Authors: Joely Sue Burkhart
He stood. Staring down at her, he wiped his sweaty palms on his pants and adjusted his grip on his scimitar. “Yes, my love. Together in death.”
Exhaling deeply, he brought the blade down with all his strength.
Jalan sliced the chain pinning my neck. “Fight, Chanda! Fight! Free yourself!”
Screams erupted from the bystanders. Shaddad’Yama reproached Jalan with
his eyes, silent pools of night. No recrimination, but I felt Jalan’s guilt. Still, he raised the blade over his head and prepared to fight to the death with me. Ah, my fierce mate, how I love him!
With my neck free, I blasted flames in all directions. The priest was able to protect himself, but the Krait quickly retreated to safety. My broken wing sent sharp agony throbbing deep into my shoulder. I couldn’t fly, but I could certainly break iron. Twisting my head around, I bit at the chains trapping me on the black rock.
Jalan shouted, struggling with at least a dozen of his clansmen. He tried to keep them back, but he was reluctant to kill them. I understood, but desperation made me vicious. The chains were as thick as my warrior’s thighs. I couldn’t break them with my teeth, and I couldn’t reach them with my claws. I was better caged than the Red we killed at dusk. They had simply wanted to use him; they wanted to incapacitate me until my death.
Roaring curses, Jalan fell against my flank and quickly pushed back to his feet. “By Yama, no! I won’t let you harm her! Damn you all to Shadow and Despair!”
His words froze the Fire blazing in my heart. He cursed his people. He would curse his God next. He would damn himself for all time, as I had done. I remembered driving his dragon back inside when I was in the two-legged form, but I knew I couldn’t save him from such a curse. I couldn’t save myself from that mistake.
Memory flooded me. The youthful arrogance of a young woman in love, blindly declaring my heart for the warrior I wanted, refusing all counsel that he wasn’t mine to claim. Like a petulant child, I demanded my toy from the Gods, and when they failed to reward me, I cursed them. I fought for what I wanted, I demanded what I wanted, and damned myself with my pride. Instead of surrendering a warrior who didn’t love me to his mate, I killed him.
I couldn’t surrender to save tal’Adder all those centuries ago. But I could save Jalan. I could save him from my curse, if only I let them kill me. Love welled in my fierce heart, unshakeable and eternal. For him, I would do anything.
I stretched my head out on the rock and went still. While Jalan fought his people, the black priest worked his way to my side, a small blade in his hand. “Bless you, Chanda, daughter of Somma. Love waters your heart. Let your blood water our land and save your mate’s people.”
He sliced my throat open cleanly. The pain was sharp, deep, but faded quickly.
I kept my gaze locked on my stone warrior, his proud, chiseled face, his beauty as he danced the blades. My blood rushed down the black rock. I heard it sizzle in the
“No!” Agonized, Jalan pushed through his clansmen. He fell to his knees beside me, horror and grief etched on his pale face. “Chanda, no!”
He dragged my head into his lap and pressed his forehead to mine. Ah, so sweet, to feel his breath on my scales. His tears. Stone cried for me, watering my heart indeed. Peace filled me. At last, I knew what love was. Real love. The kind of love that I would fight for, rightfully, with the Gods’ full blessing. The kind of love I would die for.
Love, the greatest sacrifice.
I died for him.
An image came to Jalan’s mind, weak and distant, but so very real. A boulder, sitting before a massive White Dragon. His human shoulder held so gently in her jaws.
Jalan threw his head back and bellowed his grief to the Gods above.
The ground rocked, throwing people to the sands. Crumbling shoreline tumbled into the
Chanda was gone.
And so he should be dead. Why did his cursed heart still beat? He was Given to her.
He needed to die with her. She would stand before She Who Hung the Moon alone, defenseless, beaten. It wasn’t right. Not his proud, fierce White. She deserved the Black at her side.
He would be at her side to face judgment with her, one way or another. He raised the scimitar to his throat.
look!” Shaddad’Yama’s ancient hand locked on his shoulder, jerking his attention to the sky. The sun was gone and darkness fell across Keldar. “The moon covers the sun!”
Somma’s moon eclipsed Agni’s merciless sun.
Heart thundering, Jalan looked down at Chanda. Her scales gleamed in the silvered moonlight. Rainbows danced about her, swirling brighter even as he watched. She glowed so brightly he shielded his eyes, turning his face aside.
When the glow dimmed, he found her very human body on the black rock. Unmoving, limp, a gaping wound in her throat, dragon scratches on her shoulder.
With trembling fingers, he traced the delicate curve of her cheek, the fragile, deathly white skin. So beautiful in death. A soft gentle smile curved her lips—the smile she graced him with in the privacy of his tent.
“Keldar is a hard land,
Shaddad’Yama whispered. “A hard life. She suited you, and you her.”
“And you killed her,” Jalan replied flatly. “Despair doesn’t lift from our lands.
Instead, our lands are swallowed even as I watch. My lungs are burned. My heart is dead, and yet I live.
How can I still live when I’m Given to Chanda?”
Whatever answer the priest meant to give was drowned out by a child’s shout.
His nephew, Laken, weaved through the few remaining people. “Uncle, come quickly!
Water flows in the
“What?” Stunned, Jalan craned his neck for a view of the dry ravine.
