Chinese Rainbow Cave

The Treasures of King Twerg

Ebony blood gushed out onto the cave floor, seeping in-between all rocks and filling each and every crevice that it touched, turning the stone marble. The trio sat amongst the blood, too tired to be bothered to move their weary bodies from the dragon’s cave.  Their eyes glazed over greyish white as though skin had grown in front of the irises and immediately their limbs spasmed and spread across the bloody floor whilst their ribcages heaved taking in a long gasp of oxygenated air.  Whilst their actions stretched beyond their control, the dwarf, Orpheus and Aerin were not wrapped with fear, far from it, in that moment their minds leant more to ecstasy.    Aerin noted a change in the level of her own weariness and a strange tingling sensation that grew all over her body as it soaked in dragon’s blood.  Fjalar rolled across the floor and propped himself up against the cave wall, upon which he had not but half hour been thrown with a giant infectious grin spread across his crooked-lipped face accompanied with a black-bloody soaked beard.  Orpheus too had registered the change and announced to them both “Moi skin be a’ tinglin’, what is this magick?” whilst bearing his palms face-down in the blood to gather liquid with which he spread on his torn shoulder.  Fjalar moved his head from side to side, and stroked his neck, massaging the muscles with sanguine, “I could not move moments before I lay in such dragon’s blood an’ now I feel as right as rain.  More than right as rain….”.
Aerin picked her burnt arm up from the blood-soaked ground and wiped the dragon’s blood from it. Feeling no pain she looked at it in detail, perplexed, she felt nothing, no burn was left!  “I remember reading years ago of dragons and their blood. A myth I thought of a tribe living in the dragon’s land that collected dragon’s blood to use it in extreme cases as a medicine, retaining the magic of the beast” said Aerin in wonder.
“Well what a strange occurrence! Bless my soul, I never heard o’ such a thing…but then I’ve never heard a story of a dragon being slain, more the other way around!” Said Fjalar, picking up his axe he used its handle to lever his bedraggled body from the cave floor.  Orpheus wiped the dragon’s blood off that had sprayed across his face, then stood tall to retrieve his spears from deep within the dragon’s blue flesh. “An’ perhaps you could, next toime, tell us o’ such a thin’ before we meet it…you know if you’s ‘av any other knowledge of other magical beasts we may…’meet’” said Orpheus. “Quite” said Fjalar, “could be handy”.
“Alright, alright” Said Aerin, “I couldn’t be sure you see, for in another myth it was used as a poison…bringing instant death to all who touched it, in another it was used to dye wood, and another to gain wisdom of the beast itself. I was not sure of its use, but now I know!” Aerin righted herself and spun her sword in her hand then re-sheathing it upon her belt. Fjalar shrugged, “Now… now it ain’t a problem, all’s well that end’s well” said the dwarf, “I’m glad you didn’t tell us – specially the bit about it poisoning for how would we have killed the thing thinking that!” Aerin smiled and tapped Orpheus on the back “we would have found a way, I’m sure!” She knelt down amongst the blood and took her sack from off her back, reaching inside it she removed a large jar so that she could scoop some of the remaining blood into it to save for later, “you never know” said Aerin “when this could come in useful.” She replaced the jar into her sack and swung it behind her back. Fjalar picked up her shield and chucked it towards her, she caught it again in her right hand. “Now anyone interested in seein’ this ol’ King’s cave?” He grinned mischievously and swung their torch up to light again, “Absolutely” said Orpheus, and the trio walked back through the keystone cave and beyond to the dragon’s lair, the cave of King Twerg.
Like the dragon himself, the cave was littered with blue scales, creating an unusual carpet upon the ground that crunched underfoot. The cave itself differed from those that surrounded it, as its walls were composed of a different compound entirely, predominantly they were opaque, made of an azure mineral that Fjalar named as ‘Turques’. The dwarf entered with much excitement and quickly lit a fire in the central well of the cave (filled with a mysterious flammable liquid). Once the fire was lit the cave glistened with a blue hue as both ground and walls were cast with light, both shimmering as scale and crystals in the rock caught the light. Fjalar felt the walls with wonder, stroking their contours and muttering to himself mysteriously, Aerin could only make out the words “so pure, so pure, an’ crystals- large ‘uns too! My, my…”. Indeed, Aerin thought, the cave was incredible and stood for a while to admire her own skin, for it appeared quite blue. The walls of the well, once the fire was lit, glowed green. Orpheus stood open-mouthed for several moments before asking Fjalar in wonderment “How did this cave come to be?” at which the dwarf looked at their astounded faces and grinned, “Tis a sight! Well the story goes that dwarves did mine here many centuries ago amongst the Trachyte rock, that is the rock found in all through this cave system, for this here blue rock” (he pointed to the cave walls) “is Turques. Course they didn’t know how much of the stuff they were going to find, for I have never seen a cave such as this before. The Trachyte you see lies in feldspar  – found all over the earth’s crust – made from magma volcanoes and the like, so you don’t normally wind up with too much crystal or valuable gems nestled in it – except here! Now the cave was swiped by King Twerg o’course, to make it his own chamber – and no other dwarf was allowed to see it, not even his servants, until now that is! Ha! He’d kill me right where I stand if he could!”
Aerin had read of the dwarves prowess at mining, and saw why the King had made the cave his own, indeed she felt she could not part with it herself as she was awash with such feelings of contentedness. “Perhaps we could stay here, just until the morning” she said, “for my body suddenly feels drained of energy once more”. Orpheus and Fjalar were happy to oblige, and they each quite soon after laid themselves upon the floor to gaze upward and the azure light. As soon as their weary heads had touched stone however Fjalar pointed towards the ceiling shouting “Well I never, the cheeky git! So he did have some brains after all!” Aerin turned her head to see where he was pointing, and quickly saw what the (now jumping up and down) dwarf was so excited about. The dwarf king Twerg had found a hiding hole to store his most prized possessions away from thieving hands and thieving dragons way up in the head of the cave. Fjalar was quick to assert that most of it probably didn’t belong to him, and that since the king was dead and gone it seemed only sensible to make use of whatever was there, a point that neither Orpheus nor Aerin disagreed with. So it was not long before Fjalar scurried up the side of the cave climbing its curved sides at a great pace, plunging his axe into the rock where there were no crevices to hold. Soon he had reached the treasure trove entrance and disappeared into the hole. In a few moments a rickety wooden ladder was flung down from above so that Aerin and Orpheus could find their own way up. “Not such a stupid nincompoop King after all” he muttered. In the new small cave lay many a wondrous thing; precious stones and gold. A very light chain mail caught Fjalar’s eye and he hurried to where it lay, flinging his clothes off about him in quick succession in order to place the mail over his stoutly frame. It fit him neatly and he chuckled to himself before redressing. He also gathered two axes and chucked his own (now severely dented from impact with dragon’s claw) upon the ground, proclaiming “Two heads are better than one, eh Orpheus” as Orpheus stood laughing at the dwarf’s frantic antics. “Yes, friend – tha’ they are! And for myself I do plunder this diamond-stone for never have I seen one like it!” and held the diamond aloft and they all did gasp in wonder, “what a find, can’t say you don’t deserve it, but what would you have needs of such a thing?” Orpheus looked upon the stone and stated with much marvel “to keep in my pocket so that in times of darkness, when all beauty in the world seems but a distant memory I can look at it and remember the light of King Twerg’s cave next to the darkness of dragon’s blood – and our friendship.”
Aerin held up a goblet lying next to her feet “to friendship!” she cried, and the others laughed. Fjalar tucked his axes upon his belt and looked to Aerin, “and what would you have, wise Aerin, from the cave of Twerg?” holding his arms aloft. Aerin looked about her and saw a small book that had once been hidden by the goblet, she bent down to examine it and read the title, ‘Heka Magick: To ward off the blows of fate’. She picked up the book and noted that the pages were made of papyri and felt soft against her skin, “I will take this, if I can” said Aerin. Fjalar and Orpheus laughed “a book eh, well each to their own, can’t say it did much good for Twerg, but then he never was much of a reader, if you know what I mean.”

