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About the Author

Magee Gilks has been writing about places of the past and future for over ten years. Her fiction, poetry and articles have appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters and on the Internet and she's won several prizes (most recently, second prize in the Best of Soft SF Contest, 1999). She works as a freelance editor, writerís mentor and writer through Scripta Word Services. Feedback is appreciated:

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The Dragon Pearl

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I remember the day Yeshi brought the dragon pearl home.

I remember, not because I knew then what thing of wonder and power he carried in his hands, but because he came home empty-handed; home to our house with no food to lay upon the table. Again.

He stood in the doorway, swaying slightly: a small, sallow man with lank hair and stringy muscles.

"Yeshi, you said you had work digging ditches in Codover Stead today!" I wrung my apron between my hands, twisting the worn material tight as the anguish and frustration gripping my heart. I cursed the God that made me first child and female in a poor manís family of thirteen. Cast off, Iíd been, and left neither means nor direction for anything but this. "You said youíd buy a hen for the pot tonight!"

"Aye, I did." Yeshi grinned, looking sheepish, expecting forgiveness, not caring if he got it. "Made me a handful of coppers today, so I stopped at the tavern to tip a glass to good fortune."

I sniffed, then caught my breath at the warm, fruity scent of alcohol that came from him. "Several glasses, more like," I said, and left it at that. The liquor could turn him mean as quick as a blink, and I had enough pain hanging heavy on my heart already. Be thankful he didnít get lost in the bottle, I told myself. Be thankful heís here with the coin, and not spending it in the red-lit house on Ouinchytt Hill.

"I have something better than hen," he said. He held out his hand and slowly opened his fingers. "Look."

A dull grey stone the size of an apple rested in his palm. It was smooth and perfectly round, like it had rolled along a streambed for half of forever before washing up on some shore.

I stared at it, so far gone in despair that even this could not surprise me. "A stone," I said in my motherís voice -- tired, defeated.

I crossed my arms, hugging anger close. Releasing it would change nothing, would only drive him away, into the brothel or into the bottle or worse, into rage. Perhaps if the babies had lived thereíd be something here to hold him, to make him care of others beyond himself. The last, born dead, had torn me. There would be no more.

"Nay, nay, not just a stone, Niera!" Yeshi came into the kitchen, weaving slightly, and set the stone on the scarred wooden table. "Itís a dragon pearl. The man I bought it from stole it from the dragonís mouth himself. He said itís imbued with magical powers!"

"And what would those powers be?" I asked in a flat voice.

Yeshi frowned, bemused. "I donít know," he said, all surprise. "He didnít say!"

"Yeshi, you fool!" I wailed. "You spent our last few coins on a stone, a river rock! What will we do now, Yeshi? What will we eat?" My throat strangled further words and I whirled away, blinking hot salt moisture from my eyes. What now?

My eyes roved the poor kitchen, seeking solace if not escape. They fell on the black iron stewpot waiting by the hearth and in that moment, staring at the pot that held nothing but water and dashed hopes, the heartbreak and simmering frustration of the past five years boiled over.

I turned and snatched the stone from the table. "Weíll see how much better your dragon pearl is at filling an empty belly, then!" I said, and strode over to the hearth and threw the stone into the pot. It hit the water with a plop and sank to the bottom with a dull clatter. Onto the fire it went, and I straightened and brushed my hands together and turned to glare at Yeshi. "There! And if you want more than stone and water, you can fetch a turnip--"

"Iíve been digging all day, woman; I need my rest! Fetch the thing yourself."

Yeshi retreated to the loft to sleep off the drink and I lifted the shovel by the door and stepped into the kitchen garden.

The water in the stewpot was boiling, bubbling over the rim in a great sputtering, hissing stream when I came back into the kitchen. I dropped the turnip on the table and ran over to ladle some into the washbucket before the torrent put the fire out completely. Too much water for one meager turnip, anyway.

The water boiled over the rim of the stewpot again as I finished chopping the turnip. With a muttered curse, I swung the pot out, ladled off more water, and dumped the turnip in. Now I had a washbucket half full of water ladled from a pot half the bucketís size. This was impossible!

Another sputter of protest sizzled on the hearth as I stood contemplating the washbucket. I whirled, half knowing already what I would see, but still unprepared for the absurd orange fountain of cubed turnip that flowed like lava from the stewpot.

"Impossible," I breathed, "this is impossible!"

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