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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Three - The Dragon's Hope - Chapter 34

“This isn’t going to be easy. You know that, don’t you?” Quirin said to Claring. They walked a few steps ahead of the others. “I’m sure Darmantha and his side-kicks have set up traps of some sort for us.”

“That’s a certainty. We’ll have to watch every step and be on guard the entire journey,” Claring agreed.

“I think it would be wise if we went to Sparma Springs first.”

“Sparma Springs? You mean to the Spring of Life?”

“Exactly. I brought some ground taradak horns with me. I think if I fill my wand with the water from the spring and mix it with the taradak, my powers will be at maximum. I’ve not forgotten Darmantha’s strength, or his ability to do evil. Actually, I’m quite surprised he’s been so mellow. Maybe he’s gotten cocky in his years. That might be his downfall. He must feel certain he can destroy us and the dragons, or he’d have done more damage, especially to the captive dragons and Gretel.”

“I agree. I’ve never been to Sparma Springs. I guess I’ve never had a need to go there. There’s not much need for magical powers on this island, at least there hasn’t been up until now. Let’s tell the others.”

Quirin gathered the groups and told them of his plan. They agreed to make the detour to the springs. “Do you think Darmantha will have figured out we might go there? It’s not likely to have slipped his mind,” Sindri said.

“How does Darmantha know about the springs?” Gretel, confused about Darmantha’s role in the history of the island, asked.

“Darmantha’s not a stranger to the island. It’s been a long time, but he’s been here before and knows his way around. It’s a long story. Remind me to tell you about it later My guess is that he probably will have a trap or two set for us. All of you need to use the utmost caution from now on.” Quirin pulled his staff out of his cloak and held it before him, using it to lean on. 

                                    *  *  *

None of them noticed Jorna and Provan, who’d been following them at a distance since they’d left Luba. “Fools. They’re doing exactly what Darmantha said they’d do.”

”I hate the fact that he was right,” Jorna mumbled.

“We’d better get back and report to him or he’ll have our heads,” Provan said. He and Jorna disappeared in the trees.

                                    *  *  *

After they’d walked for several hours, Claring said, “Aren’t we near the old city of Utheria? I remember coming here long ago with Gordinth. He needed to find some sort of map from the ancient library. He didn’t find it, but we had an interesting time there.”

“Quite right, Claring. We are close to it,” said Quirin.

“An old city? Can we go there? I’ve never been to an old city before. Why don’t people live there any more?” Gretel, full of questions, talked their ears off.

“Gretel, I feel like I’m with Crispin with all these questions. Stop now! I think we need a rest. Let’s stop here for a short while and I’ll tell Gretel about Utheria.” The others agreed, pulled their packs off their backs and dropped them next to an old wipper tree. Quirin sat down in a patch of long grass in its shade.

Claring and Sindri took Marti down to the Pimbo River.

“Come and sit with me for a while, Gretel.”

She opened her pack, pulled out a yamita and sat down near Quirin.

“Many centuries ago a great civilization lived on this island. The people were great warriors with a massive navy. At one time they nearly wiped out the Greeks and Romans, but because of a bad judgment call by their leader, Kumtur, the entire civilization was decimated. That means it was destroyed, in case you didn’t know.”

“I know that word, Quirin, but thanks for explaining it to me anyway.” Gretel smiled.

“Now, where was I? Oh yes, I remember. Their magnificent city was razed to the ground. That’s another way of saying it was destroyed, or did you know that too?” Gretel nodded yes. “All that is left are the ruins. Utheria was full of libraries, museums and music halls. The buildings were made from rare marbles brought here from the quarries of northwest Italy. They say the air was full of the sweet scent of honeysuckle and enpilli blossoms and that the birds were the color of sapphires and emeralds. Hanging gardens decorated the city. Some of the columns and statues were so tall they nearly reached the clouds. It was a marvelous place, or so they say. I never saw Utheria in all her glory, though I have seen the ruins and even they are splendid and beautiful.

“One day, early in the morning, well before sunrise, the city was attacked. The women were taken captive and sold into slavery in places like Constantinople, Egypt, and Carthage. All the priceless art was removed and taken to Rome, along with most of the statues.”

“How did that happen, if they were such great warriors?” Gretel wanted to know the answers.

“Kumtur, their king, was advised by his naval and army leaders to prepare for battle. They’d heard rumors about a planned attack on the city. Kumtur, in all his arrogance, never believed for one moment that any opposing armies would dare attack him. He was the mightiest ruler and therefore untouchable. Sadly, it wasn’t so. During the night the enemy came from the sea in small rowboats, leaving their big ships anchored far away and out of sight. Several teams of divers swam down under Kumtur’s warships and drilled holes in the bottoms. The ships filled slowly with water and sank. By the time the sailors on board noticed, it was too late. The enemy moved in with their bigger naval ships and attacked the Utherians. Coming upon them in the wee hours of the morning, all but the youngest of boys were slaughtered in their beds and, as I mentioned before, the woman and girls taken into slavery, only to be used in harems and such things. Kumtur was captured, tortured, and hung from the gates of the city. The attacking armies shot him with arrows as the captured women and children walked past. They say the attacker’s armies and navies were a combination of Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Persians. That’s only part of the story, Gretel. Darmantha is a direct descendant of King Kumtur.”

