Gouerh, dragon king of the oceans, sent envoys to Huanmei, dragon monarch of the eastern lands, seeking alliance. "I have no sons of my body," he said to her. "My father is no more and I have but two brothers. For the sake of my line, I would dance with you on earth and in the heavens. If the child is a boy, I will make him king of the eastern ocean and lord over whatever brothers he may have in future. I send this humble request by the hand of my next brother, Lord Goushun, as token of the esteem and respect which the king of the oceans holds for so powerful a monarch; and entreat a favourable reply."
Goushun was a blue dragon, mild as milk and pleasing in his ways. Huanmei considered him, and considered what she had heard of Gouerh, who had been deprived of his father by the cruelty of the Jade Emperor, and concluded there would be no hurt to her line should her first daughter be born of the seed of the Ocean kings. She sent a favourable answer to Gouerh.
Some days later Gouerh arrived with his attendants and chamberlains and pages, bearing treasures from his kingdom as gifts for the monarch of the east- coral, abalone, nacre, tortoise shell and pearls of all colours, white, pink, red, and black. He knelt and offered them modestly to Huanmei's inspection. Gouerh was a silver dragon, and his hair reflected the sun so that it was hard even to look at him in the light. He was tall and well-formed, but moved gracefully for all his power. Huanmei was well pleased at the sight of him. That night they feasted, the hundreds of dragons who attended upon her and the hundred dragons Gouerh had brought with him. The second night there were entertainments- musicians and singers, acrobats and jugglers, a troupe of actors, and poets who recited their verses to the nobles of the court. The third night Huanmei and Gouerh danced in the great front court of the palace while their dragons sat on all sides, each in their place, and witnessed the ritual. The two great dragons moved in the dance's many intricate formations as court musicians piped the ancient tune, taking it in shifts to do so because the dance continued from sunset until the setting of the moon. When the pattern was complete on earth, Huanmei and Gouerh took to the skies in their dragon forms and met in the upper darkness among the stars. Gouerh entered Huanmei's female parts and left his seed within her.
As was customary, Gouerh abided the two hundred days of Huanmei's pregnancy in her palace, companioning her nights and performing the sixty-four forms as they may be enacted between male and female, in order to foster the growth of the egg. Huanmei was brought to bed and delivered of a white egg. Huanmei was delighted at this favourable sign. As a mark of esteem she asked Gouerh to pass the further fifty days with her in her apartments until the egg should hatch. Gouerh happily did so. On the proper day the egg broke open, to reveal a white female dragon. Gouerh proffered his congratulations to the monarch with no signs of regret. Huanmei looked at him keenly.
"The king of the oceans is generous of spirit. I understand your disappointment, Gouerh. You earnestly desire a son to continue your father's line, since the Great Dragon was taken from us in untimely fashion and may not see his son's sons. You have given me a white wind dragon for my daughter and my heir, and I am well-disposed to you. Give me a year to recover from my carrying, and we will dance again on earth and in the heavens."
Gouerh bowed and thanked her for her grace. He returned to his kingdom to attend to his affairs, and a year later came back to Huanmei's palace. There all went as before, and when the egg broke at the end of its fifty days, there was a male blue dragon within. Gouerh was overjoyed. He and Huanmei exchanged further gifts in token of the good will between them.
"I am an oldest son, and this is my oldest son. There is none senior to him in his generation to accomplish his training in the sixty-four forms. Is there a male of your majesty's kin who may take on that duty?"
Huanmei thought. "My mother joined only once with the dragon who begot me, the king of the Yellow River. There are no males with the same mother and father as myself. But she conceived my third sister by the king of the Western River beyond the mountains, a man of much accomplishment and learning, and later joined with him again and bore a male dragon who is his father's heir. His name is Shantsu. His father's rank is lowly among the kings, perhaps, but his mother was the Eastern Monarch, and for parts he is in no way inferior to any man. I think he would make a good tutor for your son."
Gouerh bowed and thanked the monarch. He would have preferred a male of higher birth, but considered that when it came to training in social matters, it was as well to sacrifice something on the score of connections in order to gain a person of skill and consideration.
"My son is King of the Eastern Sea and will be the high king of the oceans some day. He will have kings and nobles coming to seek alliance from him. Let him learn the arts well from a good tutor so that he may train his brothers in their turn." And so Gouerh was content. He named his son Goukou, and the festivities that attended his birth lasted for twice two hundred days in the realm of the oceans.
