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Wandering Warrior

Wandering Warrior by Da ChenCategory: Juvenile Fiction – Action & Adventure; Juvenile Fiction – Historical – Asia
ISBN-13: 978-0-440-23771-6
ISBN-10: 0-440-23771-8
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
On Sale: November 9, 2004
Price: $5.99

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Read an Excerpt | Read the Reviews

“WHAT DO YOU get when you cross Harry Potter with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Wandering Warrior, Da Chen’s first book of fiction. . . . Whiz-bang action at every turn. . . . A culturally poignant and energetic adventure story.”—USA Today

“There is much to enjoy, particularly the unusual kung fu backdrop, which makes an intriguing setting for a fantasy adventure.”—Publishers Weekly

“The story skips quickly along, moving from one exciting, richly described scene to another.”—Booklist

“It is a wild ride, perfect for high-energy teens who might not otherwise spend their time reading.”—VOYA


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE FUTURE EMPEROR shall bear five black moles under each foot,” the monk Atami read reverently from the sacred ancient scriptures. He would look up at the innocent boy that Luka still was and continue. “This rare emperor descends upon this holy land only once every five hundred years.”

“What does that mean?” Luka would ask.

“It means that you are destined to be the next Holy Emperor and the living god of all the Chinese people. Even among all the emperors before or after, you will stand out like a giant and bring the greatest blessings to this Central Kingdom called China.” There was more to that passage but Atami didn’t mention it, at least not yet. Then the monk would always bow and pray and offer a short admonishment. “Don’t ever let others know who you are.”

“Why?” Luka would ask.

“Because the Mogoes are afraid of you.”

“Because I’m so big?” Luka stood up and pushed out his chest.

“No.” Atami smiled. “Because when you are enthroned, all the Chinese will rise up against the Mogo invaders, who have taken our land and slaughtered our people. These mountains, these rivers, our people, our cattle, our grain, those maddeningly beautiful flowers . . . all await your coming.” Tears would roll down the monk’s cheeks as Luka listened quietly.

For as long as Luka could remember, Atami had carried him on his back while they traveled from one tribe to another, carefully avoiding any sign of the Mogo forces and pretending they were just two of the many wandering beggars. The first few steps Luka had taken had been on the rocky face of the Liao-Shan Mountains, trailing behind the monk’s long shadow. The first few words he uttered had been “Please spare some food,” Atami’s usual opening line. They had journeyed a thousand li and crossed a hundred rivers.

Atami worried that Luka might not live to maturity in the face of the harsh reality of the Mogo occupation and the year-round famine gripping the land. But he prayed and wandered and begged on. Luka’s extreme intelligence and rapid growth amply reassured the monk, whose only conviction was that the emperor should and would live. And Atami intended to raise him the best he could in the traditional Chinese way, notwithstanding the ironic footnote in the holy history, that this little emperor did indeed carry the blood of that unfortunate race, the Mogoes.

They lived like father and son and loved each other so, but when they were alone, it was always “Your Holiness” this and “Your Holiness” that. Atami carried China’s sacred treasure on his back and did not intend to dent it in any way.

At the age of three, Luka one day called Atami Baba. Father.

“I am not your baba,” Atami corrected him, disturbed. “I am your servant. You are the Chosen One, Your Holiness.”

“But I don’t want to be the Chosen. I want you to be my father. Why aren’t you my father?”

“Your Holiness, one day I will tell you who your baba is. But for now we have to go on begging so that we can live.”

They would have food one day and go hungry for three, roaming the lonely mountain roads and deserted windy tribes. They ate frozen cats, dead dogs, tree bark, and rotting snakes. They fought for prey with wild animals, and were often chased by the vultures themselves.

“When can we stop begging?” Luka asked.

“When the Mogoes leave China and you sit on the throne in the Forbidden City,” Atami replied, referring to the royal palace in Peking, the capital of China.

“But they are all over China.”

“Then you beg until the day you die.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“You won’t as long as I am alive. The day of your enthronement shall come. It is your fate, and those black moles under your feet prove it. They are Buddha’s mark.”

Once an old lady opened her door to offer the wandering monk some leftover wawato, corn bread. When Atami bowed to thank her, the dark face of Luka, who rode on his back, revealed itself. The old lady, a fair-skinned Chinese, spat in the monk’s face and turned away.

“Please spare some food for the child,” Atami begged.

“For a crossbreed? Never!” She slammed her door.

“What is a crossbreed?” Luka asked.

“A peach growing on a pear tree,” the monk replied. They walked on.

