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The Conqueror Series
Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand
Chapter 40: When the lamp is shatter'd
Addendum to the Lord Conqueror's Manuscript: Separate Parchment
Added in Xena, the Lord Conqueror's presence by Queen Gabrielle of Potidaea
As told to Queen Gabrielle by Lady Selene
Gabrielle says that I'm supposed to tell everything that went on today when I met Prax for the first time. I'm just learning how to write well, but Gabrielle says that she needs it for the story of what went on when she was with the Amazons. I told her I'm no writer, but Gabrielle says—now she says I'm writing 'Gabrielle says' too much.
Okay, we've agreed that Gabrielle will scribe my side of the story. I'll tell her what happened and she'll turn it into the kind of flowery language that good scrolls are made of. That's much easier for me because my tongue moves much faster than I can write. Xena is fond of saying that it moves faster than my brain most days.
I'd promised Gabrielle one evening when we were having dinner that I would see Prax. Of course, Gabrielle didn't tell me that she was going to tell Prax about her betrothed and all bright and early the next day. So, I waited until the next day and showed up at the hospice. I have to add right now that I was pretty scared. I'm not much of a warrior, or I never learned to be, anyway.
My knees shook as I walked up the stairs along the outside of the tree. I hopped along the last three branches, sort of proud of myself. I was getting good at walking the way the Amazons did, high in the branches. I finally found something that long arms and legs were good for.
Danae expected me, since Gabrielle told her about the plan to give Prax someone to confide in. Anyway, Danae was quite nice and showed me all around the hospice. I'd never had so many women in one place flirt with me. If Xena reads this she'll scream, but I actually had fun. Now, I'm not too good at the whole dating thing, besides I rather fancy someone already, but that's sort of private and not really a part of this story.
Danae prepared me for working with Prax and asked if I wanted to actually help in Prax's room for the day. Danae promised I wouldn't have to see anyone naked or anything too disgusting so I readily agreed. I had helped mother for seasons working at the inn and even when she took care of the occasional ill person. Mother was about the only really good healer in Amphipolis, so she ended up taking care of a great number of complaints and injuries.
The first thing that Danae wanted was to see if I could get Prax to eat something. I think the exact word she used was anything. Last evening Gabrielle had sat down with me and related how it had gone the previous day when she talked to Prax. I personally think Gabrielle has a soft spot for Prax. I don't know why, maybe it's because she thinks that Prax got a raw deal out of life. I figured that's true, which is the main reason I agreed to do this. I used to go around with a chip on my shoulder the size of Mount Olympus, so I can relate to using anger as a defense.
I took a big breath and steeled myself for anything, then walked into the darkened room. Prax must have been a light sleeper because the minute I tiptoed into the room, she stirred.
"Who is it?" she asked.
I walked to the shutters and opened them, letting in some refreshing cool air. I then lit the closest lamp, turned, and smiled at her.
"Morning! Wow, you're a light sleeper. I barely made any noise at all."
"You sounded like a camel charging through."
"Don't cry or anything. I was just kidding."
"Oh," I said again, but this time I smiled. I think all warriors are the same. They all have that sarcastic sense of humor.
"I've been trained as a warrior," she said. "We just naturally sleep light, I guess."
Odd, but she didn't seem too bad so far, but then again, maybe she was still sleepy. I didn't really understand. Prax didn't look like the girl so full of hatred that I had last seen trying to take Gabrielle's life out on the practice field. Instead, she looked…defeated is the only way I know how to phrase it. Her unexpected behavior put me off balance. Unfortunately, when that happened, I became nervous and ran off at the mouth.
I turned back to the open window. The air felt wonderful and I breathed deeply. "Don't you just love when the sun comes up? I don't mean as Apollo's actually dragging it in, don't get me wrong, that's nice too, but I mean right before he lifts off in his chariot, so to speak. When it's going to be a cloudy day like today's starting off to be, you can see this bluish, grayish, sort of purple cloud layer. Then, there's just the tiniest gap between that and the rising sun, so when the sun peeks over the mountains in the east, it's this fiery orange ball that causes these great big streaks of color. It only lasts for a few heartbeats and it's gone, and back to being a gray day. Oh, sometimes you see a little orange color behind the clouds for a while, but—"
"Who in Hades are you?" Prax interrupted.
I didn't usually go on jabbering about nothing, but as I said before, I was nervous. When that happens, instead of slipping into silence, I just go on and on about the most nonsensical things.
"Oh! Sorry—Selene." I stuck out my hand to shake hers, but not before I realized both her arms were bandaged.
"I, uh..." I looked at my hand and tucked it into my apron pocket. "Oops. Sorry again. I forgot you were sort of temporarily incapacitated."
She shrugged. "You look familiar, but I don't know you. You aren't from the village. You must be visiting from another tribe, huh? How long have you been here?"
"Only a few days." I breathed a sigh of relief when she didn't press the matter of who I really was. I wanted to see if we could become friends before I told her that the person she hated most in the world was my sister in law. I didn't want to lie, so I sort of just ignored the first part of her inquiry. I'm sure mother would have disapproved, calling it a lie by omission. She had used those very words on numerous occasions as I grew up. I had to tell myself, however, that this was a special case.
