Summary: An old priest seeks Caine’s help.
Category: Kung Fu–The Legend Continues
Word Count: 3355
The tall man with no hair watched the sun rising over the large, oriental looking building. Kwai Chang Caine walked slowly away from the temple which was his and his son’s home, and made his way to the small cemetery on the outskirts of the temple grounds. He kept turning toward the temple, as if he heard something. He smiled to himself, and shook his head. He had deliberately left early, not wanting to have to say goodbye to his three year old son. He knew that if Peter objected to his going, he couldn’t leave him, especially not today.
It was a year to the day since his wife’s death. He walked quietly, not disturbing the grass where he stepped, until he reached a grave marked Laura Katherine Caine. He twisted his body gracefully into lotus position, and stared at the marble marker. “I am here, My Wife,” he said softly.
The night was dark; there was no moon and the stars were obscured by dark clouds. The small cottage was dark, too. The only light came from several candles which burned in the larger bedroom. Caine sat on the bed holding his wife’s hand. In the next room, their son slept peacefully, not knowing that his mother was dying. The young husband stroked Laura’s hand gently, not even bothering to try to wipe away his tears. The young woman was unconscious; he no longer had to try to hide his pain from her. She breathed harshly, with a rattle that he knew meant her time was running out. As her breathing weakened, he let go of her hand and took her into his arms, cradling her and whispering words of love and comfort.
She roused a little, and whispered, “Peter.” Without a word, her husband lifted her and carried her into the small room, standing by the crib and allowing her to look at her son one more time. She sighed, and with a loving look, was gone…
“I did not bring Peter today. He has said ‘No!’ every time I offer to bring him here; I must learn to let him make his own choices, if he is to grow to be a man. But, it is hard. I wish…I wish you were here to help me. I need your counsel, your point of view. Few of the monks know how to be a father,” he told the gravestone sadly. “And, none of course, know how to be a mother.”
He looked up, his eyes glistening with tears. “I must be both mother and father to our son, Laura. Dao has suggested that I find someone to marry so Peter will have a mother. I cannot. I did not marry for you to be a mother to my children. I married you…..because…..I love you. I never sought your love, but when it was so freely given, I accepted it gladly. I do not expect to be so blessed again.” He bowed his head for a moment. “Perhaps that is why my path was obscured after your death.”
Laura Caine had been dead for three months. Caine had remained at the cottage, spending his time with his son, trying to find a direction for his life. The young father was watching Peter eat one evening, marveling that his son was getting any nourishment at all, since he seemed to be wearing most of his meal, when a knock sounded at the door. Caine opened the door and stepped back in surprise; his visitor was an old friend, a man who held a very important position in philosophical circles.
“Hello, My Friend. May I come in?” The priest asked gently.
“Yes…of course, come in, please,” Caine responded slowly. He went back to the kitchen table, and started cleaning Peter up. “I must give my son his bath. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Please, do what you must. Would I intrude if I talked to you while you work?”
“No, I would enjoy your presence,” Caine admitted, smiling at the small person who was the center of his world. Peter’s face was dirty, but he grinned happily at his father. “Peter is wonderful company, but his conversation is limited.”
The two friends talked while Caine cleaned up after the meal. Peter sat in the other priest’s lap for a few moments, but then scrambled down and ran to his father, demanding to be picked up. His happiness at being in his father’s arms dimmed when he realized that a bath was in the offing. Later, warm and clean, the sleepy toddler listened with wide eyes while Caine read him a story, until he fell asleep, cradled in his father’s arms. The visitor had watched his friend during the evening’s activities, but had said little. Not moving from his place in the rocking chair, Caine considered his visitor quietly. He finally asked, “Why have you come?”
“I have a friend who needs my help,” the older priest said softly.
“Is it someone I know? Perhaps I, too, can be of service?” Caine asked, looking down at his sleeping child.
