David Yun David Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-02-07 17:00:41


A boot to the ribs broke Goreh's fitful sleep. Rubbing his side, he struggled to keep a scowl from welling up onto his face. The burly owner of the iron-shod toe loomed over Goreh. "Get your lazy carcass off my stoop."

"Yes sir. Thank you for the shelter, sir." Goreh stumbled into the morning light and slumped back to the ground. Immune to the scornful looks of those passing by, he slowly stretched his gaunt frame, allowing the sun to thaw each lifeless muscle. Answering his stomach's inquiry, he muttered, "Let's hope someone feels generous today."

He headed to the market square, and knelt in the center. The villagers passed by silently. Goreh was visible to their eyes but not their hearts. Begging was easier when he was younger. They had pitied him when he was small, but feeding him just enough to reach some semblance of maturity seemed to have sated their sense of responsibility. Finally, a shopkeeper pushing his cart stopped to accost him, "You should earn your meals, beggar."

"Teach me a trade, sir."

"Who would waste their time on you? Pfaugh!" The merchant dug about in his cart and pulled out a large rancid radish. "Here, now leave before the customers arrive."

"Thank you, sir." Goreh examined his new possession. "But sir? It looks more mold than beet."

"It looks as good as you do...and worth about as much too," the shopkeeper growled. He shoved his cart onward, forcing Goreh to scramble out of the way.

Goreh got up, shook the dust off his tunic, and silently mouthed doom on the merchant and his crop, until the grinding of his stomach returned his attention to the root. He sniffed at it, taking in the reek of horse trough. Eyeing it suspiciously, Goreh nervously licked his next meal. "Bleagh!" Very few things now made him retch, but the vegetable had the distinct flavor of unwashed undergarments. "Maybe I can find something to boil it in."

Goreh was the village orphan. His parents had been devoured by dragons. In theory, everyone was now responsible for his well-being, but the community usually piled his plate only with healthy helpings of contempt. The worst were the other children. Goreh sighed; a sizable pack of them was roving his way. A merciless leer adorned the face of their leader. He was a towering brute, with a bully's courage.

"Nice breakfast, Goreh."

"No worse than I'm accustomed to, Seng."

Seng-Sun strutted around Goreh, eyeing him disdainfully. "Any luck finding a master who would take you?"

"The Storyteller has agreed to instruct me as his apprentice."

A few of the children exhibited a glimmer of respect for Goreh until Seng-Sun snorted, "Learn well, there's none better to teach you the ways of a beggar." The others snickered. Puffing with hubris, Seng-Sun declared, "I myself got apprenticed to the Fletcher."

"That's quite impressive," Goreh replied. It was the most important profession on the island. Arrows were the only weapons known to deter dragons.

"Isn't it though?"

Goreh couldn't resist any longer. "And all it cost your father was your sister."

Seng-Sun's fist immediately flung itself; Goreh doubled over, suddenly unable to breathe. A foot to the face followed, filling Goreh's mouth with the sharp copper tang of blood. Seng-Sun clenched with unabated hatred. Seizing a small bundle from Goreh's waist, he unraveled it, and slowly tore the sackcloth tunic in two. He knew that Goreh's entire wardrobe consisted of two such garments: one to wear while he washed the other.

"Ask your new master to teach you respect for your betters," Seng-Sun sneered, adding another kick for emphasis. He aimed his final blow at Goreh's radish, splattering it into small chunks across the ground. Satisfied with the damage, he continued down the road. His cronies, mostly pleased, some secretly ashamed, departed as well. Goreh struggled to steal a breath, spat out a tooth, and clutched his tattered rags to his mouth to staunch the bleeding, as runaway tears streaked his dirty face.

The village Storyteller was a grizzled oak of a man, whose long, grayed beard served to hide a constant impish grin. The firelight flickered and danced about his face and eyes as a crowd of villagers circled about, hushing each other loudly. This was their favorite story.

"The Sun circled the heavens in search of someone to love. In his loneliness, he wept daily. God took those tears and created from them the Sea. Sun rejoiced, taking her as his bride. Soon, her belly swelled, and from her issued forth great sailing ships with masts as tall as hope. On them, our fathers and mothers sailed the Sea, basking in the warmth of the Sun.

