Author: Kiyo Date (伊達きよ)
The blood vow
“The weather today is nice.”
“Days like this we call ‘days where the dragons sleep’.”
“The dragons?..Oh, I see. The dragons make it rain, right? When there’s no rain, the dragons are sleeping…Is that where the saying comes from?”
“Yes, right. But, in reality, it’s not quite true. They are awake. Don’t think that on a nice day like this all I’d do is sleep. I’m a hard worker.”
The one telling Setsu this, was none other than His Majesty the Emperor, with his rich black hair, his luxurious clothing, and his gentle smile. He seemed to be in a pleasant mood, as he loosely folded his arms and glanced at Setsu. Setsu smiled back at him.
When Setsu had gone to the pavilion by the Lu Huang’s bank as he normally did, he was surprised by who he chanced to meet there, and immediately fell to his knees. Where Li Huang usually waited for him, his father the Emperor sat instead. When he saw Setsu he exclaimed a cheerful greeting and raised his hands. Because they had been in his blind spot, Setsu hadn’t noticed several attendants waiting on the other side outside the pavilion.
The castle’s grounds were immensely vast. So why was the Emperor here where Li Huang should be?
“Pardon me Your Majesty, but were is His Highness the Crown Prince?”
“Ahh, I fear he has a lot of work to do. He always works so hard… He even helps me with my duties. That’s why I’m replacing him today. I shall be your language partner today.”
Having the emperor offer himself as a study partner was a great honor that any ordinary person would have been too humble to accept. Setsu just nodded and agreed, seemingly unaffected.
What had caught Setsu’s attention wasn’t the Emperor’s presence, but rather Li Huang’s absence due to not being able to finish his work. So far, work had never been named as a reason to skip study time with Setsu. He’d always left some room for Setsu in his busy schedule.
And so it was today as well. Li Huang had planned to neatly finish his work in time to meet with Setsu. Today of all days he hadn’t wanted to be late, since he had especially asked Setsu to spend some time with him after they were done. However, an unexpected disaster had struck: His Majesty the Emperor.
He didn’t know where and how the Emperor had found out about his daily meetings with Setsu, but it seemed like he had purposefully loaded Li Huang with so much work, that he wouldn’t be able to make it today. Before Li Huang could raise any objections, he’d said “Oh my, this really is a lot, huh? Quite Troublesome. You won’t be able to finish in time…Terrible. I guess I’ll go to study with Setsu today then!” and left the castle in a rush.
“Of course I don’t want to get in the way of your romance with Li Huang, but I too would like to talk to you. And I’ll have to leave the castle again so soon…”
The Emperor shrugged. He still pretended to think that Setsu and Li Huang were in love. Of course he knew better. He wasn’t being a hindrance to Li Huang’s and Setsu’s love affair, just to Li Huang’s romantic endeavors.
At any rate, he really did want to speak to Setsu a bit more, and had thus decided on this unscrupulous approach.
The Emperor did help Setsu study. It seemed like he really did mean to stand in for Li Huang today. To Setsu’s surprise he properly summarized the main points in a way that was easy for Setsu to understand. The Emperor was surprised at how fast Setsu understood things, as well.
It was as though for every one thing you had to explain to him, he understood ten more problems by himself, absorbing everything you taught him. By perfecting the basics he had become able to abstract new information to understand more advanced concepts. “If this is like this, then that must mean that is like that”. The Emperor was very pleased and decided that Setsu was truly a “worthy student”. Of course Setsu loved being praised like that and gladly accepted all the compliments.
“You even have some things to teach me.”
“Your Majesty has something to learn from me?”
The Emperor was just there to teach not to be taught. But he only smiled at Setsu’s confused face.
“I have been alive for a long time. I thought I had come to know everything there was to be studied. But watching you made me remember the joys of learning new things.”
“I had completely forgotten it; how exhilarating it is to learn something new… Thank you for making me remember, Setsu.”
The Emperor’s appearance was that of a young man, but in truth, he was close to 250 years old. Setsu was surprised that somebody of a venerable age like that, and an emperor, nonetheless, would find something to thank him for. Instead of betraying those thoughts however, Setsu just laughed in reply. “Huh huh hm.”