“My friend is lost, not knowing his way. He has sustained a great loss recently, and is having much trouble overcoming his pain, finding the Way again,” the older priest said softly.
Caine nodded, understanding the purpose of the visit. “I am honored by your concern, but this is something I must do alone.”
“Tomorrow, I would like you to accompany me to the temple.” The other priest replied, smiling benignly. “We will talk then.” The older man stood. Caine started to rise, but his friend put a hand on his shoulder and said, “No, stay here with your son. We will talk tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow, then,” Caine agreed, watching his visitor shut the front door of the little cottage quietly.
“It has been nine months since my friend brought me back to the temple, and told me I should raise my son here,” the priest continued softly. “I feared the discipline and solitude, the loneliness. But, I have found peace here, and now I wish never to leave. I only hope that our son will be happy here, also.”
It had taken much persuasion to convince Caine that he didn’t have to take care of his son alone, but Ping Hai had finally succeeded. The young father had talked with several of the disciples and students, trying to find a suitable care giver. He knew that his standards were exacting, but he could not help himself. Peter was his most precious possession, a living link to Laura Caine. The few who survived the first scrutiny were subjected to intense questioning, and then had to take care of Peter under Caine’s watchful eye. The Shaolin master knew he made the younger men nervous, but he had to be sure that they could get along with his rambunctious son, and that Peter would obey them. Finally, he chose two young men. He heard whispers that they weren’t sure whether being chosen was an honor or a punishment. He had to admit that, sometimes after a day with Peter, he wasn’t sure himself.
Caine raised his head, listening to approaching footsteps. He smiled, wiping away a stray tear, and said, “Hello, Master Dao.”
Dao walked up to the grave, laying a bouquet of wildflowers by the base of the marker. He stared at the grave for a few minutes, his eyes bright with tears.
“Thank you,” Caine whispered.
Dao glared. “I didn’t bring them for you,” he said harshly.
Caine nodded and looked at his friend sadly. “I know.”
The second Shaolin squatted next to Kwai Chang, and looked into his eyes angrily. “Soon, Ping Hai is going to choose someone to take Master Kwan’s place.”
“That is true,” Caine agreed carefully.
“That person should be me, Kwai Chang,” Dao said aggressively.
“Lee Khan says that Master Ping Hai has asked you to be in charge of the temple.” Dao’s tone was accusing.
Caine was silent for a long moment, then he said slowly, “Yes, he has.”
“Have you agreed?”
“There is much to consider. I must be sure that my son will be cared for, and that I will be able to have time with him. I…”
“How can Ping Hai pick you?” Dao stood up, his voice rising in anger. “You’ve only been back for a few months, and you’re saddled with a child. I was the honored pupil at our temple, until you came. I can still defeat you. Why you?” he asked harshly.
“Success in combat is not the measure of a man, Dao,” Caine said mildly. “You must ask Ping Hai his reasons for making the decision he has made.”
“I think I will.” He started to turn, but he stopped and added, “I am going to compete in a martial arts tournament in Toronto. The competition is run by a man named Li Sung. He sent me a special invitation, because he has heard of my skill.” Dao’s voice held a note of self-satisfaction. Grudgingly, he added, “Will you teach my classes for me while I’m gone?”
“Yes,” the seated man said softly. “I hope your journey is successful.”
Dao frowned, and turned away. He walked toward the temple without looking back.
Kwai Chang sighed. He regretted that he was losing Dao’s friendship, although he wasn’t sure why it was happening. Perhaps, after Dao returned from Toronto, they could revive the relationship they had begun in the temple where they studied together as boys.
He sat at the grave for the rest of the morning, thinking bittersweet thoughts and playing some of Laura’s favorite songs on his flute. He talked about Peter, how he was growing, and about the joy he brought to his father. He spoke of how much he missed Laura, and told her about Ping Hai’s plan. “I wish you could guide me in this, My Wife,” he said softly. “I have need of your opinion.”
