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A Fireside Tale

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  • A Fireside Tale

    The fire gutters uneasily, stubbornly resisting the sporadic gusts of the chill night wind, and lapping at the damp, half-rotten wood, its feeble light reflecting off the tired, miserable faces of some two-dozen young boys, each clad in the familiar sweater, scarf and woggle of the cub-scout, who huddle around it, pushing their hands as close as they dare to the flames. Occasionally, one of them shivers, as the dewy grass gradually soaks into their clothing, and with each moaning rush of wind though the gnarled old oaks which stand around, casting eerie shadows in the mingling light of weak fire and pale moon, a cluster of icy raindrops, caught, hours past, in the leaves of one of the gnarled old trees, sprays down upon bare heads and necks. Around them lie the scattered remains of their feast. Blackened half-melted marshmallows, sticking to grass, wood and stone alike, long steel forks, ends smeared with the juices of well-burned sausages and encrusted with tiny gobbets of dough and mallow, and empty trays and sheets of silver tin foil.

    On the other side of the fire, a man sits upon a log, legs splayed out before him, hands resting on his substantial stomach, a look of contentment on his ruddy, weather-beaten features, a heavy Barbour jacket hanging from his shoulders, warding off the wind and the rain. Now, he looks up from the fire, and sweeps his keen gaze across the dejected countenances of his charges. He strokes his chin, now dusted with frosty-white stubble, and the first traces of a smile cause the corners of his eyes to crinkle.

    “Cheer up lads! There’s a good bit of sun forecast on the morrow. Rain’s over now, anyway; just a touch of wind and a light drizzle. Bracing, that’s what it is. Good and healthy. Makes you feel alive! Beats being locked up indoors all day, with nothing but dust and a telly to keep you company, eh?”

    The boys stare at him. A few shuffle around restlessly, almost as if they would indeed much prefer to be wrapped up warm inside, a mug of hot chocolate in hand, bathing in the cheery light of the television, but their lips remain tightly together. The old man sighs, running a calloused hand through his wispy silver hair. Then, his eyes brighten again,

    “Hmmm, how’d you boys like to hear a story then?”

    “A story about what, Akela?” Asks one chubby, ginger-haired boy, looking up eagerly, his cheeks reddened by the wind and cold.

    “I don’t really know… what would you like to hear?”

    The boys fall silent, and look at each other. Eventually, a short, bespectacled child, who’s been gazing into the fire, as if lost in thought, pipes up,

    “Dragons! Tell us a story about dragons!”

    “Hah,” says another boy, his jersey covered in a vast array of badges, “stories about dragons are silly. They’re not even real! They’re just stupid old make-believe things. Tell us a true story! About ships, or aeroplanes!”

    “Aeroplanes, eh? Well, as you wish. I’ll tell you a true story, about aeroplanes, and a little boy not so different from you lads, who used to like to sit on the cliffs not far from here. But, most of all,” he winked at the bespectacled child, “it’s a story about dragons: Real dragons.”

    “But…” The sceptical boy is swiftly silenced by his comrades as they crowd in even closer to the fire, eyes wide. The old man reaches into the pocket, and produces a pipe, which he lights as he leans forward, watching the fire dance. He clears his throat, and begins, his voice soft, forcing the boys to strain their ears to hear him over the wind roaring through the trees, and the crackling of the fire.

    “It all happened some fifty years ago, back during the war. One dark, overcast evening, quite similar to this one, a young lad was making his way along the cliffs back to his home. It had been sunny that afternoon, so he’d gone out in just a shirt and shorts, to catch lobsters in the tidal pools. Now, his shirt was soaked through, and clung clammily to his back, and rivulets of rainwater ran all down his neck and his arms and his legs, and wind was roaring, constantly trying to push him off the cliffs onto the rocks below, which, flecked with spray, seemed, in the odd glimmer of moonlight which occasionally slanted through the clouds, like nothing so much as an endless row of teeth, dripping with saliva, maybe belonging to some vast, rabid dog, even as it sucked the warmth from his body, and stripped his skin of feeling.

    “As he hurried along, a faint buzzing sound reached his ears, cutting through the crashing of the waves and whistling of the wind. It continued to grow steadily, and the boy turned, to look for the source. For a few long moments, he peered in vain into the cloudy sky, but then, he saw them, emerging one by one from the clouds, like gigantic grey hornets, propellers whirring, emblazoned with the familiar Maltese crosses and swastikas of the enemy, a seemingly endless swarm of German bombers, their payloads still stored in their bellies, ready to be defecated over the towns and cities of England, ready to befoul the land itself with iron and fire.

    “As the swarm emerged, bursts of fire, splashing out upon the brooding darkness of the clouds, lit up the sky, as the coastal anti-aircraft batteries opened fire. Yet still the bombers came on. From behind the boy, a score of fighters swept past, charging at the dark mass of the enemy, darting Spitfires and raging Hurricanes, lancing out at the foe with bright lines of tracer bullets, and his heart leapt, yet the cheer died unuttered in his chest, as from the belly of the cloud swept down wave upon wave of Messerschmitts, swarming over the few brave attackers like locusts alighting on a cornfield. The British pilots fought bravely, squeezing out every ounce of speed and manoeuvrability from their craft as they strove to hold their own in this unequal contest, yet still they fell, one by one, each swallowed up by the hungry waves, until less than a dozen remained.

