The Dragon Tongue War Part 1

by Paul Davis

The Dragon Tongue War Part 1: A story from a century ago

Ling Pao looked at the waters. Long ago he was told by his father and grandfather to never go to the water for food, yet there were so many fish. A large mass of fish would jump up to eat the insects in the morning and evening. For generations the people of the plains were told do not go fishing, or dire consequences would follow. To Pao, it sounded like superstition.

Bao Mi stood next to him, quirking a brow at Pao’s activities. She said, “What are you thinking, Pao? Sometimes you get stupid.”

“We’re hungry, Mi. Look at those fish. Almost look fatter than our cows.”

“Stupid, Pao. We don’t fish. Our cows still give milk. Our food will hold the winter.”

“Might hold, but the food is so plentiful in the river. Why can’t we fish?”

“Because the spirits told us not to.”

Pao went to the river and dipped his toes in it. Both Pao and Mi were dirty peasants in very basic, rough clothing. In the summer it was common to keep the feet bare, exposed to the harsh fields. “What spirits? I’ve never seen these spirits. I think the farmers just want control. I could fish. I know Li fishes from time to time. Nothing bad happens to him.”

Mi’s jaw dropped, “He fishes? He’ll bring our death. Stop him, Pao!”

“He’s been doing this for years, since he was a child. Nothing bad happens. We should ask him how to fish and we could eat like the northerners. They fish.”

“No.” She hardened her jaw. “You will not consider this, and I will tell the elders.”

“Do what you have to. I’m hungry. My family is hungry. We can stop starving and eat these fish.”

The village wasn’t far from the river. It was never forbidden to draw water from the river, and it was easier than trying to find water by other means. The village consisted of a few tents made from cattle hide. In the center was the largest tent, and there the elders met to discuss issues. On that summer day they were lazing about, feasting and listening to music as a child sang.

The elders sat on cushions imported from the north when Mi rushed in, interrupting the child’s music. “Elders, Pao is going to do something bad.”

Dao looked up with his fading eyes. He sighed and scratched his sagging chin, wrinkled from his old age. “What do you mean, child?”

Mi was twenty, well out of the child years, but Dao looked at any without loose skin on aged bones as children. “He wants to fish in the river because of this drought.”

All the elders but Dao tensed, ears perking up. However, Dao smacked his lips and sighed heavily. The other three elders started to talk, voices rising. Finally Dao rose his hand, “What keeps us from Pao’s idea?”

The three elders looked at Dao, quivering. Sou, the second eldest, shook his head, “We were told by the spirits.”

Dao laughed, “We were not. We were told by our parents. Some of us were told by our grandparents. I think Lu is the only to have had her great grandparents say so. Where are these spirits? Where is their wrath? I know some of our villagers already fish time to time, and nothing horrible has devoured them. The Quan village to the east fishes regularly from the sea. They use the fish as fertilizer for crops and even in the dry times they seem to thrive.

“So what do we wait for? Why do we hesitate? Create something to fish with. Pull them from the river in nets if we can. Eat them and use the remains for the fields. We’ll eat well now.” For a good while the people watched Dao, until Pao walked in.

When the boy stepped foot in the tent, Pao only being sixteen, all eyes turned to him. No one smiled, aside from Dao. The old man grinned and nodded. In the moment, Pao bent over and turned green, but soon stood up straight. His words shot out quickly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest it. Please forgive me.”

The silence lingered once more until Pao said, “There is no need for forgiveness, boy. Your idea is good. The council accepts.”

The other councilors spoke up all at once, arguing about concurring to the idea, swearing that a curse from the spirits would be brought down on the village and all the people would be struck from history. No doubt, the sky would fill with clouds and lightning would set ablaze all the denizens. Water would slither from the rivers to fill lungs. All would be lost.

Once more Dao rose a hand, “Silence, now. This is superstition. These words would come from nursing mothers, not from those leading a starving people. Pao, do what you can to start fishing so the village will not know hunger. We support you. Any issues come to. I will make them smooth as the plains. Now go, Pao. Fish until we are well fed.”

The Zu tribe, which Pao was a part of, was the first to fish the Dragon Tongue River. The food was plentiful, and the river was still filled with fish. But fishing did not end with the Zu tribe. Soon other tribes were also fishing in the forbidden river, where taboo said none should find food. As each tribe started to feed off the bounty of the Dragon Tongue, the taboo was lost and the fish were readily eaten.

*  *  *

It had been over a hundred years since the Zu started fishing. At first skiffs went up and down the river fishing, bringing in small catches with weak nets. The river was nearly a mile wide and would swallow boats now and then. The ships increased in size, some holding as many as twenty fishermen and crew. Travel up and down the river started to boom, and tribes could share resources and ideas with ease. Villages were settled on the river as prosperity continued. Schools were set up as learning was encouraged to understand the multiple river cultures on the Dragon Tongue and even up to where the tongue met the sea, learning more fishing techniques from a village which regularly sailed the great sea for days at a time.

The village of Lu Tan was peaceful, holding around a hundred souls. There was an inn and tavern, both very loud and full on most nights. The children didn’t lack for games to play and chores to complete. The village still fished, but often was a midway point for the cities of Zu and Bai Ding, both cities just short of a thousand citizens. Most of the coin made in the village was by travelers in need of a place to sleep. A school appeared when so many scholars joined together and needed a place less filled with alcohol for discourse. It was a calm, beautiful place.

There was a child sitting on the docks, looking down into the water. The boy, Lu, enjoyed looking at his reflection during the summer. His feet dangled in the cool water, and he could catch a glimpse of fish by the glint of their scales. Then he saw something longer, like a snake’s tale. However, Lu had only heard of snakes in legend.

A sharp nip touched his toe, and Lu was startled, bringing his feet out of the water. Fish did that often enough, however. Viewing his toe, there was blood. Looking back in the water, Lu saw his own reflection, but it was more solid. The waves did not disrupt it like it should and it did not give the same shadow. It looked almost real. The boy reached out to touch it, disrupt the unnatural vision. As he did so, his reflection reached out, grabbed the boy’s hand, and dragged him into the river.

Lu made little more than a splash, and a few minutes later the boy walked out of the river. He wandered the streets, paying little attention to those calling out to him, watching intently as people went about their business.

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9 Responses to “The Dragon Tongue War Part 1”

  1. Reblogged this on Paul Davis and commented:

    My first post on Legends Undying! I hope you enjoy it.

  2. Looking forward to the wrath of the spirits!

  3. Quite nice! I wonder what happened to the boy, I’ll make sure to check it out when Part 2 is published.

  4. Something very fishy going on, here! Great buildup.

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