Joqout's Story: Chapter Two


Surely, it wouldn't hurt just to see... just to try... just to gauge the damage done to his body, and how well it was healing... surely, surely it couldn't hurt just to practice a little....

Stop it!

Weakly dragging his thoughts away from that dangerous line of thought, Joqout Kasim, refugee and stranger in a foreign desert tribe of Solistien, tries to focus himself back on the task he has been set. It is not much of a task, and he is very bored. Laundry has never been one of his favorite pass-times, even when his mind is not occupied with tangled emotions, terrible memories, and temping thoughts. It offers no distraction at all to scrub lightly woven cotton with sand in the huge wooden basin, and little more to hang the scoured clothes out to dry. It is all too easy to slip into speculation-- to wonder what could have happened it things had gone differently-- and from there, into grief for his lost family, friends, and home... or remorse, for what he did when he lost them.

"Hey! Kasim! Snap out of it, we need those things cleaned before sundown, you know!"

Joqout starts, surprised out of another daydream, and guiltily goes back to scrubbing, finned tines that protected his ears flattening to his skull. The dragoness in charge of the laundry that day glares at him for a moment, while he avoids her eye and tries to look meek, then goes back to her own work, with the vibrant reds of the tribe that she will turn over to no one else, much less the newly come, easily distracted, layabout Joqout. He can hear her grumbling to the nearest launderer, a slightly more understanding cousin, who works the blues; he suspects that she speaks as loudly as she does on purpose.

"He's worthless, Jamima! Hardly gets a thing done, with all his moping and sighing and staring off into space! We never should have taken the whelp in."

"Hush, cousin," the other dragoness orders calmly, shaking out a wet and wrinkled indigo burnoose. "I expect this sort of thing is natural. He's been though quite a bit, after all."

"It's been weeks!"

"Do we not have all the time in the world?"

"Not if we're to have our whites dry before dark. He needs to snap out of that funk he's in and start contributing to the tribe, by Ixuzah!"

Glancing in his direction, Jamima hushes her cousin more forcefully, and more quietly, and turns the conversation in another direction firmly. Joqout stares at his work, fins flat and wings folded tightly, ashamed and now feeling even sorrier for himself. Useless, is that what he is? Right now, even he can see he is doing little, not much more than an extra mouth to feed who no one quite trusts, and certainly who no one likes. Useless, an irritation, an outsider who has lost his tribe, his home, and his pride.

When he forgets what he is doing again, the laundress gives up on him and chases him away. "Go mope somewhere else!" she snarls after him as he bounds away from the boulder-shaded group of dragons and their sandy, soapy tubs of water.

Despite the ache in his side from the mostly-healed broken rib, the painful pull of previously severed but slowly reknitting muscles in his shoulder, the stab of newly re-scaled skin, and the rasp of his own labored breathing, Joqout does not stop running until he is outside the mobile tribe's current territory, away from the rocky part of the desert and into the scrub around the edges. Here, hidden behind a mound of brush-covered hill, he finally stops to catch his breath. Privacy, for the first time since he has emerged from the healing tent he spent his first several days with the tribe confined to, does not feel as freeing as it should. There is no running from memory or guilt, and he cannot even begin to think of what his future will be like.

But he has thought of memory and guilt for so long, and he is sick of it, he just cannot seem to break the cycle. But there are things I can do to clear my mind and forget, for a little while, he reasons, sinking to the rough dirt and shutting his eyes against desert sun. The meditation his priestly master taught him, which he always grows bored with swiftly, for example. Physical training has always been another way, his own personal kind of meditation, but that he does not wish to do again, so he settles for the former. He consciously relaxes tense muscles, eases away the pains of a half-healed body-- without a magical healer in the tribe, only a medicinal one, his immortal body has been slow to mend-- and counts his breaths, slowly and steadily.

So great is his need to relax and think of anything but past or future, he manages the mental exercise for far longer than his usual attention span for stillness and silence. When he finally begins to feel restless, it is only natural to start limber up stiffening limbs with the fluid stretches that always lead into his repetitions. Caught up in the habit, and in the comfort of feeling his body respond as he's trained it, he moves easily into the cyclical movements: lunge, twirl, kick, lash; lunge, twirl, kick, lash; lunge, twirl, kick, lash.... He is slower than usual, less steady than usual, but he ignores the reasons why, focused simply on the speed he can manage and the power he can manage, unconsciously holding himself back to what he is capable of with a mending body.

After that, is it only a small, simple thing to take the next step and launch into a pattern dance. I need the exercise, he thinks scornfully, disappointed in the skill and strength he has lost in the weeks, almost two and a half months, of negligence and near-inactivity. No wonder I am not healing.

There is no one to see him, and no one to miss him until sundown and the fire lighting, so he carefully spins himself through his entire regime. He must move more slowly than he is accustomed to, and with stretching between each memorized fighting dance, but he will not risk tearing open scars or straining long unused muscles. For the first time since his living was firmly established, freeing his mind up from fear for survival or numb acceptance of death to think about everything that had happened again, he can think freely-- because he does not need to think. The dances, with their long-memorized patterns and fluid motions, even at half-speed, are soothing and reassuring, something he knows how to do and loves to do.

He had not noticed he had an audience until his very last dance before cooling-down stretches, when a flash of silvery blue suddenly ducks into his range, effortlessly blocking one of the patterned slashes and, anticipating the next movement, swatting in response to his own mimicked blocks. Joqout's tail lashes forward, dance disrupted, to drive the intruder back, away from him-- out of danger. The dance might have left him panting, but with the sudden interruption and the feel of claws against his foreleg armoring, even in play, makes his breath come in hard, suddenly frightened gasps.

"Hey, hey," the fellow fighter grins, backing off with her wings held out in a peace-sign. He recognizes her as one of the tribe's dragons, slightly older than he, one who barely knew him and had never spoken to him before. He stares, trying to control his panic. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. That just looked like fun."

For a long moment there is an uncomfortable silence, until Joqout realizes he is supposed to say something. "Don't," he manages, still breathless.


"Don't-- don't do that. Don't interrupt me, don't join in, don't-- I don't-- I don't fight."

She blinks brightly silver eyes at him. "Why not?"

All he can think of, all he can see, are fallen, bloody Ignius raiders. Stronger now than even in his often-haunted dreams, memory surges up around him: claws are everywhere, teeth are bared and stained with blood, wings mantled with challenge and bladed tails slashing... the raiders'... his own... finally, only his own, battered and bloodied. He stumbles back, shaking.

I cannot-- I cannot have even this, he thinks, ignoring with effort the startled stare of the dragoness who had, innocently, come to join the fun. I'll go mad again. I'll kill someone again. I can't!

He spins and races back towards the camp without answering her, terrified that if he speaks, everything will spill out-- terrified that if he lets her spar, even lets her match him in the methodical, patterned battle-dances, that the battle-rage will return. He cannot risk that-- simply cannot. Next time, there might be more deaths. Next time, the victim might be an innocent. He leaves the confused lady-warrior standing alone behind his hill, frowning after him.

The next day, the head of the tribe delivers the message that they have found him a relative-- a distant relative-- willing to take him in. He can leave as soon as is convenient. Joqout will leave as soon as he has a guide, and gladly; perhaps on this "Star City", there will be more to do to distract himself.


Joqout's Story

Chapter Three



Fantasa and Legend dragons are the intellectual property of Silver Midnight.