The Yellow Dragon by Resa Nelson
A little girl who quells demons. An aging dragonslayer. Can they stop the Yellow Dragon before it destroys an entire nation?
Pingzi Po is the only demon queller in the medieval Far East. So far, she has quelled exactly one demon: Benzel of the Wolf, a dragonslayer from the Northlands. Now, she must act as Benzel’s interpreter when he’s charged with slaying a yellow dragon seen only by an emperor.
But the emperor reveals the Yellow Dragon isn’t an animal—it’s an unidentified citizen in his province, who has threatened to murder the emperor.
Convinced that this unknown citizen is a demon that must be quelled, Pingzi races to unravel the mystery that will reveal the identity of the Yellow Dragon. But can she succeed before the emperor is killed?
If you like original stories, great characters, and plots that twist and turn, then you’ll love Resa Nelson’s page-turning fantasy mystery.
Targeted Age Group:: YA and adults
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 2 – PG
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The main character, Pingzi Po, first appears in my Dragon Gods series as a well respected and spry woman in her 80s. She also appears as a little girl in my novel, Berserk (which is currently free on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and B&N), in which she meets the dragonslayer Benzel, who becomes her guardian. I wanted to write this book so I could explore their relationship: how did a little girl from my fantasy version of the Far East establish such a firm friendship with a dragonslayer from the Northlands?
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Several years ago, I read a blog post where the writer said she was tired of reading about young blond women in fantasy books and wanted to read about an elderly woman with a sidekick. That inspired me to first write about Pingzi Po as an elderly woman who is insightful, wise, and powerful — and who sometimes pretends to be feeble when she actually knows how to fight. I'd already envisioned Benzel many years ago, because I knew he would appear in an "origin" series (The Dragon Seed series) that fits into my Dragonslayer World of 16 novels (4 series, each series has 4 books).
The Yellow Dragon is a standalone book that can be read independent of my other books. It's part of my ongoing Demon Queller collection, which is a group of standalone novels about Pingzi Po and Benzel.
Eleven-year-old Pingzi Po had just found her balance when a guard from the royal palace interrupted her.
“Please, Young Mistress Po,” the guard said in a hushed voice. “The emperor requests your presence at once.”
Distracted from the concentration she’d been proud to achieve this early in the morning, Pingzi lost her place in the morning exercise. Irritated by the guard’s disturbance, Pingzi brushed the braids of her fine, black hair over her shoulders while the men and women around her carried on.
Here in the center of the city of Zangcheen in the Wulong Province of the Far East, public parks and gardens surrounded the royal palace like a massive jade necklace. Every morning, thousands of citizens met in the park to perform the morning exercises together. Inspired by the positions of attack and defense used by warriors, everyday people performed the exercises in a very slow and peaceful manner.
Other than a few neighbors near her house on the outskirts of the city, no one knew that Pingzi Po was a member of the royal family.
She wanted to keep it that way.
Pingzi stepped away from the crowd and headed toward a path that cut through this section of the Jade Necklace. Most people preferred to practice their exercise far from the path to avoid being distracted by passersby. Without looking behind, Pingzi trusted the guard would follow.
Once on the path, she turned around to face him.
The man she saw behind the royal guard surprised her.
Trailing the guard like an obedient dog was the one and only demon she had quelled last year: Benzel of the Wolf.
Benzel had suggested Pingzi learn the morning exercise and practice it daily, which she had done. When she left this morning to join the public exercise, Benzel had stayed at home.
She’d refrained from suggesting that Benzel—a Northlander man old enough to be her grandfather—would benefit more by doing the morning exercises himself instead of telling Pingzi to do them. Such a suggestion would result in Benzel pontificating about the superior fitness of Northlanders, including his own.
Wearing the linen clothing typical of the Northlands, Benzel also wore his dragonslayer sword slung across his back. He stood so tall that most Far Easterners came up to his shoulders. While they had dark eyes, Benzel’s were clear blue. Their skin browned easily in the sun, while his pale skin turned red like a cooked lobster.
