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The Fairy Godfather On the Road: The Way of the Panda


malign

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The Fairy Godfather On The Road

The Way of the Panda

Having closed up his cozy little cabin (he just pointed his wand at it, really, to remind the doors to stay closed; who would try to break in to a house in the Enchanted Forest, and more importantly, how would they get out alive?), the Fairy Godfather picked a direction at random, clicked his ruby heels together, and soared off over the trees.

He flew aimlessly for a while, changing direction slightly from time to time. He didn’t much fear getting lost: he knew he was somewhere in the Universe, and that was enough. He gave himself over to whatever the Universe had planned for him.

After a while, though, he did start to feel a bit hungry, and as the Universe hadn’t seen fit to send a roast beef sandwich his way, he decided to visit a village that he was passing, in the hopes that he could persuade the local innkeeper to make up for the Universe’s oversight. So, he landed on the outskirts of the village, waved the wand to give the ruby slippers the illusion of being sensible shoes (though, sadly, this didn’t actually make them more comfortable to wear), and ambled through town, idly greeting passersby.

Now, if you’ve ever been near a small country village, you know that the sight of any stranger, especially as outlandishly dressed a stranger as the Godfather happened to be, will draw a large crowd in a matter of moments. They took care not to block his path, of course, but he would have had a hard time turning aside. Luckily, it seemed as if the entire crowd had coincidentally decided on a trip to the local tavern, so the Godfather had no trouble steering his semi-circle of followers in that direction.

Stepping into the tavern out of the brightness of the day, he stopped to let his eyes adjust to the dimness inside. The place was nearly empty, the trailing crowd having stopped just outside the door in some uncertainty over whether it was safe to follow on the Godfather’s heels, and in some eagerness to discuss the new arrival without him overhearing. There was only one other customer in the place, a cloaked traveler hunched over a mug of ale at the far end of the bar.

Catching the innkeeper’s eye (because the latter had thrown him a look), he wiped it gently on his sleeve and handed it back. Popping it back in its socket, the innkeeper spoke:

“We don’t get many strangers in here, nor many stranger, neither.”

Taking a moment to figure out the meaning of this sentence, the Godfather replied, “You should get out more.”

The innkeeper, in his turn, looked slightly confused at this response, then shook his head and returned to business. “What can I get for you?”

Having described his dream sandwich in salivating detail, the Godfather took a seat at a table near the only window. Faces peered in at him briefly, then, afraid to give offense, turned away quickly. The Godfather was faintly amused at all the attention; after all, at home everyone knew who he was and generally ignored him. He briefly considered, then rejected, the idea of making faces at them to see how they would react, but he was still smiling faintly when the innkeeper brought his lunch.

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He picked up the sandwich in both hands, trying to keep bits of it from falling out the back of it onto the plate, or his lap. Opening wide, as the innkeeper had at least met his requested minimum dimensions on the sandwich, he glanced over it at the other traveler at the bar.

To his surprise, the traveler was also looking at him, with a faint smile on his broad face.

The second surprise was that the traveler wasn’t human.

It was a panda, slightly shorter and rounder than a man, with soft short fur in a bold black and white pattern. He wore a close-fitting cloth over his head with holes for his rounded ears; it seemed to be part of the traveling cloak that hung down his back. His gaze was calm but alert, as if nothing troubled him partly because he was completely aware of his surroundings. His eyes were big in the dim light, pure black and shining with intelligence, as he returned the Godfather’s scrutiny.

After a moment, the panda’s face softened slightly, as if in humorous acceptance, and he smiled slightly. Then he sighed, and stirred. Getting to his feet, he picked up his bedroll, which he slung loosely across his back. A long bamboo staff appeared in his hand; in the dimness, the Godfather almost thought it had jumped several inches off the floor when the panda reached for it. Walking silently along the length of the bar, the panda disappeared through the same door to the back that the innkeeper had used. Shortly afterward, the back door banged shut behind him, and he was gone.

Turning back to the remains of his sandwich, the Godfather considered the odd person he had just encountered. A panda, traveling lightly but armed with a staff. A most unusual panda, given the directness and quiet confidence that had been in his eyes. A panda that had sought out a village tavern and drank ale, despite the appearance of being someone who would be perfectly comfortable living off the land ... and who managed to do all of this without attracting a crowd.

Most unusual.

Lost in his thoughts, the Godfather suddenly realized that the view from the window had changed somewhat. There was still a crowd outside, but now it was milling around in some agitation. He could hear voices raised through the glass of the window, but he could not make out words. At times, a face would glance in, but now with anger instead of curiosity.

