2. Humans and Dragons

She flew southeast, away from her safe, quiet, and empty ledge, towards other islands she remembered. Another lair waited for her; where warm air floated above gentle seas; and food was in abundance. Through the evening she beat away the air, neck outstretched as if to gain extra inches by straining forwards. As night fell, she flew by instinct, but energy was failing and she was losing speed. It was centuries since she had felt the full warmth of sun on her scales; centuries since she had eaten. She needed rest.

Beneath her,  as twilight lifted the skies, she crossed a great massif from which one conical peak stood out. Just beneath the ultimate summit was a line of rock, like a saddle, a snow-ridge, scooped out of the granite. A place to rest and oversee the world including that small collection of stone huts some few hundred metres below her. She alighted on the ridge, tired, green scales dull; her whole frame dusty and worn. Panting, she clung to the stone, eyes closed, waiting for the dawn.

The first fingers of sunlight stole across the snowy mountain face, creeping towards her. She opened her eyes and watched them slink across first her claws, then lower limbs, rising up her torso.

The dragon soaked up the warmth and power of that fresh new day. She arced her neck lifting her head to the skies, feeling those rays warming her blood, feeding her whole. Now bathed in dawn light, she transformed, like a chameleon. In that golden sunrise, gone was the flat green of her skin. The tired grey-ish beast transformed into this creature of turquoise and azure; taller, grander, fiercer. Flattened neck spines stood straight and needle-sharp, her scales curved like individual shields of carbon; flawless and iridescent.

She had been recharged: more beautiful – more terrible; more wondrous – more terrifying than ever before. Magnificent. In her rejuvenation she opened her mouth, roared, throwing flames high into the sky in a plume of triumph.

Hundreds of decades ago, before her great sleep, the dragon had fostered a profound contempt for mankind.  In those simpler times, had men seen a mountain-top dragon throwing  fire into the sky, they would have run: very fast, very far.  But times had changed.

In 2017, the collection of small huts beneath the mountain’s peak contained two types of human. The first were trekkers, bound to scale the north face of the summit she sat just below, caught up with their own sense of achievement, fighting  with nature. Second, were the indigenous people who ran the camp, fed the walkers, charged exorbitant rates for the bacteria-ridden toilets, bottled water and WiFi access. The locals worked around the visitors whilst accommodating their impatient demands, ensured their safety against optimistic thieves and looked to make an early retirement from the foolish exploits of dreamy-eyed westerners.

Locals and trekkers rose early, keen to start with the first rays and make the best use of the fleeting daylight hours for their conquests. To a man (and woman), they heard the roar. They saw the plume of flames. The trekkers reached for their smartphones; the locals for their guns.

Lowering her head to the sound of their cries, she saw beings running, in all directions. She heard their shouts. Irritated she gave fair warning sending a long, low growl towards them with a gust of hot but not dangerous air towards the settlement. She puzzled that they remained in place or came closer. Sending a second warning salvo, hotter air and a louder growl.

To no effect.

Men ran towards her, not with spears or swords, but long sticks held close to their faces, pointed in her direction. These produced small bursts of fire that did not puncture her shiny, glorious scales, but stung nonetheless. Deeply annoyed she shifted on her snowy ridge and bent lower towards them. They continued to use their fire sticks, provoking her ire.

Two humans then ran in front of the others, holding what looked like a larger fire-stick between them.  The others stopped and she observed as the stick made a loud boom, propelling a speeding orange orb that moved towards her. Recoiling, she watched the missile go past her right wing and smash into the side of the mountain bursting into flames and leaving an ugly black scar on that perfect mountainside.

Now, she was incandescent with rage. This beautiful mountain, eons old, besmirched by imbeciles. Without another thought, she inhaled deeply, holding the air until it was super-heated. Exhaling, she created a stream of flames, as if an enormous frond of red and orange montbretia was wafting in front of her. The tickling of those petals, incinerated the humans, their artillery detonating in-hand, creating explosions and bangs that augmented the blaze, pin pricks of silver light from phone cameras adding flashes to the brilliant but destructive chaos.

After the charring ceased, small dust clouds drifted where people had been, some of that black dust sinking into the pool of melted snow. “Humans!” she thought. “Limited in understanding. What they don’t understand, they abuse or destroy

The dragon pushed up and away into the morning, flapping rapidly to create an updraft and rise above the wind-sharpened peaks. As she rose, the vibrations of her wings shifted any snow left balancing on rock. Starting slowly from the top, the white blanket grew, gathered pace and density and came crashing down.  The resulting avalanche tumbled over the stone huts, smothering them completely. This silenced the radio communication that had been taking place inside, the authorities already alerted to the threat.