http://springborg.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/necromancer.html

The Inferno of Taninim

Fjalar took over his wide-brimmed hat and wedged it betwixt his tightened cloak and short waist-jacket.  This, Aerin came to realise, signified the dwarf ‘meant business’.  His top lip curled upward and he snarled slightly whilst peering through the dark, beyond the nothing, towards the something that could not be seen but could, always, be heard.  Even the dragon’s shallowest breath rattled the caves as his great scaly frame pressed again the walls and sent tremors through the lying water.
“We must call him out ” Aerin whispered pulling her hood as she did so.  Orpheus followed suit and nodded once more.
“Oh and how pray do you wish to do that?” Said the dwarf, not taking his eyes away from the dark that lay before them “this isn’t a tavern brawl” he added through gritted teeth.
“Well..” Aerin sighed, there were few alternatives “Orpheus – you stay here, Fjalar  – you take the smaller passageway back” Aerin flicked her thumb back the direction that they had come “there and I push…forward.  Slowly, carefully – I find a decent place to stop. I hide, bang my sword and shield together and he will come…”
“And then?” said Orpheus,
“And then I run, back to you…the dragon will follow, you two pounce!”
“So simple…” said Fjalar, “nothing could possibly go wrong…”
“An’ if you’s don’t find a such a place t’stop or the dragon catches you before you’s make it back?” added Orpheus, “then where’ll you be?”
“Toast” added the dwarf with a wry smile “toast”.
‘S far too dangerous”  Orpheus shook his head back and forward in agitation “far too dangerous.”
The dwarf rested a hand on Aerin’s crouching shoulder “you’ll make it”.
“Absolutely” said Aerin with as much certainty in her voice as she could muster.   She departed from their position before it could be talked over any more.  Pointless discussing what had to be done she thought.  Aerin scrambled through the keystone passageway on slippy rock that snuck up on aching knees to make them ache some more.  Best be off before I had a chance to change my mind – what is it my father always said to me? “Thinking be the death of you, Aerin Paean”.  When her breath became rasping from the work of moving she slowed then stopped to cool it.  Once her lungs had slowed sufficiently Aerin progressed through the caves once more.  Her body pressed against the damp stone wall, she moved through the dark, allowing the path’s crooked contours to guide her.  She noted a change in the light level, or perhaps more accurately in the thickness of the dark.  In the cave of Fjalar and Orpheus they had been unable to see much through the gloom, however not one hour had passed since that point but Aerin could now seem to make out a little of the stone about her. It was strange, it was almost as if she could sense the cave walls as they vibrated with the breathing of the dragon.  Each stone had a different thickness and the water rested upon’t  as though cold soup on a dinner plate wobbling backward and forward on a crooked table.  Soon she came to a fork in the tunnels.  Here Aerin rested again always listening for the dragon’s rhythmical breathing – there it was, clearer than before, its deep clean breaths.  She allowed herself a minute or two to think, then, once the cold began to set in and her skin prickled like being left in a bath too long – she sought to continue.  She took her sword from its leather sheath and let it rest comfortably in her hand.  The breathing got louder quickly as she rounded the bend and the lizard notably seemed to stir as Aerin sensed its weight shift, its claws scraped once more against the rock.  Aerin took two quick steps more forward so that she reached another fork – this time she definitely heard the dragon move and sensed its body jerk towards her sound decisively.  At the fork in the caves she pushed herself into a tight hole within the fork itself so she was neither in one path nor the other.  She tucked her cloak about her for warmth and ducked beneath her shield held up to cover her face.  she, with purpose and without taking a breath hit sword upon shield with some velocity.  Aerin hoped that Orpheus and Fjalar had heard its ring since the dragon certainly had and made quick progress on her position.

What’s done is done, she thought. The caves fell silent, even the dragon’s breath seemed to fall quiet.  Butterflies of dread sat in Aerin’s stomach so much that she reached out to stop the ring of metal struck with her hand.  Then there was a terrific exhale of dragon breath that violently shook the caves.  She felt the heat change before knowing exactly what was happening.  A moment later a fireball that stank of age and decay scorched past Aerin’s left shoulder just catching the edge of her shield and making it hot to touch. It soon disappeared out of sight. Aerin turned her head slightly so that it was at least facing the direction the dragon would come and let one eye be able to peer out beyond the shield. The great lizard was listening for her, its breath had fallen quiet again and there was no more fire.  Next it dragged its heavy limbs across the cave floor, thumping its tail upon the ground in anger, she knew it was moving closer and it knew she was not dead. The thumping grew louder and louder until finally coming to rest maybe twenty /thirty feet from her position in the fork before it stopped.  The dragon once more took a heavy threatening intake of air and exhaled another fireball as consequence.  This time the heat was almost unbearable and after it had passed Aerin lifted her shield away her skin as it caused her flesh to burn. The dragon moved again its scales scraped effortlessly upon the rock eventually coming to rest at the very fork in which she cowered.  Although Aerin could not see the dragon around the corner she sensed its exact position and tried to visualised where it was stood, how it stood, and its position to hers.  The dragon roared with anger and spoke to the caves “Come out and play he that dares disrupt the mighty Taninim, the ancient dragon of the North.”

