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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part One - The Dragonslayers - Chapter 14

          Quirin donned his hat and cape. A smile spread across his face.  “The fire warmed them up nicely. Thank you, Marti.”

Crispin’s eyes wandered up and down, examining the wizard. “You look cool. Do you think you could get me one of those capes and a hat, except in blue?”

“Stop that, Crispin! It’s no time to think about capes and hats. Bundle up. The snow’s died down a bit, but the wind is still howling.” Marti cautioned the boy.

Crispin slipped on gloves, wool hat, mittens and his coat. “Will this do?”

Marti nodded with approval.

“Where are we going, Quirin? You said you knew where Gretel is.” Bundled up, Crispin ran to the door.

“I said I thought I knew where Darmantha may have taken her. We’ve got to start somewhere. Follow me.” Quirin put his hand on the doorknob and started turning it.

“Wait! If you’re a wizard, why do we have to walk in the cold wind? Why can’t you just use your magic wand and zap us to where Gretel is?”

Quirin smiled at Crispin. “You ask a lot of questions, young boy. Magic is not a toy. We don’t use our powers for such trivial things. It won’t hurt us to go out in the fresh air.”

“It’s not fresh air. It’s freezing out there!” Crispin rubbed his arms.

           Quirin opened the door. Frigid air and snow roared past them into the cottage, encircling them in a tornado of cold dampness. He pushed the door shut and turned to Crispin. “Perhaps the boy’s right. I’ll just get out my wand.”

            While he searched for it, Crispin smiled a proud grin at Marti.

            “Ah, here it is.” Holding the wand high in the air, Quirin shouted, “Arooza Capatua Bernosi!”

            Tiny, colorful sparks exploded around the three of them. “Wow! This is great!” Crispin laughed and clapped his hands together, full of excitement. A warm wind began circling them, pulling the sparkles in with it. Popping and crackling noises filled the air. When it stopped, they found themselves standing in the middle of the living room of Gretel’s house. “Can we do that again?”

Quirin and Marti went from room to room searching for Gretel. Marti sighed. “I thought she might be here. There’s no sign of Jorna or Provan either. Where else could they be?”

“Do you know of any caves in this area besides the one under your house? They’ll have to take the dragons…wait, something just occurred to me.” Quirin stopped his thought and his eyes lit up. He knew where they‘d disappeared. “Provan and Jorna have taken the dragons to Arbutel.”

“Where’s Arbutel and why would they take the dragons there? Didn’t you say it was a safe place? Is that near our village? I’ve never heard of it before, except that Gordinth comes from there.” Crispin frowned with confusion.

“Arbutel is far away.” Quirin sat down on one of the couches in Gretel’s living room. “Sit down. There’s more I need to tell you.”

“More? What now?” Marti whined and then he and Crispin sat in two leather chairs opposite Quirin.

             “Gordinth, the wizard I told you about, originally came from Tritem, a land on the other side of the world. You could say it’s in remote unexplored parts. His people lived peacefully with the dragons until one day. It started out as any other, but by midday half the dragons in the land lay dead. There were no wounds, no signs of anything physical, that we could see anyway, and it was a mystery to everyone. By evening all the dragons lay dead, except Jago and Rosenwyn. The beaches, the meadows, the hilltops – all were covered with dragon carcasses. Gordinth, upon seeing the dragons falling, took the two living dragons and as many eggs as he could gather to another land, Arbutel. The people of Tritem, confused at the lack of an explanation for the deaths, were devastated by the loss of their friends, the dragons, and became a sad people. No singing was ever heard again, no laughter, no joy ever felt by a single person. Within five years every one of them died of a broken heart. Only Gordinth, who had the wisdom to take the two dragons with him, lived. He stayed on the island of Arbutel. The only time he left was when he brought the eggs laid by Rosenwyn and others that he’d gathered to this land.”

“Why didn’t he keep them at Arbutel, where they’d be safe?” Marti didn’t understand.

“With everything that had happened on Tritem, Gordinth was afraid. What if Jago and Rosenwyn caught the disease? What if they died? What if the eggs died too? He felt it best to put them somewhere away from Jago and Rosenwyn. After about 50 years, the eggs hatched. At first the villagers welcomed the eggs. As they grew into adult dragons everyone helped raise them. In fact, for several hundred years they lived together in peace and harmony. Those dragons had babies too. It wasn’t until Jarltor Gygli and his hunting parties came along that things went wrong.”

“Why did all the dragons die? What happened to the first Jago and Rosenwyn? Did they stay in Arbutel? Did they die? Did Gordinth die?”

“One day, just before Jarltor came along, Gordinth showed up with two more eggs and left them with one of the dragons, Cloudwaltzer. She was later killed. We were lucky to save the eggs – little Jago and Rosenwyn. Young boy, you ask too much and too quickly.” Quirin wiped his brow with the sleeve of his cape. “Jago and Rosenwyn are still alive. They are old, but doing well. Gordinth is with them. He was concerned and always asked how the young dragons were progressing, but his heart lay in Arbutel with his two beloved dragons. As for the reason, nobody knows what happened on Tritem. No spells were used against them. It was just one of those things. Often diseases ravage certain species and eliminate them. I suppose it is nature’s way of keeping a balance.”

