We are now finishing up this very expositional chapter. Just to recap, Mu, in gratitude for Clete's retrieval of her daughter Nu from her "blood-father's" family on the high seas, has decided it is only fair and just that he be told the whole story of why they are there.
Clete is rather conflicted about knowing more. He curious as anyone would be, but he knows that whenever more information is obtained, he faces consequences for having that knowledge, so he is a somewhat reluctant listener at this point.
So after today he knows their lineage, he knows that all of the Second Princesses are basically bastard daughters that each First Princess has born from sperm donations by heads of former head families that dwelt on The Island in the past. And he knows as much has they do about the foundational myth of rescue and reunion that powers their society--and it's a pretty sketchy story of a "Prince Charming-like" character and at this point they all seem to be stuck in a vicious cycle that shows no hope of resolving itself. So end of story right? There is no more to learn, right?
If you left the story right now, I would not blame you. You've got the gist of it. Everything else is just mere detail. But what you don't know about is Clete's history. Are we ever going to learn his backstory? Well, ... you'll just have to keep tuning in to see, won't you?
... as the story continues ...
Mu continues in answer to his question of why they are on this island to begin with.
“The initial story is this. The founding Empress of Dog Island was sent by her husband to wait here in safety while he went to war. He promised he would come and get her and her daughter after the war and return with them to home.”
“Why is she called ‘Empress?’”
“That was her nickname. She was a member of the royal house of China, a true Manchurian princess. Her husband was a Han nobleman from one of the southern provinces—there are differing stories as to exactly where.
“This is a loooong way from China. Why this island?”
“We are not sure. But the stories say that he had political enemies who were intent on assassinating his family. We think he wanted them safely hidden until he could be around to protect them himself. But he was obviously aware of this island’s existence.”
“He was later lost at sea, but she continued to wait for him. She lived well past 100—they say she held onto life so long because she didn’t want to chance missing him. It was said that she knew in her heart that he was still alive. But she finally died before he returned. She was buried in The Grove, which she planted from seed herself, and a Bo tree was planted on her grave. That is the tree we call the Empress Tree.
“Her daughter grew up on the Island, married, and had a daughter herself. When the granddaughter was about to come of age, her father, who was a ship’s captain and a merchant, arranged a marriage for her and was going to have her transported back to China.
“But, she had a dream the night before she was to set sail. It was revealed that the reincarnation of the Prince would come to Island to be reunited with his wife and child, and that reincarnation of his wife would be through the female bloodline of the Empress. And then she received a miraculous flood of her grandmother’s memories. As a result, she did not get on the boat and chose to wait for the Prince as did her grandmother. She felt that if the Princess were not where Prince expected to find her, that resolution would never occur. And the Prince would be doomed to wander to world forever alone. She began the pattern that we have been enacting it ever since.
“Over our history there have been many subsequent dreams, prophecies, and oracles that have clarified who the Prince is and when he shall come. It has been Qin Qin’s job to gather all extant, confirmed stories to give us guidance. At this time, nobody knows anything close to the whole story, except her. She has a great love for that type of narrative.”
“I noticed,” I said.
“The two things that you probably have heard, that are always remembered are that when the Prince arrives he will bring the Island salvation and prosperity.”
“So a lot of commentary has been added since then. Interesting. And you say this bloodline from mother to daughter has never been broken?”
“It came close to ending a couple of times. When the Tiny Empress contracted smallpox as a child, was one.”
“Wow, who’d a thunk it? A matrilineal Chinese society but sprung out of the Confucian system. How countercultural is that? Mu, you were terrified at what might happen if Nu set foot on other ground. She was too. What’s that about?”
“Until the Prince’s return is accomplished The Empress’ avatar may not leave. If she does, it means that the promise of loyalty between them is null, and there is no reason for any avatar to continue to be alive.”
“So you think you’d all drop dead?”
“Well, not immediately. But it would happen soon thereafter. But the gods work with broad tools like storms, pestilence, and surges and don’t mind if others, innocent bystanders, are killed as well.”
“The Surge of ’88 being your precedent?”
“There are others. Na’s mother tried to relocate with her son and his wife to The Protectorate, but she died of an infectious disease within seven days after leaving—the disease later claimed all members of that family off-island. Lian’s mother tried leaving, but she likewise fell ill and returned immediately. Her symptoms subsided as soon as she set foot back on island. Forever after she said felt like this island was her prison. But the entire crew that took her off to start with sank in various shipwrecks. She was also the first to die in the lead up to the Great Surge.”
“So tell me,” I asked, “do you REALLY think Nu would be struck down by some curse if she left the Island now?”
“I don’t think she would. No.”
“Because you cut her hair.”
“Because I’m magic?”
“Magic? No, don’t be silly. We don’t believe in magic here.”
“SILLY? What of everything else you’ve told me does not sound silly? This ALL sounds like magical thinking to me!”
“Think what you want. We are very practical. We believe in what we see. And we see a lot of strange things. This is all I can tell you. And we believe it to be true.”
“Mu? Are you actually the same age as all of your cousins?”
“You think I’m older, don’t you. It’s the white-grey hair isn’t it?”
“That’s part of it. I could describe the other things that make me think that, but where I come from women think it highly insulting. They want to be thought of as young.”
“Do they? Here it is an honor to be old. It’s my job to be older. So I guess you might think that I am so. How much older do I seem than say, Da Mei?”
“About 10 years.”
“So how is it your job to be old?”
“Our offices, the division of responsibility by direction East, West, South North, and by element, Fire, Water, Wood, Metal, Earth were not inherited with from our mothers. It started with us. We were assigned these by the Tiny Empress.”
“Wasn’t she too old to have been around for you to know?”
“She enjoyed extremely long life. After she became disappointed with our mothers, she took us all into the Shrine to live with her, to teach us, to train us, to tell us everything she could remember before she died. She called me and Na over one day and she apologized to us.”
“She said to us,”
“Darling, to be the Dragon Princess implies great honor and primacy and leadership over all the others. It is not that. It means that you take responsibility for all of your cousins and the fate and survival of The Island. It will make you old before your time and while everyone will envy your title, none will be thankful to you for the job that you do for them.
“And you Darling, to be the Earth Princess will mean that you will carry the least honor and being last of all and greatly disrespected.”
“But isn’t the Earth the greatest thing that there is, and from which all life and power and wealth is drawn?” asked Na.
“Yes, but hardly anyone sees it that way. You will find out soon enough what it means.”
“We were quite young when we received that lesson from her and we did not understand it until much later. She died not long after that. But both Na and I understand that is our job to be contemptible but for very different reasons. I actually hated Na for a long time because she was Great-Grandmother’s favorite. She looked most like her when she was that age. But why she gave her favorite the Office of the Earth I will never fully understand.”
“So, how do I proceed with Nu?”
“I think because she truly believes The Prince has come and claimed her, regardless of you or not. Plus, she’s not an avatar of the Empress, so her only possible role is to be the lost daughter. And as such, she no longer labors under any limitations—except those YOU impose on her as the man SHE has chosen to be her father. If you accept that role.”
“SO … I can I take her with me to college in L.A. then? She’ll ace the SAT no question.”
“Clete, don’t press your luck. First I have to get used to seeing her in shoulder-length hair without bursting into tears before we talk about college. And couldn’t you have made it a bit more even?”
© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.