- Via Flickr by Robnunn
Empress Water Lily’s Request
The island sensed Wei Shu’s innate good nature and willingly gave herself to her new master. The curse which had incapacitated the island for many years relished in the attentions being thrown upon her. The Golden Palace held many ancient secrets. It was as if every room, every corner held some mystery. Dusty rooms were filled with items from the previous Emperor. Everything had been left as if it was waiting for Wei Shu to come and revive them. Searching through the rooms he was very methodical turning over every object large and small. Discovering everything would take more than a few days. It would take weeks or months.
The rooms on the upper floors were spacious living quarters with attached smaller sitting rooms. Large carved beds were covered with brightly colored silks and fabrics. Some drawers were empty and some contained small trinkets and jewels. The Emperor’s room had a study with a large intricate desk. The top was black, green and red marble. On the legs were fierce dragons carved into the wood. Finely woven rugs carpeted the floor. The rooms on the main level near the entrance were very large and spacious. Rows of seats lined walls while others remained bare. One room in particular had a large golden chair with a high back. On the back were two wavy lines with a dot above and below. Encircling this design was a dragon with his forked tongue sticking out. A large red tufted pillow rested on the seat. Two smaller chairs were placed to either side and were just as beautiful, but not as ornate and did not have the design. Weapons of all kinds hung on the walls and long heavy curtains blanketed the windows.
Via Flickr by Curious Expeditions
Several rooms on the west side of the main level were filled with various scientific items. Huge metal animal cages of all sizes, large glass tanks, bottles with dark liquids and herbs, unusual instruments and large working tables with scribbled pieces of parchment all added to the mystery. To Wei Shu’s delight the eastern corner of the Palace held a vast library. It was immense and filled with hundreds of books, scrolls and parchment from floor to ceiling. Two long windows allowed natural daylight into the room. When Wei Shu stepped into the library the smell of ink and parchment transported him back to happier days. Closing his eyes he imagined sitting on a soft pillow listening to his tutors while his grandfather nodded approvingly near by. For Wei Shu this was his most prized room and for days he could not bring himself to leave.
Via Flickr by Daniel Proulx
In the middle of the room was a soft leather chair. The brown leather was supple to the touch from many days of use. A small leather foot stool sat in front of the chair and two indents were lovingly pushed into its soft leather. Next to the chair was a small table with an oil lamp and a small wooden box. After lighting the oil lamp Wei Shu carefully opened the box. Inside was a large golden ring. The front of the ring held an oval shaped red gem stone with a wide knotted band. Putting it on his right ring finger he admired the fit and sparkle.
Via Wikimedia Commons by Tom Murphy
Satisfied he walked over to a shelf and picked out a medium sized book to read. A small layer of dust came forth causing Wei Shu to crinkle his nose. The leather was well worn around the corners but overall the dark brown cover was in good condition. Bringing the book over to the light he inspected the front cover. Flipping through the book his heart sunk. He could not understand any of the words written in the book. Wiping his right hand tenderly on the cover he hoped that this was the only book written in a strange tongue. When the ring touched the book cover it flashed a brilliant red. As the ring changed to orange he saw the letters on the book shifting to letters he understood. Amazed he flipped through the pages. All of the ineligible letters he could now read. The words changed his life forever.
The library was dedicated to a world called Larithria. This world was part of the world of man and magically kept itself hidden. The books detailed the lives of unique and fanciful creatures living in the sea, in the air and on land. The more he read the more enthralled he became. This must have been the knowledge the previous Emperor had been given. He spent the next several days reading long into the night. Row by row he worked his way down. Daniil and his advisors brought him his meals and refilled his oil lamps when they became dim. At night when he tired they would wrap a warm blanket around him as he slept on the pillowed benches underneath the windows. As soon as the dawn light warmed his body he would return to his chair to read. He wanted to know everything.
One night when the moon rose high he blew out his oil lamp and nestled himself onto the soft pillowed bench. The moon was shadowed by clouds making the library dark. Only the smell of snuffed oil wafted through the room. Closing his eyes he tried to imagine the world of Larithria. Everything he had once believed was changing with each word he read. The world was much bigger and more wonderful than he had ever imagined. As he lay there he heard a faint flitting noise. Opening his eyes he peered into the darkness. When his eyes adjusted he noticed a bluish light flitting about the room traveling in his direction. His heart began to race as he waited. Impulsively he held out his hand when it was within his reach. Bringing his hand to his face he peered down upon a dainty butterfly. The outlines of its wings were blue and purple and its furry small body was light lavender. It moved lightly on Wei Shu’s hand staring back at him. So lightly he could barely feel its movements.
Via geograph.org.uk by Lynda Poulter
Suddenly he heard a beautiful soft voice filling his head, “Follow me. In the meadow the Empress awaits.”