According to legend, it had indeed been a river before their
but none in a dozen generations had ever seen water. Running water. That would be as likely as legendary rain—drops of moisture falling from the heavens.
At the solid plop of water in the sands, Jalan flinched. More plops, more water, moisture hitting his face. The Keldari tilted their heads back, mouths open, weeping, as the first rain in a thousand years fell.
The sound of running water was more than he could bear. A lively stream a stride’s length wide now ran in the
. Oh, that Chanda had to die to bring such miracles. How he longed to share this wonder with her.
Shaddad’Yama fell to his knees and the Kraits joined him, bowing their heads to the sands and praising the Trinity. “Forgive us, Agni. Forgive us, Somma.
Bless Your Krait sons and daughters, Yama the Black.”
Soft, gentle rain certainly wasn’t enough to satisfy the parched earth that lay dormant for hundreds of years, nor enough to entirely wash away the taint in the sands. But it sweetened the air and cleaned the burning fumes. Rain dampened Chanda’s hair, slicking it to her face, falling into the wound on her neck. The priest draped the white taamid over her, covering her face, but rain plastered the linen to her still body.
People celebrated, singing and dancing, throwing children in the air, cupping water in their hands and drinking greedily. A few brave souls even dared the stream flowing in the
standing knee-deep in more water than they’d ever seen in their entire lives. Water hissed and sizzled as it hit the
A group of enterprising young men dug channels from the
to direct some of the precious fluid away from the boiling acid. More men dug another Well, laughingly slinging mud on the clapping watchers.
All this while Jalan slumped on the ground beside his beloved’s body. He would not fail in his promise to her. This very afternoon he would ride to Mamba lands and fight them one by one until someone managed to kill him. At least that way he would die with full honor and help his people eliminate a few of their enemy at the same time. After Chanda’s courage, dying by his own hand would dishonor her.
The sun slipped above the moon and the familiar punishing heat blazed down on Keldar once more. Rain ceased, but the trickling stream remained. In fact, it flowed even harder, surely another hand deeper than before. Where was the water coming from if not brought by rains to the north?
:Until the Well of Tears reflects the light of the silvered moon and overflows to water a dry and thirsty land.:
Bitter hope seized his lungs and heart in agony. Hand trembling, he hesitantly reached out toward the damp taamid covering Chanda’s face. She was gone.
Wasn’t she? “Chanda?”
:Your love is the light of Somma on my Riven heart of tears.
The Well overflows and waters my dry and thirsty life.:
With his eyes locked on her covered face, he swore she moved. She breathed faintly. He jerked the
back and leaned over her. Frantic, he searched her face. Her eyes were still closed. But where the wound had gaped in her throat, only a silver scar remained.
He closed his shaking hands on her shoulders, afraid to move her, afraid she might be lifeless. Her flesh was warm beneath his palms. Her chest rose and she took a deep breath that he heard, that he felt in his own lungs.
His heart froze in his chest, refusing to beat, and every muscle in his body waited, listening, praying for—
Her heartbeat reverberated in his head. Gasping, he felt his own heart thunder to life, beating in tune with hers. Her eyes opened.
Jalan dragged her into his arms, clutching her to his chest. Laughing, crying, he pressed frantic kisses to her face, ran his hands over her body, assuring himself she lived and breathed.
“I breathe, my stone warrior. My heart beats for you alone.” Chanda the White smiled, cupping his face. She pulled his forehead down to hers, stroking her fingers across his cheeks to wrap her hands in his hair. “Not even death could keep me from you.”
I stood with my stone warrior on the edge of the Well of Tears. Water reflected the waning moon above—more water than I ever imagined could exist in the entire world. “My water is yours, Jalan tal’Krait.”
“Uncle,” the boy asked, tugging on Jalan’s taamid. “Is it safe to drink?”
Jalan smiled down at him, and the tenderness on his face clutched my heart in dragon talons. How I longed to give him a dozen children simply so I could see that look on his face all the day and night for the rest of our very long lives.
“Drink all you can hold, Laken. You can even bathe in it if you want.”
Screeching, the boy ran down to the shoreline and scooped water over his head with both hands.
I slipped my arm around Jalan’s waist. Our Fires mingled, dancing with joy and laughter. How many years had I lain on my ledge, glaring down at the empty Well with all the hatred and rage in my Riven heart? Now, my heart was as full as the overflowing Well of shimmering, pure water.
“We shall make a garden so lush, so beautiful, that all of Keldar will trek here to see our marvels.” Jalan pointed to the hint of green already sprouting around the rim. “All who swear allegiance to our
will be welcome, no matter their tribe.”
“Most likely, other
will scour the lands beyond Keldar in search of Somma’s blood to offer in sacrifice,” I answered dryly. “What do you plan to name this great new tribe,
of my heart?”
Jalan answered immediately. He gazed down into my eyes, a hint of a smile crinkling his eyes. “Hope for Keldar; hope for us all. Hope that our
will be met with love.”
I slipped my hand into the neck of his shirt, fingers stroking over my marks branded into his flesh. Immediately, flames blazed in his eyes. “Perhaps tal’Tellan would consider sharing a bath with his mate?”
Jalan picked me up and slung me over his shoulder, heading to my lair above at a hard trot. “Wells, yes, my love.
Do you think you’ll survive a bath?”
“Only if you can survive my fire.”