[This is an excerpt from one of my projects.]

Summer drifted into autumn. The green rice buds that covered the black mud grew taller than the farmers and slowly shifted yellow as they ripened upon the stalks. The ground hardly stayed dry for more than a few hours, each afternoon bringing in rain. Bayani hardly visited his chestnut tree, as he was busy carving instruments while Akihiko labored with the clay for Lord Hirano’s xun. The master artisan made little progress. He was skilled with wood, which behaved entirely different from clay, and struggled to mold the sticky mud into a shape that would hold. Almost every day, he returned to the masonry for tutelage and material. Both Bayani and Akihiko knew this endeavor would be long and taxing, but the father grew curt and impatient of his own deficiency.

Occasionally, while Akihiko sat in the workshop glaring at his lump of clay, Bayani walked to the market alone. The villagers knew his face well and always asked him to play a song in return for some food or money. Usually he would sit near the fountain and play for hours on end, pulling the sounds of the bustling market into the melody of his pipa. Sometimes, by the time the night watchmen began to patrol the village and light the fires, a wealthy traveler with rings adorning their horns and tail would accompany Bayani to his house so they might purchase a pipa such as his own. The boy always presented his finest work, offering any instruments that had silk strings and extra embellishments. The travelers paid whatever price they saw fit, which was always more than Bayani expected, and took the instrument back to wherever they had come.

As the days grew shorter, Bayani stayed at home more often. When he had the sun’s light, he carefully shaved bits of wood off the body of an erhu or twined bamboo strands into strings or carefully whittled a rose into the surface of a pipa. After the sun set, he picked up his father’s erhu and practiced his exercises to strengthen his skills. Sometimes when Akihiko was thoroughly engrossed with the measurements for the xun, Bayani experimented with the erhu, testing its tone and pitch. One day, he would be able to create a song from the sound of nature, just as he did with the pipa.

“Bayani,” Akihiko stated one night as the two sat beside the single lamp and gnawed on hard bread.

“Yes, Tatay?”

“You should practice your breathing exercises. Your lungs are good for singing, but they are not strong enough for the hulusi or the dizi.”

“Yes, Tatay. I will start right away.”

“Do you remember them?”

“Yes, I do. I have watched you practice them every morning my entire life.”

“I will teach them to you properly anyways.”

“What of the xun?”

“I can afford a break from the clay. It is only beginning to irritate me.”

“I understand.”

“Good. We should get some rest. I intend to rise before the sun so that we can reach our destination quickly.”

“We are travelling?”

“Of course. To teach you the breathing exercises properly, I must take you to the place my father took me when it was my turn to inherit the practice. We will be gone several days, but I believe the journey is worth the effort.”

Bayani looked down at the crutch beside him. Akihiko sensed his hesitation. “I will carry you if needs be. Besides, it will be good practice for when your ceremony comes.”

“Yes, of course. I forget I will have to travel for that as well.”

Akihiko blew out the lamp and stretched out onto the straw mat. Bayani hid his leftovers under a cup and laid beside his father.

“How long until my ceremony?” the boy asked, nervousness in his voice.

“I imagine it is coming soon. Maybe three more years?”

“And I must travel to the Temple alone?”

“No, you can travel with other youths who will complete the ceremony alongside you.”

“But they will all be strangers…”

Akihiko said nothing as he caressed his son’s head. Then he inquired, “Is not Gat Tomomi around your age?”

“He is. Our ceremonies will be the same year. But I do not know what path he will take. I doubt his journey will lead through Yang-Xing.”

“I see… Rest well, Bayani. We have an early morning before us.”

The next day, as promised, Akihiko awoke Bayani long before the dawn brightened the night sky. The moon had already descended, leaving the early morning hours in complete darkness. As quietly as possible, the pair packed a small pack with food and blankets and some medicine. Then Akihiko lifted his frail son onto his back and snuck through the sleeping village. His steps made no sound. Were it not for Bayani’s labored breathing from the discomfort of his misshapen leg, the two could have been ghosts haunting the darkest hours of night. They arrived at the village gates, lit with torches, and Akihiko gently set down Bayani.

Jiahao stepped out from his house beside the gates, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and yawning widely. He peered at his visitors in confusion, still asleep, before understanding what they sought. Upon realization, the gatekeeper pulled out his books and opened one to a blank page.

“Chen Akihiko, Chen Bayani” he murmured, unable to speak properly lest he disturb the dark peace. He scribbled their names down onto the paper. “How long?”

“At least five days,” Akihiko answered, his voice also hushed.

Jiahao raised an eyebrow. “So long? Will our village survive without its bards to keep it alive?”

