Dark of the Sun PART I ZANGI-RAGOZH Prologue

Text of a report from Captain Tieh Wei-Djieh of the merchant ship Golden Moon, sent from the southern port city of Kuang-Chou to his employer, the foreigner Zangi-Ragozh, at Yang-Chau on the Yellow Sea; sent two weeks before the Winter Solstice.

To the most honorable foreign trader Zangi-Ragozh, this report from Tieh Wei-Djieh, Captain of the trading ship Golden Moon, now lying at the docks of Kuang-Chou in the south of the Illustrious Kingdom at the Center of the World, at the approach of the dark of the year after a long time at sea.

First it is my duty to tell you that we have lost but one sailor since we left Yang-Chau fifteen months ago, and that death was to accident, not to fever or the ravages of any disease. For this we have burned incense to the Three Immortals and have given wine and money to Ho-Tai in thanks for his generous protection. May it continue throughout our voyage.

Next, I am pleased to inform you that the cargo from the ports on the Indian Ocean has arrived here safely, but not without hazard. Spices and dyes are all carefully stored and only one barrel has taken any damage from our passage. In Burma we did not make the trade in brasses we had anticipated, but we took on a small load of teak and rosewood. The merchants of Tumasik are eager for goods from India, for the recent storms have taken more than one merchant-ship to the Lord of the Ocean and kept many Captains from leaving port altogether, which has slowed many sales.

Although you had put Sunda Kalapa on our ports of call, I had heard of trouble in the waters near that city, for the great mountain that is the heart of the Sunda Passage has been spitting out rocks. Some have said that the sea has boiled around it. I have been warned by more than one mariner that the entire region is perturbed and no longer safe to enter, and I have decided that these rumors must have some basis in fact, for the stories are similar enough to make me believe that more than fancy is working here. Whatever the case, it did not seem worth the risk to me to venture into such uncertain waters, and that we would preserve our fortunes more readily if we made for Thang Long directly, which we did. Pirate activity made it advisable to come to Kuang-Chou instead, which we have done. Even though we have avoided the great volcano, we have encountered rough seas and severe storm conditions in and around the islands of Sumatra and Java, and have been told by many other seamen that there has been much trouble from small eruptions from the tremendous volcano that stands in the midst of the shallow channels and sandbars that mark the joining of the two islands. The Sunda Passage cannot be considered safe water for now, and perhaps will never be so again.

You cannot imagine what fear has possessed the sailors since we saw the sea roiling as if moved by gigantic serpents. The sailors shared my dread. A few have vowed not to go to this region again and have declared they will tell others they meet not to risk the treacherous waters of these southern islands. It is most appalling to see the waves thrown up to the height of substantial hills, and to know that the course of the winds can no longer be sure.

Also, it is said that there is an odor in the air in the vicinity of the mountain, that is the rotten smell of the burning yellow powder that men gather in the inner slopes of volcanoes when they are not spewing forth rocks and fire. Sailors say it is the bodies of all the dead who have died in the seas of the world, which the God of the Underworld has guarded, and who are now left to decay in the caves at the base of the mountain. No man of my crew will agree to go where that scent is on the air, for fear of taking contagion from it, nor would I ask it of them. You will not find anyone worthy of the trade of sailing who will agree to such an undertaking, not now. I most humbly apologize for failing to do your bidding in this, but for the sake of this ship, which you have entrusted to me, I cannot continue as I have done in the past.

I am handing this packet of accounts and my report to Shang Ko-Lim, who will carry it with him to Yang-Chau and will see it placed in your hands. His ship, a lighter and faster craft than the Golden Moon, is leaving in the morning with the tide, carrying messages and small items such as jewels and spices to the north. This should mean that you will have this in your hands in three weeks, if there are no storms strong enough to force him to seek a safe harbor until the sea is passable.

I have made a full copy for myself, and I will keep it aboard this ship, in case there should be any inquiry made regarding our voyage, our cargo, or our business, as you have instructed me from the first. Li Fan-Fan, my scribe, vouches for all I have told him to write and adds his assurances that there is no deliberate error in any of the material I am sending to you, nor any in the records I am keeping aboard this ship. I have receipts for taxes and duties paid, copies of which are part of this communication; the originals will be provided to you upon our arrival in home port, with copies made for your senior clerk, Hu Bi-Da.

We will remain here in port through the dark of the year and, with the first return of sunlight, set out to the north and the Yellow Sea. In the certainty that you will find all the accounts satisfactory, and the protection of your ship given highest priority, I commend myself to you and ask that you regard me as your most respectful ship's Captain.
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