TITLE: Islands of Ice and Snow
GENRE: speculative fiction
WORD COUNT: 51,342
SUMMARY: A collection of short stories about isolation and hoarding.


The Palace of Sorrows was etched into a complex of caves in a remote cliff in the remote Elden Mountains. It was a remnant of a culture long gone for centuries. Of the few nomadic tribes who occasionally ventured near the place, they only had bad tales to tell about it. They said that the Palace was haunted by ghosts and demons, bad energy emanated from it.

In one of their tales, it was said that the Palace of Sorrows was the site of an enormous fight between two thanes wielding dark magics. Each of them wanted the same woman, a princess it was said, who was as beautiful as the sun and as gentle as the moon. One of the thanes defeated the other after a long battle and then married the princess. It was said, however, that they lived happily ever after, across the sea while the defeated thane was left at the Palace of Sorrows to simply fade away. It was said that his ghost continued to roam the caves of what was left of the palace. The idea of his ghost continued to frighten the nomads and nothing could ever make them venture near the caves.

When he had still been alive, my father had collected postcards. One day, at an antique rummage sale, he came across a strange black and white card depicting the Elden Mountains of a small country called Ran Eith. Having never heard of it, he did some research on it and came to the story of the Palace of Sorrows.

“I want to go there some day,” he had told my mother. “To see this Palace of Sorrows. More likely than not, it isn't haunted, but I'm sure it would be a wonderful, different place to go. Everyone needs the dream of going to some place they've never heard of before, and this one is mine.”

But then he passed away suddenly and my mother had a pathological fear of going to some place different. I had heard that my father had quite a difficult time convincing her of moving out of her hometown after they had married because he had gotten a new job in a city just fifty miles away. So, I suppose the task of fulfilling my father's dream came to me.

During college, I had read up about Ran Eith. Entries in encyclopedias rarely exceeded a paragraph. Little was posted on the internet. When I ventured into academic libraries, there were a few scholars who wrote about the place, but they primarily worked from documents that had been smuggled out of the country years before. Ran Eith, it seemed, was a small remote country, the people wary of foreign influences and mostly closed off from outsiders. But they were slowly opening up to tourists, despite an enforced quota.

I started saving up money for the trip and reading about Ran Eith customs. And, of course, I read about the Palace of Sorrows. During my research, I managed to befriend an old scholar who also had an interest in Ran Eith and the Palace of Sorrows and he suggested that if I wanted to go see the place, I could be granted access if I went with an academic purpose. Visas, Dr. Greenfield told me, were more easily obtained if one wanted to do serious scholarly research. So, I became Greenfield's assistant for the summer that he got a permit to visit the place. My job, primarily, was to document and do data entry, which was fine with me. An opportunity was an opportunity.

copyright © 2001-2012 S. Y. Affolee