my sun and stars (一)
m.i.c, xiaoxin/yaoyao, Game of Thrones AU
m.i.c, xiaoxin/yaoyao, Game of Thrones AU
A branch almost whacked Xiaoxin clear off his horse as the poor creature stumbled its way through the thick forest. He breathed a sigh of relief and pushed the nervous animal on, whispering soothing words near her ear. The riders on either side of Xiaoxin eyed him with vague approval.
"Xiaoye," said the first. "Are you sure we should press on? I fear our journey will be for naught."
Xiaoxin frowned and met the man's eyes firmly. "That decision will be mine to make, and mine alone." The rider's eyes narrowed, but he nodded and rode on ahead. Xiaoxin sighed again and leaned back in his saddle.
He almost couldn't make out the bright sun beaming through the thick covering of leaves. For four days now they'd been wandering in this maze of trees and earth. The rest of the clan seemed just as doubtful as the rider, but Xiaoxin knew how to put on a confident face and lead on despite his own doubts. If he turned back now, it was over for him.
Only two months ago Xiaoxin's father had passed after a sudden, violent battle with another clan. The Yi clan had been the strongest in the Wide Desert for a century now, and Xiaoxin's father had been called the fiercest and bravest of Yi generals.
Xiaoxin, on the other hand...
The clan members hadn't dared to voice their thoughts when the clan elders announced Xiaoxin to be the leader. True enough, he was his father's sole heir, and everyone knew that someday he'd be the one leading them. However, everyone, including Xiaoxin, had assumed that that wouldn't be for a very long time to come. As he'd lain dying, his father's eyes had expressed the same doubts as he'd looked up at Xiaoxin sadly and gently touched his face. The memory still brought tears to Xiaoxin's eyes, but he didn't dare shed them. Not now, not when he had to look his toughest.
The first month of Xiaoxin's leadership had seen nothing but internal struggle. Xiaoxin didn't know how to make the right decisions, didn't know how to lead, and more than anything didn't know how to trust. More than once he was led astray by the wrong adviser, and with every mistake he lost more of his people, whether through death or desertion. Some of his riders offered to go after the latter and drag them back, but Xiaoxin made it clear that anyone who wanted to leave was free to do so. That was probably the only good decision he'd made since inheriting this damned position.
From the day he was born, Xiaoxin had been a unique boy. The boys of the clan were raised to be hunters and warriors; other clans far and wide praised the Yi men as being born with a sword in their hand and no fear in their hearts. Xiaoxin, though, had a lot of fear. They say Xiaoxin came out of his mother's womb screeching like a wounded animal, but his mother preferred to say he came out singing. Either way, the midwife took one look at Xiaoxin and shook her head.
"You have no warrior here," she had drawled sadly. "He will either destroy your clan or bring it to a level of glory we can only see in our deepest of dreams."
The clansmen hadn't been too pleased with that omen, and neither had Xiaoxin's father. Everything might have been okay if there had been a second child, but Xiaoxin's mother died four weeks after his birth from a terrible fever. Sometimes he woke in the night and swore he could see her face. The clan did not believe in keep images of faces, but he had memorized that face to the slightest detail. He would never know if that woman was truly his mother, but he chose to believe in it nonetheless.
Sure enough, the disappointment started the second they placed a sword in Xiaoxin's hand. He'd been seven and the strange thing had felt so awkward and heavy. When they told him to use it on a straw dummy, he'd given it one lame swing and declared himself finished. He'd calmly and cluelessly asked what was next to learn, and the clansmen had never let him forget it. From that moment, he'd been known as "Xiaoye," the spoiled young master.
As much as they tried, the experienced trainers of the clan were unable to find the warrior's spirit inside Xiaoxin. Instead of practicing his swordplay with the other boys, he preferred to sit with the women and listen to them sing. Though he never dared to sing a word himself, he memorized every one of their words and melodies, committing them to heart. The patterns of their voices and rhymes seemed beautiful to Xiaoxin, while the endless drills and techniques they tried to pound into his head in training seemed irrelevant.
