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[ADMIRAL MA HE sleeps fitfully, his pain kept at bay by the strong medication and monitored by the watchful INFIRMARY staff led by DR BA YAN, a slim-built gentleman with a distinct limp in his right leg. ADMIRAL MA HE dreams while he sleeps. He dreams of home, back at NEW KUN YANG where he grew up as a boy and a second son of a family of civil servants, devout and obedient to the DIVINE MAJESTY. In this dream, he dreams of his father, LORD MA HAI, a tall man with piercing eyes, very much like his son. Loyal to his faith, LORD MA HAI has done the pilgrimage. They are in the family's practice room, an airy place facing the RIVER HUI. Wooden wasters in the shape of scimitars and long poles are arranged neatly in racks. In this dream, MA HE is a boy of ten. He is still small and slim, but his shoulders are his father's and he would soon grow up to be as striking as him. He wears his grey practice tunic and loose pants. LORD MA HAI wears similar grey practice tunic and loose pants. They are both bare-footed and carrying wooden scimitars.]

[MA HAI]: Stand up straight. Do not slough. [He gestures with his wooden scimitar.]

[YOUNG MA HE]: Yes, father. [He straightens his back. MA HAI nods with approval.]

[MA HAI]: Let's practice the Five Paths today. I was away at the Court last week. Let me see if you have practised in my absence.

[They practise the Five Paths, a sword drill incorporating defence and offensive guards and five definitive steps. YOUNG MA HE fumbles, his guard wrong, and is caught wrong-footed by MA HAI.]

[MA HAI]: Your balance is off today, my son.

[YOUNG MA HE]: I have many things on my mind, father. [He holds onto his wooden scimitar like some talisman, only that his father might think less of talismans. Faith, he says, is sufficient. Talismans and charms are for children. But he is still a child, isn't he?]

[MA HAI]: Speak your mind, my son. Let it not be clouded.

[YOUNG MA HE]: The WAR OF HEAVEN. Will it ever end? Will we stop fighting?

[MA HAI]: Who have you been listening to now? Your grandfather? Your mother?

[YOUNG MA HE]: Everyone, from the servants to mother. Even the vids show war footage. It seems forever, father. It never seems to end.

[MA HAI]: You are only ten, but you are already thinking ahead. Good. What else are you concerned about?

[YOUNG MA HE]: I miss you, father. You have gone to the Court to deal with the arrogant officials and to no avail. They listen not to reason, father, but to might of warships and might of HER DIVINE MAJESTY.

[MA HAI]: Ah, I deal with the arrogant officials partly because I am also a diplomat. I speak the things they want to hear. Remember, our family also exists on the behest of these arrogant officials. In some way, we are the arrogant officials too.

[YOUNG MA HE]: You mean you lie, father?

[MA HAI]: The job of the diplomat is to speak the necessary things at the right time. Good diplomats stop wars and bridge worlds. They speak of peace. Bad diplomats have honeyed tongues and minds of serpents. They crave for war and the clashing of blades.

[YOUNG MA HE ruminates on these words. Outside, the call to prayer rings across the land. A stately cargo ship plies across the RIVER HUI. MA HAI leans over and gently touches the tip of his wooden scimitar on YOUNG MA HE's chest, right above his heart.]

[MA HAI]: A good diplomat speaks from the heart. The mind tells you many things. The body tells you many things as well. But the heart bears the truth, painful as it seems sometimes, and you must speak it no matter what. Remember this.

[YOUNG MA HE]: I will remember, father.

[MA HAI]: My son, the path to peace will be hard-won and with much difficulty. May I live to see the day come true. Come. Let us repeat the Five Paths. Breathe from your center, not from your head. Then we will go to the prayer room .

[They go back to the drill, their wooden scimitars moving in unison.]

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