Bi De stood at the head of the disciples. His countenance was calm, and his Qi was as still as a lake. The others, save Wa Shi, who had disappeared to places unknown, had been called to assembly. He supposed that was rather appropriate. Wa Shi would likely be more a hindrance than an aid in this task.
Indeed. A task. A mission, a charge, a directive from the Great Master! One given to him this morning. Bi De was overjoyed at the trust, and the order. So he had given the order to assemble the disciples. Brother Chun Ke was humming happily, his Pi Pa beside him, and leaning against his bulk.
Sister Ri Zu was at the head of the table, going over the scrolls she had from the Healing Sage. her little whiskers twitched, and she nodded to herself occasionally.
They were just waiting on one more arrival.
They did not have to wait long. Tigu entered the building, looking irritated and disheveled. She huffed at the assembly, but went to her place, to the right of Bi De. Not at the head of the table, for that was the position of the First Disciple, but she had demanded a place of honour. None had sought to challenge her for it. Ri Zu took his left, and Pi Pa and Chun Ke didn’t care. Wa Shi stayed as far away from the cat as he could.
‘We thank you for your attendance’ Bi De greeted her, and nodded his head at the cat. She had likely been training with this….Cai Xiulan. The cat grudgingly nodded back.
Bi De knew not what to think of the female human. She wished to learn the Master’s teachings, and yet she always seemed so tense when she was meditating. Her muscles were bunched, and though she was pushing her Qi into the ground, the Land categorically ignored her offerings. He deduced that she was being too forceful, and not deliberate enough in her attempts. She was trying to go too fast, and thus the land was ignoring her.
He had the ability to admit he might be wrong, however. He had counseled her to slow herself, and properly reflect. She had taken his teaching to heart, and directed her attention away from such forceful and swift infusions.
So she had begun trading pointers with Tigu. At first, he had been concerned about her intentions. Yet Xiulan had proven The Great Master’s trust in her correct. Her blows were chastising to the cat, yet not harsh. Tigu refused to call the woman Senior Sister, yet that is what she was. Bi De watched, but left them to it. If he traded pointers with them too much, he may stunt their growth! Such a thing was unacceptable.
When Tigu had settled, and began to clean her paw, he gestured to Sister Ri Zu to begin.
‘The Lord has given us a request-command’ she squeaked. Tigu’s eyes sharpened immediately at the words, and she sat up straight, ceasing her grooming.
‘We, the disciples of Fa Ram, have been tasked with finding a creature for the Lord, and Master Sage.”
Ri Zu went to Brother Chun Ke’s piece of slate, laid upon its side, and picked up the large slab with a heave. It dwarfed her utterly. She strained slightly with the weight, but revealed it’s contents for the rest of the disciples to pursue.
Upon it was a stripy insect, multiple views of the creature. It had two sets of wings, and a long tongue. In it’s behind it held a weapon, a dagger, long for its body size.
‘This is a bee.’ Ri Zu declared, propping up the slate, and making sure it would not fall over.
It was a creature he was marginally familiar with. At first, he had slain them, for daring to sup upon the Great Master’s plants, yet he had been chastised for this action. The buzzing things were apparently necessary for Fa Ram to function. Pollination was a fascinating topic. One that revealed the similarities between plants and animals.
‘This insect lives in great-big communes, of one hundred, to ten thousand. They are an industrious creature, crafting great hives filled with honey and wax. These have great-much value to both the Master and the Mistress. Yet it is not the honey or the wax we have been tasked to find-seek.’
Ri Zu paused.
‘We shall be finding a queen.’ She gestured to one of the other drawings, of a larger individual. ‘From this one, do all the lessers spawn, and thus do they go and create honey and wax. Should we capture this queen, we are to return her to the Master.’
Brother Chun Ke oinked inquisitively.
Ri Zu nodded. “The Lord has built for them many homes. The white boxes. In return for his protection, he will harvest-tax a portion of the honey and wax.
Chun Ke considered this, and nodded. He would happily join the search for them.
