A Myth From The Storm Folk

The Island of Kings is the nickname of Paulaui, the central island where the capitol of the Empire is located. There are no kings there now, but once it was divided among a dozen warlords who fought over land, serfs, and resources. A time came that seven warlords joined into a Council Of Kings and destroyed the other warlords, dividing the island among themselves with a promise of peace. Of course, it was not long before the fighting started again, plunging the hopeful of the island into dispair.

The island was rich and fertile, but it was poorly managed. With the bulk of economic activity focused on war, the people scrabbled for survival while fearing the imminent arrival of soldiers. Even their own.

The Council of Kings had slain the families of the defeated warlords to end any claims the heirs might have to their former lands, but one mother tried to save her son by placing him in a boat, with a prayer to the Storm Lord for his protection. When she was caught the kings had her interrogated, but she was able to endure the torture, falsely confessing that all of her children were slain when the family keep was burned. Eventually her tormentors believed she told the truth and put her out of her misery, but she died praying that her desperate gamble paid off.

The boy was eight, and what he knew of sailing came from stories. Though he was able to sail away from his home island, knowing it was death to return, he had no idea of where to go or how to get there. What he knew of fishing was not enough to enable him to catch a fish, and within a week he was starving, sunburnt, and desperate. And even then he knew what the dark clouds that turned the sky red at sunset meant.

A storm hit, tossing the tiny fishing boat around. It was all he could do to get his sail down and (mostly) secured as a cover to keep the crashing waves out of the boat. He desperately bailed when he could, but spent even more time beneath the sail as the sea tossed him about. During one of his attempts to bail out the boat he discovered a tiny bird huddled in a fold of the sail, soaked and shivering. Moved by sympathy, he put the bird beneath the canvas cover, making a nest of his wet clothes for it, and he continued bailing until his body gave up.

He woke to a blue sky and orderly waves marching in time with the light, steady breeze. The bird had escaped its nest, but stood perched on the bow of the boat.

"Good morning, Mr. Bird," the boy said.

"Good morning, my king," it replied.

The boy was shocked, then convinced he had imagined it.

"I'm not a king," he said.

"Not yet, but you shall be, if you heed my words."

"Mr. Bird, I don't know which way is land, and I'm so hungry I'll probably die before I get there."

"That's why I'm here," the bird said. "The mothers of Paulaui have prayed for an end of wars, and the Storm Lord chose you to bring it about. Last night was the first of many tests you will face, to learn if you are a quitter who gives up when things seem hopeless. You kept bailing even past your body's endurance. If you follow my teachings, there will be many more such tests. At the end of the course which has been set before you is a kingdom greater than any our people have ever known."

"My teacher is dead now," the boy said.

"Then accept me as your new teacher and become, in time, the answer to the prayers of your mother."

"Can you take me to my mother?" he asked, suddenly quite eager.

"I do not know where she is, but I cannot imagine she wants you to return to danger and death."

"What good are you then?" The boy's petulance was uncharacteristic, and the bird ignored it.

"Take the net there in the bow and ready it for casting."

It took some time, and some coaching from the bird, before the net was ready.

"Now what?" The boy asked.

White foam began to appear on the surface of the sea, larger and larger bubbles broke from the deeps, forming a ring as wide as two boat-lengths. From the center fish began to boil up. One, a dozen, a thousand! The surface of the sea boiled with fish!

"Throw!" the bird shouted, a fraction of a second after the boy had begun to swing the net.

The net fell atop the fish, and the boy dragged at the line hard, pulling the boat toward the center of the circle as the heavy net dragged toward him. From beneath a dark shape rose, right into the center of the circle. A massive maw opened, capturing most of the fish, and pushing the boat aside as the black bulk kept rising. A large brown eye emerged as the massive mouth closed, and the boy found himself in the gaze of a creature many times larger than his tiny boat. It sank slowly, buoyed by its massive, bloated gullet filled with fish and water.

"The net!" the bird cried, and the boy realized he had forgotten it. It had brushed off the flank of the beast, but fish were escaping its slack purse. Heaving, the boy got the net back under control and to the side of the boat, but he was too weak to lift it with the fish inside. He tried to open the net enough to get a fish out, which started another mass escape attempt. By the time only two were left inside he was able to get the net back into the boat.

It took some convincing to get the boy to eat raw fish, and then his thirst awoke.

"Follow the whale," was the bird's advice.

The boy set sail, advised by the bird, and followed the whale to a tiny island which had a tiny stream of fresh water. The boy stayed on the island for one hundred days, learning to sail, learning to fish, and learning the secrets of The Storm Lord. With the knowledge he gained he was able to sail for human occupied islands.

There he began to build an empire, first from his uncanny ability to find the nesting sites of cave swifts, whose strange nests are valued even more than gold and silver, and later by sailing to distant islands and finding what they lacked and what they had in abundance. He established three-point trade networks which continued to generate wealth at the merchantile outposts he set up at each point.

By his twentieth birthday he was fabulously wealthy. This was when the bird, a swift the young man now knew, returned. He set the young man on a new path. For six years the young man was gone, but as the sdventh dawned he returned, a grown man who had spent the time on the mainland learning the art of war, working as a mercenary for various mainland kings. With him came seven ships and a thousand soldiers whom he had lead in war, and who now followed him to another.

Paulaui was the one island his trade networks bypassed. But commerce is commerce, and traders had come and gone, describing the massive new trade network which was making everyone wealthy in comparison to the impoverished, constantly combative island.

He landed his army on the shore of Paulaui and within weeks he had deposed all seven kings. He executed them, but then had their heirs brought before him. To them he made an offer: to serve as his subordinates and disband their armies, or to join their fathers. Of course they each agreed to his terms, which included renouncing the title of king and sending their children to his keep as hostages.

This practice continues to this day, as the children of noble families across the empire go to Safe Harbour on Paulaui to attend the Imperial Academy, which is now a requirement for holding Imperial office anywhere in the empire.

Emperor Gilaes I never made war thereafter. Instead, his empire grew as islands and kings begged admittance to his empire, seeking the wealth his trade networks brought. In all the years since, the Empire never fought a war of aggression, though they have been guilty of aggressive, even invasive, merchantilism, and they have, from time to time, aggressively defended merchant outposts.

Since its founding, the emblem of the Empire of the Storm People has been that of a swift in flight.