By the look of her, I wondered if Prax had gotten any sleep the night before. She looked completely drained, her eyes red-rimmed and swollen. If it had been me, I would probably have spent the entire night crying, too.
"Actually, everyone's been quite nice and very friendly. I've met a lot of new people already, but all in all, I guess people are pretty much the same, eh? I say that because I've met so many girls who remind me of the friends I had back home, not to say I had tons of friends, and I don't mean they look exactly like them. You know, this one time—"
"Hello! Look, I'm sorry to interrupt, but…uh…I have to…um…use the…" She pointed to a bowl-shaped pot with a lid that sat on the floor beside the bed.
"Oh. Ohh," What she tried to indicate finally hit me. "Sure. Let me help you."
"No! I mean…no, I can do it myself. Can you give me a hand getting up?"
She was very strong, and even though she was hurt, she got to her feet rather easily.
"Gee, I thought you were hurt a lot worse. You make it look easy. You know, this one time—"
"I thought I was dying yesterday," she quickly interjected, heading my rambling off before I got started. "Then, they changed the medicine they were giving me. I feel a little like my old self now. At least breathing doesn't involve excruciating pain."
"You sure you're okay?" I asked.
"I don't know if I should really leave you alone."
"I'll be fine."
"I don't know…"
"Look, just give me a few moments. If anything happens I'll even let you say I told you so."
"Okay, I give in. I'll just close the door to give you a little privacy," I said as I pulled the door shut. "I'll be right here outside if you need me," I called back through the door.
I leaned my back against the wall in the hallway. Prax seemed to be making the usual sounds that someone would. I believed there to be a bit more jostling about, though. I heard something fall, then a chair scraped across the floor, and then another something fell.
"You still okay?" I called out.
There was no answer. I called out again, thinking she just hadn't heard me. There was only silence to greet me. I started to get worried, and I told her so.
"Okay, Prax, I'm getting a little worried here."
"I'm okay. Aw, shit!"
One more crash and my mind's eye took over. Gabrielle had placed a great amount of faith in me, Danae had entrusted me with Prax's welfare, and on the very first day, I imagined that I had just killed her.
"Goddam, son of a—"
"All right, that's it. I'm coming in, Prax."
"No! I'm not—"
"I'm coming in and that's it," I said while turning the latch and pushing open the door.
The sight that greeted me flooded me with relief while at the same time, made me want to burst into laughter. It was a good thing I controlled myself, however because Prax was already staring daggers.
"If you laugh, I'll kill you," she said.
Prax lay sprawled across the floor, the sheet and blanket had been clawed from the bed as if she'd tried to pull herself upright by her linens. There wasn't a piece of furniture within an arm's length of her that she hadn't overturned in the melee. The worst part about the whole situation was that the contents of her chamber pot covered everything including Prax. I bit my lip so as not to even smile.
"That includes saying I told you so," she added.
I could have laughed, could even have went ahead and said I told you so. If I didn't take care, I could easily end up humiliating Prax, and that would ruin everything. I saw the opportunity to form a bond.
"Okay, we can handle this." I ran back and closed the door. "Are you hurt?" I asked.
"Does my pride count?"
"Not with me. First things first." I help Prax up to sit on the side of the bed.
"I think I'm offending myself," she said, pulling at her stained gown. "S—Sorry about this."
It was obvious that apologizing wasn't something she did often. I noticed that she hesitated over the words, and I wondered why she even tried. It surprised me.
I went to the fireplace where the coals had been banked for the day. The evenings had just started turning cooler, making heating the rooms necessary. Water had been heating in a metal pot, and I poured some of the still warm liquid into a large clay basin. In a cabinet, I found some clean cloths and a sleeping gown, along with some elm leaves. I rubbed the leathery dried leaves in the water creating a frothing soap.
"It's not a problem. Let's clean you, then the room. We've got everything we need right here and nobody has to know but us."
"Okay, good plan," Prax answered.
Before I had a chance to cover my eyes, offer assistance, or even figure out how we were going to delicately handle the whole thing, Prax, carefully guarding her injuries, stripped the soiled gown from her body. I wasn't accustomed to such behavior and I was sure my face went completely red. It must have been an Amazon thing because Ephiny acted much the same way, as well as the other Amazons with whom we had traveled. Now, I had no interest in Prax beyond friendship, but it sure was hard not to let the sight of her well-muscled body affect me.
"Are you going to stand there all day and stare?" Prax demanded. I had remained so deeply in my own thoughts that I just stared blankly at her, as she held out one bandaged hand.
"Oh, sorry." I handed Prax the gown and managed to propel myself forward, helping her put the gown on. I put the chair back into its former place and Prax sat down. I began talking as I stripped the linen from the bed and went about cleaning the rest of the mess.
I don't think Prax minded my chatter too much at first. She actually reminded me a great deal of Ephiny and Xena, sort of stoic and closed mouthed. I told her about a similar embarrassing moment when I had fallen into a farmer's pile of manure, good clothes and all. Of course, I was still rather nervous and so my retelling of the incident went on for some time. I think she managed a weak smile, but it very easily could have been a grimace of pain. It was a bit hard to tell considering that she did everything with her teeth clenched together because of her broken jaw.