Aerin refrained to answer the dragon’s plea and waited patiently. It flicked its tongue out into the air, Aerin noted (since it flashed right under her own nose) sensing the air for vibrations.  “So be it, coward hiding!  Be brave, step forward man and meet your end!” barked the dragon.  Aerin assumed the dragon had not noted her position and so she said nothing. The fierce lizard eventually flicked its tongue one last time then turned and retreated in disappointment down the tunnel from whence it had come.  After what seemed an eternity Aerin readied herself to run and forced her hands to stop shaking furiously.  Taking a step down into the passageway she struck metal upon metal once more, this time not waiting for signs of movement as a response.  She began to run, never had she run so fast, her hands clutched her sword and shield tight and even in the dark and the damp she refused to slow.  Her feet skipped along the ground with consummate ease yet this time the dragon moved faster.  It picked up its pace and roared yet Aerin did not fear it.  For what she waited for was not the roar but the silence, for this she recognised was when the dragon collected the fire in its belly before spitting it out to hurtle along the corridor of caves.  Soon it came.   The silence, the deep intake of breath and the heat chased by licking fire just at the point where Aerin dived back through the keystone entranceway to fall ungracefully upon the rocky floor.  She rolled quickly to her right as the great fireball spilled over her head and whooshed out of sight.  Quickly Aerin gathered herself and pushed her body compact against the wall to the side of the entrance way, still grasping tightly her blade. She stole a glance then towards where Orpheus was stood, his readied speer was noticeable even in the dark.  He nodded in her direction as she held her sword parallel to her nose, ready to strike the dragon as it passed.  The beast continued moving towards them, now only inches away its blue nose creeping into the cave in which they stood past the keystones.  It sniffed and flashed its teeth before retreating slightly into the cave before.  It was cautious for dragons are not unintelligent creatures.  It had heard the clang of steel before.  It blew another fireball into the cave before leaping off its hind legs to launch itself at the entranceway that sheltered the humans!  The walls did shake with fear and forced Aerin and Orpheus to leap from their hiding place to meet the dragon face on (not a wise move), the dragon roared with laughter and flashed its mighty claws ripping through the air, narrowly missing both of them as they jumped out the way.  “You think I know nothing of these caves!” said the dragon. Aerin measured the striking distance of the dragon’s claws and leapt out from behind a fallen rock. “But these are not your caves, dragon, this is not your land!” Aerin shouted.  The dragon roared angrily, surprised at her boldness and reached out to strike Aerin down with its mighty paw yet Aerin saw the beast’s action before it occurred and side-stepped the would-be blow so that it clunked heavily against only rock and sword.  Her blade caught against its ill-thought paw, splitting scales.  The dragon howled with the pain and blasted another fireball in her direction, but Aerin had already shrunk back behind the fallen rock.  “You think that rock will protect you from me?” Shouted the dragon as he took a step closer to blow another fireball towards the stone.  Aerin felt the heat sear her skin of her left arm a little but did not move.  The dragon shuffled forward unerringly laughing and blowing still further flames at the rock behind which Aerin stooped.

Orpheus seeing Aerin;s predicament launched a single spear at the dragon’s beligerent head. His through was strong and his aim true for it buried itself within its eye, blinding it. The dragon roared with rage again and launched a tirade of fireballs around the cave in agony.  Orpheus dived then beneath the dragon’s great feet for protection and trembled in fear of what was to come.
“Where are you, you human filth?” shouted the dragon as he strode into the cave showering rocks about the place with the swish of its tail, one caught Orpheus square in the chest, pushing him backwards into the dragon’s sight. “There you are!” taunted the dragon.  He opened his giant jaw preparing to tear poor Orpheus in two!  Aerin jumped to her feet and shouted without hesitation “Come here you great lizard and I will cut off your head!” twirling her sword above her.  The dragon away from Orpheus then and lurched to strike Aerin down but she was too quick and dodged the ambling blow, catching the beast with her sword again.   He hissed and retreated slightly.  Drawing breath the dragon lay quiet and waited.  Aerin shuffled her position as her right boot moved on small stone.  The dragon moved so quick, flicked its head around the rock and prepared to exhale with such fury that Aerin could do nothing but turn on her heel and run, towards where Fjalar lay in the watery narrower cave beyond, and hope that fire would not catch her.  As Aerin took flight the dragon tumbled after her, its mouth open in rage, hurling fire after fire that warmed the air about her to such an extent even the darkness waved.  She felt it travelling quickly behind her.  The flames caught her quickly as she dived through the opening to the next tunnel, landing headfirst into the watery floor. She skidded in the water and felt the fireball fly above her head. The dragon launched itself then through the hole at where it thought she lay dying in the dirty water and yet all it met again was wet rock and sharpened blade.  Fjalar’s axed cut its exposed throat open with one blow and peeled back layers of scale.  It lashed its teeth in all direction, catching the shoulder of Fjalar and tossed him from such mighty jaw to crash squarely onto the cave’s far wall.  The dwarf and the dragon yelled in pain.  Aerin flung herself out of the dragon’s way and wielded her sword with all strength and purposed, protecting her face from another paw blow as she hacked again at its open neck. Finally the dragon recoiled and swung another paw met by her shield.  The metal felt the full force of the lizard’s ancient strength and the blow flung her too across the cave to slam against the wall. Her muscles hit bone and the pain was agony as Aerin could do nothing but wait for her body to slide down the wall and into the water as another fireball bolted across the cave.  Her eyes grew misted and she could do little but closed them to seal her doom as her limp body sunk into water.  In the murky dark she heard the dragon give another almighty yelp of pain and she fought to keep her consciousness and swam and clawed out of the water to confront the lizard.  Aerin opened her eyes to witness Orpheus sliding through the dragon’s gaping legs as he plunged his last remaining spear through the dragon’s neck to which its head finally fell upon the floor.  Fjalar stumbled from the water to regain his axe and swung a straight blow against the dragon’s head with all his last energy, both he and the dragon wobbled under the strain.  Whilst the dwarf’s axe was in motion, Aerin picked her sodden body up and flung her sword through the air to slice through the dragon’s wounded scaly neck.  She did not take time for a breath so that before the dragon had a chance to lift its head away she swung the sword again one last time and parted the final blow that separated the head from the ancient dragon’s body.

