Saturday, January 31, 2009

Friends and Brothers

Here I am, flat on my back, helpless, defenseless, beaten. Intense pressure crushing down, intense heat closes in from all sides. Again.

It hadn’t started this way. This time was supposed to be different The heft of my armor had come to give me confidence, the pommel of my sword was worn and true, my shield was dented, but still strong and now it was all I had.

The fight erupted seemingly without warning, as always. I had seen the shadow approaching, extending along the ground as it silently slithered out from beneath my feet and poured into my path. Yet I’d ignored this obvious sign and brushed it off as a passing bird or a simple storm-cloud.

It wasn’t until the first blow hit me that I recognized what was going on. Upended by the sudden impact behind my left shoulder, I tumbled forward and tucked into a roll; it seemed an eternity passed before my feet were under me again. How could I have been so unaware? How could I miss what I knew to look for?

I found my bearings and laid eyes on my attacker. The dragon slithered through the sky. His black body effortlessly glided on scaly wings, his eyes of fire laughed at the ease with which he had once again surprised me. My eyes followed as he circled around and he placed himself between me and the sun.

I squinted and raised my sword to shield my eyes so as not to lose sight of my attacker. But, as he glided toward me, staying in the path of the sun, the corona of his evil eclipse baffled my mind as I saw an angel of light. Mesmerized and artfully distracted, it was only at the last second that I dodged his attack.

The closed claws of his front legs that had knocked me forward were now open and swiping towards my face. I countered and felt the claw tear along my shield as I spun with the blow, using the dragon’s force on the shield to swing my sword around and into the soft underside of his outstretched wing. The dragon screamed out a paralyzing roar of pain, fury and fire as his momentum brought him to the ground and my wound ensured he’d stay there.

He tucked his wings behind him and reared up to his full height, towering over me. Sensing what may be my only opportunity I sprang forward, overly aware of the dangerous flames spewing from his mouth. With my sword held like a javelin, I lunged towards his midsection, attempting one great blow to finish him. I felt the tip of my sword slide between two thick scales, ready to tear through the soft flesh beneath.

The slight smile was wiped off my lips as the dragon crouched and turned. Returning to all fours, the dragon’s scales clamped down on my sword, ending my attack before it did any damage. As he turned, the sword was wrenched from my grip and his tail swept around from behind me and hit me in the back of the knees, sending me hard to the ground.

Now, here I am again, flat on my back. I cower behind my shield as the dragon’s front leg pushes me down and peals of fire curl around the edges of my shield. Everything I see is distorted and moving, the waves of heat rising like those from a parking lot on a scalding summer day. I smell my own hair being singed off and the leather that holds my armor together begins to burn. No matter how hard I push, the weight of the dragon is too much, my shield is too small, I am too weak. I close my eyes and await the inevitable.

Before the flames envelope me, something unexpected happens. I’ve been here before, I know the ending, but this time its different. This time. With my eyes still closed I feel my shield move imperceptibly. Just a slight change in the slow downward progression. I recognize that my right side is not quite so hot. I slowly pry open my eyes and see something beneath my shield. My arms are both there, crossed in front of me and shaking from exertion, but between them is another arm, reaching out from my right and holding up my shield.

I turn my head to the right and there you are, lying next to me, the edges of our shields just overlapping. You have scars, just like I do. You are bleeding, just like I am. And now the flames lick at your skin, just like they lick at mine. You have fought the same dragon I have. But your arm is under MY shield. As we push together my shield stops moving downward and it hovers there, balanced from above and below for just a moment. As my shield stops, yours starts to drop. I take my arm and place it beneath your shield and push with strength that I didn’t have a moment ago.

There, on the ground the two of us together push. The flames are still as hot, the cuts still bleed, the pain does not subside. But there, under the dragon’s weight, amidst the flames and with the pain, for the first time we begin to stand. Together

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