I continued my stories, even telling her some things about me. I went to fetch some breakfast for her and Danae caught me, asking how things were going. I think I almost knocked her off her feet when I said that it was going well and Prax was hungry for some breakfast. Quickly bringing back the food and setting the tray at the table, which Prax had insisted upon, I helped her to a chair so she could eat sitting up.
"You haven't really got your legs under you yet," I commented after she had taken a step and paused, her body weaving slightly."
"Don't worry, I won't get up this time without you around."
"That would make me feel better, thanks." I uncovered the bowls that the kitchen had sent over. "It doesn't look too good, all mashed up like that, but I bet it hits the spot if you haven't had a hot meal in a while," I said.
Prax insisted on feeding herself, certain she could handle it. I didn't give her a fight and let her have her way. She eventually had to give in and ask for my help, realizing that without the full use of at least one of her hands, she would go hungry. I tried not to make her feel completely helpless, knowing that would only offend her and perhaps cause a fit of temper. Overall, the meal went smoothly.
"Damn, that was good," Prax said, allowing me to wipe her mouth with a napkin.
This girl was rather amiable. Again, I had a hard time linking her to the same person that had tried to kill Gabrielle. "Can I get you some more?" I asked.
"Nah. My jaw's sort of sore from just that much."
"How about if I see if Danae has some pain medicine for you?" I said before taking off in search of the Healer.
Danae brought Prax's medicine in. The healer didn't try to hide her amazement at her patient's behavior. Prax may not have been overly pleasant or a sparkling conversationalist in Danae's presence, but she wasn't near the violent and sullen person Gabrielle had described.
I don't pretend it was anything I did. Frankly, I think Prax just woke up that way. I remember once asking Gabrielle how she had changed Xena. Gabrielle said that Xena had changed before they met. Xena needed help, though. She woke up one day and wanted to change and luckily, Gabrielle came into her life soon after. Maybe that's the way it was with Prax. Maybe she woke up this morning and just the fact that someone walked in who, in her eyes, had no preconceived notions about her made all the difference.
I helped Prax back into bed and left her in peace for a while, going outside to find that it had begun to rain lightly. Under the massive, interlocking boughs of the trees, however, I could barely feel the wetness, but it was in the air. I breathed deeply, enjoying the smell of the humid earth that rose from the ground below.
It was near midday when Prax woke up again. I guessed the combination of a hot meal and the medicine had knocked her out. She still looked sleepy, but more relaxed. She also didn't appear to be in as much pain. The muscles in her jaw, which she had previously held clenched, looked much less tense. She had moments when I saw intense bursts of fire in her eyes, but for the most part, she appeared as though she had let go of some of her anger.
"I feel like a team of chariot horses trampled me. I guess I'm just not used to being ill," Prax said after she had a drink of water.
"I know exactly how you feel. I went on a boat trip once, well, it wasn't really much of a trip since it was only to an island that was within sight of the mainland, but I got sicker than a dog who'd gnawed on old harpy bones. When we finally landed on solid ground, I could hardly walk a straight line. I kept having a feeling as though I was going to fall down. It was a weird sort of feeling, like I was still going up and down on the waves and trying to walk at the same time. You know this one time—"
"Selene!" Prax said loud enough to stop my long-winded story. "Don't cry or anything, but…well, you've been real decent to me, but I need to ask you something."
"Okay," I replied warily.
"Do you think you could stop talking for just a little bit? It's starting to make my head hurt."
I laughed aloud at myself and earned a genuine smile from Prax. "I apologize. It's a bad habit I have—going on like that when I'm nervous or meet someone new. Don't feel bad at all. It drives my sister nutty, too."
"Thanks, I'm glad you understand. Is your sister here with you?"
"Um, yes she is."
"Who is she…have I met her?"
I had planned to tell Prax exactly who I was at the end of the day. I figured she could sleep on it and make up her mind if she wanted to remain friends. I'm not sure the Gods, or whoever takes care of this stuff had their timing down right because just when I was going to sit down and explain, someone knocked lightly on the open door to Prax's room.
Lexa, Prax's mother, stood there with Gabrielle, Xena, and Master Yu Pan. Lexa smiled and greeted her daughter warmly, obviously happy with how her daughter looked. When I glanced over at Prax, she was looking between Xena and me. She wasn't stupid. Although Xena and I had different fathers and she was more than twice my age, she and I looked very much alike. My mother had often remarked, since Xena had returned to our lives, how I was a younger looking version of the Conqueror.
"I think you already know her," I answered Prax. I tried to make light of the fact, as I shrugged and smiled. Prax wasn't smiling, and I finally saw a hint of the anger that Gabrielle had tried to describe.
"I should have known! So, they sent you in to spy on me?"
"No, Prax, that wasn't it at all. I mean, well, yes it was…in a way, but not to spy—to give you someone to talk to, someone who didn't know you already…someone to be your friend."
"That's what you think being a friend is?" she shouted back at me. Well, it was as much of a shout as someone with a broken jaw could manage. "You lied to me."
"Okay, technically, I did not lie."
"You did so."
