Pan waiting for me. He was seated along the low stone wall that surrounded the training field. It was still early enough that we were two of the few people in the area, although shortly the barracks would empty and soldiers and cadets alike would begin their training regimen.

"Good day to you, Conqueror." Yu Pan greeted me as I came up behind him.

"To you as well, Master Yu Pan."

To the both of us, the use of our official titles was more of a familiarity than protocol. Rather like Gabrielle teasing me by calling me, Conqueror. I sat down beside him and we both simply enjoyed the sounds of the early morning. He took a puff from his pipe every now and then, finally emptying the ivory bowl of its tobacco by tapping the end of the pipe on the wall.

I watched a couple of female soldiers as they began their own morning sparring routines. Engaged in some easy hand-to-hand combat, they were oblivious of my watchful gaze. Yu Pan, however, seemed to have Gabrielle's ability of knowing precisely what I was thinking. I turned to look at him and he smiled knowingly, looking back himslef at the female soldiers.

"Some days I wish that Gabrielle knew more about taking care of herself in that way." I answered his unasked question.

"I am most sure that when the time comes, Gabrielle will possess all the abilities that she needs. She has survived her life thus far without such skills," he answered.

"At what cost? I'm not content to have her simply survive. I won't have her become a victim, ever again."

"Be careful what you wish for, Conqueror." Yu Pan cautioned me. "Shall I tell you a story?

"By all means," I answered.

"Sun Wu, known to history as Sun Zi, Philosopher Sun, was a great military strategist who you no doubt have heard. A native of the State of Qi, he was once summoned by King He Lu of the State of Wu in the lower Changjiang valley.

I've read all of your thirteen articles on military strategy and tactics, said the king, and I want you to command my army, at least on a trial basis.

Sun Wu willingly accepted.

Sun Wu had claimed that discipline was the key to any army's effectiveness. The King wanted to test his abilities and asked, would your training methods work even with women?

With Sun Wu's agreement, the King assembled 180 of his concubines to be trained. Sun Wu divided them into two companies and appointed two company commanders.

The women were asked whether they knew their right hands from their left, and back from front. Then Sun Wu told them how to carry out military orders.

When the drum signals a left turn, you must turn to your left. When it signals, turn completely around. So the general raised his battleaxe, the drum signaled a right turn, and the women stood there and laughed.

Perhaps the rules are not clear and you are not familiar with orders. That's my fault, said Sun Wu. Sun Wu patiently reiterated the rules and the drum sounded again. Again, the women laughed and made no move. The first time was my fault, said the general. But now I have repeated the instructions and you still do not follow, so the blame is on you. He ordered both company commanders executed.

The King was stunned. I cannot live without these two women ! I hope you'll spare them, he said.

Sun Wu replied, you have appointed me your commanding general, and I must exercise a general's authority.

The executions were carried out, and the next-ranking women appointed commander. The orders were given again, and this time the terrified women followed instructions exactly.

Sun Wu turned to the king, the women's companies are now at your service.

The unhappy king said, Please return to your home. I don't want to see you any more.

The general then asked gravely whether the monarch's professed admiration for good military strategy was only talk, or was he willing to put it into practice? King He Lu took the point and confirmed Sun Wu's authority. The women's troop, which started as a joke, later became an effective fighting force.

With Sun Wu at their head, the Wu troops defeated the powerful State of Chu in the west and occupied its capital, thereafter threatening the states of Qi and Jin to the northwest, becoming a dominant power in the area." Yu Pan finally finished his story and he looked across at me as he added.

"As I said, Conqueror, much like the King in my story, perhaps you should take care in what you wish for. Gabrielle is already a formidable opponent. She possesses skills, which might make some rulers wary."

"Are you saying I should have reason to fear Gabrielle?" I chuckled. "That she might take command of the Empire?" I laughed it off, but then I thought more earnestly about the notion.

"It would not be the first time such a thing has occurred. "

I laughed aloud this time and watched as the healer smiled along with me. "Gabrielle already knows that the Empire is hers for the asking."

"You have changed much, Conqueror. It seems as though you have your life well in hand, and do not need the interference of an old man."

"Somehow, for some reason I think there is more to you than wisdom and age. I feel there is much to your story still left untold, and I consider your advice far from interfering."

"I have no secrets, Conqueror."

"I doubt that."