    “But then, something wondrous happened, so strange and so magical that the boy felt sure that he had somehow fallen into a waking dream. From far away to the north, from far way across the rolling woods and dales, came the sound of something awakening, deep in the heart of Britain. A tremendous roar split the sky, echoing from the glowering clouds to the deep troughs of the waves, full of ancient anger, and power beyond imagining, yet deep within this terrible cry, so filled with anguish and outrage, was the sound of a grasshopper chirping in the hedgerow, the croaking of a frog upon a lily, and the buzzing of a bee within a rose, mingled with the rush of a summer’s breeze within the oak woods, and the chattering of tiny red squirrels as they whirl their way up the trunk of a strong yew tree, while the songbirds sing in the air above.

    “And in its wake came the sound of vast leathery wings beating against the air, slow and rhythmic, yet growing in volume with every second. The boy turned, and nearly fell, as a gigantic shape, as large as a house, swept over him in the darkness, and then up, into the clouds. The roar came again, even louder now, so that the boy was forced to press his hands to his ears, lest they burst under the impact, and more insistent, and it was followed by roll after roll of thunder, as if two great giants were warring in the clouds.

    “Then, slowly but surely, the entire cloudbank became suffused by a soft orange light, such as that which you might see at dawn or dusk on a clearer day, and then began to melt away, revealing the great beast in all its glory, scales blood-red, as bright as freshly smelted iron, great gouts of flame pouring from its jaws as it swept down upon the hapless bombers, sending them tumbling down into the fire-lit sea by the score, either slashed in twain by its merciless claws, or blackened and smouldering from the touch of its breath.

    “Meanwhile, a second dragon, this one white as bone, its wings battered and torn, and its scaly hide scored and rent, stained with its own oily, black blood, slipped out from the wispy remnants of a cloud, and limped through the air in an ungainly flight toward the German-held coast of France. Under the onslaught of the great Red, the German squadrons swiftly turned to follow, even as the coastal batteries found their range, with the dragon’s fire and the moon’s clear, now unobstructed radiance combining to strip the protection of darkness from bomber and fighter alike.

    “The dragon raised its head, and trumpeted its victory to the heavens, the sound lifting the boy’s heart, and driving all weariness from his mind and limbs, almost as if a new day had dawned, driving away the darkness of imminent defeat, and giving hope of sustained light and freedom. Then it soared upward on its vast sail-like wings, and was gone. Soon, all was still once more, and the boy blinked, and shook his head in disbelief of what he had seen, before continuing his walk along the rugged cliffs, as the ocean waves crashed below, and wind whistled in the trees.”

    The fire, untended for some time now, burns low, as the boys stare at the old man, entranced by his tale. Some time passes, and still they sit in silence, listening to the wind and the hooting of the night owls. Then, one looks up. It is the sceptic.

    “Who was the boy Akela? On the cliffs…”

    But the old man just smiles, leans back, pipe between his teeth, and dreams; dreams of a sky bright with flame, and that terrible, outraged roar, as Britain awoke at last from her long slumber. He dreams of leathery wings and clashing claws, of shining scales and snapping teeth, and he dreams of a dream re-awoken, one night long ago, on those barren, rain-swept cliffs.
    Arma virumque cano.

  • #2
    A cookie to the first person to name both the Moorcock novel and the well-known legend that inspired this late-night scrawl.
    Arma virumque cano.


    • #3
      I'll hold off answering for a bit to give others a go at guessing. Enjoyed reading your alternate perspective on this scene Kalessin. Keep that cookie warm.


      • #4
        I would guess end of the Dreamthief's daughter and the foo fighters or some such, but I'm probably wrong.
        Batman: It's a low neighborhood, full of rumpots. They're used to curious sights, which they attribute to alcoholic delusions.

        Robin: Gosh, drink is sure a filthy thing, isn't it? I'd rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes!


        • #5
          Count von Bek

          The Dragon In The Sword for 1/2 a cookie.
          A Tale Of The Eternal Champion.

          This is the copy I have.
          Last edited by voilodian ghagnasdiak; 07-02-2006, 09:58 AM.


          • #6
            For the other half... the red and white dragons of Merlin?


            • #7
              I like your story since I love fires and dragons, but not as much as I like

              That is a good story.


              • #8
                the second part of the answer is a tale by A. Maachen :

                The Bowmen (1914) - In this story, written and published during World War I, the ghosts of archers from the battle of Agincourt come to the aid of British troops. This is attributed (by some at least) as the origin of the Angels of Mons legend.

                The most strange is that the newspaper received letters from enlisted men telling that the tale was a true one .....


                • #9
                  Half of this cookie each to devilchicken and Mario.

                  Arma virumque cano.


                  • #10
                    FOR ME??



                    • #11


                      • #12
                        I had recognised the Dreamthief's Daughter reference but missed the link to the mythical guardian dragons of Britain from Arthurian lore. Perhaps I could catch some of the crumbs.