by luphia-d3iwicc

The way of the Dwarf

Fjalar was a strange-looking creature who’s face seemed as if he had taken to hitting himself repeatedly with the blunt end of his own axe, coupled with a large scar slashed across his left cheek.  His nose had definitely been broken many a time and his lip snarled up at one end of the large scar from a grand cut, which gave him the appearance of being permanently smirking.  Around his hut where metal artifacts created by the dwarfen kind, including large spears of all shape and size, a few swords, axes, helmets and the like as well as a rather fine-looking cloak of mail.  Aerin had read long ago in the library of Ilus that dwarves were magical creatures possessing rare gifts and great skill in metallurgy.  She looked about Fjalar’s home with wonder but could not help her eyes being drawn to a particular silver sword that dangled in the entrance way, as well as a small shield that hung next to it.
Fjalar was quick to see her eyes drawn to the sword “you’s eye’n up a good sword then?” asked Fjalar, snorting “and no surprise.  Of course it’s yours to have – no dwarf would let no man, nor beast…nor lady for’ at matter, to leave his humble abode to face a god forsaken dragon ill-equipped!”   .
“No, I have a sword though which will surfice” replied Aerin showing Fjalar the small blade she had brought from Goonbell.
“A knife? A knife! We’re not going to dinner you know, we’re going to slice off an enormous great honking dragon’s head!”  He chortled wildly and clambered up onto a rickety bookcase to retrieve the sword and shield, swinging them ferociously (and rather dangerously, Aerin thought) from his unstable perch.
“Well ‘ere” continued Fjalar, “I’ll let you borrow it, an’ this ‘ere shield…how’s bout that? An’ how bout something for you Orpheus?” (to which Orpheus immediately pointed to two new spears with little hesitation).  “Then if you two help me rid myself of this dragon as a neighbour what coming a cropper then I’ll let you keeps them for no offence, but you don’t look like the types that can stand to afford my weaponry otherwise…”.
“Oh thank you Fjalar, that is very generous” said Aerin, “Ay” said Orpheus “an’ what lovely spears too” he noted as he removed them from the cave wall and tested their weight in his hands.
“Well there’s not much point in me leavin’ them here for us to get burnt to cinders without’em tomorrow now is it!”  he laughed then followed up with a shout of “catch” at Aerin, whilst with zero warning, he launched the weaponry in her general direction.  Aerin swiftly turned to meet the incoming objects and surprised herself by catching both in her turn. “Well I never” said Fjalar, and she’s a girl an’ all!”
Now come over ‘ere” he said to Orpheus and pointed to a spot below the sword and shield. Orpheus did as he was told so that within seconds Fjalar had mounted his back and scrambled down his shoulders, hanging onto his frame before reaching the ground with a cheeky grin and a bow as a final flourish.
In the morning Fjalar awoke them early by banging his pans together noisily before serving them hot porridge and beer for breakfast, “Well we needs something to keep us going” he said.  The unlikely heroes trundled well fed down steep mountainous hillside from the dwarf’s hut.  After two hours of walking through thick forest the trio reached a large dark-rock cave entrance that stood foreboding on top of a tall hill.  Here Fjalar’s facial features contorted into a screwed up frown and, as he removed his hat his forehead wrinkles showed him to be melancholy for here lay five dwarves not long dead, burnt almost to a cinder, their charred remains a warning (least anyone hard forgotten) of what lay now beyond the great door.   Aerin regretted immediately agreeing upon the beer for breakfast, and by the look upon Orpheus’ face, it seemed that he was thinking the same thing. Sick to their stomachs they stared at the scene but could not bring themselves to turn away, such was its horror.
Orpheus whispered quietly “the guild said somm’et ‘bout there bein’ a dragon tha’ lived our way many year ago, fed it milk oi think, to keep it happy an’….”
Aerin interrupted “I don’t think this dragon’s going to be appeased through milk Orpheus!”
“Well I don’t ‘av any, anyway so we can’t, never did like the stuff! Said Fjalar, glad that someone had broken the silence and spell of the place.  He turned away his head once more to the great door and wiped away a tear that the others had not noticed falling.
“Oh” said Orpheus, “Jus’ makin’ talks, I get chatty when nervous.” Which, if nothing else, made Aerin feel distinctly more nervous than she had only moments before.
As they moved into the cave quietly Fjalar whispered into the darkness, “the last time I saw the beast he’d eaten a herd of cows… and wrapped itself around Worm Hill  which could mean he likes milk….”
Aerin decided it was probably best not to continue the subject any further and instead beckoned them forward into the darkness of a second cave whilst pressing a single finger to her lips to signify the need to be quiet (in the hopes also that the idea of giving the dragon milk might be forgot). The second cave led into a third and soon it became so dark that Aerin could not see the rock in front of her so she dared to light her lamp to continue.  In the ghostly glare of the lamplight their shadows leapt about the cave walls making each on of them startle in turn as they thought they saw movement in one corner, or a flashing eye in another.  Chasing shadows, Aerin thought.  At one point Orpheus noticed scorch marks on the walls, and within another narrower cave section the dwarf noted scales deposited upon the walls where the great beast had squeezed past rock, “at least we know we’re in the right place” said Aerin, hopefully.
After half an hour of walking in gloom they came upon a cave much lower down than the others, lying at a crossroads in the cave system.  It seemed many dwarves had tried to fight the dragon here but evidence of their failure littered the ground.  the trio sought to pick a quick and quiet path through bones, empty skulls and other such remains that lay nestled amongst weapons and armour, tossed useless now aside. Fjalar let out a small sigh and stepped over one particular pile of remains, trying not tread upon’t whispering as he did so, “sorry Albert” he said.  The way through the tunnels from then on was more difficult, some were underwater in short sections requiring them to hold their breath and swim for periods, which with their weaponry was slow progress.  The dwarf though was surprisingly good at the swimming part, mostly because his small body fit more comfortably between the narrow entrances, more easily accommodated also in narrow tunnels.  It was just before Orpheus had decided to hit his head upon the tunnel ceiling for the twenty-first time that they heard an unsettling noise, a distant rumble of dragon moving with its claws scraping rock as its scaly flesh pressed against cave walls. The three weary travellers held themselves still and resisted the urge to shiver as the ground beneath and above their heads began to shake.  Fjalar pointed a knobbly finger towards a larger cave in front of them, “We will need space if we are to lie in wait” he said, “for we cannot fight him in these smaller caves”. And so they moved on, trying to not attract the dragon’s attention.
Soon they rested themselves against great stone slats either side of a large entranceway marked with keystones all across its top. “We’s best put out the torch” Orpheus noted “or he’ll see us before we stand a chance”.  Aerin dropped the torch into the running water beneath her feet.  She preferred her chances in the light to seeing nothing, but did not voice her objections.  They waited in the tunnel for what seemed like four, maybe five hours but the rumbling of the great dragon seemed to get no nearer their position.  Eventually Aerin nodded up the passageway ahead of them, “if he will not come to us, then we must make to him”.  Orpheus agreed and  Fjalar nodded grimly “so be it” he said.

http://robgrafix.deviantart.com

Fjalar the Dwarf

Aerin and Orpheus leapt down from the pine tree, their feet hitting the ground hard as they scooped up their cloaks from under them. Orpheus whispered to Aerin and pointed at where the dragon had been; “lohikäärme, lohikäärme, the horn’d beast o’ night. What evil happens here?” Aerin shook her head and noted that Orpheus’ eyes had darkened, shadowed with anger. “Orpheus” Aerin whispered, “I fear this beast with firy breath may disturb the peace of Goonbell once more, and therefore I offer my eyes and ears, my heart and soul, my hands and sword to you and Goonbell for its protection.” Aerin held out her hand and repeated the Goonbell phrase, “My a dhannvon dhis kara”.  Orpheus then turned and took her hand, his eyes lifted and came to rest upon her own.  His face seemed reinvigorated, and a single solitary tear did fall down his cheek, “thank yee, Aerin Paean. The pobel o’ Goonbell are beholden to thee.”

