When the Sea Turned to Silver Page 33

“But that was only on the outside,” the scarred woman said, her huge shoulders slumping. “Inside, I was weak and cowardly. I was too scared not to follow the commands of my masters. I beat the beggar.”

The woman lifted her head. Night was fading, and faint gauze ribbons of light stretched through the window toward them.

“When I heard you calling for help,” she said, putting her hand on Pinmei’s cheek, “I knew this was a chance to make amends for my past shame. I could not be a coward again. You have thanked me, but it is I who thank you.”

Outside, the sun rose and the soft light streamed in. The gray glow of morning did nothing to disguise the scars on the woman’s face, but they could see the gentle look in her eyes.

Pinmei felt tears beginning to sting. The woman’s hands were warm and wrinkled, touching hers with a tenderness so much like Amah’s.

“You are tired,” the woman said. “Come and rest.”

Pinmei let herself be led to a large pillow next to the stove, its heat bathing her in warmth. Her weary legs and arms were limp and all but collapsed onto the padding.

“Who was the hero you were named after?” Pinmei asked, her eyes already beginning to close.

“The great Haiyi,” the woman said. “He was one of my ancestors.”

“But he…” Pinmei began, but a yawn interrupted her words.

“Shhh,” the woman said. “It matters not.”

Pinmei’s words and fears melted in the warmth of the woman’s kindness, and she did not try to say more. She was so tired.

“Now,” the woman said, “just rest.”

So Pinmei did.







Who should he call? He did not know if he was in the sky, the earth, or the sea. It did not really matter. Whomever he called, someone would come. But, before this, he had last been swimming in the lake, so he would call the Sea King.

But how to reach him?

None had heard his cries. However, even to his own ears, his bellows seemed muffled. Perhaps, outside this golden emptiness, his sounds were stifled to silence.

He would have to send a message directly.

The Black Tortoise hesitated. Was it the only way?

It would not hurt him and he would heal immediately, he knew. But still, it was… unpleasant.

He looked around again and saw only the bare brilliance. He twisted his arms and legs, feeling the emptiness.

Yes, it was the only way. Very well.

He stuck out his tongue, stretching it as long as he could. Then, with a powerful snap, he bit off his tongue with his own teeth.

It fell on the gold ground, only to bound back up as if springing from a cushion. It began to roll and twist, lengthening and thinning, until it looked like a long black cord knotted at one end. Finally, it made a sinuous curve toward him, the bulbous knot resembling a head.

The Black Tortoise blew on it, a calm, controlled gust of air. The black coil trembled. From its knotted head, two eyes opened. Something tiny, like a frayed string, flicked from its mouth.

His tongue had turned into a snake.







“What is this? Who is that?” a sharp voice shouted. Pinmei woke up as if she had been slapped. She opened her eyes and saw Haiyi, the servant, cringing in the corner, and two richly dressed figures standing over her. As one of them—a puny man heaped with lavish fur and silk—turned to glare at her, Pinmei could see they were as scarred as the servant. Their opulent clothing, elaborate and glittering, could not hide their disfigurement, and their unpleasant expressions made them hideous. Pinmei knew immediately these were the masters of the House of Wu.

“You’re always helping little beggars to our property!” screeched the other of them—the woman—as ornate gold pins in her hair shook. She threw a bowl at the servant. It broke against the wall next to Haiyi’s head, the cold soup splashing everywhere. “Rice porridge! Dumplings! I’ve seen you!”

“I’ve only given my portion!” Haiyi protested, not even bothering to wipe the liquid from her face.

“And now you even let them into our house!” shrieked the man, grabbing the broomstick leaning against the wall. He raised it wickedly, his silk sleeve falling to reveal his hairy, wiry arm. “How dare you!”

“No, please, master!” Haiyi begged, cowering. “Please!”

But before the man could lower the stick, Pinmei rushed forward.

“Stop!” she screamed, placing herself between the man and Haiyi. “Stop it!”

The man sputtered in shock and outrage, and Pinmei could only stare back. He looked more like an animal than a man. His rough-skinned face was purple with rage, and the veins in his eyes bulged like tiny red worms. Pinmei paled, but she did not move.

“You want a taste of the stick too, you little beggar?” the man sneered, spitting drops of saliva.

“I’m not a beggar!” Pinmei said, raising her voice to hide its quavering. Without thinking, she took the jade bracelet off her arm and held it up.

The green circle seemed to glow. Vibrant and clear, the sunlight glided through it, making an emerald ring of light on the wall. Even from a distance, all could see the bracelet’s exquisite beauty and were, for a moment, stunned into silence.

Yishan and Lady Meng, awakened by the noise, came in from the other room, but Pinmei barely saw them. Her eyes were fixed on the masters of the House of Wu. Their heads looked small sticking out of their extravagant fur collars, but their mouths were wide open.

Their expressions shifted, and Pinmei watched their shock transform into desire. The woman’s eyes glittered like black beetles in her ravaged face, and the man licked his lips as if hungry. Pinmei swallowed.

“Do you want this?” Pinmei said, holding the bracelet higher. The polished stone glinted, and Pinmei felt as if she were offering a treat to rabid dogs. “Then promise you will never hit her again and you’ll leave us alone!”

Almost panting with greed, the two quickly nodded and Pinmei slowly held out the jade bracelet. They pounced toward her, and Pinmei felt a sharp, sad pain in her chest. How often had she clung to this bracelet? The jade, so pure and clear—like Amah’s voice waking her in the morning. And the cool, strong stone—like Amah’s hand steadying her across the ice. Could she really let these… these beasts have it? Her hand tightened around the bracelet and its perfect circle pressed back into her fingers as if resisting. Amah would want me to, Pinmei thought. She closed her eyes and released the bracelet.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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