Why is Benzel with the guard?
For now, Pingzi decided to ignore his presence. She first needed to find out why the emperor wanted to see her.
“My presence?” Pingzi said to the guard. “Whatever for?”
“A visitor has come to court. The emperor believes you can help.”
Pingzi’s heart filled with joy. Under normal circumstances, being a member of the royal family would mean being destined to a life of misery. No one else in the emperor’s extended family seemed to mind living a dull existence within the confines of the palace, but Pingzi didn’t understand them any more than they failed to understand her.
Pingzi had no desire to waste her life by lounging around doing nothing all day. She longed to go to distant shores, meet all types of people, and see glorious sights. By sheer good fortune, last year she’d had her first portent and discovered her destiny as a demon queller.
But I’ve had no portent today.
Nonetheless, Pingzi perked up with hope. She whispered, even though no commoner stood close enough to overhear her words. Pingzi didn’t like to risk being exposed to anyone outside the royal palace as a demon queller. She knew such exposure would make her happy and peaceful life more difficult.
“A visitor?” Pingzi whispered. “Someone has come to report a demon in a far-off land?”
A troubled look clouded the guard’s eyes. “Something like that. Please, Young Mistress. Come with me now.” The guard turned and marched toward the palace.
Pingzi hurried to follow him.
The demon Benzel waited for her and then walked alongside the girl.
She’d begun his quelling the moment she’d met him in the Northlands. When Pingzi returned to the Far East with Benzel of the Wolf in tow, she was no longer allowed to live in the royal palace—much to her delight. The emperor ruled that any demons must be relegated to the edge of the city as a matter of public safety. He had granted special permission for Benzel to enter the city when accompanied by Pingzi or a royal guard.
Pingzi hadn’t argued. The emperor had given her a home where she now lived with her demon and continued his quelling, even though she suspected he no longer needed it. Pingzi and Benzel had spent much of the past year learning and becoming fluent in each other’s language.
It presented a great advantage in that when Pingzi wanted no one but Benzel to understand her, she spoke his Northlander language. And, apart from their closest neighbors, no one in the city of Zangcheen knew that Benzel spoke Far Eastern.
Not even the emperor knew.
As they walked toward the palace, Pingzi spoke to Benzel in Northlander. “What are you doing here?”
Benzel walked by her side and chewed on a long and fragrant blade of grass. “I don’t know. The guard showed up at home and made a lot of wild gestures for me to go with him. He never said a word.”
The massive city spread around them. Large buildings and lavish homes circled the palace, sectioned off from it by wide streets paved with stone and the Jade Necklace parks. Flush in the season of spring, bushes and trees flowered with delicate blossoms that filled the air with tangy perfume.
At the hilly outskirts of Zangcheen, dirt avenues ran crooked, tangled with small homes made of wooden slats and slanted thatched rooftops.
But at the center of the city, the royal palace stood before them, part of an elegant complex sprawled behind golden walls. Intricate gardens and ponds dotted the space between the palace and administrative buildings. Ornate stone towers anchored each corner of the golden wall with guards peering out from the highest level of those towers.
Glancing up at the many angular roof sections made of red clay tiles, Pingzi noticed the Imperial Dragon—the dragon goddess Fiera in her dragon form—slept upon those tiles.
The sight confused Pingzi.
If there’s a demon to be quelled, wouldn’t it be Fiera to call me, like she did before when Benzel needed to be quelled? Why is she sleeping on the roof of the palace?
Pingzi knew better than to ask the guard. He wouldn’t know.
Only the emperor would know.
Following the guard into the Hall of Justice, Pingzi’s nerves overwhelmed her. Although a member of the royal family, Pingzi was merely a cousin to the Emperor Renzong Po. She barely knew him, and the emperor’s power scared her.