Thus was born Goukou the blue dragon, king of the eastern ocean. He was attended by chamberlains and tutors, pages and body servants. When he was a child the old dragons of the palace dandled him on their knees and carried him on their backs, and all indulged him as children are indulged. Some time later Gouerh contracted an alliance with the monarch of the southern land, and between them was born a second son who was called Goushou. Goushou was a red dragon, and the old grandfathers sighed and shook their heads. "A handful he will prove to our lord Goukou, and the source of much pain. Red dragons are tempestuous and changeable, and best were born first if they must be born at all." Goukou himself was enchanted by his ruddy little brother, and spent much time with the baby and his attendants, watching him change and grow. A few years after that Goujun was born of an alliance with the monarch of the western lands, the third sister of Goukou's mother. He was a white dragon, placid and unmoving, and not, in Goukou's private opinion, as interesting a companion as Goushou.
Goukou was growing and was set to formal lessons, in reading and writing, prosody and calligraphy, the use of weapons and the martial arts. His father he rarely saw. Gouerh was absent from the palace for long periods, companioning the monarchs of the fixed lands with whom he was allied. The monarch of the western lands, having born a son in her first conception, sought a daughter from him, and so he sojourned for a space in her palace. In the meantime Goukou's attendants saw to his training in courtesy and etiquette and the understanding of his duties. "Now you play with your brothers as a fellow, but when you reach years of understanding and bind your hair in a man's braid, it will be different," they told him. "You are the oldest, and owe your brothers guidance, as they owe you obedience." Guidance was simple enough, Goukou thought. He told Goushou and Goujun what to do, and Goujun did it and Goushou sometimes did it. When he didn't, Goukou became imperious. "You must obey me because I am your older brother," and enforced his will through sheer bullying determination. But Goushou was tricky. When he lost his temper he was like one insane. The sight was exciting but also disquieting. It became apparent that Goushou's attendants were afraid of their master in these fits, and, rather more telling, that Goushou himself suffered heavily both during and after them. Goukou learned not to force Goushou beyond a certain point, and after a while found other ways of persuading Goushou to his thinking. Goukou's attendants nodded. "That is guidance, Goukou-sama."
In his twelfth year his father returned from the northern continent with a last brother, a rain dragon with glossy black hair and dark skin the colour of storm clouds. The grandfathers were well pleased. "A rain dragon is a proper dragon, a dragon among dragons, and all houses should have one, especially when they have a fire dragon as well." Goujun annexed the little newcomer as of right. "He is my little brother," he said. "Is he not ours too?" Goushou asked in amusement. "No," Goujun replied seriously. "Second brother is First brother's little brother, and I am Second brother's little brother, but Gouen is my little brother because he is called Gouen, and not Fourth brother."
With the return of the king preparations were set in motion for Goukou's coming of age ceremony when he would first bind his hair in a man's braid and begin his training in the Forms. Shantsu arrived from the western river beyond the mountains and was introduced to his Younger. Shantsu was a green dragon, modest of demeanour in the palace of the high king, but with a manner so graceful that the young dragons of the court, and a few of the older ones, sighed when he passed. Gouerh was pleased at the young man's polish, and more so when he saw that Shantsu was accomplished at refusing overtures without offending feelings. He companioned Shantsu for three nights as a mark of honour to his oldest son's tutor, and found his mastery of the sixty-four forms to be, as expected, of a piece with his general charm and excellence. Mind at rest, then, he held the ceremony of Binding the Hair on Goukou's twelfth birthday. Goukou sat on a dais while Gouerh plaited his long mane into a thick braid, which thereafter he would undo only in private, and Shantsu bound it with a leather cord in the knot used by the Kings of the Oceans.
Thereafter Goukou was called Ani-ue by his brothers and Your Highness by the courtiers. His brothers were drilled by their attendants in the proper ways of addressing the eldest, and even a light-hearted remark that failed to show the proper deference to him was severely rebuked. Now, after he and his brothers knelt to bid their father good-night when the King retired to his chambers, his brothers knelt to say good-night to him. Instead of standing before his father's throne he sat on a chair on the step below him, and at mealtimes while his brothers still stood in attendance at the end of the table, Goukou sat at the right side of the board.
These honours were not wholly blessings, for if Goukou sat while his brothers stood, he often sat uncomfortably. "You are a man now," Gouerh told him, "and responsible for your younger brothers. If they fail in their duty it is because you have failed to supervise them properly, and it is your backside that will pay." And thus it was. When Goushou disobeyed, when Goujun was stubborn, when Gouen erred out of childish ignorance, they were scolded but Goukou was whipped. He found this hard, but Shantsu instructed him.