"It is the truth," Yu Pan reiterated. "Is a man considered secretive, merely because he does not proclaim his lineage from the mountaintop? Should he be looked upon as mysterious because he does not offer up easy answers? Perhaps it is the inquisitor who should ask himself, am I asking the correct questions?"

The old man smiled and hopped down from the wall. He landed on his feet so lightly that I suspected my opinions of him were completely correct. I took heart that his previous words had been thrown down as a sort of hint, if not challenge, for me.

I rose to stand alongside the much smaller man. "Would you do me the honor of practicing on the sparring field with my Master Yu Pan?" I asked.

"Perhaps I am not the one you seek," he answered. "Will you be disappointed in the outcome?"

"I think not," I responded

Then shall we put our physical selves to the test?" Yu Pan questioned me.

As always he walked ahead of me, never turning to see if I'd decided to join him. By this time, there were a number of trainees on the field, and I met up halfway there with Atrius.

"Conqueror." Atrius greeted me with the familiar nod of his head.

"Atrius. How goes the day thus far?"

"Quite well, Conqueror. Uhm, may I ask . . .?" he stammered.

"Master Yu Pan and I are going to stretch our muscles a bit." I grinned.

"You . . . and him?" he asked in bewilderment. "That doesn't seem like much of a stretch, Conqueror." Atrius chuckled.

Never let your eyes belie the truth that you see in here." I answered the Captain by pointing to me heart.

I heard Gabrielle's voice as I stretched, and threw a couple of roundhouse kicks in the air. I winced, realizing Gabrielle would understand none of this. Actually, I would consider myself lucky if she didn't think me completely insane. I put a pleasant smile on my face and walked over to where she stood.

"It's a beautiful morning, isn't it?" I asked after I'd kissed her cheek.

"Xena, what manner of foolishness has gotten into all of you this morning? I just asked Atrius, and he said you and Yu Pan were going to fight one another." Gabrielle questioned.

I raised a perturbed eyebrow at my Captain. "Gabrielle, it's not like that at all. Your friend knows how to take care of himself, and it is just friendly."

"I'm not altogether sure I see the friendliness in it. You do realize you weigh almost twice as much as he, don't you?"

"Little one," I silenced her with my words. "No harm will come. Trust in me, eh?"

"You make that hard some times, Xena." She stood there shaking her head, but with a small smile firmly fixed on her face. "All right, go play your games, but no one gets hurt," She admonished.

"I promise." I kissed her again for reassurance. I walked back into the fighting circle, and realized that I felt suspiciously like a schoolboy who'd been allowed to play outside for a time longer.

The healer and I each moved into the large combat area. The octagonal area was roped off, and we bowed first to one another, then to the rising sun in the eastern sky. If I had any lingering doubts in my mind as to Yu Pan's true identity, they were erased in the first twenty heartbeats of our mock battle.

No longer was he Yu Pan, elderly healer, but suddenly his years melted away. He moved about, parrying, dodging, ducking, twisting every blow I came at him with. My years seemed to catch up to my much more quickly. I was breathing harder and eventually found myself on the defensive. I flipped to avoid a leg sweep, but after some time of our sparring back and forth like this, my legs had lost a bit of their spring. I saw an opportunity, a hole as big as Tartarus appeared in his defenses.

I seized the opportunity immediately, and reached in with one leg to trip him up. I was good, quite good. Very few warriors live to be my age, but I saw the error in my judgment just a hair too late. Gods, what a fool! I was led to the slaughter like some virgin cadet, and not the seasoned fighter I was. With one leg committed to kicking out at Yu Pan's leg, a limb that seemed to disappear before my eyes, I watched as he tucked, rolled, and popped himself upright, nearly behind me, and kicked my own legs out from under me.

My back hit the ground with an appropriate thud, and a burst of applause ran through the crowd for the healer's victory. I leaned up on one elbow, glared at the trainees, and was rewarded with instant silence. Some of the soldiers suddenly remembered pressing engagements elsewhere within the palace. I couldn't keep the straight face plastered on and grinned mightily at Yu Pan, as he and Atrius assisted me to my feet. The healer had gone back to being the frail, elderly man he appeared to be, and I was amazed at the disguise, the way he could literally convince those around him that a stiff breeze might knock him from his feet.

I bowed low to Yu Pan, who returned the respect and I grasped his hand once more in admiration.

"Do you feel all right, Conqueror?" Atrius asked, stepping forward once more.

"Tell me, Atrius, what is the only animal in the jungle that has no fear of the Lion? That beats him at his own game, as a matter of fact."

