The Secrets of Jin Shei, excerpt; German title: Die Drachenkaiserin   The Secrets of Jin Shei      Für die deutsche Version bitte das Logo anklicken.
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   It was closer to three weeks, rather than the more traditional single week of retreat as practiced by all her Imperial ancestors,  that Liudan decreed a return to Linh-an. None of her companions  were any the wiser as to what her decision was in terms of  choosing her Emperor, which was ostensibly the reason for the  whole journey up to the mountains.
        Liudan was perfectly happy to discuss any subject under the heavens with her three jin-shei sisters. Her mood was even  downright playful at times. She shared of herself as much as she  was capable of sharing – she discussed statecraft and the intricacies  of the Way with Nhia, and with Yuet, the oldest and most  sophisticated of them all, the fascinating topics of people and the  way they functioned. She had long, serious discussions on art and  poetry with Tai; her remarks about the potential of Tai’s poetry had  been no Imperial whim, lightly said and quickly forgotten. But what  was to have been the purpose of her withdrawal into the mountains  – the choosing of the next Emperor of Syai – seemed to have been conveniently buried out of sight, and Liudan showed no sign of wanting to resurrect it.
     There had also been no discussion of the Traveler girl who had haunted Tai’s dream.
     "Say nothing, yet", Yuet had told Tai. "There is something here that I think I ought to have known about, but right now all I have is an inkling. I know nothing for sure, and I will not until I get back to the city and to my records, to Szewan’s records. Until then, say nothing to anyone. Leave her the life that she has – don’t draw attention to her at all. I will look into it, and let you know if I find anything."
   But Tai had been frustrated and curious, and the day before they left the village to return to Linh-an, she had gone back to the Summer Palace – again by herself, this time closer to her own favorite time of the day, when the sun was hanging low and golden above the mountains.
     She did not know what she had expected to find, but it was not what met her when she climbed up the still snow-covered slopes and through the hushed, empty gardens. In a sunlit corner of a ruined courtyard, like a scrap of tapestry come to life, she saw the girl of her dream dancing, alone. Her eyes were closed and her arms, bare despite the still-wintry nip in the air, were raised above her head, her wrists bent in graceful arcs, like the wings of a white bird. Her bright hair was loose and streamed in riotous curls, catching the late afternoon sun and glinting red and gold as she whirled to music she alone heard echoing in her mind. She was very fair, her skin like fine porcelain, veins showing blue at her wrists, and her mouth was full and parted as she danced. It was hard to guess at her age because her movements were a woman’s movements, her body a woman’s body with curves at breast and hip, but her face, and the shape of her mouth, and the curious abandon to her pleasure, were all a child’s.
   The awareness of not being alone any longer, something that caught her in mid-movement and shivered the shape of her dance into fragments like a falling mirror, was that of a wild thing – neither woman nor child but an unwary mountain beast trapped against a cliff by a hunter. Her eyes flew open and she grabbed at her shawl, draped untidily over a bare tree branch, wrapping herself back into anonymity and turning to flee into the lengthening shadows at her back.
   "Wait!" Tai called out, flinging out an arm to stop her. "I mean you no harm! Don’t run! What’s your name?"
   "I do not talk to the Court people", came the unexpected reply, in a soft, oddly accented voice – it was dark and low, and older that Tai expected. "Go home! Leave us alone!"
     And then she was gone again.
   Tai did not tell Yuet of this encounter, preferring to wait until Yuet came up with some answers of her own. But the strange mountain child was much on her mind as the Linh-an women, the "Court people", made their way back to the city after Liudan’s three weeks of grace.
     The Council demanded the results of her meditations on the day after her return to the Palace.
     "I will make an announcement," Liudan said, "on my birthday. Not before."
     She would still be only fifteen years old on her next birthday, in the summer. Still young enough – in theory – to be reined in, bound by tradition, controlled. The Council, advised by the Sages, allowed her the further grace. But speculation did not stop running riot, and the city’s betting shops did a brisk trade on which of the suitors Liudan would take as her Emperor at the end of that summer. This Autumn Court would be very different from that of the previous year.
     Tai came home determined not to allow Yuet to let the matter of the identity of the Traveler girl slip from her consciousness, but she was soon sidetracked by other events.
     The first was the arrival of a very important milestone. Her cycles began two days before the turned twelve, and her Xat-Wau ceremony was scheduled for the fourth day of the third week of Taian, the day that had been the Little Empress’s birthday. Tai was no Empress, and her ceremony was far simpler than Liudan’s had been – in fact, there was no Temple priest present at all, and it was Nhia, her friend and jin-shei sister, who spoke the words of the coming-of-age blessing over her. The only other people present had been Yuet, a smiling brace of neighbors who had been invited in for the celebration, and Rimshi, now seriously ailing and seated throughout the ceremony in a deep cushioned chair and a rug, despite the summer temperatures outside, laid over her knees. Her hands trembled these days, and the Xat-Wau ceremony seemed also to seal the inescapable fact that it was Tai and not her mother who did more and more of the fine embroidery work for the Imperial Court these days.
     Nhia had wanted to invite Kito, but Tai, at the last minute, had balked. This occasion would be recorded at the Records Office, right there beside the Temple, and there would be the offerings to be made to the proper spirits, and it had been Nhia who had purchased Tai’s special Xat-Wau bead for her yearwood at So-Xan’s stall so that it might have been Kito himself who had carved it – but she had suddenly been furiously shy at his being present at the rites which promoted her from child into adult woman. She had been practically in tears over it before Nhia realized that it was not just a reaction to teasing but something far deeper than that, and had wisely abandoned the issue.
     Frail and delicate as she was, Rimshi had insisted on being part of the ceremony. It was she who placed Tai’s Xat-Wau red pin through the upswept crown of her hair. But it seemed that waiting for her daughter to reach this stepping-stone to adulthood was the only thing that was keeping Rimshi alive. Shortly after the ceremony, at which she had still been able to move around the house and had been bright-eyed and proud and happily accepting the congratulations of her guests and the messages of those who did not come – even Liudan had sent a special gift for the occasion, which impressed the neighbors immensely – Rimshi took permanently to her bed, and, despite all Yuet’s ministrations, did not look likely to leave it again. It was this looming problem and not the mysterious Traveler girl they had left behind in the mountain village that occupied Yuet’s mind.        
Excerpt from: Alma Alexander (Alma A. Hromic):  The Secrets of Jin Shei [Die Drachenkaiserin]
Courtesy of  the author
Please click here for the German translation.

  Design + text: Christiane Bergfeld, Hamburg. All rights reserved.
Last modified: 24 April 2009
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