The Boy and the Sea Dragon
It was the day Zuangeng met his future guardian. It was a few days before the storm. Zuangeng was standing with the forestay between his legs. His right foot was planted on the varnished oak jib boom in front of the forestay. He had planted his left foot on the varnished oak bowsprit behind the forestay. He held onto the forestay with his left hand. His right arm dangled freely.
The crew used to warn him about being out there. He looked down. Beneath him and the bowsprit and jib boom was water. They would say to him, “Zuangeng! That is no place for a boy your age! You could fall off into the water, get ran over by the ship and drown!”
He generally ignored the warnings. He still went out on the bowsprit and jib boom. Sometimes, he went to the tip of the jib boom. Not once did he have a mishap. They had ceased to warn him. They had become accustomed to his being out there. They still worried.
He looked out over the greenish blue ocean. It stretched out to the horizon. The water had gentle waves. No land could be seen. The blue sky had some white wispy clouds. The sun warmed him. A cool wind blew off the ocean. It blew his hair around, sometimes into his face. He brushed it from his face with his free hand.
The jib boom slanted up in front of him. The leading edge of the white jib next to him was on the left. Two more white jibs billowed out to his left in front of him. The stay that he was holding was attached where the jib boom and bowsprit overlapped. Two other stays were attached to the jib boom at two various points. The stays and jibs disappeared over his head and behind him.
Iyoseching occasionally tested him in his knowledge of the ship. The other day, Iyoseching found him at the starboard bow railing. Zuangeng was looking out over the water. Iyoseching said, “Look to your left, Zuangeng. What are those sails?”
Zuangeng looked at the sails. He said, “Jibs.”
“What are the jibs from the closest out,” Iyoseching asked.
“They are the inner, outer and flying jibs,” Zuangeng answered.
“What are the stays in the same order,” Iyoseching asked.
“They are the fore, fore topmast and fore topgallant stays,” Zuangeng said.
The captain was sitting behind his desk in his office. He was studying a chart of the ocean. Most of the chart was blue. Some of the chart was brown and green indicating islands. Light blue indicated atolls. Lines crisscrossed the chart. The lines had numbers beside them indicating degrees and minutes of longitude and latitude. There were names of islands, atolls, seas and major harbors. On the chart he had marked their last known location based on the last reading he took that morning. He wrote the time and date of the reading. He was making sure that they were on the right course. A glass of water sat on the right side of the chart.
The sea dragon was floating stretched out on the ocean surface. His scaly wings were spread out on the surface. His long cone-shaped tail stretched out behind him. His legs dangled in the water. His head laid on the surface.
The wind blew over him. Waves lapped against his right side. Waves washed over his right wing. He was unaware of any of this. His eyes were closed. He was in a sleep so deep that all senses were shut off.
Zuangeng loved being on and the view from the bowsprit or jib boom. He had seen the same sight thousands of times. He never tired of it. He imagined what was out there, real or not. He hardly imagined the same things each time.
Today, he imagined himself as a blue sea dragon. He flew through the ocean. He had two rows of fins running from his shoulders to his tail. He had two horizontal flippers where his front legs would have been. Where his hind legs would have been were downward slanting fins. His tail was similar to that of a shark’s.
He encountered a sunken sailing ship. Its three masts laid across the main deck to the port. The tops of the masts rested on the seafloor. There was a gaping hole in the deck and port side. It was encrusted with grey sediment. Fish swam around it. Some went in or out of the hole.
He flew through the hole. He flew down several decks until he came to an undamaged deck. It was part of the cargo hold. His eyes glowed in the darkness. His flippers and bottom hind fins became legs. His shark’s tail became conical. He landed on the deck. He folded his wings. He walked among crates. He walked over some crates. The crates were scattered on the deck. Some were broken.
He discovered a large chest. It was a rectangular box with a semicircular lid. There were three brass bands circling the chest. Each band had a clasp to keep the lid closed. The middle one had a lock. The lock was easy to break. He loosened the clasps. He pried the lid open. Gold and silver coins fell to the deck. He rummaged through the coins. He found gold goblets and chalices. Some were ornate with rubies, diamonds, amethyst and sapphires. There were gold and silver necklaces, rings and bracelets. Some had jewels embedded in them. There were jewels of all kinds. He looked at some of the treasures, admiring the fine workmanship. He left it all. He exited the ship. He left it behind.
