Goushou

 

             Goukou had a hard time of it in his fifteenth year. The problem was Goushou, who was now turned eleven and becoming unmanageable. His fits of anger increased and there was never any saying what would set them off. A chance remark from one of his tutors, being refused a second helping at dinner, a blot of ink from his brush as he was practising his letters- any and all of these would send him into a screaming rage. He would strike his tutors, throw the dishes from the table, rip his paper to shreds, and then, often as not, change to dragon form and fly from the palace, to be sought after in vain by his frantic attendants. He would return hours later, bone-weary and miserable, and fall into slumbers so deep he could scarcely be roused from them.

             Gouerh was displeased by the stories he heard from Goushou's tutors and attendants. He lectured Goukou on the need to pay more attention to his brother and whipped him when Goushou's wildness passed all bounds. Goukou would plead with Goushou to restrain himself, and Goushou would burst into tears and be sorry. But next time it was the same all over again.

             Shantsu observed his pupil's unhappiness and the second brother's behaviour, and at length sought audience of Gouerh. The dragon king received him with an anxiety he was at difficulties to hide, thinking only ill news about his heir would bring his son's Older to seek him out. Shantsu allayed his fears at once.

             "My lord, I must ask your favour. I make bold to speak out of my proper sphere. It is the matter of Lord Goushou."

             Gouerh frowned, but not at Shantsu. "My second son is a thorn in my side. Speak, I pray you. I would hear your thoughts on him."

             "Lord Goushou is a red dragon, and such as he are likely to be troubled more than the common run by the approach of manhood. Nor is it unusual for them to be early in their development. Though Lord Goushou lacks half a year until his twelfth birthday, I think he is ready now to begin his study of the forms. The excess of nervous energy he displays would seem to need the discipline and the release that only they can provide."

             Gouerh raised startled eyebrows. "But is that not an unusual proceeding? To bind a boy's hair when he is still eleven seems almost indecent."

             "It is not unknown, my Lord. My second brother bound his hair some time before his twelfth birthday, being at that time as well-grown as a boy a year older. My lord counts no red dragons among his near kin, I believe? Their sensitivity to the energies of the universe give them a greater need for the disciplines that bring harmony and stability to the soul."

             "Ahh," Gouerh said. "If that is indeed the case I will make preparations for Goushou's Binding. But Goukou is scarcely of an age to be his Older in proper form. I fear you will have the burden of Goushou's training added to your present duties."

             "That is as well, my lord. This will allow me to instruct Lord Goukou closely in the matter of training others even as his own training continues."

             "But you will be going home next year for the half-way respite. I had counted on Goukou to be near the middle of his own training before he had even to begin the earliest forms with his brother. If Goushou is as precocious as he seems he will be well-advanced into the mouth and hand forms by the time you leave."

             "It is more likely that we will extend the normal period of habituation for Lord Goushou, in view of his youth. What is needed is a focus and channel for his psychic energies, and once that is provided we may proceed leisurely in the training itself. But even if he proves in need of the more advanced activities, by the time I return home Lord Goukou will have chosen a Third for himself who will be able to assist him. I will make sure that that person is capable in all respects of the duties he must carry out."

             Gouerh smiled at Shantsu. "I hope Goukou's Third has even half the capabilities you do, Shantsu-dono. I and my whole family are beholden to you for the care you have had of my son, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

             Shantsu bowed. "The King does me honour," he said. "It is my privilege to serve so noble a family, and my pleasure to have a pupil as apt as Lord Goukou."

 

             Thus it was that Goushou bound his hair at the age of eleven, Goukou tying the knot for him, and began the earliest forms in company with Goukou and Shantsu. And indeed the daily exercise had a soothing effect on him and he became more tractable. Not much later Gouerh received an overture from the Ruler of the Eastern Continent, who was desirous of another child by him. The timing was unfortunate, he thought; he would have wished to be home as his young sons passed through the period when they most needed a father's presence and guidance. But this would hardly do as a reason to refuse the invitation of so powerful a monarch. As was usual, his brother Goushun assumed control of the kingdom and the family during his absence. Goushun was a quiet man, given to observing much and saying little. He had kept his eye on Goukou's development through the years and now he said to him, "You are turned fifteen and coming up on full manhood. The care of your brothers I leave entirely in your hands as practice against the day when you will have sons of your own and a family to govern. If you are in difficulties come speak to me, but otherwise I will not interfere in your decisions and management."

