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.
Excerpted from Wandering Warrior by Da Chen Copyright© 2003 by Da Chen. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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