stood next to Heidi petting her cheeks and the crown of her head. “I’m
sorry girl. Life has been rather hectic the last day or two. I’m going to
let you out after I milk you. Go back down to the river, or stay near the
cottage, it’s up to you. You’re on your own now, girl. I might be gone a
while. If I’m not back and your udder is full, walk over to Lachmund.
Someone will take care of you there.” He sat down and milked her until he
held three buckets full.
The door creaked open. Crispin and Gretel stood there staring.
Marti looked at them. “Are you going to gawk at me all day or
help carry the buckets inside?”
Crispin and Gretel each grabbed one. As
before, the milk sloshed out onto their clothes. “Marti, I’m still wearing
the same clothes. They’ve got a lot of dirty stains. My mother will
be...oh, that’s right, she’s not my mother. My mother is dead.” Gretel's
once happy face turned to sadness. They put the buckets of milk on the
floor inside the cottage.
Marti held Gretel against him.
“They killed my mother and father, Marti and now I find out
the only parents I ever knew, are really dragonslayers.” She sobbed into
“So, Darmantha told you. What a vile man he is.” Marti’s anger
After a few minutes, Quirin went over to
Gretel. He knelt down on the floor next to her. “Hello, Gretel. I’m Quirin.
We’ve not been formally introduced. Your parents were good friends of mine
and they were very brave. I knew them well. I am a dragonkeeper too, along
with being a wizard and I miss them very much. I know this won’t take away
the sadness in your heart, but when you were born your father and mother
were delighted. You were sunshine in their souls.”
“Thank you.” Gretel sniffled.
Quirin saw tears puddling in her eyes and
sensed more flowing tears weren’t too far behind. He continued, hoping his
words might offer comfort. “Your father, Astrid, was so proud of you. He
held you and rocked you to sleep every night. No other father could love
his child as Astrid loved you. Reyka, your mother, loved both you and your
father more than words can say. Do you want to know something?”
Gretel nodded her head.
“You look just like her. When I see you, I see her. You’ve got
the same hair, the same eyes…” His voice trailed off and he wiped the
tears spilling down his cheek.
Gretel slipped her arms around Quirin’s neck,
nearly knocking his hat off. “Thank you for telling me that, Quirin. I
miss them, but more than anything, I want to do the things they would have
wanted me to do. Were they wizards too?”
“No, they weren’t wizards. Only Gordinth and I are wizards.
Your parents had powers though,” Quirin said, “as do Marti’s parents.”
“Gretel doesn’t know about the other dragons.”
Crispin sighed a deep breath. Quirin looked at him.
Getting the message, he removed the wizard's
hat and gave it back to Quirin.” Sorry. I wanted to see if it fit.”
“What happened to the other dragons? Aren’t
they down in the cave?” Gretel ran to open the door.
“Stop, Gretel. The dragons are gone. Jorna and
Provan took them. All we have left are Venec and Cardew here. Somewhere
out there, not too far away, Jago and Rosenwyn are in hiding, but for now,
I feel they are better off where they are.” Marti told Gretel the whole
story. They nibbled on cheese fondue. Marti ripped pieces of bread into
bite-sized bits, stuck them on the ends of wooden toothpicks and dipped
them into the runny cheese mixture.
“The dragons are in a place called Arbutel?”
Gretel couldn’t believe it. “I’ll bet when Darmantha woke up and didn’t
see me, he got really mad. I’ll bet he’s gone there too, with Provan and
Jorna. He thinks they’re his slaves. Darmantha is a cruel bully who
doesn’t know how to be nice to anyone.”
“I would say you’re probably correct. The only
way we’re ever going to find the three of them and the dragons is to go to
Arbutel ourselves to search.” Quirin stood up from the table and walked to
the window. “It’s time Gretel took her place as dragonkeeper, in her
parent’s stead; you too, Marti. Your parents, Sindri, Claring, along with
Gordinth and the dragons are waiting for us at Arbutel. They’re expecting
us to return with forty-four dragons. Instead, they’ll get two.”
The group looked at Venec and Cardew, curled
up on Marti’s down pillow, sleeping with soft snoring lullabies.
“How do we get to Arbutel? Is it a long walk?”
Once again Crispin’s curiosity prevailed. “Can we go to Tritem too and see
if we can figure out what killed all the dragons?”
“Crispin, maybe some day we can go there, but
not this time. There’s a place, a cave, up on the mountain.” Quirin
pointed to one of the taller mountains. “Once we get there, I can
transport us, plus the two dragons, to Arbutel.” He looked out the window.
“ I think we should get a good night’s sleep. It might be the last one for
a while. We’ll have a hearty supper and breakfast and then head for the
mountain. Hopefully the snow will stop soon.” He looked at Crispin. “I
know what you’re thinking, young boy. Why don’t I just use my wand and
take us to the mountain? I don’t want to drain my powers for that. I need
the added energy of the mountain cave to get us all to Arbutel. Sorry, my
“Quirin, there is one thing that is bothering
me. I think Crispin should stay here. His parents will worry sick.” Marti
glanced at the boy. “Don’t give me that look. You well know that your
parents sooner or later will realize you’re not there.”
“I’ll go home right now and talk to them. I’ll
tell them I’m going on a trip with Marti, so he can teach me a craft.
