Ch 1   The Sickly Child He was a sickly child, or so his parents treated him. During both the winter and summer months, he was not allowed out without his hat on and all four flaps down. He was not allowed to fight with the  boys, nor was he allowed to climb up the mountain-side for fear that he would slip and hurt himself. Every cough or sniffle was treated like a potential fatal disease, and he was kept in the house until all signs  of sickness had passed.  His parents were convinced of this approach after having failed to react to his older brother’s first signs of sickness and then having to watch him wither away and die, with them incapable of saving him.  Of course they had him exercise; under their ever-watchful eyes, he could run and jump and play games with the other chil-dren, only not run or jump or play in a dangerous way.  And so the years passed; the young man was well aware of his fragility, and appreciated his parents’ diligence in their care of his well-being.  All was fine until he came to the end of his school time; as the family had little wealth, the only options open to the young man were to go and work in the barley fields, to join the army, or to enter the local  monastery and train to become a monk.  Working in the fields was a physically tough job. Just planting the qingke would be more than the boy could cope with, never mind all the rest, and with the short growing season, he would be working  almost nonstop.  As for the army; that was, of course, totally out of the question. So the only possibility left was that of the monastery. A major problem, however, was that the life and discipline of a young nov-ice monk was not without hardship and, from the point of view of his protective  parents, not without danger. The only solution was to beg an audience with the “Young Master” (the name given to the now head of the monastery by his own master, due to the fact that he was the youngest monk  ever to reach that level). The parents sent a message to the monastery, pleading for a meeting with the Master to explain the situation. The message was received and a young monk was dispatched to the house to listen to what the  parents wished to discuss.  They were a little put out that they were expected to talk to this young monk and not directly to the Master himself, but he reassured them that he was there simply to listen to their desires and to find out a little more about their son, so that the Master would not have to waste his time asking relatively unimportant questions and they could then discuss the important issue directly without introduction. The spring was here but was passing quite quickly; the fields were being prepared to be sown for the barley crops, and young men were already joining the village workforce. Others were leav-ing to begin their  training for the army. Those that had offered themselves up to become monks had already been accepted to enter the monastery. Only the sickly child had not yet been sum-moned to meet the “Young Master,” and he was the only one who could decide on who could enter. Already, every morning, waiting for the message to arrive had become a type of slow torture, to be summonsed to their interview; “their interview” because it  was also the parents who were waiting to speak to the venerable master so as to explain exactly why their son had to be accepted to become a monk, but due to his fragility that he would need to be given a special  program, so as not to strain his sickly body too much. The days passed and the family became increasingly stressed, for the period of choosing was all the same limited. The army recruits had now left, and the fields were advancing with the nec-essary  preparations. Even though the novice monks were still with their families, all was arranged for their training, and each had been assigned to a master who would oversee the first part of his initiation.    The parents of the other boys were beginning to gossip and point at them from little huddles, in corners, in the marketplace, in the square. But worse, much worse than that, was the knowledge that quite soon the head of the monastery would be leaving to pass the hotter summer months in his mountain cabin, in retreat, with only one privileged young monk in attendance. If he should leave before accepting the boy into the order, they would have no option but to send him into the fields, to work his poor fragile body, from morning till night under the blazing sun, with the high  chance of his being caught in one of the many heavy summer rain showers.  They tried on several occasions to inquire as to the likely moment of the interview, but each time they had to accept the same response: the Master is aware of your demand and will send for you in due  course. The days continued to pass, the neighbours to gossip, and the sun to climb, higher and higher in the heavens at midday.  “He’s going to go up the mountain; he’s going to leave our son to die working in the fields,” groaned the mother. “Go again and demand to see the Master.”  “But I went only yesterday. If I keep going every day, we might vex them, and then all would be lost.”  “If he leaves for the mountain, all will be lost anyway. At least they will be reminded how important it is that we see him.”  “I’m sure that they all are very clear how important it is for us. I have been almost once every two days.”   “Maybe you should go every day, then.” Fortunately for every-one, at that moment there was a knock at the door. The young man in priests’ robes smiled at the older man who opened the door. “The Young Master will expect you at six tomorrow morning. Please do not be late, he will not wait. Kale shoo.”  “Thank you, and goodbye to you, too.” They both bowed; the older man smiled, the younger man did not. 
Adventures with the Master
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