Late at night, he would whisper the songs to himself as he lay in his bed. The snores of the other men would drown out his voice so he had no reason to fear. He could sing and imagine that face from his dreams and, finally, feel completely at peace.
And so Xiaoxin grew up into an unusual Yi man. He had all of the muscle their training forced him to develop. He was a handsome young man, and though the girls would often call him pretty behind their hands, it was never said in insult. His mother had been a legendary beautiful, his father the most powerful man in the Wide Desert; it was only natural that their offspring looked so perfect. If only they could say the same about his skill. Sometimes when they got very drunk, the men would laugh and say that Xiaoxin was secretly the daughter of their brave leader, and not his son.
Xiaoxin was long accustomed to being mocked by the time he was a man. It was a part of his life, as natural as the secret trips he made into the trees to sing by himself. Alone, with only his horse as his audience, Xiaoxin would hum at first, then gradually allow his voice to rise up until it felt like he was reaching the furthest tips of the branches above. By his eighteenth year, he was making up his own songs. Sometimes he would play with the younger children and teach them his melodies, but only if they promised to never tell anyone where they learned them. Despite it all, Xiaoxin was at peace with his simple place in life.
The night his father died, Xiaoxin had seen into the very depths of hell. The attack came the day of a clan member's wedding, late in the night when the clan were all fast asleep after their revels. Xiaoxin had been curled up in his bed and dreaming of his mother when the alarm rang through the camp. His father was the first one dressed and out of the ten. Xiaoxin, of course, was last, making sure not to get in anyone's way as he pulled on his things.
It was over before they could retaliate, before they could even catch a glimpse of their attacker's faces. A ring of fire had been started all around the camp, burning brightly and too intensely for anyone to escape. Men on horseback raced through the panicked crowds and hacked at whomever they passed with swords and axes. Children cried and men roared in anger. Xiaoxin's ears had rung with the screams of dying horses and the overwhelming sound of the flames consuming everything he once knew.
The next morning, Xiaoxin had stumbled around the ashed and discovered himself suddenly a leader.
Xiaoxin turned in his saddle and did a quick headcount of those following behind him. They were now down to around fifty people. Twelve were experienced riders, five were common soldiers, the rest were women and children. Then, of course, there was Xiaoxin. With their camp burned to the ground, he'd followed the advice of one of his men and began moving them out. To where, Xiaoxin had no idea.
They had traveled through friendly villages and small towns for over a month before coming to the great city of Jing. There, they'd bought food for the hungry, medical treatment for the injured and warm beds in inns for everyone else. By then Xiaoxin had dismissed a total of five advisers, each of whom had tried to convince him to go to this or that place, always with a secret objective of their own. Coming to the city had been a whim of his, inspired both by their obvious needs and by his own curiosity. He'd heard stories of the Great Golden City, but had never visited the place. Now, with his bedraggled group of clansmen and his own new jaded outlook on life, the golden walls failed to impress. He could only wonder what new lies and deceit awaited him inside.
What he hadn't expected was an old woman to find her way into his room in the middle of the night. How the woman had managed to sneak all the way through the inn without detection was a mystery with her heavy cloak and thick can which thumped along as she walked. He awoke to her staring down at him from the side of his bed and nearly screamed. Her wrinkled had pressed his mouth closed and whispered, "Not now, young prince. I come to tell you of your future."
Xiaoxin swallowed hard and nodded. At this point, he had nothing to lose.
The woman nodded solemnly as well. Her eyes were a cloudy grey, not seeming to focus on any one thing in the room, least of all Xiaoxin's face. "You must take your people and leave here at once. Others crave power, and your lingering only draws them nearer. You must take your people and go west, my prince, into the forests."
"The forests only bring death," he replied in a hoarse whisper. "They say nothing returns once entering those trees."
The woman's smile was a horror of cracked, rotten teeth. "Not many return from the forest, but you will. You must move swiftly, prince, and seek him."
He squinted at her in the dim light. "Seek who?"
She cackled, "Who else, my dear? The Keeper of Dragons."
The clansmen had been anything but happy at Xiaoxin's plans. He chose to hide the true objective of their journey, only telling them in his best leader-esque tone that he had decided to take them west. The would create a new camp in the forest and start again. He felt bright and hopeful, but the tired faces of his people were draining him of his new energy.