             "Thank you, Uncle." Goukou bowed. "I hope to be equal to your confidence in me."

             "I have no doubts on that score," Goushun answered with a smile.

             The new state of affairs was much to Goukou's liking and he entered on a period of tranquility. Now that Goushou had bound his hair the servants and his younger brothers treated him with more respect, so that many of the old sources of conflict vanished. Little Gouen was too young to understand and still ran to his 'tecond bruvver' as before, but the arguments between Goushou and Goujun had become a thing of the past. Goukou's own training was now advancing in the threesome forms with Hisui and he had begun to lie above, which made him feel very mature and adult. He was able to contemplate with equanimity even the prospect of Shantsu's absence for six months, which marked the halfway point in his training and which otherwise would have left him desolate.

             But after Goushou's twelfth birthday his temper took a turn for the worse. He had relapses into the old violent angers and behaviour. Goukou remonstrated with him, but to no effect. In the end Goushou's fury drove him to knock one of his servants unconscious. Goukou was outraged and gave him his first whipping. Goushou then shut himself in his rooms and would not eat or speak, but lay weeping on his bed night and day. Goukou finally rousted him out and tried to reason with him.

             "Why do you act like this, Goushou? You hurt others and you hurt yourself. I cannot think you enjoy it or derive any pleasure from it."

             "Enjoy it?" Goushou said amid furious tears. "How can you say that, ani-ue? I have no wish to hurt anyone but everyone about me is trying to drive me mad. If you all hate me so much why not kill me and be done with it? Or do you prefer that I kill myself and save you the trouble? I'll do it if you say the word. My life is so grievous to me that I have no wish to live."

             Goukou put his arms about Goushou. "Don't be stupid. No-one wants you to die. You are my nearest brother and without you my life would be ashes. Stop talking like this."

             Goushou clung to him and wept into his shoulder. "Everything hurts. Everything hurts so much all the time. I don't want to go on living when even you, my brother, can hurt me and say it is for my good. If I were dead perhaps things would stop hurting so much."

             Goukou held him and consoled him until at last his brother became calmer, but his words had started a fear in Goukou's heart. However it was not to his uncle Goushun that he took his forebodings but to Shantsu. Shantsu sighed and said, "There are some who find the passage to manhood extremely hard, and Lord Goushou is one of those. I am sure that at times he truly believes it would be easier to die than to live. Be patient with him and as mild as you can, Goukou. Let him know always that he has your love. Even if his heart inclines towards the Dark Lands at times, his love for you will keep him here until he has flown through this stormy part of his life and come out to the sunshine on the other side." Goukou took heart from these words.

 

             So in the course of time King Gouerh returned from the Eastern Lands. He was alone, for the child had proved to be a female, as the ruler had hoped. From a diplomatic standpoint this was doubtless all to the good, but Gouerh had desired another son of the same bloodlines as Goukou and nursed a small disappointment in his heart. Equally a month later Shantsu returned to the Western River for half a year, to pay his necessary duties to his father the king, renew his ties with his brothers, and have a rest after his three and a half years companying of the Prince. Goukou missed him deeply. He continued Goushou's training in company with Hisui, and when he was with them Goushou was calm enough. Indeed Goukou suspected that Goushou had fallen in love with golden Hisui and sought his caresses. Given that Hisui was now far more occupied with training than formerly, Goukou relieved him of his chamber duties and gave him the title of Prince's Companion, so that he might have some leisure at least for himself.

