“We all dream of things we cannot have.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows
No one crossed the threshold of the Dragon Master’s home without his or his wife, Naran’s invite. Temür and Balad, the guards often ruined the happy mood of unwelcomed guests. Rose had no intention of crossing her Master’s temper with her presence.
Rose waited in the market until she spied Naran and her handmaidens entering the butcher shop. Dressed in the everyday clothes of an unmarried woman, Rose blended into the crowd unnoticed. She went into the butcher shop, her stomach aching with nervous tension. She would either change her life, and her daughters or they would die for her insult to the Dragon Masters.
She eased closer to Naran as the handmaiden gave the butcher their order of mutton. Rose pretended to look at the cuts of meat in the greasy case. There were Camel and Yak cuts and a few forlorn-looking geese. The girls had developed a lust for meat and the smell of it in the shop aroused the Dragon. Distracted, Naran’s voice surprised the courtesan.
“Rose! What do you stare at with such hungry eyes?”
“Oh! Madame. Forgive me. I am so rude to not greet you.” Rose bowed and offered her respect to the Dragon Matron. “I must feed the girls more and more. They grow so fast, and their appetite grows with them.”
Naran saw the worry on her friend’s face. She knew what Rose and the girls went through to please the Dragon. She didn’t know if they would live through it. Her heart softened when she saw the plain clothes that hid the Sister’s beauty. The Master’s number one courtesan never complained, never disobeyed, and never asked for anything for herself. Chingis had done well to choose her.
“Why don’t you come to my house for tea and we’ll talk. I want to know how the girls are doing.” Naran held Rose’s arm and walked her out of the shop into the street as the others fell in behind them. Rose felt relief flood her body and mind as she relaxed in the older Sister’s grasp.
* * *
Temür greeted them at the door. His smile changed after Naran, and the others passed through the door. His eyes turned to ice when he held Rose back.
“What is your business here, woman?”
“I have no business here. I come on the Madame’s invite.”
“Hold still. No one passes without my permission.”
Temür’s fingers were like iron as he felt her body under the loose clothes. He was quick and did not disgrace himself by lingering. He searched for weapons, not pleasure. Everyone was an assassin until he was sure they weren’t and then he searched them with more care.
No one lived to tell how the guard reacted when he found a weapon secreted away in a visitor’s clothes. There were rumors about why the potatoes grew so well in the dirt behind the Dragon’s home. Chingis took no chances and Temür took no shit. The icy stare moved from Rose to the door and back to Rose. She nodded her understanding and went inside.
Rose felt the hair on her neck and arms rise. The skin tingled, her heart pounded, and wariness filled her mind. A young woman stared at her from the kitchen. Her broad face and windburned cheeks gave away her nomadic life. They stared at each other. Pupils elongated, irises flickered from dark to yellow and gold in a field of black and brown. She was a Dragon Sister.
“Rose meet Khulan. She is the daughter of Chingis’ third brother. He and his wife died in a tragic accident last year. Khulan has come to live with us.”
“I am pleased to meet the niece of the Master.” Rose bowed to the younger girl which placed Rose in a subservient status and gave the girl a feeling of superiority. Khulan seemed to relax but never took her eyes from Rose.
Naran sensed the unease between the two. No one would disgrace her home with such behavior. She offered a chance for the two to regain their composure.
“Khulan, Rose is like you, she is of the blood of the Dragon as well as her daughters. They will join you for treatments soon. You must get to know each other well.” Naran paused with a stern look at Khulan.
Khulan picked up on her aunt’s demeanor. Naran’s wrath was more fearful than the strange sensations that flooded her in the presence of this woman that shared her fate. She approached Rose and took her hand to lead her to the table to sit next to her. Rose felt the soothing energy she sensed with Jasmine and Faith. She grew comfortable with the girl. Their shared pain and the Dragon’s blood bonded them. They were sisters of sorts.
Seated on the floor, Rose and Naran began to gossip and catch up with the latest events that traveled faster on the tongue than the radio or printed news. Rose waited for the right moment to ask for Naran’s help to deliver her plea to spare the girls the humiliating pain of their treatment. She had a plan to offer herself in exchange.
Khulan excused herself and went to the kitchen and fixed Suutei Tsai, tea with milk. Later, she brought the tea in and presented it to Naran who lifted the drink with her right hand and her left hand under her wrist. She drank from the bowl and placed in on the table.
“Ah, thank you, my niece. This pleases my old belly.”
Khulan bowed and offered a bowl to her new Dragon Sister. Rose repeated the ritual of acceptance and almost emptied the bowl to quench her thirst and quiet her hunger. The smell of the mutton cooking in the kitchen distracted Rose. She felt the Dragon rising in her veins.
Khulan caught Rose’s eye and for a moment the two held their gaze. The young nomad left and came back with strips of fresh-cooked meat and placed a dish in front of Naran and then gave some to Rose.
Rose’s hands shook as she took a piece of the flesh and savored it. The Dragon Sister sat next to her and continued to look at Rose as if she were some new creature just discovered. Rose took another piece, turned and fed it to Khulan. The girl almost inhaled the courtesan’s fingers as her teeth latched onto the meat. The mutton and tea put the women in a good mood, and they chatted between mouthfuls of the greasy meat.
Khulan seemed emboldened by the banter and turned to Rose. “Older Sister, do the pain treatments disturb you as they do me?”
Naran choked on a mouthful of potatoes. Rose watched as the Master’s wife struggled with her niece’s violation of good manners. Rose felt it was as if Kulan read her mind and offered the chance to propose a change in their treatments.
“I will take whatever pain the Master offers if it pleases him. Every time I see what this harshness and humiliation does to my Jasmine, my heart rips apart. I don’t know if I can live with the shame of submitting my Little Sparrow to this treatment of pain.”
Rose turned to Naran. “Please Madame, tell me if there is a way to allow us to summon our Dragon for the Masters through our hard training. Let us all live together and train this beast in us before it consumes us and we become lost to it. Every day the darkness in our thoughts drags us deeper into the mind of the animal. It should be the other way, I feel. The beast should serve the Masters and us. I fear we are losing ourselves to it.”
Khulan held onto Rose’s arm as she spoke. Tears streamed down her face. “It’s the same for me, Sister. I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know what to do, and the treatments of pain and shame cast me deeper into the Dragon’s claws.” The girl turned to Naran and pleaded with her. “Please Auntie, help us.”
The entreaty tugged at Naran’s heart. She was aware no one knew the fate of these girls. The men may have to put them down like animals some day. If the Dragon Masters wanted to realize their dreams through these girls, they needed to give them the chance to come to terms with what was happening inside their bodies and minds not add to their torment.
“I am a silly old woman. I have no voice in front of the Masters.” The Master’s wife paused then looked at Rose before she continued. “No man has worn the robe of the Master without the back and belly of a woman to hold him up. We have our ways.”
Naran turned to Rose, “go back to your girls and do what you must. I’ll send for you if the Master desires it.”
Rose clasped the hands of her benefactor and placed her head on Naran’s hands. “Thank you, Madame. Ask your price. I’ll pay it.”
“Go now before the men come home and catch us conspiring against them. It will take a lot of mare’s milk and vodka to get Chingis in a listening mood. You can help me make more if he drinks my house dry. And you, my wild donkey, go to the kitchen and help prepare the meal.”
Rose bowed and backed away before turning and leaving. Khulan watched her sister leave then ran to the kitchen. Naran wiped her brow.
“What in heavens do I get myself into?” She asked herself.
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