Jul 20, 2010

#18 'The Great Without'

The Emperor refused to accept the rumours that fell on his ears.
Only when the admiral of his ship confirmed the odd sighting did he begin to believe. And a cold chill ran down The Emperor's spine.
First people had reported seeing a white figure running up and down the shores at the same site where the ruins of Hong's wrecked ship lay. The Emperor had pooh-poohed it saying ,  "It must be some white gull scouring the beaches for food. The misty mornings must be playing tricks on your minds!"

Then the ship's crew refused to begin journey's in the early hours of the day saying that they'd seen a lady in white walking the ship's decks. She seemed to be searching for something. She stood for some while staring at the horizon and then disappeared into thin air.
There was whispering in 'The Great Within' too. Maids reported seeing shadows and hearing humming of some romantic, lilting tunes in the corridors. The eunuchs could distinctly make out the strumming of a LiuQuin but when they hunted for the player there was none. 

 "Is it her?", he wondered. "Was all that she'd prophecied also going to come true? I'd never thought I'd ever come to believe in spirits and the power they wield over our lives!" The Emperor tried to gather his nerves.

In the pin-drop silence of the night, a week after the celebrations of the New Year was drawn to a close, the last three ships of Hong Zhung's fleet had touched shores. The ship that Hong Zhung was sailing however was still missing. The crew of the ships that had touched base had absolutely no clue.
"It is as if his ship has disappeared into thin air!", Admiral eunuch Yeng He had reported.
"How is that possible?" Wu Zhung had screamed in his face demanding an explanation while The Emperor had looked on without a single word.
His face was calm and unperturbed even if it was his own son who had gone missing. Wu Zhung had then  flown into a nasty fit of anger at Lao Zhung's cold detached manners.
"When you are doing my job of worrying over Hong's whereabouts, there is nothing left for me to do!", the Emperor had smirked and left the court.

Two days later, there had been news of the remains of Hong's ship having been washed ashore at the farthest end of the coastline in the neighbouring province. The minute the news had fallen on Wu Zhung's ears she had shot out of her chambers, barefoot demanding to be taken to the site at once. 
"You will draw unnecessary attention and their tongues will start wagging!", YinHe had pleaded and all his words had fallen on deaf ears, once again.
Wu Zhung had scoured the wreck herself along with the servants and trudged up and down the beach in search of Hong. Not a trace of Hong Zhung's belongings nor his body, were found anywhere. Though the ship looked as if it had been ransacked by pirates, Wu Zhung had guessed that there was more to it, than what met the eyes. 

She then had gone right back to the palace and unabashedly approached Lao Zhung when he was still seated on his throne before the court.
"I know you had everything to do with Hong's ship going missing.  Tell me what have you done to Hong?"
Wu Zhung was screaming her lungs out.
 "I am touched to see that your grief at Hong's death is as much as his own mother's. And one can't think straight when in such grief. " Lao Zhung's eyes were laughing and dancing in excitement even though he maintained an even and peaceful tone while speaking. "Wu, you are so distraught that I must do something to relieve you of the pain." with this Lao Zhung had signalled to his eunuch servants to remove her from his presence.

This had confirmed Wu's doubts of what must have actually happened. It hadn't been the pirates who had picked a random ship to loot which had unfortunately been Hong Zhung's. Or neither was it the storm that had unleashed havoc on Hong's ship giving the crew a gruesome burial in the middle of the sea. Wu Zhung was struck with horror at the fact that it had been her own wreckless behaviour and illicit love affair that had led Lao Zhung to take the drastic step of assasinating his own son. Yet she could not forgive The Emperor for punishing poor Hong Zhung so cruelly.

Wu Zhung had then struggled to free herself from bondage and with a sudden surge of strength in her limbs she had thrown the eunuchs over. She was in such a rage that they didn't dare touch her again. Wu Zhung stood upright in the centre of the hall and while all eyes were glued to her petite persona, her voice boomed loud and clear. With a dreadfully fierce look Wu Zhung had spoken as if she'd been possessed,

"Emperor pay heed with all your senses to my words. What you have commited is far greater a crime than my sin. I had loved Hong with all my sincere heart but you have acted out of ego, envy and lust. I curse you and your Empire. I, Wu Zhung curse Lao Zhung, The Emperor that his empire tumble to the grounds like a pack of cards. I Wu Zhung, curse you that you will see death in the face soon, very soon. And thirsty as you may be on your death bed, you will die for the want of a single drop of water!"

The court froze in time. Wu Zhung had turned around to leave but halted. Addressing the Emperor again she had confessed, " I have also commited a crime and I now know that this is a punishment for my own deeds. I ask for forgiveness before the court and pray her soul rests in peace. Empress Xuan was a very good lady and had not done any wrong to me. I shouldn't have done what I did. Greed led me to do the dastardly act and I rightly deserve this fate!"

With this she had exitted the court. Lao Zhung had stood staring and dumb founded. As Wu Zhung rushed out of the palace into the open courtyards, The Emperor had followed, running down the steps, repeatedly pleading Wu to stop. Wu Zhung didn't ever look back, again. She had left 'The Great Within'. She had  known where she needed to go.

Then all the news began to flow to his ears. His officers and admirals brought in tales of the hauntings. His health began to deteriorate suddenly.
The Emperor lay feverish in bed for the following months while the rain pattered down on his roof constantly.
His concubines couldn't tell whether it was just the grief of losing all his loved ones or remorse over his own deeds.  The doctors couldn't tell whether it was a failing heart or a disturbed mind. For matters of the court Lao Zhung did manage to give a sane reply here or an affirmative nod there but looked easily tired, too. Soon all had given up on hope for his recovery. The Empire was indeed crumbling. For long spells of time he lay delirious, unmoving, tripping back to the point when he'd last seen his lovely Wu. He imagined how it must have been for her from there.

Without an abandon Wu Zhung had ridden away on a horse,  back to the shores where Hong Zhung's ship lay wrecked, in bits.While the eunuchs gave a chase right behind on their own horses.
They had brought back news of how they'd  last seen Wu, a figure in white, dropping off the edge of the rocky cliff like a white feather, to a bloody death on the jagged rocks below.
The huge waves had lapped her up in no time and washed her frail body up between the wooden planks and shards of Hong Zhung's ship on the shore.

"She's gone for good Emperor. You needn't worry anymore!" Admiral Eunuch Yeng He had reported.

Lao Zhung realised that he had poorly failed to keep Wu, the peasant's daughter for himself , even in the luxurious confines of 'The Great Within'. She now lay there on the open shores of 'The Great Without' where her soul had always longed to be. Free.


Would love to know what my readers think of this 'The Great Without' my first story series amd how it was brought to THE END.
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