"No, see I remember distinctly. I was standing over here and you said, 'you must be visiting from another tribe? How long have you been here?' and I said, 'Only a few days.' It's not really my fault that you didn't pursue the first question. I even thought about it at the time and I felt bad. It was like this one time—"
"Selene!" Xena shouted out in order to get my attention. I realized I was going on again, but when I start doing that, it's as if I'm outside myself. I silently screamed at myself to shut up, but it didn't get through. So, Xena did what any big sister would do, I suppose.
"Just shut up for a heartbeat, okay?"
"Well, you don't have to talk to her that way," Prax said in my defense.
I think Prax's remark surprised everyone but Xena. It must run in the family. See, once Xena gets going, she has a hard time stopping, too.
"I'll talk to her any way I want, she's my sister," Xena shouted back.
"She was just trying to help out," Prax replied.
Xena suddenly froze. She and Prax glared at one another, but I could see that Xena wasn't entirely sure about what was going on. When I first met her, my sister would try to cover it up with a bunch of bluster. She was much better now. She would actually admit when she had no idea what she was doing.
"Okay, I'm confused," Xena admitted, looking back at Gabrielle. "Who's mad at who here?"
"No one has to be mad at anyone, love," Gabrielle said as she stepped forward. "Prax, I know what you think of me, but what Selene said was the truth. I asked her to come see you, yes, but not because I wanted her to report back to me. I asked her because she was the only person I knew who didn't know you or at least who you didn't know. You've been through an awful lot and I thought you deserved the chance to make friends with someone who you'd had no previous history. I chose Selene based on that criteria, not because she's Xena's sister, and definitely not for any underhanded reason."
Gabrielle had such a way of talking. The whole room kept silent, sort of looking at each other. I know I felt reprimanded, and I didn't even do anything wrong. I remembered how Gabrielle had said Prax reacted to her presence the day before, so I prepared myself for Prax to come out fighting. For at least the hundredth time that day, she completely surprised me.
Prax just shrugged and looked up at me with a guilty expression. "Guess you talk too much to be that good of a liar."
I smiled. If we were going to be friends, I was going to start right off by letting her know with what she could and couldn't get by. "Oh, yea. As if you warriors listen to anything I drone on about. I can always leave, you know."
Prax actually grinned. "Yea, well…you may as well stay now…I mean, since you're here and all."
From the corner of my eye I saw Xena with her mouth hanging open. Lexa smiled and you could see that she was sort of relieved. Gabrielle's expression was happy, but there was something else there, too. It was kind of like she knew this would happen all along. I was determined that one day I would ask her about that expression. Did she really know how things would turn out or did she do that to make people think she knew all along?
I also noticed that Prax still glared intensely at Gabrielle. It seemed that whatever imaginary crime Prax blamed on Gabrielle, it still existed in Prax's head. Well, at least she acted in a civil manner. To me, that said she was trying. Why did she perform such a turn around, though?
"Well, I suppose since that's settled I should get about what we came for," Gabrielle said. "Prax, your mother said that you agreed to see another Healer for your injuries, especially your hands. This is Master Yu Pan, an old friend of mine."
Yu Pan, who stood nearly hidden behind Xena and Gabrielle, stepped forward and bowed slightly. He carried a basket held together by handles on the top.
"If you are willing, I would like to meet with you," Yu Pan said.
Again, Prax shrugged. I suppose a shrug was better than the screaming and cursing she'd done before. I know how hard it is to change, more importantly to convince those around you that you've changed. Besides, it's always hard to admit to being wrong. Maybe the noncommittal shrugs were Prax's way of apologizing. I don't know.
Xena and Gabrielle left immediately after that. I don't think Gabrielle wanted to push Prax any more than my new friend could endure. Lexa remained, along with Yu Pan. I had no idea if I should go or stay. They quickly decided for me.
"So, will it hurt?" Prax asked Yu Pan. I won't say that she sounded scared exactly. Let's say she sounded like a young girl trying to appear as a warrior.
"The healing process always involves some hurt," the old Healer replied in his customary casual manner. "It is as much mental as physical. Perhaps it is something you wish to experience alone?" Yu Pan looked at Lexa and I, waiting for Prax's reply.
"Why is that?" Prax asked just as I started to leave.
"The decision lies completely with you. I have no preference, but the healing process is a journey that you will take by looking inside yourself. We cannot fix your body if your mind remains broken. You also feel a pain in your heart and mind, which you would like healed. Am I correct?"
Prax nodded in silent awe.
Yu Pan was an amazing Healer, as I well knew. I almost believed he was as much Mystic as he was Healer, for he knew things about individuals that no man could possibly know. He said it was common sense, but I knew it was something more. I once asked Xena how old he was. She said she honestly didn't know, but that his name had been known throughout Chin for hundreds of years. At first, I laughed. Once I realized that she was serious, I wondered how it could be. What magic did he practice that allowed him such longevity?
"We do not often wish for such inner thoughts to become privy to all," Yu Pan finished speaking to Prax.
"I see." Prax sat silent for a few moments and Yu Pan waited patiently. "Mother, would you be offended if I asked Selene to stay and you to go? I only—there may be things that—well, things that a mother..."
Lexa nodded, appearing to understand what Prax had tried to say. She kissed her daughter's cheek and turned to go. She held out her hand to Yu Pan before leaving. "Thank you, Master Yu Pan."
