Category Archives: Jade Dragon


The shore is packed with people: young, old, native-born and off-planet transplants, human and non. The din ought to be overwhelming, but I stand in a small oasis of stillness, imposed by my nearly-invisible security personnel or possibly by my own Name. My Family is respected here.

It was not originally a custom on Vinde, this Festival of Lanterns. I had brought it with me from Loess, and the locals embraced it fully and wholeheartedly. They are sailors, the Vindeans. These rituals bring them comfort. Three days to mark the solstice; three days to lighten one’s heart. A slip of paper, a handful of words, a lantern to carry them up and away: regrets, promises, wishes.

The first night of Festival is for regrets, that we might start the year fresh. When I was small, we stayed in on the first night. Regrets should never be public, my mother used to say, and we so we marked the evening in our little house with wine and bread and stories of what might have been. We wrote out our sorrows, our apologies, and let them go.

I keep the same custom here. The sky had been overcast two nights ago, but nevertheless we had climbed up to the rooftop garden with our lanterns and buried our regrets in the clouds.

The second night is for promises and pledges, when marriage contracts are brokered, vows renewed, treaties signed. We write names and dates, sometimes filling entire translucent sheets with the details, weighing our lanterns down until they hang low over the waves.

My own marriage had been contracted elsewhere, of course, but yesterday, like every year, my husband and I had celebrated the second night of Festival with dancing and speeches, and later, more privately, with gifts and carefully delivered compliments.

And only in the deepest well of night, when my husband was fast asleep, had I let my mind drift, lamp-like, to the time and a place where one double-edged line of poetry had been tempered in the heat of desire.

if you stay
I will make you

It was the only promise she had ever made to me, knowing it was the only one she would never break.

A camdrone whirs overhead. The Festival would be all over the newsvids, of course. This is the third night, the most raucous, the most joyful, when all of Tokovina spills out onto the beaches with their lanterns. It is a beautiful sight: hundreds of paper ships spiraling upwards into a sea of stars.

The last lantern, tonight’s lantern, is for wishes. For hopes, for dreams. I could fill a book with my wishes over the years, I think. My wish, for truly I have only ever had one. It is written on into my bones. It is inscribed on my skin, invisible etchings like the memory of a touch. If I close my eyes, I can still taste her name on my tongue.

It is a childish thing, perhaps, to believe regrets could be so easily shed, wishes granted or promises kept.

“Mama, mama!” My daughter, auburn-haired and green-eyed, dances just out of the ocean’s reach. The lantern in her hands is misshapen, the paper balloon splotched with watercolors. Even so, it rises steadily enough when she lets it go.

“Mama, I wished for a boat of my very own,” she confides in a whisper, eyes darting left and right as though she feared to be overheard. “A real boat, not a toy.”

I do not tell her that there is a little skiff waiting for her at the pier. She is no great keeper of secrets, especially where her own dreams are concerned, and her father and I have known for months what our daughter would write.

“What did you wish for, Mama?”

“Ah,” I say, laughing a little. “I cannot tell you that. It is a secret.”

I do not tell her, either, that my little slip of paper is blank, that I could not bring myself to write upon it. That all my little ships have carried no cargo, not since my daughter was born. I cannot afford regrets; I have nothing left to promise. Like an automaton, my arm lifts, my fingers unclench, and I release my lantern into the night, one of the hundreds that race toward the stars, never to reach them.

A Shifting Wind

Emmic wipes the sweat from his forehead with his cuff and glares at his companion. Jonath never seems to mind the heat. He is Old Blood, of course, born on Loess, and the Old Blood families have acclimated to the desert over the generations. So too will Emmic’s children, should he ever have any.

Jonath leans against his sandskiff. “Shouldn’t be long,” he says. “Sun’ll hit its peak in an hour or so, and that’ll give us about seven hours to reach the bunker before full dark. We made good time from Cinder.”

The rest of the caravan is moored in a crooked line deep in the shadow of a broad mesa: four twin-hulled sandcats, sails lowered and whisker-vanes furled. Some of the crewfolk lounge in the shade, sipping sweetwater from drink pouches or smoking long, narrow pipes. None of them had balked at the chance to rest in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

“The new ‘cats are faster than I expected,” Emmic agrees. “Even laden, they ought to make it back from Lode in five days instead of six. Anna been tinkering with the steering?” He glances sideways at Jonath.

“Didn’t figure you’d mind.” Jonath runs a hand over the hull of his skiff, checking it for scrapes. “She’s a bright girl, your sister. And she likes to feel useful.”

