The North Road
James Oliver Bulls
A cool afternoon breeze crawled through the bamboo, and dust clouded the Sun. It got in the frying pan, too, but Po couldn't do much about it. "Li, stir that pan - the chicken will burn if you let it sit." Po pulled the tattered robe tighter around his slight frame and frowned disapprovingly at Li's cooking skills.
"They smell fine to me. Po, you should really ask the abbot if he'll take you back. You had a good thing going there." Li forked a piece of chicken out of the pan, onto his hand, and into his mouth; he nodded happily, "The butter and ginger are just right. Stop worrying." Li lazed onto his side by the campfire and watched another thin blanket of desert silt filter through the bamboo.
"That's why you'll never get ahead, Li - you don't think about tomorrow. Abbot Fu would keep me pruning bushes until I died." Po sat on his weathered rucksack and fed more twigs into the fire. "And if he won't advance me, I know others who will: the Fe Lan are recruiting again."
Li glanced sideways at Po: "The Fe Lan? Po, are you sure? I've heard they're really, ah... martial." Waning September sunlight cast shadows over the travelers; Po studied the fire, and Li studied Po. "Abbot Fu's gone to seed, just like his rose bushes. His tea parties, flower picking, and nonsense questions are no match for the Fe Lan fist."
Po and Li looked away from the fire, each expecting something different from the other; Li sat up and made an exasperated gesture: "And what happens when you get to Fe Lan? I'm leaving the North Road at Hu Dan, but you expect me to believe you'll find your truth living with bandits in the shadow territories?"
Sunlit columns of silt divided the clearing; Po stood up, threw the rucksack over his shoulder and aimed a finger into Li's face: "You can eat the chicken, but I'm going to eat the tiger's tail. Mark my words: you'll hear my roar in Hu Dan before the end."
Li watched Po march away before taking the pan off the campfire. "I like chicken."
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James Bulls is a professional cartomancer whose primary goals are the unification of mind, body, and spirit through martial arts; expression of the 12 noble virtues of the Zodiac; and observation of the three important things: truth beauty and love. He doesn't like burnt toast.
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