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by Margo Fallis
The Quest

          Each of the group woke up; none remembered the dream they’d had during the night. “Boy, you guys were noisy last night. Was I the only one who slept good?” The annoying dwarf yawned.  

They ignored Fingal and climbed off their cots.

Cafania lay still in Braden’s arms. She pretended to be asleep just so she could enjoy the moment a little longer.

On a table in the room sat a large bowl of fruit, slices of grainy bread and a jug of wine. “Food! Food! I’m starving. Look, Corin. Look at all the food!” Fingal’s eyes bulged with hunger.

“It does look good.” Cafania opened her eyes, got up from the cot and went to the table. She picked a large, red apple. The others gathered around and ate. There was a silence in the room, except for Fingal.

A door behind them opened. Through it entered the five Lords. The four stood behind their master, the Lord of the Heavens, who spoke. “We,” pointing to the other Lords, “have selected you to fulfill a quest of the utmost importance.” He brought out the Healing Stone. “In the land of Damien, about three days journey, lives Princess Jasmine, ruler of a kingdom of about three hundred people. She has a special purpose in this life, which we feel you need not know at this time. A few weeks ago she was bitten by a rare serpent and injected with strong poison. We thought her own sorcerer could help, but he has failed in his attempt and left the village in shame. She lies in a coma, soon to die. This stone,” he said, placing it on the table, “has the power to heal her wound and cleanse the poison from her body. You must take the stone to her.”

Braden and Corin looked at each other. “Excuse me, your Lordship,” Braden spoke with respect, “but is there some reason it will take all of us.” He pointed to the others, “to deliver one small stone?”

The Lord of the Heavens hesitated and then replied, “Each of you has a special gift; a gift that is needed to get this stone to the Princess.”

Just then the Lord of Nature, in his dark green cape, moved to the front of the other Lords. “I have selected Gorbal to go in my stead. Gorbal has the Book of Spells and I will explain to him its value and advise him to use it wisely. There are many evils out there that you will encounter, one of which is especially evil. Gorbal’s knowledge and wisdom are needed to protect you all.”

With pride, Gorbal pumped up his gnome chest and smiled. He felt glad that he was chosen to help on such an important quest.

The Lord of the Earth moved to the front. “I have selected Corin for his strength and his courage and for his patience and ability to think things through and not act irrationally.” Corin looked at the old man in the brown flowing cape. He didn’t reply, but nodded.

Next, the Lord of Love moved toward the front of the group. “I have selected Cafania, because of her faith and loyalty, her ability to trust, and willingness to sacrifice herself for others. During this quest you will come upon some adversity and Cafania’s loyalty and devotion to you all will be necessary.” Cafania gazed at the Lord of Love in his long red cape. She turned to look at Braden, wondering if he understood or even sensed her devotion to him.

The Lord of the Seas, dressed in his blue cape, came forward. “Braden, you are kind, thoughtful and wise. Your bravery, along with Corin’s, and of course, the others, is needed for this dangerous quest.”

“Hey! What about me?” Fingal was rather annoyed that he didn’t have a purpose.

The Lord of the Heavens looked at him. “You, my fine dwarf, are to be a companion to Corin, to stand by his side no matter what, and never question anything he asks you to do. Can you handle that?”

Proudly, Fingal gazed at Corin. “I sure can, your lordship. I sure can.”

The Lord of the Heavens pulled a faded cloth map from his pocket. “This is where Princess Jasmine’s kingdom lies and the best route to it. I shall entrust this map to Braden. He handed it to him. “I suggest you prepare for your journey. You have only three days, and then the Princess dies. Gorbal, go with the Lord of Nature for a while. He has some items to discuss with you. The others will be ready when you are.”

                   *  *  *

The group prepared to leave the Lord’s castle. “I wonder what he means by this being a dangerous quest.” Cafania turned to the others. “Do you think that we’ll come upon some more dragons?”

     Corin patted his backpack. “Just in case, we’re taking lances with us, some arrows for your bow and bigger knives. The gnome is to take a sling and you, Fingal, are to take stones to go in the sling, in case we can’t find any along the way.”