The temple grounds were getting busier in the late morning shadows. Priests practiced their martial arts in the sunshine, or showed forms to students. Disciples performed their assigned chores. Caine, watched, smiling, while a student chased a small figure around the herb garden, calling “Peter, come back here!”
The tall man stood, and walked away, toward the woods that lay beyond the temple grounds. Walking always helped him think, and had always been a method he could use to get his thoughts and feelings straight. As he walked, he thought about Peter, about his hopes for his son. And about Ping Hai. He couldn’t really understand why the old priest was so insistent that Kwai Chang take charge of the temple; he could only accept that it was so, and try to determine whether it was the right decision.
As he had said to Dao, there was much to consider. Peter, of course, was the most important consideration. His time with his son would be greatly restricted, and, he was sure, there would be times when he could not give the boy the attention he deserved. Could he be father and mother to his son, and lead the temple as it should be lead? The lives of many people would be in his care.
He sighed. The temple had been good to him, had helped his wounded spirit find peace and healing. Did he have the right to deny it when Ping Hai said it needed him? His debt to his brother priests demanded that he be willing to give back what he had been given, that he use his energies to strengthen the temple, especially in the face of the townspeople’s antagonism.
Caine walked through the little town, his son in his arms. The tall priest noted people glancing at his priestly robes, but no one said anything directly to him. He ignored them, talking to Peter as he walked.
“Can I get some candy, Pop?” Peter asked.
“Perhaps, My Son. But only a small piece. Too much candy is not good for you. And . . . do not call me Pop.”
The little boy looked skeptical, but said nothing as he looked around at the little town, and all the people who were out in the sunshine, doing Saturday morning errands. He jumped in his father’s arms, excited by the activity. Usually, Caine avoided the town on Saturdays, the busiest day of the week, but an important item had been overlooked when the temple’s weekly shopping was done earlier.
“I would like to purchase some rice, please,” Caine told the storekeeper, and added with a smile at Peter, “and two pieces of candy.”
“How much rice do you need?”
“At least three bags, enough to feed us until the regular shipment comes in Tuesday,” Caine replied.
“While I’m getting the rice, your son can pick out his candy. It’s all in jars against that wall,” the storekeeper said as he went toward the back of the little store.
The priest bent down, allowing the little boy to run over to where the candy was. Caine watched for a moment, grinning at the serious look on his son’s face.
The priest turned his attention to his robes, looking in the voluminous sleeves for the money to pay for his purchases.
“My son has to deliver some things to Mrs. Perkins this afternoon. She lives just up the road from the temple. He can deliver the rice, save you from having to carry it and your son, too.”
Caine considered for a moment, then bowed. “Thank you.” But his face became strained, and he turned swiftly toward where his child had been standing. His heart froze.
Peter was squirming, trying to get out of the arms of Vance Cavanaugh, an avowed enemy of the temple. “Let me go, let me go!” the youngster was saying, beating small fists determinedly against Cavanaugh’s chest.
Vance looked at Caine appraisingly. “Cute kid. It would be a shame if something happened to him.”
Caine stepped forward, saying calmly, “Give me my son.” He held out his arms.
“Your son, huh?” Cavanaugh sneered, ignoring Peter’s wails. “I didn’t think you heathens could get married and have children.”
“Yet, I did marry, and he is my son. Please, give him to me.” Caine spoke softly, but there was an undercurrent of steel in his voice.
“Sure, take the kid,” Vance said, holding out the now crying child.
Caine took his son, holding him close and whispering, “It is all right, Peter. I have you. You are safe.” Gradually, the little boy’s sobs subsided, and he relaxed against his father’s shoulder, still clutching two pieces of sticky candy in his sweaty palm.
“You better keep an eye on that kid, and all the others up there at that heathen place you call a temple,” Cavanaugh warned. “Something bad might happen to them.”
“We will watch them carefully,” Caine promised as he completed his purchase, and walked out with his son in his arms.