He flew on. He came across a mountain range. It was covered with coral. Swimming among the coral were exotic creatures. There were snake-like eels. They were grey, some with red fins running their length both tip and bottom. There were greyish brown oceanic lizards. There were some sea turtles. There were fish of various shapes and colors. There were rainbow colored fish with feathery fins. Some fish blended in with the coral. A mermaid swam among the coral. She was covered in silvery scales from head to tail. Her tail resembled that of a dolphin. Her torso and head resembled a human. She used her hands to pull herself along. She saw him and grinned. He flew on. He flew between two mountains that reached out of the water.
He reached the other side. He flew down to the sea floor. His flippers and rear fins transformed into legs. He landed on the muddy bottom. Clouds of mud floated off the surface. He folded his wings. He walked on the floor. Each step sent clouds of mud into the water. Octupi crawled on the floor. They varied in color and pattern. Some changed their coloration and pattern. There were starfish. They varied in size, color and number of arms. Some had whip-like arms. He saw mollusks of different shapes, sizes and colors of shells. There were floor dwelling fish. They varied in shape, size and color. Some were flat. Their eyes were on top of their heads. Some buried themselves in the mud.
He took off. He flew again. His limbs transformed back to flippers and fins. There were squids of different sizes and colors. Mantas flew through the water. Jellyfish floated or swam in the water. They were translucent.
A shudder brought Zuangeng to reality. The ship lurched to a halt. A vibration went through the bowsprit and jib boom. He swore, “Was that a roar I just heard?”
He lost his balance. He quickly wrapped his right leg around the forestay. He grabbed it with his other hand. He regained his balance.
The sea dragon woke up abruptly. Pain shot through his body. His lower jaw went under water about an inch. The upper jaw went up. He let out a loud roar of pain. The roar sent ripples through the water.
He raised his head. He turned it to his right to see what had interrupted his nap. He found it was a ship’s bow. The starboard anchor hung from a hole in the bow. ‘Serikua’ was emblazoned in gold above the anchor. The bowsprit and jib boom extended over him. The boom tip was close to his head. He moved his head right to avoid the boom.
He faced the ship. The first thing he noticed was a naked boy. The boy’s skin was brown. His hair was sandy blond. The dragon muttered to himself in Dragonese, “No doubt, his hair must be bleached by the sun and sea salt. It must be long enough to hang over his shoulders. The boy seems to be six years old.”
Beyond the boy, there was the fore mast. Four square sails hung at different heights on the mast. Part of another sail was visible above the top most sail on the fore mast. The top part of the main topgallant mast and the crow’s nest were visible above that sail. Shrouds came from the side of the hull up. They disappeared behind the course sail. More shrouds went from the bottom of the topmast to disappear behind the top sail. One more set of shrouds went from the bottom of the topgallant mast to disappear behind the topgallant sail. They reappeared above the royal sail to disappear into the crow’s nest.
Zuangeng looked up to see the head appear. He recognized it to be the head of a sea dragon. The mouth was open. The lips were curled in a snarl. There were white teeth. Two pairs of teeth, one on each side, were bigger than the others. The upper pair were the longest. The gums were blood red. The tongue was dark red, almost black. The eyes were blood red with black spots in the center. The eyebrows were furrowed. The nostrils were flared. The dragon growled. Zuangeng said in Cingalia, “You must be angry.”
Zuangeng swung around. A few men ran toward him. He put his right hand to his mouth. He yelled loudly, “Iyoka, iyoka, iyoka.”
The men saw the dragon. They yelled, “Zuangeng, get off there! Get away from that dragon!”
Everybody, including Zuangeng, knew the reputation of the sea dragons. They had a propensity to sink ships that bothered them. Zuangeng remembered the tale of the whaling ship, Aleb.
The ill-fated Aleb was on her final voyage hunting whales. The Aleb was a three masted, square-rigged whaling ship.
Johnathon was in the crow’s nest at the top of the main mast. He looked out over the ocean. He saw a large, long grey mass in the blue water. From his vantage point, the mass looked like a whale. He looked down to the main deck. There were a few men below him. He yelled, “The’e be a whale off the sta’boa’d bow.”
Captain Jaycob heard him. He looked off the starboard bow. He saw the whale. He said to the man standing next to him, “Alexi, gather your men. Take a long boat and go after that whale.”
