Half an hour later, the nun opened the door, and Romelle appeared before them.
In Mongolian style, she wore a knee-length sheath of cloth-of-gold lavishly embroidered with seed pearls in a design of butterflies. Its long sleeves ballooned at the shoulders. Slit from the waist on both sides, the dress revealed gold brocade culottes bloused at mid-calf in the fleecy tops of soft white boots with no heels and thick felt soles, all embroidered with gold butterflies.
Her long, coppery hair was also dressed à la mongole in braids coiled like large shells above either ear. Between the braids sat a white brocade cap. Its fringe of seed pearls covered her forehead and dropped to her shoulders in back.
She stood with the ruby in her outstretched palms.
Ohs and ahs of admiration erupted from the men. Behind them, a loud murmur of voices signaled the interest of a crowd of lamas gathered at the gateway to receive the Living Buddha.
He hove into view at just that time, panting from the exertion of the climb.
Seeing Romelle, he stopped. He clapped his hands and shouted words across the crowd.
Dash stepped to her side. "He summons you, Madame," he said, offering his arm.
"Should I kneel?" Romelle asked Dash under her breath.
"No," he replied in a whisper, "stand as you did before me. As a living goddess, you are his equal."
The sun shone dazzlingly on the ruby. When she lifted it to the Living Buddha's eyes, great tears poured down his cheeks, although he remained silent and perfectly still. Not a sound issued from the vast throng that filled every inch of space in the courtyard, spilling into the garden, and the gateway area at the entry.
Then the Living Buddha spoke softly to someone nearby, who came forward.
It was Dayan.
His gaze locked with Romelle's as he reached up to cup his hands under hers.
His touch held the fire of a promise she could not dare to dream. Here was not only a man committed to the service of his god, but also a man forbidden to marry, or to know a woman. He was, as well, of another race. The white world would find their attraction to each other an abomination.
This one moment might be the closest to consummation they could ever come. She savored it, resting her hands tenderly in his, wishing it would never end.
"Give it to me," he murmured.
His words, she was sure, were meant more for her heart than for the stone.
She parted her palms. The ruby slipped gently into his. He bowed to her and to the Living Buddha, turned, and entered the library with Damba at his side.
The spell cast by the gem faded away. The Living Buddha smiled almost jovially and took her by the arm. He led her slowly along the covered promenade edging the sheer drop of the cliff.
Dash walked slightly behind, with Bart, Brad, and Chavadzy behind him. Rebel pranced ahead, his head lifted nobly as if aware of the admiration he inspired. All the lamas and most of the crowd knew of the role he had played in saving the High Lama's life.
The Living Buddha spoke to Dash over his shoulder.
"His Holiness has asked me to translate for him, Madame," Dash told her. "He wants to tell you a story."