stood next to Heidi, patting her back. The river rushed by, lapping
against its reeded banks. “Come home when you’re ready, girl.” As he
turned and headed up the path, a gust of wind blew the green felt hat off
his head. Bending over to pick it up, he adjusted the feather and put the
hat back on. An old Swiss folk tune whistled from his lips. The
old-fashioned pine green lederhosen rubbed against his bare legs as he
trudged up the path. Half way home he heard a faint sound coming from the
distance and scanned the sky. Afraid of what he might find, he hurried on
his way. “It sounds like a flock of birds.” The noise grew louder and
louder. Forty-four dragons came swooping down from behind the trees,
flying over his head and disappearing into the forest. Marti ducked. “The
dragons!” His throat went dry. Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead
and he swayed with panic and dizziness. “I must get home.”
Gretel and Crispin sat cross-legged on the
grass near the cabin. When Gretel saw Marti, she waved. “Hello, Mr.
Marti stood with his arms crossed, waiting
“Since you already seem to know, I might as
well tell you. We opened the door and let the dragons out.” Gretel sighed.
He didn’t say a word.
A guilty Crispin knew it was his fault. “It was my idea,
Marti. I wanted to find your secret.”
“Crispin, his name is Mr. Marchand, not Marti. That’s rude.”
Gretel elbowed him in the ribs.
“And who said I had a secret?” Marti stood with his hands on
“My mom and some of the other villagers. I was curious.”
Crispin hung his head in shame.
“Didn’t your mother teach you that it’s not polite to break
into other people’s homes and go snooping?”
“Yes, she did, but I couldn’t help it I wanted to see for
myself.” Crispin kicked at a clump of grass.
“Crispin thought you had zombies in your cottage, or
monsters.” Gretel scoffed at the thought.
Marti shook his head back and forth in disgust. “I think we
should go and talk to your parents.”
Gretel didn’t want her mother to find out. She wouldn’t let
her play with Crispin again. “Please don’t tell our parents, Mr.
Marchand. We’ll never do it again. We promise. Can’t you make us do some
work instead of telling?”
“I’ll do work for you too. We can take Heidi for walks, or we
can sweep the floor of the cottage, or dig weeds in your garden.” Crispin
wrung his hands together in shame.
“What’s done is done. There’s not much we can
do right now, at least not until they’ve landed. I know these dragons. Now
that they’ve tasted freedom, they’ll fly around for hours. You can call me
Marti if you want. Mr. Marchand makes me feel old. Come with me. I might
as well put you to work. You can help me carry the milk cans inside. After
that, Gretel can do the dishes and Crispin, you can sweep the floor, and
then we need to have a little talk.” Marti opened the door to Heidi’s shed
and handed a full milk can to Crispin. “Here. You carry this one. Gretel,
these are heavy. Do you think you can carry one?”
“I can carry as much as Crispin.” Gretel grasped the handles
and carried it into the house. Milk sloshed onto her dress, but she
Crispin spilled some on his shoes.
“Put them down near the table. Do you want to stay and help me
make some butter?”
Marti saw the mess. “I see. It looks like you’ve already helped yourself
to my bread and butter and cheese. You break into my house, eat my food
and let all my dragons go. Any more surprises?”
“Crispin did it, not me.” Gretel pointed at her friend.
“I only made some of the mess; the dragons did
the rest. They sure gobbled down the cheese.” Crispin tried to switch the
attention and blame from himself to the dragons.
“I’ll help you make more butter.” Gretel
brushed the crumbs into her hand and then tossed them out the window for
“Me too.” Crispin grumbled.
Marti poured some of the fresh milk into the
butter churn. He pulled the stick up and then pushed it back down, over
and over again. Gretel and Crispin each took a turn.
“It is hard work. Keep churning.” Marti wiped
his hands on a clean dishtowel. Turning his back on the children, he
secretly smiled at their struggling.
“Marti, where did the dragons come from and why do you keep
them in that room?”
Gretel leaned over and looked inside the churn. Clotted cream clung to the
the tight fitting wooden slats. She scooped some off with her finger and
licked it. “How do you fit them all in your closet? Isn’t it too crowded?
There must be a hundred of them.”
“There are forty-four dragons and I don’t think it’s any of
your business why I have them here. Stop licking the cream and keep
“There are no such thing as dragons, Marti, but we found some
today in your closet.” Leaving Gretel to finish the work, Crispin ran to
the door and opened it. “It’s dark in there.”