The butterfly spread its wings and took flight heading out of the Palace with Wei Shu close behind. Following the butterfly he soon found himself standing in large glade filled with lilies. The butterfly ceremoniously touched each flower causing the lilies to illuminate with the same bluish hue. Soon the whole glade was filled with light. The light lifted off the flowers and formed the shape of a very regal looking woman. Her robe was long and light lavender. The dark purple cuffs of her robe hung low almost touching the ground. Embroidered on the cuffs were lilies of varying shapes and sizes. Her face was as pale as the moonlight, oval shaped and slender with almond shaped sad eyes. Her long black hair was piled up in billowed tuffs and on either side of her head and held by yellow water lilies.
Wei Shu got down on his knees, bowed and said, “Empress Water Lilly.”
Via Flickr by Christian Roberts
Water Lily motioned with one dainty hand for him to stand. As he did two curious otters stepped out from behind her silken flowing robe. In unison they said, “We speak for the Empress.” The one on the right bowed and said, “I’m Rumi” and then the one on the left bowed and said, “I’m Russi.”
Russi was slender and dark brown. His whiskers were full on his chubby cheeks and his black round eyes sparkled. “The Empress’s vow of silence in the monastery has made her mute in the spirit world. Therefore she has asked us to speak for her. The island has found you worthy of its knowledge and secrets out of all the men under heaven. The Empress is pleased you found the Deciphering ring so soon. Your first task as Emperor of this island is to return Water Lily’s spirit to the Land of Eternal Light where she will join her sisters,” he said.
Rumi slinked past Russi to stand slightly next to him. He was very thin and lean. His face was long and his whiskers twitched as he talked. His eyes were black and sparkly as well with two tuffs of hair for eyebrows. Taking a couple of steps forward again he stood tall placing his hand on his light brown belly.
“To accomplish this first task you must find true love with a woman from the world of Larithria. This maiden must truly love you, as you love her. She will be crowned your only wife and Empress,” Rumi said. Looking at Water Lily he ran back to her. Sweetly she reached down and ran her hand along his back. As her hand moved soft traces of light moved with her.
Russi not wanting to be left out glided over to her free hand. Gently she ran her hand across his head and over his whiskers. Satisfied he looked at Wei Shu and said very seriously, “If you find true love with one of our kind you will receive the gift of true sight. A gift the previous Emperor had. With true sight you will be able to see the world of Larithria at all times. No magic spells, nor charms or enchantments will block your vision. This gift is great, but sometimes a burden. We will warn you only once, so remember our words. If you use this gift to cause harm, if you become consumed by its power it will lead to your demise. Protect and guard this island and all that you cherish with your life for your life now depends on it.”
Russi nodded at Rumi to take the lead. “If you succeed it has been written that your union will create a reign of peace in the world of Larithria and the world of man for many years. It will shed light where there is dark. Men will seek your allegiance, scholars will seek your wisdom, monsters will be made meek and your kingdom will prosper. When you are taken to the Land of Eternal Light you must have sons to take your place. Your sons must be raised to rule wisely and kindly. If they do not they will be banished from the island forever. Remember our words young Emperor,” he said.
A sudden wave of uncertainty about the future consumed Wei Shu. He had thought once he arrived here he would be able to put his plans for destroying Li Long into motion. Now to keep the island he must put that on hold and marry. He had not planned on not marrying for some time. He could hear his heart beating loudly inside his chest. Closing his eyes he remembered he was chosen under all the men under heaven and cleared his mind of any doubts. He would do what he had to. Opening his eyes he gazed upon the Empress Water Lily. She was looking at him with a sad knowing look. Rumi and Russi circled about her once and then returned to stand before him.
“If you do not fulfill your destiny as Emperor of the Golden Palace Empress Water Lily will forever roam the island and you will one day find yourself out at sea banished as those from long ago. To show you the truth of our words the Empress will bestow upon you the temporary gift of sight. Are you ready young Emperor?” Rumi asked.
“Yes, yes,” he said unsurely.
“Close your eyes,” Rumi said.
Via Picasaweb by Kevin Sisson
A single butterfly that had been resting on Water Lily’s shoulder flew over to Wei Shu. Gently touching his eye lids a brilliant light flashed behind them. Opening his eyes he could see the world of Larithria. Empress Water Lily was surrounded by dozens of butterflies with small female shaped bodies. Fairylike creatures and strange lights flew in and about the trees all around him. He swore some of the trees were walking about the forest creaking and groaning as they went. A butterfly flew past him and a dainty woman looked right into his eyes, waved and smiled. Wei Shu was in awe. He could not believe the world was so full of wonder and beauty.
“This gift will last for one hour. You have one year to build up your kingdom and then one more to complete your task. We will return when the time has come,” Russi said. With that being said Empress Water Lily turned and began walking slowly towards the woods very regally. As she went all the creatures of Larithria in the glade turned to watch her. Amazed Wei Shu stayed in the glade. The world was so alive and vibrant.