Caine stopped short. He had been thinking so hard about the decision he had to make, that he had not even noticed when he passed the cottage where he and Laura had lived, or some of the places where they had spent time together.
“I was so caught up in my present problems, I did not have time to remember you, Laura.” He walked on, considering. “Perhaps that is as it should be. Perhaps I must concentrate on the temple and Peter, and allow you to rest, My Love. I was reading your Bible to Peter, and I found in Ecclesiastes 9:9, a verse which says ‘Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life. . .” I was fortunate, to be able to do that, even for such a short time. But, perhaps, now, I must move on. I will always love you, Laura, and I will try to help our son grow to be a man you would be proud of. . . I will do as Ping Hai has asked, and take charge of the temple.” He stopped, a little surprised, that the final decision had come so easily. “I will try to keep our son safe, and to help the temple grow in spirit. It is these tasks which will sustain me in the years to come.”
It was long after dark when Kwai Chang Caine returned to the temple. He stopped by Ping Hai’s cell for a short, low voiced conversation, then he walked quietly down the hall to his own cell. He enter quietly, pressing his fingers to his lips when the young disciple who had been assigned to watch Peter stood up.
He beckoned the young man out to the hallway. “Thank you for caring for my son, Lo Chin,” Caine whispered. “How much trouble was he?”
“Oh, no trouble at all, Master Caine,” Lo Chin began, but his words slowed under the master’s direct gaze. “Well, he did get a little upset this afternoon, because he had something to show you, and you weren’t here. And he wanted to play hide and seek, and I couldn’t find him.” Lo Chin bowed his head. “He was in one of the storerooms beneath the temple.” At Caine’s smile, the disciple said, grinning, “It took a while to clean him up.”
The Shaolin nodded. “It usually does.” He put his hand on Lo Chin’s shoulder. “Thank you. You may go; I will care for Peter, now. You have done well.”
Lo Chin bowed, and walked quietly away.
The priest went into his cell, and sat on the floor, folding easily into full lotus and watching his child sleep. As the peace of the room filled him, he closed his eyes, starting a descent toward tranquility. The harmony was shattered, however, by a small voice shouting, “Daddy! Daddy!” The little boy scrambled off of his cot, and threw himself into his father’s arms excitedly. “Daddy!”” Peter said again, wrapping small arms around Caine’s neck and laying his head on his parent’s shoulder.
The Shaolin pressed his son against him, enfolding him in loving arms and rocking gently. He whispered softly, “You should be asleep, Peter.” He didn’t quite achieve the sternness he knew was required in the situation, neither could he bring himself to let go of the boy and put him back in bed. Not yet.
Peter raised his head; his hazel eyes looked into Caine’s and he smiled, a little shyly. “I made you a present, Pop.”
Caine frowned, but only said, “We will talk about it tomorrow. You must rest, My Son.”
But Peter wriggled out of his father’s arms, and retrieved a piece of paper from under his pillow. He proudly showed his father a drawing, carefully rendered and colored by a childish hand. On it was written, “Peter” and the year.
“I drew this for you, Daddy,” Peter’s treble voice was full of pride. He handed the picture to Caine, who looked at it, hoping he was holding it right side up. Honesty compelled the little boy to add, “Lo Chin wrote my name for me.”
“It is beautiful, My Son. It is. . . well done?” he looked at his son hopefully.
“Yeah, it’s a picture of Mommy.” Peter’s face was serious, as he nodded vigorously. “I made it so we won’t forget her.”
Caine carefully laid the picture beside him on the floor. He looked at the little face of his son, who had so much of his mother in him; he saw the energy and loving spirit Peter had inherited from Laura. He picked up his son, cradling him against his shoulder, and whispered, “We will not forget her, My Son. We will always have her with us.” He began to rock gently again, holding the toddler until the child was a dead weight in his arms. A long time later, the man rose gracefully, and lay his son on his cot. Then he sat down again, lightly resting his fingers on Peter’s arm, and closed his eyes.