The Emperor's Dream - Chapter Four

“We can’t really be considering this,” Wanyi said, unable to contain himself any longer, “We are Hukan. We belong to the skies, and to these mountains, beholden to no one but ourselves. We cannot simply give this nation away.”

**Chapter One**

**Welcome to chapter four of The Emperor’s Dream, an epic fantasy novella from the wider world of The Mhong Chronicles. I’ll be publishing chapters each week, but remember, these are some of the very first drafts, which means you’re in on this at the very beginning. Thank you for being here, friend. I hope you enjoy it.**

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It was Chengroh himself who started the debate. “Are you three mad?” he roared, “Secretly bringing in a foreign monster who seeks to devour all of Hukan to feed his…his twisted dream? How could you be so traitorously foolish?”

“Hukan is dying, Chengroh,” Tukharen snapped back. His earlier mask of tempered showmanship had disappeared. “What we did was all within the confines of the law. I had my clerks check it.” He looked about the room, his eyes intense. “Our people are broken. It has been twenty years since the Het came and destroyed our lives, our livelihoods. Our families.” He pounded a fist on his chest. Wanyi hadn’t been the only one who had lost father and brothers to the war. “And how have we repaid them? With continued poverty and a soiled reputation amongst the other nations? What promises can we give them? Restored honor? Restored spirits? I don’t see any other way. This unification is about our people’s survival as much as anything else.”

The other two chiefs who had been part of the plan nodded along solemnly. Wanyi felt his stomach twisting into knots. This was an outrage! But as he surveyed the room, a few of the other chiefs looked pensive. Jinhua was stroking his chin with his thumb and forefinger. Even Dandan was quiet, which usually meant he was either asleep or thinking deeply. None but Chengroh and himself seemed visibly angry.

“We can’t really be considering this,” Wanyi said, unable to contain himself any longer, “We are Hukan. We belong to the skies, and to these mountains, beholden to no one but ourselves. We cannot simply give this nation away.”

“Enough, Wanyi,” Ninroh said with a sigh, his thick shoulders heaving.”I don’t like it either, but you must admit that Tukharen’s points are valid, if not his methods. Settle yourself.”

Wanyi jammed the butt of his spear into the ground, sending a sharp crack reverberating around the hall. “I will not! What of the Testing? What of the few remaining elders we have left being slaughtered before another year has passed?” His crest had risen as high as it could go. Even his shoulder feathers were trying to stand out beneath his diani. “And the specializations? Will we sign away our right to practice two of the Three Arts? It was the Het’s diversity that brought us to our knees. We’ll never escape the hold of the Tohk if we accept this.”

“Silence, Wanyi!” Tukharen roared. His crest also stood up, the feathers jabbing up towards the ceiling. “It was your father slaughtering those villagers that brought the Het crashing down on us in the first place.”

That’s a lie!” Wanyi shouted through his teeth, his breath coming in great gasps. He brandished his spear, aiming the point at Tukharen from across the circle. It was a lie. It was the lie that many Hukan believed. They thought that Wanyi’s father had gone power-hungry and attempted to take a bite out of the Het territory on Hukan’s northern border. Reports had said that Hukan warriors bearing the uniforms of the High King’s soldiers had slaughtered an entire village of Hetanzou. But Wanyi knew with certainty that his father hadn’t ordered any such attack. He had not been that kind of man.

Enough!” Chengroh’s voice boomed in the Hall. The old man had stood from his chair, and had his spear leveled beneath Wanyi’s, its red tassles streaming along behind. He held the guarding position with a surprising amount of strength. “We will discuss this proposal at a later time, once some,” his gaze locked with Wanyi’s, “have regained their composure.”

Wanyi lowered his spear, his blood still pounding in his ears.

“Now,” Chengroh said more calmly as he lowered his own weapon, “if I might make a suggestion, I propose that we put this proposal to a vote at the end of summer, on the fall equinox. That will give us nearly three months to discuss and argue exhaustively. Can we reach consensus on this?”

Enough of the chiefs nodded agreement to decide it.

“Then I suggest we adjourn at this time.”

Wanyi stomped out of the Council Hall. He couldn’t force himself to stay in the room a moment longer. Behind him, he heard the others standing and leaving after he had gone several steps down the hallway.

As soon as he reached the courtyard, Wanyi drew upon his bond with Ban, once again sprouting wings before taking to the skies. He needed some air.

It was late afternoon before Wanyi’s anger burnt out, though it was mostly exhaustion and hunger that caused him to descend and land in a mostly quiet alleyway. In truth, it was hunger that had reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since the morning, which had caused him to remember that he no longer had any food on him because of Lishan.

He had entirely forgotten about Lishan.

Despite holding onto the bond throughout the day, the pup had been silent. Besides, his mind had been entirely occupied with first Ramreunya’s arrival, then the Council meeting, and then the insane proposal.

