Back at the cottage, they warmed themselves in front of the fireplace, but
only after taking the dragons down to the cave and putting them with the
As they walked up the steps, Crispin said, “They act like
they’re glad to see each other. Do you think the dragons know that some of
them are still missing?” He turned and looked down into the cave. “They
seem happier now.”
“I know they do. The dragons communicate with each other. They
can read each others thoughts. They can communicate with us too, if we
open our minds to it.”
“How do you know that?” Gretel didn’t believe him.
“My father and mother used to talk to the dragons all the
time. They called them by name, in their minds, and the dragons would
come. I can talk to the dragons too, as long as my mind is clear and not
full of worry and other nonsense. Right now, it’s full to the brim with
worry.” Shutting the door behind him he walked over to the bed. At the
bottom stood a large wooden chest. He lifted the lid and pulled out some
hand-knitted scarves and gloves. “You’d better put these on. There’s a
cold wind blowing and it’s bringing something bad with it.”
“What do you mean by that? What’s bad?” Gretel’s fears
“I’m not sure what I mean, but I sense something wrong,
something evil, something that wants to hurt the dragons.” Marti turned
and looked at the door. “They should be safe. It’s the others I’m not sure
“What about the others? Are they going to die?” Gretel shook.
Marti opened his arms and the children ran
into them. “We’ll find them. I’ve spent seventy years with those dragons
and I’m quite attached to those little ones myself and I’m not going to
let anyone harm them. Now, wrap yourselves up tight.” He slipped on his
gloves and tossed the woolen scarf around his neck, pulling it secure
before taking off his felt hat and putting it on the table. When he opened
the door, an icy wind blew snowflakes inside the cottage. They swirled in
all directions, like a magic wand casting fairy dust. “Ready?”
Gretel and Crispin nodded.
“Then let’s go find those last four dragons.” Marti grabbed
his wooden cane. “It’s getting slippery out there and I’m an old man.”
The children held onto Marti’s sheepskin coat, bending their
heads to keep the cold off their faces. The snow blew, its icy fingers
snaking their way down every crack and opening of their clothing. His cane
sank into the mud with each step. “I think we’ll find them in the
mountains. There are plenty of rocks and trees to hide behind. I’m sure
the little ones are trying to stay warm.”
Climbing the trail leading up the mountainside, Crispin
noticed several furry creatures scurrying by. “At least the marmots know
to stay near their burrows, where it’s warm.”
“A lot of animals go out in the snow, even in a blizzard like
this,” Marti said.
“It hurts my face when the snow pelts it.”
Gretel pulled her scarf over her mouth.
“Listen. I hear something.” Crispin stopped. “I hear a dog.”
Loud barks echoed through the falling snow, moving closer to them.
Two forms appeared. “Ah, Karl. What are you doing out on a
night like this?” Marti waved at the approaching man. “I see you’ve got
Bernard with you.” He petted the huge dog.
“Perhaps it is I who should ask what you and the children are
doing out on a night like this. Haven’t you noticed there’s a blizzard out
here? Bernard and I are doing our rounds, making sure nobody’s lost in
this mess. You know we go out during storms, but I’m afraid of this one.
It’s no ordinary storm. It carries with it, something different, like
change, or fear.” He looked at Marti. “I hope Bernard and I don’t have to
come out later to search for you.”
Gretel petted the St. Bernard. She saw the small wooden cask around its
neck. “Hello, Bernard. Are you saving lots of people?” The dog barked and
licked her gloved hand. “What’s in his cask anyway, Mr. Muller?”
“Brandy. It warms up even the coldest of people.”
“Can I have some? I’m very cold right now.” Crispin jumped up
and down, rubbing his hands together.
“I hope you won’t need any. You’d better get these children
home, Marti, and soon. There’s nothing so important that it can’t wait.”
Karl stroked the top of Bernard's head.
“We’re just taking a stroll,” Marti said.
“This isn’t a good night for a stroll. I suggest the three of
you head back to your cottage and warm up with a cup of hot soup. There’s
a bad wind blowing tonight.” Karl held Bernard’s leash. The dog didn’t
want to stand still and kept trying to run on. “I’d better get moving, or
Bernard might make a run for it and pull me along with him.” Karl laughed
and waved goodbye. “Go home!” He shouted from a distance.
“He’s right. We can’t stay out long. A few more minutes and
then we’ll head back.” Marti brushed the snow off his coat sleeves.
“But what about the dragon babies? They’ll freeze to death out
here,” Gretel said.
“We’ll have to take that chance. There’s no use in all of us
dying.” Marti watched the snowflakes land on Gretel's hair.
“Yeah, Gretel. Who’ll take care of the other dragons if we
don’t? Right, Marti?” Crispin looked to Marti for comfort and reassurance.
“Right. Let’s go up this path over here and if we don’t see
anything in a few minutes, we’ll turn back,” Marti said.
They hiked another hundred yards up the trail. The snow fell
harder, with larger flakes. The wind died down a bit when they stood in
the protection of the pines. Marti was about to speak when Gretel
interrupted, seeming to read his mind. “No, Marti. We can’t quit. One more
Crispin heard a noise and ran over to a tall pine. “Look,
Marti. Come and see. It’s the dragons. There are two boy dragons up in
this tree; they’re way, way, way up there.”
