The Mouth of Wagoc

wagoc

It has been a long time since Wallie last posted anything. For this he apologizes. It has not been an easy November (or December) for the poor little imp.  This is our response to the Daily Prompt–relating a time when ‘everything seemed to be going wrong and then, suddenly, you knew it would be right.’

This didn’t necessarily happen to ourselves. Sometimes, you have to meet the real world with fantasy. So: ‘The Mouth of Wagoc.’

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The Mouth of Wagoc

‘What did I say, Wo-Lin?’ she asked. ‘Can you—will you—tell me?’

For a moment the Dragon was silent. Then,

‘It is not my place, to tell the secrets of my master’s heart,’ he said.

Ngoc looked down at her friend, limp in the warm support of his dragon’s coiled form. He had been drinking, and his face was damp, glistening and grey, as if he were sick. His lowered lids were swollen and his lashes were wet.

‘Has he—been crying?’ she asked, softly. It was a delicate question.

‘If—’ began the Dragon, shortly. He suddenly stopped. ‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

‘I do not think that you can help him.’

‘But do you know it?’

Wo-Lin fixed his serpent stare upon her.

‘He trusts me,’ he said. ‘I do not wish to lose that trust.’

Ngoc almost lost her temper. She ran her fingers swift through her hair.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘What could I have said, or done, to—to—’

She realized.

‘Wo-Lin,’ she whispered. ‘Does he speak often of home?’

‘He does not speak of it at all,’ said the Dragon. ‘But I hear much of it, when he is weary, or dreams.’

‘Is he afraid he will not see it again?’

Wo-Lin hesitated. ‘He is afraid—for them,’ said the Dragon.

‘For them?’

The Dragon’s glance fell to his master. Jeon had stirred, barely, but only for comfort’s sake. His head hung slackly back, his arms loose and resting on Wo-Lin’s firm scales. He was boneless as if he had swooned.

‘For his wife,’ said the Dragon. ‘For his child.’

Ngoc’s breath caught. Her heart pounded.

‘His wife—child?’ she faltered. ‘But he is so young—he wears no ring—’

‘Yes,’ said the Dragon. ‘He wears no ring, for he is young. It is his belief, as he has hinted often enough, that denying any care for family will work some sort of carelessness on his spirit. But that is not so. And so he suffers more than he ought, in losing and in resisting. I cannot reason with him. He is stubborn, and daft.’

Ngoc drew nearer. She brushed the loose hair, clinging to damp brow and cheeks, from Jeon’s face.

‘He is very cold,’ she said.

‘He is very frightened,’ said the Dragon.

‘Why? Was all not well, when he left?’

‘He couldn’t hide the memory. He did not want to, in his grief. He had only just learned that his Song-Le carried their child, when he was taken.’

Ngoc’s throat clenched. She took Jeon’s hand in hers, rubbing icy knuckles.

‘How could they,’ she murmured.

‘My master begged to stay,’ said the Dragon. ‘If you think him arrogant now, he was not then. For he loves his wife, though he does not speak of her; they were raised together as children, and wed by mutual desire. My master has always been clever with a sword; nobles and wealthy men came to him for instruction. How often was he criticized for marrying a low-born girl. How often did he and his bride sit and kick up their heels together and laugh, for how everyone whispered about their ages, and how they could not possibly get on with so great a world before them that they knew so little of.’

‘He has always been a little proud then,’ said Ngoc, tracing the threads in Jeon’s sleeve.

Wo-Lin’s head swiveled low until he could meet her eyes.

‘Proud?’ said the Dragon, ‘or, in love? Would I could show you his memories and let you hear what he has told by heart to me. Then you might see how proud he was, when he asked on his knee for her hand, scarce daring to lift his eyes; or when he plighted his troth, and vowed himself to her without reserve; when they kissed; when they loved. He is fair sick from his devotion. And then, to know that he (who is scarce a man) will soon be a father—what wreck was he then, to find he could not stay to see his child born, the mother safe. Is he proud, Ngoc Ta-Chin? Is he proud, or young, witless, and terrified?’