“Maybe they were poisoned?” Crispin suggested.

“We’ll never know for sure, but we all accepted that it was just their time to go,” Quirin said.

“Why don’t you take us to Tritem and we’ll see.” Crispin smiled.

Quirin laughed.

Marti sat listening to everything Quirin and Crispin said. He interrupted, “Quirin, why do you think Provan and Jorna took the baby dragons there?”

“That’s a good question. I hope I can answer it to your satisfaction. Arbutel is a land like no other. Not even Tritem equaled it in beauty. The leaves on the trees never fall. They stay green, like springtime, all year long. Birds sing enchanting songs, captivating all who happen to hear them. The colors of the flowers are brilliant and there are shades of red, blue, yellow and pink that you can’t even imagine in all your wildest dreams. The seas are greenish blue and the sunlight dances on the waves as they roll onto the beach. The sand is whiter than snow. The air is fragrant and perfumed with the sweet smell of flowers and fruits, always ripe and ready to be picked and eaten. Jago and Rosenwyn live with Gordinth in one part of the island, at the bottom of a mountain. There’s a part of the island that’s not so nice. It’s full of dangers. We avoid it. One of the marvels of Arbutel is that you can travel for days and never see it all, so we saw no problem keeping the babies safe. If Jorna and Provan took the babies to the other part of the island, they could keep the baby dragons hidden from us for years.”

“But they want to kill the dragons, not keep them. I heard them talking about it. They are dragonslayers, not dragonkeepers.” Crispin cried with worry.

You’re right. I don’t think they went there with the dragons so they could live in peace and harmony. I believe they have some sort of ritual that they want to do, but want to do it on Arbutel. Darmantha has strong ties to his past, which began on Arbutel. They’ll soon find out, if they haven’t already, about the missing babies. I know they’ll do nothing until they’ve found them all.”

“What sort of ritual?” Crispin didn’t like the sound of that word. “Why doesn’t he just kill them all right away?”

Quirin stood up. “There are many ancient rituals regarding dragons. I’m sure Darmantha has some evil plan in mind. His hatred for dragons is deep. He’ll want to have the biggest thrill he can get when he does get around to killing them. Enough of this for now. It’s time to find Gretel, Venec and Cardew.”

“Do you know where they are?” Marti questioned the wizard.

“I think we’ll have to look for them the old fashioned way, with our two legs. I don’t know where they are, yet, I sense they are nearby.”

Crispin ran to the door. “Let’s find them. I know all the hiding places in this village. Follow me!”

The wizard and Marti bowed to the boy, smiled at him and then went out into the cold. “Wait Crispin! Slow down! I don’t think they’ll be at the chocolatiers, nor the butcher shop, nor the bakery.” Marti called after the boy, who walked towards the buildings.

Crispin slowed his pace until the others caught up with him. “I know that, Marti. At the other end of the village there’s an abandoned cottage. Mr. Hochstetter used to live there, way before I was born. My mother once told me about him. Nobody has lived there for years and it is all full of spider webs and most of it is falling apart. There’s no furniture and some of the windows are cracked or broken.” Crispin pointed up the street. “It’s the perfect hiding place and it’s not far. My brothers and I used to sneak inside and go exploring.”

“We might as well try.” Quirin pulled his cape around him. “Onward, young boy. Show us the way.”

They marched down the middle of the empty street. Their feet crunched on the icy snow. “It’s eerie at night. Goodness, it is well after midnight.” Marti glanced at his pocket watch. “You should be in bed, Crispin. What will your parents think?”

“I told you already, Marti, my parents probably don’t even know I’m missing.” Crispin reminded him of their earlier conversation.

“What about your brothers and sisters?” Quirin stopped and looked around the village.

“The only one that might miss me is Hendrik. Don't worry. He'll just hog up the bed and think I'm sleeping in Karl's room.”

They had just passed William’s Butcher Shop when Cardew and Venec came swooping down from above, surprising them.  For several minutes they soared around the wizard’s green hat. “Well, what have we here? Venec? Cardew?” The two dragons landed on the ground in front of them.

“It’s the dragons. Where’s Gretel?” Crispin knelt down on the snow-covered ground and stroked their bumpy backs.

Marti squatted. “It’s good to see you two boys. I’m glad you’re safe.” He patted Venec’s head. He then noticed the tear on Cardew’s wing. “Oh no, you’ve been hurt. Quirin, look at Cardew’s wing. Can you fix it?”

Quirin looked at the wing. “He’ll be fine. It will heal itself in no time and will not hinder his ability to fly. However, I don’t like this bruise on Venec’s belly? That will take a bit longer to heal.” He stroked the bruise with his fingers. Venec flinched. “Yes, I know it hurts. We’ll have to be careful with you for a while.”

