by Thomas Davis
Ruarther stopped inside the meadow, dread
A tingling arc behind his head and neck.
The doe was heavy on his back, but pliable,
A coat whose legs stuck out with black, sharp hooves
Above his thin, hard belly, barrel chest.
He turned to look behind him at the forest.
The clouds had fallen to the earth , were moving
Toward him. As they moved a wall of mists,
That anviled up into the day’s bright sky,
Glazed ice across the ground and turned the world
Dark, floating, hard with cold and fields of ice.
Dismay and disbelief shrilled through his arms
And spread in icy tendrils to his too loud heart.
The wierding! In his mind he saw the bear
Rise up inside the forest as he woke
And heard its roar imbedded in the wall
That slid toward him as he froze in place.
The witch’s spawn! He thought in rage as darkness
Rolled over him and ice encased his body,
Another skin so hard and cold it felt
As if he’d never move his legs again.
The dragon that had brewed his fear in vats
Prepared by witching words and weirding vials!
He forced himself to turn toward the village.
The doe had frozen hard around his shoulders.
What will we do? He asked himself. A moan
Rose from the trees behind him as a fierce,
Sharp wind that stung his ice-encrusted face
Drove snow across the meadow’s sudden white.
His legs felt heavy as he forced himself to move.
He wondered, deep inside, if he could make
The journey to the village that was left.
He’d never faced a weirding storm before.
He forced himself to run, his fear a pounding
In ears so cold they stung with savage pain.
The hunters came out of the angry storm
One at a time, beards caked with ice, hands burning
From bitter cold. Each one, dejected, sat
Inside the village hall and said they’d seen no game.
Their families needed food, but as the storm
Had threatened, all the animals had hid
From searching eyes and deadly arrowheads.
At last they’d all come home, except for one:
Ruarther always brought back game no matter
What weather howled or animals retreated
To lower altitudes or hidden dens.
As Reestor donned his bear-hide cloak to walk
Toward the stone fence at the village edge,
He thought about the times starvation stalked
The mountain folk until their greatest hunter
Came bearing meat enough to keep their bellies
From shrinking during long, cold winter nights.
The hunts had not found game for much too long,
And now the winter when grim scarcity
Would stalk the village like a beast had come.
Still, no one liked the hunter—even though
His generosity was greater than
That shown by any other village man.
His pride was harsh as acid burning deep
Into the flesh, and when he spoke he made
His fellow hunters, even Reestor, flinch.
Ruanne, desirable to all the men,
Kept all of them at bay and let them know
Ruarther was the only man for her,
But even she was challenged when she tried
To soften haughtiness enough to let
Love’s light shine in her eyes and strong, wild heart.
Outside the wind blew blasts of heavy snow
In Reestor’s eyes. He leaned into the wind
And took forever crossing to the fence
A hundred yards from where the village hall
Stood sound and solid in the shrieking storm.
He stood beside the oak wood gates that barred
The dire wolves from the round stone cottages
And tried to stare into the blowing snow.
The storm was three days old and still as fierce
As dragon mothers sheltering their young.
He knew Ruarther’s strength and skill, but still. . .
The big man teased the headman’s blinking eyes.
The snow clouds cleared, then billowed white again,
Allowing, for a moment, one brief glimpse
Of brownness shouldering fresh meat, salvation
Inside a storm that promised days of hunger.
The old man felt triumphant as the wind
Shrieked like a demon from a dragon’s fiery gut.
He shoved the gate while kicking at the snow,
The snow too deep to let the gate swing open.
Ruarther, face around his eyes raw, red,
Turned sideways, slipped inside the gate, and grunted.
He looked exhausted as he let the doe
Fall to the ground, its carcass frozen stiff.
As Reestor grabbed Ruather, keeping him
Upright, the big man’s eyes locked on his eyes,
Eye whites alive and burning in the storm.
“The witch is dead,” Ruarther croaked. “Her child
Is stirring up the dragons, witching them.
We need to organize ourselves for war!”
The volume of the wind began to roar
As if the sky was gathering its force
To tear apart all life that lived on earth.
Ruarther, Reestor stumbled through the wind
And snow and tried to reach stone walls and warmth.
The dragons? Reestor thought. They’d been at peace
With men forever even though the witch
Had lived below them for a dozen years.
No villager need fear a dragon war.
He felt the weight Ruarther put on him.
The man was weak. The strongest man he’d known
Was stumbling as if he was a child.
“The bear,” Ruarther mumbled incoherently.
“I heard the bear warn of the dragon child.”
Relieved, the village hall now looming, Reestor
Felt cold blast through his body, felt a chill
Shriek through his spirit, felt an endless cold
Spread like a blanket over sky and earth.
He reached the hall’s stout door and pounded hard.
His strength was gone. Ruarther squared his shoulders
As light spilled from the Hall into the snow.
Note: This is the fifth installment of a long poem. Inspired by John Keats’ long narrative poem, Lamia, it tells a story that is set in ancient times when dragons and humans were at peace. Click on the numbers to reach other sections, or go to the Categories box under The Dragon Epic. 1, 2, 3, 4. Go to 6 to read the next section.