Ngoc swallowed. She couldn’t speak.

The Dragon slowly unwound, reaching to gather his master’s sagging frame in his talons. Jeon choked a little at the motion, his long, slender frame seeming very fragile and weak in Wo-Lin’s firm hold. The Dragon carried him to his own bedding, a pile of dry straw. He did not think his master would wish to be seen by his fellow riders, as he was, and so laid him carefully down in his pen. Ngoc followed and knelt by Jeon, gently untying the knot in his unkempt hair. She loosened his robes at the neck, and unwrapped the sash from his waist, folding it in thirds to ease as a pillow beneath his head.

‘I have been very short with him,’ said Ngoc, in a low voice.

‘Good,’ said the Dragon. ‘He needs your fire, not your sympathy.’

‘That is Dragon talk,’ said the girl.

‘When a bone heals the wrong way,’ said Wo-Lin, ‘it must be broken, to heal properly.’

Jeon groaned. He turned on the straw.

Ngoc bit her lip and removed her own cloak, folding it lightly over him.

‘I wish he had told me.’

‘Why? So that you could comfort him—so that you would not fall in love?’

Ngoc might have been offended by the Dragon’s bluntness. But she knew him well enough to realize he spoke not unkindly.

‘No,’ she said. ‘I never loved him. He is a wonderful swordsman and an intolerable prankster, and his high spirits, however false, have never failed to drive us all either to wrath or warmth; but I have never loved him save as a sister, a friend. I wish that he had told me so that I could better protect him, those times when he was reckless and wild, not for his own sake but for the sake of his wife and little one.’

‘You must think of yourself when you fight,’ said Wo-Lin, ‘for your own sake.’

‘That is what he would say,’ countered Ngoc, ‘and look how well his reason has worked for him.’

The Dragon snorted. ‘You are as stubborn as he.’

The girl smiled. ‘And you are more subtle than both of us. You wanted me to know why he hurts, so that I might act accordingly.’

The Dragon snorted again, more softly. ‘Perhaps.’

They were silent then. The Dragon’s mind went to the strangeness of humans, to the intense suffering his master could not hide if he would, and to the quietness with which Ngoc accepted the truth of his free and volatile manner.

Ngoc’s thought was elsewhere. She had almost loved Jeon for the light in his eyes and the dance in his step. But she had not lied either, when she told Wo-Lin that her affection was less a lover’s than a sibling’s. In understanding the swordsman better, she did not envy the lass who had stolen his heart, nor the child that would be his, of her. Rather she wished, and silently prayed, that when the war was over—when the Tall Isles were retaken, and the Mouth of Wagoc silenced—she silently prayed she might see Jeon home. They would walk side by side, she matching his step, and he would carry his long stick over his shoulder. And they would reach a place, a hill she imagined, where his walk would slow and his breathing quicken, for he would recognize the long row of flat houses around the corner and over the way, and the house with the open windows, curtains fluttering in a light wind…

…She would take his hand. She would take his hand and lead him forward as if he were blind, or a child. And if he protested at her haste she would smack him, and when they had reached the step she would raise her hand to knock. The door would open. A woman lovely as spring blossom would stand in the door, pale with anxiety. In her arms, a little infant with the mother’s coloring and face, fair and precious, but with a dancing glance that was its father’s, full of mischief, of trouble, and a promise of love.

What of Jeon? Would he weep or laugh, to see them? He would do neither. No, he would be overcome beyond what tears or mirth could tell. And sinking on his knees, he would look at his wife and child, and embrace the wife and fear to take the child—and she for whom he had longed and wept would sink beside him and lay the infant in his arms, on his breast. And how his eyes would widen when those little hands first reached for him and discovered him. He would dare, then, to kiss that upturned face, and whisper a blessing on the infant brow.

Wo-Lin coiled himself carefully around the sleeping form of his master. Beside him, her cheek against Jeon’s shoulder and a soft smile on her lips, slept Ngoc, whose dreams the Dragon did not need to ‘See’ to understand.

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