"Power is a heavy thing, Goukou." Alone of the palace, only Gouerh and Shantsu called him by his name. "Those who have it must learn early on, and learn well, that it carries bitterness and responsibility with it, or else they become tyrants." Goukou was in his early training in those days, just beginning the first form, lying on his belly with Shantsu's gentle finger inside him easing the natural tightness of his body.
"But His Majesty does not punish Goushou when Goujun disobeys, or Goujun when Gouen makes mistakes," Goukou said.
"They are not yet of years for correction. When they bind their hair they will be answerable to your father for their own misdeeds, and to you their oldest brother for those of their juniors, just as you are answerable now to His Majesty for all of you."
"So then I may whip Goushou when Goujun is disobedient, as Father whips me now when Goushou disobeys?" Goukou asked with satisfaction.
"But not as hard, because he is still younger than you. His Majesty holds his hand when he chastises you, out of regard for your young years, and you must do the same."
"He does?" Goukou said dubiously.
"Most assuredly. Were you whipped as a man is, you would die. Therefore you must hold your hand with your brothers."
"Mmhh. It will be a long three years until I may be settled with Goushou," Goukou mused.
Shantsu smiled. "There are other ways to gain a brother's obedience than through blows. Lord Goushou desires your love and friendship. Let him know that his disobedience and passions make you suffer both in body and soul, and that if he loves you he will be mild and obedient."
"Anh. Goushou-- Goushou does not mean to hurt me, but he doesn't think sometimes."
"That is true. It is Lord Goushou's nature to feel strongly and to act on his feelings, and you must both suffer the consequences of that for a while. But it also means that his love for you will be as strong as his other feelings, and that will stand you well with him in future."
Goukou proceeded with his training, past the first forms of the Ring, the Moon's Aureole, and Unfurling the Petals. The regular practice of these was now left to his chamber servants and bath attendant, and he and Shantsu moved on to mouth exercises: the Five Tunes for the Jade Flute, the Fruit Basket, and the Butterfly's Touch for the horns. During the day he began to go hunting in his dragon form in company with his father and the nobles, which strengthened his muscles and his reflexes. He had daily practice at Go with the grandfathers, which taught him tactics and shrewdness. He began to grow, approaching manhood. Shantsu kept a careful eye on his responses during the forms, and announced to Gouerh that the time was coming when his son would first produce seed.
"We shall accomplish his first Threshold within the next few days. If nothing hinders it, I propose three days from now on the night of the full moon."
Gouerh nodded, and told a chamberlain to have the proper presents prepared for the occasion.
Shantsu had told Goukou long since what this would involve, but now he instructed him more particularly.
"Across the Threshold is first performed at the end of preliminary training before the body is totally prepared for it. That is to make it painful, because pain is a necessary part of the experience. The reason for this you will find out when you take the older's role, though it will seem strange to you now. Again, up to the present I and your attendants have used oil on our fingers, to make the entrance easier. But the first Threshold is achieved without oil, and ordinarily that does not happen again until the younger reaches full maturity." Goukou nodded.
"That is the usual practice," Shantsu continued, "when both older and younger are near in age. It is what you will do when you train Lord Goushou. But when the younger is the oldest of a generation, as yourself, or indeed in any case when the older is a full-grown adult, oil is used even at the first crossing to avoid damage. Your body is flexible now, but still not enough to accommodate a man's organ."
"I thank you for your thoughtfulness, Uncle, but I need no indulgence. I would prefer to accomplish the form in the usual way."
"This is the usual way in cases like yours, Goukou. You are more than the oldest of your generation. You are the High King's first son. Your life will be different from most dragons in many ways, and in this one as well- your older is the only man who will ever enter you, for there is none other who may do it."
"Ah," Goukou said. "I see." There was a silence.
"Yes?" Shantsu prompted him.
"I hear that being entered is most pleasurable," Goukou said carefully.
"Yes, it can be."
"But after you return home, I will never be able to do it again."
"That is true."
"It seems a pity."
"Kingship is not for pleasure, Goukou."
"Yes, Uncle. I understand."
On the night of the full moon, Shantsu accompanied Goukou to his bedroom after the bath. Goukou's training had always been in the afternoon during siesta, or in the early evening after dinner. Shantsu had never remained the night with him. Goukou felt excited and curious and oddly important. The lights were extinguished, all but one white moon lamp in the corner of the room, and the servants left them after turning down the bedclothes.
