The year was 1270 and an Italian trader, with dreams of prospering in the Orient, had just arrived in Byuklando, a prosperous port of Goryeo, known today as Korea. His name was Alberto Rossi. Alberto was a rugged man, built like one who was used to hard work, which he was more than accustomed to. He stood on the sands of this new shore recalling all that had brought him to this place and point in his life.
Alberto was born the son of a wealthy trader and head of the Merchant Guild who owned many ships that traded all over the known world. Alberto took a job as a deck hand and worked his way to captain of his own vessel by his early twenties, and during his seafaring life he saw many wonders. He was, in his mind, one of the most fortunate men in Italy since he was often the first person to handle remarkable treasures. He worked his hands until they bled, saving his money so that he, too, could one day travel to the Far East in search of riches unknown.
Alberto's station had caught the eyes of the Albano family who were high-ranking members of the Craft Guild. They worked hand in hand with the Rossi family, buying raw materials from them and turning them into marketable wares. The Albanos and Rossis had arranged a marriage between their two children, and due to the closeness of the families, Alberto and the Albano's daughter, Calandra, practically grew up together.
He was six years her better but had been smitten by her beauty from the first time he looked into her girlish eyes. He believed Calandra to be the most beautiful young woman in all of Genoa. Most Genovese women were born with brown eyes, but Calandra's eyes were as green as the most precious of emeralds, and to young Alberto, more valuable than any gem. He would fascinate her with rumors and tales of the Orient and amaze her with the way he believed he would one day journey there to start his own trading company. Their love and adoration for each another grew to such depths that when one was absent from the other, a void existed between them.
On the eve of their wedding, Calandra waited for Alberto's ship to dock. Unknown to her, Alberto had his mariners decorate the captain's chambers before disembarking. When Calandra boarded the vessel, the first mate said, "Alberto is in his quarters finishing the last of his tasks for the evening. He directed me to have you meet him there."
"Thank you, sir," Calandra said with a smile and stepped through the doorway.
With sunset fast approaching, lanterns lit a trail of rose petals down the short hall to his quarters, turned sharply at the doorway and continued inside. Calandra stood astonished by the sight before her. The finest red and golden silk cloths draped and adorned the room, hanging in swags from the ceiling and cascading down the walls. The silks shone in the candlelight and riffled with the ocean's breeze that wafted through the open portholes. In the middle of the room stood a single table with two chairs, one pulled slightly from the table inviting Calandra to come and sit. Beside the other stood Alberto. He was wearing the finest jacket he could afford, with a white shirt just beneath. The shirt was unbuttoned just enough to show the first few ripples of muscle in his chest. Though Calandra was a chaste woman, she still felt the draw of his masculinity and the raw attraction that Alberto's appearance generated. Her flesh screamed that she wanted him even as her heart sped up thinking of what lay just beneath his clothes and out of sight. She hoped that soon she would find out.
Calandra stood there before him in a long blue gown whose white lace trim disappeared deep between her breasts. Her thick dark hair was unpinned and curled down her back, glistening in the candlelight, and her olive-hued skin gleamed as softly as the same fine oriental silks that bedecked the cabin. As beautiful as her breasts were, their rounded softness peeking above the lace trimmed bodice of her dress, it was her eyes that drew Alberto's gaze upward to the steady look she gave him. The sheer look of desire captivated him. It was a look he had not yet seen in her eyes, and Alberto found himself lost within it, as if submerged beneath the waves of the ocean he longed to sail. In her eyes, Alberto saw himself as the man he wanted to be and not the man he was. She breathed life into his dreams just by looking at him. He knew that she believed in him, and he wanted desperately to make his dreams her own. When Calandra looked at him, she saw herself in his arms wherever that may be and knew she would follow him across any sea he chose to sail.
Alberto stood and walked to the door, never breaking contact with her eyes. He slowly reached forward with his hand, which Calandra took his hand without hesitation, hoping he would grasp her in an endless embrace. She longed for him to take her, but Alberto fought away the urge, merely leaning forward to kiss her on the cheek. He said, "I know that our marriage has been arranged, but I want you to know just how much I love you, and I need to know you love me as well. Is this what you..."
