“If you are lucky enough to find people worth getting attached to, attach yourself with nothing less than all of your heart.” ― Signe Pike, Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World
In the Mouth of the Dragon
It was her first mission assignment and nothing frightened her more. She was to take Lee and travel with her to the Dragon Island off the southern coast of Korea. Domi had to navigate the subway, arrange for the train to take them to Pusan, and find a boat to ferry them to the island. Domi had no idea what to do. She didn’t speak the language and couldn’t read a single character of Hangul.
When she expressed her fears to Lee, her little sister volunteered she could handle the details if Domi weren’t offended. Domi was not offended in the least. Miss Aristov began to understand the wisdom of Lee’s introduction to her. My God, she loved that girl, she proclaimed in the garden as they plotted their trip together.
The girls said their goodbyes to Jasmine and the staff that had treated them like royalty and not like the damaged and defiled social outcasts they were before the Dragons swept them off the streets of their former lives. Subdued by the enormity of being alone to make their decisions, the girls exited the gate of the estate and made their way to the subway entrance six blocks away.
Their tight bond of sisterhood set in the comfort of the Dragon Master’s estate felt it’s first challenge in the stress of finding their way. In the end, their bond strengthened. Their love for one another set deep roots in the psyche of each half of the whole they had become. The Dragon’s blood melded them into a cohesive force that fought its way through the currents of disinterested humankind that crowded against them every step of the way.
The intrepid duo made their way to Yeosu, a port town, and stopped at the Angelinus cafe off the Seonso-ro highway for a late lunch. Domi was mesmerized by the line of peaked mountains that rose out of the congested valleys. The green peaks against the gray meandering built-up areas looked like the maw of a dragon with pointed teeth. Their vantage point put them on the tip of the dragon’s tongue.
While they sat and enjoyed their tea, the girls looked out over the bay into the convergence of the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. The calming view looked and smelled like fate if fate were a physical thing one could sense.
In the shared revelry of their freedom, Lee noticed the captain sitting by himself looking tired from a full morning of fishing. Lee inherently knew the man would accept a small fee to deliver them to the Dragon’s island northeast of the famed Jeju Island. He likely knew the way by heart. Good fortune proved Lee’s instincts correct. The captain agreed even more so when he gazed into the blue eyes of Lee’s blond and fair skinned companion.
The captain who ferried the two girls across the sea in his fishing boat was a rough fellow with sun-aged skin. Domi feared she and Lee would end up raped and thrown in the water like cut bait for sharks. She had intimated her concern to Lee before they left. Lee had told her to look in his eyes. She could see he was an honorable family man. Besides, Korean men had easy access to women that suited their needs for a reasonable price.
There was never need to take a woman by force. Hard-ons and money were all a man required for a pleasant transaction. Domi thought Lee knew far too much about the subject of men’s needs at her age. Lee casually explained one sees many things as an orphan that pampered children never experience. Domi agreed and loved her sister even more.
The captain sailed his boat through the breakwater of the north entrance to the internal bay formed in ancient times by a volcano. The island was the rim of the cauldron. They sailed under a magnificent suspension bridge with high stone cliffs on either side. He turned to starboard and glided to one of two piers. After he had secured his boat, he helped the girls ashore and carried their small packs for them urging them to make haste to the line of buildings near the rocky shore.
Directly in front of them was a weather worn hostel with a blue roof. The Captain took them inside and went to find the manager while they waited. A tired man ambled to the desk and called the girls forward as he fiddled with paper and pen. The Captain bid them farewell and turned to leave when Domi caught his hand and hugged him to thank him for being so kind. The man acted surprised then embarrassed. He looked around and bowed then left in a hurry.
Lee laughed. “Older sister, please. You frightened him to death. A woman never shows a man affection in that way in public unless he has paid for her love.”
“Oh shit, Lee! My first minute on the island and I’m typecast as a courtesan to fishermen.” Domi’s face was a fascinating blush of red.
Lee was beside herself with amusement at her older sister’s lack of proper protocol. “Don’t worry. Those blue eyes and blond hair will buy a lot of forgiveness. We don’t expect foreigners to understand. Just don’t do it again or you’ll have the entire fishing fleet proposing to the new Aphrodite on the island.” The laughter in Lee’s eyes was no consolation for Domi’s embarrassment. She made a mental note to pay closer attention to her little sister and to follow her lead.
Lee turned to the manager and explained they were here to attend the school and asked if he knew anyone that could take them there. Without a word he picked up his phone and dialed. A woman’s voice answered after more than ten rings.
“Hello, Miss Faith? Yes, I have two of your students here. Will someone come to get them? Tomorrow morning? Yes, I have room for them.” With a grunt, the man hung up. “You’ll stay here tonight and tomorrow morning someone will come to get you. Their boat is away today on the mainland, and the path to the school from here is too dangerous without proper precautions.”
Before the girls could ask any questions, the manager grabbed a key and told them to follow. He led them to the back of the hostel and gave them a room with a sliding glass door that opened to the patio that overlooked the buildings and rice patties nestled in the palm of the mountains.
The room had a vinyl floor with no furniture. A one burner gas stove sat on a stand in the corner next to a small refrigerator that looked older than the hostel. Wrapped in a plastic sheet was the bedroll the two girls would share. Judging from the size of the bedroll, the two would sleep in a cozy embrace or take turns. For Lee, it was not an unusual or spartan arrangement. To her, everything seemed in order.
The man saved the best for last. He led them to a small shed on a neglected crushed shell pathway. Domi saw two doors. The man opened the one on the far side of the shed to reveal a green tiled closet with a hole in the floor. Something evil lived in the hole according to the odor that wafted across Domi’s stinging nose.
There was a water hose that hung from a spigot on the wall. Lee explained the hose was a shower, clothes washer, bathroom cleaner, and personal valet to water their orchids and backside when the need arose. Lee was pleased with the arrangement and told the proprietor how happy they were with the room and bathroom. Domi wasn’t sure at all, but she promised to follow Lee’s lead, and so she smiled at the man who searched her face for some sign of acceptance. She smiled and bowed but refrained from hugging the man who smelled like Kimchee and garlic.
The girls settled in and decided to walk around to get their bearings, find something for dinner and enjoy the view of their new home. The feeling of freedom in the sea breeze with exotic scents of food mixed with the sea and forests was inebriating. They spent the day exploring, snacking on dried squid, puffed barley, and lemongrass tea. By the end of the day, they were exhausted and smelled like their surroundings.
Lee took her older sister to the shed and in the custom of country and status, she undressed Domi and gave her a bath by filling a small bucket with water from the hose and using a coarse rag and floral soap to cleanse her body. The scratchy rag awakened Domi’s skin, followed by Lee’s soapy hands. The pleasure of the experience left Domi relaxed and smelling like a fresh cut flower.
Lee toweled her older sister and then urged her to go to the room before she caught a cold. Lee then turned to wash herself ignoring the white ghost with round blue eyes. Lee was caught by surprise when Domi took the rag from Lee and bathed her little sister with every bit of gentle efficiency she had felt moments before. While it wasn’t customary for the oldest to serve the youngest, it was an unforgivable breach of etiquette to refuse Domi’s kindness. Lee’s demeanor gave no indication of the satisfaction she felt from Domi’s attention.
That night the two sisters slept warm in the cold night chest to back. The Dragon’s instinct to seek closeness with its kind manifested itself in the nested pair. The lesson of love and devotion in stressful situations sewed the seeds of survival that would test the limits of their endurance. The trial began early the next morning with a hard knock on the door.
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