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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Two - Arbutel - Chapter 33

Sindri opened the lid to the jar and released the nutui bugs. She stirred the coals from the night before and lit a new fire. A few days earlier, Claring chopped a cord of wood and stacked it against their hut. Sindri appreciated having it so readily available. After the fire roared to life, Sindri went into Gretel’s hut. “Gretel, I need you to come and help me gather some mork eggs. Come on, wake up.” She shook the girl, trying not to disturb Crispin.

Gretel rubbed her eyes and rolled over. “Sindri?”

“Yes, dear. I need your help. Be quiet though. We don’t want to wake Crispin or the others.” She picked up Gretel’s sandals. “Put these on. It’s chilly this morning. Are these the only clothes you have?”

Gretel nodded.

“We’ll have Quirin get you some when he wakes up.”

Gretel yawned and climbed out of bed and slipped on her clothes. She felt amazingly refreshed for only having three hours of sleep. “Where are we going?” She whispered to Sindri, closing the door behind her.

“I want to gather some fresh mork eggs for breakfast and see if we can find some rabubas too. They make a wonderful juice, quite like orange juice, with a citrussy flavor.”

“Look at the sunrise, Sindri. It’s colorful. I’ve never seen a blue, green, and purple sunrise.”

“There is nothing more beautiful in the world than an Arbutel sunrise. You see, the colors of the island, cerulean blues from the water, jungle greens from the trees and mulberry purples from the flowers, all reflect off the clouds. When the sun’s rays hit them, it makes a spectacular and colorful morning. “I like the shades of pinks the most, and some of the oranges and corals too.”

The two of them went into the woods. “I see some yamitas.” Gretel reached up and pulled a few from the branches.

“You’re a lucky girl. Look over there. See those magenta flowers? Those are brasti flowers. Go and have a smell. Once the cluder bees wake up, you’ll not get near them without getting stung.”

Gretel ran over and sniffed. “Oh, they’re lovely. They smell better than roses, orchids and all the other flowers put together.”

“That’s why they make the best honey. Claring’s got some beehives further in the woods. He keeps them well away from the huts. The last thing we need is a swarm of cluder bees zipping and zooming around our village stinging us all!” Sindri looked at the yamitas Gretel picked. “You know your yamitas. Those ones you picked are perfectly ripe. Good choice.” She picked an armful of rabubas. “See these fruits. They sort of look like limes, yet they’re the size of grapefruits. Their juice tastes like oranges and lemons mixed together, with a touch of sweetness. I can fill up a jug by squeezing just one rabuba. Amazing fruits!”  They walked on further. “Ah, Gretel. Come and see this. See that bird?” She pointed to an indigo bird flying from one of the trees. “It’s called a mork. Mork’s are no good to eat. See how their wings are light purple? They have small tubes on the end of them and when they eat rubbish it goes into these feathers and makes the flesh taste like spoiled goat liver.”

Gretel made a face of disgust.

 “Their eggs taste delicious though. They remind me of the boiled eggs we had back home. Marti loved boiled eggs. I hope he’ll like the mork eggs too.”

“I’m sure he will. I can’t wait to see them. How do we get up to their nest?”

“One of us has to climb the tree and pick them out of the nest. That’s the reason we don’t eat them too often. We’re all too old for tree climbing these days.”

Gretel looked at Sindri. “I think I should do the climbing this morning. Here, take the yamitas.”

Sindri held open her apron and Gretel dropped the yamitas and rabubas into it.

“I’ll climb the tree.”

“Be careful, dear. You’re wearing sandals, not proper climbing shoes.”

Gretel made her way up to the top. “Sindri, there are twenty-two eggs in this nest. They’ve got lavender eggshells. Are the eggs lavender inside too?” Gretel shouted down. She picked the eggs up and filled her pockets with them and climbed back down.

“The eggshells are pretty, but no, Gretel, the insides aren’t lavender, they’re the color of sea foam. They taste good though.” Sindri put the eggs in her apron pockets and they headed back to camp.

Marti and Claring sat by the fire, stirring the coals.

Quirin and Gordinth were nowhere to be found.

 “Where’s Quirin?” Gretel ran to Marti.

“They’re both sleeping right now. Let them rest. We’ll call them when breakfast is ready.” Claring dropped another log on the fire.

“What about Crispin? Is he still sleeping too?” Gretel helped Sindri take the food from her apron.

“No, silly. I’m not asleep. I’m right here!” Crispin walked towards her.

“Crispin! Did you sleep well? It’s great to see you looking so well.” Marti scooted over to make a place near the fire for the boy.

“Now that you’re awake, we’ll introduce ourselves. This is Sindri. She’s Marti’s mother. I’m Claring, Marti’s father.”

“Marti, you’ve met your mom and dad again.” Crispin smiled and then patted Marti on his back.

“Let me get these eggs on to fry and then I’ll check your wounds. How did you come by those anyway?” Sindri said, breaking the eggs into the pan.

Gretel looked at the bubbling eggs, curious to see what sea foam color looked like.

