Morning came too soon for Aerin’s restless mind and the cloud strained the rising sun such that a deep white bore down through the open hut window to cause her eyes to flicker. It was the first light of dawn. It burned beyond her lids and she saw yellow star crystals amongst the pinkish tinge of her own blood vessels pumping. There was nothing for it. She rose belligerently from her shaky slumber. Her night’s sleep had been filled with fraught images; shadowy beings had become demons; friends faces had become aggressive foe. She cat-stretched and clicked her bones as she did so feeling beads of sweat clinging to her brow she let them do so. She turned towards Orpheus’ hammock to see him still sound asleep so she swept her head to glance up at the cloudy grayed early light that had woken her. All of a sudden she stood bolt upright off her gently rocking hammock but did not take her fixed hardened stare away from the window. She had heard something, or thought she heard something…coming, though what she was not sure. Perhaps she had dreamt it, maybe it was more of a feeling than a knowing but still she remained fixated by what lay beyond the window. She took note that her skin too had bobbled with goose bumps and her hairs pricked upright causing that unusual coarse sensation when touched. It was as if all her senses had become suddenly alive, heightened and intensified in but a moment. What had made her nervous? Eventually she side-stepped as quiet as she could muster from her hammock and sheltered just inside the barn doorway. The barn door had been left swung open on its rusty hinges all evening to “save us from its squeaks night long and let tha’ gentle breeze come through” and so Aerin could lean coolly on the frame, blocking half the entrance, to listen to the darkness. As she did so there was a rustle from Orpheus’ hammock and he quickly joined her side mimicking her side-step motion to join her at the door.
“Did I disturb you, Orpheus?” said Aerin through a thin whisper of words from the side of her mouth, not turning her head but said to mark his presence.
“No, but some’t else did, of what I’m no sure. Oi was chilled but not by wind.”
Orpheus had gathered up his robe as he left his slumber and strapped on his belt as he stood.
“Indeed” Aerin continued, “I have a sense of foreboding, that I have experienced only one time before.”
Orpheus nodded and replied “then we should seek higher groun’ an’ a good vantage point, or a’least look a’them skois for ‘elp”.
He pressed one hand on her stiffened should and Aerin allowed herself to be turned back into the hut. He pointed at their bags strewn on the floor and continued in a low voice “Oi ‘av some hunger too, an’ need o’ things, we moight as well gather our stuff now – arms an’ all, for oi fear we may be required to move wi’ speed when ‘morrow stirs.”
Aerin did not question where they would be moving too – for she had her own path to follow but had never requested nor implied to Orpheus that he were to accompany her to Avernus and yet she was hopeful. They packed their few possessions and sought to creep back out into the crisp cool light of a mountain’s morn. They buckled their legs and slinked beside walls and trees where possible to move out of Goonbell village till their feet met grass and gorse as they trod along a little-used path further up into the mountain. The sweet smell of dew-buds swept onto forest green made the journey most pleasant but that strange anxiety that grows within could not be quelled by the delight of a morning stroll. They climbed still higher towards a strange rock formation cut inward on a large rock shelf overhanging the far eastern corner. The concave rock enveloped them and the way became cramped so that they bent their backs low and progressed slowly minding their footholds on the narrow edge as small stones dislodged and dropped the many feet below. Afer a few yards of walking dragged over like elders bent by years of hard labour the way became more bearable as the cut path moved still higher until they emerged on top of the cliff but buried in greenery. They pushed their way through heavy bracken till they approached a string of sharp rocks that emerged from the ground like jagged teeth laid in a circle. Here they dropped their bags and made to wait. Orpheus exposed his belt by flicking back his cloak to show a long knife which he drew from this position, passing it to Aerin. “This ‘ere’s for you, if you’s need it”. Aerin felt the weight of the blade and tossed the handle from side to side, then placed it in her belt, “I fear I may be ever thankful for it” said Aerin, “though do you not need it for yourself?” Orpheus chuckled and tapped the wooden encasing that hung from his back, “oi ‘av moi trusty spears, don’ need nowt else.”
They climbed up the teeth rocks quickly before then ascending a tall pine tree that had taken a difficult path of growth, launching its roots between the jagged rocks causing it to grow at a bizarre angle, leaning out over the rocky edge. Here, high up in the tree, did the two finally take shelter, resting in the tree’s misshapen crown on the thickest branch they could find. They took to hanging their bags off a higher limb of the pine tree as though dead carcasses waiting for butcher then found some nook to sit between to eat a little of the bread and cheese Orpheus had bartered for at the store. They looked to the skies and noted the pole star and its position in alignment with the stone circle that they did sit within. Aerin pointed out the circumpolar constellation of Tawaret, the goddess of the northern sky that she read of as a child, and its proximity to the celestial pole causing it to never set (that is, to never disappear below the horizon). Aerin explained to Orpheus what she had learned many years ago about imaginary celestial lines and the earth’s movement upon them. Orpheus was intrigued by this knowledge and told Aerin that the guild of Goonbell had spent many a year studying the night skies and often noted much the same positioning. He told her of great sky maps created from many hundreds of years of study that lay in the village, but that he merely used his more simple understanding of the night sky to determine his direction and sometimes his position within Ordesa. He named the constellation as Draco, a mighty dragon who’s large tale stretched and coiled about the northern pole. They did not see for two hours or more the thing that caused their waking, but they knew it would come, eventually.
Later, when the sun was still higher in the sky though the village still not at its waking, they noted that a strange mist had crept over the northern edge of the mountain and seemed to be moving quickly (“quickers that th’devil” remarked Orpheus). Then, in the distance, a mile or so beyond the river Aerin and Orpheus noticed that a forest fire had started, flames were ripping through the trees, licking the night’s greyed underbelly. They watched aghast as the flames crept towards the riverbank feeling their heat caress bare flesh. Yet the night was not warm and the wind was not blowing, so how was the fire moving so quickly, they wondered? And then they heard it, the fearsome roar that shook Aerin’s soul and the branch on which they sat. The roar bellowed and echoed about the mountain, finding every corner and wrestling with it. If the village had not been awake, it would be now. Then, above the mountain they saw a reptilian dragon, its scaly form descending quickly upon the forest, its knife-like teeth exposed as it flashed its fiery tongue and sealed the fate of another row of pines as they met their ashy end. The dragon swept its great head from side to side, whilst, malicious intent it scoured the land for signs of life and movement, yet it found none. The village was obscured sufficiently by stone and woods still that the dragon had not spotted its location for it appeared intent upon striking the other side of the river. Eventually the lizard-beast’s great webbed wings flapped and it did rise majestically in the air and flew away to the north with an angry roar and a final blast of flame. It had not found what it was looking for. With it flew Aerin and Orpheus’ breath that left their mouths in excess as they dared emit the sigh that had been building in their chests along with their fears as they had watched the dragon’s progress. Was this their last sight of the dragon? Aerin did not believe it to be so, in which case the pertinent but dangerous question that was then hanging on their lips was ‘when?’ When will the dragon return for Goonbell?