“I see them too. They’re shivering and whimpering. Fly down
here, dragons. Come and see Gretel.” She called to the frightened dragons,
but they stayed where they were, clinging to the swaying branches.
“They’re going to fall. What can we do? They’re so high up.”
Crispin looked at the lower branches. “I think I can climb it. The
branches are thick enough to hold my weight.” He grabbed hold of the
lowest branch and pulled himself up. “I’m a good tree climber, don’t
Marti reached for him, but stopped. “Go slow, boy. That tree
must be sixty feet tall. I’m not sure which dragons those are, but they’re
obviously not Jago or Rosenwyn.”
Crispin went from branch to branch. The higher he climbed, the
more the wind howled through the pine needles, blowing the tree from side
to side. He heard the dragons squealing. “I see them. There’s a blue
dragon and a brown one. I'll only be able to get one at a time. Which one
should I get first?”
Marti called up to him. “It doesn’t matter. Grab the blue
one.” Pinecones and small pieces of broken branches dropped, landing near
Crispin stood on the branch below the
frightened dragons. He reached up and stroked the blue one, talking
soothing words. His claws dug deeper into the tree. “Don’t be scared. I’m
going to take you back to Marti. Come on.” With nearly frozen fingers, he
pulled and tugged the squealing dragon’s legs until it let go of the
branch and he had a firm grasp on its tail. Slipping the dragon inside his
coat and buttoning it up, Crispin made a warm pocket. “I’ve got the blue
one. I’m bringing him down.”
He climbed down one branch at a time. The dragon shivered
with a mixture of cold and fear, clawing at Crispin’s chest. When he
reached the lowest branch, he opened his coat, pulled out the dragon and
handed it to Marti, who put it inside a bag. “I'm all scratched up and my
hands are covered with pine tree sap.” Crispin wiped them on his pants and
then climbed back up the tree. Within a few minutes he’d successfully
coaxed the second dragon into the warmth of his coat. The dragon relaxed.
“You don’t want to be alone, do you?” Crispin climbed back down. At the
bottom, he handed Marti the second dragon and he put it in the bag with
“I’m so glad they’re safe. Thank you, Crispin, for climbing
the tree.” Gretel pulled her scarf tighter around her neck.
“The dragons were freezing. I don’t think they like snow.”
Crispin rubbed his cold hands together.
Marti picked up the bag and tossed it over his shoulder.
“Somehow I didn’t think they would. Let’s take these little ones back to
the cottage. We’ll have some hot cocoa made with Heidi’s fresh milk.”
Using his cane for balance, Marti and the others headed down
the mountain, slipping and sliding in the frozen snow. After dodging trees
and mounds of ice, they spotted a boulder sitting in the middle of the
path. As they tried to maneuver around it, a dark form stepped out from
behind it, blocking their way and challenging them.
Gretel looked up. “It’s the stranger.” She gulped with fear.
“That’s him! That’s the dragon man. Look at his black cape and
the breastplate!” Crispin shouted.
Marti and Gretel’s gaze followed his.
Marti stepped between the man and the children. “What do you
want with us? Why are you following us around?”
He stood just under seven feet tall, with long, straight,
black hair hanging down to his shoulders. The wind whipped it around his
face. It looked like hundreds of snakes dangling from his head. His eyes,
dark and violet, showed no luster or sparkle of life. A black hooded cloak
draped his body. He wore dark gray pants and a long-sleeved white shirt
under the metal breastplate.
“What’s the meaning of this? Are you going to rob us? I have
little money.” Marti pulled the children closer to him.
“Stop your rambling old man and give me the dragons.”
Darmantha snarled without feeling.
“What dragons?” Marti glanced at Crispin.
“I’m no fool, old man. You know what dragons, the two in the
bag. I watched the boy climb the tree and hand them to you. You put them
in there. Give it to me now.” Darmantha stared at the bag and then at
Marti; defiance glared from his eyes.
“Don’t let him have them, Marti. He’ll kill them. He’s a
dragon killer. Look at the picture on his breastplate. There’s a sword in
its neck, just like Crispin said.” Gretel turned her gaze from Marti to
the man. “Go away and leave us all alone. You’re a dragonslayer, aren’t
you? Well, you can’t have ours.”
“You’re right. I am a dragonslayer and I’ve got the sword to
prove it.” He pulled a dagger from its sheath. “The bag, now!”
With Gretel sobbing and Crispin reaching to
grab it back, Marti handed it to Darmantha.
“I know there are more than these two dragons.
There must be.”
Crispin opened his mouth to say something, but caught Marti’s
eye. He mouthed for him to be quiet. Crispin kept silent.
Darmantha grabbed Gretel by the shoulder and pulled her to
him. “I think I’ll take this girl with me. I suggest you find Quirin and
the rest of the dragon babies. Until then, the girl stays with me.” He
whipped his black cloak into the air. Snow swirled around them, cocooning
them in a white powdery mist. Before Marti or Crispin could utter a word
of protest, Darmantha and Gretel disappeared.