#2 The Story of Me - Ernesto
As I have told you before, my companion and I have been vying over the glory, and of course the heavy purse of gold, to be awarded for the head of a dragon which had been harassing a village.
After losing a duel to my competitor and captor, we traveled together to the mountain the dragon was rumored to have made its nest. Attempting to stay upwind, we traversed the mountain paths to a location determined to be over the cavern in which the dreaded dragon resided.
I hurried to peer over the edge of the precipice only to be overwhelmed by a dizzy sensation. I was overcome with throwing up and nearly fainting when my good horse, Caballo, and my companion, Baron Von Bassett, pulled me from my immediate doom. I lay there gasping. “What, what kind of spell could a dragon weave that would be so potent this far away. This must be a powerful dragon, indeed.”
Balancing on his heels, hunkered down tending the fire, the Baron merely grunted his usual expression, “Indeed.” He didn’t speak much. Seeming content to communicate through his visual means; glances, ogles, grimaces, or stares. Laughter didn’t seem to have left any trace of a mark on that face. We had traveled for two days to reach this destination, we had not exchanged any words. Silence only.
“Once again my life is indebted to you. I would surely have been pulled to my demise had you not thought so quickly. The dragon’s luring spell called to my senses, I wanted desperately to jump.” My face was obviously bunched up in a show of emotional pain. I did not want to owe anyone, much less this ogre of a man. Sighing, I rolled onto my side, away from the fire.
Shortly, with the smell of food on the air, I straightened up. The Baron had made a fine meal over a small cook fire. We ate in our typical silence. As the evening turned to night, stoking the fire, the Baron began to talk. “You think you are indebted to me. Wrong. Actually you saved MY life. I, too, cannot peer over the edge of the mountainside. More than once have I had the urge to jump to my death. The mountains of my homeland are steep and unyielding. I had to leave, lest I be lured into plunging over the edge. It is not the dragon’s magic. It is a malady both the clergy and the doctor’s call vertigo. We need to leave this place. Neither of us will survive tomorrow if we remain here long.”
Shocked by the length of his speech, I didn’t not question his decision for the two of us to leave. It was a dangerous trek up and would be even more dangerous for the trip down the side of the mountain especially as night was falling.
After agonizingly slow progress, we came upon a small sheltered level area, large enough for the horse, and decided to stop and rest for the night. At sunrise, I was surprised at the progress we had made. I was not surprised that every muscle on my body ached. I ached from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. Until I relaxed, I didn’t realize how tensed up I had been. As tense as the descent was, it was dark therefore neither of us could actually look down over the side of the mountain. Both more treacherous and safer, simultaneously. Thankful, albeit a bit shaky, to reach the main pathway, we paused to rest and determine our next move.
Leaving the horses lightly hobbled, we crab crawled our way over rocks and around scrub to the front of the cavernous lair. Ignorant of the exact location of the lair, we simply followed our noses and how badly our eyes watered.
The reek emitted from the cave entrance was not unlike the smell of boiling skunk, alive. My eyes watered. Both of us were adding to the aromatic flavor of the air, by sweating profusely. It wasn’t the warmth of the day making us sweat, rather the odor was so thick, we could taste it.
The rocks and crags near the cave entrance seemed to have a white phosphorus coating. The coating, I could only assume was the creatures way of claiming the area as its own as most animals do, scent markings. Vowing not to touch it when we entered the cave, I pulled the inside of my elbow to cover my mouth. A move that really didn’t help much.
Unsheathing our swords, we moved closer to the entrance. Roars and growls rumbled from the interior. We looked at one another, sweat beading on our brows already, grimaces on our faces, we made ready to enter the cavern entrance.
Huddled closely together, inching forward, we made our way further and further into the dragons lair. Darkness made the footing treacherous. The stench made our breath come in short shallow gasps. Ever so carefully, we stumble over what we thought were outcrops of loose stones. Stumbling, the Baron dropped our one torch we had engineered. The flame, flaring momentarily with the draft of falling, flickered and burned out. Now we were without the benefit of any light. We now had to feel our way forward as the blind in a new location, arms outstretched and small baby steps with our feet. Littered here and there, it feels as though we were walking over brittle brush piles. Down, ever downward, we shuffle our feet careful lest we fall into who knows what.
Up ahead there seemed a glow in the pitch black. A glow, that seemed to be coming closer towards us. A glow that illuminated some of the path that lay ahead. A glow that both drew us closer to it, yet made me want to turn and run! As it dawned on my feeble mind what the light really was, I nearly yelped with fear.
Simultaneously, we noticed an outcrop of a boulder and in unison worked our way towards the relative safe harbor. Hoping to go unnoticed, we waited there; two grown men trying to fit into a space not large enough to hold a medium sized child. We waited for the thing to pass.