On the road, they saw dead people everywhere lying with dead animals. Thieves robbed thieves. Beggars killed beggars. The living robbed the dying and wild animals chewed upon the dead. A severe famine was eating people young and old, for the ignorant Mogo rulers had ordered them to give up planting rice and grow barley and wheat instead. The seedlings had withered hopelessly and rotted in the muddy fields on the plains, where wet rains came with howling typhoons and misty seasons lasted forever. Some villagers were rumored to have eaten their own children, others their dogs. Atami could only pray, look to the sky, and go on with the life he was destined to live, no matter how hard it was. He had to live so that Luka could live. They climbed mountains and waded through valleys, hand in hand, day and night, till they reached the outskirts of Peking, where the promise of food and survival beckoned.

There Atami taught Luka the ancient Chinese scripts and had him memorize all the verses when he was four. Every day at sunrise out on the edge of Peking, Luka sat inside a little tent Atami had patched together to shield out the wind and the sun. With his legs crossed at a short table, he nibbled away at the insect-like writings. Luka found those ancient words fascinating. They recorded the creation of the world. First there was the void of nothingness. All silent. Then came the torrential rains that filled up the ocean. When the rain stopped, land was formed. But his favorite was the hand-drawn paintings of eight auspicious Buddhist symbols: the parasol, the banner, the conch shell, the golden treasure vase, the knots of eternity, the golden wheel, and the lotus flower. He often wondered what it would be like to perform the traditional dance of Yian Ge in bare feet and sleeves rolled up for the celebration of autumn harvest or if he would ever be allowed to do so as a Chosen One. When the daily monotonous chanting of the ancient scripts bored him, he would let his mind slip away to the adventures of playing a long trumpet, loud cymbals, and noisy drums–all of which existed only in his imagination.

Atami got up even earlier. He was the sun before the sun and the moon after the moon. He fussed around their little tent, noisily making black tea and, on good days, some wawatos. He chanted his long prayers while fetching water from the sunken well in the backyard overgrown with weeds, then off he went to beg for food. As light cast its last rays, he would enter the tent on his quick feet, his back hunched, clutching his precious bundle to his chest. Even as his eyes shifted fearfully to see if anyone had followed him, he hummed a happy tune for the bounty of the day.

“Come eat, Your Holiness,” he would say, opening up the bundle. Usually it would be wawato crumbs, some sour rice, or half-eaten fruits.

Looking up from his books one day, Luka announced, “Your Holiness is not eating today.”

“Why?”

“Your Holiness should go out and get food himself now because he is a big boy of ten years.”

“But you need to do your studies, Your Holiness. You are already behind what would have been expected of you.”

“Forget the studies. From today on I am going out to beg.”

“But this is work. Holy work. Sacred work. The best work you could ever do for yourself, the people, and me. I am begging you.” Atami was on his knees.

“Don’t worry, I will learn at double the speed. That way I can spare some time to help you.”

“But the sanctity of your spiritual studies cannot be hastened. One word at a time. Every phrase has meaning and significance. Only through quiet, undisturbed meditation can you achieve that enlightenment we all aspire to.”

“If you don’t trust me, you can test me. Come on, test me now.”

Atami agreed to this, for testing his pupil was his favorite chore. The monk asked a hundred questions and Luka not only answered them satisfactorily, he also pointed out that two questions were actually redundant and begged for two more to fulfill the day’s quota.


From The Critics

“Luka is an appealing character whose determination and facility with the martial arts are balanced by humor and a healthy dose of pre-adolescent competitiveness. . . . The language is colloquial, even earthy, and helps to maintain the work’s sense of fun.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Da Chen’s first work of fiction draws on a genre that has entertained Chinese boys for generations: the kung fu novel. In a mythic Chinese past, young Luka lives as a wandering beggar, although his protector, the Buddhist monk Atami, tells him he is destined to be emperor. Atami teaches the boy the basics of kung fu, the Chinese martial art, which Luka soon uses against the evil Mogo usurper Ulanbaat Ghengi. Captured and separated from Atami, Luka awaits execution in a Mogo prison, where he meets Gulan, Atami’s kung fu master, who helps him escape and find his way to the hidden monastery of Xi-ling. As Gulan hovers on the brink of death, Luka deepens his skills, preparing for his final confrontation with Ghengi. Although traditional kung fu novels portray heroes whose mystical, quasi-religious training endows them with superhuman skills, they are not usually set in a fantastic world. Chen’s tale includes terrifying monsters reminiscent of the 16th-century epic Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Relying more on action than character development or profound themes, Luka’s adventures are not for the squeamish. The characters endure appalling hardships and suffer excruciating injuries in a world in which scorpions literally get under one’s skin. With its startling plot twists, humor in the face of horror, and celebration of male bonding, the book will surely find an audience among those drawn to the nonstop action of kung fu films.” —School Library Journal

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