There was only one ruler in the world who had more power than the Queen Bei Chu, and that was the Emperor of the East. He was incredibly powerful, but in the West only a few old statesmen ever realized his existence; he lived at such a distance and court life was so self-centered under the Queen Bei Chu. The combined domains of these two rulers constituted the whole voyageable world. Beyond them, to the East lay a great stretch of curling water, barely poising itself on the shelf of creation; to the North, wastes of blue-shadowing snow, thinly inhabited by moss-eating animals; to the West and South, the mountains that could be seen from the Queen's windows and that no one ever crossed, for they were infested with intelligent storms that emerged from unmapped pockets to attack the adventurer.
Queen Bei Chu had ascended the throne upon the death of her father, in her thirteenth year. Her father's chief advisor, an old priest, had been appointed Regent, and his duties included the education of the Queen. Reading and writing one never ceases to learn, but education proper lasts six months and is very fatiguing. It includes declamation and ceremonial, and it was through ceremonial that the Queen first came to hear of the two experiences that awaited her next, Marriage and Love, or Love and Marriage. The old priest was brief and dull in his exposition; it was from her father's library that the Queen gained her real idea of these matters. The library contained six thousand romances, the diaries of four hundred favorites, and innumerable volumes of love poetry.
Love, she learned, was a state of frenzy in which black appeared white, and white, black; in which one was so tormented by the idea in one's head that eating and drinking lost their attraction; in which the whole matter of ceremonial became trivial, and one fell into grave errors in the ritual of congratulation and lost one's cleverness in ordering the folds of a robe. Many poets gave evidence of having suffered, describing vividly their flushed faces and wasted bodies.
"This is terrible," thought the Queen.
She read in a thousand passages that she could not escape falling in love. It strikes variously, through the eye generally. She would take pleasure from the view of some man, and live thereafter in a state of wretchedness. Nor did there seem to be any way of choosing one's beloved: camel-driver or prince, thief or priest, would some day wrest from her all interest save that which...