Runa’s Mountain

Mountain roads are hard to climb, even if you made them yourself, especially. Nonetheless, my horse and I managed to push the cart all the way to our usual place. It was a level patch of mountain, pressed into featurelessness by constant footwork and tree trunks being rolled about.

Many people say that I’m a fool to harvest lumber this high up on the mountain, ‘dragons roost on the peaks’ as the wives’ tale goes. Dung-bread, that’s what I think of that! I’ve made ten two-week journeys up this mountain every year for twenty-seven years, never once did one of those glorified leather scraps flash down here to punish me. Still, the clouds were dark enough to make midday look light midnight, so I was still cautious. ‘Storm clouds are the nests of dragons,’ that was a tale I believed, having seen many a dragon’s body gliding through a rainstorm.

I unharnessed my horse and brought him to his stable, nothing more than a wood roof, a trough full of grain, and a post to tie him to. Then I grabbed my axe out of the cart and set to chopping down a tree. Not many trees, just one, that’s all I was willing to risk today in this weather.

White oak is plentiful in that area, and the wood is dense and strong. Both of those qualities make it useful for several purposes, but they also make it much harder to chop them down. The oak I found was about four yards away from my cabin, and two and three-quarter feet in diameter. Taking this one down would be difficult, but if I’m only going to fell one today, it might as well be a big one. I swung with broad strokes, each time with enough force to make me spin for two or three loops if I missed. Even still, it took me sixteen strokes just to get to the center of the tree. Cool drops started to appear on my forehead, not sweat, drips of rain. Refreshing though they were, my swings sped up because of them. The storm was about to strike, and I needed to be done.

Why do people say that the dragons, with their cute little shows of light, are the most deadly thing in a storm? I began to grumble Anyone who says that just doesn’t know the power of the rain. With a final stroke, the oak groaned and listed to the side. White washed out all other sights for a moment, and a rumbling from the sky talked over the tree’s death wail. With the tree toppled, the storm arrived in perfect timing, now I had to get to shelter.

My lodging was a simple place, four walls and a roof made of oak and clay, three hammocks, plus an altar on the north wall. I sat staring southward, eating the supper that I had packed and watching the downpour outside. That was my usual habit, but the streams of rainwater made that hard to do. Normally, I would face this way to enjoy the view and not look upon the three figures at the altar’s base.

The view was concealed by the rain and dark clouds, and the rivulets made me hurt more than the stone carvings. You see, one of those statues was me, the other two were my daughter and wife, both of whom I lost nine years ago to a flash flood on this very mountain. Some things still remind me of them, but I’ve learned to separate most of the mountain from what happened. This was my livelihood, and taking steel to parts of it gave me some sense of revenge.

Three more vines of lightning grew across the sky. Your creator and I have that much in common. I recalled the story of the dragons’ origins. According to the record keepers, the fire god, Rehol had a daughter beyond all beauty. He lost her, and was flung into a rage. He then made a whip out of leather and sound, and thrashed about at everything around him. Eventually, the whip broke and its remains became the dragons. We both bear the pain of grief. The one difference in our tales is that his child was eventually returned to him.

Lightning illuminated the earth once again, but this time, I saw something more than nature. There, just beyond a rock cleft, was a thirteen-year-old girl prancing about. She spun out of my gaze, but I was mystified by the impression that was left behind. “Lola?” I whispered the name of my daughter to myself. ‘Lola’, she was named after me, ‘Lumva.’ It had been so long since I had uttered that name. Forgetting about the danger of the storm, I slipped and slid as I followed the girl.

Next time I saw her, she was playing on a beam suspended by two cliffs. She danced carelessly, letting the rainfall drench her fern-green dress. Somehow, she was unaware, or unconcerned, of neither the roaring skies above her or the yawning chasm below her. I hid behind bush, observing her from a distance. The streak of brown in her black hair, the light patch on her right cheek, that full-force giggle, all of them belonged to my five-year-old girl all those years ago. I lost all control of myself and ran toward my child, shouting “Lola! Lola!”

