Gouen flew above the wrinkling waves of the Eastern Ocean. There were islands scattered here and there in the great blue expanse, but Gouen was making for no place in particular. Whether the Hermit was on sea or on land he didn't know, though the sea must surely be more likely. He sent his thoughts out, vague and questioning: the Hermit... Uncle... Gouen Gouerh's son seeks you... and waited for an answer of some kind. But the miles passed with only the emptiness of blue sea below and blue sky above, and above that the hot sun sinking towards the west. A hot place, the Eastern Ocean, its bright colours those of his childhood and youth, now seeming to belong to an immensely distant past.
His mind began to slip back to the more familiar memories of home: the cold waters of the Northern Ocean, the swell of the grey-green waves enormous and moody: silver light filtered through black clouds, sharp rains lashed by harsh winds. In his mind's eye he watched the sullen waves edged with greyish foam forming and unforming below him, and felt about him the keen air of the place he loved above all others. And as his heart swelled with that sense of love and belonging he found himself, without surprise, in a corner of his past, flying above his ocean with Goujun winging a little in front of him. Gouen stilled his heart lest feeling take the vision away; held his soul's breath and watched the huge white wings beating against the grey sky with the purpose and energy that had always meant 'Third Brother.' The long neck turned as Goujun glanced back at him; the corners Goujun's mouth curved up in a smile above his white chin beard; and the sight of that vanished face stabbed Gouen to the heart. With a shock he returned to the present. The bright colours about him ran together with the tears that filled his eyes, and he spoke his grief aloud.
Above me the black night of heaven's height;Something caught his eye below, white amid the darkening blue waves. He stooped and dove towards it. It was long, like an eel-- but not an eel. An arm, a manform arm, of some human thing turned victim to the sea's violence. Carrion. He was about to fly away when he saw the hand beckoning to him. No, the fingers were moving in the water, that was all. No. The hand moved, beckoning him. He dropped down from the sky as the thing began to sink below the water. Without thinking he dove in after. The arm moved downwards before him and he followed, between curiosity and disgust, down and down the depths to the ocean's floor. It grew darker and colder and he lost sight of the whiteness; then brighter and warmer and there it was-- or rather, there he was. A white dragon in manform. A dragon who could descend through the waves in his tiny manform body.
Below me the blue waves of the deep sea
The sky goes on forever, and my spirit flies in bitterness;
Even in dreams I cannot cross the mountains that divide us.
Caution tapped at Gouen's spine. This was undragon magic, and dangerous. This is how my father died, caught by the fascination of a white snake. Could this be one of the same tribe? And worse- might it be bent on avenging that other one they had slain?
They reached the bottom of the sea. There indeed was a house, as befitted a dragon. It was no palace, being a simple structure no larger than the cottage of a common man. Gouen's suspicious eye noted that it would not accommodate many dragons in their natural size. The stranger was standing by the gateway, waiting for him. Gouen changed form, ready in a moment to change back if it chanced there were no wards in place to keep him anchored. But he was as heavy in manform as in his dragon one and he walked steadily forward to stand a safe distance from the seeming dragon. The man's robes were all white, which was not unknown; but he wore no headband and his white hair fell unbound about his shoulders. Gouen eyed him narrowly, trying to get some feel for his nature, but the disorder of his own heart and his present suspicions dinned too loudly in his soul.
When the man spoke it was in verse:
Journey half-done the traveller goes astray,Gouen answered:
Within the loud confusion of the storm.
Dark as death the ferocious tempest's waves.
Where will you find the straight path to your home?
A storm-cloud I, storm-driven by the galeThe man inclined his head. "I'm glad to hear it. But perhaps you'd still care to rest a little from your journey? My house is at your disposal if you wish to enter."
Under the darkness of the mantled heaven.
The winds blow high, the night encompasses me.
Unseen, a steady star will guide my way.
"Will I not regret it if I do?"
"Why would you?"
"Because I think the shape you wear is not your own. You are like no dragon I have ever seen, and very like something that bears much ill-will to my kind."
The man nodded. "It's true I'm not entirely what I seem to be, but I bear you no ill-will. I heard the sound of your heart as you flew and your sorrow touched me. Trust me, I and my house intend you no harm."
Gouen was old enough to know that a master of poetry could still be his life's enemy, but the strange echoes of the man's verse intrigued him. Doubly on his guard, therefore, against danger without and carelessness within, he bowed his acquiescence and walked through the gate.