Kouryuu, the young Genjo Sanzo, hears the telltale voice calling him, and he follows it to find Son Goku waiting at a riverbank. (Recently edited, while I was rereading it after all this time. ^^)
The autumn leaves were spiralling down, down onto the temple courtyard, covering it with soft heaps of dull brown and red. A small figure in a coarse, light-colored robe stood sweeping the leaves away, wishing that the trees would keep their leaves to themselves and spare him the effort. He stared blankly at the quick, regular motions of his broom as the stiff bundle of sticks brushed against the piles of crackling leaves, the only sound to be heard for miles. The mountain was a quiet place, home to his master's temple and perhaps a few animals. He was content with being a mere disciple in that temple, for there was nothing else in the world he could want. Nothing.
At this time his master, the current Sanzo, would probably be smoking under the trees, watching the autumn sky as was his wont. He was a quiet, middle-aged man with a face that revealed no internal strife, or maybe he was just good at hiding his worries. The boy often wondered why Sanzo had chosen him for a disciple despite what other people said about him, especially after the monk had told him about the voice. One day a few years past, Sanzo had heard a voice calling out to him, repetitive and insistent. He had responded by following it outside the monastery and accidentally meeting the boy by a riverbank. It had been a fortunate meeting, for ever since then that boy had been under Sanzo's wing, learning to become a Buddhist in the mountain temple. He cared little for Buddhism and even less for becoming a monk, for Sanzo was all that mattered to him. All the more so after Sanzo had told him the story about the voice, and said that that was the sole reason why he had been taken in. And so there he was, sweeping the courtyard on a cloudy autumn afternoon, cursing the trees for their bad habit of giving him work.
From faraway he could hear a faint sound reverberating, persistent, seeping into his consciousness despite his efforts at keeping it out. It gradually became clearer - a voice, barely audible but getting louder with each call. It was calling for him; his name, over and over again, faint but grating to the ear. He could hardly keep sweeping without thinking of putting down his broom and running to find who was calling him; he pictured grabbing the fool by his collar and punching him in the face. He couldn't do that - they would punish him for leaving the temple grounds without permission - but he couldn't concentrate on his work. Perhaps Sanzo would allow him if he explained himself well enough...
He tidied up the pile of swept leaves and left the broom leaning on a tree before going back to the temple to Sanzo's room, where he hoped the monk was at the moment. Thankfully none of the other disciples were around to sneer at him and ask where he was headed, why he had finished the yard work so early or was he shirking, it was so disgraceful of him. All the same thing, no matter what he did. Anyway it meant nothing to him; they could think all they wanted. He had no need of their praise. After walking barefoot - he had no shoes - on the smooth wooden planks of the temple hallways for a few minutes, he reached Sanzo's room, located within the far side of the temple. He knocked a few times and called in a low voice, hoping that the monk was inside.
His call was in vain, for there was no answer. It was possible that Sanzo had gone out for another walk, though this time he hadn't been asked to come because of his chores. He was about to leave when he saw a familiar face smirking at him a few feet away.
"Shuei," he said.
"Oi, Kouryuu, what are you doing by Sanzo-sama's room?" said Shuei, his grin cutting a sharp white sliver out of the rough stubble of his face. "He isn't here; he went for a walk in the woods, and won't be back until later in the afternoon."
Kouryuu showed no signs of having heard him. He walked past Shuei, was about to turn a corner when he stopped and angled his head over his shoulder. "Tell him I will be gone for a short while when he comes back."
"Tell who? Where are you going? Shirking your chores?"
Kouryuu's eyes remained level. "No. I must go find something."
Shuei raised an eyebrow. "Find something? What would that be?"
"It's none of your business." Kouryuu resumed walking. Shuei, surprised, only shrugged.
Kouryuu had been running for several minutes before stopping to catch his breath. He leaned with both hands on his knees, his sweat falling in a straight line from his brow to the ground beneath his feet. The voice was clear as a bell toll in his mind; no doubt its owner was nearby. He straightened up and wandered a few steps beyond the shade of the trees, where he could see a boy huddled up on a riverbank, facing away from him. The boy seemed to be watching the river, his gaze riveted to the water flowing serenely past him. The voice stopped as soon as Kouryuu saw this figure, this boy sitting quietly by the riverside; it had become silent as suddenly as it had begun. The silence filled Kouryuu with a relief he welcomed gladly.
