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Dragon and Phoenix
Year of the Phoenix 1008 * The Harem of the Imperial Palace * Jehanglan
Lura-Sharal was dead
Shei-Luin bowed her head as her sister's body was carried away for burning, borne upon a litter of ebony by four burly eunuchs. A cloth of the imperial gold silk covered the girl's slight form. What did it matter?
Lura-Sharal was dead.
Shei-Luin knew she should be proud of that mark of the emperor's favor. But all she wanted was her elder sister back. What would she do without the wise and gentle words of Lura-Sharal guiding her?
She watched as the litter disappeared through the door. Tears streamed down her cheeks; she wanted to run screaming after it, to hurl herself upon her sister and beg Lura-Sharal to tell her it was but a jest, to hold her, to sing and dance with her once more. She yearned to run away and ride the wide open plains again as Zharmatians with Yesuin, their childhood friend.
Ah, Phoenix, if only they could all be free once more ...
But now Yesuin was a hostage to the uneasy peace between his father's tribe and the Jehangli.
And Lura-Sharal was dead.
A hand came down with jarring force upon Shei-Luin's shoulder. She jumped, and looked up to find Lady Gei's masklike face hovering over her.
"Come," the lady said. Her voice held no sympathy. "Come; the Phoenix Lord has seen you and grants you the favor of his company. For you are also of the seed of Lord Kirano; it is time to do your duty, girl. At thirteen you are old enough."
"But I am n--" Shei-Luin broke off. To speak the truth would be to close the path she suddenly saw open before her. Shei-Luin turned her head to hide her slip of the tongue.
The fingers on her shoulder tightened like bands of steel. Empty inside, Shei-Luin went where they led. Eyes filled with jealousy and hatred followed her as she went deeper into the perfumed sanctum of the harem to be made ready.
And afterward ...
She bowed her head. But only for an instant; she would not shrink from her fate or from Xiane Ma Jhi, Phoenix Lord of the Skies. For she knew a thing that no one else alive now remembered.
She stared straight ahead, her eyes dry now.
Copyright © 1999 by Joanne Bertin