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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Three - The Dragon's Hope - Chapter 37

Quirin and the others walked along side the Pimbo River. The sound of the wide rushing river calmed them as they made their way toward Utheria.

Gretel climbed onto a large rock. “Look! There’s one of the bridges you told me about, Quirin. It looks like it’s made of white marble with gray streaks in it. It’s shiny too. I can see houses on it. Well, they used to be houses, but now they’re just piles of stones. This is a wide river, isn’t it, Marti?”

Marti shielded his eyes from the sun and looked up the river. “Yes, Gretel. I’m as amazed as you are. I see the bridge and the old houses. Mother and Father told me about Utheria. I’m anxious to explore the ruins.”

“Me too. I wonder if the children who lived there played with dolls. Do you think the bad people let the little girls take the dolls when they captured them?” Gretel sighed.  “Real people lived in those houses, Marti. All the little boys and their fathers were killed. War is horrible.”

Marti took her hand and they walked together toward the ruins.

Standing to the side of the bridge, they saw many flowers and grasses growing among the fallen stones. Quirin spoke. “Here we are. This is, or should I say, this was Utheria, one of the greatest cities ever to exist.” With deep sadness, the five of them gazed at hundreds of white marble columns lying on their sides. A few stood, broken or cracked, but the majority of them toppled over due to the passing of time. Quirin stretched out his hand, scanning the ancient landmark.

“Quirin, I want to go exploring. Can I wander off by myself and meet you back here in an hour or two?” Gretel hoped he’d say yes.

“Of course. Go ahead and look around. Just be careful. Don’t trip and hurt yourself,” Quirin cautioned.

Gretel ran toward the bridge. She climbed over fallen stones, searching for a clear path across.

Marti went in search of one of the libraries. He didn’t expect to find any books, but wanted to get a sense of the place.

Quirin sat next to a statue of a woman holding a child. Long ago, skilled hands carved the arms, the face and the child’s feet. 

Claring went to look for the Utherian monastery. He wanted to walk through the sacred halls and narrow passages.

Sindri didn’t have anything in particular she wanted to see, so she wandered from one pile of rubble to the other, imagining the women in their homes, cooking, or shopping at the market place. What sort of flowers grew in their window boxes and gardens?  If only I could travel back in time.

Gretel’s tummy rumbled. She’d left her pack with Quirin. Much to her disappointment, nothing stood on the bridge except piles of stones and partially fallen walls. Even when she closed her eyes, she couldn’t bring up an image in her mind of what life might have been like in the days of Utheria’s splendor. She looked from one side of the bridge to the other. It must be half a mile wide. Is Quirin over there, or over on that side? I can’t remember. I think it was this way. She ran off the bridge and then turned to the left. It wasn’t the right way. She found herself standing on the steps of a building. It looked different from all the others. “This one is nice. I wonder if it’s the library or the monastery.” She went up each step, her feet slipping on the shiny marble. When the sun shines, I’ll bet this place sparkles like snow. She noticed gargoyles perched up high, their snarling faces peering down at her. I know about gargoyles. They’re rainspouts. Our church back home has gargoyles on it. Hi gargoyles. She waved at them.

At the top of the steps she looked for markings. I wonder what sort of building this was. Unable to find any, she ventured inside. One large room took up the entire building. Along the walls stood dozens of statues of soldiers; each standing on a marble square and each slightly different from the others. One held a golden sword with symbols of animals carved into it. Another wore a silver helmet with a design of circles around the rim. Strange markings decorated its sides. A spike jutted from the top. Another wore only a shiny steel sword slung across his back. It didn’t have any carvings on it, but the handle was encrusted in rubies and sapphires. One statue held an axe in its hand. Gretel studied their stone faces and then reached up and touched one. It’s cold, like ice. This must be a great hall where the king lived. Who else would keep statues of warriors? After walking past a few more and finding herself somewhat bored, she ran back outside. She made her way back across the bridge and then ran off the other side. “Quirin! I’m here and I’ve found something you might want to see.”

Quirin stood up as the others headed back.

An excited Gretel shouted, “Everyone! I’ve found this building. It’s not broken down or anything. It’s made of marble and inside it are statues of soldiers and none of them are broken. The building is shiny and white. Come with me and I’ll show you.”

“Let’s eat supper first, Gretel. We’ve traveled far today. I packed some tingleberry tarts and pilmoth biscuits,” Sindri tempted her.

 Gretel’s mouth watered.

 “I also brought some fried cordum and we can put it in some fresh wibbi bread.”

“All right, Sindri. You’ve talked me into it. I vote for staying right here to eat. We can see Gretel’s building when we’re done.” Claring picked the pack off the ground. “Where is the food?”

“You’re silly, Claring. Okay. I can wait. Those tingleberry tarts do sound good. I wish I knew what a tingleberry tastes like.” Gretel laughed. “And what are cordum and wibbi bread?”

“Cordum are from the sea. I suppose they are like squids. They have long tentacles and a big head, but they taste delicious, especially when Sindri fries them up with ground buntakka.” Claring looked at Gretel’s face. “Don’t make that face. You’ll have to trust me. Buntakka are a type of onion we grow here on Arbutel. The cordum taste like shrimp. Try some.”