“She’s getting bored.”

“I gathered,” Jonath says dryly. “Didn’t actually expect her to give the ring back. She’s not usually so unpredictable.”

Emmic gives him a long searching look. “You don’t seem worried. She’s quite stubborn, you know.”

Jonath shrugs. “So she changed her mind; she’ll change it back, once she’s had some time to think about it. I can be pretty hard to resist.” He grins, a bright, broad smile.

“I know.” Emmic stoops, picks up a handful of sand-scoured pebbles and starts lobbing them, one by one, out of the shadows into the dunes.

“Hey.” Jonath catches Emmic’s wrist, stopping him mid-toss. “We talked about this. It’ll be fine. This is where it all really begins. Right?” He takes the stone from Emmic’s palm, throws it. It arcs past the broken line of Emmic’s pebbles and smacks into the side of the dune. The sand shifts and a skate skids down the slope, startled by the impact, before burying itself again.

“Of course.” Dropping the last stone, Emmic brushes his hands off and shades his eyes, looking out toward the anchor pylon.

“It would be easier,” Jonath says, “If you’d tell her the whole story. Or let me.”

It’s an old argument. “No. She doesn’t need to know any of it, not until I can paint her the whole picture.”

“It’s just a matter of time before she figures it out. Before someone lets something slip.” A note of entreaty slips into Jonath’s voice. “It should come from you, Emmic. She’ll see that the ends justify the means. That’s something your sister would understand. It’s logical.” He uses one of Anna’s favorite words. “She could be very useful.”

“No. Let this be mine. On me. On us,” Emmic revises, and touches Jonath’s elbow. “My father should not have betrayed the cause. Not with the War still raging out there.” He gestures to the sky, to the invisible worlds beyond it. “And as for our deal with the Prophet…” He grimaces. “What could Anna know of war and means and ends? She is too much of Loess.”

“Look.” Jonath nods at the pylon. A cloud of dust and sand trails behind the ‘cat speeding toward us, its whisker-vanes bristling as they comb electricity from the air. “There’s my ride. You sure you can handle her alone?” He lays a hand affectionately on his skiff.

“Please.” Emmic rolls his eyes. “How many races have I won?”

“None that really matter,” Jonath needles. “And this one does. The Prophet is counting on you to make it to Lode and back to Cinder before we bring the ship in. Tell Anna I’ll be home soon. I’ll bring her something new to tinker with.”

The incoming boat slows. One man is furling the sail, another leans on the brake-lever. Their faces are hidden behind heavy goggles and tightly wrapped neckcloths, but they each bear the Prophet’s insignia on their jackets: a red-leafed olive branch on a field of grey.

The ‘cat halts with a heavy scraping noise. Jonath turns to Emmic. “Wish me luck?”

Emmic nods, embraces him. “Wind to your sails, brother,” he says, and lets go.

A little side trip into the world of the Jade Dragon.

Negative Space

No desert is as sere
as empty space. Why do you weep?
This crossing is not free.

It never was; not free,
not without cost. You wander sere
and barren galaxies; I weep

and wonder, did they weep,
the stars, when spacetime set them free
to wander skies so sere?

Too sere, my heart. Love, weep no more: fly free.

This tritina brought to you by:


Lord of wind-scarred warrens
walks the sunless tunnels,
Serves the hand of heaven
holding to his shoulder.

Under seas of sand-swells
still his eye turns skyward,
Deaf to prayers – a prophet
promising a kingdom.

This drottkvaett – written for the yeah write April poetry slam – might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Want to give it a try? Read yeah write’s page on the drottkvaett form, then peek into submission editor Rowan’s drottkvaett writing process for some tips.


The days of the week lined up like buckets, ready to catch whatever fell in. Just dribbles at first, rumors and best guesses, barely enough to dampen the soles of our boots. I dipped my cup in pail after pail. I filled my head with names and my mouth with the taste of ash, until the buckets overflowed and nobody saw it but me.

They will say I caused this, that the city burns because of me and in a way, this is true. It was my hand that set the flame. But the sky was already raining metal before I made my choice, and it is raining still. There is nowhere left for the ships to land.

From my vantage high over Verdure, the city is almost beautiful. Smoke wreathes the silent fountains, igniting stone and steel and leaving trails of blue-green luminescence where water once pooled. I can hear footsteps on the stair below. I wonder if my children are safe. I wonder if they will tell me, if I ask, before they take me away.

If you liked this, you might like my Jade Dragon stories. This piece is not consecutive, and falls outside the larger story, but provides some context from another point of view…