     Fingal nodded and gathered stones, dropping them into his pockets. They filled their packs with supplies. Each had his own; heavily laden with food, weapons and of course, the healing stone, which had been entrusted to Cafania.

     They traveled over an old, crumbling, stone bridge. Water trickled underneath, meandering through a meadow. They began the trek down the path towards the kingdom of Damien. Corin led the way, followed by Gorbal, Cafania, Fingal and then Braden. The sun was now high in the sky now and the moons had disappeared. 

                   *  *  *

They marched for several hours before Kolin spotted them on the crest of a hill. He followed them, yet kept his distance so none of them could see or smell him. He wondered where they were headed and what quest they were on. He decided to follow them without respite until he knew what he wanted to know and then he’d kill them all, slowly, ripping their limbs off one by one. A trickle of blood dripped from the evil wolf’s mouth.

                   *  *  *

“I’m tired.” Fingal whined. “This hill is big. Can we rest, please, Corin?”

     Corin glanced at the others. They nodded and then stopped near a thick grove of eucalyptus trees.

“What smells so good?” Cafania sniffed the air.

     “It’s eucalyptus trees. They are good for you and healthy for your lungs if you breathe in their scent,” Gorbal said. “Hey! How did I know that?” He pondered where that information had come from. No one else paid much attention to his question.

     “You’re right,” Braden told him. “It is good for you. Back home we use it all the time when we’re sick.” He let his mind wander back to his home. It seemed so long since he’d been there with Bramber. What was she doing right now? Hopefully thinking of him?

     A while later, Corin stood. “Enough of this. Let’s move on.”

                    *  *  *

Kolin watched them from behind a tree. He counted, “Five. A dwarf, a gnome, a woman and two men. What are they up to?” He moved behind a large boulder and waited until they had gone further ahead and then continued after them.

                   *  *  *

     Soon the group came to a river; swift flowing cold, and wide. “Now what?” Gorbal put his hands on his hips.

     One by one they sat on the muddy bank, none of them sure what they were going to do. “Let’s build a boat!” Fingal shouted. “I saw a big tree over there that was hollow. We could float it over to the other side. Isn’t that a good idea, Corin?” Fingal beamed with pride for coming up with such a good suggestion.

     Corin looked at the dwarf and snickered. “What a dope! The current is too fast for that!”

     “I think we need to do something like that,” Cafania added. “How else will we get across?”

     Braden walked along the banks of the river, thinking. Corin sat on a rock, his mind working on a solution. Gorbal took out the Book of Spells and glanced through it, hoping to find a chapter on how to cross a fast moving river. The minutes passed in silence. Corin jumped up and shouted, startling the others, “I’ve got it! I know how we can cross the river! Braden, you and the others gather as many large rocks as you can and bring them here.”

Braden, not sure of what Corin had in mind, obeyed the command. Cafania followed. They spread out among the woods and grasses and hauled the largest rocks they could carry over to Corin, dropping them in a pile near his feet. Gorbal and Fingal did their part, though Fingal whined the entire time. “These rocks are heavy. What are we going to do with them? I don’t like picking up heavy things. Why aren’t you carrying any? My back hurts.”

     “Shut up and do your job.” Corin griped.

Fingal picked up another rock, about the size of a watermelon and dropped it in the pile.

Corin lifted the largest one he could see and threw it into the river. He picked up another and threw it next to the first one. Soon the flow of the water was diverted. The others followed; each of them threw their rocks and though it took hours, by nightfall the river was dammed.

“So, that’s what we were doing.” Fingal scratched his chin, realizing the objective.

Tired and aching from carrying and throwing the heavy rocks, they waded across the trickling river, through ankle deep mud. When they reached the other side, they collapsed on the grass. No one moved the entire night. They slept where they fell.

None of them saw Kolin walk across the mud a few yards down.

     In the morning, as the sun rose over the horizon, the group stirred. Braden stretched and looked around. He saw their footprints in the muddy river bottom. He also noticed the animal tracks further down. “Corin, wake up. What kind of animal tracks are those? I think it might be a bear.”

     The word ‘bear’ caused a commotion and soon all were on their feet, gazing at the paw prints. “I think you’re right, Braden. Those do look like bear track.” Cafania agreed.

     “There aren’t any bears in Zolfin,” Gorbal said. “I think they belong to a lion.”