With words unspoken, we both knew why we had not confronted the thing, allowing it to pass us by. We wanted an opportunity to size the thing up. Allow it’s full length to pass us by, look for the things weakness. A chink in its armor. At first glance, we saw none. What we did see was the largest reptile either of us had ever witnessed. It’s back brushed the top of the cavern. It was crawling nearly as tenuously as we had walked.
Even in the half light, we could see the iridescent blues, purples and gold coloration flicker on the tough scales. The accordion like reptilian walk, did show us that as the dragon strode forward, the scales would have to buckle up over one another. Exposing a ray of hope for us, a weakness for it. It waddled past us without glance in our direction.
Letting out my held breath, I could not help but clasp the Baron by the shoulder. I nearly wept. I was almost ready to turn tail and leave this awful place. Try to come up with a plan that entailed being outside of this hell-hole. The Baron, on the other hand, began to move further into the cave. The dragon was leaving and we were not following, but going deeper into its lair.
Quietly we crept. Slowly descending into the bowels of the mountain. The Baron would take a few steps, then stop and listen. I cast furtive looks over my shoulder as well. After several of these stops the Baron murmured, “Indeed.” It was a relief to hear a voice, then suddenly I could hear many voices. It sounded like singing. Singing?
Prayer hymns were being sung by small young voices. Praise the old gods and the new, there were still children ALIVE. Unsaid, but understood, we did not expect to be a rescue team. We were there to slay the dragon and collect our reward.
Haltingly, we entered the obvious nest of the beast. Not simply a worm hole, but a rounded nesting. It was hot down here, blisteringly hot. Around the perimeter were the children, the sheep and surprisingly many other animals; deer, elk, rabbits, ducks, geese and others. Some hanging limply as though shackled to the stone wall, others in strewn in heaps as rag dolls tossed aside by some giant. The stone carried scars of scorch marks nearly everywhere we looked. My tongue flickered over my lips in vain effort to keep them moist in the heat. Near the center of the huge room were two oval eggs.
The eggs drew my attention. I could not help myself, I was mesmerized by the rhythmic glows emitted from within illuminating the room. The eggs throbbed with life. Golden, both of them, I was reminded of the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk. I had always thought it a goose that laid golden eggs. Never had the thought of a dragon entered my mind, or the tale.
The Baron and I quickly ran to the nearest child. The town had lost only three, there were seven alive and many not. The beast had been plundering other villages as well. There would be more than one purse of gold to line our pockets. Quickly, silently, we unfettered the children. They had been adhered to the wall with some sort of glue-like substance, we could only guess which end of the beast rendered that substance.
Motioning silence, the Baron began to usher the children out of the nesting cavern. Even as we hurried, we could hear grunts coming towards us. We would need luck and timing to make our escape with seven children, two were beyond being able to walk. We hid ourselves as best we could, in crags along the wall. The beast waddled in, holding a prize in its jaws. My horse, Caballo.
My heart sank. My blood boiled. The Baron was quick to stay me with a glance and warning. First the children must be reunited with their villages. First we must make our own escape. Then we might come back to rescue my brave Caballo.
We nine stayed wedged into the side of the mountain while the dragon beast made a place for Caballo. We stayed while she inspected her nest. We stayed while she burned the ground around her eggs ensuring their warmth and incubation. We stayed until she finally lay down, curling herself round the eggs, and fell asleep.
Then, ever so silently, we crept upwards. The trek into the cavern had seemed long, carrying children who were more dead than alive. It was slow moving and leaving the glow of the eggs to shine our path for us, it was pitch black again. Our lungs heaving with effort, we shuffled and stumbled our way. Daylight streamed into the mouth of the cave. Daylight, my heart surged. Daylight, relative safety. We had been within the dragons lair for a full day and night.
We staggered our way back to the fresh water pool we had camped by and hobbled the horses. Careful to monitor the amount of water each child drank, we built a small fire and began our search for the Baron’s horse. Hours later, with the Baron’s horse found, food eaten and water skins filled, we determined we needed to start for the village before the beast decided to do more hunting. None of the children were up to the long trek back to the village. Shedding the saddle, several of the children took turns riding out of the foothills atop the Baron’s horse while he and I walked, carrying the little ones who could not even hold their heads up.
We entered the village in the middle of the night. The night watchman sounded the alarm. We were heroes. The children were taken to the healing woman. Prayers to the old gods and the new were sent up. The children were out of our hands.
The Baron and I were still sitting at the table, finishing our meal, when the Elders came to speak with us. It was much sooner than I had anticipated. I thought they would at least wait until morning.
One of the men stepped forward. With the air of self-importance that only old men in public office carry, the fattest most bald man sat down at our table. He looked at the two of our platters and nodded approvingly. The serving girl brought a mug for him, which he picked up and downed nearly half in one gulp. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, the old man wheezed out his purpose. “When are you going back?”