Wendell and the Dragon's Heart

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Chapter 30

Early in the morning, he woke up. At least it felt like early in the morning. The shadow of the stone walls was long, with everything silent as a tomb, except for distant wind somewhere above. The stones were so cold and burdensome against his back. He got up now, and tried to wake himself and get warmer, pacing up and back across the small stretch of wall where he had fallen asleep.

Picking a stray, fat blade of grass now, Wendell gathered some dew from crevices in the wall and sopped it into his mouth over and over.

“Which way did I go last?” he said to no one or nothing. He suddenly realized he didn’t remember which way he was going before he fell asleep the night before. Wendell wanted to bash his stupid head against something; he should have left a marker for himself!! Now he could end up backtracking all of his progress. The sound of a bird came from the early morning sky, and he looked up. It was the first moving thing he had seen anywhere.

A small hawk was flying slowly, a little ways off. The bird’s cry sounded again, and Wendell hurriedly realized that it was not a small bird. It let out a long rising shriek, and Wendell quickly flattened himself against a wall, so that it could not see him as it flew by. The shriek suddenly became louder, until the whole sky quivered ravenously. It let out another fierce cry, and a gloomy darkness banished the faint sun as it passed by.

Then the shrieks died away, and Wendell slowly inched himself away from the wall and looked into the sky, before ducking back again. It was gone, at least as much as he could tell for now.

Wendell made his way along with greater caution, always checking the sky for dark specks or moving shapes. Another great avian flew overhead once, but it never noticed him, and he wondered where they were even going, or if they were looking for him, or even cared. He asked the invisible one, pleading earnestly that they should give him an answer, but no one responded, and so he felt worse than ever. Perhaps there really had been no one there.

Sometimes he sang the old songs again, quietly, just to have something to think about. He finally could tell his direction by the shadows on the walls, and the time of day, but he didn’t know if there was an exit or even if this whole thing got anywhere! Perhaps Karen was simply lost inside, just like he was now.

He thought of shouting something and listening for a reply, but then birds would surely hear him.

The endless idea to ask his nameless helper came to him again and again, uselessly, but that was so stupid. Even if Ren Zael, the ancient warrior was watching, or Curdie’s ghost was somehow there, surely they could do something to let Wendell know! Even if it was a small thing.

“My words they are always the same...”

Wendell continued the old songs, trying to remember where he was in the vastness of the passages. After a while, all the turns blended together and lost meaning. It was a frightening task, and despite the sun’s warmth he felt a chill iciness growing inside. He fought to convince himself that he wasn’t already lost!

“If you can’t hear me, don’t fear...

I am still near, am still near....”

He kept singing the old hymns, in a hushed way. They gave him a meager comfort, as he sang the notes, which were full of a calm hopefulness and mystery. So calm and so hopeful, as if they were written in a place where terrible mazes and lost girls didn’t need to exist, a world far away from this awful, endless tomb.

Then Wendell listened to his own voice.

“If you can’t hear me, don’t fear...

I am still near, am still near...”

But this song was written hundreds of years ago, he reasoned. Anyone could sing it anytime, anywhere they wanted, and it would be the same dumb words, he knew very well. What was next though?

“My words will be with you, all days,

my words they will guide you always...”

The lilting tune went up and down, back and forth, sometimes breaking forth joyously, sometimes subdued and hushed.

“Listen to what I have said,

my words they are always the same,

my words, are your meat and your bread,

my words they will guide you always...”

The tune kept on, going about playfully.

“When you know that I am near,

then you have nothing to fear,

My words they will show you the way,

my words they will guide you always...”

The song ended, as it always had, but not with a final note. It was more like a question mark. As if the tune was waiting for something more... but what came next? Where was the rest of the song?

Wendell turned a corner now. If the writer’s words were always the same no matter what, who could be helped by hearing them? The author didn’t know what Wendell needed, when he wrote the words down so very long ago!

“If you can’t hear me, don’t fear...

I am still near, am still near...,” he sang again, the melody going about joyfully.

He stopped suddenly, feeling a bit strange at his own words. That would be an answer, at least. Finally, an answer to something, to anything!

Who even wrote this hymn though? How could they be near? It still didn’t make a tiny bit of sense!! But Wendell hummed the tune anyways, and the words danced about, just like they had… with that big blue monster thing that liked to rhyme... he got to the end of the song, and heard the questioning last note... the song wanted an answer, a reply! It wanted him to answer the question!!

Wendell spoke up, trying to rhyme his own ending to the song now.

“You are still near, are still near,

even when nothing I hear!!

Now what would rhyme?

“Even when you seem so far,

I will still know where you are!!

Even when nothing I hear,

I will still know you are near!!”

The song rose so triumphantly and finally ended, full of certainty and confidence. Wendell stopped again and waited, looking around, waiting for something to happen, anything.

There was no reply, no genies appeared from the wall’s cracks, no magic beasts appeared to fly him across. But he didn’t even need a reply!! At least the song told him so...

“You are still near, are still near...” Wendell sang as he pushed himself down the pathway.

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