“At the temple there is a poem called “Loss” carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it.” ― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Sprawled on the couch, I languished in a daydream staring through the open wall of the house across the East China Sea. The breeze stirred the humid air with the smell of the sea and the scent of the forest below.
Faith and I were recovering at one of the Dragon estates in the mountains of an island at the tip of South Korea after a hectic trip to several Dragon Enclaves. Our security duties were uneventful, but the constant high state of alert took its toll.
Exotic birds skimmed across the treetops searching for the rise of wind currents that carried them out over the channels that ran through the islands and out to the sea. Our island looked like a dragon coiled over its tail where the Yellow Sea, Sea of Japan, and the East China Sea came together. The convergence of currents filled the water with fish that fed the appetites of all God’s creatures and stirred the tempest of wind and water.
The stone and wood mansion with its decorated paper interior walls, tapestries, and Asian paintings looked out over the bluffs of smooth stone. Boulders protected the bluff from the waves like stone guards. The surf always fought with the shore erupting in sea-spray that looked like famished tongues licking at a meager meal. The roar of the surf, wind in the trees, and the chirp and squawks of wildlife was a soothing background to my dream of living out my life in the cradle of this ancient land.
Faith entered my field of view in a silk wrap with her Black Dragons brocaded on the cloth among stylized clouds of blue and white. The hem hit her above mid-thigh emphasizing her legs. The wrap held closed by a fabric belt revealed the shape of her body. I felt my breath quicken. My Mnemosyne carried a tray with a tea service arranged like still life art. She folded down on top of her legs; feet tucked under her as she set the tray down on the floor mat.
The tea and spices of ginger, cardamon, and clove filled the room as my Dragon Yobo kept her head down refusing to make eye contact or break the solitude of the moment with her voice. She leaned over and moved the cup meant for me to the side of the tray closest to me twisting the handle to my right hand. I eased off the couch to the floor and sat facing Faith.
I knew not to speak or move once seated on the floor. To violate the ritual of the tea service would bring a sharp rebuke and accusations of barbarism while laughter flashed in her eyes. She would punish me with kisses after scolding me. I was tempted to screw up on purpose just to taste her lips and hear her sharp tongue.
After she had poured my tea, she moved around to my side. The touch of her skin against my leg felt like a small trickle of electric current. I took a slow sip of the tea and let it tantalize my palate before swallowing. I looked over at her and smiled to let her know I was pleased. I poured her tea as she held up the small cup in both hands with her head down and eyes averted to show gratitude for the silence and pleasure we shared.
We enjoyed the sun reflecting from the sea and the forest that stretched out below us. The pleasures of the surf and wind blended with the spicy taste of the tea. The whole of the experience mesmerized us into a meditative mood. Faith reached her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder, her face against my neck.
“Do you love me, Nae Yong?” She breathed the words as her lips brushed my neck.
I hugged her to me, “I love you like stars love the black night.”
“Tell me what you love about me.” She asked with a vulnerability uncharacteristic of a Dragon Sentinel.
I let her sit in silence and watch as my eyes took in her face, her eyes and lips with their pronounced vermilion border. Her graceful curves fell under my gaze, next the skin; hairless, supple, and smooth. My fingers trailed over her shoulders, down her arms, across her hips then down her thighs in a wandering lust at the feel of her and the appreciation of the sight of her. I buried my nose in her long black hair next to her ear and inhaled the sweet musk of her perfume.
I kissed her and retreated while holding her lower lip between mine, letting her slide away.
“I love the taste of your mouth, the life in your breath, and your warm scent. I love the feel of your body on mine like a warm down quilt in winter. Most of all, I love the wisdom of your mind, the song of your voice, and passion in your heart. I love you, all of you.”
“If you knew my past, you wouldn’t love me as you do.” Her face slid off my shoulder and turned away from my gaze.
“It’s not your past I love. It’s our now and future I’m in love with.” My words seemed to stab her as my fingers found her chin and lifted her face to mine.
“Nae Yong, my past is always our now and my future.” She spoke in a low murmur as her eyes saw something that wasn’t of our time.
“What is it that troubles you, Yobo?”
“Us,” she said without hesitation.
Faith went to the kitchen. I didn’t follow her. She was protective of her space and intrusion only made her defensive and angry. What she wanted to tell me had to come when she was ready. She returned with an Asian pear.
My Yobo sat in silence and used a paring knife to peel the fruit. Every cut took her further away from the pain she felt. She cut the fruit into cubes then used a small fork to lift the first piece and place it in my mouth. Faith was delighted with my happy expression. To this day, I love the taste of Asian pears and sweet memories.
Her mood lightened as we enjoyed the diversion together. We made it a game to touch one another as we fed each other and kissed the sweetness from our lips.
“Tell me about when you were a little girl growing up here on the island.” I ventured to offer her a chance to get whatever bothered her off her mind or let her pursue a divergence.
Faith got up again and closed the sliding panels of the wall and locked them for the night. She turned on a lamp with paper shades that cast a yellow glow across the furniture and lacquered floor. I joined her on the couch as she lowered her head to my lap and stroked my leg as I rubbed her back.
“I was twelve when I came here to the island.”
“How did you come to live here?” I asked, my curiosity peaked.
“I lived in a small village called Sonid Youqi in Inner Mongolia before I came here. I used to live with a Sunud Mongol courtesan named Rose. She was a beautiful woman; the toy of drunk, wealthy men.”
“Was Rose your mother?”
“My parents died when I was a small child. My Apa was a musician, and my Oma was a doctor. A Russian doctor, a friend of my mother and father, took me to Xilingol Prefecture and left me with Rose. The Dragons paid Rose to take care of me. I learned later the money came from an account set up by the Black Dragons from the sale of our home and belongings.”
“You were a part of the Black Dragons from birth?
“Not at first. I had to earn my way into the society. I had to prove myself.”
“That had to be hard as a child.”
Faith stopped talking and stared at the lamp. She was unsure of how far to go with the truth. I decided to change the subject. I found in time that the topic of the Black Dragons never changed.
“They must think a lot of you, Yobo. They let us stay in this mansion and ask nothing from us.” My ignorance stung her.
“Nae Yong, nothing is free. Our lives incur debt that we will pay with our blood, body, and soul. We will pay with our labor and sweat and incur more debt as we go.” Her voice was strong, almost prophetic.
“How do we pay out our debt to the Dragon Masters?” I probed deeper.
“Give the Black Dragons your life, Nae Yong and you will earn your honor and freedom.”
“I have sworn my allegiance to the Masters. I will hold nothing back,” I assured Faith of my devotion to her and the Dragons.
“You must prove yourself as I did to gain their acceptance,” she spoke with a hint of the pain acceptance extracted from the followers of the way of the Black Dragon.
“How will I prove myself worthy to the Dragons, Yobo?”
“The Master will give you a task. You must not fail him even if it cost your life or mine,” her pain deepened in her throat as she spoke the words with care.
The insight to our future stunned me. I could not show my concern. I opted for empty bragging. Her hands clasped in mine; I looked into her wet eyes.
“I won’t fail the Master or you, Yobo.”
“Then make love to me now and later, I’ll tell you stories about the Dragons and a little girl.”
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