‘Now, we shall learn of our quarry. You see-observe this long dagger? It secretes a venom, yet the most fascinating effect is that one it stings, it rips out!’ Sister Ri Zu’s eyes were wide and fascinated, as she pointed to another drawing, this one of the insect’s distended organs. “They perish-die after this act, but it is most interesting! They give their life for the hive and the queen, so that their very bodies exemplify this devotion--!”
‘Are they spirit beasts?’ Tigu interrupted, bored. Ri Zu paused.
‘Nay, they are normal-mortal insects--’ the little rat began, looking dejected.
‘Then we have no reason to hear of their weapons. What shall they do, bounce off our skin aggressively?’ the cat scoffed. ”Enough of this. We shall begin a search for these ‘queens’. How pretentious, claiming one’s self a queen, when the Master exists! If he did not desire them alive, I would bring him fifty of their heads for their arrogance!’ She raised her nose in the air, and summoned her blades of Qi.
Ri Zu frowned at the cat. Tigu noticed the glare.
‘Ah, finally grew some spine, did you? Shall we trade pointers? I shall give you the first blow, little sister.’
Tigu’s eyes were wide with predatory glee as she met Ri Zu’s frown. The glare held for a moment, before the rat looked down and away. Bi De frowned at the attention
‘This one thought so.’ the cat smirked. ‘Fear not, you need not bother yourselves with this task. This Tigu shall gather a hundred of these queens, before the rest of you collect but one! The Master will be most pleased with me!’
With that, Tigu left, sweeping eagerly out of the room with her tail held high. Bi De sighed, as he watched her go.
Ri Zu glared at the door where the cat had retreated to.
‘.....Ri Zu will poison her one day.’ The rat declared. ‘Then we shall trade pointers, and see who has fun.’
The rooster chuckled, amused. Indeed, this disciple took after her master. Tigu was likely going to learn a very, very nasty lesson in the future. He paused, and tried to think of some encouraging words for the little rat.
Ri Zu looked at the slate and sighed, dejected. She looked like she was about to place it back down, when Brother Chun Ke oinked again. He was sitting like he did when the Great Master offered lessons.
‘You wish to hear-learn more?’ Ri Zu asked hopefully. Brother Chun Ke oinked again, wiggling from side to side.
‘A-ah! Well, ahem!’ Ri Zu stood tall once again, and some of her excitement came back. ‘We shall speak upon the medicinal qualities of honey, and the habitat of the bee!’’
Bi De traded a glance with Pi Pa. In her eyes was nothing but contentment, as she leaned further into her Chun Ke’s side. Bi De understood her affection. His Brother Chun Ke’s heart was a treasure that surpassed heaven.
Truly, if Bi De had been a hen, he wished he could have known a Chun Ke. Instead, he would be content with their friendship. Truly he was blessed to have their support, and their forgiveness for getting Brother Chun Ke hurt.
Bi De settled down to listen to Sister Ri Zu’s returned enthusiasm. She hopped about, and her whiskers twitched as she pointed to different parts of the insect, explaining how it flew, and where it liked to burrow into the ground, or construct upon the trees.
Her lesson lasted perhaps an hour longer, and then they were done.
‘This concludes Ri Zu’s knowledge on the bee! We shall go and seek-find them now!’ Ri Zu shouted excitedly, waving her little hands about. Brother Chun Ke nudged her affectionately with his nose, and Ri Zu pushed back, nuzzling into him. She looked like she was about to hop onto his back, when Bi De drew their attention, coughing slightly.
Ri Zu’s eyes widened. Chun Ke gave her a little push.
‘Ah, Ri Zu will be join-travelling with the First Disciple--ah, Brother Bi De?”
Bi De nodded, happy at her use of his name. She took her place upon his back, and the rest of the disciples exited the house together.
They paid their respects to the Healing Sage, out in her herb garden. They wandered past the Great Master, who was separating the rice seed with Disciple Gou Ren and Disciple Xiulan. He was pointing at the water, and musing on how the salt made the density of the water different, which allowed the rice to float or sink.
He observed the odd, fluffy balls, and the puller of the plow, as they ate the grass, content with their lot in life.
