Friday, September 8, 2017

Trials of the Baboon King

As king, Bangqiu learned that his subjects took an interest in the large orange fish of a particular pool, revering the creatures for their mysterious aura of calmness. The children of Quitokai and the surrounding area regarded the fish as easy sport and not-bad eating. The baboons had responded to the outrage with violence. No one had been killed, but the baboons, never friendly with their human neighbors, found that they suddenly had a lot of enemies.

Taking up the concerns of his subjects, Bangqiu, together with Prince Jake and Sir Crowler, addressed the people of Quitokai tried to negotiate an end to the wanton destruction of the sacred fish. It did not go well. The village elder was under house arrest based on his drunkenness and mismanagement. The de facto new ruler was a representative of the Emperor, eager to make a show of strength, especially as the villagers were starting to gumble about his authoritarian style of government.. As Bangqiu was chased from the village, he declared that he was leaving of his own accord so that he could raise an army.

Bangqiu discussed strategy with Prince Jake and Sir Crowler. He’d threatened the Imperial Envoy with an army and he didn’t know where to find one. The baboons numbered less than 100 and while they could be frightening to children, few would survive in an all-out attack against trained soldiers. Plus the villagers, with their own prejudice against the baboons would probably side with the soldiers.

One night, Bangqiu had a vivid dream. Saisho— Gwinch’s assistant, whom Bangqiu suspected was a powerful wu-jen—appeared to Bangqiu in the dream. He was standing in a small, roofless stone house in the middle of the jungle. He told Bangqiu to meet him the next day, that he would find the house if he traveled due west from Quitokai. The next morning Bangqiu, accompanied by Sir Crowler and Prince Jake, did as the dream Saisho had instructed. He had let it be known that he was seeking a new teacher and had been hoping that Saisho could make an introduction. Circumventing the village of Quitokai itself, Bangqiu plunged into the trackless jungle, walking with the rising sun behind him. A strange bird appeared, chirping loudly. “Saisho, is that you?” The bird flew away, but continued chirping and Bangqiu followed the chirping to the stone house he saw in the dream. Saisho was there. As Bangqiu had hoped, Saisho knew a powerful wu jen who wanted a new student. But he also wanted something else, maybe something that Bangqiu found in the tomb of the lizard king.

There was some discussion between Bangqiu and Saisho, interrupted sometimes by insistent chirping from the still unseen bird. Saisho guessed that the master had little use for Sakatha’s trident or crown, but would be interested in the lizard king’s spellbook. Bangqiu had carried it with him. Before forming any agreement, he decided to open the book and, for the first time, peruse its contents. What he found on the weird, stained vellum pages struck him speechless. Half the book contained spells that he couldn’t comprehend, though the illustrations promised powers he had previously barely imagined. And those spells he could understand—to summon fire and lightning, to ensnare his enemies with cryptic inscriptions—once mastered, these would make him more powerful than Beatriss and Gwinch. No deal, he said. He had money, he reasoned to himself, he could simply travel to Pasar and hire a teacher. Both Saisho and the bird were disappointed. Saisho tried to warn him of “what might happen,” but this only drove Bangqiu out of the stone house clutching the book. He returned to Xitaqa—home of the baboons—and to his palace.

For nearly two weeks, Bangqiu forgot about the help he’d promised to slaves or baboons or sacred fish or oppressed villagers. He copied spells from Sakatha’s book into his own. When Prince Jake knocked at his door, Bangqiu threatened to make him the first trial subject for his new powers.

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