Read Dragon Heart Online

Authors: Cecelia Holland

Dragon Heart

 

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This book is dedicated to the 59 Angels

who gave me back my hearing.

 

1

Jeon could hear his sister screaming all the way from the other end of the cloister, and beside him the abbot was fumbling with a set of keys. Jeon wheeled on him.

“You've locked her up? How dare you lock her up!” He strode down the walkway toward the heavy door, which Tirza's wails pierced like knives through the wood.

“My lord, she is uncontrollable; she screams during prayers, she hits us—”

“She is a Princess of Castle Ocean.” He tore the key from the monk's hand and thrust it into the lock. “You'll suffer for this, Abbot.”

As Jeon turned the key in the lock the screaming stopped. He swung the door open, and there sat his sister, cross-legged on the cot, staring at him.

She burst into a huge smile and, stretching her arms out, leapt to her feet and ran to him, this funny tiny girl, with her wild red frizz of hair, her dusky skin, her huge blue eyes, who looked nothing like him but was his twin. He gathered her into his arms.

“My dear. My dear one.”

She nuzzled him, clinging to him. She came only to his shoulder, slender as a twig, like a feather in his arms. Her hair smelled of the sea dew that flavored her bath. She wore only a long shift; he looked quickly around for other clothes, for attendants, and turned on the abbot again.

“This is an outrage.”

“My lord, my lord.” The abbot was bobbing up and down like a bird. “We did not know—we did not expect—”

Tirza was pulling away from Jeon, brushing her wild hair back with both hands. She gave him an intent look, and went straight out the door and through the hedge there onto the sunlit grass at the center of the cloister, and stood there, raising her hands and her face into the light and the air. Jeon said, “You mean, you didn't think we would care what happened to her.” He went after his sister, now turning slowly around on the grass, her arms raised over her head. “Tirza, come along.” He had to find her something to wear.

She came up to him, her eyes direct, and tugged on his cloak. “Ah,” he said, and took it off, and she wrapped it around herself, her gaze never leaving his face. She gave a low, mushy growl. Her brilliant blue eyes rounded, asking something.

He had always understood her better than anybody, some shared mind. “Oh,” he said. “Yes, we have to go home. Mother wants us all there. She is being married off again.”

Tirza's whole face flared with temper. She shook her head at him.

“I'm afraid so. Another of the Emperor's brothers. Nobody likes him, not even Mother. And he has two sons of his own. Whom he has brought with him to Castle Ocean. You won't like them, either.”

She shook her head at him again, she clenched her fist, and her mouth opened, and he put his hand over her mouth. “No, Tirza. Not to me.”

She shuddered. Turning, she walked quickly away, and he caught up with her in a stride and took hold of her hand. Her fingers closed tight on his. They went on down the walkway, silent. At the door, he said, “I want to leave directly. I came overland, but there's an Imperial galley here that's on its way to Castle Ocean. That can take us home, and fairly quickly, too. The abbot has orders to pack your things. Didn't you have any women with you?”

She aimed a brief, flashing look at him, and he laughed. Six months in this place had not subdued her, and he was beginning to enjoy the idea of seeing her meet the new putative stepfather. Outside the cloister, Jeon's men waited by the wall with the horses. They bowed to him, and then also to Tirza, murmuring some greeting. Bedro was the closer of the two and bowing put him within reach, and she patted his head like a dog's.

Jeon left Bedro to collect her baggage, put her up behind his saddle, and with the other man riding in front of them to clear the way they went down through the market. Santomalo covered both banks of the river here, its rows of red-roofed houses rising up the gentle hills from the beach. The sun was high and the harbor glittered, full of ships. He pointed toward the galley drawn in against the long wharf. “That's the ship we're taking. They're trying to map the seacoast out to Cape of the Winds and then south, I think.”

She was holding on to the back of his belt as they rode along; she leaned forward, looking toward the harbor. The street turned steep down into the market, a field of different-colored awnings, noisy and busy with people. Jeon's man called out and the crowd parted to let them through. Someone called out, “Monkey woman!” Jeon felt Tirza let go of his belt and swung his arm around behind him and gripped her fast. She leaned on him, snarling. They wound through the bazaar, past the rows of casks, the braided strings of onions and garlic, the bleating lambs in their withy pens. As they passed the lambs, Tirza bleated back. That she could do, make any noise but words. They were coming to the wharf.