Lola turned her head to look at me. That distraction proved costly, as her foot slipped and she tumbled off the log. I stopped right at the rocky edge, my skin turning pale as I watch the descent. After all of these years, I found Lola just see her die again. Maybe I would fall down next.

Thunder shouted again, light blinded me, and something magical happened through them. Before the twinkling, Lola was halfway down the pit. After it, she was at the bottom, alive. Naturally, she was breathing heavily and she sat down for a while.

Since she seemed safe, I returned to climbing down to her. What happened next left me frustrated. Out of holes in the bedrock crawled a pack of wolves. All drooled at Lola with intent to eat her. Why was fate toying with me? Watching my daughter die once was plenty. No, I couldn’t let that happen. I grabbed a coconut-sized stone from beside and leapt down to her rescue.

After regaining my stance, I launched that rock at the wolf nearest Lola. Before the rock struck but after the hound pounced, another bolt flew by. Perhaps it was the excitement, more likely some magic in the air, but everything seemed to move slower. The lightning was slow enough to see. It seemed to be one great tail with ridges and claws branching out randomly. Its scales were white with rims of violet. Clearly, this was not a mere vine of light, but a dragon. It wound toward the leaping wolf, clamping down with its jaws.

Everything moved so slowly that the wolf’s smoldering body took a minute to land. It took an hour for its allies to flee. One remained, clearly this one was the alpha, for it was so mad at the death of its vassal. Bearings its teeth, the alpha looked everywhere. Alpha didn’t know where the dragon went, for it turned invisible. Dragons can only be seen when they move, and they only move to kill.

One moment and the dragon became visible again. Another moment and it made three laps, leapt into the air, and swallowed the alpha whole. Yet another moment and he vanished again. My heart was pounding from the shock of the sight. Would this dragon soon lunge at me?

A scrapeing sound ruffled through the pit, Lola was rushing up the exit that the wolves ran through. Her footfalls were too loud, surely the dragon would chase her. Though I wanted to call after her, that would be foolish. I instead had to splash through the streams and puddles after her.

I managed to catch up to Lola, getting within 8 feet before the dragon struck. A pillar of light descended between us, issuing a wave of sound that knocked me on my back. After my sight returned to me, I looked up to see that Lola was still safe. She was looking back with her body half turned away and a smear of fear on her face. More thunder rumbled. Must have been that dragon, judging by how it came from between me and Lola.

Not knowing which way the dragon was, I spoke toward the heavens. “Dragon, I am Lumva, a humble logger. Many years ago, I lost my daughter on this mountain, and I now believe that this woman is her. Please, I beg that you return her.”

Nothing but silence responded. Lola, however, crooked her head as though someone were speaking to her. Every now and then, she would look at me with a frown, then whisper something over her shoulder. My blood sunk into my feet from the tension. Lola didn’t appear to be convinced I was her father, or at least she didn’t want to go with me.

She turned back to me, announcing the moment of truth. “Father,” a good start, “Runa has taken care of me for almost ten years now, please understand that. She’s told me about happened to me before that, and always tried to prepare me for this day. But now that the time has come, I can’t do it.” She looked away from me, “It would hurt me too much to leave her. Maybe a bit of the dragon’s heart has rubbed off on me. Forgive me, but that is my decision.”

At first, I felt like I could collapse, then an owl of wisdom spoke to me. “Lola, if that is the name you still go by, why do you assume that you must return to my home? I can only guess that you’ve thrived up here. Looks like you’ve kept yourself well fed and clothed, and that makes me happier than you can imagine. I’d love to spend time with you, to catch up on those lost years, but there are more ways than one to do that. I spend half of the year up in this mountain, it’s my second home. Feel free to live here with Runa, just be sure to visit me.”

Lola’s eyes twinkled with love of the idea. “Runa? What do you think?” I didn’t hear anything, but I could guess that she approved. “Then let’s go! I want to see your house.” Lola laughed.

Smiling in return, I lead her back down the trail we went before. Thanks to Runa the dragon, I’ve become less and more like Rehol at the same time. Less, because I lost my grief. More, because of my friendship with a dragon, and the return of my daughter.  ‘Runa’ I went over that name in my head, That was my wife’s name.

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