They went in.
The young man breathed a bit more freely when he saw the interior: no cells, no executioner, no torture irons: a simple, eight-sided room, empty but for the gigantic statues of two guardian spirits wearing armor, like those common in temples, each of them seemed to guard one of two little doors, in adjoining walls.
What was the King planning?
“ We are here”, and, hearing their master’s voice, the statues turned and saluted. The guardians were alive!
“For your crime you deserve death” went on the King, “ but you have been clever, and really are a remarkable scholar. Killing you would be a waste. I shall give you a chance.
When I leave, the door we came in through will disappear.
The guardians you see are two of my most faithful soldiers, they will not keep you from going through one of the other doors, but mind you, one of them is the road to safety, the other one leads to death…
To decide which one to take, you can ask one question to one of the guards, only one! Of them, one always tells the truth, the other always lies…
There is a way, you have my word on that, if you find it you will be allowed to leave, taking the magic pollen with you, here it is.” And, taking the little purse out of his sleeve, he gave it to Ming Li.
“ You have no set time for choosing” the Dragon went on, “but while you are here you will have neither food nor drink. Good luck ‘Wang De’ “.
As soon as the Dragon went, Ming Li collapsed to the ground, his legs didn’t support him anymore, he was shaking and the words of the Dragon King echoed in his mind:” one of them is the road to safety, the other one leads to death… one always tells the truth, the other always lies…” but there was a way, the Dragon had given his word, but which way?
“ Calm down, now!” said the young man to himself, “ you are alive and have a chance, but if you behave so you will waste it!”
He forced himself to sit straight and breathe deeply; after some time he stopped shaking and was able to think rationally.
He had time, the best thing was to ponder carefully over all the elements of the riddle he was in.
Two doors: one of them would save his life.
Two guards: one was truthful, the other a liar, he did not know which one was which and he had just one question to discover it.
What question would save him?
Hours went, and he didn’t have any ideas, he was beginning to feel hungry, but the thirst was worse. He hadn’t taken a single step towards the answer, and yet there must be one…one question, two guards, two doors…one question…
Yes! This was the answer!
He stood and, unsteady on stiffened legs, he approached one of the two guards and asked his question; given the answer he went through the correct door and was in the garden, took one step…and found himself facing the Dragon Kings’ thrones, the hall was full of dignitaries and guests.
After a moment’s surprise, the young man squared his shoulders and spoke to the Dragon King of Dongting Lake in a voice less firm than he would have liked, because of his exaustion and strain: “ You had given your word I would be free, Sire”.
“And you are,” was the answer, “ you have just won me a bet against my royal cousin. Even more, while you were taking your test, I told the same riddle to these honoured guests, not one of them has been able to solve it , they say there is no answer. Would you tell them, before going?” He clapped his hands, and a bowl of freshly brewed tea flew through the hall, coming to hover in front of Ming Li, he took it, grateful, and sipped: the room was silent.
To be continuedMing Li and the Charmed Poenix part 1 Ming Li and the Charmed Poenix part 2Ming Li and the Charmed Poenix part 3Ming Li and the Charmed Poenix part 4Ming Li and the Charmed Poenix part 5Ming Li and the Charmed Poenix part 6Ming Li and the Charmed Poenix part 7Ming Li and the Charmed Phoenix part 8