By midday Varan had made the mountains.
He contemplated their colossal cliffs
And wondered how he would continue to the west.
He need not have feared though
For he found a veiled valley,
Masked in a melancholy fog.
While the air was moist with the mist,
The valley lay as dry as dust
Screened by steep slopes on all sides.
The gorge was guarded by green trees,
That grew to heavenly heights
And stood decaying in the dank semi-darkness.
The mushrooms and mosses were multiplying,
Burying the bark beneath their bodies,
Slowly sucking the sap of their host,
Draining the trees dry
While the rot took firm root.
Out of life, was death reborn,
And from that death came life.
When night fell, the forest became so thick
That it filtered out the faded moonlight.
The night became close and cold;
Drenched in dense darkness,
The night was suffocatingly silent.
Varan could hear his own heart,
Pulsing powerfully in its cage.
Then a horrifying howl shattered the stillness -
The sudden shout sent shivers down Varan’s spine.
Was it an illusion brought on by exhaustion?
Or was it something more substantial?
A ferocious snarl confirmed his fears.
The baying and barking of many hounds
Like a volcano venting its wrath.
The clamour came closer and closer,
Became more and more frequent -
In the shades and shadows
Varan thought he glimpsed glistening fangs
And glittering, glowing eyes -
Hunting and howling,
Preying and prowling,
Running and racing:
They had his scent.
In fear he began to flee before them -
Faster and faster he fled,
Ducking branches, darting and dodging trees,
But the clamour of claws came close
- Inexorably, inevitably -
There was no escape.
His helmet became too heavy -
Varan dropped it - it lay discarded.
His mind was in a panic,
He couldn’t think,
He couldn’t stop,
He could barely breathe -
Desperate to escape
He could only run, run…
But the wolves were faster afoot,
And were quickly gaining ground -
He was doomed to die at their teeth.
Then Varan recalled piercing his palm
And he knew he had to steady his soul.
Grasping a plan, he gave up his gauntlets
And lunged onto the long limbs of an oak tree.
He clambered and climbed his way up.
When he was high up the tree he halted;
Panting heavily, lungs heaving,
He glanced below into the gloom.
The sickly light showed sparkling eyes,
Ferocious fangs and pitch-black pelts:
A pack of wild wolves lay in wait for him.
Varan could hear their near-silent steps
As they trod the twigs at the base of the tree,
And their low, gruff growls.
He could smell their frosty fur
And the blood burning in their bestial brains.
The leader of the pack stood still, patiently waiting,
His glittering grey eyes gleaming,
His hide black and glossy, like volcanic glass.
Varan felt his fear fill him.
A spirit-rending scream scythed through the still,
Hacking through Varan’s fear, reaching his heart.
It was Ana, crying out in anguished agony;
Varan became overcome with an anger
So sudden and strong, it caught him by surprise.
It was a rage that rose from the recesses of his soul -
A terrible fury, fuelled by his fear
And fanned by his frustration.
The crimson wrath coursed through his core,
Surged through his skin
Bubbled up through his blood
Until it collided with his compassion.
His love for Ana mingled and merged with it,
Tempering the molten metal of his rage -
Cooling it, controlling it, concentrating it -
Forging a potent power.
As his deep despair fused with his dearest dreams,
Varan felt a vast vortex growing inside him,
But the fearsome force lacked focus.
Barely aware of what he was doing,
He gave it that focus:
“Burn!” the smith said softly.
His eyes flashed with fire,
And the energy exploded.
A crimson corona - burning and blazing -
Erupted through his eyes
And forced its way through his fingers.
A sphere of scorching flames
Torched all that it touched -
The wolves were utterly incinerated.
As the fire faded, Varan fell to the forest floor.
With the rays of the sun, Varan rose.
He stood slowly, unsure of his steps,
Feeling feeble, like an infant foal.
What had he done?
Around him all was ashes;
Still smouldering cinders sailed on the wind.
The energy, whatever it was, had emptied him,
He felt burnt out.
Somehow he had summoned sorcery,
A force of frightening power.
How had he done it?
A simple word had sent it forth;
“Burn” he whispered to the winds
But no fire flowed.
Confused, Varan continued on his course,
Ana’s scream still sounding in his ears.
Before the day was done,
He came to a colossal crater.
At the base, the sides sloped softly,
But higher up were huge black rocks
As the sides became suddenly steeper.
The crater was the cradle for a large lake,
Green as emeralds, glittering in the sun.
As Varan came closer,
He saw that parts of the lake steamed and seethed,
A stench of sulphur saturated the air,
But when he stood by the bank
And tentatively touched the water
He found it cool, even cold.