Wanyi landed lightly, jogging a few steps along the smooth stones to slow his momentum. It wasn’t the same alley where he had first found Lishan, but it was similar enough. The bond that he maintained had helped him make quick work of locating the place. Still in the Owl sector of the city but a bit lower on the hill and closer to the river, more of the buildings here were made of wood rather than the gray stone that was more common in the higher terraces.

Lishan was lapping water from another puddle when Wanyi found her. Upon seeing Wanyi, she yelped happily and proceeded to shower Wanyi with licks. A wave of unbridled joy swept over Wanyi through the bond.

Oh kind master has returned! Lishan said, her tail wagging fast enough that it shook her whole body. I didn’t think he would but he did! Have you brought any more food?

I don’t have any with me, but we’ll find some. Follow me, girl.

The pup’s happiness buoyed Wanyi’s own spirits enough that he caught himself humming as they walked along in search of food. Eventually they found a market, where Wanyi again overpaid for a few pieces of meat that he split with Lishan.

Where are we going now? The dog asked after they had finished their meal. Her long tongue reached out to finish off any meat juices left on Wanyi’s fingers.

Wanyi checked the sky. It was getting on towards evening, and though the rain had stopped at some point in the afternoon, a line of clouds suggested that it would probably rain again after sunset. Now that his anger at the day’s events had subsided somewhat, and now that he had eaten, he decided that he ought to at least call on those Montililun traders. After all, he had sent a messenger telling them to expect him today. And despite how the rest of his plans had gone, he could at least make good on one of his commitments for the day.

I have some people I must meet with, he said, Then we can go home.

He found the shop without much difficulty, though the journey took him longer than it would have had he been alone. Lishan was still young, and got distracted easily. It had sometimes taken a bit of coaxing to get her back on track. She was also incapable of flight, which meant Wanyi had had to use the stairs between terraces.

The sun was just starting to dip below the horizon when they arrived outside another wooden building, unremarkable except that it had only one window on the ground floor and a sign hanging above the door that read, “THE ENCHANTED SHANTY” in bright blue letters. Below the letters, a Montililun sailing ship had been painted alongside the symbol for Mhong.

A Montililun woman answered the door when he knocked, releasing the scents of various kinds of exotic spices. Of an average height for one of her people, she hardly came up to his chest. Like all non-Hukan, she had hair on top of her head rather than feathers—hers was black and tied in several intricate braids.

She wore a slender, knee-length robe of pale green with flowing sleeves and a similarly slim-outlined blue skirt. Both were made of a slightly sheer fabric, revealing the simpler top and trousers beneath. But it was her eyes that struck Wanyi the most. He caught them changing from blue to a faint pink when she first opened the door. They quickly went back to the same light blue again.

She was pretty, in a foreign sort of way. She wasn't Hukan, though, so that was as far as he would let his thoughts go. Mixed marriages were either outlawed or considered taboo in every nation, as far as he knew. And it certainly wouldn't do for a chief to…well, that was enough of that. He was there to welcome foreign traders, not moon over a woman like a lad who had just seen his first all-female spear dance. Besides, his people were in danger of being absorbed into another empire. He didn't have time for such thoughts.

“My apologies, sir,” she said in a bright, musical voice, “We’ve already closed for the evening.” Her eyes flashed to a dark brown as she bobbed a small bow and began to close the door again.

Wanyi reached out a hand. “Excuse me, Miss. My name is Wanyi. I am the chief of this district.”

The woman started, then opened the door all the way again and bowed lower. “Oh, chief Wanyi! We weren’t sure if you would make it today, what with the commotion in the city and all. Yes, do come in.”

The inside of The Enchanted Shanty was warm and comfortable. A few lanterns added to the evening light that came in from the window, casting an uneven orange glow across shelves with a variety of items on display. Some were mundane—axes, knives, tools, and the like—while others were clearly from far off lands. One entire shelf was lined with multiple sizes of jars of sea salt. Another held bowls and plates made of a wood Wanyi didn't recognize.

The shop wasn't particularly spacious, especially with the two shelves lining the walls on either side and two standing back to back in the center of the room. Two doors, one open and one closed, led out the back of the room. Through the open one, Wanyi could see a small, windowless space with a stool and a workbench.

“Well, this is it!” The woman said, her eyes morphing to green as she gestured to the room. “The Enchanted Shanty. We're excited to finally be open for business here.”

Wanyi smiled. It was nice to see someone with a little spirit in them when most of the city was just trying to get by. This little shop was a new beginning. Proof that Hukan was not dead. Others still came to Shanshia to improve their livelihoods, which meant it still had something to offer. He just wished he could convince more of his kinsman of that.

“Yes,” he said, “It's a lovely place, miss… erm…”

“Meisun,” she finished for him. Her eyes settled back to the blue they had been when Wanyi had first seen her. “Now if you'll wait here, I'll go get the others so that you can have a proper introduction. Go ahead and make yourself comfortable, have a look around. I'll be back in a moment.”

