The Vanishing Island
Emperor Wei Shu and Aine the Selkie
Via Vlickry by Jean-Marie Hullot
To the Sea
The band of men traveled easily across the plains. For miles and miles they did not see anyone until they crossed into the northern mountains. There they came across small mountain villages which were part of Emperor Li Long’s provinces. Sometimes they slept under the trees with leaves piled around them for added warmth and sometimes they paid for cheap beds at cottages. When they stopped to eat at noodle shops Wei Shu listened intently to the discontent of the people. Li Long had been over taxing the peasants to pay for his war mongering. This had left the people poor and hungry. Only the deceitful officials and their unruly cronies kept their families well fed. Seeing their misery Wei Shu’s mind was greatly grieved. He could not wait for the day he was able to help his people and stop Li Long in his tracks.
Via Flickr by dcmaster
The mountains soon gave way to new territory. The land had become flatter with many farm fields and green grass prairies for herds to graze on. Large trees dotted the landscape in patches along with small brush wherever there was water. The air smelled earthy and the sun shone brightly.
Via Freefoto.com by Ian Britton
One afternoon the smell of burnt leaves and wood filled their nostrils. As they rounded a low hill they could see a smoking village ahead. As they approached the devastation turned their stomachs. Many buildings and homes had been burned to the ground. Amidst the char and smoke women swayed back and forth crying over their dead children. Solemn men with sooty arms and blackened clothes piled the dead into large wooden carts hauling them off toward the town cemetery. Wei Shu’s heart when out to these people. The smell, the sorrow, the devastation, reminded him of the day he fled his burning city. That day everything precious and comforting to him had been destroyed.
Jumping down from his horse Wei Shu helped a very thin and weary looking woman who was trying to carry her child. Full of pain the woman told him with vacant eyes that a band of marauders from the next province held the town hostage for days demanding money and grain. They gave them all they could afford without starving through the winter, but that was not good enough. The marauders burnt their homes and warehouses without as much as a blink. Now they all would starve. Their homes were burned, their children were dead and their granaries were left with only a few burnt kernels of rice. Looking at Wei Shu with sorrowful eyes she asked what there is to live for without the sound of a child’s laughter. Shying away from her pain he looked down at the child he was carrying. The child was young maybe seven or eight. He lay limp and pale in his arms. His eyes were closed as if sleeping peacefully and black smudges traced across his face under his nose where he had tried to wipe sooty air away so he could breathe. This boy’s life had ended too soon. In the back of his mind he suspected Li Long. If his troops were as hateful as the last villagers had said his ruffian soldiers were bent on violence not mercy. He wondered how Li Long could be so careless and heartless. His grandfather had always told him it was better to have your people love you than hate you. If they love you then they will do anything for you. If they hate you then they plot against you.
Via Flickr by Grant Hutchins
As they walked into the cemetery he watched as men carefully lowered their dead into the freshly dug graves. Walking up to an empty hole Wei Shu gingerly transferred the child into the arms of a teary eyed gray-haired elder. The man thanked him and lovingly wrapped the boy in a white cloth. He wondered if that was his grandson. Looking around Wei Shu noticed a tall, forlorn man staring off towards the direction they were heading. He like many of the other villagers had a particular look with paler skin, rounder eyes and light brown curly hair. A tattered doll dangled in his hand almost as if he was repulsed by it. Something about the man compelled Wei Shu to walk over to him. When he was standing next to him the man turned to face him. His eyes were grey with touches of dark brown. They were filled with anger and sorrow but Wei Shu saw an intelligence there he had not expected to find. On the left side of his head was a large gash about four inches long. His hair had been sheared on either side of the wound and large black uneven stitches laced it together.
Looking at Wei Shu he said angrily, “Everything is gone. I fought until I no longer could. Now there is nothing here for me but sorrow.” He let the tattered doll fall to the ground without so much as a look.
Wei Shu understood. He offered the only thing he could. “Come with me, my friend, we are heading east to set up camp on the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk,” he said.
“Ay, I know those shores well,” he said shaking his head thoughtfully. Placing his hand on his chest he told him his name was Daniil.
Repeating the same gesture Wei Shu announced his name. Looking to the east he continued and said, “You will be of no burden to us friend. We travel light and eat what we can along the way. Join me. I could use someone like you.” He could see Daniil considering his proposition. Patting him on the back he said, “I search for a cursed island. When we find it, who knows what happiness it will bring.”