His laughter made the Emperor’s gaze return to him. Watching him laugh made the Emperor smile, as well.
“…You remind me of Qiu Zhu a little.”
The Emperor’s muttered words made Setsu let out a noise of surprise. It was not because he had never heard the name before. Quite the opposite. He happened to know who Qiu Zhu was, but to be compared to that person was something that took him off guard. The Emperor nodded. He could tell from Setsu’s expression that he knew who Qiu Zhu was.
“Yes. She was my consort and Li Huang’s mother.”
The sunlight was reflected in the Emperor’s golden eyes. Setsu blinked as he saw his own reflection in them.
“It’s not that you look alike.. Well, and she was a woman of course. I’m speaking about your characters. … She was calm and gentle, but also strong-willed, earnest and hard-working. She was truly a wonderful person…”
As he spoke, his gaze was directed at the distance. Setsu slightly cocked his head in contemplation, but he didn’t speak up and let the Emperor continue.
The Emperor let out a light sigh, and let his gaze drop.
“If only she had taken the blood vow, then we would still be together. But she was determined not to take it… She was an extraordinarily stubborn woman.”
His voice was heavy with sorrow, loneliness and regret. Setsu could feel it.
“Do you know about the blood vow, Setsu?”
Setsu nodded. He had read about the blood vow in a history book.
The blood of the dragons was said to possess the power of perpetual youth and longevity. This wasn’t just a legend or folklore. In Lan Huang the act of giving blood to the dragons’ spouses and trusted vassals had a long tradition, and was repeated generation after generation.
When a person was given the blood of the dragon, its powers of longevity affected the Five Elements within the recipient, the very foundation of their soul. By renewing these Elements, the recipient’s body was transformed, and the natural lifespan that fate had decided for them was altered.
But it was not enough to just drink dragon’s blood. Firstly, both parties had to be in agreement. This agreement couldn’t just be empty words either. The recipient had to sincerely want the transformation to take place, as did the donor. If there was the slightest hesitation, the magic would automatically be repelled, and the vow could not be taken.
Generations of emperors had performed this blood vow. It was done for political reasons too, since it was conducive to long lasting peace for the country to have trusted and capable vassals appointed for a long time.
Even though the dragons’ existence was beyond human comprehension, there were few emperors that could bear the pain of growing old, while the people who they loved and relied on died much faster than them.
But the current emperor San Huang’s consort, the empress Qiu Zhu had not taken the blood vow. The history books didn’t talk of her reasons, but it was written that she had had a normal human lifespan.
“She didn’t want to be transformed into something that wasn’t human anymore. She always said she wanted to be human until her last moment.”
“Is, is that right?”
“And that she wanted to accept her fate, even if it meant death…”
Once you took the blood vow, your eyes would turn gold like the dragons’. Just by looking at you, it would be obvious that you had transcended your human existence.
And there was another big condition when taking the blood vow. Once the one that had given the blood died, its effects would expire, and the recipient would die with them. In this way the recipient would be sacrificed. Many people were reluctant to take the vow, since it would mean that they would have to be “kept alive” through the emperor.
“We weren’t Destined Mates. Our marriage was mainly for political reasons. But I did love her. That’s why I am so lonely now. Sometimes I wonder how many centuries must pass before I stop thinking about her.”
He must have loved her a lot. But even with that love, he hadn’t been able to change her convictions. She hadn’t wanted to twist her destiny, even if it meant not being together with her loved one for a long time, but growing old much faster than him and leaving him behind in the end.
“What will you do?”
The Emperor directly asked Sestu. Setsu lifted his head and looked at him.
“I don’t want Li Huang to feel like I do. But I can’t ask you to take the blood vow, either. If you don’t sincerely want it yourself, there’s no use to it.”
The Emperor gave a hollow laugh. He did want to ask Setsu to take the vow. Maybe that was why he had come here today in the first place, Setsu thought.
