domingo, 24 de mayo de 2015

The guardian of the mountains

   In a very far off land lay the town of Var. It had a small number of houses and was located in the middle of a trade route, which explained its existence. The people of Var were used to foreigners passing through, sometimes without even saying a word and other times staying for days, enjoying the beer the people of the region had learned to make. What was most particular about Var was that most of the time it was covered by a dense fog. No one knew why that was. Some believe in the folk tale that the town had being built by the devil on top of a fissure in the ground that lead directly to his lair in the center of the planet. Others, more scientific minds if you will, thought the fog was related to the mountain chain that passed close to Var, a chain that was largely unexplored and that housed a couple of volcanoes.

 In Var lived various types of people. But one of the most interesting ones was Gerta. She was one of the various women that were in charge of washing the linen and the clothing of other people and were paid for this. Gerta liked her job because it required her to leave town and go to a nearby river to wash by hand. There, all the ladies would reunite and talk, sing and discuss various subjects in the peace and quiet of the outskirts of the town. But Gerta would rather listen most of the times. She found herself to be not all that interesting and very clumsy when speaking.

 There was a subject, however, that she didn’t like to discuss: children. The other women talked about their girls and their boys and what they did or had learned or said at home but Gerta couldn’t do any of that, even if she had been interested in speaking out loud. That was because Gerta, who had turned forty years old recently, had never had any children and the possibilities of that happening were just getting more and more slim.

 You see, Gerta was a big lady in all the physical sense and men had never appreciated her silences, which could last for days. They thought she was dumb and simple and would only trust her with their clothes and nothing more. Sometimes she thought about this, when the other women started discussing their married lives and their duties as mothers, but to be honest most of the time Gerta was busy dreaming.

 What did she dreamt about? Simple. She would think of a prince from a faraway land that would fall in love with her and would take her on his horse to travel the world and live in adventure and romance for the rest of her days. Every time she saw a foreigner or a caravan of merchants crossing Var, she would stare at them one by one and not move until all of them had passed through town. She saw their clothing, the way they behave, and knew that she wanted to one day leave Var forever and not comeback to her simple ways of being a washerwoman.

 After washing the clothes, Gerta would normally help her father, her mother had been dead for some years, in their small crop. The ground around town had turned arid in recent years, many said because of the foreign horses, so the land that people could use to grow food was always shrinking, getting smaller and smaller. Gerta would plow the land; pick up the carrots and potatoes and clean lettuces and various medicinal plants that his father had used for years in the making of medicine for his small pharmacy.

 It was a renowned store, where people from every corner of the world came to buy remedies for their illnesses and pains. His father was well known but the amount of medicine he could do had been declining steadily for the last few years. He was growing old and almost blind so he had taught Gerta how to manage the store and how to process the medicines. The truth was that he would have preferred to have a son or at least one more child that was a male but that hadn’t happened. So he taught everything he knew to Gerta and told her the store was one of the pillars of Var and that she couldn’t let it crumble. She needed to form a family to keep it alive, long after his death.

 One day his father felt especially ill and lay in bed. The store had to be closed, as there were no medicines to sell. Many ingredients had not been harvested but Gerta knew where to find them so she entrusted her father to a doctor and left town for the mountains. His father had been there for many years, since he was a naughty kid, picking up plants and roots. She took a book with her where her father had drawn all the plants needed to make medicine so it would be easier for her to spot everything.

 The think god also covered the mountains and by midday, Gerta knew she was lost. She tried to find her way back to the main path but she had definitely taken a wrong turn somewhere and now there was no way to go back. She was feeling desperate when suddenly she realized she had been climbing the mountain. The fog was disappearing and the soil had turned black, covered with rocks. She found her first root and then another and so on for hours. She would put them all in a basket she had brought and grabbed everything she could, as she had no idea when she would be coming back.

 But suddenly the ground shook and Gerta screamed, afraid for her life. It seemed like an earthquake but it wasn’t. And she knew it wasn’t because the ground moved and she fell and, before hitting her head, she saw a shape beyond the now light fog and the clouds. She woke up several hours later, already at night. What was amazing was that she was at entrance of a cave, looking out to the starry night. Somehow, she had walked to the cave’s entrance after falling or someone had brought her here. It didn’t matter as she needed to go back home soon or her dad would worry. She stood up and then realized her basket had disappeared.

 It wasn’t in the cave or in the outside of it. That was frustrating as Gerta had been especially happy about finding all of those roots and plants so fast and in all the same place. She was now tired and dirty and felt bad that her trip had been useless. She started walking out of the cave but from the sky fell an enormous figure and just some meters in front of her a gigantic head with bright yellow eyes and a long snout with warm nostrils at the end. She was looking straight at the face of a dragon and the dragon was looking at her.

 Her reaction would have been to scream or run or both but Gerta couldn’t do anything. She couldn’t move or react in any way and was afraid she had been frozen in the spot. A few clouds in the night sky moved, revealing the moon and, in turn, revealing the true size of the creature. Now, Gerta did scream. It was pitch black, covered in scales and with a body capable of destroying a whole town in just a few movements. She had no idea if he could breath fire but that wasn’t something she was interested in finding out. She wanted to go back home but couldn’t.

 To make her shut up, the monster talked and that was even worse. Gerta screamed like mad but the monster then kicked the ground to make her stop. Apparently getting it, Gerta shut up and the monster greeted her, telling her he had been the one to put her in the cave. He had done it because wolves came out at night and would have eaten her alive if she had stayed in mid part of the mountain. However, it had been him that had caused her to fall. After all, she had been walking on him.

 The dragon explained to a shaking Gerta that the roots and plants were part of the mountain and that he had been entrusted with the care of all the mountain chain. Gerta had heard the legends of merchants encountering dragons but everyone thought it was a just a tale for children. The monster said he forgave Gerta for her intrusion only because he knew her father with whom he had made a deal: he would let Gerta’s father take roots and plants if he made the dragon a potion for his sore throat. That way they lived in peace.

 Then Gerta, with a weak voice, explained she had come because her father was ill and he was already very old. She promised to make his potion too if he let her go with the roots and plants as she had told her father the store would not die with him. The dragon thought of this and then looked straight to Gerta’s eyes. She felt dizzy, as if he was able to read her mind. He then said he didn’t need the medicine anymore but that he was thankful anyway. So he would grant her a wish in honor of her father and the gratitude he felt towards him. He would let her, and only her and her family, pick up the goods from the mountains.

 Gerta told him she didn’t know what to wish for but the dragon told her the wish had already been granted, so she could go home now. Gerta didn’t understand. At least not after a few months when she realized she was pregnant. The dragon had given her the gift of a family, to keep on with the store but mostly to make her happy and make Gerta realize her true potential as a human being. From that day on, she thanked the dragon by praying at the foot of the mountain with her child, who grew up to be a great man.

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