     “You’re a stupid gnome. If there are no bears, there are surely no lions,” Corin scoffed.

     “Well, if you ask me, I think that they belong to that wolf with the red eyes,” Fingal squealed. “I’ll bet he’s nearby and going to eat us all for breakfast. That’s what I think.”

     “If you look at these carefully, they do seem to come from a wolf,” Braden agreed, after closer examination. “Look at the way the paws are. It’s a wolf and a big wolf at that. I hope it’s not Kolin, the wolf that the Lord of the Heavens warned us about.”

     With a crashing sound, the river burst over the top of the rock dam knocking it down and within seconds all signs and tracks were washed away. “Watch out everyone,” Corin squawked. They watched as the river rushed down the muddy bottom, swooshing around the trees with tremendous force. He gathered the supplies and called to the others. “Let’s get out of here. We’ve got two days left to get to Damien and help the Princess.” The group followed Corin into the woods.

                        *  *  *

     After a few hours they came to a flat area filled with deep holes. “Those are underground caves,” Cafania said. Some had been covered with sticks and brush; others lay open. They stood at the edge, knowing they had to cross it, yet feeling uneasy. There was danger out there and all of them knew it; nevertheless, they walked on, careful to avoid the gaping holes.

Corin carried a long stick and hit the ground in front of him as he moved onward, checking for stability.

     They’d only gone a hundred yards when they began to hear hissing sounds. “Shhh.” Corin got down on his hands and knees and crept to the edge of one of the holes. He lay on his stomach and peeked over. There, in the bottom of the hole, was a large nest; inside were ten baby dragons. “Oh no.” He rolled over onto his back.

     The hissing came from all directions, surrounding them. “What is it?” Braden asked, creeping next to Corin. “Oh no.” He peered into the hole.

Corin crawled on his stomach to another hole. There were seven baby dragons inside. After checking several others, he tiptoed back to the group. “We’re going to have to move fast. We’re in a dragon nursery. Every hole has a nest full of baby dragons. I didn’t see any adults. They must be out gathering food. They could come back at any time. Let’s all quietly, but quickly, get out of here.”

     “Dragons? Did you say dragons, like the dragon that was a Steffer Pass kind of dragon?” Fingal whispered, terrified of the answer.

“You heard me, baby black dragons. They’re miniatures of the one at Steffer pass, and every hole is full of them. That means that a lot of big black dragons will be coming home to their babies soon.” Corin spread his arms to the side as he said the word ‘big’ 

     “I’m outta here,” Cafania said.

Gorbal didn’t utter a word, but jumped up and started running towards the other side of the flats.

     They had almost made it to a safe area when a dark shadow crossed in front of the sun. Braden turned to see if it was a cloud. It was a cloud - a cloud of black dragons. “I don’t want to frighten anybody, but mommy and daddy are back.” Braden urged the others onward. “We’ve got two hundred yards to go. Let’s see if we can run it in five seconds.”

     They heard the flapping of the dragon’s wings and the screeching of the little ones as their parents returned to the nests. The hissing sounds grew louder. They made it to safety and hid behind a large pile of boulders. They watched in horror as the dragons swooped down from the sky and landed in the underground caves. The hissing was nearly unbearable. One dragon held a cow in its mouth. The head was missing and blood flowed out of the tattered neck. Another dragon carried a horse in its jaws. It still had the riding blanket on its back.

“I wonder what happened to the person who was riding that horse.” Cafania gulped, turning away from the bloody scene.

Just then her question was answered. A dragon came swooping down with the man in its mouth. “There he is,” Gorbal said, with no choice but to listen to the sound of the voracious baby dragons greedily devouring their prey.

     Cafania, Gorbal, and Fingal lay down to rest. Braden and Corin stayed awake, watching the dragons. “What’s that?” Braden pointed to a dark shadow in the middle of the caves. “It looks like a wolf.”

     “It must be our friend, Kolin,” Corin answered. “He’d better be quiet and move quick or those dragons will have him for a meal.”