“Aye, captain,” Alexi said. He walked below. He got his harpoon. He got eight men. They walked up on deck. They walked to a long boat near the starboard bow. They pulled the canvass cover off the boat. They lowered the boat to the water. They got into the boat. Alexi sat in the bow.
They released the boat. The eight men grabbed the oars. They rowed the boat toward the whale. Alexi tied the harpoon to a rope stored at the bow.
They came within range of the whale. Alexi stood up. He held the harpoon over his right shoulder. He hurled the harpoon with all his might. The harpoon hit its target. It sank into the flesh.
A dragon’s head popped out of the water. The harpoon was lodged behind the shoulder. The dragon roared in pain. Alexi yelled, “Aye, tis a sea dragon, not a whale! Row back, row back!”
Alexi untied the rope from the boat. The men frantically rowed away from the dragon. The dragon turned its head around to face the boat. It saw Alexi standing in the bow. The dragon turned its body around. It swam after the boat. It came close. It quickly lowered its head toward Alexi. Alexi saw the mouth wide open, white teeth showing. The eyes were blood red. The dragon grabbed Alexi in its mouth. It picked him up. Alexi screamed and struggled. The dragon squeezed him. Alexi felt and heard his ribs break. He became limp in the dragon’s mouth. He was silent and dead. The dragon threw Alexi’s body into the ocean.
It rapidly lowered its head at the boat. The eight men jumped into the sea. The head slammed on the boat’s middle. Splinters flew as the boat broke in half. The halves flipped over. The men swam to the halves. They grabbed them. They held on.
The dragon found the Aleb. It thrashed the water as it struggled into the air. It flapped its wings. The men in the water watched it. The wing on the side with the harpoon did not move as well as the other wing. It became airborne. The rope hung from the harpoon.
Captain Jaycob saw the dragon approach the Aleb. He noticed that it was injured. He said to the men, “Gather all the harpoons! Prepare to fight!”
The men went below. They gathered the harpoons. They brought them up on deck. They waited.
The dragon arrived at the ship. It dove at it. The crew threw the harpoons at the dragon. It dodged or swatted the flying harpoons.
The dragon came at the main mast. It bit the topgallant mast below the royal yardarm. The topgallant mast snapped like a twig. The front claws ripped the topgallant sail. The topgallant mast toppled. The rigging kept it from going all the way. Johnathon was not so lucky. He fell out of the crow’s nest. He hit the deck.
The dragon wheeled around. It came at the ship from the bow. It grabbed the royal yardarm on the fore mast with its right front claw. It tore the yardarm off. The rigging snapped. The sail flapped. The dragon tore the sail off with the left front claw.
It stopped and hovered, nearly vertical, above the ship. It threw the yardarm with such force that the yardarm lodged in the upper two decks. The dragon did the same to the mizzen royal yardarm.
The dragon went to tearing the rigging and sails. The broken main topgallant mast fell to the water. The dragon snapped more of the masts. The pieces fell into the sea. The dragon continued to dodge the harpoons.
The dragon clumsily landed in the water on the port side. Water rose up from the landing site. It opened its mouth wide. It bit through t he hull and main deck. Splinters and broken planks went flying. The dragon spat the pieces in its mouth out at the crew. The crew dodged the debris. It beat on the ship with its head and tail. More splinters, pieces of wood and planks went flying. The water was so agitated that it splashed through the holes into the ship. The ship listed to port admitting more water.
Captain Jaycob commanded, “Abandon ship! Everybody to the long boats!”
The men scurried to the boats. They uncovered them. They frantically lowered them. The dragon stopped and made room. The men clambered into them. They released the boats from the ship. They rowed away from it. The boats rocked in the still agitated water.
The dragon went back to the ship. While the men watched, The dragon slammed it front legs on the ship. Planks buckled. During the struggle, the imbedded harpoon in the dragon broke at the skin. They say to this day, the harpoon’s head is still in the dragon.
The Aleb broke in half and sank. The dragon disappeared under water. It spared the lives of the crew in the long boats. The crew of one boat picked up the men in the water. The entire remaining crew of the Aleb were picked up by a passing ship. They lived to tell the tale of the sinking of the Aleb.
Serikua’s captain felt the ship shudder. The desk shook enough to tip the glass over. The captain reached out and caught the glass. He set it back upright. He got up. He walked around the desk. He exited the office.
Iyoseching was heading his way. Iyoseching was a burly man. Everybody on the Serikua had brown skin. He had a dorag on his head. His hair hung outside of it. He wore brown leather boots, khaki pants and a white shirt. The captain said in Cingalia, the only language spoken on the ship, “What happened?”