“Let’s just say there were a few unusual creatures out there. Not all of the island is this pretty,” Crispin said, looking around. “Where Darmantha and the others are, well, it’s not nice at all. It should be called Creepsville. There are a lot of dangerous things out there. They’ve got Jago and Rosenwyn too and they might hurt them.”

“Gordinth assures us the little ones are all right. Don’t worry. We’ll get them back.  Speaking of Jago and Rosenwyn, we’ve got a surprise for you after you finish your breakfast,” Marti said.

Just then Gordinth and Quirin came out of their huts.

 “Oh good. We can have breakfast now. Everybody gather round. I’ve got fried mork eggs, some yamitas and rabuba juice. Gather around the table all of you.” Sindri started putting the food out. ”There’s nothing better than to start the day off with a good breakfast.”

Quirin sat down next to Crispin. “I trust you slept well last night young boy. Once you’ve finished eating, we’ve got a surprise for you.”

“Yes, I know. Marti told me.”

Gretel giggled. “It’s a great surprise, Crispin. I know you’re going to like this one.”       

Crispin practically inhaled his breakfast. He ate three fried mork eggs, a few yamitas and two glasses of rabuba juice. “Okay. I’m finished. I’m ready for the surprise. Where is it?”

“Settle down, young boy. You’ll find out soon enough,” Quirin said. “Let’s finish our breakfast first. Who else wants to come with us?”

“I do,” Gretel said.

“I’ll come too,” Marti said.

“Sindri, Gordinth and I will stay here and clean up. After you get back, I seriously think we need to come up with a plan of action to get Jago and Rosenwyn back. You go off and have fun. We’ll talk later.” Claring stood up and started taking the dirty dishes off the table.

Quirin finished eating while an anxious Crispin paced back and forth. He wiped his mouth and looked at the boy. “Oh, all right. Let’s be off. Wait. You need some shoes and clean clothes.” His wand waved and both he and Gretel found themselves properly clad. “Much better.”

* * *

 “Where are we going? What’s the surprise?” Crispin’s eyes glowed with anticipation.

“Close your eyes. We’re almost there.” Quirin put his hand over the boy’s eyes so he wouldn’t peek. “You can open them…now.”

“Wow! Look at the big dragons! Are they Jago and Rosenwyn?” He ran up to them, but stopped short. “Wait, will they roast me with their fire and eat me?”

“No, of course not. You’re perfectly safe around them. Go ahead and touch them if you’d like.”  Quirin stepped back, allowing the children and Marti the full attention of the dragons.

“I’ll take you,” Marti said. He’d not touched the dragons yet either. Together they went, hand in hand to Jago’s tail.

Crispin looked up at the dragon as he gently stroked its tail. “It feels different than when I touched Zara. Jago’s scales are rough and worn out looking. Her scales were much softer.”

Who’s Zara? Rosenwyn didn’t know any dragon with that name.

Zara is a toy. I made her to keep the babies company and to offer them comfort. Quirin hoped she understood.

That was a brilliant thing to do.

Quirin looked up to see Rosenwyn’s eyelid flutter. A puff of smoke blew from her nose, but Marti, Gretel, and Crispin didn’t notice.

Marti, also able to communicate with the dragons telepathically thought, the boy’s having fun. It looks like you’ve had a rough life, Jago. It’s good to be here with you.

I’ve been in many battles, Marti and so has Rosenwyn. These babies are our last hope for joy. What a way to spend our remaining years. Look at these little ones. Already they’ve added ten years to my life.

Marti watched the little dragons. They zoomed around the cave, darting from one dragon to another, constantly seeking attention from Jago and Rosenwyn.

“Look at the babies, Marti. They like it here much better than the cave at home. They’re happy and so are the big dragons.” Crispin looked at Gretel. “What do you think of them, Gretel?”

“I love them all. I’m glad the babies are safe now,” she said.

Rosenwyn used this moment to puff another blast of smoke through her nose.

Gretel noticed Crispin's hesitancy. “Don’t be afraid, Crispin. They only do that when they’re happy. If they were mad, they’d blow fire.”

They stayed with the dragons for an hour or two and then went back to Luba, where the others waited. “Ah, here you are. While you were gone, we came up with a plan. Crispin, do you remember how to get to Darmantha’s camp?” Claring invited them to sit down.

“I don’t really remember. It’s sort of that way though,” he pointed. “It was dark and I was afraid. I ran so fast and didn’t pay any attention to the way I was going. I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine, Crispin. After your brief explanation last night, I think I know the vicinity. There’s a part of the island that once was filled with volcanic activity. Some of the trees have died and it’s not as pretty as the rest of the island. Did you notice anything unusual there?”

“Unusual? Well, you mean aside from bird-flowers that tried to kill me, or the dirt monsters, giant man-eating plants and jelly monsters with green blood? I think there are a lot of unusual things there,” Crispin said.

“Quirin, we’d better go. Darmantha might decide to kill the dragons first and not wait for the others. I think only a few of us should go. Why don’t you, Marti and I go? The others can stay here.” Claring stood and stretched.

“Whoa! Wait just a minute, Claring. I’m not staying here. I’m going with you. Those babies mean as much to me as they do you. I’d like to get rid of Darmantha, Provan and Jorna as much as you would,” Sindri said, flinging her arms about in anger.

