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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Two - Arbutel - Chapter 32

          Jorna and Provan looked at the tied up dragons. Darmantha's evil grin reflected in a puddle of rain that fell during the night. The morning sun inched its way upward, spreading its warming rays across the island. “We need to keep a close eye on these dragons. Undo their chains and let’s put them in a cage.”

Provan pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the chains from the dragon’s ankles.

Darmantha waved his wand and a waist-high cage appeared. A black iron barred door swung opened. He kicked the two dragons into the cage, amid a roar of screeches and snarls. Jago and Rosenwyn weren’t going to go in easily. Darmantha slammed the door shut. “You go ahead and fight all you want. You’ll not escape this prison.” He poked the dragons with his finger. Jago tried to bite him, but he pulled his finger away too fast. “No, no, no.”

“I think they’re hungry,” Jorna said. “You don’t want them dead, at least not yet, so we should feed them, don’t you think?”

“Good idea. And since it’s your suggestion, you can go out and find them something to eat.” Darmantha spat at Jorna’s feet.

“I have no idea what little dragons eat.” Her arms flung out to the side in exasperation.

“Then you’d better bring a variety of things back, just in case they don’t like something.” Darmantha went back into the hut, leaving a furious Jorna glaring at Provan.

Darmantha opened the door enough to stick his head out. “Bring something good back for Erron too.” He stroked the black crow’s feathers. “Bring him two or three nucco. I noticed he enjoyed the last ones I got him. Make sure you pull out their claws and whiskers this time. Poor Erron was ill for a week until he passed them.”

Jorna turned to Provan.

He shook his head. “Don’t look at me. I’m not going with you. I have no desire to feed them. You should have kept your mouth shut. You’re always running off at the mouth, Jorna.” Provan went into the hut to join Darmantha.

Jorna looked at the dragons. “Stupid dragons! What am I supposed to feed you?” She kicked the cage, causing the dragons to screech again and then she walked off, beginning her search. An hour later she returned.

Provan sat on the ground, his back against a tree stump, watching the dragons. He saw Jorna approach. “What did you get them? I hope its something they like. Maybe it will shut them up. They’ve done nothing but whine and make noise since you left.”

Jorna dropped a carcass near Provan’s feet. Blood splattered when it hit the ground, covering his boots with red slime and gore. “I brought it back. You can cut it up and feed it to them. I have to take the nuccos to that stupid crow. We don’t want it to get hungry now, do we?” She walked to the hut, opened the door and threw three nuccos on the ground near Erron’s talons. “There’s your meal.” She slammed the door behind her, wiped her hands on her pants and walked off snarling.

Provan pulled a knife out of his pocket, cut the skin off the carcass and tossed it aside. Within seconds, thousands of huge black loosie flies covered it. The buzzing sound nearly deafened him. He chopped the meat into small pieces, brushing the annoying pests away with a swatting hand. “I hope these are dragon-sized bites for you two,” he jeered, tossing a few pieces into their cage.

Jago and Rosenwyn sniffed the meat. They’d never smelled or tasted raw meat before. Both dragons backed away from it, refusing to eat. 

“What’s the matter with you two? You don’t like dilbi meat? Would you like me to roast it for you and hand feed you?” Provan threw more meat at the dragon’s cage. Some of it clung to the iron bars. Flies swarmed around each piece, coating them with a black, moving cloak of filth.

Darmantha came out. “What are you doing? These dragons won’t eat dilbi meat. Go and find them some yamitas. What’s wrong with you two? Where’s Jorna?”

Provan pointed to Jorna’s hut. “It will take me hours to find yamitas. None grow in these parts.”

“Well? You’re wasting time. Get going. NOW!”

Provan mumbled and cursed and headed for the woods.

Jorna chose that moment to come out of her hut.

“You! Go with Provan and find these dragons something edible, but first, you’d better clean this mess up. I hate loosie flies. Get rid of this meat and that bloody hide. Don’t either of you come back without some edible food.” Darmantha went back into his hut, slamming the door behind him.

Jorna pulled the smelly pieces of meat off the cage. She reached her hand inside to grab the bits of meat Provan had tossed.

Jago used this opportunity to nip her.

“Ow! Clean it up yourself then!” She shouted, picking up the skinned hide with a stick. Holding it away from her, she dropped it into a hole and kicked dirt over it, burying it and the loosie flies.

Jago nudged the meat out of the cage with his snout and then hit them away with his tail. The flies dispersed, leaving the dragons in peace. He curled up against Rosenwyn and with nothing better to do, they fell asleep.

Erron snuck up and grabbed the pieces of bug-covered meat, gobbling them down. Squawking, it flew to the top of the hut, perched and waited for the yamitas. He wasn’t going to let the dragons have all of them.