Could he be...?
The boy started, turned around, gaped at him with big golden eyes. His hair shot up in thick brown spikes; a thin stream trailed down his back. He wore a golden circlet above his brow.
"Oi, I'm talking to you." Kouryuu stepped forward, scrutinizing the boy's bewildered, childish face. Could he be the one? Could he have been calling me?
The boy's face remained frozen in a look of surprise, his mouth hanging open in a small O. Kouryuu had never seen anything so pathetic.
He approached the boy, extending his hand. "Get up." In the back of his mind he wondered what he was doing, going out of his way to follow the voice, and here he was, with this strange boy sitting by a river. The voice had stopped. In the sudden silence he felt disoriented. His hand felt alien to him, as if it had held itself out of its own will.
The boy reached for the outstretched hand with his own, and a moment later he was up. He was tall, taller than Kouryuu. Broken shackles clung to his wrists and ankles. They stared at one another. Then Kouryuu started to walk away.
"Oi! Where are you going?" the boy cried. His voice sounded hoarse, like a pump rusted by disuse.
"Home." Kouryuu was surprised at himself. He had had it in his mind to punch whoever was calling him so persistently, but upon discovering the boy he had decided otherwise. It was a waste of time, leaving the courtyard unswept. The trees had probably shed enough leaves to cover the areas he had already finished; he should never have left in the first place.
"Oi! Wait for me!" The boy ran up to him, walking at his side.
"Where do you think you're going?" said Kouryuu. His gaze remained steadily fixed on the footpath in front of him.
"With you. Why did you come for me?"
"I don't know." Truly, he hadn't known why. He had only wanted to find out who was calling him, without knowing what he would do once he had. He had wanted to make the voice stop; it annoyed him.
"Then will you let me go with you? Please!"
Kouryuu would say no, but at that moment he could feel his indignation with the boy dying a silent death within him. Oshou-sama would understand, he thought. The idea was ridiculous, but he felt certain that Sanzo would like this boy.
"What's your name?" said the boy. He was beginning to irritate Kouryuu; he was like the voice that had called, stubborn and galling.
"Kouryuu. Shut up."
"Kouryuu? What a strange name! Mine is Goku. Son Goku." And the boy smiled, his white teeth glinting.
At the temple the monks were muttering among themselves. Kouryuu had disappeared, leaving the courtyard littered with fallen leaves. It was the first time he had ever done such a thing, and they had complained to Sanzo, who just returned from his walk; he told them to wait until Kouryuu arrived before they could settle the matter. Shuei remained quiet, amused that the disciples were making such a fuss over the boy. Doubtless Sanzo would forgive him, being a Buddhist - not to mention having high favor for him ever since he came to live with them - though the monks would probably punish him for leaving his duties. What was he looking for, so late in the afternoon? He hadn't expected the boy to do something so rash.
Down the courtyard came cries of "He's back!" and "Who's that strange boy with him?" Shuei casually approached the temple entrance, his curiosity piqued by the announcements that Kouryuu had brought not something, but someone back to the temple.
"Oi Kouryuu! Who's your friend?" he called.
"It's none of your business," replied Kouryuu. Behind him walked another boy who was visibly astonished by the bald monks, oblivious to the contemptuous glares he received. Shuei noted the deep gold of his irises and the gleam of gold metal that peered from under the sharp wedges of hair.
"You should've told us that you went hunting. We would have appreciated your bringing back a monkey," said Shuei.
"Who are you calling a monkey?" cried the boy.
"You, monkey-boy," replied Shuei coolly. "They won't like your new pet," he continued, addressing Kouryuu, although Kouryuu was taking no notice of him. "You should have asked permission from Sanzo-sama before going out to get one. You should also have finished your chores first." They were heading for Sanzo's room; he would decide what punishment would be meted out to Kouryuu and what would be done with the boy he'd brought with him.
"Oi! Don't let that boy into the temple!" shouted the monks.
"Let him go! Sanzo-sama will want to see him," said Shuei.