A dragon’s feelings ran deep. Almost all the emperors in the history of Lan Huang had only had one wife, who they loved their entire lives. The current emperor too, hadn’t found a new consort even though more than 100 years had passed. For 100 years he endured the loneliness the Empress had left behind, and he would continue to do so for the next few hundred years. Because he understood this pain of having to live on for years and years after his beloved dying, he didn’t want the same fate to befall Li Huang.
Even though his face didn’t betray any of these feelings, the busy Emperor had gone through the trouble of keeping arranging this meeting with Setsu while keeping his son away. Setsu was sure that this was the reason.
A father that felt for his son. Setsu noticed something in his insides stir when he thought about it. The child inside of him had something to say.
But he didn’t lend his ear to whatever it was, and simply repeated the Emperor’s words in his heart.
When he opened his mouth and faced the Emperor, he saw Li Huang, who was approaching from on foot from one of the pathways that led from the castle to the gardens. Following Setsu’s line of sight, the Emperor turned around as well and noticed Li Huang.
“Oh? Already finished, hm? Always so capable that one…”
When the Emperor laughed as he watched Li Huang, there were no traces of the concerned father from earlier on his face. The grumpy look on Li Huang’s face was visible even from the distance. It was only natural, since so much work had been forced on him.
“…Come to think of it… Setsu, why don’t we put a Language Conversion spell on you? The way it is right now is surely an inconvenience, no?”
The Emperor said, as he waved at Li Huang, who was still approaching. He didn’t know that there had been a Language Conversion spell cast on Setsu before.
“No, I’m studying the language of Lan Huang now, so there’s no need for it.”
Setsu declined politely. The Emperor chuckled as though in acceptance.
“You should try and have a talk with Li Huang. He’s a little clumsy with words and unsociable, and maybe that makes him a little difficult to… be fond of. But there’s things that need to be talked about… But since you’re in love with him, you would know that ha ha. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, right?”
“Uh, Your Majesty…”
In the middle of Setsu’s sentence, the Emperor raised his hand towards Setsu, and Setsu felt himself wrapped by the magic that gushed out. Before he wouldn’t have known that it was magic, but now that he had studied sorcery, he was able to pick up on its flow. But even though he knew it was happening, he wasn’t able to stop it or defend himself against it without any warning.
He had put a Language Conversion spell on Setsu.
“Your Majesty! What have you done to him?!”
Li Huang had seen the invocation and had come rushing into the pavilion. Smiling, the Emperor lowered his hand.
“It’s just a Language Conversion spell.”
“Lang-, Language Conversion?”
Li Huang repeated the Emperor’s words in a half-shout. He turned pale.
The Emperor’s intentions had been good. The two of them were Destined Mates. He must have thought that their bond would naturally deepen once they were able to converse. He had thought that removing the language barrier would be the quickest way to achieve this. Due to his Elements, Li Huang could’t cast the Language Conversion spell himself, so this was the Emperor’s way of pitching in and helping out as a father. He hadn’t considered that his son would purposely have the spell lifted.
Setsu blinked a few times. He took a breath and looked like he was about to say something.
Li Huang’s voice was louder than Setsu had ever heard it before. He grabbed Setsu’s hand tightly.
Holding onto Setsu like this, he jumped over the pavilion’s banister, as he unleashed some fierce and rapid magic that made them soar up into the sky.
The Emperor and his attendants all looked up after them. In the blink of an eye, Li Huang and Setsu had become a little speck, disappearing in the sky, before anyone could even say anything.
“…I haven’t seen him use an aviation spell like that in years.”
The Emperor said to no one in particular, as he held a hand to his forehead and watched the empty sky where Li Huang and Setsu had been a second ago. Thin clouds lightly spanned across the sky, and warm sun rays hit the ground below.
“Did he want to be the only one he talks to? Ha ha ha. Kind of sweet isn’t it…”
The Emperor murmured happily. In reality however, the reason Li Huang had fled like that was not quite so sweet. He had wanted to prevent Setsu from talking about how much he was in love with himself, now that he was finally able to do so again after such a long time.
Of course the Emperor had no inkling of this. “Ahhh, youth…” he thought misguided, as he smiled pleasantly down below in the pavilion.