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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part One - The Dragonslayers - Chapter 7

            Marti cut a block of cheese into small cubes and then buttered some bread. “Heidi!” He’d been so busy with the dragons that he’d forgotten about the cow. Grabbing his coat, he walked down to the river. She stood among the tall grasses growing along its banks, chewing away without a care in the world. Three dragons squatted by her feet, their tongues lapping the water while hitting her cowbell with their tails. 

            Marti snuck up behind them, took off his coat and dropped it over their heads. They squealed, scaring Heidi. She jumped backwards and let out a loud moo. Marti wrapped the coat around them, gathering it and the dragons with his arms. “Calm down, girl. Follow me.” He struggled to grab hold of the end of the rope looped around Heidi’s neck. After making sure he had a tight grasp, he led her to the cottage. The bell clanged back and forth, in rhythm with the dragon’s tails wagging under the coat. He couldn’t help but laugh.

            An old, bent willow caught Marti’s attention; its shadow waved back and forth, yet no breeze blew. Sensing something sinister and dark, he stopped. “Who’s there?” No one answered. “Come Heidi. Let’s get you back to the cottage.”

            No sooner did the door shut behind him when the dragons escaped from under their cloth prison. To his surprise, he saw four more dragons sitting in the middle of the table eating the cheese and bread he’d cut for Gretel and Crispin. Wondering how they managed to get inside the cottage, he glanced over to see an open window. He shut it and made sure the lock caught.

            “I see you’ve found the berries!” Purple and red pulp, smashed all over their faces and horns, also coated their bellies. Globs of yellow butter stuck to their chins. Marti chuckled. “I’ve never seen such a funny sight as you babies.” They flew around his cottage, landing on his down pillow and blanket and making a sticky mess. He caught one and dropped it inside the door leading down to the cave. Each time he opened the door to put a dragon inside, the others, who were now aware of the door opening and closing, flew up and tried to escape. By the time he’d put the last dragon in and securely shut the door, Crispin and Gretel knocked.

            “Look at the mess, Marti. What happened?” Gretel came in when Marti opened the door and picked up bits of bread and cheese from the floor.

            “It was the dragons. I found seven more of them. Four of them came home by themselves. They seem to have eaten all the cheese and bread and the surprise I had for you, juicy strawberries and blackberries. Stay here and I’ll be right back.” Marti disappeared through a door, unnoticed before by the children.

           Gretel looked at Crispin. He shrugged his shoulders and the two of them cleaned up the mess.

           Marti came back a few minutes later with another bowl of fresh berries and several containers of yogurt, a new block of cheese, and another crusty loaf of bread. “Eat up. We’ve got a long evening ahead of us. There are still six more dragons out there, including Jago and Rosenwyn, who I’m sure, will be the hardest to catch. By the way, did you either of you see or pass anyone on the way here?” Marti’s thoughts went to the shadow he’d seen earlier by the tree.

            “No, I didn’t see anyone.” Gretel thought back.

            “I saw a man.” Crispin volunteered the information.

            “Did you recognize him, Crispin?”

            “No, but he looked scary. He was really tall and he wore a black cape. He looked like he was wearing knight’s armor.” Crispin struggled to find the right words to describe it. “I think it’s called a breastplate. This one had carvings on it.”

            “What sort of carvings?”

            “It had a dragon with a sword shoved right through its neck. Who was that man, Marti? His eyes looked evil.”

            “I’m not sure, but I’ve seen a stranger in the village, wearing a black cape and he’s been asking questions about our dragons.”

            “Our dragons? Sword in the neck? Is it a bad man, Marti? Is he going to hurt the dragons, or us?” Gretel ran to Marti and threw her arms around his waist. She buried her face into his side.

            Crispin picked up a handful of berries and ate them. Once again juice dribbled from the corners of his mouth onto his shirt.

            “Nobody knows about our dragons, except Quirin. William and Helga think they’re birds, or midges. Maybe it was Quirin that I saw. Maybe he’s come to get them.”

            Marti put his hands on Gretel’s head. “Come on, children. It’s probably nothing. Let's fix your supper. We must concentrate our efforts on finding the others.”

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