Lisette de Lille strode down the jungle path, trying to catch her breath as she followed Lamya de Sang. According to Lamya, they were on their way to a place on Île des Anciens where Lisette could have her baby under the Ancient One’s magical guidance.
“Why…do we…” Lisette puffed as she hastened to keep up. “Have…to…hurry?”
She blanched at Lamya’s annoyed glance and kept going, her shorter legs taking two strides to make up for Lamya’s one. At last, the Ancient One stopped at a grove of trees and pointed. “That is our destination.”
The trees grew close together. Lamya grabbed Lisette’s hand and pulled her between the first two trunks of rough bark. There was barely room for her body to squeeze sideways. Lisette was yanked left as Lamya pulled her through another tiny space.
“You must move faster.” The Ancient One quickened her pace as she zigged between the trunks, dragging Lisette along.
Lisette hurried to keep up, attempting to anticipate Lamya’s moves. The spaces between the trees seemed to be shrinking to the point that her clothes were catching on the bark, and her knuckles were skinned. The two rushed left and right, past the trees that leaned in their way.
At one point, Lamya darted right, then left, then right again. Lisette tripped, trying to keep up with her. That’s when she saw the trees actually move together to prevent her travel. She hesitated, her eyes wide.
“Jump!” Lamya shouted as she leapt through the small passage.
Lisette sprang and felt a tug on her skirt. Landing in soft brush outside the grove, she rolled over, gasping. A piece of her clothing had been torn away. She glanced up at the tree, where the scrap hung on a small branch. Knotholes in the trunk made a mocking smile.
“I’m glad I’m not large with child.” Lisette ran her hands across the small bulge at her stomach. “What just happened?”
Lamya stood and smoothed her clothes. “They don’t want us here, of course.”
“They? You mean the trees? That’s amazing.”
“No. It is this island’s magic.”
“I thought the magic on this island was yours.”
“I have explained this before. We are merely the…mmm…gardeners of magic.” Lamya shook her head. “The magic on this island is its own, needed for survival. Some places are more fragile than others. The island must protect itself.”
“What’s so fragile here that magic must protect it?”
“Look around you.” She gestured and Lisette studied her environment for the first time.
All of the islands in the Caribbean were beautiful, from their sparkling sand beaches to brilliant displays of flowers. And yet none could compare with the vision before her. The underbrush was a soft glow of dark green, layered with flowering vines that wound gently up palm trees, weaving a canopy that framed an azure lagoon. Colors popped everywhere, deep reds and sunny yellows and even royal purple.
“This is the Cradle of the Caribbean,” Lamya said. “You will have your baby here.”
Lisette let her vision wander, taking in the beauty, and inhaling the fragrant air, until Lamya’s hand pulled her along again.
“Come. It is time to speak of important things.”
At last, they arrived at a hidden swath of white sand by the lagoon, tucked in a glade of palms. Lamya sat her pack down. Soon she was pulling out bowls, cooking implements, and silks for their beds. Lisette watched the woman work, wondering at her shape-shifting abilities.
When she was turning into a blood dragon, Lamya had appeared to her as a warrior, strong and tall.
Now she was a crone, bent and wrinkled. Lisette understood that each of these versions of Lamya were designed to suit human expectations, but she was still surprised by the familiar purring voice coming from this new, yet old, body.
“I will gather our food,” Lamya said. “You will start the fire.”
Lisette gathered dry sticks and piled them together as Lamya picked ripe mangos. “I forgot—I don’t have my knife.”
Lamya turned and smiled. “You do not need your knife. Focus on the sticks and place a fire firmly in your mind.”
Lisette looked at the sticks, listening to the sound of Lamya digging roots. It’s distinctly silly, staring at a pile of wood, and wishing for it to spark.
“Do not wish and stop paying attention to me.” Lamya’s words were clipped. “Look at the sticks and tell them to light.”
Her scolding lit Lisette’s cheeks in embarrassed anger. She glared at the pile and pushed an image of fire onto it. It exploded into a roaring blaze, and she fell back in shock.
Lamya pulled a yam from the soil. “You don’t have to yell. Next time, just ask it to light.”
Lisette sat up. “Is this the kind of magic a moon dragon does?”
“This is the kind of magic this island does.”