Calandra smiled immediately, and before he could even ask the question she exclaimed, "Yes! Yes, I want to marry you! I have longed for this day to come and I could not want for anyone else!"
"Well that was easy enough," Alberto said with a smile. He leaned in slowly, and as his lips met hers, he thought of how perfect she felt in his arms. He would have been content just to hold her for eternity, and when he did hold her time seemed endless.
Thinking back, Alberto wished he had held her a little longer. The future would be a cruel foe indeed.
Within months of their wedding, Calandra found herself expecting a child. Alberto was delighted with the news, longing to tell his child the same stories that had won him his true love. In her last month of confinement, a ship sailed into harbor with the morning fog and set anchor far from shore. The cargo it brought was neither spices nor riches from foreign lands, but scarlet fever. Many of Genoa's residents were inflicted by the sickness, and Calandra was one of those.
Alberto stayed by her side as she drifted in and out of consciousness. He held her hand, feeling Calandra slowly tearing from the grip of their world. He knelt at her bedside, seeking God's aid and swearing a life of honesty and servitude if the Creator would save either mother or child. The labor was intense, and excruciating. Calandra, weakened and frail from the fever mixed with hours of labor, could barely push when needed to. Finally, the infant crowned, and with one last push, the midwife pulled the child from the womb.
"It's a boy!" exclaimed the midwife.
His son was a healthy baby and began to cry almost instantly. Alberto took his son and held him up at the foot of the bed for Calandra to see. With tears streaming from her eyes, she said, "We will name him Jacopo after my father, so that some part of me goes on with him." Calandra smiled, took one last deep breath, and left behind her husband and newborn son.
Alberto fell to his knees at the foot of the bed, holding his still bloody child close to him and cursing the day that took Calandra from him. The pain was nearly unbearable, as if someone or something had ripped all that mattered from inside of him. Alberto would never seek to fill the emptiness left by Calandra's passing. Years later, Jacopo would wonder if his father had wished, just as he did at times, that God had saved his mother instead of him.
His father reared him with stories of his mother and the power of their fever-shortened love. Alberto would love Calandra and only Calandra until the day of his death. She had been the treasure he truly sought in life, and losing her left him devastated. His single comfort was his child, and the stories he told Jacopo of his parents' dreams finally led him to leave Genoa with Jacopo and set out for the Orient to make Alberto's mark.
Now, following months of hardship that had brought them to these foreign shores, Alberto and Jacopo Rossi arrived in Goryeo in hopes of setting up not only a lucrative pottery trade, but also spreading the word of God! Thus keeping his promise to God for sparing his son. God showed favor on him too, blessing his trades and bringing wealth to both father and son. By 1272, Alberto had established himself as a trusted foreigner who sought honorable trade with his Asian associates.
In these times, the first Yuan emperor of China, Kublai Kahn, had seized control of China and Goryeo, establishing his dynasty. King Chungyeol of Goryeo, now a vassal of the Yuan dynasty, had beseeched the emperor to attack Japan and continue Kublai's Mongol expansion. He hoped this would allow him favor in the emperor's eyes and sway him to accept his proposal for Kublai's daughter's hand in marriage. Chungyeol even offered to build a fleet of warships for his effort to sweeten the offer. Kublai could not resist and sent emissaries to Japan to express his desire to make the country a vassal state. Japan responded by ignoring the emissaries' every attempt at negotiations, and tensions erupted between the Chinese emperor and the nation of Japan.
Alberto wisely ignored the local politics, which allowed him to continue trade with the locals as well as the kJapanese who frequented the port city. As tensions grew, fewer Japanese traders came to do business, but ever the optimist, Alberto felt civility would ultimately win out – and this would prove to be his demise. He was accustomed to a world where arguments were settled over a meal in the same room. In the Far East, conquest and power reigned supreme. The emperor was a determined man, certain that Heaven had crowned him "Supreme Ruler" of the known world.
Young Jacopo, now twelve, would play just outside his father's shop. He was quite a bit taller than the local boys who played with him, but he learned the language quickly and adapted to the culture well. One rainy day, while playing in the sand under the steps of his father's shop, it was as if the sky above had opened, and for a brief moment, all of Heaven's angels shown forth their radiance. Jacopo was entranced by the vision. He peeked through the steps at a young Japanese girl twirling an umbrella as she approached the steps to his father's shop with her father. She wore a traditional kimono, with leaves and song birds interwoven over the multi-colored silk backdrop. She was the most amazing vision of perfection he had ever seen, and moved with a grace, that demanded Jacopo's attention.
He crept from behind the steps, not allowing her to disappear from his gaze. However, as he reached the side of the steps, he tripped over a rock landing face first in the mud. The little girl, her father, and Alberto, who had stepped to the door to greet the man, laughed loudly at the sight of young Jacopo, now dripping mud from the entire front of his body. It would turn out to be the second most embarrassing moment of his life.
The man introduced himself and his daughter, Kyomi, to Alberto as Jacopo cleaned himself up, put on fresh clothes, and returned to sit by his father's side. He wanted to make sure he did not leave only a mud-covered image in the beautiful girl's eyes. He sat by his father pretending to show interest in the business of the two men even as he slowly turned his head towards the girl. She smiled coyly and Jacopo blushed, but could not look away from those eyes, green as the jade her father had come to trade. Jacopo had not seen green eyes before and was entranced. Her father noticed the locked gaze of the young ones and with stern emphasis called the girl's name, "Kiyomi!" His embarrassed and obedient daughter directed her eyes to the floor, while Jacopo grimaced to himself in discomfort. Kiyomi's father laughed at the sight, saying to Alberto in broken Korean, "Your son is a brave young man. This is most honorable."
Alberto chided, "Jacopo, watch your manners!" Jacopo, too, looked to the floor, and rolled a piece of jade that had fallen from the table around on the floor with his foot, until it shot out in the direction of the young girl. Keeping their heads bent, they raised their eyes to each other's until they met once more. Kiyomi smiled. Neither paid much attention to their fathers' talks of government and religion. Jacopo, though young, found himself immersed in the pools of jade, captivated by Kiyomi's girlish beauty and warmed inside by her stare.
"Come Kiyomi" the girl's father said. "Our business is done."
The two stood, and Kiyomi's father bowed to Alberto. Alberto returned the bow. Kiyomi knelt, picked up the piece of jade, and handed it back to Jacopo, who dropped it into his pocket, vowing in his heart to never let it leave his possession.
"Young man," the girl's father said. Jacopo looked up at him sternly, but softened his glare as the man bowed to him. Jacopo returned the bow as he had seen his father do, and the two visitors walked out the door.
Jacopo ran outside to watch as the two walked down the street. Just before disappearing into the market crowd, Kyomi turned, looking back at Jacopo, her green eyes glistening in the noonday sun. Her black and shining hair was pulled up in a bun on the back of her head with green jade pins holding it in place. That shining black hair contrasted with ivory skin. She smiled, turned, and walked away. It would be many years before Jacapo would melt into the eyes of Kiyomi again. He turned, disheartened by her departure, and walked back up the steps. Alberto watched his young boy becoming a young man and smiled. "If only his mother could be here to see him fall for a green-eyed girl" he thought. Father and son entered the shop and slid the door closed.
Alberto could not bring himself to tell young Jacopo that relationships between a Japanese girl and one not of their race was strictly forbidden, and that given her age, she was most likely promised to be wed already. Instead he sat and listened to his son ramble on in boyish delight about how beautiful Kiyomi was, and how young Jacopo was in love. Jacopo unconsciously twirled the jade ball in his fingers, thinking of her eyes. His father noticed the jade, but instead of taking it, let Jacopo keep it, knowing it was the only thing he would ever have to remind him of this moment of first love. Alberto would not pull Kiyomi from Jacopo's heart, as Jacopo's mother had been ripped from Alberto's.
Jacopo lay in bed that night with the jade under his pillow thinking of Kiyomi, her black hair, her beautiful smile, and those magical green eyes.
Alberto looked to heaven and said, "Calandra, I finally made it to the Orient, and I have everything I promised I would. That is, everything, but you my love."
The two drifted off into dreams of their true loves even as the near future waited ominously for the time to strike, as a snake would an unsuspecting mouse.