One: The Architect and the Poet
The sun rose over the Yong Shu prefecture, as distinct as a red peony upon the golden sands of the Imperial Gardens. Hua Gong was some distance from the Emperor’s City. He had left months ago. It was by the decree of the Ganzan ruler himself, that he should seek and find inspiration to build the Imperial family a retreat.
And so, he had arrived at the sandy plains near the eastern coast of Sheng Fan. The earth stretched toward the sea, like the coils of a great dragon. Tufts of long, soft grass billowed as majestically as the strands of its mane and tail. Portions of the land were solid, peeking through, like clusters of armoring scales. It was here that Hua Gong believed he would find the ideal location to erect a palace for his emperor.
The base camp had been established. High wooden fences surrounded four connected yards, each with its own designation. Storage of food and supplies, and residence for animals and for men. Though the walled village was temporary, it would be home for Hua Gong and his staff for some time.
Autumn had arrived and by now, the land had been scouted fully and the preliminary plans were well in hand. Hua Gong felt confident that a beautiful complex would occupy Yong Shu and that it would serve the Empire for many generations. In spite of his confidence, however, he had yet to finalize his vision on the Emperor’s behalf. He had yet to see the details that would complement the glory of the Ganzan and flatter the gods.
Knelt before the unfurled scrolls containing his early diagrams, charts, and paintings, Hua Gong took his eyes from the sun rising across his office view and returned himself to his studies. He balanced his chin in his hand, idly scratching his shallow beard. The decision had been made to construct the palace overlooking a nearby cove. A series of gates would precede it. Upon each of them, would be the likeness of the Ancestral Dragon, the companion beast to the Ganzan rulers, protector of the throne they had claimed as the Jade Emperor’s foremost sons upon the mortal plane. As for the complex itself…
Though the layout he had planned was lavish in detail, modeled after one of the most beloved palaces at the Imperial City, Hua Gong felt that some essential component was missing. Beyond the location, he hoped that the retreat would not only be a palace away from the palaces, but also a unique experience for its Imperial visitors. Something to provide respite from the harried days of leadership, something that, at a glance, was as the breath of tranquility.
“My lord, he’s returned.”
The secretary’s voice seeped gradually upon Hua Gong’s senses, disrupting his concentration. Still, Hua Gong did not look up from his diagrams. “Who has returned?”
Hua Gong lifted his gaze, sifting through recent memory for recall of such a person. His mind resorted to ragged clothes and the prospect of a bent form owed to excessive age or poor health. There had been few visitors to the camp in the months they had been occupying and surveying and among them, only one served Hua Gong’s memory. That one did not match such a description.
“Ah, you mean the wandering poet,” he said.
Dan Sui may have still believed the man a vagrant, but only bowed his head in response.
It was true that there was something unusual about Chen Liu. Hua Gong had been both puzzled and curious over him since he first arrived at the camp with the request that Hua Gong build elsewhere. The poet was dismissed then, and Hua Gong had only glimpsed the silhouette of his retreating figure against the sunset. Upon Chen Liu’s second visit, Hua Gong heard him at a distance, again requesting that Hua Gong reconsider his plans for the cove. Once again, he was dismissed.
Three were the number of carp first cast into the oceans by the Jade Emperor, and so on a third visit, it was both wise and humble to be an attentive host.
“I will meet with him,” Hua Gong decided. He could do with some distance from pondering his charts and diagrams, among which lay a scroll delivered by Chen Liu. The song written upon it, offering delicate reminder of the inspiration their most ancient ancestors received from the Jade Emperor during the formation of civilization, was what had determined to Hua Gong that the man was a poet.
The story of Hua Gong and Chen Liu is from a time predating the Celestial Empire series, which is part of the greater Dryth Chronicles. The Celestial Empire stories follow Imperial Tactician and mystic Xu Liang, as he struggles to unite the empire of Sheng Fan in time to face an incarnation of a dragon god.
Continue reading The Era Beast in January.
Available: January 15th (links to be posted on release day)