     “That’s not such a bad idea. Maybe we ought to start making a ruckus and get their attention” Braden said. “Never mind. He’s been spotted!” Dragon screeches echoed across the flat land. Dragon after dragon came flying out of the caves and circled the wolf. His dark fur stood up on end and his eyes glowed red. The dragons swooped down on him, trying to get their claws into his hide. “We’d better get out of here,” Braden said.

Corin kicked the others awake.

     “What is it?” Cafania yawned and stretched, momentarily forgetting where she was.

     “The dragons found Kolin. He’s been following us all along. Since they seem to be occupied with him, we’ve got time to safely escape,” Corin said. “Let’s go!”

     They grabbed their packs and ran, but not fast enough. A black dragon, larger than the one at Steffer Pass, swooped down on Braden. A claw dug into his arm. Blood gushed out and spilled onto his shirt. Cafania screamed. The dragon swooped again, its claws barely missing Braden’s head. “Duck, Braden! Corin, help us!”

     Corin ran towards Braden. Cafania picked up some stones and threw them at the dragon. It continued to attack Braden, hissing and screeching. Seeing the stones were a waste of time, she pulled out her bow and arrow and began to fire at the creature. One hit its leg. A horrid scream of pain erupted from its scaly mouth. A wounded Braden ran. The dragon grabbed him with his sharp claws and carried him back toward the flat land. Cafania took aim. She shot the arrow, which went straight into the dragon’s heart. It fell to the ground, Braden held in its claws and landing with a thud a few feet away from the boulders. Cafania shot three more arrows to make sure it was dead. Green blood oozed from the wound. Corin helped Gorbal pry the dragon’s claws open, releasing Braden from its grasp. He was wounded, but would live.

     “Is he all right?” Cafania cried. Braden lay unconscious. Blood pumped from his arm. She ripped part of her shirt into strips and tied them around the deep wound.

As she wiped the blood from his forehead, Fingal and Gorbal ran over to the dead dragon. they stared at the blood gushing from its mouth. “P.U. It stinks” Gorbal lifted a corner of the mouth. It was full of long, sharp teeth.

     Fingal picked up the tail. “I’ve never felt a dragon before. Do you think this dragon had babies? I wonder if this is a mother dragon or a father dragon. Do you think it ate Kolin? Why do dragons stink so bad? How come they have green blood?” He rambled on for several minutes.

     “I think it’s a father dragon,” Gorbal said.

     “What makes you think that?” Fingal tilted his head to the side.

     “I dunno. It’s just a feeling. Don’t worry, the baby dragons will be all right. Some other dragons will take care of them,” Gorbal said. Fingal could tell that Gorbal was somehow concerned with the well being of the dragon babies.

     “I’m sure you’re right, Gorbal.” Fingal jogged back towards the others.

     Gorbal climbed to the top of the boulders. He could still see the dragons fighting with the wolf. He looked at the immense body of the dead dragon. A wave of sadness fell over him. Dragons were horrible creatures, but he hoped the little ones would be all right.

     “Gnome! Dwarf! Get over here and help,” Corin shouted. They ran to see what was needed. “Give me your shirt, Fingal.”

     “My shirt? Why do you want my shirt? Why not his shirt?” Fingal whined, pointing at Gorbal. “I don’t want to walk around without my clothes on.”

     “Give me your shirt now. Remember the Lord of the Heavens said to do what I asked, didn’t he?” Corin reminded the dwarf.

     Fingal thought back to the Temple and remembered the Lord of the Heaven’s words. “Sure. Here’s my shirt,” he sighed, slipping it off his back. Corin wrapped it around Braden’s wound and tied it in a knot.

     Gorbal took a shirt out of his pack and handed it to Fingal to wear. Even though it smelled like rotting onions and had a few jagged tears in it, the dwarf slipped it on, glad to have something to wear.

     Braden yawned and opened his eyes. Cafania fussed over him, wiping his brow. He pulled himself to a sitting position. “I’m all right now.” He struggled until he stood by himself, looked at his arm and felt the scratch on his head. “Is that the dragon that attacked me?” He walked over to giant lizard. “That’s one big dragon!” Relieved that it was dead, Braden kicked it. “Its hide is like heavy leather.”

     “We’d better be off before another one spots us,” Corin said. As they traveled the long miles, they heard the dragons fighting the wolf and then, after a few more hours walk, there was silence.

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