Of all the provinces of the glorious and everlasting Celestial Empire, Emerald Seas is perhaps the most troubled. The realm of woodlands has not suffered the great cataclysm of the Golden Fields, or the constant warfare of the Savage Seas, of course, but its troubles are more persistent. To discuss this matter, it is necessary to return to the beginning, to the still-savage days before the Empire’s founding. The Emerald Seas then was not really a proper kingdom.
Tsu the Diviner was a wise and mighty sage, this is true, codifying the patterns of weather and season, allowing for the first recorded instances of sustained agriculture, but he was ultimately a man of his time. He had no interest in developing a strong and stable society and state. His people remained dispersed and decentralized through the vast woodlands of the province. The nature of their pacts and agreements with spirits lead them to avoid the building of any great infrastructure, relying upon natural formations, such as the divine tree of Xiangmen. When the Diviner passed, his children were content to live stagnant lives, performing the rituals of their ancestors without innovation and living lives heavily influenced by spirits. It was during this period that the tribes of the Emerald Seas received the name ‘Weilu’ from their neighbors, after their height and the prominent horns that they inherited from their spirit ancestors.
There was some change to this paradigm in the millennia leading up to the emergence of the Sage Emperor. Contact, both violent and otherwise, from the growing realms of the Bai and Zheng clans spurred development among the Weilu. Some among them began to build cities of stone and expand their fields beyond the simple affairs laid down by their illustrious ancestor. This resulted in an internal schism among the Weilu, which came to a head with the death of the current patriarch, whose sons were members of the opposing factions.
The exact details of the matter are murky; in the aftermath, the Weilu descended further into isolation and xenophobia, and the cities that had been built were cast down and reseeded. The conflict had greatly damaged them and so, when the Sage Emperor came, with the Bai and the Zheng at his back, the Weilu simply surrendered after brief conflict in return for a promise of autonomy, sending forth hostages from their most prominent families to ensure good behavior.
In the aftermath, the Weilu began to fragment further. The ‘pure’ bloodlines maintained the Weilu name, but as their branches spread and flourished, mingling with the hill peoples of what is now the southern reaches of the province, new names began to emerge. These new clans remained loyal to the overall tribal confederacy, if only tacitly. However, the pure clans were by this time dabbling more and more in the realm of spirits and growing ever more disconnected from their vassals, and without a firm hand to guide them, of course their people fell to squabbling.
What came next is yet another frustrating gap in historical knowledge. During the Strife of the Twin Emperors, the pure Weilu clans simply vanished amid the flames of the conflict. There were no records of violence, and what few contemporary records survived the zeal of the false Emperor Shang only indicate that their vassal tribes discovered their dream palaces empty and already fading one after another. More material redoubts took longer to penetrate, and it seems that there were a bare handful of Weilu still about, but their fate seems to have been a violent one.
In the wake of this disappearance, the Emerald Seas fell into civil strife, even as the rest of the empire was drawing its own period of instability to a close. The Emerald Seas civil wars were indecisive and bloody affairs, but without the Weilu and with the decay of their spirit pacts, superior methods of imperial organization and building finally began to take root: first in the form of fortresses and roads, and then in growing towns and cities. One century after the strife of the Twin Emperors ended and the last holdouts of the usurpers were exterminated, Emperor Yu of the second dynasty finally interceded, throwing support behind the Xi clan, raising them over their rivals the Hui, Gong, and Meng.
While this did quell the majority of open warfare, and spare the beleaguered people of the Emerald Seas further strife, the rule of the Xi was always somewhat weak. They did not hold true supremacy over their vassals, depending on imperial patronage. The Xi were a savage clan, and did poorly at the task of building the cohesion of their province. Aside from imperial patronage, they maintained their supremacy through the conquest of the barbaric hill people of the south, whose blood had mingled with the Weilu’s to form the successor clans.
These campaigns served to spread Xi influence by parceling out land to favored supporters and seeding branch clans to support them, in addition to simply co-opting a number of hill tribes who surrendered or joined with the Imperial dukes to assault their rivals. However, Xi diplomacy was always a lacking affair, and so these bonds swiftly deteriorated and new clans and subjugated tribes began to line up with other factions.
It was the aftermath of the Awakening of the Purifying Sun which finished them. Many of the mightiest Xi warriors had answered the Imperial muster and died in the cataclysm, and their numbers had never recovered. With the imperial seat reeling from these troubles the assassination of the Xi Patriarch marked the end of the clan. The Xi were hunted and exterminated to the last warrior, and those who remained were absorbed into other clans.
The following conflict was bloody indeed, but this time a proper victor emerged. The Hui clan rose to dominate their rivals through measures of great cunning. Many were the plays written of the masterful subterfuge by which the Matriarch Hui and her sons played their rivals against each other, allowing them to destroy themselves and rise to the top over their feuding bones.
It was a policy which they continued as dukes; the courts of the Hui were said to be the most treacherous in the Empire, drawing disdain even from the Bai, who often receive similar recriminations from outsiders. In the wake of the cataclysm and the decline of the second dynasty, there was no will among the imperial court to replace them.
Over time, the Hui grew decadent indeed, ensconcing themselves within the divine tree of Xiangmen and rarely venturing out, forcing their vassals to come to them to pay obeisance. However, by the time that Hui decadence had reached its peak, the chaos they had wrought with their spies and silver tongues was self-sustaining: tomes full of blood oaths and grudges existed between the clans of Emerald Seas.
As such, when the Barbarians of the Wall united under the Great Khan Ogodei, the clans were swept aside one by one. It was only the heroism of southern survivors, united with the forces of the Meng, Luo, and Diao clans, aided by then Prince An, which saw the Khan off. In the centuries that followed, resentment boiled toward the Hui who had not sent a single warrior to contest the barbarian who had ravaged half of their province. To add insult to injury, beyond the land seized in punishment by the emperor to seed the Great Sects, the Hui maintained their claims upon all the southern lands of exterminated clans, refusing to redistribute it.
Thus, raids in the south remained a terrible problem, and even the valor of the Great Sects could not wholly stem the tide. Many other small clans who had survived Ogodei, many heroes of the resistance or their children, began to die, and anger continued to grow.
It was at this time that the remarkable Cai Shenhua emerged. A second generation cultivator, born from a man who had risen to nobility through the Sect system, through some means, she achieved the peak of cultivation at the incredible age of fifty, and rose to challenge the Hui. As a cultivator of the Eighth Realm, she proved impossible to confront or eliminate for the ailing ducal clan. The Hui could do little save raise chaos in her ranks as she gathered support, and their complaints to the Imperial Court fell upon deaf ears, for the now-Emperor An regarded the Hui with contempt, having fought alongside the resistance forces in the south.
When the Hui were at last isolated in Xiangmen, and the Emperor released a decree, naming Cai Shenhua as Duchess of Emerald Seas, they could only die.
It remains to be seen what the new Duchess will do with the province, if she will at last be the one to break the fractious nature of Emerald Seas, but if so, it shall be a long and arduous journey.
Writing of an Alabaster Sands scholar, on the political situation in the Emerald Seas.