To be more precise, the laws created during the past 900 years by the Po dynasty terrified her. Despite being a member of the Po family, if Pingzi said the wrong thing or took ill-advised action, the law would condemn her and the punishment would be devastating.
When they entered the courtroom, Pingzi reached for Benzel’s hand and held onto it.
The emperor rested on a simple wooden seat at the far end of the room. Dressed in layers of silk, the emperor shone like the sun in glorious yellow robes embroidered with scenes of ancient battle.
A stranger stood before the emperor, deep in conversation. The stranger looked like an average Far Easterner, except that he wore a red silk shirt and pants that indicated a lower form of royalty.
The guard announced in a loud voice, “Young Mistress Pingzi Po and her demon, Benzel of the Wolf.”
The stranger stopped talking and turned to look at them.
Emperor Po gestured. “Come here, Pingzi. And bring your pet with you.”
Benzel bristled and spoke so only Pingzi could hear. “Your pet?”
Pingzi held her chin high and ignored the Northlander’s complaint while she walked briskly toward Emperor Po. She stopped several feet in front of the seated ruler and gave a respectful bow. Out of the corner of one eye, she saw Benzel do the same, a half step behind her. “How may I be of service?” Pingzi said, barely able to contain her excitement at the thought of a new adventure.
Emperor Po swept an arm in the direction of the stranger who now stood by his side. “I present General Huang, the leader of the greatest warriors in all of the Far East.”
Pingzi gave a shorter bow to the general. She didn’t recognize his name and knew of no general in the city of Zangcheen. She straightened and said, “Are your warriors plagued by a demon?”
General Huang barked a short laugh. “There are no demons in the Chang-low Province.”
Hope filled Pingzi’s heart. She’d assumed the general belonged to her own Wulong Province. Instead of roaming within her own province, this meant she’d get to explore one she’d never seen before.
It would make for a most excellent adventure.
Beaming with delight, Pingzi said, “Then how may I help?”
“It isn’t you the general needs,” Emperor Po said. He shifted his gaze to the man standing a half step behind Pingzi.
She turned to look at Benzel of the Wolf.
His grizzled beard helped to hide any expression on his wrinkled face.
But Pingzi saw the sparkle in his clear, blue eyes.
He’s the one who’s excited now. How can it be Benzel who gets to go on the adventure and not me?
“Benzel?” Pingzi protested. When she saw the look of disapproval on Emperor Po’s face, she reminded herself of the strictness of the Far Eastern laws. She refrained from displaying her disappointment. Instead, she tried to reason with the emperor. “Benzel isn’t just a demon, he’s a foreigner. He doesn’t understand our ways or even our language.”
Benzel of the Wolf cleared his throat and cast a pointed gaze at Pingzi.
“Rather,” Pingzi said, “this demon understands little of our language.”
“I imagine,” Emperor Po said with a thinly disguised smile, “that the demon would like to know how he can be of assistance to General Huang.”
Benzel straightened his stance.
“As I’ve been telling General Huang,” the emperor continued, “our resident demon is a trained dragonslayer. Until now, all dragons in the Far East have been peaceful. Throughout the centuries, only a few wild dragons have posed a problem, and those creatures were small enough for any warrior to capture and contain.” Emperor Po’s expression darkened. “But now a dragon threatens the Lesser Emperor Xian, ruler of the Chang-low Province.”
“A dragon?” Pingzi said.
“A Yellow Dragon,” General Huang said.
Pingzi stood with her shoulders back in pride. “I’ve heard of no such thing! I know of dragons. Benzel has told me all about them. Dragons are gray or black—not yellow!” Realizing that she’d revealed a secret she preferred to keep, Pingzi clapped her hands over her mouth to make sure she said nothing more.
Emperor Po chuckled.
General Huang’s face revealed nothing of his thoughts.
“Ask them about the Yellow Dragon,” Benzel said in his native Northlander. “Where did they first see it? How is it acting? Why do they think it poses a threat?”
