Flames of a Fire-Breathing Dragon

There’s a song about a fire-breathing dragon that I absolutely love.  It’s by The Four Postmen, an amazingly talented band of my friend and former co-worker.  The song is about this guy who chases a fire-breathing dragon up a hill because “who cares, so what, big deal.”  And then the dragon breathes.  I stood by and watched as the smoke grew thicker, filtering through the windows, reaching for the sky.  I imagined the flames to be those of a fire-breathing dragon, angry with his captors, setting his small prison on fire.  It seemed fitting as the building was a Game of Thrones exhibit at Klis Fortress, the set location of the city of Meereen in the popular television series from HBO.  Ironically in the corner of the exhibit was a paper mache dragon representing those of Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, whose character conquers the city to free the slaves.

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Dragon display inside exhibit. Photo by Eric Cheung

We could hear the sounds of glass shattering, exploding from the heat.  Firemen looked on, suited up as if preparing for battle while the men below prepared the hose extensions in order to reach the truck parked outside the entrance to the fortress.  Spectators like myself looked on taking photos and videos of the flames losing control inside the stone structure.  A policeman spoke to a local gentleman taking notes that I could only assume were his account as a “witness.” All I could think of was ‘you have no idea what happened here.’

It was hard to believe that my first month on Remote Year was nearly complete as my final days in Split were quickly approaching.  Panic started to creep in as I realized that there were still so many things I wanted to do that week plus suddenly I had all these projects that required my attention.  The concept of having so much free time quickly went out the window.  I hadn’t accounted for the size of my passion projects nor adding on additional projects including teaching a workshop.  I guess that’s the curse of the overachiever, always overfilling my plate.

Regardless, I knew Klis Fortress was a place that I wanted to get to before I left Split.  I lost track of how many people had asked me about visiting the Game of Thrones locations so I wanted to see as many of those as I could.  Talking to my friends Hailey and Nicole, we decided to spend a leisurely afternoon at the fortress, bring along some of our art supplies and take time to sketch, paint or draw the views of the city of Split from above.  I haven’t done a lot of drawing in the past but I was eager to try out my newly purchased pencils and charcoal.  In the past few years, I’ve felt a strong desire to draw, although I’m not really sure why.  I figured it was about time I listened to my soul.

We called for an Uber to take us to the fortress about a 20 minute drive from our workspace.  Our driver evidently hadn’t been there before and made a few wrong turns along the way.  He drove down a steep narrow hill and eventually stopped to ask an old man for directions who pointed up the hill.  Seeing a tourist sign for a landmark, he pulled over declaring our arrival and drove away.  It was not the fortress but at least it was only a short walk up the hill from there and a little exercise never hurts.

As it started to lightly rain, I thought to myself that perhaps we should have checked the weather.  I have a terrible habit of not checking the forecast and always seem to walk outside dressed for opposite temperatures than I was anticipating for desired choice of attire.  We were determined however to not let a little rain ruin our adventure.  We were at the top of the fortress and I took a few photos of my friends sitting on a ledge before I declared we should move lower and away from the metal flagpole that was next to us.  We made our way down to the a lower level as the rain started to come down even harder.

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Our archway of shelter. Photo by Stevie Kloeber

We saw a couple in an archway and figured we might as well stay here under cover to wait out the rain.  We considered making our way back down the hill to grab a cappuccino in one of the little bars nearby.  Being the only one with a raincoat, I walked a little ways to scout out another shelter close by we could check out.  I walked back declaring the next archway too far, completely oblivious to the building housing the soon to be extinguished exhibit mere yards away.  If I had realized it was there, you can guarantee I would have suggested we wait out the storm in there instead of the cobblestone street that quickly turned into a stream of rainwater.

We shifted as we could to stay on the drier stones of the pathway.  I pretended to be a tour guide making up history and ‘facts’ about the stones and bricks that were used to build the arch of our shelter.  We tried our best to pass the time, counting the seconds between distant flashes of lightning and claps of thunder.  They seemed to be getting closer and I tried to pretend that I wasn’t getting nervous.

I didn’t see it but I felt the bass reverberating through my very core.  It was as if the entire stone structure on that cliffside shook from the wrath of the gods, the walls echoing with our screams.  We’re not entirely sure exactly where the lightning struck but Nicole saw the electric bolt flashing through the dark sky seemingly hitting a nearby tree.

Panic took over.  What do we now?  Where do we go?  Do we run for it?  Where would we even run to?  All around us were more exposed fields and there were few shelters in sight under which we might be able to take cover.  There was also no way of knowing if another lightning bolt would strike as we ran for the next cover.  Eventually we all ran to a tunnel not too far ahead of us.

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Our second attempt at shelter in the archers’ tunnel. Photo by Stevie Kloeber

It was an L shaped tunnel at the front of the fortress with slits in the walls for the archers, emitting very little light into the narrow hallway.  We tucked into the corner quietly looking at our phones until another bolt struck right outside the wall reflecting inside our tunnel.  Shaking with fright we decided to stay put this time and wait for the storm to pass.  Eventually I said we should tell stories.  Pretend to be tour guides again or make up histories of the events that took place and the people who once walked the grounds of the fortress.  It was enough of a suggestion to at least get us conversing with one another and took our minds off what was going on outside.  The time seemed to pass more quickly and we finally realized the rain had stopped and light began to shine through the narrow openings a little brighter.  We heard faint voices of tourists who had begun arriving after the rain and decided it was safe for us to emerge from our tunnel, sighing with relief from having survived the storm.

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Firemen analyzing the situation. Photo by Stevie Kloeber

I replayed the events of the afternoon in my head as I watched the fire caused by the lightning engulf the exhibit we could have been inside.  A local guide looked at us and said, “This happens once every hundred years.  There’s your story.”  I contemplated his choice of words as story has not only been a theme throughout my life but Hailey and I had also recently been tapped to teach a workshop on storytelling for our fellow remotes to help them identify the stories they would tell about their year of adventures.  Of course this isn’t “the story” but it is one of many that I will tell of my year to come.  He asked if he could take a photo of us as we documented our tale.  Later we discovered he submitted those photos to the local news in which our likeness was featured in the story about the lightning induced fire at Klis Fortress.  Glowing in our new local celebrity status, we chugged some beers as we awaited our Uber driver, celebrating our survival of our adventure to Meereen and our escape from the fury of a fire-breathing dragon.

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