And so it was that friendship of Aerin and Orpheus had truly been born.

As Aerin and Orpheus shook hands solemnly they heard swift and light steps coming towards them, their owner turned out to be the lady with the unusual hat from the elders’ guild meet.  She strode forth to meet them stopping neatly and announced in a whisper, “I hoped to find you here, and prepared too, I might add. The guild has spoken upon the dragon and have concluded that we will…move, to seek new shelter….I….I suppose you saw, and guessed….” She hesitated, awaiting their response.  Orpheus shrank his eyes purposefully and then reached backwards with lightning speed to whip forward in a menacing motion with both hands clasping his spears. “There is no shelter from such a beast, my bilehwīt – for he will find you, and spare no life. Running? We cannot run, with women and children, old and ill!”
The old woman placed a hand upon Orpheus, “You are a very brave man, that was always known, yet who is there that will stay to fight such a beast?”
Aerin then whipped out her sword and held it above her head to allow its polished blade to glitter in the moonlight.  “We will find this beast’s lair and strike off its head!” She then lay the knife upon the ground, “I give my blade and life in service to Goonbell and to fight by Orpheus’ side, and die if so be it.”

And so it was that Aerin and Orpheus had carved out their fate with that of a dragon. They journeyed through the early morn to the furthest north of the town and stopped only to collect water from a well before continuing along a narrow path that was cut within a scree mount to allow a somewhat dangerous descent to be taken across a mantle edge in a northerly direction to where the dragon had last been spotted.  They tripped and fell down the mountain slope until this narrow path met another that was clearer and lay with large stones underneath that looked well trod.  It was at this junction that they happened upon a strange creature not four feet tall who seemed to be running in the opposite direction. His long-nosed face poked out from underneath a large-rimmed hat and had been turned red through the exercise.  He stopped running however when he saw their progress towards him and allowed his mouth and eyes to open wide with shock and wonder.  He eventually let out a whisper, making his long beard quiver “Yee be goin’ the wrong way I tell you that much.  Did you’s not see?”, at this moment he flapped his arms in an endearing manner and roared (in a whisper) as an apparent explanation.
“Indeed we did see” replied Aerin, “yup ‘tis the flyin’ creature we do seek” said Orpheus.
The dwarf (for that was what it was) cocked his head in bewilderment, “you seek the thing, that bloody great flyin’ lizard! What the devil for?”
“Why to slay it o’ course!” replied Orpheus.  Aerin nodded in agreement “It must be stopped” she added.
The dwarf pulled off his hat and stomped upon it vigorously, “well I never! And ol’ Fjalar ‘ere’s runnin’ in the other direction! Never a day… well’s you be brave” he said cocking an eyebrow as though examining them deeply “or at least a fool’s brave”. He stopped jumping up and down on his hat at this point, shook it to remove the dirt and put it back on his head.
“And do you know where this fella lives? Said Fjalar. Orpheus and Aerin shook their heads in unison.
“Then you may find it hard to find ‘im, you see for a large monster, dragons, they’re remarkably difficult to find – unless they want to be found, you see. However I, Fjalar, know exactly where he is residing and will therefore join you on your intrepid and likely ill-fated quest”. Here he opened his cloak to expose a fine giant axe (or at least appeared giant for his stature) nuzzled on his belt.  “That is, if you’ll ‘ave me, and…ahem, ignore the fact I was running in the opposite direction only moments earlier…”
“O’course you can join us” said Orpheus, “’more a’ merrier, an’ all that. Oi’m Orpheus and this ‘ere’s Aerin”, they all shook hands solemnly as if brokering an unusual contract, and then continued down the scree slope towards the river coming upon a small cave nestled within its bank.  “This”, said the dwarf “is my humble abode, which as you can see is rather exposed now that limey lizard burnt all the beautiful pines.”  Indeed the cave was rather exposed and the rock on its outside wall was also black from soot and flame.  “Bloomin’ thing almost cooked me as I were sipping on my home-brew an’ enjoyin’ the cool summer breeze!” He beckoned them into his cave and sat them down around a small stone table, plonking before them three tankards with the swiftest ease before continuing. “Now the beast is awake right now and flying still most like, so it’s probably not the best time to do much sneaking about on the hill-side, however he does sleep during the day, as all dragons do (albeit lightly), so that’s the best time to get ‘im.”
“Oh…Agreed” said Aerin and Orpheus in unison.
“Not that there’s a ‘good’ time to walk up to a dragon mind you” added Fjalar whilst smoothing the beard about his cheeks with his left hand palm one way, then the other before grinning mischievously. He scurried away to a cupboard and returned shortly, “ere have some o’ this” he added and banged a jug of foaming ale upon the table, “an’ then we can gets to planning.” They each swigged upon the ale whilst the dwarf continued his thoughts.
He’s made his den up in the black mountains, in an old dwarf cave I might add, not two-hour from here. He took out an ageing map case wedged between two large black books, “have a look at this” Fjalar added whilst placing its contents out and spreading the map upon the table till its edges hit each edge of the table’s lip.  It was as if one were designed for the other.  The map detailed many caves below the surface of the mountain and was littered with dark sprawling text. “Look, here’s where we are now” Fjalar pointed to a spot on the map labelled ‘fish-cave’ and then to another spot labelled ‘mighty caves of King Twerg’ “and that” Fjalar said, stabbing his dirt-ridden finger on the map ” that’s where our dragon be hiding, course King Twerg’s not there no more…..”
“Oh dear”, said Aerin “are there more dwarves like yourself about these parts?”
“Well there were till that stinkin’ dragon blew his flames through the caves…some popped it, most ran and hid goodness knows where… dwarves don’t do as well above the ground.”
“And how did you come then to stay here?” asked Orpheus.
“I left before all the confusion..something of a personal disagreement (not unknown to us dwarves) cos I tapped that stupid smug King Twerg over the head with my tankard af’er he called me Shorty, shorty….he can’t even see out from under his nose! Course he didn’ deserve to be eaten alive by a giant lizard, but then who does, you know….”
“Indeed” said Orpheus.  Aerin thought.

it was best to leave it at that, and it seemed like Orpheus had come to the same conclusion for he returned to looking at the map and drank a little more of the fine ale.
“Us dwarves have lived in these caves for ‘undreds of years! We can’t just sack it all in and run away cos some dragon’s come in and eat our king!” shouted Fjalar a little later on into their drink.  Aerin didn’t know about Orpheus, but she was beginning to think that running away may have been the better option, but nothing further was said of running anywhere.

