Below is a scene from the novel "Svavelvinter" translated into English by Martin Andersson a couple of years ago for his fanzine. I publish it with Martins and my publishers kind permission for the benefit of Fito García and other international guests. Fito recently started a spanish blogg about the RPG "Svavelvinter". This text might have been published before but not recently I think.
Magister Trodax Draconicus, Dragonwarden by decree of the Emperor, was still stuck in the mineshaft when darkness fell over Marjura. He was trembling from the chill. The sparse light that had been seeping down from the ventilation shaft in the dragon’s mountain hall died inexorably away. The Magister had borrowed dark-vision from some poor night rat which surely wandered blindly around outside, but even the night vision of beasts has its limitations in total darkness. During the day, Trodax had quenched his thirst after the previous evening’s inebriation with the metallic-tasting water on the bottom of the shaft, but he was terribly hungry and thought mostly of the housekeeper’s delicious dishes back in his own warm cottage. Besides, he had eventually been forced to pollute the water and therefore did not want to drink of it again. Neither the beast nor the knight had been heard all day long. The wizard now realised that he had to get up, dragon or no dragon, so he would not die a drawn-out and painful death in the mine. Nobody would come looking for him since everybody was scared to death of the beast’s lair, which furthermore was strictly off limits by order of the Bailiff.
However, the walls of the shaft were so smooth and so slippery from dampness that he just scratched his fingertips sore without managing to climb a single ell. He had tried using sorcery to summon beasts to his aid, but they were as afraid as the humans of the dragon. The only one who had responded to his plea was an old half-blind male badger, who, for obscure reasons, wanted to be eaten. It looked down at him sadly from the edge of the shaft, thinking aloud: “You not great-serpent. You soon dead”, and wandered off to meet a wolf further down the valley, which had to serve as an angel of death in the dragon’s absence.
The wizard made a desperate decision to change into animal form himself, though preferably only halfway. He needed strong bear claws if he was to get a grip on the rock wall, but at the same time did not dare to completely assume animal shape, as there is always a chance of losing your mind when the blood of the forest courses through your brain. The animal in him could panic and drown itself. It is, however, much more difficult to stop a transformation into an animal halfway than to allow it to complete itself; so difficult that the art is attempted only by true masters among animists. Trodax was not an especially skilled wizard, but had only a vague theoretical notion of what to do. Desperately he commenced the ritual, then tried to break it off halfway by thinking of the most non-magical phenomena he could imagine; scenes of dumplings and trimming nostril hairs were forcibly driven through his mind. The magic tore and pulled on his limbs in conflicting directions. His skin alternately grew bristles and sucked them into the pores again, but after having oscillated between various forms for a while an equilibrium was reached. Unable to see in the pitch-darkness, he gingerly touched his face and found to his delight a set of thick claws at the tips of his fingers, which at the same time had become shorter. And he was no longer cold. Yet he was still able to utter human speech, albeit with the thickness of an animal tongue. The half-completed transformation was a brilliant feat and he congratulated himself on his own skill and drive.
Now it was time to climb. He pushed off with the strong bear legs and could not help roaring with triumph when he managed to heave himself up by the cracks offered by the walls of the well. At once he fell down again and splashed into the water, but now he knew that the climb was feasible, and more cautiously made his way upward. After half a dozen ells, however, he noticed that the shaft narrowed so that the walls were leaning inward, and there he got stuck, whimpering unhappily, unable to move further. It was now completely dark in the mine, but he knew from earlier in the day that the narrow part was transitory, so he should be able to move on if only he managed to pass the overhang. Slowly and cautiously he freed his right paw, while his three other limbs clung cramp-like to their minimal holds. He groped upward for something to hold on to and to his delight got a grip on a protrusion of rock. There did not seem to be much else to hold on to around it, but the rocky edge offered such a good grip that he would be able to hang freely from it by both paws and heave himself up. Hopefully it would then be possible to move on. He moved his other front-claws to the rock as well and then let go with his hind legs so his body lost touch with the rocky wall and swung freely but steadily. Trodax strained his muscles and with all his animal strength heaved himself upward. Then the rock came away from the wall.