It did not take Daniil long to decide. He truly had nothing left. His entire family had been slaughtered; his parents, his sister, his brother and his niece had all died. If he stayed he would only be bent on revenge and that would surely only get him killed and Daniil was a survivor. Wei Shu introduced him to his men and told him about his plans to find the vanishing island. He could see a spark of hope rekindle in Daniil’s eyes as he spoke. A village farmer walked by with several horses and he willing overpaid for two. As they mounted their steeds and headed down the road towards the sea Daniil did not look back. The only thing he carried with him were his memories and the clothes on his back.
Via Flickr by Shad Arington
The smell of fall had returned to the air when they waded through the wetlands which bordered the land before the sea of Okhotsk. The addition of Daniil to the group had proved fruitful. He spoke the local languages, was extremely strong and knew the area well.
Via Flickr by John Ebinezer
He led them to a protected treed area several feet above sea level close to the beach, but far enough away the waves and winds would not bother their camp. The spot was surrounded by a group of large boulders which formed a circular pattern around the center of the site. Weather worn trees scattered the perimeter and a small trail led down to the rocky beach. Their six gers fit easily in the space and there was enough room left over for an outside cooking area as well. Taking their time they readied their camp for the months of winter ahead. They spent the first few days riding to the woods a distance away and hauling whatever wood they could find back to camp. Fish and meat were caught and either dried or smoked for those days when fresh food would be scarce. A small corral for the horses was built on the backside of the camp in order to protect them from the winter winds.
Via Flickr by madaboutasia
With the camp organized Wei Shu and Daniil set off to make their introductions to the neighboring villages. At first the villagers distrusted the pair for in the past foreigners usually meant trouble. Wei Shu tried to ease their minds with his kindness and confidence. It took a few weeks but with Daniil’s gentle prodding and understanding of their customs and language their unease waned. They helped by putting out calls to the local and neighboring ship builders. Soon boat builders began coming to the camp one after the other. There were so many that Wei Shu could only retain a handful. He arranged for their quarters on site and the planning phase for building one large ship began.
Via Flickr by Gustaaf Prins
Over the next several months everyone diligently worked from sun rise to sun down under their instruction. In the darkest winter months only a few hours of day light made work possible. When they were not working Wei Shu was planning for their days out at sea. He understood his men were horse men not boat men. So on warmer days they trained in smaller boats on the water learning the intricacies of sailing. Wei Shu also hired a tailor along with several women to sew the sails and new clothes for everyone. The money he had left camp with was dwindling. He was glad when winter was almost at an end and they could finally see the fruits of their labor.
Daniil and Wei Shu had formed a close bond. Often you did not see one without the other. Wei Shu felt Daniil understood him and knew him in a way that no one else did. Over the years his advisors had turned into old men. He still relied on them in many ways, but away from the influence of the Khan the more they returned to the old ways. The men from the Khan’s camp were loyal. He felt lucky to have them by his side, but he felt they sometimes they did not fully understand who he really was and what he was going to become. Daniil, on the other hand, saw him as a man of fortitude. He was always present and helping him in whatever way he could. Wei Shu relished their companionship.
Via Flickr by Bill Barber
As the smell of spring drifted through the air the ship was near completion. Deciding it was time to revisit the local villages along the coast Wei Shu and Daniil packed their horses and headed out. Before their questions had gone unanswered, but Wei Shu desperately needed some direction before they set sail. An invisible island would be hard to find with no directions.
Via Flickr by Njhdivev
They were at a village they had never visited before. It was a small, isolated village far along the eastern coast and consisted of only a few homes and a small shop. Luck was on his side that morning when they awoke to see the tips of spring flowers poking their dainty heads through the snow.
Via Flickr by Liralen Li
As they readied their horses a skinny, old man wandered by saying he would exchange information for food. Humoring the old man Wei Shu walked him to the noodle shop and ordered the man a bowl of noodles and another filled with succulent fatty duck. Taking the bowls he smiled a toothless grin and began slurping away. After he wiped all the grease off his chin he told Wei Shu that a village further down the coast on a small peninsula had descendents from those banished from the vanishing island. Wei Shu patted him on the shoulders and dropped a few coins into his hand. Rushing off he told Daniil and in seconds the pair were on their way. Wei Shu’s heart raced, he felt invigorated. After all this time searching for an answer one
Fantasy Adventure Novel