The Vulpecula Constellation, the planet of Ting-duo, Ling-xiu Province
The time of the fateful battle for Zu-dang began with the rise of the
necromancer. The province of Ling-xiu had long been peaceful, and the
red stone palace which dominated the plains of the capital city, also
called Ling-xiu, was the seat of its power. King Chiningmeng and his
queen, Smadar, justly presided over the court, yet trouble stirred in
the shadows. Of Chiningmeng’s sixteen children, thirteen girls and
three boys, first prince Kuozhang was heir to the throne and had been
preparing for his role as crown prince. But unknown to King Chiningmeng
and Kuozhang, the head of their magical security forces, a man known as
Kimon, had a plan to become the new king himself. Already his magical
talents had created a formidable defense against outsiders with a fleet
of gigantic manul cats fifteen feet long that could be used as mounts
and messengers, and rumors flew around the royal court that Kimon had
taken the fifth princess Ningla as his mistress. Still, King
Chiningmeng turned a blind eye toward this situation with his trusted
But when his beloved second wife Queen Smadar suddenly died by
poisoning, he seemed to lose all of his reason. Kimon brought him men
who could testify Prince Kuozhang was plotting against him and was
guilty of his stepmother’s death, which Chiningmeng believed
completely. Prince Kuozhang was thrown into the dungeons of the palace
without a trial and forgotten as the king turned his sights on to his
remaining children. He dealt with the rest of the princesses and
princes with equally ruthless fury, goaded on by the ambitious Kimon.
As a pall set over the palace and Kimon took over, the subdued children
of the king prepared for their mother’s funeral with great fear. When
at Kimon’s suggestion King Chiningmeng decided that the thirteenth
princess Bingsong should marry Kimon’s most talented protégée among
the magicians, Yaoming, the princess threw herself on the mercy of the
royal court and her father, desperate to avoid such a marriage.
When her father’s answer to her petition finally came, Princess
Bingsong was horrified to learn that she would not be granted mercy and
excused from the marriage as she had hoped but that she would be sent
into exile at the old family villa, forgotten in a forbidding mountain
range to the south. At Ice Pine Peak, she was to live as dead to the
royal court and her family. In the morning, Princess Bingsong and her
small entourage of attendants were to be taken by manul to the farthest
end of the province of Ling-xiu, to the foot of the mountain, then she
would ride by palanquin for the rest of the journey. The court was
shocked at King Chiningmeng’s pronouncement on his young daughter, but
none dared intervene while he sat under the shadow of Kimon. This is
the story of how Ice Pine Peak became her home.
This entry in the parchment book was signed, LimTamm, X Year, Ice Pine
As most of the palace was winding down for the evening, King Chiningmeng
felt he needed to be alone. Dismissing his servants and walking through
the palace in the opposite direction from Kimon’s quarters, he was
drawn to where the body of his late wife now rested. Her death had
thrown the palace into turmoil, and with the swirling accusations and
changes in the royal court since crown prince Kuozhang’s arrest,
Chiningmeng hadn’t had time to mourn her properly. When he finally
reached the palace garden where the entrance to the royal tomb stood, he
paused to catch his breath.
At 78, he couldn’t expect many more years on the throne and would one
day join Smadar there in the royal tombs. It was with anxiety over this
in mind that he allowed Kimon to persuade him to deal so harshly with
his children, especially his youngest daughter Bingsong. Only twenty
and with so many brothers and sisters, Bingsong had grown up under her
older brother Kuozhang’s wing, and Chiningmeng had not known her as
well as his other children. Now that Kuozhang was implicated in his
stepmother’s death, her close association with him would put her in
danger among certain factions of the royal court, and Chiningmeng
wondered if perhaps she had known about Kuozhang’s plot. Even if his
suspicions of her collusion came to nothing, Chiningmeng would not be
around long enough to protect her from the manipulations of court
factions, and Kuozhang’s fate was uncertain as Kimon and his men
investigated Smadar’s death. Kimon’s suggestion that she marry
Yaoming seemed to be a better compromise than leaving her to fall with
her brother or be exposed as another of Chiningmeng’s enemies.
For this reason, Chiningmeng would not take her disobedience lightly.
Since she was refusing to marry Yaoming, she gave him no choice but to
remove her from court, though even he didn’t know exactly why he
should send her to that place.
As he made it through the winding corridors and lit the torches leading
to Smadar’s tomb, he found a small bench at the foot of her stone
coffin and sat there, closing his eyes. How odd he should think of Ice
Pine Peak at a time like this. He was here to mourn his dead wife, but
now all he could think of was the dead of another time and place.
Perhaps he was wrong to send Bingsong there. After all, the villa had
been shut to visitors for a very long time and was now only inhabited by
a small staff of servants and a garrison of troops.
Ah, but the mountain was beautiful, and even after nearly sixty years,
he couldn’t forget it. The whole region was full of rugged mountains
wreathed in smoky clouds. Sheer faced rock outcroppings were weathered
and rounded by the rainy season and were covered with sprouting greenery
of various kinds. Peaks and slopes were topped with thickets of tall,
majestic pine trees, their blackened and twisted trunks and boughs
holding out tufts of slender green needles and blue buds like an
offering. It was for this proliferation of trees and the blustery
winters of the most inhabitable mountain among the peaks that the villa
was named. Chiningmeng even fondly remembered the rushing waterfall not
far from the bottom of the broad, snaking staircase that meandered far
up the mountainside to the thick gate barring unwanted visitors from
entering the villa’s grounds. Even the sight of it would be moving
enough. It was a place worthy of his daughter’s house arrest. He had
forgotten how much he had longed to go back to that forbidden place
after all of these years. In some strange way, he would now live that
wish vicariously through Bingsong, though she would not appreciate the
meaning behind his command.
But then a darker memory came to him. When he left Ice Pine Peak as a
boy, he had brought very little back in the way of mementos, but his
mother had taken at least one heirloom with her, a silver ring with a
black stone. Upon his mother’s death, the ring had gone to Princess
Ningla, Kimon’s fiancée. The thought of it now made him uneasy. He
had kept the origin of that ring secret for all of these years, and even
now he wouldn’t tell Kimon about it, though he wondered if he should
insist Ningla give it to Bingsong before she was sent to the villa.
Somehow it seemed to fit the villa’s atmosphere better than the palace
here in the capital city.
Irritated with himself for his woolgathering, he pushed thoughts of
ghosts, mountains and women’s finery out of his mind. Chiningmeng
turned his attention back to Smadar and his loss. He would allow
himself one night to mourn for her before plunging into Kimon’s list
of tasks that he needed to take care of. Leaning back to lie on the
bench, his eyes filling with tears, he thought of old times with his
wife and soon fell into an uneasy, dreamless sleep.
Excerpted from "The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak" by Wendelin Gray. Copyright © 2015 by Wendelin Gray. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.