Home > The Dragon's Promise(12)

The Dragon's Promise(12)
Author: Elizabeth Lim

  “If the dressing rites do not interest you, I shall help you choose.” Nahma motioned for one of the chests to approach. “What about this one?”

  She held up a silk gown in a muted shade of pink that reminded me of the begonia trees at home. Seafoam lace embellished the long fluted sleeves, which were as gossamer-thin as spiderwebs, and countless tiny pearls beaded the skirt. It was the humblest choice by far, but still far richer than anything I’d ever owned.

  I gave a reluctant nod, and Lady Nahma reached for my satchel, which had no place among such fine things.

  I refused to hand it over. “The Wraith’s pearl is inside. I’m to present it to the king.”

  Nahma gave me a wary stare, which I returned.

  It wasn’t a lie. I was to present it to the king; I just had no intention of doing so.

  “Very well,” she said finally. “You may keep it.”

  She didn’t speak to me again until I was dressed, painted and powdered, and properly adorned. A refreshingly speedy process, after which she made a low whistle. It wasn’t a comment of approval on my appearance, as I thought at first, but a summons—

  Hundreds of tiny fish swam through the walls. Each carried a glass shard in its mouth, which they pieced together within a wooden frame. When they were finished, the shards fluxed and fused, creating a mirror.

  It was taller than me by a head, its glass thick and clean, the frame veined with gold. A strangely familiar magic hummed from within its glass, but the mirror itself didn’t look particularly special, and neither did my reflection.

  Nahma had woven an emperor’s ransom of pearls and opals into my hair, and adorned my ears, neck, and wrists with more wealth than all the pirates of Lor’yan might amass in their lifetimes. Still, all the glittering treasures in the sea could not mask the hard defiance in my eyes, or change me from Shiori into a nameless dragon concubine.

  I took heart in that. At least for now.

  “This is the mirror of truth,” I said.

  It wasn’t a question, but Nahma gifted me with a nod. “It is Lady Solzaya’s most prized treasure, won in a wager with one of the first enchanters. Since then, it has been a part of the ceremony’s tradition.”

  Dragons do love to gamble, I thought.

  “There were only a handful of shards on Lady Solzaya’s necklace,” I remarked. “Why did hundreds appear just now?”

  “There are seven shards to Lady Solzaya’s mirror of truth, each of equal sight and power. During the rare occasion that they are not in her possession—for example, a rite such as this—she conceals them among ordinary mirror pieces so that they may not be stolen.”

  “Stolen,” I said slowly. “By companions such as yourself?”

  “I have no desire to possess the mirror of truth.”

  “But weren’t your memories taken away when you made the oath to Ai’long?” I couldn’t help the acidity of my words. “Wouldn’t you want to remember your past?”

  The barest flicker crossed Nahma’s features. “The changing is different for all. I happen to remember more than most.” She focused on putting away a pair of hairpins. “It has been a curse as well as a blessing. Some things are best forgotten.”

  “What do you remember?” I probed.

  For a long time, Nahma said nothing. I had given up hope that she’d respond when finally she replied:

  “In my time, things were different. Dragons weren’t legends, and if a nation did not make proper sacrifices to the seas, the dragons would steal its sons and daughters from the shores. Among those given to Ai’long, a few were chosen to become companions through rites of selection.”

  I remembered. “Solzaya said that was how you ended up here.”

  “Yes. My year, there were twelve.”

  Her flat response made me frown. “What happened to the other eleven?”

  “I visit them from time to time, whenever I visit this palace.” Nahma’s expression was inscrutable. “They stand in King Nazayun’s weeping garden.”

  My throat shriveled as I grasped her meaning. The eleven had been turned to stone.

  “Why?” I whispered.

  “Because of the Oath of Ai’long. All under the Dragon King’s domain are bound to it. Immortals are not invincible, Shiori’anma, not even dragons. The oath ensures that no dragon shall harm another without the gravest of consequences. Visitors to Ai’long are unbound by such a promise, which makes them dangerous.”

  My jaw locked. “Like Gen.”

  Through our reflections in the mirror, Nahma’s gaze met mine. “Like Gen,” she repeated.

  “So Nazayun will condemn a child just for trespassing?”

  “Gen isn’t as innocent as he looks.”

  “Because he tried to steal something?” I said. “A dragon asked him to do it—he’s not a thief.”

  “He tried to steal the mirror of truth,” Nahma said pointedly. “No mortal would be aware of such an ancient treasure anymore. And no mortal would be able to infiltrate Ai’long unless aided by someone very powerful, and very dangerous. Lady Solzaya has interrogated the boy for months about which dragon that might be, but he hasn’t said anything.”

  “Because he doesn’t know!” I cried.

  “That is of no consequence. He won’t have long.”

  “He’s just a boy. Don’t you care? Can’t you do anything?”

  “It is not my place,” said Nahma.

  “Then you really aren’t human anymore.”

  I meant for my words to sting, but Nahma was unmoved. “Some would say I never was.”

  Her words were so soft I wasn’t sure whether I had heard correctly. I frowned. “What did you just s—”

  “You will find,” Nahma interrupted, steering the topic elsewhere, “that dragons feel little empathy, and even less love. It is to your fortune that you will be bound to Seryu’ginan. He is better than most.”

  Better than most. “What an inspiring endorsement.”

  “It is the truth,” Nahma said. “I will not lie to you, Shiori’anma. But if you will not listen, then I will send for someone else to attire you. This task is one I rarely undertake, but I thought to make an exception for you. For who you are.”

  “The bloodsake of Kiata?”

  “No. The daughter of the Nameless Queen.”

  My eyes flew up, the thoughts spinning in my head coming to an abrupt halt. “You knew my stepmother?”

  “She was married through a ritual not so different from ours.” A small, hard smile played on Nahma’s lips. “A contest, if you will. Every king and prince sought her hand, and every enchanter and demon sought the pearl in her heart.”

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