Apr. 15th, 2010 03:16 pm
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[personal profile] malsperanza

On the Markarfljot, the day began long before dawn, when the lamps were lit and the work of loading and disembarkation started again. It continued all morning under a thunderous sky, while the ether crackled like cannonfire, and the lightning played blue on the crests of the Eyjafjalla Jökull. Every now and then their breath caught with the smell of it.

First she saw the sky, covered by the stars the Icelanders used to count time. Among them was Sirius, which they called Loki-brenna, Loki's fire. Below the stars was the dim white of snow, and black against that, the stolid forms of the ponies. She walked to his side and, pausing, looked at the same view: the jöklar like clouds in the sky, ridge upon ridge, and above the furthest of them a sparkle, as if the fires of Loki were playing about it. The air was so still that the faintest grumble of thunder could be heard, even from such a distance. Katla, not Hekla. And from Katla or Hekla, the thing she had sensed, that had brought her out here in the first place. The faintest odour of sulphur. [...]

As the snow around them grew dim, she saw something else. Beneath the seething smoke-clouds of Hekla, a smouldering glow had appeared in the vacant dark sky filled with silence. Very soon after that, like a monster disturbed, the ground beneath their feet grumbled and stirred, and was quiet. With one accord, then, they stopped. [...]

"It isn't dark now," he said; and rose... "Come and see." She went out. She faced west, and saw above her the ink-blue of night. She faced north, and a lantern hung in the sky; or it might have been the basket of balefire of a castle, or a burning thicket of thorns that threw off a continuous low sparkle of red, but yet was not consumed. Above Hekla floated crimson-lined clouds. Below floated the shoulders and spires of snowy eminences, all frosted like sweetmeats with pink.

The south was different. In the south, a field of dazzling white champignons ripened and burst in the dark. Beneath them was a point of red light. She said, "It has begun."...

Outside was a wonder of light. One by one, the seams of Hekla's dark garment were bursting apart to expose the living core. The flames, higher now, were both yellow and red, pushed about by the curdling smoke, and their light flickered and streamed over the ghostly beds of the snow. Now the air shook with the sound of muffled explosions; now there resounded a group of ringing reports, upon which the golden spray rocketed. Colpito, a hit.

If the north was crimson and gold, the south was a shimmering miasma of white, drifting steam shaken by sudden explosions, and stained with darker effusions shot with red. The distant concussion from both labouring mountains was almost continuous, as from a battery of ... guns, or the noise of a crowd watching Florentine football, or of an audience roused by a play. There was thunder pealing in the steam above Katla, shot with blue light.

Now, you could no longer diminish what was happening by translating it into human dimensions. This was not a play. This was the hurling into the sky of thousand-ton blocks of ice, glinting and roseate in the thundering night. This was the discharge of millions of gallons of boiling water, plunging down from the mountain in a wild dashing glitter, outrunning the billows of its own pink-flushed steam. This was a spectacle of red and gold flames, of spinning fire-balls, of swathes and columns of sparkling ashes and sand. This was the crack of thunder and the roar of explosions and the massive, evil susurration of the deluge, continuous as the hiss of the sea. This was the Twilight of the Gods.

~From Dorothy Dunnett, To Lie with Lions, 1999.

Nobody writes descriptions like Dorothy Dunnett.
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