When the Sea Turned to Silver Page 16

“For the dragon’s pearl,” Lady Meng said after Yishan had finished, “you’ll have to see King KaeJae. He is the king of the City of Bright Moonlight. It was he who asked my husband for help.”

“What did he need help with?” Yishan asked.

“King KaeJae knew the old emperor would soon be overthrown,” Lady Meng said, “and a new emperor would come to power. New emperors usually execute all the old kings and replace them. King KaeJae wanted my husband’s advice so he and the city could survive.”

“The king must have trusted your husband a lot,” Yishan said.

“Yes, they were good friends,” Lady Meng said. “That is why I have questions for him.”

“What will you ask him?” Yishan said. Pinmei continued to marvel at his boldness. He could be talking to a farmer or an emperor, Pinmei thought, remembering Yishan’s unbowed head the night the hut burned, and it wouldn’t matter.

However, while Lady Meng’s eyes flashed with sudden anger, it was not from Yishan’s impertinence. “I want to know how my husband died,” she said.

“Will it make a difference?” Yishan asked with surprising gentleness.

Lady Meng flushed and bowed her head. “Perhaps not,” she said softly. “But I still need to know.”

Pinmei looked at Lady Meng, shimmering with finery like a queen. To get the dragon’s pearl, they would have to ask to see the king, which, Pinmei suspected, would result in mocking laughter. Lady Meng, however, would be invited in immediately. Maybe Lady Meng could bring them! Should she ask? No, she wouldn’t dare! But Amah’s bracelet gently pressed on Pinmei’s wrist with the weight of a loving hand. Pinmei took a deep breath.

“Um, maybe, since we all, um, need to see the king,” Pinmei said hesitantly, “maybe we could all go together…”

Pinmei’s face flushed to the same color as Yishan’s hat.

“That is a good idea,” Lady Meng said. “BaiMa can bring us.”

“Your horse?” Yishan said. “But he ran—”

A nicker sounded, and Yishan and Pinmei swung around. There, like a white jade statue in the snow mist, was BaiMa, Lady Meng’s horse.



“But don’t you want to go ahead to the city on BaiMa?” asked Yishan. “We will just slow you down.”

“There is no rush for me now,” Lady Meng said, sorrow splashing across her face again. “We will travel together. BaiMa can carry us.”

“All three of us?” Yishan asked. “That is a lot for a horse.”

“Pinmei is little more than a mouse,” Lady Meng said with a smile, “and BaiMa is a special horse.”

And she was right. BaiMa was even more majestic and larger than Pinmei remembered. His sinewy, broad back was more like a dragon’s than a horse’s, and he had enough strength to carry a legion of men. As they rode, the empty sky and snow melted into each other, making Pinmei feel as if they were sailing on a vast white sea. When they finally reached the Jade River, the road broke off in four directions. Both Yishan and Lady Meng looked at the roads with dismay.

“Do you know which road to take?” Lady Meng said. “They all look the same in the winter.”

“There should be a marker,” Yishan said, jumping off BaiMa to dig through a pile of snow.

After some searching, they found the stone marker—or what remained of it—buried in snow. It had fallen to the ground, because of either the wind or vandals, and broken to pieces. What to do? The barren landscape made all the snow-covered roads look the same. In fact, if it were not for the Jade River in front of her, Pinmei would not even know which road they had already traveled on.

And it was the frozen Jade River that Lady Meng was staring at. Instead of looking from road to road, like Pinmei and Yishan were, Lady Meng’s eyes were fixed on the ice stretching before them like a silver brocade.

Finally, Lady Meng turned around and reached into the saddlebags. “Yishan,” she said, “come with me to break the ice.”

Pinmei threw Yishan a questioning glance, but he only reached down to grab a shard of broken stone and they both followed Lady Meng toward the river.

The ice was solid under their feet, but as they walked farther, Pinmei could hear the faint whispers of water growing louder. Just as Pinmei was starting to worry that the ice might be thinning, Lady Meng stopped.

“Break the ice here, Yishan,” she directed.

Yishan grinned, knelt down, and struck the ice with his stone. Whack! Immediately, the ice cracked, and a gash of dark water, like black ink, trembled in anxious waves.

From her sleeve, Lady Meng pulled out a set of gold chopsticks and dipped them into the water as if fishing for a dumpling in soup.

“Ah!” Lady Meng said with triumph. She waved her chopsticks. They were holding a smooth dark stone.

No, it wasn’t a stone, Pinmei realized as she looked closer. It was a shell. Lady Meng was holding a mussel.

“Show us the way to the City of Bright Moonlight,” Lady Meng commanded the mussel.

Pinmei sneaked a look at Yishan. What was Lady Meng trying to do?

“Show us the way to the City of Bright Moonlight,” she said again, louder and slower.

The mussel did nothing.

“Lazy thing,” Lady Meng sighed. She flung the shell into the air. “Wake up! Show us the way to the City of Bright Moonlight!”

And as the mussel spun into the sky, it burst into feathers. It was a bird! It hung above them, its chest a stitch of red thread in the white silk sky.

“A swallow!” Pinmei breathed. “The mussel turned into a swallow!”

Lady Meng had already turned back toward the road and Yishan trailed comically behind, his mouth open and head angled upward. But Pinmei stood still, curiously studying Lady Meng, who, against the whiteness of snow and ice, looked like a painting come to life.



The dungeon was cold, but not bitterly so. The thick earthen walls protected the prisoners from freezing, but the only light was the single torch left by the guard. Amah was not sure if days or weeks had passed.

“I have heard many stories about you, you know,” the stonecutter said. He gave a restrained chuckle. “Stories about the Storyteller! Strange, is it not?”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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