Odiri finds herself in the ladies’ section of the public baths relaxing in the warm waters in the rare company of other females. She hears Xiao’s voice in her mind whine and pout from the front of the bath house where he was denied entry without hesitation. She shakes her head softly to clear this from her mind and attempt to concentrate on the company she was currently with. “So where was I? Oh yeah! I have a panda now!” Odiri grins at her bath mates shocked faces, “I was told by my mother that when I reached a certain age and if I followed our family’s ways I would have the magicks to summon a creature of the forest to be my protector and companion. As a child I regularly dreamed of what could be. My mother and father had a life bonded pair of hawks. The clearest sign of true love that ever could be.” Odiri sighs wistfully.
“Knowing that I was to travel across the sea to find my own path, I held off performing the ritual my parents taught me because I wanted my companion to already be at home on these lands. So I gathered the herbs for burning and the offerings to the land and braved the wilds beyond the wall alone. Dumb, I know, but the danger is part of the magick. If I can’t risk my life for my companion, why would my companion ever risk his life for me? My parents spent an entire night in the branches of a 4 story tall pine, channeling the winds to bring them their hawks. Once through the gates I followed the wall left for most of an hour. There is a small band of clearing between the Bamboo Sea and wall itself so my passage was quiet and easy. When my heart told me I was in the right place I stopped and faced the thick bamboo. I settled into the spot knowing this ritual could take hours even days. I spread my bed roll and carefully laid out the offerings I had brought and kindled the coals and scented herbs in the censer on loan to me from Madam Saru. Then, I waited.” Odiri looks around the bath to see that surprisingly her bathmates were paying rapt attention when typically, her stories are met with annoyed glances and shushing. So she continued “I didn’t really know what to do beyond the offerings and the incense. My parents were…vague at best, when describing the remainder of the ritual stating only ‘you’ll know what to do when the time is right’. I stared into that bamboo forest for hours until my eyes began to water with fatigue. At first I thought my tired eyes were playing tricks on me as I watched the bamboo sway in the distance. The crunch of the bamboo parting some 40 ft in front of me struck my ears like thunder. Suddenly as alert as ever I concentrated on the swaying bamboo and listened carefully to determine if I was about to meet my companion or my death.”
Odiri brushed her wet wayward hair away from her face, determined not to cut it short again after seeing it was not the style of the women of the port, and went on, “Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. Before I could even see him I could hear him. His voice is a low rumble like the sound of a waterfall far in the distance. He hummed a soft mindless melody, like a child would. I started to panic because I could not tell if this was in my mind or in my ears. I was sure in that moment I had gone mad.” She looks away from her small audience embarrassed and blushing. “The bamboo parted in his wake almost like water. This fat little bear with what I could describe as almost a smile on his face waddled directly up to my offerings and gave barely a sniff before mowing it down with a hunger of a starved man. I will admit as gentle as his humming and contented chewing noises were I was still frightened. If he did not truly accept the offerings, I had made he could have cut me down where I sat as he was merely a hands width away from me. I stayed frozen as a deer startled by torch light as he jutted his massive head forward and began to snuffle against my belly. Then I heard that humming stop as his face lifted to meet mine and I heard as clear as day though his mouth did not move ‘do you have any more?’” Odiri shakes her head as if she is still in disbelief from this experience “I moved slowly and deliberately without taking my eyes off him to pull a steamed bun from my pack. He gently ate the proffered food from my hand to my surprise and proceeded to flop in front of me like an old dog on a hot day. I ran through every story my parents ever told me about their fateful night in the tree and was interrupted by his rumble of ‘you know it’s polite to introduce yourself’ I stuttered out my name and he rolled over and offered his tummy. Well, I thought to myself, when a dog offers its tummy it’s looking for a scratch. So, hesitantly at first I reached out my hand and began to rub his soft white tummy fur and when I began to hear his pleased intonations I continued on until I was using both hands to rake at his dense fur. I couldn't believe it! This wild panda bear was lying nearly in my lap huffing and groaning in enjoyment as if he were some giant dog! I had done it. The ritual was a success! ‘What may I call you?’ I asked. ‘Anything you want’ he replied blissfully as I rubbed his tummy in repetitive circles. I thought for a moment, what would be a great name for a warrior bear? ‘Xiao! King of the Rock!’ It was a fable my parents would tell me of a mighty warrior though he was short, he was unbelievably fierce and loyal. I could see the light start to fade in the sky and I knew I could not stay beyond the wall after dark, Xiao at my side or not. So I stood and looked at him and asked him casually, still nervous to be honest, if he would like to walk with me.”
“We made it back along the wall slowly and casually. Even though it was full dark we strolled. I felt no rush any longer as I could feel the connection between he and I build with every passing moment. It started with what felt like the finest silk thread tying us to each other. If he or I strayed too far from each other I could physically feel the tension in my gut as if this thread would snap and all this would be for not. Every pace built upon the thread. Once we passed back into the town the commotion started. First, were the guards who immediately started to squawk and flail until I shushed them calmly and they realized Xiao paid them no mind. This only helped build this now sturdy cord of trust between us. He and I wandered lazily through the evening and into the morning building a companionship with every footfall at each other’s side. The look of disbelief on the guard’s faces were mirrored on every citizen awake in the wee hours of the morning to see us on our meander from the gate to the Rose Shell.” At the suggestion from one of the ladies, Odiri and the gaggle of ladies migrated from the bath to the accompanying sauna.
(To Be Continued in post Story Time with Odiri – Pt 3)