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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Two - Arbutel - Chapter 29

          Gretel woke up to the aroma of roasting meat. Her tummy growled, reminding her she’d not eaten in a long time. She stretched her body and climbed off the bed. “Come on, Venec. Come on, Cardew. Something smells good. I’ll bet you’re hungry too, aren’t you?” The two dragons bumped their tails up and down. When they went out of the hut, Gretel saw Sindri standing over a fire in the center of the village watching an animal turning on a spit. She heard the juices sizzling and splattering in the flames.

             “Gretel, you’re awake and just in time for the feast. We’re celebrating yours and Marti’s arrival. Let’s not forget the safe return of Quirin too.”

            Gretel liked Sindri. She looked at the woman. A bit on the plump side, Sindri wore shoulder length brown hair pulled off her face and tied up in a bun on top of her head. An apron, tied around her waist, hung to the ground.           “Hello, Sindri. That smells good, like bacon. What is it?” Gretel stared at the animal. A stick poked through its mouth and came out the other end. At one time it had four legs and hair. A pile of it, along with its skin, now lay in the dirt next to the fire. Venec and Cardew sniffed the air.

            “It’s taradak. It’s the only meat we eat, except for fish and things we catch in the sea. It’s quite delicious. I’m brushing bumubi juice on the outside. It will make a sweet, crunchy crust, but keep the inside juicy and tender. Are you hungry?”

            “I’m starving. The last thing I ate was a yamita. I think that’s what Quirin called them.”

            “We’ve got some yamitas and all sorts of things for you to try and enjoy. Go and sit at the table with the others. I’ll start putting the food out.”

            Gretel didn’t want Sindri to do all the work herself. “I’ll help you, Sindri.”

            “Well, that’s quite sweet of you. You can carry those trays of cardooli and endobin over to the table for me.” Sindri pointed to two platters, “And don’t forget the brasti honey. Claring just brought some from the hives yesterday morning. It’s nice and sweet.”

            “What’s brasti honey? Do you have bees here?”

            “We’ve got cluder bees. They’re much larger than the bees you’ve seen in Switzerland. They pollinate only the brasti flowers,” Sindri explained.

            “Cluder bees? That’s the funniest word I’ve ever heard, aside from brasti flowers. What are brasti flowers anyway?”

            “Help me put out the food and later on we’ll go for a walk and I’ll show you. Everyone’s hungry.” Sindri put another platter down on the table.

            Gretel picked up a plate of flat bread. “This smells good. Is this the cardooli, or the endobin?”

            Sindri grinned. “You do ask a lot of questions. Curiosity's a good quality. I keep forgetting, you aren’t familiar with many of our foods. That’s cardooli. The blue carrot-shaped fruits are endobin. They taste like peach cobbler.”

            Gretel carried the platters to the table.

            Marti looked at the food cautiously.

             “It’s endobin.” Gretel whispered to him, knowing he was as curious as she’d been. “I think it tastes like peaches, but I’m not sure. Try some.”

            Marti nodded. Gretel sat next to him. Claring sat near Quirin and Gordinth sat at the head of the table. The dragons sat on the ground next to Marti, waiting for him to drop some food. After carrying over dozens of platters, Sindri sat next to her husband.

            Claring cut into the taradak. Juices sizzled out along with a delicious aroma. “Try some of this, Marti. You too, Gretel. You’ll love it.” He put several slices on their plates and did the same with Sindri’s, Quirin’s, and Gordinth’s plates. “Help yourselves to the rest.”

            Sindri tossed a few slices to the dragons. They devoured them in one bite. “I think the babies like roasted taradak too. I’ll give them some more.” She chopped a few slices up and put them in a pile near the dragon’s feet. She then added some dizban, endobin, and tore a piece of cardooli into bits for them. After Venec and Cardew started eating, Sindri sat down.

            Gretel took a piece of cardooli and bit into it. “It does taste like bread. It’s good. Did you bake it, Sindri?”

“Every morning, dear. I’ve got a wooden cask filled with ground flour. I’ll show you later.”

Gretel looked up at Sindri. She pointed at a platter.  “What are these?”

            “Those are dizban. They look like potatoes, don’t they? They aren’t. They taste just like lemon cream pies. Try one.”