His riders tried to argue, too, but in the end Xiaoxin was their leader. Albeit reluctantly, the small clan picked up what little remained of their lives and left the city, dragging their tired bodies under the canopy of the trees.
A second rider pulled his horse in front of Xiaoxin's, making him halt. Xiaoxin frowned but nodded to allow the man to speak.
"Please, Xiaoye, this is madness."
Inwardly, Xiaoxin sighed. As if he didn't know as much already.
"Look around you," the man urged. "Your people are lost and hurting. They need for this journey to end. They need to put down their roots and start again or they will never heal." His jaw flexed with restrained emotion. "I understand that you must have reasons for taking us on this journey, but it must end."
Taking a deep breath, Xiaoxin smiled. He was just as exhausted as those around him, just as fed up as this young warrior, but unlike them he did not share show it. Even if he could not fight, even if he could not choose the correct path, he could at least play the part and bring his people a bit of comfort. "The day I entered this world, they said I would either bring destruction upon us all or bring us all the glory in the world."
The rider stared, open-mouthed.
Three days later, Xiaoxin lay in a ditch as he stared up at the canopy of trees. He had no people, no riders, no clan and certainly no horse. He was fairly certain a couple of his ribs were broken, and the gash on his arm continued to bleed. Honestly, he'd expected to hurt more after losing absolutely everything.
And, of course, that was when a young girl with large, moon-like eyes stepped from the trees and whisper, "If you seek dragons, my lord, come this way."
Xiaoxin sighed, and shoved himself to his feet.
The camp was hidden deep in the woods. In his pained daze, Xiaoxin wasn't able to keep track of the girl's path as she darted from tree to tree. He stumbled clumsily after her, just barely keeping up. He had a feeling she was being careful not to leave him behind, but he was impressed with himself nonetheless.
There were no buildings in this camp. The people sat together under the safety of the trees, their sleeping mats rolled out at their sides. Children laughed and chased each other around a large fire. The flames crackled happily among the voices of the crowd gathered around. They spied the girl first and Xiaoxin second, speaking to her in a language Xiaoxin didn't know. She replied timidly, gripping Xiaoxin suddenly by the hand. Her fingers were tiny against his large palm, but their hold was surprisingly strong. After a few exchanges, she pulled him away from the crowd. He could feel the eyes on him as he let her lead him toward a particularly large tree a ways away from the others.
An unearthly screech sent chills up Xiaoxin's spine. Goosebumps rose on his arms but he kept moving forward. This was waiting he'd come all this way for; even if he was a coward, he wasn't turning back now.
First there were the cages- rustic wooden cages stacked on top of each other large enough to hold eagles. Xiaoxin swallowed and moved with the girl toward the small fire burning at the foot of the tree. Things were scattered among the ancient, sprawling roots. A scaled tail flicked and glinted in the light. Those scales glowed a deep red, like cooling embers. Eyes like melted amber peered at Xiaoxin over the shoulder of a man hunched over by the fire.
There was another screech, but this time Xiaoxin saw the red dragon's mouth open, giving the sound a source.
"Don't be a brat," a deep voice chuckled. The dragon climb across the tan, naked back. The claws were sharp and left harsh red marks on the flesh, but didn't break the skin. A hand dangled a piece of charred meat before the dragon's jaws and the creature snapped it up greedily.
"I found the Singer," the girl finally said, in a voice so quiet even Xiaoxin struggled to hear her when she was standing beside him. "He was just where you said."
The figure rose to his feet as he wiped his hands with a rag. The man stood surprisingly tall with lean, muscular limbs. He moved freely even with the dragon resting on his back. The long red tail wrapped halfway around his torso. The arms were littered with small scars, no doubt from the glittering claws which even now pressed into his dark skin. The Keeper of Dragons smiled sheepishly and ran a hand over his closely cut white-blonde hair.
"I hope you don't mind," he said in an awkward voice. "We're in the middle of dinner." The dragon snapped its jaws and turned its head to glance back at the fire. "This one becomes a little cranky if he isn't fed right away."