It was another wondrous day in this blessed land. The sun was high in the sky. The wind, beautiful and warm. The land, hale and hearty. He nodded to Sister Pi Pa, and Brother Chun Ke as they split off from himself and Sister Ri Zu, covering more ground in two groups, rather than one. He was disappointed that he would no longer have theri company, but the task from the Great Master was absolute.
That is not to say that he could not enjoy himself while completing this task. Sister Ri Zu’s Qi, almost absentmindedly, went to the places where Wicked Chow Ji’s impurities had once laid, now only scars. They still ached occasionally, or twinged slightly when he moved too fast, but they had healed well. Better than poor Brother Chun Ke’s wounds.
The Qi circled in his body, and he knew peace.
They entered the forest, and began their search. His eyes were sharp, and Ri Zu’s nose was sharper. No bee would evade them.
They wandered through the forest together, simply enjoying one another’s company.
“Willow, reduces inflammation, and joint pain.’ Ri Zu spoke, listing off another medicinal fact about something in the forest. Bi De committed her hard won knowledge to memory. He took note of everything she pointed to, her excitement infectious. They harvested little bits here, little bits there, to help build up the Healing Sage’s medicine room.
As they walked, they observed the buds, the new shoots, and the spring flowers. The wonder and bounty of spring.
Bi De preened little Ri Zu, and she giggled.
Their walk was leisurely. The Great Master was in no urgent rush. They wandered all throughout the land, drinking in it’s sublime atmosphere. He allowed his whims to guide them, occasionally hopping up into the trees for a better view or dropping down to inspect something that Sister Ri Zu pointed to.
Their patience was rewarded. Buzzing around a flower was a bee. A large bee. She was ragged looking, and her flight was lumbering and laboured. If Ri Zu’s drawings were right… a queen bee, yet one without a hive. One that was damaged, and hurt, yet still seemed vital enough, attempting to gather more materials, and remake her hive. How admirable. A most fortuitous encounter.
With a beak that could rend steel, and tear men limb from limb, he plucked the bee from the air. So gentle was his grip, and so sublime was his control, that the insect did not even notice she was caught despite being held fast.
They could go out and search for more... but Bi De decided that if his Great Master required more bees, then he could command him again tomorrow. He would gladly do this duty.
I was humming to myself as I set up the beehives. You couldn’t just shove a bee in there, and expect it to do what you wanted, like everything else on a farm, a bit of prep work was required first. In this case, putting some wax along the frames, so the bees would know where to build. It was a simple task, and one that was fast and easy to complete. I put the hives back towards my old shack, and in the forest where Big D fought with the fox.
It should be far enough from the house, so they wouldn’t be buzzing around the windows too much. Bees were useful, but if you’ve ever been to an apiary, you would know that they get absolutely everywhere.
Then, all that was left after this was finding the bees. Or more precisely, the honey bee. I had already seen something that looked a bit like a bumble bee earlier, and maybe some mason bees. For the mason bees, I had actually built them their own little “hotel”. The solitary bees could use them as they didn’t create hives, but rather worked alone, doing their duty.
I still had some little odds and ends of bamboo. Nothing useful, save for maybe use as a straw, but perfect for this. Punch out the center, then build a container to hold them with a little roof to keep off the rain. Put it facing the morning sun, and you’ve got yourself a solitary bee hotel!
Not bad, for like five minutes of work. Sure, they wouldn't make me honey, but you should always do something nice for the native bees. They’re good for the environment.
I was examining my handiwork when I heard a cluck from behind me.
Turning, I saw Big D and Rizzo, both looking pleased. He had a bee in his mouth. A honeybee. It was just sitting there, not even struggling, looking around at the world
….I had said this morning to keep an eye out for any bees, so that we could get started on the hives. Well, who am I to disregard their initiative?
“Good job, Big D, Rizzo.” I complemented, reaching down to give them both a pat. It was a bit odd, they were people...but they liked their headpats. Well, Rizzo tolerated them. She was the only one of them that wasn’t that affectionate with me, but I didn’t mind. She was a good little girl, and if she didn’t like head rubs, I wouldn’t force the issue.
We sat in silence for a moment, as I just looked at the hives, imagining all the buzzing honeybees.