Not yet at least.

dragon-drawing-2

Dragon’s Teeth

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?

The Guild of Goonbell

Mage_Male_Robe_Sketches[WEB]
Village that would not be found
Oh hearty stone carv’d from old ground
Treasur’d Goonbell will rise everlastin’ loik the sky
For nought but those who knows where it lie
Do pass through such hardy land to spy
Our fair Goonbell.
Keep peace with the land and forever we cry
Fair Goonbell
Fair Goonbell
Fair Goonbell.”

The Song of Goonbell’s Guild.

Aerin woke to silence; a deep tranquility that would muffle even the most fractious of minds. They had slept in the back of Cesonius’ hut as he had kindly offered (Orpheus had no property of his own in the village) where Aerin had laid down willingly to rest her head. There was the occasional squawking of unnamed birds circling Goonbell as they played in the rising thermal lifts – maybe a raptor, vulture, stork or some such bird. They would soon soar higher than the mountain and bury themselves above the clouds and peace would return once more. The bed was hard but Aerin’s well-travelled bones were grateful for its structure. The dry mud floor was generously covered with hay that smelt wondrous warm and gave much the same grateful feeling to the soul as sitting by an open fire when returning from a long day spent doused in the water spilt by an unrelenting God. Yellow golden whisps caught sunlight’s chalky rays as though the hut itself was a rare hourglass lifted up to the inescapable sky. Aerin rose only when she heard the clammering and clattering of pots and pans and quickened her dress when she presumed the immence of food as the deep smoky musk of Orpheus and Cesonius’ pipes mixed as though born to do so with burning bacon fat. They eat quickly straight from the pan, dipping great chunks of bread in the dark meaty liquor whilst swirling coffee grind down their gullet with consumate ease and chewing the fat about this and that.

Soon the morning wore long so they took to stretch their legs around the village and “find ourselves proper lodgin’s”. Further in, Aerin spotted women and men together ringing fabric in large stone tubs to dye the cloth ready to be worn by he villagers. Aerin asked Orpheus what fabric it was that they were dyeing, Orpheus answered “’Emp, ‘Emp always ‘emp, toughest, longest lastin’ fabric there is”. Orpheus had laughed earlier at the state of Aerin’s garments as they had emmerged from the forest, ripped to shreads by the undergrowth. Orpheus showed off his clothes, the hardy hemp that stood up to all abrasion of rock and forest, “Oi may not ‘ave the cleanest cloth aroun’ but it’s the best” he said knowingly giving that ever-present smile of his. He promised therefore to donate his old robe to Aerin and directed her straight down a small dirt track to an old barn. In the barn was a row of hammocks hanging off a central beam, around twenty in total. Next to each hammock were a lamp, a large metal chest, a wooden cabinet and a large cylindrical wooden encasing, the contents of which changing with each hammock. One bared a sword, another a sythe, another a bow. Orpheus walked over to one hammock and placed upon it his sack, and gestured for Aerin to do the same with hers. Orpheus then bared a necklace that hung about his neck and took the key that hung about it. He walked towards the metal case and placed the key within its lock, in the case he deposited all his food and drink. After closing the case he rolled his tobacco upon it and packed his pipe. Then, as he puffed merrily away once more he quickly scurried about in the wooden cabinet and emerged first with a spare hammock that they quickly hung next to Orpheus’ own, then a blackened hemp smock and cloak that he offered to Aerin. It was a good quality piece that Aerin gladly accepted and put on immediately. As Aerin changed into the new clothes Orpheus peeled the sole off his boots and proceded to deftly nail the new sole the old boots. After a few moments he was happy with the finished product and tested his work out with a few steps about the barn, “good as new” said Orpheus. He clapped his hands with joy when Aerin emerged in her new wear and scampered to his bag again to remove some bread and cheese, offering half to Aerin. “We mus’ eat an’ stroide oi fear, for we mus’ seek the counsel of the guild of Goonbell abou’ this trouble you’s speak of, for it canno’ wait no longer!” Aerin nodded in agreement, her mouth already crammed full with food.

And so the pair bared the burden of their lamps and trundled a fair way up a winding narrow cobbled path cut deep into the ground so that ferns grew up and over its sides making it invisible at street level. They arrived eventually upon a large courtyard, simply decorated with stone and plant where a group of ten men and women sat sipping tea from large bowls and looking to the hills for inspiration. As Aerin and Orpheus approached the first of the guild stood and bowed shortly to them wearing marked faded purple robes that met the floor in doing so, before holding out his hand saying what Aerin guessed was the general Goonbell salutation “My a dhannvon dhis kara”, the travellers said the greeting in return echoing him before all others there stood and welcome them both into the centre of the courtyard in much the same manner. With no words uttered they formed a circle about Orpheus and Aerin and obligingly gave them audience. Orpheus stepped forward and addressed the guild. “Elders guild o’ Goonbell thank’ee for this counsel. Yet it is wit great sadness an’ warnin’ tha’we stand ‘ere before you. She to my side be Aerin Paean ‘o comes from a walled city Ilus four or more days from tha’ breaks of valley an three days further hence from ‘ere. She spoke me o’ a cripple messenger who had seen death itself in winged beasts at his village but how Ilus had not seen truth in his desp’rate words. She spoke me of all her people, the people of Ilus now dead an’ gone buried in a great ash af’er winged beasts did visit her land!”

There were mumbles then and frightened knowing looks but Orpheus continued. “Even oi did see black smoke risin’ high in the sky weeks gone by of sum great evil workin’s in southern lands, but I thought nowt more of it” he added a little shame-faced.

An old man with greying beard, perhaps the oldest of the elders guild, held his hand up and Orpheus paused as a consequence. The man pulled his hood so as to bare his head and spoke “Ay it is true, we too did mark this change in skoi but could not think of it’s purpose, but there is more. Yee ‘ave done well Orpheus to mark tha’ change an speak o’ it, Paean, I would like to hear your thoughts about this, speak friend of Goonbell.” He beckoned Aerin to step forward as Orpheus had done and smiled to seek her voice.

Aerin answered, “I am Aerin Paean of the great city of Ilus lying o’ weeks way from here. Tis a city that was lost to greed and led to believe there was no land but that which lay within its walls. We were led to believe that nothing would penetrate into the City, that nothing that was stronger than those that protected Ilus yet we were misguided. An old man, the cripple named Hephaestus came upon the city in desperation and spoke of winged beasts and their evil, the death of his village and others, however nought but myself seemed swayed to believe him, all others cast off his voice as that of a madman, disbelieving that such a fate could ever befall our walled city locked us aware in fear, and so the city was destroyed, I and the cripple locked away all lost.”

