by Thomas Davis
Ruarther stopped upon a ridge, the sound
Of dragon wings behind him rising up
Into the sky, his breath so short from running
He had to kneel and gasp, too trembling
To see the golden dragon fly away.
He’d been afraid, he thought. His mouth was dry
And stomach clenched against the memory.
He failed to force himself to move for minutes
That crawled like hours as he tried to see
Why he had turned and run when flame had sprouted
Out of the female dragon’s gut into the tree.
He’d always thought that he was strong enough
To face a dragon, look it in its eyes,
And force the beast to fear his human strength.
At last he got up off his knees and looked
At skies and snow clouds massing in the mountains.
He’d been away for weeks, the game so scarce
He hadn’t even used his bow, not once.
The village needed meat. Winds gathered
And soon they’d cover mountains deep in snow,
And then the herds of deer would head downhill
And hunting would become a test of stamina
So difficult that only full-grown men
Could hope to bring home meat enough to feed
The children, women, and the older men.
The dire wolves, black with yellow, shining eyes
Would find the village too, their hunger bright
Inside their growls and nightly moonlit howls.
The harshness of the winter world would batter
The villagers and make them long for spring.
Ruarther stopped his musing, turned toward
The village, started running with a long, sure stride.
Ruanne, the girl who thought he was a fool,
Would laugh to hear he’d run from dragon fire,
Confirming what she thought of him already.
He wondered at the dragon’s curious words,
The plea to save the witching girl, the meaning
Of dragons taking interest in a human’s life.
He couldn’t let Ruanne hear of his fear,
He thought. Her yellow hair and dark green eyes
Ran with him as he jogged past tree trunks massive
Inside the forest’s twilit canopy.
As night grew out of shadows on the ground,
He stopped and built a fire. The winter cold
Walked like a forest beast whose hunger burned.
He took his blankets from his leather bag,
Edged close to where the flames danced merrily
And closed his eyes, sleep letting him forget
The dragon, witch’s girl, his fear, his dread.
Before the sun had risen over mountains
He woke. He smelled a bear. He grabbed his bow.
The world was silent. No bird song, no breeze. . .
And then he saw the bear so huge it seemed
As if it was the spawn of dragons, brown
And shaggy in the darkness, dangerous,
Eyes glowing in the moon’s dim silver light.
Its eyes looked straight into Ruarther’s eyes.
A weirding chill iced deep inside his head.
The great bear stood on hind legs eight feet tall.
It made no sound, but stared and stared at him.
And then, inside his head, a rumbling voice
Said, “Humans should beware of dragon’s minds.”
He touched his ears; he had not heard a sound,
And bears did not have speech like dragons did.
He looked around. Light crept through trees.
He thought he heard the warning of a growl,
But when he looked back at the bear, the bear
Was gone, and birds were singing to the sun.
He sensed the snow clouds not yet in the sky.
The witch’s child! He thought. The dragon, then
The bear! Strange happenings that had a pattern
As if Old Broar had cast his bones and seen
The future through his cloudy, pale blue eyes.
It had to be the witch’s child aligning
The universe against the village peace.
A smallish doe walked through the trunks of trees
Not fifteen yards away. Without a thought
He notched an arrow, let it fly at her.
She startled, leaped, crashed dead into the ground.
He’d hunted for a week, and now he’d found
His prey and felled it with a single pull.
Rejoicing started flooding through his thoughts. . .
But then, he thought he smelled the bear’s rank smell,
Felt fierceness in the coming winter storm.
He’d have to warn the villagers, he thought:
Old Broar, Ruanne, the village leader Reestor. . .
He’d have to run through several long, hard days.
Strange times were on them, weirding times.
Note: This is the third section of a long poem I am skeptical about publishing in wordpress format. The story was inspired by John Keats’ tale in his narrative poem, “Lamia,” although this poem uses blank verse rather than the rhyming couplets Keats used. Click on the numbers to read earlier sections: 1, 2, 4.