When his sight faded he quickly returned to the library to peruse the books for a worthy bride. He found a thin book titled “Selkie.” As he read the pages he was fascinated by a creature that could live on land as a human or swim in the ocean as a seal. Duality in ones existence was a connection he understood. He had been shifting forms ever since his uncle overthrew him. To survive he had become a Mongol warrior, but underneath his Mongol appearance he was still the Emperor. Reading on he found out that Selkies often lived in small clans guided by one chief with a larger Council that ruled over all the villages. They had strong family bonds, shared tasks and chores and took daily swims together. Sons and daughters were taught to fight starting at a young age with short swords called dirks. Flipping further into the book there were anatomical drawings and a map of known Selkie villages. What really caught his attention were the descriptions and drawings of Selkie women. The women in the drawings were muscular and strong their faces delicate, but steadfast. Their hair was long and hung loose about their shoulders unless posed to fight and then it was tied back. One particular drawing showed a woman ready for combat. Her legs were gracefully braced as her arms wielded two sharp dirks beside her. Her look was fierce as if she would fight to the death. He was instantly captivated. Closing his eyes he remembered his years with the Mongols. Mongol women were also skilled with the bow and blade. Often on raids the women would be left to defend their families and old ones. They relished in a chance to use their skills. He had always found their strength of character and level headedness very appealing. Looking back at the drawing he hoped Selkie women were the same. The remaining pages of the book were blank and Wei Shu desperately wished there was more.
Retiring to his bed with the book in hand he gazed out his window. The moon was a quarter full and silvery clouds spread across the sky in patches. Thoughts of marriage raced through his mind. For several months now his advisors had been reminding him that if his life had gone as planned he would already have been married. He knew his advisors had good intentions, but they seemed to be reverting to the old ways. They longed to recreate what was left behind in that burning city and Wei Shu wanted to create something new. Until that moment Wei Shu had willingly ignored their comments. Now his mind was set. With the gift of true sight he would have the upper hand in his battle against Li Long. If he found a Selkie woman that he could not only rule with, but love, their union would create years of peace and prosperity. Surely, that meant he would be the victor against Li Long. Smiling to himself he fell asleep with the book in his hand.
The next morning the sun woke him. As he got out of bed he felt more certain than he had the night before. He immediately called for Daniil to discuss his plan of action. As always Daniil listened and offered his advice. After the details had been thoroughly discussed his plans were put into motion. First would be the restoration of the Golden Palace, then the reconstruction of the burned homes. Mainlanders would be offered homes and fields if they choose to live under his protection. A fleet of ships would need to be built and horses bargained for. As progressed his band of men quickly grew to a small army as rumors made it from village to village about the Emperor of the Golden Palace.
Via Flickr by Aaron Shumaker
Time passed quickly and soon the day had come. Daniil rounded up nine of his men and brought them to the Council Room. Sitting in the head chair Wei Shu brimmed with confidence. Each man took their seat at the long table. Seeing that their Emperor was in such high spirits they began to wonder what they had been summoned for. Standing up Wei Shu could barely contain his excitement. He wore a long embroidered green tunic that stopped at his knees. Underneath he wore tight silk black pants. His hair usually in a long braid was set free to fall about his shoulders. His eyes gleamed as he looked each man in the eye.
“I have a very important task for you. You will be going on a mission on my behalf. As my respected and trusted men you will represent me and my kingdom,” he said. Reaching for a parchment he unrolled it until it was completely spread across the table. Pointing to black marks on the map he said, “Each one of you will be sent to a Selkie village marked here on this map.” Looking confused the men looked at the map and then back at the Emperor. “It is my desire to marry a Selkie chief’s daughter. As my messengers you will announce this to their village,” he said. Their confusion turned to smiles.
“Yes, yes, I thought you all would like that. Now, the journey may be treacherous and long. I’m giving each of you almost a year to make it there and back.”
Looking up Wei Shu saw one of his advisors standing at the door looking pensive. “Sorry to bother you, but there is a matter that needs your attention with the Forests of Turrin,” he said.
Nodding his head he put his hand out. “Always keep in mind the impression you make on these villages is of the utmost importance. Selkies are wary of humans. I would go myself, but as you can see,” he said motioning to his advisor, “I have a kingdom to run.” Motioning for Daniil to stand he said, “Daniil will go over the details. Everyone must leave as soon as possible. Have a swift and safe journey my friends.”
Via geograph.org.uk by Peter Amsden
As soon as the Emperor left Daniil took over the conversation. He described what he knew about Selkies and spotting their camouflaged villages. The villages could be hidden in various ways each site specific. From a distance a doorway might appear as a large rock, a roof like a sloping grassy dune, the sides of a house as a log jam or a hidden entrance under the water. There was to be no pressure put upon them to send their daughters. They must go willingly and with the blessing of their people. They would need to return by mid summer to be part of the selection. His advisors would help make the final choice. Once all questions were answered Daniil gave the men their routes and sent them off to prepare, pack and say their good-byes. Everyone would leave tomorrow as time was of the essence. Daniil would also be going. He was excited to be entrusted to such an important mission. He hoped his village on an island in the North Sea would have the maiden Wei Shu sought.