The Emperor’s Gate or The Journey of Xian Wei
© 2011 by Leslie Silton
All Rights Reserved
Author’s note: An internet search done after long after I created the name “Xian Wei” revealed that “Xian” means “refined or elegant” and “Wei” means “valuable or brilliant”.
I don’t know if it was blind luck or something else, but in any event, I felt very gratified
and pleased. However, as far as I know there is no such gate.
Xian Wei needed to rest.
In the distance two small points protruded over the horizon. Xian Wei needed to speak. In his throat a small song found two small strands in his voice box instead and plucked them sweetly. The music flew out and blew away.
Xian Wei had need of a cup of tea. From one pocket he withdrew a tiny kettle. From another came a tiny teapot. Now a porcelain cup from a third, and finally an ivory stick to stir with — from his topknot. Out of his sleeve he removed a small bag. Inside it still contained a last few pinches of aromatic tea leaves clinging to the seams. “It is enough. I am glad.” Building a fire inside a stone circle, he cooked the water, listening to the bubbles roil and tumble. Finally there was tea.
“Ahh,” he said as the hot liquid wended its way down his parched gullet. “And now something to eat.” Laying on his lap, in a fold of the cloth wrapped in a twist of paper, sat a sweet rice cookie. With a second cup of tea, he ate the cookie to the very last crumb, listening as it quelled the rumble in his stomach.
But now Xian Wei needed to sleep and would have but for the unexpected honor of a comet flashing its long arc across the sky. “Stay awhile longer,” it seemed to say. “All is not yet done.” And the old man did so.
Swooning through the pitch black velvet night sky, he watched the fiery tail reach the horizon. In his heart something tugged like a plucked string. He recognized the twinge. It was an old friend, but there was still time yet. From a square of cloth he unwrapped a small roll of delicate paper, and a wooden box. Inside the box nestled a hard black square on a flat stone tray.
The fingers of Xian Wei itched with interest. Laying next to the tray was a brush. Holding it up against the moon, he studied its profile. Then he prepared the ink, grinding the hard square on the flat stone in a blob of clean water. Then he wrote the poem dictated by his heart.
Faithfully recording the words as the brush swooped and flashed, the black ink glittered like the eyes of snake, like a small fish leaping, like leaves fluttering on a tree branch. And then the poem was done. The old warrior swished the brush in his tea cup, cleaned and shaped it. It was set aside.
Xian Wei enjoyed watching the inky characters dry. By the light of the moon, he read aloud the poem:
“A man can walk no faster to see
The Emperor than man with proud feet
can walk who wears no shoes
but may bow equally low before The Emperor.”
The itching in his fingers had been silenced. Just then an unexpected
wind came up behind him and from over his shoulder it pushed at the liquid pooled at the end, just as though a tiny dragon had dragged its serpent tail across the last word. In an instant the little tail changed the meaning of the word. “The Emperor” was now “A Friend”. “It makes no difference,” he said to the tiny wind. And in the heart of Xian Wei the journey now felt complete.
The old warrior lay down to sleep. In the distance the two small points
still glinted on the horizon, beckoning, but he could walk no farther. “Morning will come soon enough,” he said.
In the morning the fire inside the stone circle was a cold memory and lying there on the road to The Emperor’s Gate, his warrior body was already beginning to turn into a stone marker. A wind picked up the poem and it fluttered away from the old man’s hand. Over the ground it danced and tumbled and skipped until at last it was hurried through the two distant points – which were The Emperor’s Gate.
Sailing over the smooth stone floor, the scroll danced and twisted until it came at last to rest against a foot encased in a silk shoe so golden it challenged the brightness of the sun. The foot moved just an inch, trapping the paper. Now a long nail shaped like a scimitar speared the paper delicately. Up it rose, to be displayed before the wide face with a narrow nose and two dark almond eyes.
“This is from Xian Wei,” said the owner of the golden foot.
He read the poem quietly and then tucked it inside the long slender
pocket descending from his sleeve. Thinking about the poem, The Emperor was deeply warmed. This was the Xian Wei he knew and loved. There was joy in his heart for a poet-warrior who had served him well. The Emperor bowed to the East. Now a wind passed over him gently.
“You may close the gate,” the Emperor called to his guard. “My friend, Xian Wei, has arrived.”