“This is the Emperor's galley, remember,” Jeon said lightly. “And the Emperor's captain.” He reined up his horse on the bank beside the wharf, and she slid down to the ground, looking all around with her intense blue gaze. Jeon dismounted; his man came to collect the horse. There was no room for horses on the galley and these would go back overland. He was interested in the galley and glad to have a chance to sail on it, and he stood a moment running his eyes over it, seeing how it was built.

The galley was long and thin, with a high curled tail and a pointed head, laid against the wharf like a great wooden blade beside its sheath. The crew had gone off. No sails hung from the long diagonal yards and below the deck the oars were shipped inside the portholes, their leather sleeves like pursed lips. Down there, under the deck when the lips were plugged with oars and all the men were pulling at once, that space had to be a hot and airless hell. He stepped out onto the polished, honey-colored deck and turned to help his sister, whether she liked it or not.

The captain bustled importantly toward them. Like all the Imperial men, he put much effort into appearances. He took off his hat as he came, made a deep obeisance to Jeon, and faced Tirza.

“My lady, welcome. Whatever we can do to make your passage agreeable, you need only speak.” He reached out for Tirza's hand and she drew back from his touch. With a gesture toward the foremast, he said, “You see we have made arrangements for your comfort.” Still trying to grasp her hand, still bowing. Around the foot of the mast, several layers of light cloth hung suspended, enclosing a space hardly big enough to stand up in. She backed away from that, bumping into Jeon, and swatted at the captain's reaching hand. A string of barks and growls issued from her.

“My lady.” The captain goggled at her, his arm dropping to his side.

Jeon said, “My sister is mute. She does not speak.” To her, he said, “Go inside for now, Tirza.” He had a firm grip on her arm; she was half-naked and he was determined to get her out of sight. She obeyed him, moved into the little silken room, and the veils fell between them.

*   *   *

She was not mute. She talked, but nobody understood her. She had said Jeon's name, back at the cloister, and he had only frowned at her, uncomprehending, his own beloved name.

She sat on a cushion in this new, prettier cell, liking the way the sun shone through the veils of the walls. One was lavender colored and the light lay on her hands like a weightless wing. She thought over what he had told her, that they were forcing her mother to marry again.

They had tried this once before. Her mother had poisoned that one on their wedding night. She wondered why the Emperor did not take the point.

The chest with her things pushed in under the bottom edge of the silky wall before her. The same unseen hands whisked the veil quickly down again. It was a warm day, and she was comfortable enough in just the shift, but if she went out like this Jeon would make her come back inside. She unlatched the chest and got out a long dark gown. Through the wall she heard someone talking, close by, and then Jeon spoke. She pulled the gown on over her head, let the laces dangle, and went out onto the deck of the galley.

Jeon and the captain stood there in the beak. The captain had a long roll of parchment in his hands, and as she came up he spread it out before them on the rail where the gunwales came together.

She looked on curiously. The monks had had such parchments, which they marked carefully with black curling lines. This was not like that: this showed more of a picture. On the left-hand side was a busy clutter of zigzags, which she knew at once were the hills behind Santomalo; on the broad expanse there was a big cross in a circle, which meant the Empire.

To the west, the picture narrowed to a single feathery line, and that line soon vanished into nothing. On the far right side, another big upright zigzag.

The captain jabbed his finger at it, and said, “That is Cape of the Winds.”

She understood now, and she almost laughed. They had set down this swarm of lines to mean the world, then. But they had left out everything that moved, the wind and the waves, light and the dark; they had turned the myriad shapes into one shape, as if they were the same forever, locked on to their parchment.

In the blank spaces, the maker had drawn little pictures, as if he could not bear the emptiness, a sword, a four-pointed star, a bird, a whale, a dragon.

The captain was saying, “You see the problem. None of this is charted.” His hand swept from the busy edge across the blank space. His voice was stiff. “I'd like to wait for more ships, make up a fleet.”

Jeon said, “Nothing ever was charted, until someone did it. Get a chart maker and take him along.”

“I can't even find a man who will pilot us along this coast.” Again the captain swept his hand over the chart. He looked up with a frown, toward where the line between the land and the sea swept away straight into the west. “And Cape of the Winds is famously treacherous.
Post Sanctum Malum malum,
they say.”

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