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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part One - The Dragonslayers - Chapter 8

            After eating their fill, Marti left the two of them in the cottage while he went to check on the cow. He put her in the shed and lay some fresh hay on the ground. “Lie down. I’ll be back later, Heidi.”

            The sun sat low, sending its reddening rays into the deepening blue sky. It would soon disappear, sinking below the horizon. When Marti opened the door to the cottage, he stuck his head in and called, “We’ve got time to make one more trip into town before it is dark. I know the chances of finding them are slim, but we must try. It’s urgent!”

            Gretel and Crispin grabbed their coats and followed.

            “The villagers must have hurried home right after they got off work. Aside from one or two shops with lights still burning, the streets look empty. Let’s try the cuckoo clock shop. Johann is still there. I see his light on.” Gretel pointed to the golden glow in the window.

            “When I open the back door, go inside quickly. I think there’s a customer still in there, so be quiet.” The children nodded. Marti led them into the alley behind the shop and opened the door. He put his finger to his mouth. “Quiet.” They went inside, staying hidden in the shadows.

            Johann stood at the counter talking to a customer.

             Marti whispered, “It’s only Inga. She’ll talk up a storm. Do you see any dragons?”

            “I see a blue one. He’s on the wall, over there.” Crispin showed Marti and Gretel. “Look! He’s trying to catch the cuckoo when it comes out.” Crispin giggled.

            “It’s Devi.” Marti whispered the dragon’s name. “Grab your bag, Gretel. We’ll have to do this very quietly, even though I’m sure Johann won’t hear a thing over Inga’s chattering.” Dropping to their hands and knees, they crawled over to the wall.

            The dragon hung from one of the chains dangling from a cuckoo clock, swinging back and forth. A cuckoo bird popped out.

            Raising his arms, the dragon tried to catch it each of the five times, but the bird went back inside to wait until the next hour passed. Devi left claw marks on the Black Forest cuckoo clock.

             “Now!” Marti gave Gretel a nudge.

            Gretel tossed the bag over the dragon’s head. It fell to the ground in front of Marti, landing with a thud. Legs flailed about, scratching everything in their way.

            Crispin peeked above the counter to see if Johann or Inga heard the noise. They hadn’t.

            Holding the top of the bag in his hand, Marti and the others crawled into the back room, dragging the squirming dragon behind them.

            They heard Inga shut the door. “She’s finally leaving.” Gretel sighed. 

            Johann went through the shop turning off the lights in each room. “Let’s go before he comes back here.”

            Gretel didn’t want to be caught and have to explain the dragon again.

            Once safely out of Johann’s shop, they headed down the street. The hairs on Marti’s neck stood straight up and his back stiffened. Someone must be watching us. He heard the occasional crunch of a twig, or a footstep on the wooden walk. Not wanting to frighten the children, he didn’t say anything.

            “There’s still a light on in the Watch Shop,” Crispin said. “Do you think there might be a dragon in there?”

            By now the sunset filled the sky with crimsons and brilliant pinks. Wispy clouds reflected the colors, adding intensity and vividness. The tall mountains silhouetted against the sky reminded Gretel of sleeping giants. Standing in front of the shop, she looked in the window. “I see one. It’s a girl dragon, a green one. I wonder if it’s Tabitha. She looks smaller than the others. How silly! She’s got a watch around her neck and is trying to get it off. I see Mr. Fulfer and he’s helping someone, but I can’t tell who it is.”

            Crispin raised his head and peered inside. “It’s the stranger, the man in the black cape. What’s he doing? I’ll bet he’s still trying to find the dragons.”

            “Maybe he wants to buy a watch,” Gretel said.

            “I doubt that. We’d better get in there and catch her before they see her.” Marti walked to the back door. Grasping the handle, he tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t move. “Crispin, you’ll have to go in one of the windows.” Marti pulled on the closest one, but it wouldn’t budge. He tugged each one with the same results. “They’re all locked. We’ll need some sort of distraction to get Nichol and the man outside. Crispin, here’s another bag. Gretel and I will find a way to do it. When you see Nichol and our mysterious stranger run out, you sneak in and get that dragon.” Marti dropped the tied bag holding Devi, who screeched. “Sorry, little one. I’m going to leave you here, behind this bush. We’ll be back soon.”

            “Do you think he'll be safe here?” Gretel glanced at the burlap bag.

            “He’ll be fine. Don’t worry. We’ll only be gone a few minutes. Are you ready, Crispin?”

            He nodded. “I’ll go and stand on the side of the shop and wait for your signal.”

Marti took Gretel’s hand. “We’re going to have to do something to get the two of them out of that shop.” When they reached the street, Marti looked both ways and ran north. “I see something that might help us. Come on.”

            “What are we going to do with those?” Gretel stared at the stacked wooden barrels. “Are they empty?”

            Marti pushed one over. “They’re empty. I hope Salina won’t mind us making a mess of her barrels. I’ll apologize to her tomorrow. Now, when I say go, roll them all as fast as you can towards the Watch Shop and start shouting.” He looked around to make sure nobody was in the way and shouted, “GO!”

            Gretel pushed every barrel over on their sides and rolled them down the street; their wooden slats bumping into everything in their path. She screamed at the top of her lungs. “Help! Help! Help!”

            Marti toppled several more over and shouted. “Danger! Watch out! Help!”

            Soon Nichol and the stranger came rushing out of the shop. “What’s all that noise?” Nichol saw the barrels rolling towards him. “What is going on here?” He and the other man jumped out of the way as the barrels crashed into poles, buildings, and railings.

Crispin looked around the side of the building and saw the rolling barrels. “Now’s my chance.” With his back against the wall, he inched his way into the shop. Closing the door behind him, he grabbed the dragon and pulled the watch off her neck and over her horns. She wiggled, trying to get free of Crispin’s grasp. The watch fell to the floor.

            “Come on now. Work with me, girl.”  Crispin left it lying there and bagged the dragon. Scratch marks from her claws stretched from his wrist to his elbow, turning red. He rubbed the sore spots. “Naughty dragon. You scratched me!” He looked out the window. Both men jumped up and down, dodging the barrels. With the bag over his shoulder, Crispin went out the back door; it locked behind him.

            Marti saw Crispin run into the alley. Thankful for the darkening sky, he and Gretel dashed across the street and behind the shop, where he’d hidden the other dragon. “Good. You’ve got her. That leaves only four more we have to find. We’d better get these two back to the cave. I think a storm’s coming. Look at the moon. See those clouds floating by? Those are snow clouds. I fear we’re in for a heavy snowfall.”

“Do dragons like the snow? I don't,” Gretel said.

“Actually, I don’t think they know what snow is. They’ve spent their entire lives down in the cave. I’m not sure what they’ll do.”

“Won’t the last four dragons freeze to death?” Crispin adjusted the bag over his shoulder.

“We need to find them before it snows. I don’t want them to get wet and cold.” Gretel wiped a tear from her eye.

            “Don’t worry.  We’ll find them.” Marti forced himself to believe his own words. Gretel’s attachment to the dragons touched him.

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