Akihiko smiled. “I imagine Yang-Xing will do just fine. We are going to the peaks to train.”

The gatekeeper glanced warily at Bayani and his crippled leg but said nothing. He offered the quill to Akihiko, who signed his name next to the log Jiahao had written. Then the musician pulled out his money chain and untied three copper coins from the leather. “Will that be enough?”

Jiahao tapped his temple as he calculated the numbers. Then he took the coins from Akihiko, saying, “No, but I will not take any more from you.”

“Do you seek to cause us trouble?” Akihiko protested.

“Chen-laofu, I would never dare cross you. I learned my lesson well last time I attempted such foolishness.”

“Then how much more do I owe?”

“A safe return. You and your son do far more for Yang-Xing than you will ever understand. We have survived many winters because of you, and I hope we will survive many more because of Bayani. May the sun light your path.”

“To you as well,” Akihiko answered, a deep frown darkening his face. He did not want to argue any further, but a great sense of guilt descended upon him because of the unpaid fund. Once again lifting Bayani onto his back, the bard waited for Jiahao to open the gates and stepped out onto the moist dirt road.

“Let me know when you must walk,” he stated.

Bayani nodded in agreement, nestling his chin into the crook of his father’s shoulder. Akihiko started at a soft pace, waiting until the light from the village fires were far off into the distance before speeding to a brisk jog, then a light run. Hours passed.

When the sun reached its peak in the sky, the pair sat down in the shade of a large fir. “You will have to walk from here,” Akihiko stated as he peeled the skin from a fruit. “The mountains are too steep for me to carry you. Besides, it is a part of your training.”

Bayani dipped his head in understanding, chewing thoughtfully on the bit of fruit his father had given him. There was no point in protesting. Akihiko knew full well his son’s limits, and the old bard would never push the boy so far if he was uncertain his crippled body could handle it. After they finished their lunch, the father helped his son to his feet, and they continued, this time much more slowly.

As was customary for their walks together, Akihiko began to narrate stories to Bayani. It was tradition for the legends of history to live on through the bards. Most other fathers passed down the legends in song, singing it with their children until they could sing no more. Akihiko, however, was not like most other fathers. He simply narrated the past as if he had lived it himself, and many times, Bayani was convinced that Akihiko had, in fact, seen these events with his own eyes. That was what set his father apart from all other musicians.

Aside from simply recounting the legends, Akihiko used this method to train Bayani’s memory. Remembering songs was easy enough, especially for those born and raised in music. But the details of a story were easy to tangle and twist, so Akihiko emphasized the importance of accurately recounting his stories. At first, the questions were simple: “Who did what and when?” and that sort of thing. But over the years, the questions gradually became more detailed and more complex. Sometimes, Akihiko inquired about even the very articulations in his voice.

“These things are important, Bayani,” Akihiko stated again after he questioned the boy of the story he had just recounted.

“Yes, Tatay,” Bayani huffed, hardly able to keep pace with his father’s already slow stride.

“There will come a day when you will need to know these small details and how significant they are.”

“Yes, Tatay.”

“Are you well, my son?”

“No, Tatay.”

“I see.” Akihiko watched his son. “Lift your shoulders. You cannot fill your lungs with them cramped beneath your hunched back.”

“I must hunch so that I do not slip,” Bayani answered. Regardless of his protest, however, he obeyed his father’s command and lifted his shoulders. Almost immediately, he lost balance on the crutch, and it slipped beneath him.

For several long minutes, Bayani lay in the road, panting against the pain in his body. Akihiko stood over him, simply watching. When the boy finally reached for his crutch again, the man kicked it further away. Bayani looked up at his father, bewildered frustration in his eyes. Akihiko was never one to make life easy, but occasionally, Bayani would appreciate some help from his father.

“Why?” Bayani questioned.

“I know it hurts, but you need to be able to stand on your own.”

“Without my crutch?”

“You said yourself, it cramps your lungs.”

“But I cannot—”

“You can. That is why I am making you.”

Bayani lowered his face, hiding the tears that swelled into his eyes. The last time Akihiko had forced him to stand on his own two feet, the boy couldn’t move his leg for a whole week. How would it be any different this time?

Akihiko lifted Bayani up and gently placed the crutch beneath the boy’s arm. Now the son was filled with confusion, but before he could mutter a word, the father stated, “The only thing holding you back is yourself. When you do not know what you are truly capable of, you place yourself within a box and limit your potential. Do not let your potential die because you do not see beyond your limitations. Use those limitations to reach further than you have ever reached before. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Tatay.”

“Good. Let us continue. We have nearly reached the peaks.”