A clarion call came out of the clouds
Surprising and startling Varan;
High above he could see the serpent,
Still some distance,
A speck of black against the sky.
Varan hid behind a boulder.
He needed to know where Ana was
And hoped the lizard would lead him to her.
As Clanun came closer
A wave of dread washed over the wordsmith
- The beast was so big -
He felt feeble and frail,
Inconsequential and insignificant.
But Varan fought his fear
And called up his courage.
The smith stood his ground,
And watched the wyrm approach.
At great speed the serpent soared across the sky,
Lithely leaping through the clouds.
The dragon drew near the lake,
His wide, wiry, wings folded back
And without pause he plummeted out of the air,
Diving straight down.
He struck the water at such speed
Colossal ripples ran across the surface.
He knew not where the dragon had gone,
But was forced to follow his lead.
Varan waded out into the water,
Filled his lungs with fresh air,
And dived deep down.
The water was sometimes warm
But frequently freezing,
And the lake was deep and dark -
He swam strongly,
On and on,
Down and down.
Black blots began to break before his eyes,
He believed his lungs would burst without a breath -
He fought his instinct forever.
There was no help, he had to breathe!
When he felt he could go no further,
Varan fell to the floor.
Heaving heavily, Varan looked around.
Surprised, he saw he was lower than the lake
In the soft sludge of the crater basin.
Above him was an opening
And through the gap he glimpsed the water,
Shimmering and shining,
But the water did not flow or fall.
Shaking his head in shock
Varan stood slowly, still spent from swimming.
The cave was lit by a dull crimson glow,
A warm wind wafted through the air
With a seething smell of sulphur.
As Varan followed the faint light,
His throat filling with the foul, fetid, fumes,
The glow became brighter and more brilliant,
The wind burned and boiled.
The cavern continued, and Varan found a river of fire:
Molten magma oozed slowly through the stone
Bubbling and boiling ferociously,
Spitting fire and sulphurous smoke into the air.
Beside the searing stream of lava was a walkway,
Formed from huge boulders, blackened and burnt.
Careful of the coursing lava,
Varan followed the flow of the flames,
Down the tall tunnel that twisted torturously.
The sickening smoke seared his throat
And burned his lungs with every breath.
He crawled along the cavern floor
Blinking back the biting tears in his eyes.
Slowly, the sulphurous smoke scattered
Clearing the air in the cave,
The roof rose hèigher, the walkway became wider,
Opening out into a large open area.
He stood in a great stone circle
Whose top was high above his head.
The cave was ringed with red hot magma
That foamed and flamed furiously
But the air was clean, the fumes had fled,
And Varan could see clearly into the cave -
Clanun, the Claw of the Clouds,
Sat in the centre of the circle.
His crystal clear eyes, cold and clever,
Were watching the woman before him.
Ana lay there, moving little
But to draw broken breaths
That shuddered and shook her broken shell.
A web of blood wove across her face
Where she had been lashed and lacerated.
A fierce fury hammering in his heart,
The bard brought forth his blade,
Determined to deal death.
He crept into the cave
And closed with Clanun.
As he came near the Claw of the Clouds,
The dragon raised his huge head
And his sparkling serpentine eyes
Focussed on the approaching figure.
We’ve been waiting all day.”
“Release Ana now,
Do not stand in my way.”
“In your way?” said Clanun,
“She is here, on the stone,
She bleeds so well,
When cut to the bone.”
The smith took a slow step,
Always watching the wyrm.
“Do you free her then?
Can we leave in peace?
Will the killing now end?
Can the slaughter cease?”
“So many questions -
What do you think?
Can the moon cease to rise?
Can a creature not drink?
“No more can I say,
Either fight or go.”
“Given that choice,
My decision you know.”
Varan advanced, his buckler before him,
His sword arm unsteady
As he trembled with terror.
The serpent smiled softly at the sight of him,
Before breathing a burning ball of fire.
Varan braced his buckler
And deflected the deadly flames.
Moving rapidly - running over the rock -
Varan swung his sword at the serpent.
He struck the black scales squarely
But it was the blade that broke,
Shattering into a thousand shards -
Varan held the broken hilt -
This was the end -
Still he strove to sink the sword
Into the serpent’s scaly skin
But his hide was as hard as the heavens.
Clanun raised a claw
And casually cast him to the ground.
Clumsily, Varan climbed to his feet.
He looked on as the lizard lowered his jaw.
He watched the white hot flames flowed towards him -
Too late, too slow,
The flames engulfed his form.