“We ran afoul of a dragon. That is what the men are saying,” Iyoseching said.
The captain said, “Where is Zuangeng?”
Iyoseching said, “He is on the bowsprit where the dragon is.”
Zuangeng turned back around. The dragon was turning its head around. It raised its wings high, water running off them. The wing tips rose above the jib boom tip. It brought the wings down fast and hard. The wings slapped the water with a force that sent walls of water high into the air. The walls rose high above the boom. The part of the wall closest to Zuangeng drenched him and the bottoms of the jibs.
The dragon sank its head in the water. It arched its back. It dove under water. The tail was the last to go. Zuangeng watched the dragon’s distorted image. The tail seemed to shorten and transform into one similar to a shark’s. The tail moved to the left. The dragon flapped its wings as it flew underwater. The wing tips rose above the water. Water sprayed when they came down. The dragon turned to the port side of the ship.
Zuangeng spun around the forestay. He unwrapped his legs. He went around the forestay onto the bowsprit. He let go of the forestay. He sprinted along the bowsprit, one foot in front of the other, to the bow. He past the varnished mahogany bow railing. He jumped right to the deck.
He ran astern along the port railing. He ducked under or ran around rigging in his way as he sprinted. He stopped at the main mast. He stuck his head between two shrouds and ratlines. He looked out over the ocean. It stretched out to the horizon. No land could be seen. He searched for the dragon. He spied the dragon’s distorted silhouette in the water. It was heading toward the ship.
The captain said, “Iyo, get Zuang off and away from that dragon!”
“Aye, sir,” Iyoseching said. He headed to the bow. Before he reached it, he saw Zuangeng running astern. He returned to the captain.
“He’s no longer on the bowsprit. He’s running this way,” Iyoseching reported.
“Good,” was all the captain said.
The dragon resurfaced. He faced the Serikua. The Serikua was a clipper ship under full sail. The hull above the water was dark blue. A little copper showed above the water. The ship was about two hundred feet in length. The ship had three masts. The middle one was the tallest. Each mast was made in three pieces. Each mast supported four square sails. Between each pair of masts, there were two triangular sails, one over the other. Behind the mizzen mast was a large rectangular mizzen sail. It was supported by two spars. One was at the bottom. It stuck straight out from the mast. The other was at the top, slanting up from the mast. Both extended past the stern. Above the mizzen, flew the national flag of Cinga Archipelago. The flag was ocean blue. Twenty white stars were at the upper left corner. Each star represented a major island of the archipelago. Three triangular jib sails were before the foremast. The flag waved in the wind. All sails were billowed out.
The dragon came along the ship’s side. It folded its wings. It paddled its feet to keep up with the ship. It turned its head to face the ship. It saw the men standing back. Fear showed in their faces. The boy stood at the railing. He was looking at the dragon. He had a look of curiosity. His hair was still wet from the drenching. It hung down over his shoulders. Some of it was in his face. Beads of water were all over his skin.
The dragon was still upset over the ordeal. It said sternly and in Dragonese, “I need to talk to your captain!”
Zuangeng cocked his head to his right. He said nothing for a short while. All he eventually said was, “Eh?”
The dragon repeated, “I need to talk with your captain, now!”
Zuangeng just stared at the dragon for a moment. He turned his body half way around. He turned his head to face the men. The men had a look of deep fear in their faces. He thought, “They fear for my safety as well as the ship’s.”
He said aloud, “Ang iyoka lakea!”
The dragon realized that the boy had not understood him. It said on Dragonese, “Oh!”
Zuangeng turned back around to face the dragon again. The dragon continued, “You speak Cingalia, not Dragonese.”
It spoke Cingalia, “Ikala melonga telukiapa amiaku kapitain!”
“Ah,” Zuangeng said. Now, he knew what the dragon wanted. He ran to find the captain. His hair bounced as he ran. He found the captain with Iyoseching. They stood on the deck in front of the captain’s office. The office was at the stern of the ship. The captain stood about five feet and ten inches tall. He wore blue denim pants. He wore a white shirt and jacket. Three gold bars were on each jacket sleeve. A white cap sat on his head. He looked down at Zuangeng.
Zuangeng stood in front of the captain. He looked up. He pointed to port. He said, “Ang iyoka watelapa telukia amia, Esiada.”
