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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Two - Arbutel - Chapter 31

          Upon returning to Luba, just a few minutes walk from the dragon’s cave, Gretel, Gordinth and Quirin found Sindri, Claring and Marti sitting around the fire talking.  “Welcome back.” Claring waved to Gretel. “Tell us about your visit with Jago and Rosenwyn. What did you think of them?”

          Gretel ran to the fire and no sooner did she sit down next to Sindri when a roar of wings came rushing into the village. Dozens of colored wings flapped up and down. “The baby dragons! They’re here!”

          Marti jumped up.

          Sindri and Gretel stood and grabbed each other in a hug. “They’re here. All the babies are here,” Sindri shouted.

Venec and Cardew squealed with delight and flew around, joining the other forty dragons. They landed a few feet from the fire. One of the other male dragons, Kenver, sent a thought into their minds. We’ve been held in a hut on the other side of the island. Darmantha, Provan, and Jorna kept us prisoners and didn’t feed us. The boy, Crispin, rescued us, but we don’t know where he is. He opened the door and let us free. That’s the last we’ve seen of him.

          “Crispin’s here? The big dragons told us he was. Darmantha has him and little Jago and Rosenwyn. Please, Quirin, please let’s go and rescue him. Crispin’s not a dragonkeeper. Darmantha will hurt him and the babies.” Gretel started crying.

          Claring picked her up and she laid her head on his shoulders. “This little girl needs to go to bed. She’s had a busy day. I’m afraid it’s all been too much for her. Come on, Gretel. I’m taking you to your hut. We’ll find Crispin and the others. Don’t worry.” Claring carried her to the hut and laid her on the bed. “Sleep well, little one.” He bent over and kissed her on the forehead, pulled a blanket over her and crept away.

Claring was about to shut the door when it burst open. Venec and Cardew darted inside and ran over to Gretel. They leapt onto her bed and lay curled up by her feet. We’re staying with you. Cardew gave a soft screech and lay his head back down on the blanket. Claring quietly closed the door.

           Gordinth looked at the babies. “I think we’d all benefit from a good night’s sleep. Quirin, will you take the babies to Jago and Rosenwyn. They’ll be safe with them in the cave. Tell Jago we’ll bring Venec and Cardew in the morning. They’re needed here tonight. You’re all here, all but little Jago and Rosenwyn. You’re safe. We’ll never let anything harm you, my babies. My precious babies.” Gordinth sobbed with joy. “They’re here, Quirin. Our babies are here. Sindri, Claring, Marti, our babies are safe. Can you believe it?”

          Quirin slipped his arm around Gordinth’s shoulder and walked with him to his hut. After he’d put Gordinth to bed, he joined the others. “Who wants to come with me? These babies will make two dragons very happy.”

          “I’ll go with you,” Claring said. “Marti?”

          “Of course. I’ve not met Jago and Rosenwyn yet. I raised these babies for the last 70 years. I wouldn’t miss this reunion for anything.”

          Sindri smiled and kissed her husband on the cheek. “I’ll stay here and tidy up. I want to take Gretel another blanket. It gets cool at night. You go on. I’ve got work to do. Marti, I’m so proud of you.” She wiped a tear away and stroked her son’s cheek with her soft hands. “Go meet Jago and Rosenwyn.”

                                                * * *

          Jago and Rosenwyn moved to the back of the cave, their eyes closed and their tails entwined in an embrace of love. Jago, the first to hear the soft screeches, lifted his long neck. Rosenwyn heard them too. They moved from the darkness to the front of the cave. The babies, in all their assorted colors, flew at the large dragons, surrounding them with a rainbow of screeches. All 40 of them whirled around Jago’s neck, Rosenwyn’s legs, tail and horns.

          “So this is Jago and Rosenwyn,” Marti said, watching them interact with their dragon posterity. “Look how excited the little ones are to see them. I thought they loved me and my cave, but this is different. This is dragon love. This is their family.” Marti wiped the tears away with his shirtsleeve. His father’s arm moved to his shoulder and squeezed with affection. “I can’t help but feel sad. I’ve been reunited with my family, the babies with their family, but poor little Gretel, she has no family.”

          “You’re wrong, son,” Claring said. “She has us. She’s got Quirin, Gordinth, you and your mother, me, and the dragons. We’re a family, all of us together.”

          “He’s right, Marti. We are an unusual family, but a family we are.” Quirin laughed, watching the babies. Their tongues darted in and out of their mouths, making physical contact with Jago and Rosenwyn.  “Venec and Cardew will come tomorrow. They’re with Gretel tonight.” Quirin shouted at the big dragons.

