Three Kingdoms – Vol II- Extract- Vast the River

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The Chinese classic Three Kingdoms is one of a kind historical novel. An epic drama, mostly about warfare and governing; there and there we can find interesting fantasy tidbits.

That night tremendous fogs spread across the heavens, and the river mists were so thick that even face-to-face people could not see each other. Kongming urged his boats on into the deep fog. The rhapsody « Heavy Mists Mantling the Yangzi » describes it well:

Vast the river! Wide and farflung! West, it laps the mountains Mang and E. South, it grips the southern shires. North, it girdles the nine rivers, gathers their waters, and carries them into the sea, its surging waves rolling through eternity.

Its depths holds monsters and strange forms: the Lord of the Dragons, the Sea Thing, the river goddesses, the Ocean Mother, ten-thousand-span whales, and the nine-headead centipede. This redoubt of gods and spirits, heroes fight to hold.

At times the forces of yin and yang that govern nature fail, and day and darkness seem as one, turning the vast space into a fearful monochrome. Everywhere the fog , stock-still. Not even a cartload can be spotted, but the sound gong or drum carries far.

At first, a visible gloom, time for the wise leopard of the southern hills to seclude itself. Gradually darkness fills the expanse. Does it want the North Sea leviathan itself to lose its way? At last it reaches the very sky and mantles the all-upbearing earth. Grey gloomy vastness. A shoreless ocean. Whales hurtle on the water. Dragons plunge and spew mist.

It is like the end of early rains, when the cold of latent  spring takes hold: everywhere, vague, watery desert and darkness that flows and spreads. East, it blankets the shore of Chaisang. South, it blocks the hills of Xiakou. A thousand warjunks, swallowed between the river’s rocky steeps, while a single fishing boat boldly bobs on the swells.

In so deep a fog, the deep-domed heavens have gone dark. The countenance of dawn is dull: the day becomes a murky twilight; the reddish hills, aquamarine jade. Great Yu, who first controlled the floods, could not with all his wisdom sound its depths. Even clear-eyed Li Lou could not use his measures, despite his keen vision.

Let the water god calm these waves. Let the god of elements put away his art. Let the sea creatures and those of land and air be gone. For now the magic isle of Penglai is cut off, and the gates of the polar stars are shrouded.

The roiling, restless fog is like the chaos before the storm, swirling streaks resembling wintry clouds. Serpents lurking there can spread its pestilence, and evil spirits can havoc wreak, sending pain and woe to the world of men, and the storms of wind and sand that plague the border wastes. Common souls meeting it fall dead. Great men observe it and despair. Are we returning to the primal state that preceded form itself — to undivided Heaven and earth?

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