Eternity (second draft)
Lerdath shuddered. It was cold in the cave. She rolled over, idly wondering whether she was awake – it was so hard to tell, lately. A chill ran up where her skin touched the freezing floor. No wait, not floor. It was the metal, she remembered. That was all it was to her now, metal, even though once she had craved it; had needed it. No more. Just metal. She yawned and turned again. Her movements spread out her hoard over the cave floor like gravel. She would have to get up soon, she knew, but not yet.
Had there been a dream? Something about … no, she couldn’t remember. It was all so bleak, all so very similar. Too long. It had been too long. She sighed and her breath filled the room. She could feel its warmth and it comforted her some. Slowly, she opened her eyes.
“It is day, then,” she mused, “it is day, because I can see.”
She looked at the light on the snow outside. It was sunlight, filtered through gray winter clouds. It looked cold, and Lerdath shuddered again. Cold. She let out a tired sigh and stretched, spreading out more coins.
“It sounds a bit like a waterfall,” she reflected, and spent a while listening for the echoes to die out. “Was that why I got them?” But she knew it wasn’t. She hadn’t even noticed before.
She felt her eyes closing again, but resisted. She’d rested enough. With clear effort she crawled upright. Her bones ached and she wondered whether that was because of the cold.
Time passed. Inside the cave, Lerdath stretched her tired body while outside night fell and a new day came. Lerdath didn’t notice. Days were so hard to keep track of. It was noon of the next day when she finally emerged from the cave and looked up at the sky at the dark clouds.
Snow fell, gently settling on her wings and between her shoulder blades. She frowned. It had never done that before. Looking down, the snow around her feet was there still too. Unusual. After a while she sighed and shrugged.
“So that’s it, then,” she thought. She wasn’t really surprised.
Laboriously she took a step, testing the ground. Then another. It hurt, but she ignored the pain. Mountains towered all around her, some taller even than the one she'd built her lair in. Had they been, when she moved in? She set out towards a close-by ridge beyond which no other mountains could be seen. Her head hung. Tired.
Time passed. Snow fell. The sun sank and rose and repeated. Slowly Lerdeth continued her journey. Never stopping, never looking anywhere but the ground straight ahead. Three days passed before she reached the crest, but Lerdeth didn’t notice.
Once she was there, she looked around. In front of her now the sea stretched, the ridge was the edge of an overhanging cliff. To her right, below and far distant but even in this gray light easily spotted was a fishing village, or maybe a city. Lerdath crouched down, nodded, and rested her gaze on the wide sea.
“Somebody will come.”
Time passed. More snow fell, burying Lerdeth’s paws in a blanket of white. She was cold, but she ignored it. Days went and came. A month passed, as people in the village counted them, but to Lerdeth, nothing happened. Not even nothingness.
Finally, she heard footsteps. They were soft, but became louder as time moved on, a rhythmic crunching of snow. Lerdeth sighed, and the sound stopped.
“You’re afraid,” she said, without turning her head. Her voice sounded hoarse and grinding to her ears, and briefly she wondered how long it had been since she’d spoken. Her throat ached as if she'd swallowed a bag of swords. “Don’t be. I’m not hungry.”
There was a pause. The newcomer didn’t speak.
“I knew somebody would come,” said Lerdeth. “Somebody always does, if you wait long enough.”
“They saw you. The villagers, that is.” The voice was that of an old man. Trembling slightly from the cold or fear or maybe both.
Lerdeth nodded. She knew.
“My name is Alden. They sent for me … because I’ve seen dragons before, because I spoke to one once.”
“Not me.” She almost smiled, though the man would not have been able to tell. “Not me.” The footsteps resumed. Coming closer.
“No, a dragon in the south, far away and long ago.” He hesitated. “Nobody knew there was a dragon here.”
This time Lerdeth did smile, though she kept her gaze on the sea. “I have slept.”
“For how long?”
There was no answer, but Lerdeth's shoulders slouched slightly more.
“What do you want? Treasure? Food? Power?”
“Why?” There was fear in his voice, and Lerdeth paused briefly, considering.
“I’m cold,” whispered Lerdeth.
Time passed. The old man sat down briefly, then stood up again and without a word went away. He returned shortly after, carrying something. Lerdeth couldn't see him – a layer of ice covered her eyes now, making all a blur – but she heard him arranging things in the snow. Soon she felt warmth spreading through the left side of her body. A familiar smell reached her nostrils. She groaned softly and turned her head to the source of the heat.
"You made fire?"
"Yes. I was cold too."
Lerdeth sighed. "I'm sorry," she said in a weak, sad voice, "could you put it out again?"
"But … why?" asked Alden, confused. "You said you were cold."
Lerdeth's voice was barely audible now. It was so frail Alden would not have been able to hear it over a soft breeze. "It only makes me colder," she said and then turned her head to the sea again and spoke no more, seemingly lost in thought. Her head slumped between her shoulders.
Alden looked on for a while then doused the campfire with snow. After waiting for a reaction from the dragon that didn't come, he turned and walked back to the village. He couldn't survive a night in this cold without a fire.
Time passed. Night fell and Lerdeth shuddered. Her eyes were so cold. Day returned and so did the old man. He was alone, as he’d been before, as Lerdeth had known he would be. They stood together for a while, the dragon dwarfing the man but not overbearing him.
“What do you want me to witness?” he asked finally. He wondered whether the dragon had noticed his absence.
“The last flight of a dragon.”
“Because somebody should.”
There was another pause. Neither was in a hurry.
“What do you see out there, human?”
The old man peered and then said, simply, “The Sea.”
The dragon nodded.
“I see eternity.” She sighed. “I’m cold, Alden.”
The old man didn’t know what to say, so he remained silent. After a while, the dragon jumped up, spread her wings and took off. A short distance from the cliff she stopped flapping her wings and started gliding. Alden watched as slowly she lost altitude and without a splash hit the water, sliding underneath the surface. There was no smoke, no boiling water, no trace of where she’d gone. Only waves.
Time passed, but not a lot. Alden took a few steps then picked up a blunted talon from the snow. He held it in his hand a while, considering, then with the little strength left in his arms threw it over the cliff edge and into the sea where it disappeared under the waves. He had witnessed. That was enough.
Under the sea, time passed no more.