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,
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,” 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.