Yu Pan bowed to the woman and Lexa closed the door behind her. I admit that I felt frightened and a little out of place. I could see why Prax didn't want her mother around, but I wasn't sure why she wanted to keep me there. I guessed it to have something to do with the similarity in our age. Maybe it was simply because we didn't really know each other and Prax felt it easier to bare her soul in front of a stranger than her mother. I know I would have found it easier.
"So, okay…what do I do?" Prax asked.
"I think I should examine the outer injuries first."
I went and sat in the corner as Yu Pan carefully removed the splints and bandages, first on Prax's broken left wrist and then on the damaged right hand. His slim fingers slid lightly over the worst of Prax's hurts. He paused suddenly and looked at Prax until she pulled her eyes away from his intense scrutiny.
"You have recently been touched by a great power," he said in a near whisper. "I had not been told of your interaction with the Gods."
Prax's eyes opened wide. "How did you know that? I haven't told anyone about that yet."
He smiled at her. Yu Pan's face had always held a very amiable, even thoughtful, expression. He generally looked happy, but it was only on a few occasions that I saw him smile so broadly.
"I feel it in you," he answered. He spoke so softly that I had to strain to hear every word. "I must say, Prax, that I suspected as much. You have changed too much in one day for it to be anything but immortal intervention."
"I thought it was a dream, you know? It just didn't seem—I mean, I didn't think it could be real."
"Prax," Yu Pan began. He sighed, knowing that he had once again mispronounced Prax's name. I had often heard him having some difficulty pronouncing certain Greek names. Although he spoke his own language so well, words that I hopelessly attempted to wrap my tongue around, he simply butchered certain Greek words.
"I have not given your name its proper respect," he said in way of an apology. He sat, shaking his head, with one hand placed on each knee.
"It doesn't matter," Prax answered.
"You could always call her something in your language, Master," I popped up to say. I don't know why I jumped in. I suppose I felt sort of sorry for the man that I had so recently come to think of as being able to do anything. I thought I'd made a mistake by interrupting, but Yu Pan bowed slightly in my direction.
"What an excellent and most thoughtful idea," he said. He seemed to think in silence for a few more moments and nodded to himself. "Yes, I will call you Táifëng. This will not offend you?" he asked of Prax.
"I guess I can't be sure until I know what it means."
Yu Pan smiled suspiciously. "Then I will call you that until you learn the meaning and can say for yourself whether it is apt or not."
"How can I learn its meaning? I don't know anyone who speaks your language."
Yu Pan continued his examination of her hands and arms. "You would be surprised how many people you know who speak the language of my countrymen."
"Hhmm. Okay, it's a deal," Prax said.
Again, there was a long stretch of silence as Yu Pan tenderly went on with his examination, Prax occasionally grimacing in pain.
"Very good," Yu Pan said at last. He pulled a chair up close beside Prax's bed and sat down.
Yu Pan took his basket and placed it upon his lap, partially opening it, but I couldn't see inside. He brought out his tea set. I had seen that before. Small cups matched the teapot made of clay. They held a deep brown glaze that made them smooth and shiny. The face of a tiger hidden within a bamboo jungle had been painted on the sides of the pot and of each cup. When we first met, I had asked him why everything he owned, with the exception of his large wagon, possessed the image of a tiger. He had told me that Läohü was a kind of nickname of his, and in his language that meant tiger.
We both looked on as Yu Pan prepared to brew a pot of tea. He left and returned shortly with hot water. I could only assume that he had asked someone to set the water to the heat when he had first entered the hospice with Xena and Gabrielle.
"Do you really think you can fix me?" Prax asked.
"The question should be, do you think I can?" Yu Pan answered.
"I—I guess. I mean, I don't really know you or what kind of a Healer you are or anything. Everyone else seems to think you've some skill. Is it important that I believe in you? 'Cause I'm not much for trusting strangers."
"It is important only for you to believe in yourself."
He prepared the tea, taking a few pinches of herbs, first from one bag then another, and dropping them into the pot. He added the steaming water and the most refreshing scent rose into the air. The smell caused me to close my eyes and think of waterfalls, green forests all covered in morning dew, and the way the air smelled just after a summer storm. How odd that I could smell such visual sights.
Yu Pan used a bamboo stick with a sort of tiny cup attached to the end. He reached into the tea and drew out a small, smooth stone approximately the size of the palm of my hand. He wiped off the stone and bid Prax to lay her left hand upon her blanket, palm facing upward. Placing the stone in her palm, he asked her to grasp it as well as she could, but not too tightly.
"It hurts," Prax said as her face contorted into an expression of pain.
"Yes, I know," was Yu Pan's only reply. "Now, tell me Táifëng. What do you feel?"
"I feel a rock."
"Incorrect. You see a rock. Your eyes tell you what your head already knows to be true. Forget what you have learned previously, what you believe to be truth. What do you feel in your hand? What do your senses tell you?"
Prax closed her eyes and breathed deeply. I could see that at least she made the attempt and didn't disregard Yu Pan's teachings as foolishness.
"I feel…a warm rock."
"Do not let past history dictate the present to you. Seeing something does not always make it true. It is not that everyone around you knows something to be true; rather, it is what you alone believe to be true. Trust in what you feel and nothing else."