“Shut that door, boy. That’s what caused all the trouble in
the first place! If only you’d left them alone. Now I’ve got to search all
over the village and mountains for them. What if a villager sees one? Have
you thought of that? Someone might hurt them. They’re only babies.”
Gretel tugged at Marti's hand. “We didn’t mean to do this. We
had no idea there were dragons in there. Are they real baby dragons?”
“Of course they’re real, but they’re rare and nobody knows
about them. I want it kept that way and I was doing fine until you two
came along,” Marti pulled the stick out of the churn and scooped the
butter onto a plate. He glanced at the children. Both wore pathetic
frowns. “Since you’ve seen the dragons, I might as well tell you the whole
story, but you must promise not to tell another soul, never.”
“We promise,” Gretel said, “don’t we, Crispin.”
“Yes, I promise. I won’t tell anyone for as
long as I live.”
Marti wiped the rest of the butter off his
hands and sat on the bench at the table. “If I wasn’t so old, I’d deal
with this in another way, but I’m too tired to do this anymore. A long
time ago, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of years back, many dragons
lived in this area. The cool mountain air kept them healthy, the water was
pure and clear and there was plenty to eat. They lived in peace with the
people until a handful of new settlers moved up here into the mountains.
Out of fear and greed, they started killing the dragons. The old timers
could do nothing to stop them, so they contacted Quirin, a wizard, who was
sort of ‘in charge’ of the dragons. He visited the area now and then and
made friends with a few of the villagers. Quirin watched in dismay and
knew the future looked bleak for the creatures. Seeing that he couldn’t
stop them by himself, he left and came back later with helpers. They
gathered the dragon eggs and took them to a secret cavern, to protect them
and keep them safe from those who wanted to destroy them. It’s a good
thing he did that because after a few more years, every dragon lay dead or
dying. Their bodies were scattered on the mountainside. You can still find
some of their bones if you look hard enough. The villagers used the dragon
meat to feed their cattle and even ate it themselves. Thanks to Quirin, at
least the eggs survived.”
“Who told you this? I don’t believe it.” Gretel sat next to Marti.
“There’s no such thing as a wizard either.”
“Did the wizard dress in a cape with a pointed hat and magic wand?”
Crispin giggled at the thought.
“It’s true. My father and mother moved here
and built this cottage. The wizard, Quirin, showed up one day, worried
because this cottage sat right on top of a secret cave. Yes, the cave is
where he hid the eggs. He was afraid my father and mother would disturb
them. After spending time with my parents, he realized they were kind,
good people. Taking them into his trust, like I am doing you, he told them
about the cave and the dragons. He conjured up an opening behind the door
over there.” Marti pointed. “It was the only way they could go down and
care for them. During one of his visits, he told them the eggs had been
lying there for fifty years and it was nearly time for them to hatch.
That door leads to the cave. Quirin told my father he’d come back
after he found a safe place for the dragons to live and then he left. That
was seventy years ago and he still has not returned.”
“He’s been searching for a long time.” Crispin flipped his
reddish-brown hair off his face. “Why would he just leave the eggs with
them and not stay around to watch them hatch?”
“He’s been gone since I was a young boy. I
wonder now if he’s ever going to show up. I hope something didn’t happen
to him because I’m getting old and tired. I worry about what will become
of the little ones after I am gone.” Marti rubbed his forehead.
“Do you have a headache?” Gretel frowned with
“To be honest with you, I do have a mild headache. I’m
stressed thinking about having to search for the babies. Let me finish the
story. The dragon eggs hatched a few years after I was born. I remember
the first time my father took me down into the cave. There sat forty-four
dragons in half-cracked shells.”
“Dragons come from eggs?” Crispin picked up
another handful of berries. “Are the eggs white, like a chicken’s egg?” He
dropped them into his mouth.
“Some chicken’s eggs are brown, Crispin,” Gretel reminded him.
“Yes, dragons come from eggs, but no, the shells weren’t like a chicken’s.
They weren’t white, or brown; they were shiny like glass and there were
several different beautiful, glossy colors. Each one of the new babies fit
in the palm of my hand. For months my father and mother fed them milk from
a baby bottle. Quirin had left them a recipe. If they mixed certain herbs
and things with the milk, the babies wouldn’t be able to tell the
difference between it and real dragon’s milk. Every morning and every
night they went down to the cave, held the dragons one at a time and fed
them, like they were real babies. Mother always looked so tired and weary,
but not once did she complain. They both loved those dragons. By the time
I was old enough to help, they were all ‘off the bottle’.