But Earth grew jealous of Sea. While Sea tended her children, Earth brought an offering of lush fruits, and fed them to Sun. The fruits were poisoned, and Sun fell into a stupor, clouding the heavens. Sea returned, but too late. Earth had already lain with her husband and escaped. Earth's womb soon grew into a mountain of fire. Ash and smoke filled the sky, as she gave birth to dragons.

The people of the Sea greeted their new brothers in friendship, but the dragons were savage, born not of love, but venom. They torched the fleet. Wooden ships were so much kindling before the fiery breath of the accursed winged worms. They swooped down to feast, snapping up men and women and children in their arm-length razor teeth. Crying in desperation, Sea called out to her husband. His heart storming, Sun blew fiercely, driving one last ship onward. Dragon wings collapsed in the winds and many drowned in the Sea. Sun, Sea, and Earth wept bitterly for all the children they had lost.

The ship found ground here on this island. Ruing what had happened, Earth now yields harvest for our bellies, and arrowheads that we might defend ourselves. Sea gives us fish in plenty, and Sun shines hope on us all, even the dragons."

A little one broke in, "Not the dragons too! I hate them! Tell us a story of the Leviathan!"

The Leviathan was a child of the Sea. Little was known about the creature, but the islanders knew it to be their friend and guardian. Goreh had never seen it, but the fishermen spoke reverently of the colossal beast that patrolled their waters, and defended them from the dragons. Archers protected the town, but their fishing vessels were easy prey. The Leviathan was twice again the size of any dragon; the first fisherman to see it had thought it some distant island. But islands don't move. They weren't sure, but they believed the Leviathan was still growing, adding mass and legend with each passing year.

The Storyteller grinned, "No, that's all for tonight. I'll let the fishermen tell those stories."

Grumbling for more, but happy nonetheless, the villagers headed for their homes. Goreh and his new master shared the small pot of stew that was left for them. Goreh relished this rare treat: a hot meal. He silently chewed on some bread, enjoying the flavor of grain free from rot. Curious, he queried, "Why do you say Sun shines on people and dragons both? Wouldn't the story be better if he shined only on us?"

"It wouldn't be true. The only stories worth telling are those that find their heart in truth." The storyteller set down his meal and turned directly to Goreh. "Do you know why I chose you? You know more truth than any other child on this island. You know pain, you know hope, you see the good and darkness in people. Your dreams are vaster, stronger than even mine. You're special, Goreh, and you'll make an excellent Storyteller some day."

Goreh hung his bruised head. "I don't feel special. Everyone says I'm worthless."

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Listen carefully Goreh, here's a story just for you alone."

The Storyteller cleared his throat.

"There is a lake I know, and somewhere within it lurks a small patch of water that is something far more. It's hard to find; it doesn't appear special. You need a small canoe or raft, lest you pass it by or run it over. But if somehow you should manage to find it and have the patience to wait, you'd discover that it is mutable.

I know where it is, so I go to it at the break of dawn, when wraiths of mist yet curl over it. Soon, having dealt death to night, the Sun rises to dispel these cold, clammy ghosts. A glimpse of lake is rendered visible, but upon closer examination it is not water, but glass I see. It's the kind of blue-green glass that bottles of wine are made of, except that it hints of containing something far more mysterious and volatile than alcohol; and the glass itself is drunk, swaying and waving with each gentle puff of wind. As the Sun rises higher, I can begin to see past the surface. My patch becomes both window and barrier to a strange alien world where scaly monsters devour one another. I fish.

Leisure bends time and Sun wanes. The patch undergoes yet another metamorphosis, turning soft and golden. I am surrounded by liquid gold, not molten and bubbling, but cool and soothing. The scent of ambrosia and nectar wafts up from my golden surroundings, obscuring the fishy stench of my wee vessel. The Sun tires and bids good night, leaving the moon to rule. My patch is no longer liquid gold, but a silky black ruffled tapestry with silvery streaks woven within. Oh, but it is not whole; it is punctured throughout with a myriad of tiny pinpricks. These little holes are illuminated, as the glory of God himself (who, I suspect, resides behind this tapestry) shoots through in a starry daze. Inured to, or perhaps overwhelmed by such wonders for one day, I paddle for home."

