Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth (done Sep 6, 2011)

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Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth (done Sep 6, 2011)

Unread postby Rydain » Mon Dec 28, 2009 7:30 am

How did an unruly teenage boy grow up into one of Wei's greatest commanders? This researched story presents my take on Cao Ren's maturation from ordinary youth to leader of a thousand-strong militia. I welcome critique from literature and history buffs alike. :)

Chapters: 1-21 of 23
Words: 35,729
Status: In-Progress
Rating: T / PG-13 for coarse language and violence in the context of war

Tempered Will

Chapter 1 Excerpt

Cao Ren crept through the wilds of Pei in pursuit of whatever quarry he might find. Even if he took nothing home for the stew pot, a morning in such desolate splendor was time well spent. Distant mountains rose craggy and mist-shrouded against the pewter sky. A cool breeze touched his face, swishing through the towering pines and the shrubbery that served as his cover. It had rained the night before, and the earth smelled fresh and green and new.

His eye caught a telltale rustle in the scrub growing thick at the clearing's edge. Ren notched an arrow and raised his bow, well ahead of the pheasant about to amble away from safety to peck for stray seed. His pull was taut, his aim true -


- and a scrubbing brush sailed out of the clouds and thumped him square in the chest. The vast and heady wilderness became an austere hall in the Confucian academy where Ren had been cooped up all morning. Rather than a bow, he held a brush with a habit of blotting regardless of what care he took with his stroke. His quiver was a stack of bamboo sheets marked with utilitarian calligraphy. And the pheasant? Master Pan, his thin and pointed face even more pinched than usual.

The teacher glared at Ren as if peering into his thoughts. "And what were we dreaming of today? Troublemaking? Lollygagging? A lovely young lady, perhaps?"

"The field, master."

"How is it that you have such patience for the hunt and so little for the classroom?"

"When game appears, I shoot it. Doing the same to master would be unthinkable."

Giggles escaped from a few students around the room, who swallowed their amusement before Master Pan could turn his hawk eye upon them.

"Order!" the teacher barked, still focused on his daydreaming pupil. "How unsurprising that your mouth is as flighty as your mind. Remind us all of a better example."

Ren sat up straight, ignoring the insult and the dust mark that the scrubbing brush had left on his yi. "Ken is signified by two mountains standing together. It means to stay still when called for and go forward when necessary. Take consideration before moving. Keep thoughts and words in order." Tempted to add a remark about his obvious deficiency at the last part, Ren bit his tongue instead. There was no sense in digging himself into a deeper hole by flouting wisdom with a wisecrack.

"And how does the Book of Changes instruct the superior man to achieve this?"

"In terms of control over his body." Ren took a breath. "Six at the beginning means keeping his calves- his toes still. He cannot rescue him who he follows."

The line made sense - people used their feet to walk, after all - but it seemed off. Master Pan shook his head, confirming that Ren had misspoken.

"Six at the beginning means keeping his toes still."

Ren's face became as red as his clothing. Copied countless times during detention, the wisdom of ken had once been a freshly inked book hung on the wall of his mind. Ren had even recited it in his sleep, mumbling himself awake from a dream about a strange school taught by a fox spirit in the mulberry grove. The phrases now lay scattered in a mess of unbound slats as Master Pan watched him scramble to put them all back in order.

Ren flicked his eyes to the right where brother Chun knelt as poised and unmoving as the lion statues guarding the family estate. Perhaps Chun, who could retell the entire Book of Changes backwards while standing on his head, would take pity on Ren and prompt him.

Perhaps not. Chun kept his stony silence, leaving Ren to flail after those elusive words as Master Pan eyed him for several long moments.

At last, the teacher waved a dismissive hand. "It is irrelevant. Even if you did know the text, you certainly have not learned it. Stay after class."

Then it was back to the hypnotic boredom of Master Pan's dry and droning monologue. Ren put brush to bamboo as if his strokes were fishnets to capture the words, reins to keep his focus from drifting back out the open window.
Last edited by Rydain on Tue Sep 06, 2011 3:10 am, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby Rydain » Mon Jan 25, 2010 2:36 am

Chapter 15 is up, featuring some collaboration with another militia leader.
Last edited by Rydain on Mon Jun 07, 2010 2:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby Rydain » Wed Mar 17, 2010 2:01 am

Chapter 16 - Yellow Turban battle.
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:45 pm

Hey I only started reading this recently. It's pretty good, I like it. (Sorry I'm a bit disillusioned with fanfic generally so it takes me a bit of effort before I'll start reading one :wink: )
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby Rydain » Wed Mar 17, 2010 2:12 pm

Thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying it thus far and that you didn't let the URL put you off too much. ;) As you notice, the story is well outside the scope of the games and mostly depends on my own research and development. I posted it on a fanfiction site to attract readership and acknowledge the media that helped shape my concept of Cao Ren. When a historical personality is portrayed with a presence that generally fits what I get from their biography, I can't exactly unlearn that influence when seeing them in my own head. Most 3K media tends to have that sort of cross-pollination anyhow, especially because viewers often expect certain personalities to follow established conventions.
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby Crazedmongoose » Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:43 pm

Well I like that it's a piece of well done 3k work that pays a lot of attention to detail on classical chinese culture and such. You don't get that too often.
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby Rydain » Tue May 11, 2010 6:58 am

Chapter 18 has been posted, featuring lots more action in the Yingshang campaign.

Crazedmongoose wrote:Well I like that it's a piece of well done 3k work that pays a lot of attention to detail on classical chinese culture and such. You don't get that too often.

Thanks so much. 8-) From what I've seen of your posts, your knowledge of Han-era details is far beyond mine. I tried to learn the cultural basics well enough to give a sense of the historical setting and understand the influences, values, and expectations that would shape people's goals and behavior. I'm glad that my work is holding up for you.
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby Rydain » Mon Jun 07, 2010 2:45 am

I hope the Cao Chun fans will enjoy chapter 19. :D

To those of you following the thread, I apologize for any chapter number confusion. I have a habit of writing in manageable pieces to prevent my hobby from putting me under too much pressure. In hindsight, some of these would have been best consolidated into one chapter. I recently cross-posted all my Three Kingdoms writing to an archive which lets me differentiate between my Dynasty Warriors fanworks and more original historical fiction, so I took that chance to do a bit of housecleaning.
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby Sun Fin » Mon Jun 07, 2010 7:22 am

New site looks good and better for your work. Anyway I'll find time to finish reading it after my exams!
Have a question about a book or academic article before you buy it? Maybe I have it!
Check out my library here for a list of Chinese history resources I have on hand!
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Re: Tempered Will - a tale of Cao Ren's youth

Unread postby kristinedrake » Tue Jun 15, 2010 6:14 am

New site looks good and better for your work. Anyway I'll find time to finish reading it after my exams!



I agree with you I just see it :D
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