“When I turned five, it became my job to take
them their food each day. At first we didn’t
know what to feed them. My mother was a great cook. She made the best
buttermilk biscuits and cheese fondue with just the right amount of
nutmeg. The dragons wouldn’t touch it. She suggested we try cow’s milk
and even goat’s milk, and lots of different types of cheeses and butters,
since that’s what we had a lot of around here. They didn’t like any of it
“Not even Swiss cheese?” Gretel couldn’t believe they didn’t
like that. “I love Swiss cheese. Do you know how they get holes in it,
Marti? When I asked my mom she told me not to ask such stupid questions.”
“They like cheese now. They ate your cheese and bread,” Crispin
“They didn’t like Swiss cheese, but now they
do. And no, I have no idea how the holes get in it. Even if I did, I don’t
have time to explain it to you right now. May I continue?” Marti looked at
Gretel. She nodded yes. “Eventually we discovered that they loved sausage.
Every Saturday I went to the village butcher to get fresh sausages. I’ve
fed them that since.”
“That’s why you went to town and bought
sausages. My mother wondered why you did. I love sausages too, but I
wouldn’t want to eat them every day.” Crispin made a face of disgust.
“Your mother is a busy-body, Crispin. It’s
none of her business. Nowadays I give them chocolate once or twice a week
for a treat. Mother and Father died in an accident twenty years ago and
I’ve had to take care of the dragons by myself. I’ll probably regret
asking this, but would you like to see the cave? I’ll show it to you, but
it’s still very important that you do not say a word of this to anyone
“We already promised we wouldn’t. I won’t say a word.” Crispin
ran to the closet door.
“I won’t either and yes, we want to see the cave.” Gretel
followed Marti. He opened the door and turned on the electric lights. They started down
the long flight of stone steps. “Be careful not to put your hands on the
walls. They’re covered with some sort of slippery stuff. I’ve never quite
figured out what it is.” Marti chuckled to himself when he saw the
children pull their hands closer to their sides.
“Wow! This is cool!” Gretel looked around. The damp cavern
smelled of mold and stale
sausages. The slime-covered granite walls shone with a dull
phosphorescent green. They sparkled and glittered with what looked like
millions of tiny pieces of colored glass. “Wow! Look at the diamonds and
rubies and emeralds!” Gretel’s eyes lit up. “Where did these jewels come
from? Did you put lights in the cave? That must have been a lot of work.”
Marti glanced up at the switches. “My father wired this cave
electrically many years ago.” He paused for a moment. “And those aren’t
diamonds. When Quirin brought the dragon eggs here, he covered the walls
with some sort of dust, or the sparkles you see. It protects the eggs from
being detected by dragon hunters and others on the outside. It’s some sort
of magic. Do you want to know what I think? I think he ground up some old
dragon’s egg shells.” Marti marveled at the beauty of the cave.
“What did you do with the egg shells from the
babies once they hatched here in the cave?” Crispin looked around and
didn’t see anything resembling glass eggs.
“Mother and Father put them somewhere. I don’t
remember. I was too young. Do you want to see something better than this?”
“Yes!” They both shouted.
Marti turned another switch. Three glass balls lit up,
shooting rays of color across the cavern.
“Wow! It looks like a rainbow in here!”
Crispin walked under one of the balls.
“Actually there’s a real rainbow inside each ball. They’re
called Rainbow Lights.”
Gretel scoffed. “A real rainbow? That’s impossible.”
“It’s true. Those are real rainbows. The glass
balls are crystal and hand blown. Only a few are still in existence,
according to Quirin. An ancient wizard, I forget his name, Amtith, or
something like that, etched them and then used his magic to put a real
rainbow light inside each one.”
“It does look like a real rainbow. It makes the sparkly things
even more sparkly.” Looking up, Gretel put her hand above her eye.
“For some reason, the affect of the rainbows seems to calm the
dragons.” Marti examined them closer.
“What’s etched on them?” Crispin struggled to see, but they
were too high up.
“I’ve never been close enough to see, but I remember my mother
telling me there were moons, stars, and suns carved into the glass.”
“Wow! This is so cool.” Crispin watched the colored lights
dance on the cave walls.
“There’s more. I think you’ll like this.” Marti moved toward
the back of the cave.
“What is that?” Gretel pointed at a huge monster lying down
with its eyes shut.
