The Boy and the Sea Dragon
Flight and Plants
Next day, after a meal of fish, Zuangeng said in Dragonese, “I need more than fish to eat. I need something green, something plant.”
“I know the thing. It is an ocean plant I have seen humans eat. I will need to take to the air to get there. So, lay down and hold on tight,” Xianjeng said.
Zuangeng laid down. He wedged his feet between fins. He held onto other fins.
Xianjeng paddled fast. He spread his wings out. He flapped them. He used long strokes. The wings came within an inch of the water. He rose. He tread water with his paws. Zuangeng heard splashing. Xianjeng took longer, faster strokes with his wings. He lifted his legs against his body. He was airborne.
He flew through the air as easily as he did in water. He slanted his body with his head up. He gained altitude until he felt he was high enough. He leveled out. Zuangeng felt the air blowing past him as he rode. His hair flapped in the wind. Sometimes it hit his back.
Xianjeng banked steeply to the right. Zuangeng felt himself start to slide. His left foot came loose. He almost lost his grip with his left hand. He clinched his hands harder. His left leg slid to his right. He kicked the dragon’s back with his free foot. The air caught in his throat, making it hard to say, “Inga-“.
Xianjeng leveled off. He flew in the direction he wanted. Zuangeng wedged his left foot back between fins. Xianjeng flew on until he saw a patch of green in the water. He tilted his body with his tail higher. He descended toward the patch. He landed hard on the water at the patch’s edge. It was on his right. A wall of water rose. A circle of waves flowed from him.
Zuangeng lost his grip. His legs came loose. He slid to the right. He almost went into the water, feet first. The fins stopped him.
“Ingayala! Watch it! I almost fell off your back!” Zuangeng complained. He got back in the middle of the dragon’s back. He sat up.
“Sorry. Next time, I’ll try to land softer,” Xianjeng apologized. He folded his wings. He turned his head to face Zuangeng.
“That was not the only time. When you turned, I almost slid off you,” Zuangeng complained.
“I’ll have to figure out a way for you to stay on,” Xianjeng said.
Zuangeng turned his head to the right. He looked down at the green patch. The patch was big. He could not see the far edges of the patch. Strands of seaweed floated near the surface. Ripples distorted the image. He asked, “What’s this?”
“I don’t know what you call it. I’ve seen people harvest it,” Xianjeng said.
Zuangeng stood up. He dove head first into the water among the plants. He submerged under water completely. He swam back to the surface. His head popped out of the water. Some plants draped off his head. One draped over his nose. It covered half of each eye. He felt water running to his chin. He brushed the offending plant aside with his left hand. He grabbed some plants in his right hand. He swam to Xianjeng. He grabbed the dragon’s right wing with his left hand. He righted himself. He pulled himself up. He wedged his arm between the wing and body. He held onto the wing. He felt water drops hit his chest, shoulders and back.
He held his right hand up. He looked at the dripping plants. They were long and narrow. He said, “These look like ‘quinsing’. Those we do eat. I cannot eat these, though. They are covered in water that is too salty for humans.”
“I can take of that. Hold the plants higher so I can rinse them off,” Xianjeng said. He dipped his mouth in the water. He sucked some of it in. He swallowed it. He raised his head. Zuangeng raised the plants up. Xianjeng sprayed water out of his mouth over the plants. Zuangeng turned the plants around. Both sides were sprayed. It had been said, numerous times, that sea dragons had the ability to filter sea water that came out of their mouths, making it less salty. Sailors had claimed that this had saved them from death.
Xianjeng finished spraying the plants. He said, “That should do it. They should be edible, now.”
Zuangeng slung the plants onto Xianjeng’s back. Water sprayed off the plants. He got some of the water on himself. He broke a piece off one plant. He put it in his mouth. He chewed on it to taste it. He said, “That is quinsing.”
He climbed onto Xianjeng’s back. Water flowed off him as he raised himself. He sat down. He ate the quinsing. He said, “I wish I had something to drink. I’m thirsty now. But, they say I can’t drink sea water, too salty.”