"We begin with mouth exercises," Shantsu had said. "Properly the crossing is accomplished when the younger is aroused but before he reaches fulfillment. That is because arousal dulls the edge of pain. Of course, more often the crossing happens after one or two fulfillments, such being the condition of youth. For that reason I will first oil you now, because later it would prove too much for you." When he had done so he began the mouth forms in order. As Goukou's root became firmer and appeared from its sheath he skipped to ones that had proven most pleasurable before- the Butterfly's Touch, the Spiral Staircase and the Hummingbird's Beak. As might be expected of one so sensitive himself, he knew to stop his ministrations well before Goukou could find release. The torture of this made Goukou bite his hand, and sweat to run freely down his face. Never had he been held back so long. Yet it was not only Shantsu's skill but his own resolve that kept him from the final moment. Goukou was determined that the proper conduct of the form would not be marred through any fault of his.
Shantsu turned him on his back yet again. Goukou looked up at him, trying to be patient yet a little longer, trying to keep the entreaty from his face. "Well done," Shantsu said. His eyes glowed in a way Goukou had never seen before. "Now we come to the crossing."
"Now?" Goukou said, distracted. "How can we do the form like this?"
"In this fashion." Shantsu put his hands under the tops of Goukou's legs and pushed them up and back so that his hips rose from the mattress. Goukou's cheeks burned in surprise and shame. "Hold them," Shantsu said and Goukou obeyed, clenching his jaw to stop the tears of mortification that filled his eyes. And then there was a solid something pushing at the gate of his body. Goukou's eyes went wide and his mouth opened. Bigger than the fingers of Shantsu or Goukou's attendants, different from the heavy jade 'pestles' that they put in him at times to widen the interior passage, longer and wider and burning as it came inside him and coming inside him forever. He breathed around the feel of Shantsu's manroot inside him, and without his volition the tears overran his eyes and down into his hair on each side. He had no hand free to wipe them away. His uncle's shoulders came under his knees and took the weight of his legs on them. His wrists were caught and pulled over his head, flat to the mattress, as Shantsu's face leaned above him.
"You feel me, Goukou?" he murmured.
"Y-yes, Uncle," he said, and his voice was unsteady.
"Do not be ashamed to weep. Weeping is a lucky thing at your first Crossing." Shantsu kissed his eyes and kissed the tears from his temples. Kissed him last on the mouth in a way he had never done before. "I will begin to move now. This will be the worst of it. Endure, little brother. When we are done you will be a man."
He straightened and did as he had said he would. Goukou gasped. The pain was like no pain he had ever known. Not worse, but indescribably different, as if it was only a footstep away from pleasure. It seemed to unravel his soul strand by strand. He felt himself coming apart in some unimaginable way, as though Shantsu was taking him to pieces. The only certain things for him now were the hands that grasped his wrists, and the dull feeling of Shantsu's root moving rhythmically across the sore swollen flesh of his gate. At some point he became lost. His mind could no longer keep track of himself and he ceased to be a creature that thought. A little later and he was back, or almost so-- hard and straining with the blood that pounded through his body before it all exploded out of him.
In the darkness of his bed and the darkness of his soul he held tightly to the body that was beside him that held tightly to him. Tears ran out of him, but they seemed to have nothing to do with him himself. It was almost like making water. Everything is different, he thought. Whether he was happy or sad he couldn't say, but he felt how good it was to have his arms about Shantsu's strong body, and somewhere deep inside himself he felt a detached satisfaction at having completed this, the most important form, and completed it correctly.
In the morning his father's majordomo attended upon him. Goukou's servants washed both him and Shantsu, and applied a numbing salve that dulled the ache in his body. Goukou was given a new cote to wear, his own colour of blue with bands at neck and hem of Shantsu's green. Last of all Shantsu bound the man's headband about his temples, blue with a broad band of green in the centre. Goukou put his hand on Shantsu's and they proceeded in formal fashion to the dining hall. When they had knelt to greet Gouerh, Gouerh raised Goukou and kissed him on both cheeks, and then Shantsu.
Goukou was placed on the same side of the table as Gouerh for this occasion, on his father's right, with Shantsu beside him. There was a celebratory meal of rice porridge and red beans, grilled salmon, flyingfish roe on small wafers, garlic pickled in plum juice and brine, ginger, long-stemmed mushrooms, and vinegared seaweed. Goukou received the traditional gifts from his father and his father's brothers: a kaleidoscope with a casing of abalone shell, a jar of green glass filled with pickled capers, and a pillow with a 'lucky pearl' in the centre, embroidered with the characters for 'long life,' 'great prosperity,' and 'many goings.' Last of all Gouerh placed a coral ring on the middle finger of his right hand. Goukou sat up straight all through breakfast and the morning's festivities, even when the effects of the salve wore off and his body became uncomfortable. He was a man now: his hair braided, his temples bound in his Older's colours, and a man's ring on his finger; and he felt all the obligations of his new status.