Three thousand years ago, an ancient Chinese Emperor, King Wen, was held prisoner by Chou the Tyrant, last king of the Shang Dynasty. While in prison, the King took the seminal work of Fu Hsi, already three thousand years old, in which the eight trigrams, representing a way to organize the world and speak to the spirits, were developed, and he, in turn, developed the 64 hexagrams which represent the human condition. His son, the Duke of Chou, then elaborated on the work and wrote commentaries on each line of the hexagrams. This became, then, the Chou I, 'The Oracle Book of the Kings of Chou'. It was later codified and translated during the Han Dynasty and became what it is today, I Ching, 'I'(pronounced 'ye') meaning 'easy' and 'Ching'(pronounced 'jing') meaning 'classics'. I explain all this because the I Ching enters into our story today, as it was something else taught to Sir Gwalchmei by traders following the Silk Road. It is also an art I practice, and have done for many years, and for which I have an immense amount of respect.
"Think of it, Sire. In six months we could have 30,000 men trained in the techniques of Sir Gwalchmei. That's more men than we have afield, even now."
"Yes, Captain. We have been thinking about that very thing. That man made you look the fool, you do realize that, do you not? It will be hard to keep the respect of your men, Captain, as long as he remains alive."
King Guy and his Captain of the Guard were in a small ante room off the Great Hall. A room where no one else would hear their discourse.
"Tomorrow is the Sabbath; training won't start until one day hence. Take tomorrow to scour the ranks of the men in our camps and find us the nine best swordsmen you can. You and the nine will be the cadre to be trained by Sir Gwalchmei. You are to do naught else but train - the men you pick will also subscribe to the same regimen. You will billet together, eat together, do all things together for this next month. Turn the Guard over to your Second; you are to have no contact with the Guard until the training is done - and Sir Gwalchmei is dead ... by your hand. For this I will give you the 250 pieces of gold he possesses. Understood?"
Meanwhile, Squire looked around the once and former storeroom which had been given over to their purposes. All of their gear was now safely stored inside and the pack animals were housed with the horses of the King's Guard. Even with all the gear in the room, there was till ample room for two low beds on which they would sleep. "At least we won't be sleeping on the ground for a month", he thought to himself.
The Knight knelt before the fire in the hearth, sitting on his heels, slowly rocking back and forth. His hands rested on his thighs, thumb and index fingers touching, making a circle. Softly, in a voice barely above a whisper, he began to chant:
Make your mind no mind: be rid of all things.
Concentrate your mind: make it unmoving.
Pacify your mind: let there be no fear.
Make your mind tranquil: keep it from chaos.
Straighten your mind: be rid of the crooked.
Cleanse your mind: eradicate the foul."
Squire had seen this before. Sir Gwalchmei was going to ask a question of I Ching, the Chinese oracle, as he often did when he was troulbled.
The Knight repeated the chant twice more, and then:
I have a Balanced Mind: no more highs or lows.
I have a Luminous Mind: no more gloom or darkness.
I have a Pervasive Mind: no more hindrance."
The Knight withdrew a small pouch from under his tunic and poured three small coins into his right hand. He held them out, flat in his hand, and turned his hand over, allowing the coins to fall to the floor. He took a small charcoal and made a mark on the floor, next to his knee. He picked up the coins and repeated the process, until he had done so a total of six times. The marks on the floor made a curious diagram - six lines, some whole, some broken, two with an 'x' in the middle. He drew a second figure next to the first, but this time there were no 'x's in the diagram. Squire waited, patiently. He knew better than to speak or interrupt during this process. Presently, the Knight reached down and swept away the marks with his hand, put his hands on his knees, and hung his head.
"What is it, M'Lord? It seems not good news."
"No, Good Squire, it is not. The hexagrams speak of Danger from a High Place. Never have I seen answers from I Ching stated more plainly. We are in danger, Squire, but I think not until the training is done will it manifest itself. We must be ready."
"Ready? But for what, M'Lord? What skullduggery think you the King has in mind?"
"Not the King, Squire. The lines in the hexagram pointed to a Person of Authority, but not a Ruler. No, our danger will come from the man in charge of the group. My fear is he will recruit others in his group to assist him and I would have no way to know whom they may be. But I think I have a plan. Are you able to make your way back to the village of Habeeb?"
"Aye, M'Lord. I know the way."
"Excellent. Go to Habeeb with some of our gold and instruct him to garner as much 'kashakish' as he can during this month. Tell him to dry it and make it a powder and that it must be ready for us two days before the end of training."
"Yes, Squire. Kashakish. Go, now, and be quick. I will need you here when we start training."
"Aye, M'Lord. But what is this stuff, and why do we need it?"
"It is the basis for an old Arab potion and it has to do with something my mother once said to me when I was but a child - about 'letting sleeping dogs lie'."