“I can remedy that the same way I did the quinsing,” Xianjeng said.
“I’m not sure I want to drink out of your mouth,” Zuangeng said, warily.
“It will be safe. I would not save you from drowning only to kill you later. I would not have made sure you ate, either. If I were to kill you, I would have saved myself the trouble by letting you drown in the first place,” Xianjeng said, taken aback. He was not sure how to take it.
“All right, I’ll try it,” Zuangeng said admonished. He stood up. Xianjeng swung his head around so Zuangeng could reach his mouth. Zuangeng got up close to Xianjeng’s mouth. He put his left arm over Xianjeng’s upper snout. Xianjeng held his mouth open. He shot water in a gentle stream. Zuangeng put his mouth in the stream and drank. He found the water was rather tasty and good. He finished drinking. He sat down.
Xianjeng looked at Zuangeng. He said, “You have some quinsing on your head.”
Zuangeng reached up with both hands. Some of the plants had become tangled in his hair. They had started to dry. He pulled as much of it off as he could. The tangled plants broke. He threw what he could into the water.
“Lean over and I’ll rinse the rest off,” Xianjeng said. Zuangeng leaned over. Xianjeng shot water over the boy’s head. Zuangeng raised his hands back up to his head. He brushed what he could, using his nails. He worked the tangles out. The water and plant pieces flowed down his back and sides onto the dragon’s back. Soon, he was free of the plants and tangles. He brushed his hair straight.
The last piece came off. Xianjeng turned his head around. He paddled away from the patch of quinsing. Zuangeng turned sideways. He held onto a pair of fins behind him. Xianjeng submerged to Zuangeng’s waist. Zuangeng watched as the plant pieces floated off Xianjeng. Xianjeng swam away. Zuangeng still sat and held onto the fins. Xiaanjeng turned slightly. He reemerged. Water flowed off his back. Zuangeng raised his goggles off his eyes.
Xianjeng turned his head back around to face Zuangeng. He commented, “One thing I have noticed about you is that you swim pretty well for a land animal.”
“I have been swimming for as long s I can remember,” Zuangeng replied.
“Where did you come from, anyway,” Xianjeng asked.
“The Serikua,” Zuangeng said.
“The ship I saw you on,” Xianjeng asked.
“Yes. The only home I know. The ship and the ocean are the only life I know. Captain Esiada has told me that I was born on the Serikua. He, even, claims I was born swimming,” Zuangeng said.
“How about your parents,” Xianjeng inquired.
“I never knew my parents, don’t even know who they are. Captain Esiada told me that my mother died the day I was born. As far as I’m concerned, Captain Esiada is my father. He and the crew are the only family I know. He told me that my mother came from Cinga Archipelago,” Zuangeng said. with a tinge of sadness in his voice.
“So, you are Cingala. I take it that you have never been on land?” Xianjeng said.
“Yes. I have been on la-nd a few ti-mes as far – as I can re-mem-ber. Each ti-me has not – been for lo-ng, less th-than half a – day.” By this time, Zuangeng was so depressed that he had to fight to get some words out. He was fighting back some tears.
“What’s the matter,” Xianjeng asked with concern. He heard the sadness in the boy’s voice.
“You got me mis-sing the sh-ship and cr-crew. I wish I – was b-back on th-the sh-ship,” Zuangeng said, still fighting the tears and the urge to cry.
“I’m sorry. I do not know what to say or do to ease your pain. I’m not even sure we will ever see the ship again,” Xianjeng concernedly apologized.
“J-just be wi-with me,” Zuangeng said. He laid down on Xianjeng’s back. He was no longer able to fight. Tears swelled up and flowed. He closed his eyes. He cried. He thought about the Serikua and its crew. He thought about the good times he had. He longed to be back on board. He cried himself to sleep.
Xianjeng left him to his sleep. He turned his head forward. He paddled all four legs. He turned left. He swam away. Zuangeng continued sleeping.