Diane Drury, Simon Haynes, Clive Salvidge, Sarah Salvidge and Nadya Whitehead for suggestions and technical assistance.
Caroline, Leanne, Kate and all the other members of the Avon Valley Writers' Group for their encouragement and support.
Brendon and Leanne of Monopolies Toys & Books, Northam.
Luc Valentine for cover design.
Neil Cladingboel and Equilibrium Books for first publishing The Kingdom of Four Rivers.
Lastly, and most importantly, my wife Georgina Critchlow. Only she knows how long a journey this has been.
For more information about The Kingdom of Four Rivers and the author's other work, visit him online at:
Once, in the Kingdom of Four Rivers, there lived a young woman by the name of Ji Tao. Ji Tao lived with her uncle Tuan and his family in the shielded city of Baitang. This story began with another story told by uncle Tuan, on the eve of a great journey. It was a story that Ji Tao had heard a hundred times before, and yet she never tired of hearing it. In the Kingdom of Four Rivers, it was the two hundred and forty-sixth year of Everlasting Peace.
“Long ago, the Emperor ruled all-under-Heaven with his benevolence, and the Middle Kingdom was quiet. The beasts of the jungles had been domesticated, the men of the hills and mountains made vassals of the Emperor. They came from afar to pay tribute to the Emperor upon the Jade Throne. The people went cheerfully to their chores in the morning, where they toiled happily all day. They went to bed in the evening with their bellies full and minds empty.
“The Middle Kingdom was vast, covering what seemed like the whole world, and yet it was not the whole world. Faraway realms saw all that was good in the Middle Kingdom and tried to emulate it. They saw that in the Middle Kingdom, men and women were brave and loyal to the Emperor, and children were filial to their parents and ancestors. In their jealousy, the faraway people attacked the Middle Kingdom by land and sea, and the Kingdom weakened and eventually crumbled. The Emperor was vanquished. The Middle Kingdom was carved up by greedy empires intent on feeding on its carcass.
“But the spirit of the people could not be broken, and at long last the invaders were banished from our shores. From the ashes rose another Middle Kingdom, this one without an Emperor at its helm. The people adopted the customs of the invaders from faraway lands, so as to learn the secrets of their power. In this they were successful, and the Middle Kingdom grew strong again. Once more, across the land, beasts were domesticated and men and women were as one.
“But again disaster struck. The people of the Middle Kingdom had bettered the invaders from faraway lands, but they could not better Nature itself. Nature watched as the Middle Kingdom grew more and more crowded with a billion hungry mouths. Nature had seen how the people had dammed the rivers and cut down the forests. It had seen them catch every fish in the sea and pluck every rabbit from its burrow. It watched them extract precious treasures from the earth to power their wicked machines, and fill the air with sickening smoke.
“And so Nature withdrew its benevolence. It took rain away here, creating drought. It added rain there, bringing flood. It whipped up winds that blew sand in the faces of the people, rebuking them. And still they did not listen. So Nature did something to punish all-under-Heaven for this crime. Nature made the Great Ocean rise. Where the Great River and the Great Ocean met, the land itself was torn asunder. Countless thousands perished beneath the waves, and millions fled their homes with nothing but what they could carry on their backs. The Middle Kingdom fell divided.
“So it is said—
From nothing they came.
To nothing they returned.
Who can be blamed for that?
“What can we learn from this story? I have made it my business to foster trade between Baitang and Luihang. Many times I have travelled to Zhenghe, the capital of the Kingdom of Four Rivers, and the ancestral capitals of Shulao and Kinshao. I have travelled from the banks of the Wu to the shores of the Great River itself. I have been to the foot of the White Mountains in the west and the edge of the Eternal Waste in the north. I have seen a great many things and a great many people. I have sailed every river and traversed every path in the Kingdom. And everywhere I go I stand in awe of Nature, the Great Thief.”