20. Inside a Furnace

an epic poem by Thomas Davis

He felt as if he was inside a furnace,
The brick kiln burning with a glowing heat,
His skin so sensitive it seared with pain
As if he’d touched a fiery red-hot coal
And spread its agony across his face,
Hours blistering into eternity,[1]
The fire from dragon’s breath a shroud he wore
That made each wracking gasp for air his life.

Inside this pain he still got to his feet
And gathered wood and kept the fire alive
As night turned day turned night turned day again.
He would not die, he said inside his mind.
He could not think, but still, he told himself.
I will not die. I’ll live another day.

A dawn rose golden over mountain peaks.
Snow sheened sky gold across the wilderness.
Asleep at last, arms twitching uncontrollably
As nightmares danced with fire and pain,
Ruarther did not see the bear rise from
The ashes of the dwindling fire so huge
It seemed as if it was the spawn of dragons,
Its dark, brown fur tinged gold by morning light.
Its smell was strong enough to have a whiff
Of sulfur as it shimmered, then solidified
Above the man who whimpered in his sleep.

The great bear wove its arms above the man.
Ruarther woke, his blood shot eyes wide with his fear.
The bear stood silent, waiting, coiled intensity.
Ruarther tried to gather thoughts from pain,
The shroud of heat consuming who he was.

“I have to kill the witches’ child,” he croaked,
His throat so dry with heat it hurt to talk.

The bear’s eyes gleamed and glared at him.
“Blood is a juice of rarest quality,”[2] it said.

“You are a spirit bear,” Ruarther said.
“You have the strength to take this pain away.”

The bear just stared at him. Light streamed around
Its massive form and shimmered as the sun
Rose up above the mountain peaks and golden light
Blurred deep into the blue of winter sky.

“I’ll feed upon your pain,” the great bear said.
“I’ll feed upon the pain your hatred burns
Into the human and the dragon worlds.”

The fire behind it blazed a dance of flames.
The great bear turned and seemed to sway with winds
Not felt within Ruarther’s winter world.
It roared, the sound so loud if shook a crest
Of snow and sent it plummeting from off
The ridge above Ruarther’s camp, a cloud
That stung Ruarther’s skin and chilled the shroud
Wrapped round his burning flesh and mind.

Ruarther gasped. He could not breathe. The cold
Of nothingness pierced deep into his bones.
He felt as if he had no eyes or ears,
As if his human senses had dissolved
Into a void where men did not belong.
The bear was in the void, a monstrous shape
That had no form, but whirled into a wind
That was no wind, but ash that heaped its blackness
Into a glittering beside a fire
That wisped with smoke into the freezing skies.

Ruarther’s lungs gasped air. He shuddered, gulped
The bitter cold into his lungs as if
It was ambrosia, life, unexpected joy!
He was amazed to feel that he was still
Alive, a human not possessed by spirits
That roamed the earth in search of human souls.
He touched his arm. His flesh was hot.
He flinched to feel the pain his touch could cause.
His weariness ached deep inside his mind
And made each joint and bone seem brittle, sore,
But he felt cold. The shroud of fiery heat
Had dissipated when the bear turned back
Into the ash he’d risen from to life.

What now? He asked himself. He was alone.
The fields of snow were blinding bright with sun.
He had to have a fire to stay alive.
The huge, black dragon dove out of the dark
Toward the boulder that he hid behind.
He closed his eyes and felt the wind of wings
That lifted blackness through the moonlit skies.
He had to end the dragon threat of war.
Inside his universe of pain he’d kept that chant.
He glanced toward his bow and deadly arrows.

The bear had given back his life and will.
He’d kill the witches’ child. He’d kill the child.
He smiled. He’d rest; then, with the coming dawn,
He’d start the journey to the meadow where
A cottage sat below the caves of dragons.
He’d drive an arrow through the child’s black heart.

1 This passage was inspired by Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “The Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and Intolerable,” delivered in 1741.
2 From Scene IV of Faust by Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe.

To listen to this section click Inside the Furnace.