Meisun pushed through the door that had been closed and vanished as it swung shut behind her. Wanyi heard her muffled voice calling out to some others, then heard the scraping and the thudding of footsteps coming from the floor above him.

When she returned, she was accompanied by half a dozen or so others, each small of stature and with the same color-shifting eyes. The women wore similar, pale-colored outfits to Meisun’s, though not quite as fine. The men wore loose-fitting tunics and trousers of darker hues. Meisun introduced them as friends and members of her company. Wanyi assumed that these people made up Meisun’s Band—the Montililun groups that operated as families, even if no blood was shared between its members.

A few moments after the others arrived, another man entered through the back door. Lean and well-muscled, Wanyi recognized the graceful movements of a skilled warrior. The guard of the Band, then, it seemed.

“Ah, there you are Fahyo,” Meisun said as the man entered. “Chief Wanyi, this is Fahyo, my twin brother and co-proprietor.”

Fahyo offered a bow and a respectful greeting, but otherwise said nothing. He leaned against the back wall casually, but his eyes flitted around the room. Definitely a guard then, if he was keeping watch at a time like this. The man’s eyes remained brown, rather than shifting about like the others’ did.

All in all, it was quite the group. Wanyi had only spent a little time among Montililun Bands. Each had been a group of easy-going people, quick with a joke and quicker with a song. He had always enjoyed listening to songs about the sea. “It is very nice to meet you all,” he said, trying to catch each of their eyes, “I just came to bid you a warm welcome to Shanshia, and to the Owl district. We are grateful to have you among us.”

After the others, including Fahyo, had left—with all the customary bowing and well-wishing, Wanyi was left alone with Meisun in the storefront. Her eyes had settled back to blue. Outside, the sun had set, leaving the room lit only by the warm glow of lanterns. 

“Thank you for sparing a few moments of your time,” Wanyi said, “If you have need of anything else, do feel free to ask. I will do what I can.”

“Oh!” Meisun said abruptly, “Now that you mention it, I was curious—what was the reason for all the commotion this morning? What with all the horns and all.”

“Ah, that. Yes, we had a bit of a surprise from a Tohk official is all. He shouldn’t have arrived unannounced—which is what caused the disturbance. However, he has since departed the city, and the situation has been handled by the Council of chiefs.”

True words, every one of them. Wanyi could hardly fault the woman for asking. People were sure to be gossiping all throughout the city by now. He would probably spend the next several days saying similar words to others who asked. As long as the common folk didn’t learn of the true nature of Ramreunya’s proposal, the interest would pass quickly enough.

“Does it have anything to do with this?” Meisun asked, pulling a folded sheet of paper from the sleeve of her robe. She handed it to him.

About the size of his two hands together, it depicted the golden tree of the Tohk Empire at the top, with the symbols of the nine Hukan Clans around the other edges—three on each side and three on the bottom. The printing was crisp, except around the creases where it had been folded.

Are you weary? Do you dream of a better world?

A world where justice is done?

A world where each person is given work, and the means to realize his or her fullest potential?

A world where all Sentients can call one another countrymen—Hukan, Hetanzou, Banqilun, and Montililun?

On this day, His Imperial Highness, Emperor Ramreunya has proposed a merger between the Tohk Empire and the Hukan Clans.

If you are one of those who shares this dream—if you are one of those who seeks safety, prosperity, and purpose—make your desires known to your Clan chief.

The land of fruitfulness awaits.

Printed by the decree of His Royal Highness, Emperor Ramreunya of the Tohk Empire.

Wanyi’s jaw clenched tighter as he read the handbill, his crest rising once again. The anger that had been held at bay since the afternoon had returned. “By the Silent Lord,” he swore under his breath, “How did they move so quickly?” He turned to Meisun. “Where did you get this?” He knew his tone was sharper than it ought to be, though he fought to control it.

Meisun’s eyes flashed to brown again, though she did not appear offended. “Hetanzou criers were handing them out on the street corners this afternoon after the horns stopped.” She eyed him appraisingly. “Is this what the Tohk official came to discuss?”

Wanyi shook his head, attempting to gain control of his rising temper. “My apologies, Meisun. I cannot discuss Council business with outsiders, though it seems our business has been set out for all of Shanshia to behold. This should not have been printed. Now if you will pardon me, I must be going.”

He crossed to the door, feeling Meisun’s silent eyes on him the whole way. He had expected her to ask further questions. He paused in the doorway, turning. She appeared to be studying him, eyes intent on his face.

“Good night, chief Wanyi,” she said. Her voice was soft, distant.

“Good night, miss Meisun. Welcome to Shanshia.”

He turned, collected Lishan from where she had been napping, and strode off into the dark, leaving The Enchanted Shanty behind.

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