Finding the Way
A Novel of Lao Tzu
By Wayne Ng
Rooted in history, inspired by legend. Renowned scholars Lao Tzu and Confucius are drawn into the deadly struggle between twin princes, each vying for their ailing father’s fragmenting empire. Finding the Way is a political thriller wrapped in a philosophical bow tie.
In the sixth century B.C., the legendary philosopher Lao Tzu seeks redemption and an opportunity to spread his beliefs in the Zhou Royal Court. He is confronted by a vainglorious King and a mad Queen. But he also discovers a protégé in Prince Meng, the thoughtful but hesitant heir to the throne. However, Lao Tzu’s ideas of peace and natural order leave him ill-prepared for the intrigue of the Palace and the toxic rivalry between Meng and his twin brother, the bold and decisive Prince Chao. Chao undermines Meng at every turn as he tries to usurp Meng’s birthright by any means. Confucius arrives and allies with Chao, thus raising the stakes for control of the dynasty, culminating in a venomous clash between Taoism and Confucianism. With the King ailing and war imminent, Lao Tzu is betrayed. The Master Philosopher must cast aside his idealism to fight for his life.
The old man’s silence and everything about him indicated that riches were of little consequence.
Yin had to know more. “What is your name?”
The old man glanced away. “It is no longer of importance to anyone.”
“Do not decide for me what is important,” Yin replied, to the delight of the other guards.
“Lao Tzu,” the traveler whispered.
Yin’s face dropped. “Lao Tzu?” His father had spoken of the man Lao Tzu as though he were a mythical legend. He had supposedly worked in the Royal Archives before King Jing’s death, some forty-years ago.
“That would make you almost ninety years old,” he said. “That cannot be.”
“Indeed,” replied the old man. “Ninety-five spring festivals have passed in my lifetime.”
Lieutenant Zhang stared at his Captain, barely concealing his anger. “Sir, he takes us for fools. Tying him to a post in this wind and heat will no doubt teach him respect.”
Yin held his Lieutenant back, preferring a less primitive interrogation. “Was Confucius not one of your pupils?”
The old man snorted. “Neither Confucius nor I would find comfort in anyone believing that. But yes, he once visited me. He, like many other scholars, traveled from court to court, dispensing theories and counsel. Confucius had already made a name for himself when he first came to see me. For him, the world was still a dream unfolding. He had positioned himself to believe that the chaos of wars, corruption, hunger and greed that surrounds us all would end if leaders exercised their mandate from heaven to rule justly. Those were heady days, full of promise. For some.”
“If you are who you claim to be, then answer me this.” Yin squared his body to Lao Tzu. “Which of the twin Princes almost drowned while playing in his father’s garden?”
The old man shrugged. “When a river’s sorrow swallows our homes, does it matter how cold the water is?” He tied his hair into a tight topknot and bowed to the Captain before re-mounting his beast. “May Nature reward your generosity,” he said. “I thank you.” He stroked his water buffalo, signaling forward movement.
Lao Tzu’s quiet defiance annoyed Yin. It was as though he had been toyed with. He was about to let Zhang loose on him when the old man looked back towards him.
“The twin Princes were already young men when I arrived. But it was whispered that our Son of Heaven’s wife had the gardens in their inner courtyard drained after she gave birth to them. She forbade anything that would reflect her loss of beauty.”
Yin’s stomach tightened. “Wait!” he shouted. The urgency of his tone startled his men. “But how can this be? How is it that you have come to be here?”
The old man’s eyes betrayed nothing as Yin caught up with him. “It has been a journey no less meandering than a mountain stream which exhausts itself many li later as a dry river bed. I have spent two normal lifetimes wandering the earth, reliving lost opportunities, berating myself and repenting my errors.”
It was not bitterness that Yin heard from the old man, nor disappointment, but rather a tired sense of acceptance.
“Old Master,” Yin said. “Passing through into Qin territory will mean certain death. I will not allow that. So long as your mind speaks, you still have much to offer.”
Lao Tzu looked down at Yin. “I have learned that it is better to leave a vessel unfilled than to attempt to carry it when it is full. When one’s work is done, and one’s name is distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of heaven.”
Yin stepped in front of the buffalo and bowed. “Old Master. You are Lao Tzu. This is a remarkable coincidence. It would be a great honor for a humble Captain to share a pot of tea with you.” The Lieutenant grimaced.
Lao Tzu motioned Yin to stand at ease. “In the manner of the Way, there are few coincidences,” he said. “I prefer to see them as gnarled branches arriving from unexpected paths. But tell me, how is it that a lowly frontier Captain knows enough of the former King Jing’s inner court to pose a riddle of the Princes that few could decipher today?”
“My grandfather was once a Royal Guardsmen in King Jing’s court,” Yin replied. “I was a little boy when he died, but I still remember him clearly, how big he was. He used to bounce me on his stomach. I loved how he carefully polished his halberd, and marveled at the steel tip, and the curved blade that I imagined he used to chop the heads off barbarians. Yet there was also a calm about him. My father said that Grandfather lived his life in harmony after he left the Guard. My father called this harmony, ‘the Way’.”
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Wayne Ng was born in downtown Toronto to Chinese immigrants who fed him a steady diet of bitter melons and kung fu movies. Ng works as a school social worker in Ottawa but lives to write, travel, eat and play, preferably all at the same time. He is an award-winning short story and travel writer who continues to push his boundaries from the Arctic to the Antarctic, blogging and photographing along the way at WayneNgWrites.com. His second novel, Letters From Johnny, will be released April 2021.
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Publication Date: April 1, 2018
Publisher: Earnshaw Books
Page Length: 278 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction