This is a serialized story. Part 1 can be found here
Lately, news had been brought by the wandering brother of new, exotic lands across the sea and of a people fit enough to be graced by the rule of the Emperor. Ships were dispatched, and officers of the Imperial Army charged with conquest and of bringing back to the Emperor the new province’s most beautiful woman. But the people of the far Eastern Isles cared little for the notion of conquest; the officers were welcomed as guests, and feted with humble hospitality. With their first mission so easily completed, the officers asked the people of the far Eastern Isles who was their most beautiful woman? Here the new language failed them. What did the strangers mean by “beautiful”? Your most valued woman, they said, but when the people pointed to the oldest and wisest woman among them, the soldiers shook their heads. A woman who is like that, suggested one of the officers, and pointed to a fantastically beautiful and ornate tropical bird. Ah, the people said, an “oni”, which in their language meant “united”, and pointed to a woman who was both man and woman in one body, arrayed in beautiful and ornate clothing, for the “oni” were sacred to them. No, the officers insisted, your most pleasing woman, the rarest and most precious to you. The storyteller?, suggested one of the children, and several of the people nodded in agreement, but we cannot do without her. Bring her to us, the soldiers demanded, or we will kill your wisest woman, and your “oni”, and every girl child on this island. Reluctantly, the storyteller was sent for.