“I see, I see” said the old guildman, “and these winged beasts have you seen them before anywhere?”

Aerin answered, “only in books”. The old man smiled and the circle muttered in approval “books of the ancients” they muttered, “so all was not lost af’r all” said one. “And why, pray, did you believe this man Hephaestus?” said the old man, “and how did you both escape your imprisonment?”

Aerin thought about both these points and then answered “I don’t know. I had a… feeling.” She paused realising the inadequacy of her repost and sought more to find the right words. “I had read of signums; signs of darkness, a raven had appeared above the city bringing with it a mysterious dark cloud building as if made by… magick.”

There was a murmuring again among the elders. “Continue” said the old guildman after the murmurings had subsided.

“I had read that these signs must not be ignored” said Aerin, fidgeting now and then with a loose thred in her pocket. “My father was a healer and an important man of the city so I spent much time in the library beneath the great halls. Here there a lay a great hidden library beneath the first which contained books cast aside as fiction but that since I have learnt held many truths. I have read of the winged beasts named as Keres, and of the land of Arcadia to the north stretching to the black mountains here and to the south where Hephaestus has head for safety.”

Another old man then spoke, “we too have heard of the keres, dark magic, evil forces that have lingered on our world since the dawn of time to drag those to their doom.”

The first old man shook his head in contemplation, “yes, the keres, it is as we feared. Yet there must be good forces, magical ones too, I might add, at work as we have you quite remarkably in front of us, or at the very least you are lucky!”

“Quite” said Aerin, nodding in agreement. “We escaped the city through my own magick… of sorts”. Orpheus looked curious at Aerin’s disclosure, for she had not told him of such and she did not dare look at him for fear of his disproval. Mentioning magick was never a good thing, in Aerin’s book but since the elders had mentioned it first it seemed appropriate. “That which came over me with great surprise and had been quite beyond my control”.

The old man seemed curious at Aerin’s unwillingness to disclose more detailed information and raised his healthy long eyebrows up along with his arms aloft “what magick be this? Be not ‘fraid for we will not scorn’t.”

“Well” said Aerin clearing her voice for it felt shaky, “firstly I seem to have gained an inept ability to open locked doors” (a lady with a funny hat gave a little chuckle at this). “We arrived at the surface of the city weeks, maybe months later for time tracking had escaped us from being doped to find it long gone. And in my state of great sadness I did sit upon the ash of the city crying desperate tears, my cries mixed with the ash and dried blood to produce a reddened pool in which a green shoot…appeared”.

Orpheus at this moment could contain himself no longer and turned towards Aerin, fairly jumping up and down and spoke to her in a loud booming voice “A green shoot! Nev ha nor! Arwoedh! A sign from ol’ earth, well oi never- an wa’ now was the bless’d shoot, you’s missed tha’ out before, eh?”

“Sorry” said Aerin apologetically looking sheepish she fiddled with her robes belt – I was fearful to mention it.”

Orpheus nodded, “Understan’ you’s came from a place frownin’ on magick, quite roit you was fearful. An’ what happen’d to the shoot?”

“Oh…it grew into an ash tree in a…short period of time (though how short Aerin was not inclined to mention, for the story now was bordering enough upon the unbelievable already, and she was really wanting the guild to believe it, for the preservation of Goonbell.)

An old woman then stood before circle and cast her hood back, “of course, an ol’ ash tree, it has been scribed as such, blud an’ tears ash an’ fears shall yearn such a tree, but what was its purpose?”

Orpheus answered “the purpose of such a tree? Loif an all is ‘portant to me!”

The first old man laughed at Orpheus, “Narjia meant no ‘fence to the tree Orpheus sept it moight mean summit more, tis all.”

“oh” said Orpheus and he fell silent, looking a little sheepish himself.

“Indeed I believe it did!” said Aerin (growing more confident that her wild story was being believed, “it meant to give me a message from those that lived within it. A miriad – a small nymph insisted on directing me to follow the dust road out of the city an’ to find the river from which I found yourselves.” Aerin’s story seemed complete enough for now, and Aerin did not yet mention the lake Avernus underneath the mountain nor ask what could lie beneath it.

“Goodness indeed!” Said Narjia, “miriad spoke to you an’ gave you counsel, an’ spoke o’ Goonbell?”

Aerin added “They did not name Goonbell but mentioned that I should seek the guidance of those that lived in the ‘village that would not be found’ high up in the mountains, near to the valley of Ordesa.”

“Well tha’s settled it” said the oldest of the old men, “you ‘ave our counsel an’ our help in whatever business you needs it, for omens mus’ not be ignored an’ magic mus’ be treasured if loives are to be spared.” The other members of the hooded guild nodded solemnly in agreement. “If we ‘ave read the skois correctly” said another “we ‘ave been mos’ fearful an’ now we mus’ be thankful. Aerin Paean you may fink tha’ you ‘ave cum to talk only of pain an’ loss but you’s ‘ave brought us hope an’ comfort too. An’ so we will seek you both in early mornin’ light for the sun will soon set on this day and we ‘ave much to discuss – long into the night, an’ you both mus’ rest for tomorrow brings more than today.”

And so, on that note, Aerin and Orpheus set off back down the steep cobbled path underneath the ferns sharpen blades, mend clothes and talk themselves long into the night to fall asleep eventually in their hammocks swaying quietly in the little breeze in the barn.

goonbell

Goonbell

Goonbell was a small place nestled precisely in a crest of mountain ridges that Aerin thought the village would only likely be visited by those that knew exactly where it was, for it had obviously been constructed in such a place that no living thing could happen to stumble upon it. Smoke billowed of course from fires raging in its heart but as the smoke filled the sky it mixed with the heavy mountain cloudline like grey paint on an artist’s pallette. The village sprung to life behind every clump of trees or heavy gorse bushes. So readily did its wooden huts merge with the forest and bracken that surrounded it that as Aerin and Orpheus walked the few feet from one small clearing to the next what they had seen before them became completely obstructed from view. Aerin dipped her head and stooped at a drinking place where fresh icy water smoothly descended from a stone shelf carved into the rocks that gently directed a small tribute from the river to be used by the village folk. She allowed the clear liquid to pour down upon her hair and neck to wash away the residing dirt before also taking time to clean her hands and scrub the days travelling from her contoured face. After alleviating the distinct mud and dust from her skin she bowed her head lower to drink her full, taking pleasure as the water splashed inside and outside her chapped parched lips, the spilling water caught on another stone slab but occasional splatterings spotting her worn boots. Whilst Aerin drank she thought to herself that if she had not known the village existed but had stumbled upon the first dwelling, she would quite incorrectly have made the assumption that it was a singular hut, perhaps owned by a hermit. The mountain provided great protection cloaking the village with fern, pine, rock and crevice. A steep mountain wall provided shelter from the north and west whilst the remaining directions of sight were covered with thick forest, backed by the river beyond.