The Storyteller gazed meaningfully at Goreh, stretched, and rolled over to sleep. Goreh, in admiration of the story, but completely failing to understand its significance, or even some of its words, shrugged and joined him.

The next morning, Goreh woke less stiff than usual. The fire had kept his bones from chilling, but his hunger was as insistent as ever. The Storyteller was still asleep, furiously snoring. Goreh smirked, "Your dreams are stronger than mine still."

He decided to eschew the marketplace with its money-grubbing merchants. Goreh had had his fill of small people with even smaller hearts. His stomach rumbling, he headed for the shore. Maybe a fisherman would spare him some small catch, unfit for the market. Also, if he was lucky, he might finally get a glimpse of the famed Leviathan. Goreh wondered what it must be like to garner that much respect. On the best of days, he received quiet loathing in place of the outright derision that was the norm. Immersed in his thoughts, the pebbles under his bare feet soon turned to sand.

The fishermen were readying their boats and nets. Seng-Sun's father was among them, a slim hearty man, quick to smile. "Ho Goreh," he waved. "I hear you've been badmouthing my daughter's marriage."

"I'm sorry sir, I didn't mean any disrespect."

"Don't worry Goreh, I know how cruel that son of mine can be. Just between you and me, I apprenticed him out to someone else so I wouldn't have to share a whole day, every day, on a boat with him. Besides, he's too cowardly to be a fisherman." Goreh stifled his laughter as Seng-Sun's father winked. "I'll tell you what. I'll save the biggest, fattest fish for you and your master. Give me a few hours and you can feast! Just help me with this, all right?"

The two of them braced their backs to push the boat into the ocean. Panting, Goreh asked, "Can I go with you?"

"Too dangerous. We can't risk losing the next Storyteller now, can we?" The fisherman thumped his hand on Goreh's shoulder, jumped in his boat, and paddled out to the fishing grounds.

With nothing to do, Goreh strolled along the beach. The ocean never failed to awe him with its power. Goreh charged in up to his waist, chattering in the sudden briskness. Stretching his arms, muscles tensing, he flung his gaze into the wide-open sky, a soft azure canopy stretching past all horizons. Closing his eyes, Goreh inhaled deep the clean, crisp ocean air. The wind knifed into his lungs, leaving them icy and tender. The massive seething of the waves reverberated into and through his marrow. The rumbling built to a crescendo, and erupted as a wave crested and crashed onto the beach with a stinging hiss. It knocked him over, saturating his mouth with salt brine. Thrilling with the elements, Goreh threw stroke after stroke of his tireless arms into the surf. The water was a deep blue-green, teeming with life. Diving underwater, he let the soothing cold envelop him. Colors in fish form skittered about him; alien vegetation waved their long weedy limbs at him. Churning his massive fins, Goreh furrowed his way through the benthic depths.

This caused massive ripples on the surface; Goreh's mass displaced a voluminous amount of water. The fishermen noticed the telltale signs, and excitedly pointed them out to each other. Nets forgotten, they clambered to the sides of their crafts, cheering their favorite behemoth. They waved and whooped until their voices grew hoarse.

Their celebration was quickly ended by the keening scream of a dragon swooping toward them. It quickly grew from a small speck on the horizon to a crimson and gold multi-ton kite skirting above them. The shrieking serpent tightened its wings and dove at the wee fishing vessels. Sulfurous vapors precipitated the scorching flames that belched from its gut. Several of the boats caught aflame and the fishermen fled overboard, desperately seeking the sanctuary of the Sea. The dragon circled overhead, unsure as to which pitiable fisherman would make the tastiest first morsel. Oblivious to their dread-filled screams, it selected Seng-Sun's father and dove again. At the lowest point of its swoop, Goreh's titanic girth erupted from the surface and his jaws clamped firmly over the dragon's midsection, pulverizing bone and sinew. His prey thrashed violently, but to no avail; the dragon's shrieking was curtailed as Goreh dragged it under.

The fishermen were still rejoicing when Goreh woke on the beach the next morning. He wondered what all the excitement was about, and why he wasn't so hungry anymore.

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