Around mid-afternoon Jorna and Provan returned, carrying armfuls of yamitas. They dropped them near the dragon’s cage, pushing a few broken pieces inside. “Here you go, you useless dragons.” Jorna stormed off, leaving Provan near the cage.

Jago and Rosenwyn woke up, saw the yamitas and started eating.

Darmantha heard the commotion and came out of his hut. “Well, finally you’ve returned. It’s about time. Leave them alone and come inside. We’ve got plans to make. Where’s Jorna?”

“She’s off pouting. Let her be. She’s worthless anyway,” Provan said.

Darmantha shrugged his shoulders and the two of them went back inside. 

“Now that the dragons are fed, we need to decide what to do. While you were gone, I did some meditating and I know the other dragons haven’t gone too far. They’ll be with Quirin and the others by now. It won’t be long before they make plans to come after those two out there. We need to set some traps. There’s no way we can take on Quirin, Gordinth, Sindri and Claring by ourselves, never mind Gretel and what’s his name, Marti. Let’s not forget the boy. He’ll also be there by now.”

“What are your plans? Wouldn’t it be better just to kill these two now and the others when we’ve captured them again?” Provan tired of the way the dragons controlled his life.

Angry shouts echoed off the walls of the hut. “We must have every dragon, every last one of them! I’ve already explained that to you. It is vital to my plans to have all forty-four dragons. The ritual cannot be accomplished with them all. Don’t you ever listen?” He turned and faced the wall. When he turned back around he said, “ I don’t feel like traveling into the land of milk and honey, so I’ve come up with a few nasty surprises to welcome them. Get Jorna in here. We’ll need her help.”

Provan sighed. “This is getting tiring, Darmantha. I’d like to rid myself of these dragons as much as you do, but I’m fed up with all this nonsense and with Jorna.”

“NONSENSE? Have you forgotten King Dinth and our oath to him? He endowed us with powers. Well, he endowed me with great power and you and Jorna with some powers, but we swore an oath to find every dragon on earth and destroy them. I intend to keep my oath. Besides that, these dragons and their ancestors have been a thorn in my side for most of my life. No more arguments. Get Jorna and bring her to me. We must begin the preparations.”

Provan found Jorna washing her filthy hands in an already polluted stream. “You’ve been commanded to appear before the great Darmantha. You’d better come with me.”

Jorna stood up. “I’m tired of taking orders from that man. He’s obsessed with this ancient ritual. He acts like a madman most of the time. What is his problem? Why does he hate the dragons so much anyway?”

Provan said, “You’ve never heard the story?”

Jorna shook her head. “Unfortunately, no.”

“I can’t believe that. I’ve heard it nearly a thousand times. It goes back to his days on Tritem. There were a lot of dragons living in the land. One day Darmantha and his younger brother, Peranth, were out in the woods. They saw a young male dragon, Herzog, about thirty years old, playing off by itself. Darmantha urged his brother to tease the dragon. He picked up some stones and started pelting it. Peranth hesitated, but then joined in. They got carried away and got too rough. Herzog’s father, Gygax, heard his son’s cries and after seeing the wounds and blood, he became furious. In a rage the dragon roasted Peranth, incinerating him to ashes. Darmantha ran away, leaving his brother alone with the angry dragon. He’s never gotten over it. Since that day his entire being and reason for living has been from his hatred for dragons. He never told any of the villagers what happened, at least not the truth. It was his fault his brother died. I don’t think he’s dealt with the guilt. Everyone thought Peranth had run away and he let them think it. When King Dinth put out a call for dragonslayers, Darmantha was first to join. He studied the wizard books and everything he could find about dragons. One day he found a few lines mentioning a ritual. He’s been obsessed with that since then. You know the rest. Blah, blah, blah.”

“He does seem rather eager, or insane. Oh well. I say we go and make mince meat out of those two dragons now, without waiting. What can he do to us anyway?”

“I’ll tell you what I can do, Jorna.” Darmantha lifted his wand. “The next time you decide to mutiny, I’d make sure your leader wasn’t around. You told the story very well, Provan, except for the blah, blah, blah part.. I’d hardly go to the lengths of saying I was obsessed. I prefer to call it anxious. As for you Jorna…” He shouted a spell, ‘Ilbana Dominus Cartigus’.

Jorna flew into the air, upside down, and up to the top of one of the dead tree limbs. Her feet stuck to the branch.

 “Maybe hanging upside down for a while will help clear that useless head of yours. Next time you want to call me insane, you’d better think twice about it. Be grateful I don’t feed you to the Poralfis. I’m sure the flock would appreciate a nice snack.” Darmantha turned and left, shouting, “Provan, let’s get to work.”

“I guess that answers that,” Provan said, looking up at Jorna.

The crow flapped around Jorna’s head, pecking at her. For the next six hours, a defeated Jorna hung from the tree while Darmantha and Provan discussed the traps.

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