They’ll be more than happy to have me learn something to help earn money
and they’ll not complain about having one less mouth to feed.” Crispin
pleaded. “If they say I can come, will you let me? I want to help find the
dragons too and besides that, Gretel needs me, don’t you Gretel?”
She knew Crispin wanted to come. “Yes, I need
“Run along home then and see what your parents
say. If they give you permission, be back here by sunrise.” Marti opened
the door and Crispin ran off.
# # #
After a few minutes of silence, Gretel said,
“We’re not taking him, are we, Quirin?” She knew the answer before she
“I’m sorry, Gretel. It is far too dangerous for him. I
hesitate taking the both of you, but you’re much better prepared for this
than Crispin. I say we eat our supper and then leave.”
“I’m not hungry,” Gretel said.
Neither she nor Marti felt much like eating
until Quirin raised his wand and chanted, “Sapa Techios Kefray”. Amid a
thousand sparkles of color and in the blink of an eye, the bare wooden
table no longer stood empty. “Here you are…a feast for the eyes and your
taste buds too. Eat up. It will be a while before you get anything else to
Gretel, delighted to see the magic, noticed a
variety of beef, chicken, and pork dishes, dripping with savory juices and
roasted to a golden brown. Mashed potatoes, creamy and buttery, and
whipped to perfection, sat in the center of a willow-patterned plate. A
matching gravy goblet filled to the rim with rich, brown gravy to pour
over the potatoes, made Gretel’s mouth water. “Well, I suppose I can force
myself to eat a little.” She giggled with delight.
“And you, Marti? Are you hungry yet?” Quirin
winked at the man.
“I’ve not seen food like this since I went to
a Christmas party in Nuremberg, Germany. When I was a young boy I went
with my mother to the Christmas Market. We went to one of their feasts. It
was something like this.” His eyes twinkled with remembrance.
Crystal dishes, etched with a design of pine
trees and pine cones, lay around the platters of meat. Each was stacked to
the top with asparagus in hollandaise sauce, artichokes bursting open like
a morning flower, pebble-sized baby onions, buttery mushroom caps, tiny
carrots, and dark green broccoli.
Dozens of varieties of pastas surrounded the
plate of potatoes. Layers of cheese, meat and tomatoes separated the thick
lasagna noodles. Spaghetti with a rich meaty sauce, sprinkled and with
oregano and Parmesan, sat next to a platter of fettuccini and clam sauce.
Garlic cheese bread, flaky, buttery croissants, and breadsticks coated
with garlic butter, stacked high on a plate, tempted even the
Mountains of pastries, better looking than the
ones sold in the village bakery, hypnotized Gretel with their sugary
aroma. Chocolate éclairs filled with whipped cream, toffees coated with
crushed pecans, caramel sauces dripping over the edge of cakes and donuts,
peach cobblers dusted with powdered sugar, honey-coated baklava, full of
chopped walnuts and sticky syrup, and crusty cherry pies, oozing and
bubbling their juices over the rim, all waited to be devoured with a scoop
of melting vanilla ice cream.
“Wow! Look at all this food! If we eat even a
tiny bit of it, we’ll be full for a year!” Gretel reached her hand and
grabbed a chicken leg. Its golden brown, pecan-crusted skin dripped greasy
juices on the front of her dress when she took a bite. “It’s all so
delicious! You’re a good cook, Quirin.”
“Help yourselves. Don’t worry about the mess
on your clothes, Gretel. I’ll give you some new things before we leave.
Marti, eat up.” Quirin roared with laughter.
Marti and Gretel soon forgot about Crispin as they ate their
fill of delectable foods.
They spent the next few hours talking. Quirin
told Marti more about his parents and Arbutel. “It’s time to go,” he said,
seeing the darkening sky outside. “The snow has stopped now.” He whirled
his wand around a few times and both Marti’s and Gretel’s dirty clothes
disappeared. New ones replaced them.
“Wow again! Look at me!” Gretel saw her
reflection in the windowpane. “I love these blue denim pants, Quirin.
They’ll keep me warm, and look at my new boots. My feet will never get
cold now. Thank you for the gray jumper. It’s made of wool, like the ones
in the shop windows in our village. Thank you.” She gave him a big hug.
Marti examined himself. His dark brown
corduroy pants and sturdy boots matched his lighter, cream-colored jumper.
On the bed lay two coats, one for him and one for Gretel. Both of them
found warm leather gloves with fur lining in the pockets.
“Now that you’re both set, I suggest we leave. Put the dragons
in here.” Quirin gave Marti two boxes with handles on top. “They are
special carriers. Both are lined with fur to keep the dragons warm.”
Gretel picked up the dragons and with Marti’s help, put them
into the boxes. Quirin added, “Throw a few pieces of cheese in there
for them, oh, and some of those chocolate cake things too.”
Gretel filled the boxes with the food and closed the lids.
“Pack some of that leftover food away in your pack while
you’re at it.”
“I want to leave a note for Crispin. He’s
going to be upset when he comes back and finds we went without him.” Marti
sat down and wrote a letter to the boy, asking him to take care of Heidi
and apologizing for leaving him behind. He set it on the table next to the
block of cheese. When he turned his back, Gretel slipped the pencil and
paper into her pocket.
Quirin opened the door and the two followed him out.