Kouryuu lifted his eyes toward Sanzo, who was smiling benignly at him. The boy waited outside with Shuei while the two within the room had a private talk.
"Yes, oshou-sama." He would accept any punishment he would receive for leaving the temple without permission. It had been a foolish act, leaving the temple to pursue an unknown voice. He could have waited until the next morning, when he would have had the chance to ask permission from Sanzo.
"You left the temple without asking me first. That is punishable by expulsion." Sanzo reached for his tea cup and raised it to his lips.
"I understand." Kouryuu watched Sanzo drink his tea with quiet grace. He had always admired this trait of Sanzo's; everything about him was dignified, from his face to the calm rhythm of his step. It bothered Kouryuu to have embarrassed himself in this fashion, with no logical explanation to justify his behavior.
"However, I will do no such thing, for I believe you left with good reason. As I have come to know you, you seldom take action without having one." He put down his cup and looked Kouryuu in the eye, his lips still smiling. "Tell me, Kouryuu, what made you leave your chores?"
Kouryuu felt it easy to tell Sanzo these things. It was hard not to trust such an honest smile. "It was a voice, oshou-sama. A voice that was calling me."
Sanzo nodded. "Perhaps it is rather early, but then that does not matter. This boy... You found him?"
"Yes. By a riverside."
"By a riverside?" Sanzo seemed amused. "What a coincidence. Did he follow you home?"
"Yes. He wouldn't leave me alone."
"Then it cannot be avoided." There was a finality in his voice that puzzled Kouryuu. The monk obviously had something in mind. "Saa, let the boy in. I'd like to have a look at him."
Kouryuu got up and opened the door. "Come in," he said coldly to the boy, who peered over his head at the room and the man sitting by the window. He followed Kouryuu inside and halted when he did.
"What is your name?" said Sanzo kindly.
"Goku. Son Goku," said the boy, who was gawking at Sanzo's robes. He had never in his life seen anything so regal.
"You followed Kouryuu back here, did you not?" continued Sanzo.
"Yes, I did. Is this where he lives?"
"Yes, this is where he lives. Would you like to live here as well?"
Kouryuu's eyes widened with shock; other than that, there were no visible signs of emotion on his face. He hadn't expected Sanzo to take in someone like Goku, who would make a terrible monk if he were to be made one at all.
"Yeah, this place looks good. And I want to stay with Kouryuu," said Goku, grinning at Kouryuu, who glared at him. "Please, may I stay with him?"
Sanzo laughed softly. "Of course you may. You may share his room and eat with him during meals. Only do not disturb him when he goes about his chores, for he must surely finish them. Mustn't you, Kouryuu?" Kouryuu bowed his head a little. "Yes, oshou-sama."
Goku was smiling ear to ear. "Wai! Wai! I get to stay with Kouryuu! Wai!"
The thing was done. Sanzo had agreed to take in Goku, who would become Kouryuu's new roommate. And perhaps his new companion. It annoyed him, the thought of having to live with this noisy boy, but there was something about him Kouryuu wished he could see. Something beyond his ignorant, childish grin. They were both barefoot, as he had seen earlier. Both found by the riverside after being sought by someone who had heard a voice calling him. Serendipitous? Hardly. He half-hoped that he had neither met this boy nor heard the voice calling him, but it was done. After all, he too had been found after Sanzo had heard a voice and sought it. This boy was receiving the same gift he had been given; he acknowledged the fact with a bow.
"Naa, Kouryuu, where do you sleep?"
The two boys were walking toward Kouryuu's room. Kouryuu had just finished sweeping the remainder of the leaves, and was heading for bed. His only punishment was being denied his supper; Goku had had his and was rubbing his stomach, which was growling as though it had not received several bowls of noodles.
"In my bed. You sleep on the floor." Kouryuu opened the door to his room, which was small and sparsely furnished. A bed sat next to the wall, at its foot a narrow wooden closet. There was a low table beside the bed, on top of which was a thick roll of old, dusty cloth.
"Why can't I sleep with you?" Goku ran up to the bed and sat on it. "This is much softer than the floor."
"That's my bed. Get off it." Goku reluctantly got up.