             'For,' he considered, 'Hisui is a man grown but he is required to spend his afternoons and many of his nights companying us, lying below myself and helping me train Goushou in the early forms. And gold dragons prefer to lie above, so I should at least give him some time to do it in.' But he missed Hisui from among his daily attendants, finding the atmosphere in his chambers changed with the absence of his beautiful form, and noting also that matters did not proceed as smoothly now as formerly. Things were often misplaced or not ready when he wanted them; it seemed it was Hisui who had kept an eye on the details of Goukou's apartments, and without him a certain carelessness and disorder set in.

             Equally matters within his family had begun to worsen, for Goushou could not control his temper and his behaviour outraged his father. Goushou did not take well to discipline. Whippings led only to furious rages or blackest depressions, to the extent that his servants and tutors sometimes concealed his trespasses for fear of the consequences to their lord's spirit. But when the King and his sons went to pass the warm months in their summer palace and lessons were suspended, there was no hiding his wildness from Gouerh. Gouerh punished him for his willfulness and then scolded him for sullenness when he shut himself up in his room. Goukou tried as best he might to calm his father's anger against his brother, but he could hardly tell the King that his way of proceeding was utterly the wrong one, the more so as he had no better course to offer.

He felt obscurely that Goushou needed a gentle hand and mild treatment. Any hint of compulsion drove him to fury, so that Goukou was sometimes almost afraid for his brother's sanity. But Goushou was never angry with little Gouen, even when the boy was demanding in his childish way, and he never balked at any of Hisui's orders or sulked when Hisui corrected his technique. Yet Goukou knew it is not right for a father to indulge his children, and so he was left in perplexity. He loved his father and he loved his brother, and it was intensely painful to him that the two seemed at times almost to hate each other.

             Matters came to a head suddenly and unexpectedly. He and Goushou had been attending on their father one morning, and the King had quoted a line from the Three Books, looking at Goushou for him to finish it. Goushou turned his head away and Gouerh slammed his fist on the table.

             "Have I a son who does not even know the story of Jade Bee and Dragonfly? A child of five can quote that line! What do you spend your time on, Goushou, and what have I been rearing you for thirteen years for if you bear yourself like a peasant boy and not a king's son?"

             Goushou's countenance darkened. "I knew that line, chichi-ue, but it was from my mind for the moment."

             "Do not be sullen with *me.* Where did you learn these manners? Ask my pardon and beg my correction now."

             "I have nothing to ask pardon for," Goushou said hotly. Goukou said, "Goushou!" in horror and grabbed his arm, but Goushou thrust him away and rose to his feet. "I have done nothing that deserves chastisement and I will not ask it of you," he went on. "You do not love me, chichi-ue, you do not desire my good, you want only to hurt me because it gives you pleasure to see me in pain--"

             "That is enough!" Gouerh roared, but Goushou only screamed back at him. "You hate me and have always hated me! I see your heart even though you try to hide it. You wanted another son by the ruler of the Eastern Ocean that you might disinherit me and give him my place! Is that not so? Can you deny it?!"

             Goukou grabbed his brother by both shoulders and shook him. "Goushou! Stop this! You have taken leave of your senses" even as Gouerh said, "Boy, you are insane. Goukou, call the attendants and have him taken away-"

             Tears were running down Goushou's face. "I speak the truth to you and you call me mad. Oh, what a thing it is to be High King. So you will bind me and have me imprisoned, yes? And when you have the son you want will you have me killed as well, chichi-ue?"

             "Goushou!!"

             "And do you think I will go meekly? I am not so dutiful as to die at my father's pleasure." He jerked suddenly out of Goukou's arms, jinked and ran from the room out to the balcony beyond, where he changed to dragon form and was gone in an instant. Gouerh started after him in wrath, but almost at once cries came from without. "Fire! Fire! The palace is ablaze!" They hastened out to the ramparts and saw far above Goushou's red dragon shape swooping through the skies trailing curtains of fire behind it. Already the top storeys were wreathed in flame and servants were flying out the windows carrying what they could.