Soon they were eating roasted yams, fresh flowers, and mangos. Lisette did not know how hungry she was until she tasted the first sweet piece of fruit. Lamya ate slowly, gazing at the ground, seemingly lost in thought. Each time Lisette put her bowl down, Lamya urged her to pick it up again and have more.
“You must finish the coconut milk,” she said. “You will need it for your journey.”
“What journey? Are we climbing the Dragon’s Breath again?”
Lamya laughed. “No, you have already been on the journey of being a dragon. I speak of your journey to motherhood.”
“Oh, that.” Lisette shrugged. “Women have been having babies for a long time. It happens whether you are ready or not.”
“It is true, the physical act is the same as of old, but your path to motherhood is, hmm, different. One is your transformation to moon dragon. Unlike your blood dragon curse, being a moon dragon is a gift, one that you can call upon. I must teach you how to ask.”
Lisette frowned. “If I only change when I ask, why did I change on Begum’s ship?”
“Hmm…” Lamya drew circles in the sand. “Let us say, I required your presence on the island, and Alara helped me in this manner.”
“I don’t know that I like having my child in control of my body.”
Lamya gazed at her drawings. “It was necessary.”
“I’m still not happy about it,” Lisette said. “So, what do you want of me now?”
“You must be prepared for your child. She has already shown herself to be a force.”
“What kind of child—or dragon—will she be?”
Lamya was silent for some time. At last, she muttered, “I do not know. We have never encountered a child born of two blood dragons. Alara will be a surprise to all.”
“But I thought…” Lisette searched for the words. “You are an Ancient One. I assumed that means all knowing.”
“We know much, but we are not gods.” Lamya brushed at the sand on her toes. “Do no worrying. Even not knowing what she is, I have the wisdom to help you.”
Lisette’s shoulders slumped. “I should have been more careful. I was such an arrogant child, so full of myself. This is the price I pay, to tread this unwanted road.”
“It may not be the path you planned, but it is the path you chose.”
“If I hadn’t been kidnapped, none of this would have happened.” Lisette hurled her empty bowl at the sand. “Before that, I wanted—what? Nothing, except to live the life I was born to.”
Lamya’s face remained calm, her eyes soft. “Every day of your life, you have chosen what you wanted. That you do not admit your own desires does not make them go away.”
“How did I desire this?” She pointed to her stomach.
The Ancient One stood, her lips pursed and her eyes boring icily into Lisette’s. Straightening, she stretched to a height her unbent crone-body should never reach. As she continued to grow taller, Lisette’s eyes widened. Lamya kept rising, expanding until she assumed her true form as an Ancient One. Gnarled as a tree, gray as granite, with hair of wild grasses and large eyes of sea foam, she was wondrous but terrifying. All of earth and sky were revealed in her being.
Lisette trembled, bowing her head in reverence.
“Lift your head and look,” Lamya commanded.
Lisette obeyed. The Ancient One splayed her fingers, shooting sparks that formed an image. It was a kind of a map, with a large river that turned this way and that, leaving rills at the turns that fed tributaries, which in turn fed other bodies of water.
“This is your life, Lisette de Lille. It is a river, and each choice you make turns you toward another. You chose your nature from childhood.” She pointed to an early winding. “Whether to find happiness in obedience or turn away in rebellion. You chose obedience because it was easy and cost you nothing. The feigning of a good girl, presenting a calm surface, so that underneath the water could rush and whirl, and you could be free to think as you wish.”
She went through the map, highlighting Lisette’s choices, until she got to Rocco. “Here are several places where you could have stayed on an island and perhaps gotten help to return to your family. Instead, you found your way back to Rocco. And here—did people tell you to get rid of the feather?”
“How many people did you show it to?”
Lisette’s eyes lowered. “Only him.”
“Yes, because you knew everyone would tell you the same thing. Why did you keep it?”
She had no answer.
Lamya continued. “You chose to lie with Rocco. You chose to believe that you were invincible. Impregnable. The path was there all along. You chose it.”
With a sigh of surrender, Lisette walked to the edge of the lagoon and picked up the bowl. “What do I do now?”
Lamya brought her arms down, ending the river of light and returning to her form as the wrinkled woman in the cotton dress. “Now you learn to be a moon dragon and you have a baby.”
“What about Rocco?”
“Rocco is your love,” Lamya said. “He is not my concern.”