On the last two or three hours of Aerin and Orpheus’ journey their progress had been slower and slower as their route bent away from the bristling riverbank, cutting instead through deep forest that had hacked at their clothes fiercly by thorn and bramble. Nettles clung to Aerin’s bare legs and coarsened her skin, whilst sweat had poured from her brow, precipitated down her nose and collected neatly in the collar of her smock as flies had battled about her face that had started out to cause an innate sense of frustration whereby both travellers swiped fruitlessly to dislodge the bugs but ebbed away into reluctant resignation. Though the small mountain village of Goonbell’s location demonstrated an overiding purpose to hide itself from prying eyes and strange beasts its residence appeared very welcoming to Aerin who, it was later proclaimed, was acknowledged to be the first stranger to set foot in Goonbell for six whole years.

By the time Orpheus pulled off his green hood and held for a moment Aerin’s shoulder to guide her into a large shack established on the brim of Goonbell, Aerin’s body seemed to sigh in relief and she gladly was led and pushed down onto a large curved bench that mapped the wall it rested against. Orpheus deposited his large sack by an old man perched on a high stool in the entranceway, opening its draw-cord as he placed it so that stranger could peer into its contents. The old man positioned himself on the edge of his stool and hunched over slightly whilst his left arm rested on his walking stick. Aerin could not make out details of the old man’s face accept the tip of his rugged jaw and the long beard that fell from it since the rest of his face was disguised by the shadow from the owner’s large black rimmed ancient and well-loved helmet. The only action the old man took to acknowledge his two new guests was to tip his curled pipe in their general direction before taking a long draw, allowing the smoke to curl from his lips. Aerin’s attention quickly turned away from the old man towards the intriguing contents of the shambolic shack. Dotted around the wall of the shack (for it was round in shape) were wooden shelves and cabinets liberally situated at odd intervals, which were filled with many interesting objects, jars and potions (the contents of which were of varying consistency, colour and shape none of which Aerin recognised). Upon the hayed mud floor lay numerous large hessian sacks filled with various produce, fruits, vegetables, meats and grains. The hut was adjoined to another and Aerin, if she tilted her head to one side, could peer through its doorway to witness further shelves filled to the rafters with cut wood, another weave, fabric and cloth, another metalwork and arrowheads. Orpheus later told Aerin at supper that much of the goods may then be traded further down river with other tribes, but this was only accepted if with the permission of high council and set forward by the old man whose name was Cesonius. Most of the wares however was to be shared by the village people through all seasons and was carefully stock-piled accordingly. Cesonius furrowed his brow in contemplation of the contents of Orpheus’ sack. He dipped his hand into the bag and pulled out an intriguing-looking fish with large black eyes, circled with red and a silvery body, it was dead of course, but fresh. Orpheus motioned for Aerin to place the sack he had asked her to carry on the floor beside his own burden, which she hurriedly did not taking her eyes off the old man’s bristled lips. She opened it for Cesonius as Orpheus had done, and he seemed to smile. He peered up from his business and looked at his guests for the first time, he smiled broadly and held out his hand to them, much like Orpheus had done when he had first greeted Aerin. “My a dhannvon dhis kara” he croaked in a deep but cracking voice, Orpheus and Aerin repeated the sentence back to him. The ancient then curiously cocked his head first to one side and then the other whilst looking at the two bags of fish and stroked his great long beard. Before long he clapped his hands and beckoned his two visitors towards him stretching out his arms in a fine gesture to the goods stretched out before him. “Wha’ yea wan? Faree moight loiks sum keus, bara an sum sider for your tipple, you’s two ‘av got a lot’ear fish to spend!’ A foin catch Orpheus!”

Indeed Orpheus’ catch did seem wonderously large for it had only taken the pair of them but a few hours to catch on the eve of departure to Goonbell itself. Orpheus had first set his nets across the river right by his hut, stretching from riverbank to riverbank. The nets had glistened in the moonlight as the wee small hours of the morning had passed by. Orpheus after but one hour slipped into the water with a spear in each hand holding them high above his head. As he walked through the water towards his nets he had sung to the fish of their purpose, soothing their final moment. Aerin had seen the fish flicker on the surface of the water and had taughtened the nets. Orpheus then moved swiftly spearing those fish that turned to swim towards him so that before long his spears were full with wedged fish flicking their tails this way and that. He had swiftly signalled for Aerin to begin drawing the nets in, their weight having increased with the catch. As she had begun to pull the nets in Orpheus had launched his spears to shore then dived underwater to help pull the nets in. In exchange for his mighty catch of fish Orpheus chose four large loaves, two good lumps of cheese as well as two bottles of cider, tobacco leaves, a new knife, two cloaks, soap and leather soles for their tired boots. He also took some chicoree grains, beans, wood, rice, half a dozen eggs and several strings of bacon for them both. Lastly he added some new wire for his netting and proclaimed “Tha’ ‘ll do us”. Cesonius handed over two large hessian sacks much like the ones holding the fish and held them open so that Orpheus could place his goods inside them. Once they both were full Aerin hoisted one onto her back and Orpheus did the same onto his own broad shoulders. They shook the old man’s hand and wandered out into the night’s air.

Aerin had asked Orpheus how he knew he was getting a fair deal, what with the lack of pricing structure. Orpheus shook his head in confusion and smiled pointing at his recent acquisitions and proclaiming “fare is fare, fair is fare, ‘ho can put a proice on all tha’ man recquires? Oi would not enjoy my time on’t mountain if oi spen’ moi time cuttin’ all the wood oi need for the year an’ make all these nets an’ spears. Who can put a proice on happiness? As oi see it, oi gives sum of moi catch to the village that grew ‘n’ nurture me when I coud not get fish, to the village that show’d me how ‘n’ where to fish. In turn them fish feeds babies an’ the old who cannot fend for’em selves an that completes the circle”. Aerin then understood wholly the symmetry and simplicity of Goonbell and how and why it had survived in the mountains for hundreds of years and wondered that surely, in its origins, the city of Ilus had grown from such a simple barter system to become sullied with gold and tainted by the greed of modern men. She was heartened by the trust placed upon the Cesonius in the store and upon all those of the community to service it. It was such the antithesis of Ilus and its enhabitants forced devotion. Aerin vowed that it had been greed that had damaged the great city, those with power and money denying a voice to those with none and hoped with all her heart that Goonbell was never tempered by the manmade hammer of money.