"Okay, let me try again. I feel…um…warmth, smoothness, something…something hard."
"A very good start. We will come back to that later, but I want you to continue to hold it in your hand. Do not think of it. Let it become a part of you. Here, will you have some tea?"
"Sure, but I…" Prax looked down at one hand holding the rock, or whatever Yu Pan wanted it known as, and her other hand, the one with the broken fingers, wrapped and bandaged with thin wooden splints.
"I am sure that Lady Selene will join us and assist?" He turned to me and it was finally my turn, my chance to be more than an observer.
I jumped up from my chair in the corner and made myself useful, helping Prax to sip some of the steaming liquid.
"Do I need to call you Lady Selene now?" Prax muttered humorously.
"Please," I replied.
The tea tasted quite different from the last time I had enjoyed the brew with Yu Pan. "Master, do you use different teas for different occasions?"
"Different occasions, different people, different problems," he replied. "We may all wish to meet in Thebes, but I may wish to travel by caravan, you by horse, and yet Táifëng may desire to walk."
"We all get to the same place in the end, but do it in a variety of ways," I replied, to which Yu Pan nodded.
"Is this tea medicine?" Prax asked after we had all finished our drink.
"Why do you ask?" Yu Pan returned.
"It sort of makes me feel good, makes my body feel good like Danae's medicine. A lot of my pain is gone, but I'm not sleepy like with Danae's stuff."
"Open your hand," Yu Pan asked, indicating the hand in which Prax continued to hold the rock.
He touched the large pebble as if testing its smoothness, rubbing his thumb along the worn edge. Placing it back into her hands, he gently closed her fingers around the object once more. Prax didn't even flinch, and I know the action must have disturbed her broken wrist at least somewhat. Yu Pan didn't look completely pleased. At first, I thought it was just me, but Prax must have noticed, as well.
"What? Am I doing it wrong?" she asked.
"There is no right or wrong, Táifëng. There simply is your way."
"You look like…I don't know, like something's not happening. It's not going to work for me, is it…this healing style of yours?"
He smiled a wee bit as though he had heard something he expected. I couldn't figure out what it was, and if her did, Yu Pan wasn't telling. On the other hand, he did tell, but in that way that I couldn't understand completely.
"Again, I ask. Do you believe it will work?"
"I was going to say yes, just like that," Prax replied after a moment's silence. She lowered her head and stared at the rock held within her fingers' grasp. "But…things don't just happen like that…at least not for me. No matter how I've wished things could be different lately, they don't change. Even Artemis said she couldn't change what happened. Guess life isn't really like that except for in dreams."
"But, when you fail at something, do you not try again?"
"I guess after I've failed so many times, I just give up."
"May I tell you a story?" Yu Pan asked.
"Sure," Prax answered. She appeared somewhat confused at the change in the conversation's direction, but I knew better. I had learned in my short time of knowing Yu Pan that he used stories as a teaching method. I completely admit that I didn't know what half of them meant, but it was sure fun trying.
"This story takes place in the land of Chin where I was born. There was an old grandfather, elderly, but not frail or sickly. As here in Greece, we peasants walked everywhere in Chin, except that it was a much farther distance between our villages and the larger towns where the bazaars and markets were. Only noblemen rode horses or could afford oxen to pull a wagon.
The old man had to travel south to make his way to town. Blocking his path, however, were two very large mountains. You would call them the Yellow Mountains in Greek. In my language, they were the Taihang and the Wangwu. It was said that they were four hundred leagues wide and a 100,000 hands high. They originally lay south of Jizhou and north of Heyang.
The old man was known to be rather foolish, but by the time he had seen ninety summers pass over his head, he had grown unhappy with the fact that the mountains blocked his way. Every trip to town meant that he had to travel far out of his way to go around the Yellow Mountains. So, he called a meeting of his entire family.
The old man asked his family if they would agree to help him with a project. He suggested that they level the two mountains and open up a pass south to the Han River. His children agreed to work hard at his plan, but his wife was doubtful and wanted to know more. She asked what he would do with all the rocks and dirt from the mountains.
"I will carry them to the shores of the Bohai Sea and north of Yintu," he told everyone.
So, the old man, his sons, and grandsons began to break the rocks and dig the earth up. They carried baskets of dirt to the shores of the Bohai Sea. It was no easy task, the journeys they made to dispose of the earth that they dug up. One trip took so long; the old man and his family left in the winter and didn't return until summer.
One day, a wise man stopped the old man, laughing at him. "What a fool you are," he taunted. "You will never remove these mountains. Look how old and weak you are. How do you think you can possibly complete this task? There is so much earth to move that you could never hope to move one hair's worth!"
The old man laughed right back at the wise man. "You understand nothing of faith and determination. Yes, I am old and feeble, but I have strong sons, and after I die, their sons will have sons and grandsons. Then, those grandsons will have sons and grandsons. My family will continue to grow and expand long after I am gone, but the mountain can go in no other direction but down. How arrogant for you to think it impossible to level the mountains, for it will happen in time. Perhaps it will not happen soon, in my lifetime, but it will happen eventually if we keep trying."
The two men parted, but the Gods had heard the old man's words. Moved by the old man's unflappable belief and determination, the Gods commanded the two sons of Kua'ershi to carry the two mountains on their backs. They carried them away, placing one east of Shuo and the other, south of Yong. To this day, there are no mountains between Jizhou and the Han River."