             Gretel scooped a dizban, several endobin, and a slice of yamita and plopped them on her plate. She looked at the ugnig, not sure if she wanted it or not.

            “That’s ugnig, dear. It tastes a lot like tapioca. It’s sweet and fruity and gives you a giddy feeling. Would you like a taste?” Gretel nodded. Sindri put a spoonful on her plate. “If you like it, take more. If not, just leave it. Nobody on this island has to eat the food on their plates if they don’t want to.” She giggled and poured herself a glass of horp.

            “Marti, will you pour me some of that green stuff? Have you tried it? Is it good?” Gretel handed her wooden cup to Marti. He poured the juice into it.

            “I think it’s good. It tastes like watermelon,” he said.

            “Fill me up then. I love watermelon.”

            The feast went on for hours. Venec and Cardew lay next to Gordinth. He stroked their backs and rubbed their bellies. None of them noticed the setting sun, too busy laughing, talking and reminiscing. “Oh my goodness. Look how dark it is. Claring, why don’t you and Marti go and light some of the torches so we can see each other.”

            Claring and Marti stood and went to the storage hut. Claring brought out several sticks wrapped with pieces of rags sopped with black oil. Used for torches, he put them on posts standing around the village. In his other hand he held a piece of stone.

            Marti asked, “What’s that? How do you light these things without matches?”

            Claring handed it to Marti. “This is a slabe. All I have to do is hold it up next to the torch and strike it, like flint, but much easier. It sends out a flame by hitting it with your fingernail. It works like a match, but doesn’t get hot and doesn’t need refilled either. Here, give it a shot.”

            Marti held it up and watched in amazement. He struck it with his fingernail and a flame shot from the slabe to the torch. It burst into flames and they moved on to the next one. Soon the village lit up, ablaze with light. Marti and Claring sat down with the others.

            Gretel noticed some little flashes of color shining in the darkness of the night. “What are those?” She pointed to the bugs.

            “Those are nutui bugs. Aren’t they adorable? They come in all colors. My favorites are the pink ones. How about you?” Sindri and Gretel turned around and watched the bugs.

Gretel smiled. “I like the lime green ones, but the pink is nice too.”

            “They come around every year about this time, especially when they smell roasted taradak. We throw our leftovers out for them. By the time they’re finished eating, the poor little things can hardly fly. Sometimes they have to spend the night on the ground, even though it’s not safe for them. We catch them and keep them in jars. At night we take the jars into our huts and they provide us with a soft light so we can get ready for bed. The next morning we let them go and catch new ones. We don’t want them to die. They’ve got enough problems avoiding the ractan.”

            “What’s a ractan?” Gretel looked at the bugs.

            “Ractans are nutui bug eaters. They have long snouts and a tongue covered in little spikes. They sniff out the nutui bugs and catch their wings with their tongues. They’re actually called ractans, but nutui bug eaters sounds sweeter, don’t you think?”

            “You’re silly, Sindri. I like you. You make it fun around here and you’re a good cook.”

            Sindri squeezed Gretel’s hand. “That’s nice of you to say. I like you too.” She bent over and kissed the top of Gretel’s head.

            Gordinth, who’d spent the entire meal talking to Quirin said, “Gretel, Quirin just told me you’d enjoy seeing Jago and Rosenwyn.”

            Gretel looked at Quirin, thinking Gordinth meant the little dragons that were missing. “He means the big Jago and Rosenwyn. Would you like to meet them?” Quirin explained, so she wasn’t confused.

            “Wow! Yes, I’d love to meet big dragons. I’ve seen Zara, but she’s not real, so yes, can I please?” Gretel jumped up and down.

            “You go off with Gordinth and Quirin. Marti, Claring and I will clean up,” Sindri said.

            Gretel slipped off her chair and ran to Quirin. He took her hand.

            Gordinth walked along side of them. “We must approach them slowly. Don’t make any loud noises or run at them. Stay close to Quirin and me until I tell you it’s all right.”

            “I won’t. Don’t worry. First of all, I’m too full to run and second of all, I’m not about to run into a dragon cave screaming and shouting, especially when the dragons are fire-breathing dragons.”

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