Note: This is the twentieth installment of a long narrative poem. Inspired by John Keats’ long narrative poem, Lamia, it tells a story set in ancient times when dragons and humans were at peace. Click on the numbers below to reach other sections, or go to the Categories box to the right under The Dragon Epic. Click on 1 to go to the beginning and read forward. Go to 19 to read the installment before this one. To read the next installment, click on 21.


Filed under Poetry, The Dragon Epic, Thomas Davis

14 responses to “20. Inside a Furnace

  1. belladonna23

    amazing write, truly amazing. I’m glad to have stopped by

  2. sonjabingen

    Happy Father’s Day Dad!

  3. You are such an engaging writer, Thomas … Happy Father’s Day to you and I also wanted to share this link with you of poetry presses. It’s not my blog but I just came across it recently and thought you might like to have a look, too:


    I am glad to see you writing. — M.

    • Melissa, thanks so much for this. I have never had the strength to submit many creative manuscripts, though. I am not sure why. I have no problem getting non-fiction work published. I recently did a chapter for a new book by Paul Boyer Jr that was published by Nebraska University Press. I’ll certainly look at this web site. Thanks again.

  4. Julie Catherine

    Thomas, your descriptive imagery is positively chilling! Ruarther must not kill this child ….

  5. Thomas you never fail to enthrall me with this epic,this line in particular stood out for me”The cold
    Of nothingness pierced deep into his bones.” This is a profound passage in this piece,Lovely work and much enjoyed by my friend and I 🙂

  6. Thomas, I’ve printed this to read at leisure (and eagerly) and will be back to comment after resting my chronically sore back. (Sorry if I’m scarce for a couple of days. Can’t be on the computer long…)

  7. Heat and icy cold – the turmoil rises and so does the suspense. Always looking forward to what’s coming next!

  8. Julie Catherine

    Thomas, I could have sworn I responded to this the day you posted it ….. darn wordpress anyway, lol. This, like the entire epic poem, is an enthralling installment! Reading this is one of the highlights of my week (and I mean that seriously). I am praying that when you are finished, you look into having this published – I know I’ve said that before; I’m just giving an occasional gentle nudge …. just incredible writing! ~ Love to you and Ethel from Julie xox

  9. Anna Mark

    Thomas – I can’t help but think back to the image of the sculpture you posted a while back of the healing bear outside the hospital where you receive your treatment. The bear in this section of your poem is much more complex. I am intrigued by what seems like an ambiguous response from the bear to Ruarther’s pain. “You are a spirit bear,” Ruarther said.
    “You have the strength to take this pain away.”

    Ruarther appeals to the goodness, and the grace of healing — the strength of it, but even though the bear is surrounded by such majestic light, the great bear just stares at him. The bear is not taking a side. The bear is a healer in the true sense of the word where healing is beyond judgement of good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust.

    The bear just stared at him. Light streamed around
    Its massive form and shimmered as the sun
    Rose up above the mountain peaks and golden light
    Blurred deep into the blue of winter sky.

    “I’ll feed upon your pain,” the great bear said.
    “I’ll feed upon the pain your hatred burns
    Into the human and the dragon worlds.”

    The word “hatred” is so obviously unjust and “evil” yet the spirit bear heals the human who will now turn his hatred upon another human and a dragon. I like this touch of “ethics” and morality in your work, and the complexity it adds to the story. It churns my emotions.

    • Anna, what a great comment. You are becoming increasingly adept at analysis. No wonder you are such a great poet. Moral dilemma is at the heart of any epic, of course. To write on a large canvas large themes are crucial. Otherwise the weight of the whole will turn it into drudgery. The action has to be on the physical, spiritual, mental, and moral planes all at once.

  10. So absolutely sensory, Thomas…and the story is so engaging on both a fanciful and realistic level, your blending of the two masterful! (Sorry it took me a while to comment on this,,,I wanted to read it again without distractions!)

  11. Perfect pause for the end of this episode. So glad I have fallen behind with reading posts. It means I can go straight on with Chapter 21. 😀

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