Fan Xian coughed. A determined look crept across his handsome face. Since he couldn't beat the man in combat, it se
emed best to retreat and come back to beat him some time later. As he turned to leave, the door behind him opened again. The middle-aged man who had injured him stood at the entrance. "The master says that you may enter the side chamber to pray. Don't go into the main hall."
After he'd finished, he spoke again. "I said don't go into the main hall; do you hear me?"
Fan Xian turned around and looked at the man, and looked again at the seemingly unfathomable and eerie Temple of Qing. He frowned, dusted down his sleeves, and stepped over the tall threshold, walking toward the side chamber without looking back.
As he watched this young man face such an obstacle without getting anxious, angry, timid, or retreating, and continue on with his goal, the middle-aged man felt a twinge of admiration.
He closed the temple door and looked around, furrowing his brow. Those brats had let the kid get all the way to the door of the temple. They were getting extra drills that evening.
The Temple of Qing was a quiet place. The people of the Kingdom of Qing were realists - if they wanted to make offerings, they preferred to go to Dongshan Temple on the western side of the city to pray to the Maiden Who Brings Children and other immortals who would bring them wealth.
But the people of the Kingdom of Qing respected and feared Heaven, and the Emperor was the so-called Son of Heaven, so the Temple of Qing became a place where the royal family would offer sacrifices to Heaven. Although the Temple of Qing was open to commoners most days, the common people did not like its heavy and eerie atmosphere.
The main hall of the Temple of Qing looked a lot like the Temple of Heaven: It was circular, with two floors and eaves that jutted outwards; looked absolutely beautiful.
The middle-aged man stood respectfully outside the main hall, looking at the nobles inside who admired its colorful walls with their hands clasped behind their back. "I am allowing this young man to enter the side chamber in accordance with the master's wishes," he said in a low voice.
The nobles looked around 40 years of age, and though they did not look anything like soldiers, their eyes seemed world-weary, touched by an indecipherable tiredness.
"What family is he from that he would allow him to match blows with you?" asked one of the nobles, smiling.
Though he was a highly-skilled fighter, he was an attendant to the man who stood before him. "I do not know," he replied sincerely. "But I wanted to let you know, sir. His methods... were very similar to those of the family bodyguards."
The nobleman was astonished. "Oh? Could he be the son of Li Zhi?"
The middle-aged man laughed bitterly. "Sir, although I have never liked having dealings with him, Crown Prince Jing knows him."
"Oh." The nobleman turned around to continue looking at the murals on the walls. He had so many matters to consider each day that it was rare that he could find a moment's peace, so he decided not to trouble himself further with this small matter and let that youngster enter the side chamber to pray. It was good to know that the nation could produce such talented young people.
The middle-aged man stood guard quietly outside the main hall, occasionally glancing into the side chamber.
Some time later, a clamor arose from outside the hall. The nobleman suddenly frowned. "The girl isn't resting in the back. Is she doing something in the side chamber?"
The middle-aged man was alarmed. He turned his ears to the direction of the sound. He raised his head. "The princess has gone to the side chamber."
The nobleman furrowed his brow. "That noise..." He suddenly thought of something, and his face changed. "Go and look, and... bring that young man to me."
"Yes sir." The middle aged man was about to take his leave when suddenly, a squawk came from outside the temple. The temple doors were opened, and a rushed-looking man ran in, handing him a letter with a wax seal upon it.