"The tiger, of course." The Captain answered.

"I don't understand, Xena." Gabrielle commented. She'd had the oddest look on her face as she watched Yu Pan after our little match. "You are supposed to be the Lion in this scenario?"

"Indeed, my love. But I would like to introduce you to the Tiger, a man whose skill far exceeds mine on the battlefield, however."

Yu Pan smiled with his eyes at me then. I think he was almost happy that I'd figured it out.

"Gabrielle, Atrius . . . allow me to introduce the Tiger of Shao-Lin."

I knew Gabrielle and Atrius alike would know of the infamous warrior monk of Chin. Gabrielle would surely have studied the man's teachings during her time being schooled, even by the Order of the Rose. Atrius, well, let's just say warriors always have a habit of knowing other great warriors.

"The Tiger of Shao-Lin?" Atrius muttered in amazement. "It is truly an honor," he said quietly, while Gabrielle merely stared.

I wore a smug smile at realizing that the healer's alternate personality was that of one of the greatest men to walk through Chin, or any other land for that matter. He was not only a warrior, but also a man of exceeding wisdom and learning. I knew in my heart that a man who holds himself so, had to be trained as a warrior. What I didn't know was that this man all but prepared the training manual for great warriors, those who mastered mind as well as body. Even now, in Chin, Shao-Lin Temples trained young boys to be warrior monks, all with the ideologies and concepts that Yu Pan provided them.

"I don't understand, you're not a healer?" Gabrielle looked confused.

"No, love, he is most definitely a healer, one of the greatest we shall ever know, but he is so much more." I answered.

Yu Pan stepped forward and reached out to hold Gabrielle's hand in his own. "My, nǚér, I am still the same man whom you befriended those many seasons past. I was many things in my past, but now I am, and always will be the healer, Yu Pan."

Gabrielle smiled finally, and I knew that it would be all right, simply from seeing that smile. I hadn't even realized that I was holding my breath, waiting for Gabrielle to accept or deny this newly discovered aspect to her friend's life.

Nearly a candlemark later, Yu Pan held center stage at our breakfast table. Myself, Gabrielle, Atrius and his betrothed, Anya, and finally Delia were all invited to hear Yu Pan's story.

"It is a very short tale," the healer began. "At the age of six my father brought me to a temple, many days journey from our village. The temple was one of prestige to uneducated men such as my father. He understood that without something special, I would be destined to lead the same sort of life as my father. He was a poor farmer, yet he knew that a better life indeed existed, and he wanted this for me. He told me it would only be through hardship and hard work, but that if I persevered, my life would be better than his, and his father's before him.

My father left me in the Temple of the Shao-Lin priests, high in the mountains. There were many, many other boys there, some my age, some who were much older. Our days were filled with teaching and work. There was time for little else. We were taught many concepts, but chief among these was the philosophy that we could attain peace within the disciplines of war. I seemed to have a natural ability for the Sanshou that was taught us. It was the art of the Shao-Lin movement, kicking, punching, and throwing punches. The incorporated something called Kung fu, boxing, and wrestling type movements, but always with the idea of self-defense in mind. I came to love the Temple, my work, and the life I led. For some reason the Heavens smiled on me, and blessed me as a son. I found it easy to practice the many Shao-Lin principles, they came easily, I flourished above, and beyond anything, the Priests had ever known. There came a time when they told me that they could no longer teach me, that I had grown far beyond their abilities.

Young men were only allowed to study at the Shao-Lin Temple until they reached the age of eighteen.  At that time they had to choose the life they would lead. They could take their final vows, and live their lives out within the walls of the Temple, or they left the Temple, to spread the ideas of peace among men.

Because I found the life within the Temple to be to my liking, I took my vows and became a Warrior Monk. Soon, teaching students became secondary. I was blessed with an ability, there was no man alive who could best me in Sanshou. Therefore, when I turned twenty-four I was given permission to open my own school, dedicated only to Sanshou, in the shadow of the Shao Lin temple.

I have lived my life since, teaching others the principal, I have come to love, and which I have learned to use in fighting as well as healing. Use your mind to control your body."

I looked around the table and every face there was completely mesmerized by Yu Pan's short, but eloquent tale. The old man simply solidified one fact in my mind. Few people on this earth were ever what they appeared to be.

TBC in...Chapter 14: He Had Subdued the Amazons by Force

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