             "Spread the alarm!" Gouerh called to his servants. "Tell all to flee for their lives and spare no thought for possessions! Goukou, see to your younger brothers and their gran'fers." He moved to change form and leap into the skies but Goukou seized his arm and held him back. Gouerh turned on him with fury in his eyes.

             "I beg you, leave this to me," Goukou said before his father could speak. "Goushou is beyond reason and knows not what he does--"

             "And therefore I must make an end of him now, as is a father's right. Let go of me." Goukou held on tighter. "Your king commands you, Goukou," Gouerh said, and his voice was iron.

             Goukou only said, "Chichi-ue, you have two other sons but we have no other father. Let me be the one who risks body and life in this. If I die, Goujun will be a worthy heir to you."

             After a moment Gouerh said, "Go then. But see you come back again."

             Goukou bowed and took to the air. The waves of flame from the palace created a huge heat that made his skin crack. Goushou was still flying through the air above, shrieking his fury, but he checked when he saw Goukou. "Go back!" he cried. "Go back! I do not wish to hurt you  but I will if I must. It is not you I am angry at."

             Goukou said nothing but flew at his brother. Goushou dodged out of the way, but Goukou caught him a tremendous blow with his tail that made him stagger in his flight. Goushou turned his head, mouth open in fury and pain.

             "Ani-ue!! You have turned against me too! Even you hate me now! Kill me then, but I will take you with me!" He dove at Goukou, a great red comet streaking through the sky. Goukou waited till the last moment before giving a strong thrust with his wings that took him out of Goushou's path. He struck once more with his tail, hard as he could across Goushou's face to stun him. Goushou wobbled for a moment in the air and Goukou struck again at his wings. He felt the bone break and saw Goushou start to fall. Swiftly he dove afterwards to catch him in his claws, but just as he had him Goushou changed to manform. The tiny body slipped free and plunged towards the earth. Goukou put on a desperate spurt and caught it again. He'd thought Goushou unconscious, but now his brother struggled feebly in his talons. Then he understood. Goushou had taken human form on purpose, seeking to fall to his death.

             They were close above the earth. Goukou changed while he was still in the air so that the two of them dropped the few feet to the ground, with himself uppermost. He lay upon Goushou's stunned body and held him still when he began to move. The air about them was hot and bright from the burning palace, and Goukou put an arm over Goushou's head to protect him from falling sparks. He heard his brother's weeping next to his ear, a terrible dry sound that stabbed through his heart, and close by shouts and footsteps approaching. He had no idea what he would do next, how he could protect Goushou from their father's anger and persuade Gouerh to spare his life. He could only lie like a dead weight as close to Goushou as possible, for as long as he might. The light had become even brighter, as though a comet were passing nearby, and he squinted his eyes half-shut against it.

             "Goukou," Gouerh's voice said from close beside him. There was a strange note in it. "Goukou, are you hurt?"

             "No, chichi-ue," he said, for he could not stay silent when his father spoke to him.

             "Then come up to your knees and show proper respect to his Excellency."

             Goukou lifted his head in puzzlement, half-raising himself off Goushou. Before him was the summer palace, burning-- yes, but burning with a golden glory, enwrapping the figure of a gigantic bird that raised its wings and sported among the flames. Awestruck, Goukou put his hands to the ground and knelt back on his heels. Goushou turned his head to watch. He too pulled himself up into a crouch, left arm dangling uselessly. The waves of heat had dried the tears on his face. The anger and misery were gone from him; his eyes were huge with wonder and a strange desire. He made as if to stand, and Goukou, seized by an obscure fear, grabbed hold of his cote and held him down beside him. Even as they watched the form of the red and golden bird rose up to the sky as the central walls of the palace fell crashing in and ten thousand sparks flew in the air. 

