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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Two - Arbutel - Chapter 18

            Crispin struggled through the snow, pulling himself up the mountainside by holding onto branches and rocks. He stopped for a rest, sitting on a rock.  “Why is there a piece of bread lying here by my feet?”  He picked it up. “It’s fresh. Gretel! She’s left a trail for me. At least I hope that’s what it is.” Forgetting about how tired he was, he searched for another piece, finding one near another tree. “Aha, she did leave a trail. Way to go, Gretel!”

            He bounded up the path. “The bread leads into that patch of pine trees over there. It doesn’t look like there is a cave.” He reached into his pack and pulled out a slab of cheese. Nibbling away, he heard a faint noise. “That sounds like a dragon screeching.” He jumped up and listened, hand to his ear. Screech. Screech. “That’s a dragon, but who…?”

Crispin looked further up the mountain. “It’s coming from up there.” He ran in the direction of the noise, which grew louder and louder.

            Hiding between two boulders, Jago and Rosenwyn watched the boy draw closer. Their hunger overcame all fear. Screech. Screech. Screech.

            Crispin leaned over the boulder and saw the shivering dragons. “Jago! Rosenwyn! You’re here and alive! Come and have some cheese.” He broke a piece off and lured the two babies over to him.

            They leapt from the ground, landing next to him on a large rock.

            “You’re starving. Come with me and I’ll feed you.” He walked a few steps. “Come on. Don’t be afraid.”

            The dragons looked at each other, flapped their wings and flew to Crispin.

            “Good dragons. Come on.” He ran as fast as he could down to the place where he’d left his pack. He opened it and pulled out more cheese, some berries, bread and yogurt. “Here you go. Eat all you want.” Four slices of bread, three blocks of cheese, two handfuls of berries and six yogurts later, the no longer hungry dragons collapsed on the ground.

            Rosenwyn, with her glossy black scales covered with blobs of yogurt, sighed a contented smile.

            “I’ll bet you’ve not eaten since you left Marti’s cave. No wonder you ate so much!” Crispin giggled and stroked her head.

            Jago sat up. His purple tail wiggled back and forth in happiness, like a dogs.      “Jago, you’re much happier now, aren’t you? You’re both full. You need to wipe the food off your mouths. It looks gross.” Crispin reached into his pack and pulled out a scarf. He gently wiped the creamy mess off their faces. “You two need to come with me. We’ve got to go to Arbutel. Have you heard of it?” He asked the two dragons, who simply looked at him, no idea what he meant. “Marti, Gretel and Quirin are going there and left me behind, but Gretel didn’t want to. I know that because she’s left a trail.” He jumped up and ran over to a piece of bread and picked it up. “See this? Gretel’s dropped pieces of it the entire way up the trail. That’s how I know where to go. Do you want this piece of bread, Jago?”

            The dragon opened his mouth and bit it out of Crispin’s hand.

             “You silly dragon. You can’t possibly be hungry still.”

            Crispin sat down on the ground with his back against a tree.

            Jago and Rosenwyn ran over to him and snuggled down near his legs.

            “You’re not afraid of me at all. Let’s take a nap. I think we all need one.” After he heard the dragon’s soft snores, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

            When he woke up, a coolness in the air rushed over him. Relieved to see the two dragons sleeping, he stood, trying not to disturb them. He failed.

            They sprung to their feet as soon as he took the first step.

            “Well, since you’re awake, I think we’d better get to the cave before it gets dark. It’s getting colder too.”  Crispin picked up the pack and headed for the grove of pines.   The dragons flew behind him, their bellies a little fatter than before.

            The tall trees engulfed them in darkness. “It’s kind of scary in here, isn’t it? Well, we have to be brave. See, there’s another piece of bread. They went this way earlier this morning.”

            The dragons flew ahead of him.

            “Wait for me, guys.”

            When he caught up with the dragons they were standing next to a pile of bones.  Jago looked up, his eyes pooled with tears.

            “What’s the matter, Jago? Bones?” Crispin knelt down. “They’re huge. These must be dragon bones. That makes you sad, doesn’t it?” Crispin didn’t touch them. He stood in silence, trying to imagine the creature these bones belonged to. “I know it’s sad, but we’re going to a place where you’ll be safe and never have to worry about someone trying to kill you.” A few minutes later they continued.

            Jago saw the note first. He flew over to it, nudged the stone to the side, picked it up and took it to Crispin.

            “Good boy.” He read it. “It’s from Gretel. She’s told us how to get to Arbutel. We’ve got to go inside the cave first.” He stuck his head in the hole. “Here goes.” He climbed in and the dragons zoomed in behind him with ease. They flew around the cave. “This is cool…cool…cool. Wow, it echoes in here…here…here.” After shouting a few more times, it bored him. This reminds you of home, doesn’t it?” The stone sat in the hole, where Quirin left it. “There’s the green stone.” He reached for the emerald. “Wow! That’s not just a stone. It must be worth a million dollars. Look, Jago and Rosenwyn. See this stone?”

            They flew to him and hovered, gazing at the stone.

            “You probably don’t know what it is anyway. It goes in here.” He put it back in the hole.

            “You’ve got to stand next to me. Put your wings against my leg and make sure you’re touching me.”

            The dragons moved in closer.

             When he felt their wings touching him, he opened the note. “Now I’ve got to say these magic words. Are you ready?”

             The dragons screeched.

            “Here goes. Opinus Carballus.” The room filled with colored lights and sparkles and spun around them in a whirlwind. Crispin and the two baby dragons found themselves standing in a meadow of wildflowers.

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