The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War, #2) by R.F. Kuang Read Online (FREE)
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Arlong, Eight Years Prior
“Come on,” Mingzha begged. “Please, I want to see.”
Nezha seized his brother by his chubby wrist and pulled him back from the shallows. “We’re not allowed to go past the lily pads.”
“But don’t you want to know?” Mingzha whined.
Nezha hesitated. He, too, wanted to see what lay in the caves around the bend. The grottoes of the Nine Curves River had been mysteries to the Yin children since they were born. They’d grown up with warnings of dark, dormant evils concealed behind the cave mouths; of monsters that lurked inside, eager for foolish children to stumble into their jaws.
That alone would have been enough to entice the Yin children, all of whom were adventurous to a fault. But they’d heard rumors of great treasures, too; of underwater piles of pearls, jade, and gold. Nezha’s Classics tutor had once told him that every piece of jewelry lost in the water inevitably wound up in those river grottoes. And sometimes, on a clear day, Nezha thought he could see the glimmer of sunlight on sparkling metal in the cave mouths from the window of his room.
He’d desperately wanted to explore those caves for years—and today would be the day to do it, when everyone was too busy to pay attention. But it was his responsibility to protect Mingzha. He’d never been trusted to watch his brother alone before; until today he’d always been too young. But this week Father was in the capital, Jinzha was at the Academy, Muzha was abroad at the Gray Towers in Hesperia, and the rest of the palace was so frazzled over Mother’s sudden illness that the servants had hastily passed Mingzha into Nezha’s arms and told them both to keep out of trouble. Nezha wanted to prove he was up to the task.
His brother had wandered back into the shallows. Nezha cursed and dashed into the water behind him. How could a six-year-old move so quickly?
“Come on,” Mingzha pleaded when Nezha grabbed him by the waist.
“We can’t,” Nezha said. “We’ll get in trouble.”
“Mother’s been in bed all week. She won’t find out.” Mingzha twisted around in Nezha’s grip and shot him an impish smile. “I won’t tell. The servants won’t tell. Will you?”
“You’re a little demon,” Nezha said.
“I just want to see the entrance.” Mingzha beamed hopefully at him. “We don’t have to go in. Please?”
Nezha relented. “We’ll just go around the bend. We can look at the cave mouths from a distance. And then we’re turning back, do you understand?”
Mingzha shouted with delight and splashed into the water. Nezha followed, stooping down to grab his brother’s hand.
No one had ever been able to deny Mingzha anything. Who could? He was so fat and happy, a bouncing ball of giggles and delight, the absolute treasure of the palace. Father adored him. Jinzha and Muzha played with him whenever he wanted, and they never told him to get lost the way Jinzha had done so often to Nezha.