The great bird glowed like gold in the furnace. Goukou shielded his eyes with his hand as the molten brightness come down the sky towards them, growing smaller as it did so. Then it was standing ten paces away and walking in their direction. Its shape was that of a youth of fourteen or so, with clear features and sunbright hair, but in the glimpse Goukou caught before his eyes dazzled he saw something in the face that spoke of eternities. Goushou yearned towards the bright form, and Goukou held desperately to his sleeve while he bowed himself over in a strange combination of veneration and fear. He saw the hem of the glowing robes and the booted feet pause close by.

             "King Gouerh," a young voice said. "I am sorry for the destruction of your palace, but I thank you for the refreshment this blaze has brought me."

             Gouerh bowed his head, one hand to the earth. "I and all my race are honoured by your Excellency's presence. If my poor palace has afforded your Excellency satisfaction, I cannot mourn its loss."

             "The Silver Dragon of the Oceans is famed for his generosity, and I see the reputation is well deserved. Lift up your head, Dragon King, and tell me who is this little one beside you. I think it was his form I saw blazing in the skies a moment ago."

             "I make known to your Excellency my second son, Goushou."

             Watching desperately out the side of his eyes, Goukou saw Goushou lift an entranced face towards the blinding light before them.

             "Poor child," that strangely young voice said. "He has more fire in him than his spirit can bear, and it consumes his soul. Will you not give him to me? I will take him to where he may dissolve finally in the glory of flame, with no more sorrow or tears to shed."

             "I would not deny your Excellency anything he deigned to ask of me," Gouerh said, and Goukou went cold. "If your Excellency wishes my son, he is yours."

             "Yes," Goushou breathed, and in the same moment Goukou said, "No." He dared not look upwards at that splendour or sideways at his father, but he clung to Goushou's sleeve and said desperately, "Goushou, brother, do not go from me. How can I live without you?"

             Goushou turned a smiling face on him, and his eyes were not the eyes Goukou was used to seeing. "Ani-ue, it is no matter. You have Goujun and Gouen, and they will be better brothers to you than ever I was."

             "They are not you," Goukou said. Tears ran down his face as he looked at Goushou in despair. There was nothing he could find to say to keep Goushou by him, and already Gouerh was saying, "Excellency, forgive my foolish son his discourtesy. He speaks from excess of affection only, though he speaks out of turn."

             "Yet I would not take one unwilling. Child, will you come with me or will you stay with your father and brother?"

             Goukou watched as Goushou turned to look at himself, then at their father, and then back to the figure that Goukou himself could not bear to gaze at directly. He put his face against Goushou's shoulder and put all his will into the thought in his mind. Stay. I will not let you go.

             "My lord... my lord," Goushou faltered.

             "Yes," the voice said. "My poor child. Let me at least take some of that fire from you, that your life be easier hereafter." The brilliance leaned towards them, and with it came a wave of heat that made Goukou giddy in the head. It bent towards Goushou, and then Goushou's body crumpled in his arms. Goukou held him fast and lowered him to the ground. Goushou's eyes were closed, and on his forehead was a round mark, like a circle of golden flame, that faded even as Goukou watched. He did not notice their guest departing. When he looked up the air was cool again, and a breeze was blowing the smell of ashes and cinders from the charred pile where the palace had stood; and his father was staring up at the sky with a smile of radiant wonder on his face. After a moment he took a deep breath and looked down.

             "Come, Goukou," he said. "Cut off a part of your brother's cote and bind his arm tightly so it will mend straight. I go to see how the rest of our household fares. I think all are safe, but we will have to forage for food and water this night, and return to the winter palace tomorrow. Bring Goushou over to the camp when you are done."

             "Yes, Father," Goukou said, and did not speak his thoughts.

             "Our house has been honoured by his Excellency's favour, and for that distinction we have your brother to thank. If his Excellency spoke true, and I cannot see how he should not, matters will go more smoothly after this. We are doubly blessed, Goukou."

             "Yes, chichi-ue. But we have also lost the palace that was your favourite."

             "Oh, a palace," Gouerh shrugged, and smiled. "What is a palace compared to that," and he looked up at the sky. Then he turned on his heel and walked away towards the rest of his men.

 

MJJ

Sep-Nov 03