(Please see the next blog entry for answers to the questions: “How do dragons breathe fire?” and “How do we know dragons are real?”)

1. Dragon (/ˈdraɡ(ə)n/)

The great beast shuffled to the cliff edge, pointing her front claws over the precipice, rear-claws gripping the stony ledge behind. She stretched out her broad, leathery wings in the last of the afternoon sun; flexing her neck and enjoying the remnants of warmth on her wizened reptilian scales. Lifting those wide capes of skin, she stretched out her arms, giving an experimental couple of flaps, loosening the joints before tucking them neatly beside her once again. She surveyed the vista, looking from side to side; unblinking black eyes taking in the mountains that surrounded her, the river slicing the valley below and the clear, dark skies above.

 

The dragon sniffed the air, sensing a thermal. Slowly she leant forward, raising her tail at the same time as opening out her sheets of leather to the breeze. She hunkered down, those massive powerful haunches storing up power. Suddenly, she catapulted herself out into the void. So large, so unwieldy, it seemed impossible that such a creature could ever be airborne.

 

But then she flapped her wings in a strong downwards scoop. Once. Twice. A third time and she caught the upward drift of the air’s current. Circled and rose. In huge open loops she moved, beating down against the atmosphere, pushing above the cliffs and lower peaks. Up, up, and up again, in those wide arcs, growing smaller in the sky. Until, like a speck, an eagle or maybe just a sparrow, she was lost in the twilight skies.

This writing lark

It was a square house, shaped like a child’s drawing – a door at the bottom in the centre, two windows either side and symmetrical windows above; triangular roof on top.  It sat apart, alone, surrounded by the tall, traditional sandstone buildings of Sheffield, our home being more squat in nature; constructed of 1970’s brick.

Open the scrolled-iron gate, down the dark, overgrown path, and open the oak front door, with small glass panels at the top.  Through the hallway, to the kitchen; left to the back door and out into the light.  The garden conjures memories of adventures, terrors; industry and leisure.  Enclosed within a high red-brick wall, on the right hand side sat a large ancient, unemployed greenhouse where I played.

It was also where the tortoises lived.  In that glass domain they bred and produced two milky, translucent eggs, which, despite the zoo’s advice, never hatched.  Ultimately, our friends perished; they escaped and were therefore unable to safely hibernate over winter.  We found their empty shells in the undergrowth next summer.  I doubtfully believed the story, that they might have grown new, better armour.  Part of me still hopes that the tale was true, and that they thrive to this day, in the shade of the peonies, close to the compost heap in the corner.

That garden was where my brother and I were taught how to make arrows from willow branches, without the censure of what (who) not to shoot at.  I became the anguished quarry of my younger brother and his fellow bandit; two mischievous 10-year olds, with an endless source of ammunition.  Round and round the paths they pursued me, with pitiless mirth.  Ambushed from behind the garage.  Caught unawares whilst musing; rude interruptions from shooting missiles. They laugh about it still.

At the bottom of the garden growing right up against that big brick wall was an old ash tree.  Most of the tree grew vertically, branches reaching upwards, but one bough ran horizontally, far enough out to grant me a throne.

I loved getting into the centre of that tree.  My back to the trunk, feet flat on the bricks, I would shimmy my way up to the height of the wall, then in one move, turn, feet atop the crumbly sand-cement, arms outstretched to encircle the smooth, greening trunk.  A big push forwards and I was on the flat bough.  Then carefully, each foot immediately in front of the other, holding higher branches for balance, out to where offshoots turned upward, offering me my seat.  From this castle, I looked over adjoining gardens, heard conversations, lawn mowers, arguments and laughter while birds swooped in and out of each enclosure.  For hours, I would perch, even into the dusky gloom, peering to make out the stealth of neighbourhood cats, stalking in the inky shadows.

Eventually, someone would notice I wasn’t inside. Clambering down I’d reposition indoors, to my window sill, gazing over the same parallel lines of grey-slate roof tiles.  In either location I carried notebook and pencil; I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

Little of those scribbles remain, but vivid memories are unfaded.

Many of us write as part of our living: reports, forms, articles for journals (in academia), assignments for qualifications, more reports, memos, emails….  the PhD was 92,000 words.  I have always loved the writing process.

It didn’t occur to me to pick up writing for pleasure again.  The trekking blog was for family, but it offered me moments of reflection not otherwise afforded in the daily dash though life.  It gave me wonderful feedback completely unanticipated. It gave me a little more confidence, to let my fingers represent my brainwaves; thinking across the keyboard.

So this is fair warning.  there have been some great adventures, I’ll pen these and then there are more anticipated for the year to come.  Feel free to join me; for real with a pair of walking boots, or from the screen if that’s more your fancy.

I look forward to seeing you soon,

Jx