2012 is a busy writerly year for me, including the release of Moonblood fast approaching. To celebrate that upcoming release, I am going to write a new A-Z blog series for Veiled Rose. Those of you who have already read the novel can use these for a refresher in preparation for Moonblood. Those of you who haven't . . . well, you might want to be careful! There will be spoilers throughout this blog series as I write up articles on various aspects of this novel. You have been warned.
So to begin, let's look a little more closely at that mysterious local find within the pages of Veiled Rose . . . the temple, Ay-Ibunda.
"Go to Lunthea Maly and seek out the Hidden Temple of Ay-Ibunda. The oracle there . . . she will tell you what you wish to know."
Thus says the otherworldly sylph to Prince Lionheart when Lionheart asks him how to defeat the dreadful Dragon. The sylph himself does not know the answer to Lionheart's question, but he knows who might and where she might be found.
The problem is, Ay-Ibunda is the hidden temple. There is only one mortal man alive who knows where it may be found, and that man is the Emperor of Noorhitam, a vast, multi-cultural empire in the Far East. And how can Lionheart, a disguised and exiled prince, hope to speak to an emperor?
That is all part of the story you must read for yourself. But let us look a little more closely at what can be known about Ay-Ibunda.
There are three primary people groups who make up what is now known as the Noorhitam Empire: The ruling Pen-Chan people, who are recent conquerors (as in, within the last five hundred years); the Kitar, who are the old conquerors (since conquered by the Pen-Chan); and the Chhaya, the original people of that land who ruled it long, long ago.
The Chhaya were, for the most part, a nomadic people, but they did establish a handful of fine cities. The first and foremost of these was Lunthea Maly, the City of Fragrant Flowers, built in a sheltered cove on the coast. There, this peaceful people fished and traded with those who passed that way, and developed a fine and elegant culture.
But then, the Kitar swept through (this was all many hundreds of years before Veiled Rose). They conquered the Chhaya and took over their city. Using this city as their capital, they established a powerful kingdom and called Noorhitam. And, somewhere in the midst of Lunthea Maly, they built a temple: Ay-Ibunda.
Since then, many rulers have come and gone from Noorhitam. The Pen-Chan, after a long and brutal struggle, finally bested the Kitar on the battlefields, and placed one of their own emperors upon the throne. To this emperor was passed down many strange secrets about the realm he know mastered. And one of those secrets was the location of Ay-Ibunda.
Ay-Ibunda is no normal temple built upon mortal soil, as we swiftly discover in our reading of Veiled Rose. By the time this novel takes place, the boy emperor of Noorhitam has only just come into his rule, and his uncle, a Kitar noble by the name of Sepertin-Naga, would like to keep some of the secrets of Noorhitam from him. Little does Sepertin-Naga realize how closely linked to his city the boy emperor is. Though he has never seen the Hidden Temple before, the young emperor has no trouble navigating the strange, twisted streets of his city and, at last, coming to gates.
"There was no lurch. There was no flash of light. There was no discernable sensation. One moment they were walking up the market square, listening to the shouts of fruit sellers and fishmongers; the sun was swiftly climbing and shining hot upon the streets, baking those who moved about their lives.
The next, the world was shrouded in mist, and they stood at the gates of the temple" (p. 289).
Ay-Ibunda, it would seem, was not built upon mortal soil. It was, perhaps, built somewhere in the Between . . . a dark region of the Between.
When we pass through those gates and see what Lionheart and the young emperor see, we begin to learn what sort of temple this is. It is no holy place, devoted to pure worship of a Creator. Instead, it is a place of darkness, strange chants, and secret ways. There are statues in the courtyard, statues that are simultaneously man and woman, or dragon and bird. They are beautiful but grotesque, frightening.
This is a temple devoted to the service of Death and Life-in-Death, the Dragon and his Sister.
Those Kitar conquerors brought more than new rule to the old Chhayan kingdom. They brought the secret worship of dreadful things.
And yet it is here that Lionheart is told he might discover the secret to the Dragon's demise.
I had a wonderful time inventing the Noorhitam Empire and the variety of cultures that make up its life and dynamic. Just before writing this novel, I had the opportunity to travel to Okinawa and there visited Shuri Castle and many beautiful gardens and jungles. This inspired bits and pieces of Noorhitam, though it has since morphed into something altogether its own. I would like to think that some of the flavor of the beautiful Asian nations permeates this part of Lionheart's travels. It was one of my favorites to write; I hope you enjoyed reading it yourself!
And I also hope to one day tell you much more about Noorhitam, the hidden temple, and the brave boy emperor. But we shall see . . . we shall have to wait and see . . . .