Extract from The Fire Ascending

The Fire Ascending

Part One


I was a boy of twelve when I watched a dragon die. It was during the season of winterfold, when every morning the hillsides were brittle with frost and the peak of Kasgerden shone bright with snow. I was a cave dweller then, in the keep of Yolen the healer and seer. One morning, while I was tending a goat, the earth shuddered and the pointed shadow of the beast swept over the valley, bending every blade of grass to its will. The goats were disturbed and came together in a flock. They knew better than I that a dragon was near. I jumped up, spinning about. Between the clouds there was only pale pink sky. But I could hear the quiet scything of wings and smell the burnt sulphur trail the beast was leaving, falling all around like unseen drizzle. Swiftly, I gathered my robe about my knees and hurried for the cave as fast as I could. Behind me the goat bells rattled. There was nothing I could do to protect the flock. If the dragon had wanted them, it could have had them all.  

But killing was not on its mind that day. As I ran up the scree, calling out to Yolen, he was already standing at the mouth of the cave, staring hard across the yawning valley. His lips were drawn. There was a thoughtful look in his watery eyes. He raised a hand to tell me I should stop my panting. “Be calm, boy, there is no danger.”

“But it’s…a dragon,” I blustered, my youthful voice overflowing with wonder. The beasts were so rarely seen these days. This mountain range had once been a breeding ground for them. They were legend here. Yolen himself had taught me this.

I saw him nod. His gaze narrowed slightly. “Then be quiet and observe it. This might be the only chance you’ll get.”

And I understood perfectly what he meant. Whenever men spoke about dragons these days, they spoke of them as if they were a finished breed.

So I sat upon the scree and I peered at the mountain. On the tip of Kasgerden I saw the beast in frightening silhouette. It was standing on a pair of stout hind legs with its wings stretched fully and its long neck funnelled at the drifting clouds. I saw no flame, but out of its mouth came a cry I was sure would sever the air. I wanted to press my hands to my head, but Yolen had not moved to do the same and I did not wish to seem weak in his presence. So I bore the beast’s rippling wail in my ears and tried, instead, to listen to its voice and make sense of its call.

 Long ago, Yolen had taught me that all things natural to the earth had auma. The great life force, Gaia, moved within the most inanimate pebbles as well as through the river and the mountains – and me. Even the smallest grain of earth was aware of its presence in the universe, said Yolen. In essence, we were all one being, born from the fire of the true Creator (though he had yet to teach me who or what that was). This was a truth all men possessed but few knew what to do with, he would say. That day, I relaxed my thoughts and gave my auma up to the earth so I might commingle with the dragon on the mountain. I built a picture in my mind from that distant silhouette and let the squealing enter my head. And long before my master had dropped his confident hand upon my shoulder, I knew what Yolen knew already.

“It’s come to Kasgerden to shed its fire tear.”

“Go to the cave. Gather food and clothing. There will be a pilgrimage,” Yolen said.

I looked once more at the creature. It had not come hunting, it had come here to die.  

And I was going to witness it.

That day, I became a follower of Galen. I had no idea when we set off down the valley that this was the dragon’s true or real name. That I would learn from the mouths of other followers. The sun had barely moved through the narrowest of arcs when our path began to cross with a host of them, all making their way, like us, to Kasgerden. Yolen had led us straight to the river, which ran in a curve through the forest we called Horste. From between the Horste pines the pilgrims were descending, as if the trees themselves had lifted their roots and were moving as one towards the water and the mountain. They were simple folk, dressed in robes or common tunics. They wore sandals made of goat hide, and furs around their shoulders. I envied their children, who grew their braided hair far longer than mine and wore necklaces and bracelets made from cones and other seeds. Some of the men, I noticed, bore spears.

The name ‘Galen’ bubbled up as we joined their throng. The last dragon from the Wearle of Hautuuslanden. A male. A bronze with white undersides. A feature that marked the beast down as old. Three hundred years at least. Maybe more. The men argued constantly about this fact. I heard one of them suggesting that the beast might not be old, but weakened. That its scales were losing their colour due to some unusual condition or disease. (Yolen, I saw, took note of this.) But there was one thing they were in agreement on. There would be fraas, they kept saying. Fraas. Fraas. The sheer thrill of it glinted in their hungry eyes. They shook their spears and gave praise to Gaia. There was a dragon. And there would be fraas.  

This word, like the dragon’s name, was new to me then. I tugged Yolen’s sleeve. “What is ‘fraas’?” I asked him.

He drew me aside, close to the riverbank, a little away from the body of the followers. “It has been known,” he said, “for a dragon to shed sparks when its tear is released or first strikes the earth. The older the creature, the more likely this becomes. A spark might travel far before it lands. At the place where it lands, its energy will linger. If a follower can reach that place before the spark descends into the crust of the earth, he might briefly connect with the dragon’s spirit. There are benefits and dangers associated with this. A dragon’s fire, as you know, has been said to cure ills.”

“And what are the dangers?” I asked. I looked nervously at the men with spears. Would they fight amongst themselves for the right to have fraas? Or were they simply wary of the dragon itself? Would its spirit rear up and haunt them forever if they dared to commingle with its untamed soul? The creatures, in life, were terrifying enough. How much more fearful would their spectres be?

Before Yolen could reply, there was a sudden disturbance amongst the followers. Those at the rear began crying out a warning. I looked back and saw people stumbling and falling, children being picked up and rushed aside. The ground rumbled to the sound of galloping hooves. Horses were upon us. Arriving at speed. The crowd parted like a flock of startled birds and I saw an old man knocked brutally sideways by the leading horse. It was as black as the unlit cave with a mane that flashed around its neck like a blaze. Its eyes were full of blood and anguish. In the centre of its forehead, at the level of the eyes, I thought I saw a stump of twisted rock, rough hewn at its point and oozing a kind of syrupy fluid. But my gaze was mostly on the rider, not his mount. Astride the horse sat a thumping brute of a man, with hair as long as the children of Horste. The menace in his eyes was as dark as the fists which gripped the black reins. And though I had no reason then to be afraid of him, a fateful chill still entered my heart. For even I, a boy of twelve, could tell he was mesmerised by the prospect of the dragon. He was hunting more than fraas, I was sure.

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