O Cebreiro, Spain – March 24, 2017
Daya and I sprawl out on a pair of benches. Sunlight spills through a crack in the clouds. I kick my shoes off to air out. The mighty Dragonte route lays behind us, its packs of mismatched dogs tamed, its mud and snow crossed, its three climbs a smoldering ruin under our feet.
“But it was pretty, though,” I say.
Almost no one walks the Dragonte route. It’s poorly marked for the Camino, it rages up and down mountains as if on purpose, there aren’t any sure places to stop for coffee and sandwiches, and the guidebooks almost beg you to go any other way with a slew of warnings. Don’t go in bad weather. Don’t start late. Don’t go if you aren’t an experienced hiker.
“You think the Templar Knights really used it to wear enemies down before an ambush?” I ask.
Daya shrugs. I’d read that tidbit somewhere, that by the end their enemies couldn’t raise swords or pull bow strings. It all but forced me to go and see how tired I would be. We eat a bit of bread and hummus, as dragon slayers do.
“Onward to O Cebreiro?” I ask.
There’s still light left in the day and we haven’t forgotten how to walk to the end of it. We catch the last climb, the only one on the main Camino, in the golden hour before sunset. Almost no one walks this late here but it has always been my favorite hour. Light filters through the patchwork of clouds and sky, glowing golden against the white-capped mountains rising behind us. I trace the Dragonte route through the folded earth with my eyes and smile. There’s where we got a bit lost, where we came close to fighting a pack of dogs, where a maze of muddy tracks confused us. We never saw another hiker, there were no albergue signs or pilgrims menus. Even the trail markings seemed begrudgingly sparse enough to keep me unsure.
I watch a ribbon of falling snow march up the valley behind us. It moves faster than we walk and the flakes swirl over us and beyond, like the dragon’s last breath goodbye as we climb up the pass to the snow-filled village of O Cebreiro.
In the street we run across Christina and Jorgelina. They’re heading to dinner and we wave. They disappear for a moment behind a building.
“Where are they going?” Daya asks.
A moment later, the first snowball flies, white and glistening in the twilight. I watch it spinning in the air even as I turn to run. I think of my jacket stowed in my pack, too warm for the climb. I think of my hat and rain pants, all the armor I am not wearing. I think of the Templars of old and their ancient trap sprung once again.
I smile, grab a handful of snow, and hurl it back at the attacking knights.