Suddenly, something small crashed through one of the windows at the far end of the room and the crowd cheered. The Godfather jumped to his feet in surprise, thinking to go out to see what the problem was. Turning away from the window, he almost bumped into the panda, who had come into the room silently and was standing only inches behind him.

“I wouldn’t go out there, if I were you,” the panda said softly. “They don’t seem inclined to listen to you right now.”

“Me? What does all that noise have to do with me?”

“Oh, you’re the reason for it. Indirectly. I suspect someone has been spreading rumors about you. But there’s no time to talk. We need to get you out of here.”

With that, the panda turned and strode through the back door he had used before, and the Godfather found himself unable to resist following. He cheated slightly and used the power of the ruby slippers to catch up a bit, and was glad he had done so when he heard another crash and the exclamations of the innkeeper behind him.

The yard in back of the tavern was weedy and had random chickens scuttling around it, but there was no sign of the mob. Probably they were conditioned to believe that people who go in the front door can only come out that way; none of them had even considered the back door.

But the panda had. The Godfather followed the flowing cloak and the little button of a tail as the panda hopped the tavern’s back fence and slipped between two houses into the next street. It was deserted, but the panda wasted no time. He turned towards the outskirts of the town with the Godfather on his heels.

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The panda avoided the larger streets and they saw no one as they hurried. Presumably, everyone was busy enjoying the scene in front of the tavern. Village life is boring; people need a good riot, every now and then.

But then, their luck changed. A voice rang out ahead of them. Apparently, someone in the mob had had the foresight to set a guard on the village gates. The panda stopped, his eyes searching from the surrounding houses to the dusty main street to the small gate in the village fence that was blocked by the man who had sighted them. The man wore the determined look of a career guard, and he carried a long wide-bladed pike.

They could not stay where they were for very long, though. As they hesitated, they heard an answering shout from behind them. The mob, discovering the empty tavern, had hurried to catch them at the gates. The first pursuers rounded the corner behind them, and some of them carried torches.

Suddenly, the panda charged directly at the guard, whose eyes widened but who stood firm. At the same moment, he called over his shoulder to the Godfather, “Use your wand!”

“My what?” said the Godfather at the same instant that he remembered his abilities.

Focusing on the guard, he swished the wand. He was only a second too late, though, for the panda was a fast runner, and had come within range of the pike sooner than the Godfather expected. Only, instead of being disemboweled by the wicked blade, the panda had simply flicked his bamboo staff, and the pike was lying in the dirt at the feet of the now-giggling guard. The companions raced through the gate onto the road outside.

The panda, running effortlessly beside the puffing Godfather, looked over and asked, “You can fly, can’t you?”

Embarrassed at having again forgotten his powers under stress, the Godfather stopped, picked the panda up on his back, and took off effortlessly from the dusty forest road, leaving the villagers to look up helplessly at them and shake their torches and weapons.

Flying through the afternoon with the panda’s warm fur against his back, the Godfather was full of questions.

“How did you know about my powers?” was the first question he asked the panda.

“Because I was in that tavern precisely so that I could meet you,” was the reply.

The Godfather said “Oh”, before realizing that this answer only opened up another question. “But why would you want to meet me?”

“I had information about a possible plot against someone matching your description,” the panda replied without revealing very much.

“But who ...”

“How about if we land in that clearing over there,” the panda interrupted, “and set up camp for the night? I will tell you more after we have eaten.”

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Sitting across the campfire, some time later, watching the panda slowly eating the vegetable stew he had made, the Godfather thought to ask again.

"You mentioned a plot, before ..." he prompted hesitantly.

The panda paused a moment, then sighed, putting down his empty bowl and wiping his mouth on the back of one paw.

"Yes ... Perhaps this will require a little background. You see, I have recently completed the training of a Panda Warrior. I have spent years studying the ancient ways of the masters. At night I slept in the temple, during the day I worked for the monks, and in the evenings I read the sacred texts with them.

"It was not an easy life. But it was a good life; I learned much. Then, a few months ago, it was agreed that it was time for me to leave, and begin my quest in the outside world.

"I wandered aimlessly for a while. You see, the quest is not highly specific. You could say we're sent out to find a way to make ourselves useful," the panda said with a slight smile.

"But," he continued, "I did have the opportunity to encounter a small malevolent being named Murphy, and managed to thwart his intentions in some small way. However, I learned at that time that he planned to interfere with, and I'm quoting him now, 'that meddlesome human with bad taste in footwear' and that he would, quote, 'snap his wand for good, I mean, ill.'

"Thinking that I might have found a portion of my quest, I made myself available near where Murphy was, in the hopes of finding this extraordinary human before he did. You know the rest," the panda finished with a smile. "Now, I prefer to meditate for a while after dinner. You are welcome to join me."