The general leaned forward and said, “What type of gibberish is that?”
Although Benzel showed no reaction, Pingzi bristled. “It’s not gibberish! It’s the language everyone speaks in the Northlands. That’s where he’s from.”
General Huang looked at Pingzi in astonishment. “You speak it, too?”
Pingzi couldn’t help but give a little huff of indignation. “I learned it. I brought the demon here last year. There’s been plenty of time for me to learn his words.” As if speaking an afterthought out loud, she said, “He wants to know more about this Yellow Dragon. Tell us everything about it.”
Now the general bristled. He faced Emperor Po and said, “You let this child give me orders?”
Emperor Po shrugged. “Only if you wish to have the demon dragonslayer solve your problem.”
General Huang continued facing Emperor Po and acted as if Pingzi and Benzel weren’t in the room. “I know little about the dragon. Only what the Lesser Emperor Xian tells me of it.”
Pingzi’s irritation with the general gave way to curiosity. “What does he say?”
General Huang gave a sideways glance in Pingzi’s direction, but otherwise continued to ignore her. He answered as if the emperor had asked the question. “The Lesser Emperor Xian is the only one who has seen the Yellow Dragon.”
Pingzi jumped up and down, so full of questions that she couldn’t contain herself. “How can that be? Did he go out in the woods by himself? Wasn’t there anyone there to guard him?”
“Too many questions,” General Huang said. He shook his head as if trying to clear it.
Benzel placed a calming hand on her shoulder, although it did nothing to quiet her. “Ask him what the dragon looks like,” Benzel said.
“What does the Yellow Dragon look like?” Pingzi shouted.
Everyone stared at her.
“Gently,” Emperor Po said to her. “When you quelled this demon dragonslayer—the first demon you ever quelled—did you get upset like this?”
Benzel squeezed her shoulder before letting his hand drift away.
Pingzi remembered the day she’d become a demon queller. It had begun with her first portent. The experience had startled her at first, but she’d stood up to it with courage. She’d quickly gained help from Fiera, the dragon goddess of fire, who currently served as the Imperial Dragon to the city of Zangcheen and Emperor Po.
It was easier with Fiera by my side. She helped me convince Emperor Po that I truly am a demon queller. She made him understand that I had to go to the Northlands to quell a demon, because the Far East could get hurt if I didn’t. Fiera went with me. She helped me find Benzel and figure out how to talk to him. Fiera taught me the first words I learned in Northlander.
But the Imperial Dragon slept on the rooftop of the royal palace right now.
Why isn’t Fiera here? Why isn’t she helping me?
Pingzi thought about all she’d learned in the last year, since returning to the Far East. She’d learned the Northlander language and spent time with Benzel every day.
Although she’d shared her thoughts with no one else, Pingzi believed she’d finished the task of quelling Benzel months ago.
She hadn’t told anyone because she liked his company. She liked the life she now had living with Benzel on the outskirts of Zangcheen. Benzel told wonderful stories all the time, and he treated her with more kindness and respect than she’d ever seen any man in the Far East treat a woman, much less a girl.
Pingzi realized that if she didn’t take Emperor Po’s cue to dampen her enthusiasm that he had the power to take Benzel away from her.
That thought quelled Pingzi. She bowed first to her emperor and then to the visiting general. “My apologies, wise sirs. I am very excited to learn about the Yellow Dragon, and just as excited to help the demon dragonslayer learn what he needs to know so he can help you.” She paused and spoke with reverence. “Is there anything I can tell him?”
General Huang looked at her with steely eyes. “Yes,” he said. “The Lesser Emperor did not see the Yellow Dragon in the woods. There were no guards with the Lesser Emperor when he saw the dragon, because he needed none.” The expression in the general’s eyes became fearful. “The Lesser Emperor saw the Yellow Dragon inside his home, the royal palace of Chang-low.”
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