REACHING THE LIU CHIU ISLANDS
After sailing for more than ten days in the Chinese junk, the Magician continued his way on the open sea. The tiny vessel was equipped with a small sail and had only a little rectangular patch of fabric that served as protection from the sun. The currents were not in his favor, so he manipulated the sail with his trusty compass as reference. His vision of the Land of Immortals to the east continued to haunt him in his dreams.
Early one morning, after two weeks of navigating, he spotted a tiny fishing boat bobbing in the offing. While the boat was too far for him to signal the fisherman, he sighed with relief at the welcomed sight. Knowing that land could not be too far off he rejoiced. He had only half a canteen of water left, which he rationed. Strewn on the floor of the junk were a few dozen empty canteens. His food supply had diminished to just a couple of pieces of dried fruit which he allowed himself only a few to stretch his food over the last couple of days. He was hungry and tired. By his calculations, after unfurling the rough map folded in his robe, he determined he should be approaching the largest island of an archipelago in the East China Sea.
With little wind on this day, the Magician resorted to paddling the rest of the way as the slight waves helped him drift toward the shoreline. He was constantly wary of being seen by the Emperor’s soldiers, and a nagging disquiet added to his fatigue. While sailing night and day he had pondered his karma. He had been journeying east since he was a very young man. He took a moment, as a westerner, to reflect that journeying east had meaning for him. He had left his homeland traveling by horseback or boat or sometimes by foot and discovered slowly the spiritual ways of the East. He had traveled in this direction encountering teachings of the Taoists, Buddhists and Confucianists as he simultaneously journeyed inward toward his deepest spiritual wisdom that would blossom to levels attained by the ancients.
Several hours after he spotted the fishing boat in the distance, he finally reached the white sandy shore. He stepped out of his boat into shallow water and waded to the edge of the beach. The soft dry sand swallowed his feet and he found that he could barely walk. His legs had grown so weak that he collapsed in the warm sand strewn with exotic shells of every shape and color. Hypnotized by the buzzing of cicadas in the tall grasses, he fell into a deep sleep. “The Land of Immortals,” he sang to himself as he fell instantly into a profound slumber. For hours he lay baking in the sun and was awakened by the murmuring of human voices. He raised his arm above his eyes and squinted as he quickly sat upright, startled to find himself surrounded by nine curious people: three men, two women, and four children. They looked much like Chinese peasants and were dressed in very similar tunics with their hair, men and women alike, pulled up into topknots on their heads with sticks holding the knots in place.
Confused at first, the Magician thought perhaps he had awakened back on Chinese soil, and a pang of fear pulsed through his veins. He blurted some words in Chinese but got no response. He recalled that he had been sailing east and rubbed his eyes knowing he had successfully escaped.
The old man had on straw sandals, but the other eight were barefoot. They had brought drinking water from their well in a crude tin receptacle, and they were speaking in a tongue altogether unfamiliar. However, the intonation of the dialect was quite similar to some of the Chinese dialects he knew. The Magician made an attempt to communicate and uttered sentences from a few dialects with which he was familiar. When he did, they became animated. The elder, an old wrinkled man with a long beard, commanded one of the little girls, waving his hand at her, to run and fetch someone.
He had landed on the northern shore of the main island of the Liu Chiu archipelago. These people were curious about the foreigner with his strange features, his Chinese dress, and his command of the Chinese language. Because the expeditions that had come to the islands in search of the Elixir had passed only through the ports of the south, these villagers in the north were protected from the inquisition and skirmishes inflicted on the southern islanders. From a distance, the northern territory appeared to be uninhabited as the villages were receded deep in the mountains.
Two young men of the rescue party secured the junk onto the shore with large ropes made of braided hemp and hitched the small vessel to the nearest tree. The others lent a hand to help the Magician stand. The male elder smiled and gestured for the Magician to follow them into their village. On the narrow dirt path they ran into the little girl who had peeled off earlier from the group. She preceded a cheerful middle-aged woman with ruddy skin and friendly smile, carrying a basket on her head. The woman and the villagers stopped to chat as the villagers were apparently explaining what they knew about this strange man who had washed upon their shore.