“But you said all the boys were killed,” Gretel said.

“They were, all except Kumtur’s wife, Zelinda, and their young son, Caffi. The night the armies invaded, Caffi had woken up earlier with a nightmare, as he often did. Zelinda knew the best way to calm the troubled boy down was to take him for a long walk in the night air. The two of them left the palace. When they saw the attackers, they ran, but not before an arrow found its way into Zelinda’s side. Helping his mother, Caffi led her to Sparma Springs. They stayed there in hiding for several days. Caffi used the springs to help heal her wound, at least enough that she could get around. When they were sure the enemy had left, they went back to Utheria, only to find the city in ruins and the king’s decaying body full of arrows. Devastated, the two made their way to the docks and found a small boat that the enemy had overlooked.

“Her son did most of the rowing, heading for one of the nearby islands, which took about three days travel, with no food or water. Nearly dead, the two of them were found by passing fishermen. When he asked her name, she told them another, Deborah, and also gave a false name to Caffi. She called him Andor. They lived among the fisher-people in a village called Tritem, too afraid to tell who they really were. Caffi remembered and never forgot; never forgot anything, especially his father.

“When he was about thirty years old, his mother, Zelinda died. Caffi married soon after that and brought his wife, Anna, and children, three sons Kumtur, Alain, and Rufert, and one daughter, Melena, along with a few other adventurous villagers, back here, to Utheria to live. Though it was still in ruins, they were able to build a small village, and live in harmony for several centuries. Eventually Caffi’s descendants moved back to Tritem, leaving Utheria deserted, as we found it.

“Before deserting Utheria for good, one of Caffi’s descendants, a man named Rannar, went to Sparma Springs. I suppose he came upon it accidentally. He found it an unusual place with a feeling of life and energy to it. While there, he had a vision. He saw Zelinda lying on the ground next to the springs and her son washing the blood off with the water, which ran back into the spring. When Rannar woke up, he found the water bubbling. The clear spring turned red, churning with blood, Zelinda’s blood. Three eggs, the size of his fist, appeared in the boiling water. Each was the size of a loaf of bread. The shells were shiny and glass-like, yet strong and unbreakable. One was blue, one red, and one black. With great care, Rannar gathered them and hid all three in his boat before heading with his kin to Tritem.”

“Were they dragon eggs? How did they get there?” Gretel’s imagination ran wild with possibilities.

“They were indeed dragon eggs. They say Zelinda’s thirst for revenge on her husband’s death made the eggs. We’ll never know for sure, only that they did come from the springs and that Zelinda had something to do with their appearance. I think Kumtur and his wizard had something to do with it too though. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Rannar took the eggs and hid them in his home until he was an old man. Just before he died, the eggs hatched. There were two females and one male. He named them, Arbon, Diphini and Elyssia. He called his granddaughter, Alwycka, to his hut and showed her the tiny dragons. She promised to help take care of them. Several years after Rannar died, she could no longer hide them. They were growing too big, too noisy and too hungry. The villagers found out. At first they were afraid and wanted to kill the dragons, but after Alwycka showed them how gentle they were, the people of Tritem quickly became very attached to them. They helped care for the dragons and raised them to adulthood. The dragons lived in peace with the villagers.”

“Until the disease killed them,” Gretel snarled.

“Yes, that’s true, but that wasn’t until many centuries later. There were at least 79 dragons alive at that time. Arbon had many young ones with both Diphini and Elyssia. You know the rest of the story, almost. Darmantha was born in Tritem. The blood of Kumtur flows through his veins. You could say he shares the same blood as the dragons too. He’s spent a lot of time on this island and is familiar with the ruins of Utheria and Sparma Springs. They say Zelinda’s blood bubbles up from the spring every day for several minutes to remind all who see it that Kumtur’s blood line and kingdom will never end.”

“Wow, that’s a sad story. I’ll bet where we’re sitting right now was walked on by soldiers who came to attack the Utherians. Let’s go there. I know it will be sad, but I’d like to see the springs and the ruins.” Gretel looked up at Quirin.

“As soon as Claring, Marti, and Sindri get back, we’ll be off. We’ve had a good rest now.  I see you’ve finished off your yamita.”

“Where did they go, Quirin?”

“They went to the Pimbo River. It borders Utheria in a semi circle, coming in from the sea on one end and flowing back into it at the other. Utheria is built on the land inside and also on the outside the river. Kumtur kept his ships in the river. Wait till you see the bridges spanning the water. They’re monstrous. People  built their houses on them. It’s quite a sight.”

Marti and his parents came back to the clearing.

Quirin stood looking down at Gretel. “Are you ready to see Utheria? I know that I am!” They picked up their packs and slipped them on their backs. “We’re off then. Onward to Utheria!” Quirin led the way once more.

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