“Did Darmantha do that? It looks like he punched Venec, or kicked him. Poor dragon.” Crispin ached for the baby.

Quirin stood silent. “The dragons know where Gretel is. Cardew tells me she’s safe for now. Darmantha is keeping her as a hostage in Mr. Hochstetter’s abandoned cottage, just as you thought, Crispin. Well done! When Darmantha wakes up and finds the two of them gone, he may harm Gretel.”

“Oh no! He can’t do that. We’ve got to help her.” Crispin ran towards the cottage.

“Wait, boy. Darmantha is a powerful wizard. While I hesitate to use my powers, he won’t hesitate to use his for evil purposes. He’d kill Gretel in an instant if he went into one of his rages. We must be cautious.” Quirin warned Marti and Crispin. “Look what he did to little Venec.”

“What will we do?” Marti wondered how they were going to save her.

“I would suggest that Crispin take Venec and Cardew back to your cottage and stay with them until we get back. It’s too dangerous for him otherwise and for the wounded dragons. Would you do that, Crispin?” Quirin gazed at the boy with fondness.

“I really want to go with you and help save Gretel,” he said, but when he saw the dragons shivering, he knew they needed to go to a warm place. “Oh, all right. I’ll take them to Marti’s cottage. I’ll give them some bread and cheese. They love Swiss cheese, don’t they Marti?”

“Yes, Crispin, they do. Feed them all you want and eat whatever you’d like too. Check on Heidi for me, will you?” Marti tussled Crispin’s hair.

Crispin picked up the two dragons, carrying one under each arm, being careful of their injuries.

“Go with him.” Quirin commanded the dragons to be cooperative.

Crispin headed back through town towards the cottage.

“At least those two are safe.” With one less thing to worry about, Quirin walked on.

“What’s our plan? How do we save the girl?” Marti ran to catch up

“If Darmantha is still asleep, our problem is over. I’ll simply cast a spell of prolonged, deep sleep on him. We’ll go in and get Gretel and walk right out the front door. If he’s awake, well, that’s another story.”

“It sounds too simple, Quirin. How can you do magic on another wizard?”

“If he is awake, I won’t be able to and we’ll have quite a battle, but when a wizard is having a moment of weakness, such as sleep, another wizard can use that to his advantage without the other knowing. The opportunity doesn’t happen too often. Let’s hope Darmantha is sleeping.”

They walked toward the cottage. The wooden boards of the outer walls lay on the ground after falling from around the doors and windows. Marti looked in through one of the cracked glass panes. “I see them. Darmantha is asleep. We’re in luck. Gretel’s sleeping too.”

“That’s wonderful. Stand back.” Quirin took out his wand and chanted, “Hominum  Dictami Tabula.”

            Marti, puzzled when nothing amazing happened, looked in the window again. No sparkles of color swirled about. No hot breezes blew through the cracks in the walls and nothing inside the cottage changed. “Did it work?” Marti wondered, unable to tell.

“Let’s find out. Stay here for a moment. ” Quirin opened the door to the cottage, letting the wind and snow blow in after him. When Darmantha stayed asleep, Quirin winked at Marti. He came into the room.

Gretel stirred and sat up, rubbing her eyes. “Marti!” She jumped up and ran into his arms. After a long hug, she turned and looked at Darmantha. “Why is he still sleeping? We’re not being that quiet. Who are you?” She stared at the tall, thin man’s pointed cap.

“We need to leave, now.” Quirin went out the door.

Marti took Gretel’s hand and went outside. He shut the door behind them. “Shh. Don’t say or ask anything yet, Gretel. Wait until we’re back at my cottage. Just hurry, please.” He rushed along behind Quirin, pulling her along with him. They burst through the door into Marti’s cottage.

            Crispin looked up and saw Gretel. “Gretel! You’re all right!” He hugged her.

            Venec and Cardew lay asleep on Marti’s bed.

            “You found them!” Gretel ran over to the bed and stroked the sleeping dragons, carefully examining Venec’s sore spot and Cardew’s wing.

                                                 * * *

The sound of cawing crows outside the window roused Darmantha from his sleep. Remembering Gretel and the dragons, he sat up and looked around the room. “The girl! She’s escaped! What has she done with the dragons?” His fury, evident by the way he threw the stool across the room. Kicking everything in sight, Darmantha went into a rage. The dilapidated cabin burst into pieces and blew apart in all directions. He stood in the middle of the pile of smoking wood. People walking past stopped to stare. Darmantha glared at them. “Get lost. What are you staring at?”

 Nobody uttered a word, but rushed by, keeping their eyes downward.

“How did this happen? How was she able to escape? I wasn’t that tired.” He looked down at the rubble. “One of those dragonkeepers is somehow behind this somehow.” Darmantha screamed in anger and then ran into the village. “What time is it?” He grabbed the first man who walked past. When he discovered it was late afternoon, he threw the man to the ground and kicked him. In a temptuous fury he wrapped his black cloak around him and disappeared.

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