We know and that’s fine. You’ve brought us our babies. Look at them. They’re so full of energy and joyfulness. We’re together at last, or will be, once little Jago and Rosenwyn are back. Please, bring them to us. Rosenwyn found the babies delightful. They slid down her back, swung on her horns and bounced up and down on Jago’s tummy.

          “Let’s leave them alone and let them get acquainted. They’ll have their hands full with these little ones, but they will enjoy teaching them the dragon ways,” Quirin said. Marti, Claring and he walked back to camp.

          Sindri took Marti’s hand in hers. “You’re back. Well, Marti, what did you think of our dragons?”

         “To be honest, Mother, I didn’t get to spend much time with them. The babies demanded most of their attention. I’ll see them in the morning. Now, I think I’m ready for a good night’s sleep. It’s been a long day.” Marti went toward the family’s hut. He’d just pushed the door open when something staggered into the village, bumping into the pans and dishes around the fire. Marti let go of the door. “Crispin.”

          Sindri, Claring and Quirin ran to the boy. Quirin scooped him up in his arms. “It’s the boy, Crispin. He’s been hurt.”

          Sindri pulled Crispin’s shirt back. “He’s been burned. It looks like an acid burn. How on earth did that happen? I’ll get some medicine.” She ran off to her hut. “Marti,” she said, passing him, “go and help your father with the boy. He’s hurt.”

          Marti ran to Crispin. “Who did this to you, boy?”

          “A fish monster.” Crispin barely found the strength to whisper.

          Gretel heard the noise and got out of bed. Venec and Cardew stayed curled on the blanket. She opened her door and saw Crispin lying on the table. “Crispin! You’re here.” She ran to him. “You’re hurt. Was it Darmantha who did this? Where are your shoes and socks?”

          Crispin lay still while Sindri put a thick paste on his burns. Barely audible, he muttered, “Darmantha’s got Jago and Rosenwyn. I let the other dragons go. They should be here soon. I lost my socks and shoes at the waterfall.”

          “They’re here already and they’re safe,” Quirin said. “Tell us, boy, how did you get here, to Arbutel?”

          Crispin raised his head a few inches and looked at Gretel.

          Marti knew she’d been involved with this somehow. “Gretel, what do you know about this?”

          “Well, don’t be mad. I broke pieces of bread and dropped them on the trail when we hiked up the mountain. I left a note for Crispin telling him the spell to use and where to put the stone. I guess he did it right.” Gretel squeezed Crispin’s hand. “I didn’t think it was fair that you left him behind. He’s got as much to do with this as we do. If it hadn’t been for Crispin…”

         “The dragons would never have gotten out of the cave in the first place.” Marti finished Gretel’s sentence.

         “That may be true, Marti, but then we’d never have come here and you’d never have met your parents.” Gretel looked over at Sindri and Claring.

         “You’re right again, Gretel. Crispin, where did you find Jago and Rosenwyn?” Marti remembered the other dragons.

         “I found them way up on the side of the mountain. They were hiding in some rocks and they were starving and scared. You should have seen them. They ate almost all of my cheese and most of the bread, yogurt and berries. I thought it was best if I brought them with me. When we first got here we landed in a meadow of wildflowers. I almost died in a tidal wave too.” Crispin went on to tell them of his adventures.

         “You mean Darmantha doesn’t know you’re here? He didn’t capture you?” Gretel asked, relieved.

         “I think he knows I’m here, but he didn’t capture me. I’m tired, Marti. Can I get something to eat and go to bed? I’ll tell you more in the morning. I’m glad the babies are here and safe. We’ll talk more tomorrow, okay?” The boy’s eyes closed.

         “Sindri, bring him a few slices of yamita and a piece of cardooli. We don’t want him eating too much tonight though.” Claring took the food from his wife’s hands. “You eat this, boy, and then we’ll take you to a soft bed. You can sleep in the hut with Gretel for tonight. She’s got two beds in there.”

         “Is that all right with you?” Quirin asked the girl.

         “Yes, of course. Venec and Cardew will be glad to see him too.” Gretel smiled at the hungry boy as he ate.

          With Crispin and Gretel tucked safely in their beds, Quirin stopped by to check on Gordinth and then crept to his own hut and lay down, falling asleep quickly. Marti and his parents retired to their hut after putting out the fire and torches. Even the dragons and the babies fell asleep. Peaceful darkness surrounded them all as the stars twinkled in the heavens above.

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