He opened his eyes.
The being looked at him curiously but made no comment.
Fjiorn blinked several times.
His mind was not registering things correctly.
The man, a complete stranger, was tall and well built. He might even have been described as handsome, except for the inhuman goat’s eyes positioned at his temples.
Fjiorn saw this clearly, but that was all. He could not think. There was no questioning of his sanity, there was no fear, no anxiety, just a sense of nameless wonder and a vague awareness that what he was seeing should not have been possible.
The goat-man smiled at him, only causing further bewilderment.
“Your world changes today,” he pronounced.
The voice was musical, but had a foreign lilt. Fjiorn had no experience with foreigners, had only heard that they existed, along with stories about their antics, some good, most bad. He had heard talk of men with strange cat-like eyes, and others with almost black skin, but never of men with goat’s eyes.
Paradoxically he heard himself ask, “Why?”
The goat-man’s smile faded.
“It is time.”
He let that sink in for a moment.
“For the task that you must now complete.”
Fjiorn nodded, though he was sure that he did not understand anything at all. His gaze trailed off to look at the bright landscape that surrounded them. He saw orange trees, each consumed in green fire. He saw mountains of iron that rose to climb impossibly high in a magenta sky. He saw the bright light that appeared to bleed colour from whatever it touched.
“Where am I?”
The goat-man followed his gaze.
“Erever,” he enunciated slowly, proudly, as if he was revealing a great secret.
“How?” Fjiorn asked, meaning to ask how he had been transported here, but when he turned to the goat-man, he found him gone.
Fjiorn felt stunned and dizzy. He took a few unsteady steps, but a wind blew in from directly above, a vertically descending wind that extinguished the green fires and blurred the mountains and the sky until all faded into a neutral amorphous grey.
Fjiorn felt himself falling again.
Something was happening to his face. Something rough and vaguely unpleasant.
He opened his eyes and recoiled with a yelp, scrambling away in revulsion from the goat-man who had been licking his face.
A moment later he realised his mistake.
It was Meek, one of his goats, and not the goat-man, who had been licking him and who now recoiled in turn with a bleat of protest at Fjiorn’s reaction.
He tried to stand, but a moment later he doubled over and retched. Just a little bile, for having not eaten since yesterday, there was nothing in his stomach to bring up.
He was relieved to find that he was back in the normal world where there were no orange trees consumed by green fires. But while he recognised the world, he did not recognise himself.
He felt weak and confused and wretched, and his eyes refused to focus properly on his surroundings.
The sun had risen but its light was still weak. The sky was covered in cloud, yet no longer held any threat of rain.
Fjiorn felt as though he had been trampled by a herd of horses.
He got up, and soon discovered that one of his shoes was missing.
He looked around for it and eventually found it nearby, blackened as though singed in a fire.
Something strange had clearly happened during the night, but what was it? The dream had been disturbing too. It was vividly imprinted in his memory. Fjiorn remembered the goat-man and their strange conversation. And that strange place with the orange trees burning with green fire? What had he called it?
Was this some kind of warning from the gods?
He tried to don his partly charred shoe and in so doing, discovered the painful burn on the sole of his foot. He inspected it and quickly realised that it was going to be a very slow walk back home.
He hobbled over to the pool and knelt at the water’s edge to drink.
His thirst seemed unquenchable. Afterwards, he washed his injured foot and then splashed his face in an attempt to clear his wits, but stopped short when he caught sight of his reflection.
When the water settled, he saw what appeared to be a fern-like pattern on his left cheek. He gaped at it for a few long moments until he noticed that the pattern continued down his neck.
He removed his shirt, then, and found that the pattern continued onto his shoulder and from there all the way down the arm and onto the back of his hand.
He rubbed at it, but it didn’t come off. It was as though it had been etched into his skin, or had been inked there in the way some of his tribesmen favoured.
Something caused him to raise his hand to his left ear, but he found no ear there at all, and the whole side of his head smarted in the same way that his foot had.
He did not know how this had happened, but something had burnt his head as well as his foot and, somehow, he had lost his ear.