“That, my dear Gretel, is Zara.”
“Is Zara alive?” Crispin slid behind Marti, in case the dragon
“No. There’s nothing to fear. Zara is a life-size dragon.
Quirin brought her here before he left, hoping she would comfort the
babies once they hatched. He left a few other things for them too.”
Crispin and Gretel ran to Zara and touched her. “She’s rubbery
and soft and squishy. What is she made of?” Gretel rubbed her hand along
Zara’s scales. “They’re shiny, like a real dragon.”
“I don’t know what she’s made of. Nothing from this part of
the world, I’m sure. Quirin made her look authentic, didn’t he?”
“Her horns are big and spirally. Will the babies end up
looking like her and be this big?” Crispin thought about climbing on the
dragon to touch them, but changed his mind.
“Sometimes I come down here and all forty-four dragons will be
curled up against her, snoring softly and looking so peaceful.”
“You love the dragons, don’t you, Marti.” Gretel took Marti's
hand and squeezed it.
“I do love them. All the babies will some day
grow this big. The females will have horns just like Zara’s.”
“What else is down here? What else did Quirin bring?” Crispin
lost interest with Zara and explored the rest of the cavern. He ran behind
a huge stalagmite. “Whoa! This is great.”
Gretel jumped down off the low shelf of rock where Zara lay.
She ran to Crispin’s side. “Balls; lots and lots of colored balls. Oh
look! Each of them has a dragon picture on it.” She reached into the pit
and picked one up. “This dragon looks like the red one that landed on
“My bed? When was a dragon on my bed?”
Gretel tried to change the subject. “Oh never mind that,
Marti. Tell us who dug this pit.”
“Was it Quirin?” Crispin knew the answer and smiled.
“Quirin did all of this.” Marti gazed at the pit. “The dragons
love to play in the balls, especially Lanyon and Penrose. Those two stay
in the pit for hours, hitting the balls with their tails and rolling them
to each other.” Marti smiled with his heart.
Crispin picked up a sea green ball. “What are they made of?
They sort of feel like plastic, but they also feel like satin.”
“Again, I have no idea. I hope to find out some day. I’ve
never seen these colors before. They are bright, like sunshine, but very
unusual shades.” Marti picked two of them up. “See this. It looks like a
tropical ocean, yet, if I turn it this way,” he twisted the ball on its
side, “it looks like a ripe plum. You know, this cavern used to have a
huge river flowing through it. That’s how it was formed.”
Gretel and Crispin didn’t seem interested and continued
playing with a few of the balls. Crispin shouted. “What are those three
hoop things hanging down from the ceiling?”
“They’re just hoops. The dragons practice flying through
them.” Marti waved his hand through the air, directing their gaze from one
to the other.
Crispin changed the subject again. “You said dragon hunters
earlier? Are they the ones who tried to kill them for food?”
“Yes. The dragonslayers would stop at nothing to destroy the
eggs.” Marti’s brow arched
Not listening to Marti and Crispin, Gretel ran further into
the cave. “I think the walls are pretty and colorful.” She laughed and
danced around with her arms out to the side. “Imagine how much they’d
sparkle in the sunlight!”
Crispin put his fingers to his nose. “I think
it sort of stinks down here, but the stalactites and stalagmites are cool.
Some of them are as big as my cottage! Did the dragons
really live down here for 120 years?”
“No, Crispin. The eggs were down here for fifty years. The
dragons hatched only seventy years ago. It takes a long time for a dragon
egg to hatch and even longer for them to grow to adulthood. They only
learned how to fly ten years ago.”
“Did you teach them to fly, Marti?” Crispin
zoomed around the cave, pretending to be a dragon.
Gretel heard his noises and ran to join him.
Marti looked around and sighed. “The dragons
taught themselves to fly. We’ve got to get them back. If forty-four
dragons start flying around the village, people may start killing them,
just like in the old days. At the very least there will be wide spread
panic and terror.”
“Panic and terror? Who’d be afraid of baby dragons?” Crispin
didn’t believe anyone could hurt them or be afraid.
“People are strange, Crispin. They won’t see
them as baby dragons. Instead they will only see the adult dragons they
will become in the future. You two will have to come and help me. I am
much too old to do this by myself. It’s the least you can do after letting
them out.” Marti reached under one of the stairs and picked up several
burlap bags. “We’ll catch them and bring them home in these bags.” After
climbing the steep steps, He locked the door behind them. “Come on, you
two. Let’s find some dragons.”