For a brief moment, the Magician thought he saw the tail of a scorpion winding around the handle of the woman’s basket but on a second view, the image disappeared. The Magician was apprehensive when he first opened his eyes to the villagers inspecting him and perhaps the vision of the scorpion was an expression of his initial fear of them. In a very short time, they gained his confidence through their apparent kindness and he grew comfortable in their company in a short time. Any suspicion he initially had, dissipated.
He reflected on the recurring vision of the scorpion. He was trying to discern exactly when these spottings of the scorpion occurred just as the old man interrupted his thoughts gesturing that the woman with the basket was the village medicine woman. He had the woman show the contents of her basket that contained herbal tinctures and salves to dress wounds.
The woman wasn’t sure by the young girl’s account if the strange man found shipwrecked on the shore had been injured and so grabbed a few items to dress wounds if necessary. As the medicine woman joined the group in walking back to the village, she examined the Magician’s gait, which showed some weakness but was normal by all accounts. She gave him side-glances observing his limbs and facial features. Her assessment was that this foreigner who had washed up on their shore was fit, albeit sunburned, hungry and fatigued. She could tell by his voice that he exhibited good vital life force. His eyes were lustrous, she observed, showing good health despite his ordeal at sea.
The Medicine Woman had also been called upon because she was familiar with one of the Chinese dialects. The dialects in China, as was the case here with local dialects of the islands, differed so much that a person from one province couldn’t understand someone from another. Nonetheless, she and the Magician managed to communicate stringing some Chinese words together with gestures and facial expressions as they walked back to the village.
The Magician had landed on the northern shore in late spring. The weather was mild and months before the typhoon season in mid to late summer. The narrow dirt path taken by the small party finally opened to the first thatched-roof house of the settlement, which belonged to the old man with the straw sandals. After he called out to someone, an elderly woman, presumably his wife, walked briskly from the entrance of the house chasing small squawking chickens every which way. The house was recessed from the path, nestled against a hill and faced a field of tall grasses. The small party continued, passing thatched huts as curious villagers came out to greet them. A small stream running next to the open field served not only for washing and bathing but also appeared to have tributaries into the field as a crude form of irrigation.
They progressed deeper into the village toward a bamboo grove that bordered the northern arc of the village’s circumference. The old man gestured to the Magician, offering him a small, unoccupied hut a distance from the rest of the settlement but was still part of the village. The old man launched into some kind of explanation by gesticulating from which the Magician was able to piece together that the hut had been occupied by one of the residents who had died. The unfurnished hut had cobwebs with spiders on the inside of the roof, a small fireplace with debris of dried leaves, and anthills among wood splinters. A couple of small chipped red clay bowls sat on a short narrow shelf.
Just for a moment the Magician sensed a strange foreboding and looked up to see the tail of a small scorpion escaping one of the clay bowls. The impression left as soon as the wife of the elder leader brought rags to clean out the hut. The Magician tried to join in the cleaning but the wife of the elder took his hand and led him to a stone seat, indicating that he was a guest. The Magician broke out in laughter that was so infectious everyone began laughing. He grabbed a rag and began to wind it on top of his head, dancing and swinging his arms singing a song from his native land and as he did, members from the village trickled in to welcome him.
One villager brought a cooking utensil, a young boy donated firewood, and another girl contributed washed wild vegetables in a cloth sack. The villagers would eventually coordinate efforts to bring tools and utensils to furnish his new home.
For now, the Medicine Woman remained by his side as translator. Luckily the Magician was especially gifted in linguistics and learned languages quickly so that in a short time he was beginning to communicate. He learned how to greet others, to ask for directions, to say the names of certain plants and vegetables, and to speak small bits of conversation. He told the villagers his name, pronouncing it in the Chinese dialect. With the help of the Medicine Woman he eventually would be able to convey the actual translation of his name in their native tongue. He explained that the Emperor of the Sui gave him this name. For the time, they simply called him Magician as he pronounced it.