Yu Pan sat silent once he'd finished. "I often teach through my stories," he explained. "They are mere words, but often great truths lie hidden in the simple tales. Do you see anything in this story that stands out to you?"
"The meanings I speak of aren't always apparent in the tale itself, but lie just below the surface. Did you gather any truths from the old man's tale?"
"Oh! Oh!" I couldn't help waiving my hand as though in a classroom. "I do. I do."
Prax arched an eyebrow in my direction. "Who's getting healed here?"
"Okay, don't get testy. You're the one who wanted me to stay you know."
"I didn't know you were a know-it-all."
"Ladies," Yu Pan interrupted. I think we both felt sufficiently reprimanded.
"Well, I think the guy was pretty stupid in the first place to want to move a mountain," Prax said.
Yu Pan took a breath that appeared very much like a sigh. "Perhaps we should hear what Selene thinks, after all."
"Figures I'd get it wrong."
"There is no right or wrong," Yu Pan said. "Some people grasp things as though quite obvious while others need to see things from another angle in order to understand. Selene, what can you add to Táifëng's comprehension of the story?"
"Well, I thought it was sort of like when you asked Prax if she kept trying after she failed at something. The old man didn't give up, even though it was a pretty strange idea, like Prax said. He knew it probably wouldn't even be done while he still lived, but that didn't make him give up. He was determined to see it through."
"Ahh, determination," Yu Pan said. "Very good. Yes, that is definitely a principle within this story. Now, Táifëng, do you see what I speak of?"
"I think so."
"You, however, may see different truths in the tale. Usually, people see what affects them the most. That is why there is no right or wrong answer. When you think about the story, think about its characters and why they acted the way they did, do you see any parallels in your own life?"
Prax thought about it for a few moments, and I wondered what she would say. What principles would she see beneath the surface of the story?
"I do see what you mean about determination, but when I actually think about it, well…this might not be what you're looking for, but I think about how I'd like to change…to be different than the ass I've been since…well, for a while now. I don't think it will be easy. I've pissed a lot of people off, hurt a lot of people lately. I don't figure the people of this village are going to be in too much of a hurry to believe me, let alone be nice to me. I think, though, that no matter how hard it is, I should keep trying. Eventually what I want will happen if I just keep at it. Is that more like what you mean," she asked Yu Pan.
The old man's face lit up. "Very well done. That is exactly what I mean. Learning does not stop with my stories, Táifëng. If you desire to truly grow, to look inside of yourself and examine what you see there, you will look for these principles in all of life. The hardest part is applying them, but one who tries and succeeds develops strength and enlightenment that will change you forever."
"Wow," Prax said. She lowered her head and whispered her next question so softly that I barely heard. "Is that how she does it?"
"She?" Yu Pan replied. Something in his face told me that he already knew who Prax meant.
She acted as though she didn't want to say. As if speaking the name would affect her somehow. I honestly had no idea of whom Prax had been thinking until her next words clarified.
Yu Pan smiled as he often did when speaking of Gabrielle. "My nüér is my greatest pupil. She has made personal growth and the understanding of her own motivations a life's work," he remarked, pride apparent in his tone.
"What did you call her?"
"Ahh, forgive. Nüér…it means daughter in the language of my people."
"She's your daughter?" Prax's eyes went wide.
"The daughter of my heart, although not of my body. Perhaps one day she will tell you the story of how we met. She has far surpassed my skill in the art of storytelling."
Prax snorted. "I don't see us sitting down and becoming close to soon. I kind of closed that door in a big way if you know what I mean."
"That is because you are only looking out from where you sit right now. With enlightenment comes the ability to see further ahead, in many direction from numerous perspectives."
"You don't understand. She and I…I've done some pretty awful things to her, said some things that I can't forget. It wasn't until last night that I saw things…differently. It made me see that I've treated her worse than I've acted toward any enemy I could ever have and yet, she never gave in to anger. She's only shown me constant compassion."
It surprised me to hear Prax even mention Gabrielle's name, let alone to hear such regret in her voice. I suspected that my sister in law had gained another admirer, even if Prax didn't really realize it yet. I was dying to know what had happened to her last evening to affect such a change in her.
"As I said, Gabrielle is my greatest student. I have shared much of my knowledge with her and yet that is still only a jot of what she has yet to learn," Yu Pan said.
"Did you teach her how to fight, too?" Prax gave a small half smile and lifted one bandaged hand.
"Then you must be damn good 'cause she sure beat the stuffing out of me."
Yu Pan simply smiled. Xena had told me not to underestimate the old man. She said that he had beaten her in hand-to-hand sparring matches on more than one occasion. I wondered how such a frail looking old man could have managed that, but after seeing the way my tiny sister in law had fought, I took it at face value.
"Speaking of…" Yu Pan said as he rose from his chair and sat on the bed beside Prax. "Let us see what we can accomplish today. We have much to do, and I do not feel as though either of us has the strength to do it in one sitting." He began by gently pulling open Prax's fingers from the river rock they grasped.
"I forgot I was still holding it."