“I’m going too,” said Gretel. “I am as much a dragonkeeper now as you are. I want to help rescue them.”

Quirin looked at Claring. “I’m afraid you’ve been out-numbered. The way I see it, Sindri, you, Marti, Gretel and I will go. Crispin, you’ll need to stay here with Gordinth and the dragons. You’ve been wounded and need to take care of yourself. You’ve done a great job so far. You’ll stay then?”

“Yes, I’ll stay with Gordinth and the dragons,” he said, “but there’s something I have to ask you, Quirin.”

“What’s that boy?” The wizard sat down next to him.

“Why didn’t you just stop Provan and Jorna from taking the babies in the cave in Switzerland? You were there. You could have stopped them. You said you thought it all needed to play out. Now look what’s happened.”

“Crispin, it all worked out. All the babies are back with Jago and Rosenwyn, except little Jago and Rosenwyn.” Gretel, standing next to Quirin, put her hand on his shoulder.

“You’re right, they are all here now, but I had to help them escape and Darmantha was mean to them and hurt them. I don’t understand.” Crispin’s gaze wandered from Quirin to Sindri and Claring.

Gordinth reached his hand towards the boy and pulled him up, answering the question. “Crispin, Darmantha would have gotten the babies no matter what we did. Quirin knew this. He was wise enough to know there was nothing he could do or should do to stop the events that were going to place regardless. The reason why isn’t important. The fact that we have our babies back with Jago and Rosenwyn is important. Perhaps one day you’ll understand. For now, trust us when we say that Quirin did the right thing. I’d have done the same, so would have any of us.”

Quirin stood and moved away from the dragons.

“Can I ask one more question? How did Darmantha, Provan and Jorna get here? Did they go to the cave too?” Crispin scratched his leg.

Quirin answered. “He didn’t come through our cave. He’s got his own ways, Crispin. Maybe it’s better that we never know.”

Gordinth cleared his throat. “I see that you all think I’m too old to be of much assistance. Nobody thought to ask me if I’d like to go.” He crossed his arms in a huff.

“Well, Gordinth…” Sindri said.

“Don’t ‘well Gordinth’ me. It just so happens that I want to stay here with the dragons. I’ve not been apart from them for hundreds of years now and I’m quite sure you can handle Darmantha. Besides that, Crispin and I can become better acquainted, right lad?”

“Yes, Gordinth. I’d like that. I can spend more time with the dragons too,” Crispin said.

“It’s settled then. Each of you gather a pack. Fill it with food and any other things you can think of that might come in handy. We’ll plan on leaving within the hour.” Quirin spoke and then they separated in preparation.

An hour later the group gathered in the center of the village, ready to leave. The sounds of hugs and goodbyes filled the air and then they were off. 

“Well, Crispin, it looks like it’s just you, me, and the dragons. I was thinking, you’ve certainly done your share. How would you like to be an apprentice dragonkeeper and wizard?”

“What? Me? I’d love that!” Crispin shouted with joy.

“While the rest of them are gone, I’ll teach you some skills you will need and if you work hard and show me that you’re sincere about all this, I’ll let you ride one of the dragons.”

“You mean I’ll be able to go for a ride on one of the dragon’s backs? Wow! I’ll learn everything you want to teach me and I’ll try really hard.” Crispin remembered something. “I have another question. Was it you who sent me the message to go to the mountain?”

“Yes, it was me, boy. The fact that you heard me and obeyed shows me your courage and faith. You’ll make a fine wizard.”

“I thought wizards had to be born wizards. When did you become one? I mean, were you born a wizard?”

“That, my boy is a long story and better saved for another time. I will say this though, anyone can become a wizard if they do the right things and learn the wizard ways. You don’t have to be born one. I wasn’t. My father, Sqirinth, was a powerful wizard. He had two sons. My older brother, Amtith, was a natural wizard. From the age of one he was able to do wizard magic. I suppose you could say he was born one. I, on the other hand, struggled to learn wizard ways. It took me many years to learn even the simplest wizard magic.”

“What happened to Amtith? Is he dead?” Crispin wasn’t sure if he should have asked.

“It’s all right to ask. Amtith died many years ago. Darmantha killed him. It was long ago. I’d nearly forgotten about it.”

“Darmantha’s done a lot of bad things, hasn’t he? He killed Gretel’s parents and your brother too. I wonder how many dragons he killed and other people we don’t know about.”

“He’s killed many good wizards and dragons. He’s responsible for his own younger brother’s death. There’s a book of sad stories out there thanks to Darmantha, but I’ve noticed that he’s starting to get sloppy in his ways. With proper training, you can become a wizard too. I’ll teach you, my boy.” Gordinth saw tears puddle in Crispin’s eyes. He reached for him. “Come on now, let’s have none of that.” He wiped the tears that rolled down Crispin’s cheeks. “Let’s go visit the dragons again. I think you need to acquaint yourself with them. I’d like to see how you interact with each other.” Gordinth took Crispin’s hand and headed for the dragon cave.

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