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The Way

by Badhorse

The emperor Spring Planter called the sage Stock Still the Stalwart to him and asked, "How should a kingdom be ordered?"

Stock Stil said, "The exemplary kirin knows and follows the way found before him."

So the emperor decreed that he would take as ministers those kirin who performed best on an examination of their knowledge of the dictates and customs of the ancients. And the scholars devoted themselves to studies of ancient texts, and only after many years of study could they pass the examination and enter the emperor's service.

These ministers reinstated the observance of the ancient rituals, sacrifices, and obeisances, and the kingdom remained well-ordered throughout the life of Spring Planter.

But even as the kirin cleaved to the ways of their ancestors, the Silver River overflowed its banks and wandered far to the north, leaving the kirin land dry and barren; and no amount of ritual and sacrifice could bring it back.

So the empress Summer Rain called the sage Silent Seeker to her, and asked, "How can a kingdom maintain order when the very land it stands on does not?"

Silent Seeker replied, "It is admirable to know the way, but exemplary to find the way."

So the empress had Silent Seeker design a great thornbush maze in her garden, with two gates opening into it, side-by-side, and a long and secret path winding through the maze from gate to gate. And she decreed that she would take as ministers those kirin who could in the shortest time pass from the threshold of the entrance gate to that of the exit gate. And the scholars devoted themselves to studies of mazes, and the ways of solving them; and only after many years of study of mazes, and exercise in other mazes built for practice, could they pass from threshold to threshold in so short a time as to be one of the few selected to enter the emperor's service.

These ministers abandoned the ways of their ancestors, and found new crops less thirsty for water, and ways of bringing water from Silver River far to the north; and the land prospered during the life of Summer Rain.

But as it prospered, and the kirin increased, so many took the examination that only those who devoted themselves to nothing but the study of mazes could ever pass the examination, and then only near the end of their lives, when they were too tired to serve well. And the scholars grew ignorant of everything but the solving of mazes, and in their ignorance became scornful of all else. And the kingdom declined, and splintered into ungovernable factions, and the old maze-solvers could not say why.

So the emperor Autumn Breeze sent armies out across his lands to restore order and obedience, and called the sage Short Shrift the Impudent to him, in the hope that she could pass the examination, and so give him advice. Short Shrift refused, saying she had no time to waste on such trivialities.

But the emperor would not relent, and Short Shrift went to the capital and into the Emperor's garden. Coming to the maze, she put one hoof on the threshold of the entrance gate, and another on the threshold of the entrance gate, saying, "There, I have gone from threshold to threshold in no time at all."

The emperor's ministers objected, saying, "We have all found the way through the maze, but you have found no way at all."

Short Shrift replied, "I have found the way of no way, which is in this case the best of all." Then she turned, leaving the emperor and his ministers in the garden. And the emperor was enlightened.

Then the emperor dismissed his ministers and attendants, sent his soldiers home each to their own fields, and let the ungovernable factions govern themselves as they pleased. Then he distributed the wealth of his palace among his people, and let the common folk make homes in the now-empty rooms of his mountain palace, and called himself emperor no more. And that is how the kirin have lived to this day.