A Bud fears Bloom, Leaves blocking its View
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Following the path of silk, past the mountains decorated with the teeth of the Crying Dragon the Tear-filled Lake owns its name to, one can find the state of Luopan; a city built upon the effort of merchants and bronzemasters, blessing the envoys of the khaganate and the monks of the far west with ritual bowls of meticulous craft, depicting all events written and yet to write on their surfaces.

In the center of Luopan rests the Minted Castle, a building whose height far surpasses any other structure nearby, rivaling the temple towers of the Golden Capital. Upon my arrival, I was asked to attend the castle, and meet its regent.

"Welcome, emissary of Heaven!" A nervous young man greeted me as we walked into the interior garden of the palace, where a table sat before a persimmon tree. We both sat down, tea brewed for the occasion. "Allow me an introduction. I'm-" He stumbled his words, his cheeks mimicking the fruits over his dome. "I'm Bai Ze, son of Li Ze."

"Tianhong, who scribes." A bow was due. "I remember you from my last visit, Bai Ze."

"Not mutual, I'm afraid. I was too young for memories to retain. My father helped fill these holes of the mind, what with the many stories of your visits." Bai Ze laughed, but an insincere breath shortly followed, the man entwining his fingers in diffidence. Finally, his composure returned. "… He's now too ill to remember these stories. Too ill to rule, too, so I've taken his place. I cannot say I'm too confident in the choice, but it… It was his choice, so I'll respect his wishes."

"Why is it that your confidence falters?" A simple question, oft accompanied by tangled answers.

"Ah…" Bai Ze faltered, his mind carefully picking the words he next wished to say. "Before my father, Luopan was no more than a market. It was thanks to him that it became the… The polished gem that we see now. Thanks to him, the city grew in vigour and populace, and fell not to bandits. I am not fit to take his place." Bai Ze admitted, his eyes reflecting the poor state of his soul. "I have not yet brandished a blade, and no poems of my feats have been carved. At my age, this not only shakes my worth in the eyes of my father's court, but also the worth reflected upon my own."

I sipped the tea, its warmth thawing the following words. "I've walked these grounds before your father was born; before his father did, as well. I spoke with both, and they too had doubts. No one obtains the talent to lead as birthright; it is nurtured. Your father lived through tumultous times, and obtained the skill through these. Your days are tranquil, yet that does not mean you're unfit to sit on your father's throne."

"It doesn't mean I'm fit for it either." A quick reply, another sigh following. Bai Ze's tea turned cold, untouched. "I… I'm sorry, lady Tianhong, for wasting your time in such unsighly manner. I just fear for Luopan's future. The future I'll be the guide of."

"Fear for it. It shows your care." I put down my tea. "But fear alone leads to self-destruction. Fear is a powerful warrior, and can be a strong ally, but only if you don't follow through on its words. Instead, focus on the root of it: Luopan."

"I do put all my attention into Luopan, but it tires. A weak leader cannot rule strong people."

To answer him, I raised my cup once more. "You're akin to tea. Without leaves, it's merely water. Water flows freely, but constrained to a cup, it stalls, purposeless. With leaves, it gains texture and color. Its strength shines through, but allow the leaves to remain too long, and it'll turn bitter, burdened. A balance is necessary." The cup is put back down. "Balance is, of course, more easily achieved if the tea understands others have grown its leaves and given shape to its recipient, and that it's brewed for people to enjoy."

Bai Ze stared at his own cup of tea. "I understand your words, lady Tianhong, and yet…" The self-doubt resisted removal, as is expected. If change was as easy, all of humanity would have reached enlightenment ages ago.

"Worrying too much about your position will do you no good. Instead, have faith in your people, and have faith in yourself. It'll take time, of course, but everything does. If you do care about Luopan as much as you say, then next time I visit, you'll have learnt the art of ruling, and poems of you will travel through the silken road."

Bai Ze closed his eyes, before bowing. "I… I see." He mutters; the insecurity remains, but his face seems restored, like that of the child I had met during my previous visit. "Thanks for the kind words. I will try to heed them as I move forwards."

The meeting then moved onto other themes, and finished with a visit to Li Ze. Despite his state, his eyes glistened like a blade of jade. My time in Luopan was fortunate, the state having grown into a city of great beauty, a hub for progress and unity among all nations.

The day ended, and my stay followed suit. As I walked among the clouds, verses joined my flight, wishing to accompany me across the land:

Bai Ze, son of Li Ze
Luopan to him bequeathed
To rule over this land
of teal bronze and fair trade

Through his juvenile eyes
Reflections of self-doubt
His precursor's shadow
Overcome, the son must

A blade he's yet to grip
His poem, yet to write
Inadequacy's slave
Bai Ze's afraid to act

In time, he'll trust his self
Rule justly, hold the sword
Like a persimmon tree
Bai Ze will bloom anew

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