At first, Yu Pan looked like every other Healer I had ever seen work. He touched the injured areas of Prax's arm. She had some pretty nasty bruises on her upper arm and shoulder, her wrist was broken, and three fingers on that same hand had been broken. Her fingers didn't look that bad, but her wrist was so swollen that it looked to be about the same thickness as her upper arm, which was pretty big because of the muscles there.
I noticed that Prax never even flinched as Yu Pan's discerning touch continued. Continuing to watch the examination, I simply tucked myself back into the corner chair and tried to remain silent. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I felt that something…well, something magical was going to take place. I know that probably sounds silly. Maybe you had to be there to understand.
Yu Pan took the rock and held it between both palms. He closed his eyes, and moments later I saw him smile. He nodded his head, opening his eyes.
"Very good. We shall begin," he said.
I cannot say if Yu Pan touched Prax's limb in some special way, but it looked as though he rubbed the smooth river pebble along all of the injured areas. Prax looked just as confused as me, so I didn't feel too bad.
"It feels kind of better," Prax said after some time had passed. "Can you actually heal broken bones that fast?"
Yu Pan took a few silent moments before answering. It was if he had been in a trance of some kind. I noticed that all of a sudden, he looked slightly more tired than he had before he started. A light sheen of sweat now covered his brow. He took the stone in hand again and concentrated his touch along Prax's swollen wrist.
"Most people don't understand the connection that the body has with the mind," Yu Pan explained as he worked. "They think that if they cut their finger, they must wait and in due time their body will heal itself. People don't know how much energy, strength, and will exist within them to alter that process."
"Do I have all that in me?"
"Everyone has the ability, but few use it, even those who do rarely use it to its fullest potential. Woefully, some learn and corrupt their knowledge, but I will not speak of them now. The body is full of energy. This energy is more powerful than any weapon. When one learns to direct their energy, take control over t and concentrate it, the possibilities are limitless."
"Like healing broken bones fast?"
"Among other things," he answered.
"Could someone like me learn?"
"It is not difficult to learn the way, but it can be extremely challenging to live it. Everything that has life, including your own body, has negative as well as positive energy. Being human, you have the added capability of mastering and directing your body's energy toward good or ill. In that way, you keep the negative and positive energy flowing in a harmonious balance.
The way revolves around balance. Those who use the way, live to keep a particular harmony in their lives. It can be a daily struggle for some to temper the evil with compassion. By achieving this balance in their lives, however, they exist as a part of the entire world's balance."
"The world has balance?"
"Everything in nature's cycle does. Look at the great lion that hunts down smaller creatures. If something as miniscule as a parasite should dwell in a water hole, it would destroy those smaller animals. Ultimately, the larger beasts would die out all because of a parasite that could barely be seen. It all happens in a circle…life. We are all of us, humans, animals, even the Gods themselves connected in some manner."
"You never did say," Prax questioned. "Do I have that ability, to be able to cure sickness…heal my bones?"
"Perhaps you should tell me," Yu Pan answered. He sat back and motioned toward Prax's wrist.
I noticed that the swelling had gone down considerably in only the short time Yu Pan had been speaking. Now I wished I had been watching the entire time. The old Healer's words had captivated me so much so that I had let my eyes wander. Prax looked just as amazed, as she looked at her hand as though for the first time.
"Go slowly," Yu Pan said. "There is still healing that needs to be done."
"It's amazing," Prax responded. She flexed her fingers and cautiously rotated her wrist. How did you do it? Is it some sort of magic?"
"It was your energy which healed the bone, not mine."
"Me, but I never—I mean I don't—"
"You do not yet have the skills necessary to focus your energy, but I felt the raw talent there within you. Holding the rock as we spoke allowed your positive energy to seep into it. I merely used your energy and directed it to the places inside that needed healing."
"Unbelievable," Prax said. She looked up at Yu Pan and grinned. "If I hadn't experienced it myself that is. I don't get it yet, but I'm sure not going to complain or question it too much. Can we do more?" Prax asked. She looked rather excited and I couldn't blame her.
Yu Pan looked tired and I wondered how much it took out of a person to accomplish such a healing.
"Such things are best accomplished in stages. In fact, patience will be what I would like you to focus on until we meet again," Yu Pan said.
Prax appeared disappointed. "That's not one of my best features…patience."
"I know," he answered with a cryptic smile.
Yu Pan said that he needed to retire for the evening. Prax and I both were surprised that the entire day had passed and the sun had set in the time Yu Pan had been there. I made sure Prax received a large meal before I left. She said she was ready to eat a hydra and Yu Pan said that was a good sign. Danae had mashed plenty of fruit and vegetables; shredding meat into such small pieces, that Prax would barely have to chew.
Checking first to see if Prax needed me to stay any longer, I left with Yu Pan when Prax said she was also ready for some rest. I had offhandedly picked up the stone that Yu Pan dropped to the floor before we left. I held it out to him as we walked along.
"I figure it must be pretty important to do what it did…some special healing stone with magical powers," I said. "I think you forgot it."
Yu Pan chucked lightly. He took the rock from my hand and casually tossed it away. "Oh, that. I just picked it up from the stream this morning."
End Addendum by Lady Selene
To be continued in : Chapter 41: It Lies Not In Our Power To Love Or Hate…
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