“Siala pina,” Captain Esiada said. Zuangeng led him to the dragon. Captain Esiada looked at the dragon. The dragon’s forehead was furrowed. The inside corners of the eyebrows were down. The corners of the mouth were down.
Captain Esiada said gruffly in Dragonese, “What do you want?”
Zuangeng stood the listening. A puzzled look was on his face. He looked from one to the other. He could not comprehend what they were saying. He thought, “They must be discussing what happened.”
The dragon spoke sharply, “Watch it! Your ship hit me between my right hind leg and tail! It hurt!”
Captain Esiada spoke defensively, “We did not see you. Your coloration makes you blend into the ocean.”
The dragon warned him, “If you had done it deliberately, I would have sunk you! You are fortunate that you have a child on board!”
Before Captain Esiada could say anything else, the dragon dove back under water. It flew under the ship. Zuangeng watched the dragon. He ran to the starboard railing. He watched the dragon reappear from under the ship. The dragon was on its own way.
Captain Esiada, the two mates and Zuangeng were in the captain’s mess. They were having the evening meal. They were sitting at a rectangular table. Captain Esiada and Iyoseching were sitting one at each end. Zuangeng and the second mate, Esamoda, were sitting on the sides opposite of each other. Above the table hung a circular chandelier with oil lamps burning brightly. Behind Esamoda stood a varnished oak cabinet. It had two doors at the top. There were five drawers under the doors. Six extra chairs stood against the wall behind Zuangeng. Behind Iyoseching was the door to the mess. Serving dishes were on the table. They contained shark, vegetables and fruit. There was a bowl containing a salad of lettuce, carrots, spinach and quinsing – a sea plant. The captain and mates had glasses of wine. Zuangeng had water.
After supper, they retired to another room. There were three square tables. Chairs were around them. Each table had an oil lamp hanging over it. One table had a chess set ready to be played. Next to the door sat a table with oil lamps. The table had a drawer and two doors underneath. Two large doors were in one wall.
Esamoda went to the table with the lamps. He opened the drawer. He pulled out a long match. He walked to the chess set. He lit the match and the lamp.
Captain Esiada sat in the chair in front of the white pieces. Zuangeng sat in his lap. He leaned back against the captain to watch. Iyoseching sat in the chair in front of the black oieces. Esamoda sat in the chair on the captain’s left. The game began. The game lasted a long time. Each player spent some time studying the board before each move.
About half way through the game, Zuangeng started to nod off. His head fell down to his chest. Suddenly, he woke up. His head jerked up. Captain Esiada felt him do this. He looked down at him. Zuangeng’s eyes closed again. His head fell down. Captain Esiada said, “Looks like it is somebody’s bedtime. Please, excuse me while I put the boy to bed.”
Captain Esiada turned Zuangeng around. Zuangeng wrapped his arms around the captain’s neck. He laid his head on the captain’s shoulder. Captain Esiada wrapped his left arm around Zuangeng’s waist.
Esamoda got up. He walked to the table with the lamps. He pulled the drawer open, again. He got a long match. He lit a lamp. He picked it up. He waited at the table.
Captain Esiada stood up. He carried Zuangeng to the door. Esamoda gave the lantern to him. Captain Esiada took the lantern in his right hand. He walked through the door. The mates said, “Good night, Zuangeng.”
Zuangeng looked up. He sleepily waved. He laid his head back on the shoulder.
Captain Esiada turned right. He walked to his quarters. He entered his quarters. He turned left. He went to a door in the far wall. He put the lamp down on the floor. He opened the door. He picked up the lamp.
He entered a small room. A single bed was at the far wall. A chest was at the foot of the bed. A box of toys was on the wall past the chest. A square porthole was at the head of the bed. He set the lamp on the chest. He pulled the covers back. He laid Zuangeng in the bed. He covered him. He bent down. He kissed the boy on his forehead. He said, “Good night, Zuangeng.”
“Good night, Esiada,” Zuangeng said sleepily. He was soon asleep.
Captain Esiada picked up the lantern in his left hand. He exited the room. He turned around. He looked into the room. Soft moonlight came in. There was a square spot of light on the floor. Zuangeng had rolled over onto his side. He faced the door. Captain Esiada grabbed the doorknob. He closed the door behind himself.
He returned to the game. He gave the lantern back to Esamoda. Esamoda blew out the lantern. He returned it to the table by the door.