At first he did not realise what was happening, but just fell for a second before crashing down below the surface of the water again. When he surfaced, Trodax heard something gushing down into the water with great force from the hole where the rock had been. He swam toward the sound and was almost knocked unconscious as if by a giant plummet when he came under the flow. It was the thick cranial bone of the bear form that saved him. He groped more carefully in front of him and felt a torrent of something incredibly heavy streaming down through the water. Trodax realised that he had coincidentally laid bare a vein of liquid mercury. He had heard tell that the mountain men, before the dragon had taken over the mine, used to listen to the echo in the bedrock and then drilled through it to draw off the hidden deposits of metallic mercury thus discovered. The job was said to require more musicality than engineering and was therefore suited for the mining people who had come to Marjura from eastern Milacke on Trinsmyra long ago.
Trodax wanted to shed a few tears of despair, but the bear eyes lacked that ability. Imagine drowning in mercury before even finishing the fifth volume of his series on the life of dragons, now that he had gained so much new knowledge during the past day! Then he realised something strange: the surface of the water was rising and slowly bearing him with it up through the shaft as the mercury streamed down. The ascent was slow, and in his exhaustion he tried to put his feet down, since the bear paws were not particularly suited for treading water. His hind legs found springy support against the mercury. The wizard sank to his knees in the metal but was then able to keep his balance by paddling with his paws in the water, which was pushed upward by the heavier mercury. In this manner Trodax Draconicus was borne upward through the shaft. A few ells below the rocky rim the movement ceased, probably because the vein of mercury was drained, but from here it was an easy climb up to the mining tunnel.
He cautiously lumbered through the dragon’s mountain hall toward the entrance of the mine, ready to be attacked at any time by the lurking beast. But nothing happened, and soon he stood facing the night wind from the valley running down toward Pik Pustula. Master Trodax did not, however, allow himself the peace of mind to enjoy his recovered freedom. The dragon was airborne! He had to warn the soldiers and have them light the beacon on the mountain! In his half-finished animal shape he hastily scampered down the slopes without noticing the twigs lashing his furry body. There was fire aplenty in the valley, but when he came to the camp the barracks were deserted. The Magister discovered to his horror that it was his own cottage that was on fire. He dashed up, and there in front of the roaring flames sat an elderly soldier, quietly watching the conflagration. While running Trodax had reassumed his human shape; he was now shivering with cold from his swim in the icy waters of the mine, but the fire was so hot that he was unable to move closer than a dragon’s length.
“We must light the beacon at once”, he tried half-heartedly, suspecting what the answer would be.
“They already know. It flew toward Arhem hours ago”, the soldier informed him, blowing his nose in his hand and proffering his bottle of strong drink. Trodax eyed the bottle with disgust but decided for the second time within a day to get drunk.
“The boy came in just as it started”, the man continued, nodding toward the burning house. “Nothing much to do.”
“Was it the dragon snorting fire?” the wizard whispered.
“No, the cook probably left the stove door open and a spark set fire to oil that someone had spilt on the floor.”
They gazed in silence into the fire which spellbound their eyes as fire-beings have always done. A sense of peace came over them, the calm that appears when everything is already too late.
“I saved your books, Master Trodax”, whispered Mok-mok the goatherd boy, who had been hiding among the bushes. The wizard gave a start. It was the first time that the child had spoken since his parents were eaten by the dragon. Mok-mok was sitting on a pack of bound parchments. The sight of them made Trodax cry with emotion. He walked up and kissed the boy on the forehead so hard that his lips left a round mark in the goat dung.
“Master, your ears…?”
Trodax Draconicus felt and discovered that his ears were still round, small and hairy like those of a bear. He did not know it then, but the wizard would have to live with those ears for the rest of his life.