Kouryuu took the roll of cloth and handed it to him. "That's a futon. Unroll it on the floor." He unfurled his blanket and lay on his side, pulling his blanket up.
"I don't want to sleep on the floor! Kouryuu, wake up!" Goku shook him; he remained still as if asleep. Goku sighed and got to work unrolling his futon, muttering under his breath about the selfishness of certain people. The futon had a musty smell, a smell he wasn't familiar with. It was his first night under a roof. He had spent most of his life wandering by the river where Kouryuu found him; he thought he'd never leave it, but by some strange fate Kouryuu had appeared just that day and led him to a new life in a temple he knew nothing of. He had few memories of the time before the river. Travelers seldom passed through it, and Kouryuu was the first person he had seen, or talked to, in several years. He had no real concept of time; the sun set and the moon rose, eternally as it had seemed to him; day after day it was the same. The sky was blue every time he raised his face to it; the woods and grass were green, whenever he looked up from the river to check. Only the waters of the river shifted continuously, changing the face of the river so that it wore a million different faces every day. His own face did not change, every time he glimpsed his reflection; it remained childish and young, the golden eyes always round and bright, the brown hair always unruly and long. He touched the band of gold wrapped around his forehead. Even it was untarnished, a familiar weight.
He lay down, testing the futon's comfort; its cloth was worn thin. He could feel the cold floorboards beneath him. They were flat and smooth, quite different from the supple earth next to the river. Above him the shadows of night played idly on the wooden eaves. He grinned at the ceiling. It had been nice to hear his own voice again. He wanted to practice it some more, to shout at the top of his lungs, but he had a feeling that doing so would displease the people who had taken him in. He rubbed his ankles and wrists cheerfully; the old monk whom Kouryuu called oshou-sama had kindly removed the manacles, and the lightness of his limbs thrilled him. While he was still living by the river he hadn't given them much thought; the weight had been a daily chore, a feeling he had associated with the sound of the river and the freshness of the grass beneath his bare feet. Its loss made him giddy with an unreleased energy; he wanted to run through the halls of the temple, seeking out every unopened door, every hidden crevice.
The dull, dark shadows of the ceiling soon bored him; the stars were far prettier, he knew, and he had fallen asleep several times while trying to count them. He got up and quietly approached the small window, which was on the wall beside Kouryuu's bed. Through the metal bars he could see the moon, pale and round, no longer full as it had been the night before when he'd last seen it. The stars were a series of little pinpoints of bright light amidst a sea of velvety black sky. How often he had thought about this sky, this dark expanse that stretched on and on forever. He had thought that his life would never be anything more than lazy afternoons spent sitting by the river, watching its water flow on and on, perhaps in the same direction the sky stretched. Those days, like the river and the sky, had seemed to have no end; life would always be the same, walking barefoot on the damp river bank, following the flow of the water...
Kouryuu's voice had come from out of nowhere, piercing sharply through the calm of the forest. Goku saw a short boy in a plain cotton robe, his legs and feet bare. These, however, were not what had caught his attention. From the start he had seen the boy's golden head, his eyes narrow as though he were sleepy, colored a royal purple, deep as the darkness at dusk when the sun had gone down and the stars were getting ready to shine. A portent of things to come, and Goku had known it, deep within his soul. This boy had come to take him away from the dragging monotony of the river, of an endless sky which had no limit.
Goku bent down, listening for Kouryuu's breathing; it was barely audible, with a regular rhythm like the flowing of the river. Was he dreaming of how he had come across his new friend? Maybe friend was too strong a word; Kouryuu treated him indifferently, as though Goku were a nuisance he hadn't wanted to bring home. He probably hadn't thought of finding Goku at all; perhaps he was just taking a walk in the woods when he happened across him.
Kouryuu slept on, oblivious of the deliberation going on in Goku's mind. He knew nothing of how greatly he had changed Goku's life; in all probability he didn't care. But Goku did.
Outside the wind blew quietly among the drying leaves of the trees. The autumn night was cold, as if the moon were a round chunk of ice that gave off chilling waves. Beneath it lay the temple, where not one person, either monk or disciple, made a sound. Goku's breath was warm as it escaped his nostrils; was Kouryuu as warm under his blanket? Goku hoped he was.