Saying this, the panda crossed his legs, sat up straight, and laid his hands palm up on his knees. His eyes half closed, and his breathing became deeper and slower.

Unconsciously copying the panda, the Godfather felt himself relaxing, and his breathing slowed.

All the questions of the day drifted away, and his mind became quiet. Turning inward, he was a bit surprised to find a warm, welcoming feeling inside himself. It became a bright light, and he knew he had nothing to fear from it. He wanted to dive into its warmth. But then, paradoxically, his senses turned outward, and he felt the colossal hardness of the earth beneath him. He felt the wind moving over the earth’s surface, he felt the trees that the wind caressed, he felt the birds and the animals that live among the trees. He felt connected, as if he belonged to a beauty far larger than he was, but in which he played his own essential role. He felt alive.

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Opening his eyes, he saw the panda smiling gently at him from across the fire.

“You felt it, then?” he asked. The Godfather could only nod. “That is how simple it is to reach the Universe, you know. We’re never far away from it; we’re part of it, after all. It’s only our own minds that insist on staying separate, so that it takes an effort to return to the connection. It never breaks, though. And it is from that connection that all our powers arise.”

Seeing the look of surprise on the Godfather’s face, the panda smiled gently again. “Yes, I know about your powers. I can sense them, the way you sense the warmth of the sun on your skin even when you can’t see it.

“We panda warriors learn skills of our own. We are trained in many weapons: how to make them, how to use them, how to choose which one to use when. But that is only the beginning, for the highest aspiration of any Warrior is never to have to fight.”

Again the Godfather was surprised.

“But if you never use it, what good is all that knowledge of weapons?”

The panda looked at him sadly, as only a panda can. “Without a knowledge of death in all its forms, how can life be properly treasured? There are many kinds of death. Death by violence, death by disease, death by neglect, death by suicide, death from disasters ... Some of these are preventable, but most are not. We will all die; that is the will of the Universe.

“But it is our choice whether to fight each other, whether to kill. There may be times when it is necessary, but it is the highest calling of the Warrior to prevent bloodshed, if we may.”

“But how, if people are so intent on fighting and killing as they seem to be?” asked the Godfather.

“Luckily, there are many ways,” the panda replied, “and those ways form the bulk of my training. There are signs one can read; tensions in a situation that can be found and exploited; ways that situations break down that can be predicted and prevented. In many ways, all it takes is an ability to read the will of the Universe, really. The training merely attunes you more closely to that will.”

“That sounds like very valuable knowledge,” said the Godfather. “Can you share some of it with me? I often feel lost, contemplating the will of the Universe.”

“Certainly,” the panda replied. “The teachings can be distilled into three precepts: Anticipation, Creative Problem-solving, and Inner Peace.”

“Is that all?” the Godfather muttered under his breath, but the panda chuckled, anyway.

“I did not say that it was easy,” he smiled. “But it was those precepts that got us through our encounter, this morning. You see, I anticipated that Murphy might stir up trouble for you, and as he has relatively little power himself, he would need to persuade the villagers to help him. Then, I used some creative problem-solving, by scouting out an alternate route to the gates. Finally, I used inner peace to charge calmly at the armed guard at the gate, knowing that you would incapacitate him before I reached him.”

“But I didn’t!” the Godfather protested. “You got there first.”

“Ah yes,” the panda smiled. “That’s when I used my other training. Anticipation and creative problem-solving, you see, accompanied by the inner peace of knowing what I can do. I regret that it came to violence, however. I should have prepared you in the use of your own powers, first.”

“You’d make a welcome companion on my travels, you know,” the Godfather said, afraid to ask for the panda’s help directly. In fact, he was too shy to ask him his name, in case it was a secret, or something. Luckily, though, the panda seemed to sense his discomfort on both counts.

“In fact, I do believe that my quest lies with yours, at least for a while. And although I do have a name, when a panda warrior is on a quest, its name is held in safe-keeping until its return. This we call ‘making a name for oneself.’

“Now, perhaps, we should try to sleep, so that we can continue our journey tomorrow.”

And so they retired for the night. The next morning came, bright with sunshine, to wake them from their blankets. So, they packed up their things, and set out on the next leg of their adventure.

[The End, or rather, the Space Before the Next Beginning]

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Oh, the person thingy is because I chose "Moderated Comments" when I made the blog entry. I just wanted to make sure I didn't get a comment in the middle of the story ... I wonder if I can turn it off, now.

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Hah, I've only just noticed, re-reading it just now ...

In the first segment, "the Godfather took a seat at a table near the only window." But later, "something small crashed through one of the windows at the far end of the room."

Where's a good editor when you need them? :-)

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