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As Maggie fell, Luis’ voice rang out:
“Among the Y’gerion, the highest order of dragons, none is held in greater esteem than the one known as Satèlemark.
“Satèlemark, so the legend goes, was the widowed mother of a remarkable brood of children: baby dragons all with incredible blue eyes. Eyes that seemed to glow; eyes with feathery wisps of white that traveled over them; eyes that revealed the enormous latent power within each child. A desperately rare power that the king of Satelemark’s dragonly realm coveted above all, for with it he could destroy his rivals and assume absolute sovereignty over all he surveyed. But to come into possession of that power, the dragon king had to drink the pure blood of the sacrificed children.
“The king ordered Satèlemark to give up her children for the higher good of the kingdom. With their deaths, he told her, the enemies constantly threatening his realm would be vanquished, and the dragon citizens, which included her, would all live in peace forever, for no one would ever be able to oppose him with his newly acquired powers.
“Frightened for her children, she rounded them up and, in the concealing dark of Galactic night, fled. When the king’s centurion came to Satelemark’s abode early the next morning to take her brood by force, she and her remarkable children were gone. The dragon king, infuriated, ordered her death, and sent his vast and vicious army of Y’gerion dragon killers after her. They were not to harm the brood in any way, he decreed, but Satèlemark was to be stretched until her great backbone snapped, then burned to ashes.
“On the Ethereal Frontier that night, between the mighty
, the king’s dark forces caught up
to Satèlemark and her brood. Satèlemark surrounded her children, her long
forked tongue flicking over her tail, her eyes alight with fear and fury. The
dragon killers grinned amongst themselves: this would be easy. Soon the brood
would be safely in their claws, and the mother would pay for her treason with
her life. Nebular Peaks
“As they drew near, Satèlemark attacked. Before they knew what had happened, a hundred killers lay dead around her. Satèlemark was so swift that none among them saw her move. She raised her massive head over the dead and roared in challenge and contempt. The sound was like a great whirlwind tearing through the valley, the orange flames from her open maw licking the starlit vault of Heaven itself. Her brood huddled closely to her, their astonishing blues eyes staring out at the surprised killers.
“The king’s forces lunged for Satèlemark. But the dragon mother was too fast for them, too skilled. She could sink her fangs into one killer while her tail swished around as if with a mind of its own, sharp as a dagger and many times quicker, lancing the foolhardy who chanced an opportune strike at her, in the next instant blinding another with a spray of deadly poison from her fangs. Satelemark’s fire washed over the universe like a hellish curtain, scorching her enemies to the bone, her spines like razor blades, cutting into the meat of their hearts, tearing out their lungs. As her coils shifted, so did her brood, always staying in the thick of them, always safely out of harm’s way.
“But there were too many of the king’s killers, and over a long time, the dragon mother began to tire. Coiling around her brood, her fangs glistening with poison, she readied them for death. They would not be sacrificed to the Y’gerion ruler; they would die with her, by her hand, their precious blood poisoned and impure—and thus worthless to him. The general of the dragon killers saw what she was about to do, and urged her to stop. He had gained enormous respect for her; and now, with more of his dragon killers dead than alive, he said:
“ ‘The Daen-Cer-Tain that flows in the blood of your brood flows in you. Give yourself as sacrifice to the king, and your children may live in peace.’
“Satèlemark agreed. But as the dragon general watched, she let drip a single drop of poison from her fangs onto each of their heads. ‘Beloved,’ she told them, ‘gather round each other now and for all time, for danger encircles you, and always will. Should that danger become insurmountable, flick your tongue to the head of the brother or sister nearest you and take in the poison and die, for it is better to die young and true than to live long and false.’
“The children were inconsolable. They did not wish to remain all alone on the Ethereal Frontier; they wanted to be with their mother, even if by doing so they would witness her gruesome death at the greedy claws of the king. Close to her and weeping, their blue eyes full of tears, they joined her, surrounded by the surviving dragon killers. They went back to the kingdom.
“The Y’gerion monarch was elated to see the captured brood—and enraged to discover that Satèlemark lived. He would not listen to the compromise struck by the dragon general and the mother. ‘Kill her now!’ he thundered to the general. But the leader of the dragon army had been so inspired by Satelemark’s courage and valor on the battlefield that instead of following orders, he rose up and struck down the king’s guards before being felled by the king himself. ‘Kill her now!’ the king ordered the general’s surviving battalion. But the battalion refused, and, with a defiant roar each, killed themselves, plunging their fangs into their own bellies, drinking their own blood.
“Satèlemark saw her chance and moved. With speed never before seen and never seen since, she released her children and surrounded the king. He was trapped. One move, and he would perish in her swift clutches.
“ ‘Here is where you shall stay for all eternity, King Ammalinaeus,’ she told the vanquished monarch. ‘Here in my coils. And you shall watch over my children, seeing how close you got to absolute power; they shall nestle in your palace next to me, the poison on their heads just a flick of the tongue away for each of them. Tell the cowards in your kingdom, the subjects who wanted you to have that power, that if they move against me—you shall die; if they move against my children—you shall die. The power you and they covet—the very power that alone can save you and your kingdom from your enemies—will be lost forever. But for the few truly courageous who serve you, should they need to yoke the strength that flows in my and my children’s blood, they need only come together and pray:
“What we join together
in the light of Ammalinaeus
shall endure forever.”
in the light of Ammalinaeus
shall endure forever.”
“ ‘That which this prayer falls on,’ she said, ‘shall become indestructible. It shall be so because I shall be your wife, and you shall be my husband, and we shall become One. Our union will be both your greatest victory and your bitterest defeat: for the Daen-Cer-Tain you sought to bleed from my brood will now only reside in the hands of those very few brave enough to truly love, as I truly love my children.’ ”
Maggie landed. She knew immediately that it was a ship. She could hear water sloshing against its hull, could feel its ponderous side-to-side rocking beneath her. The light gathered slowly, focusing into a prism.
“It is an incredible fact: it does not matter on what shore on Aquanus you land, what language the natives speak, their politics or history, their wars or their peace, their culture or stories or the color of their skin. Everywhere you go on Aquanus, Satèlemark translates to the same thing: ‘
swallowing her own tail.’ For Vanerrincourtians it signifies refusal to bow to
abject power, to surrender, to accept, to compromise, to meekly face one’s fate
and acquiesce, to give up without a fight—to the death, if need be.
“Satèlemark, Margarita!” yelled Luis, startling her. “Satèlemark!”