“Dig in,” Sindri said, spreading out a blanket and putting the food down on top, with Claring’s unwanted help. When he reached for two pilmoth biscuits, Sindri jokingly scolded, “Now Claring. Leave some of those biscuits for the others.” He shook his head and took one instead of two. “Gretel, tingleberries are like raspberries and strawberries mixed together. They’re brambles and sort of hairy, like a raspberry too. The only difference is that they make your mouth tingle. Did you know the Utherians were famous for their tingleberry jam?”

“No, I didn’t know that. Is it as good as Marti’s jam?” Gretel giggled, anxious to bite into a tart.

“It’s even recorded in history books. In fact, when the armies invaded Utheria, one of the things they carried away with them were jars of tingleberry jam,” Sindri said.

“Did they have glass in those days? I didn’t think they knew how to make glass back then.” Gretel found it interesting.

“Glass has been around for thousands of years. The Egyptians and Carthaginians were famous for their glass beads, but they knew how to make jars too. Enough talk. Have a tart and tell me what you think.”  Sindri handed Gretel the biggest one.

She bit into it. Her eyes bulged outwards and her lips puckered into a smile. “It does make my mouth tingle all over and you’re right, the tingleberries are hairy and tickle my mouth.” She took another bite. “I feel like giggling. The berries are juicy and taste great. Thanks, Sindri.”

“I think I’ll try one of those,” Marti said, reaching for one. He took a bite. “Mother, these are even better than my raspberry tarts. I’d like you to show me where the bushes are growing when we get back to Luba.”

“Aren’t you going to try to cordum, Gretel?” Claring tore a piece of wibbi bread off the loaf and scooped up a spoonful of the fried cordum and buntakka. “It’s great. Have one bite.”

She took it from him and scrunching up her face, she bit into it. “This isn’t too bad. I like it. It reminds me of fried clams. The bread tastes good too. What is a wibbi?”

“Wibbi is simply an herb. It’s got a nutty flavor, like hazelnuts, but is small and crunchy,” Sindri. “I ground them up and put them in the bread and then I bake in an old fashioned stone oven near the back of my hut.”

Quirin studied the sky. “I think we should camp here tonight. We’ve got another hour or two of daylight left. Marti, did you find your library?”

Marti finished chewing his tart and wiped his mouth. “I’m not sure. There’s so much destruction and rubble, it’s hard to tell.”

“I’ll take you, Son, after I finish eating this fabulous pilmoth biscuit.” Claring said to Gretel, “I’m surprised you’ve not asked what a pilmoth is.”

She smiled. “I already know. Sindri told me earlier. Pilmoths are big moths with six-inch wings. Their bodies are icky to eat, but the wings are good if you dry them out and then chop them up. Sindri gives the pilmoth bodies to the nutui bugs.”

“Well, you certainly know your pilmoths.” Claring turned back to Marti. “Remember, I came with Gordinth once. I think I remember the general vicinity.” Claring put a few pilmoth biscuits and some wibbi bread into his pack. “It’s for later,” he said, seeing Sindri’s scowl. “I didn’t find the monastery. I’d really like to walk through it. They say it had more mosaics in it than San Marco’s Cathedral in Venice.”

Marti and Claring left to explore the ruins. “Gretel, you and Sindri can help me clear a place so we can spread out our blankets later to sleep.” Quirin pushed pieces of fallen marble out of the way.

“I want to sleep on the bridge tonight. I’m not afraid to be by myself.” Gretel glanced at the ruins.

“Absolutely not, young lady. There are wild lagupas roaming around this area. Suppose one found you alone on the bridge. We’d never get to you in time.” Sindri was quite upset by Gretel’s suggestion.

“What’s a lagupa?” Gretel didn’t know why Sindri feared the animal.

“A lagupa is a vicious creature. It’s one of the only things on our island that we need to watch out for. Mind you, there aren’t many of them, at least not near our village.” Quirin picked up a piece of marble and threw it into a pile with the other pieces he’d moved.

“But what do they look like? Do they have sharp teeth?”

“A lagupa is about three feet high and has several rows of teeth, all of them sharp as razors. They have thick horns growing out of both sides of their heads, behind their ears. Their fur is the color of a ripe tomato and they’ve got claws on their paws that can slice an elephant in half with one swipe. The problem is, once they’ve got you in their jaws, it’s impossible to get them off, unless the lagupa wants to swallow you. Usually they drag you off into the woods and devour you there, bones and all.” Quirin didn’t want to frighten the child, but wanted her to realize there was indeed a danger.

“Well, what if I keep a fire going and make sure it doesn’t go out? Are lagupas afraid of fire? Will it keep them away?” Gretel wanted to sleep on the bridge!

“Yes, dear. They’re very afraid of fire. If you’ll promise to keep it going all night, then I suppose you’ll be fine. You’d better run along while it’s still light and gather some firewood and take it to the bridge.” Sindri folded the eating blanket and gathered the food.

Gretel ran to look for firewood.

“I think I’ll go for a walk too. When Gretel comes back, send her to find me. I’d like to see the building she talked about earlier.” Quirin walked toward a pile of rubble, originally serving as the music hall.

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