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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Three - The Dragon's Hope - Chapter 39

“I’ve got the firewood, Quirin,” Gretel shouted, dropping the wood in a pile on the ground. “Quirin? Sindri, where did Quirin go?”

Sindri sat under a tiboloth tree reading a book. It’s long, ropey branches hung down to the top of her head. Tangerine orange flowers, perfumey and sweet popped up among the blue-green leaves. “Oh, yes, dear, he asked me to tell you to run ahead and find him. He wants to see that building you told him about. Go on and look for him. He’s not gone far.”

Gretel picked up the small branches and sticks she’d gathered and carried them with her. She saw Quirin standing in the middle of the bridge, looking out on the Pimbo River. The tide was out, leaving puddles and a lot of seagulls and sandpipers hunting for crabs and periwinkles. “Are you going to sleep on the bridge with me tonight?” Gretel said, surprising the wizard.

“Gretel, there is something wrong. It feels as though a life force has left the island. I fear someone’s hurt back at Luba and I fear it is Gordinth.” Gretel didn’t speak, but stood in silence next to the man, looking at the setting sun reflecting off the puddled water. The incoming tide brought enough to cover the muddy bottom. She didn’t know what to say to him. A few minutes later she picked up her wood bundle, looked around for the place she wanted to spend the night and dropped the pile. She kept herself busy building the fire, sensing Quirin’s need to be alone.

After the fire burned bright and flickered in the kisses of the gentle breeze, he came and sat down next to her. “Gretel, we need to hurry and get the dragons. While I sense something wrong, I also sense a new beginning, a new strength…a new wizard. Are you ready to show me this building?”

She jumped up and reached for his hand. Together they walked across the bridge and over to the other side of the river. About a hundred yards from there they came upon the building.

“It is impressive,” Quirin said. “I think you’re right. This must have been the palace.”

“It doesn’t have a throne in it. All that’s in there are lots of statues of warriors wearing helmets and things. If it was the king’s palace, then why isn’t there a throne?”

“You’ve got a point there, Gretel. Perhaps it was his war room, the place he went to meet with his generals to plan battles. The Utherians were a fierce, battling tribe.” He looked up. “Ah, I see they also decorated with gargoyles, like the French.”

“Let’s go inside before it gets dark,” Gretel said, leading him up the steps.

When they reached the top, Quirin noticed the pillars. “They’ve got to be twenty feet in diameter. Imagine the amount of time it took to transport just one of these pillars here.”

 “I told you this building wasn’t destroyed,” Gretel said. “Why is this the only building standing?”

Marti and Claring, who were exploring the ruins, saw Gretel and Quirin standing at the top of the steps. “Gretel! Quirin!” They climbed, joining the others.

“Did you get to see the libraries and the cathedral?” Gretel smiled at the men.

“We saw nothing but rubble, Gretel. Some of it is very impressive though, but nothing looked like this.” Claring gazed at the building. The sunset colored the white marble with a tinge of pink.

Quirin rubbed his hands up and down one of the columns. “Look at this, Claring, Marti. It’s the finest Italian marble. There’s not even a battle scar on them. Amazing.”

“It’s all so grand,” Marti said.

They walked into the building. “I think we need torches.” Using his wand, Quirin gave the others each a lit torch. They looked around the massive room. Immediately

Quirin sensed danger. “This is most unusual. There’s no sign of furniture of any kind, just these statues. Not one of them is damaged, nor do any of them show signs of neglect. There’s not a drop of dust on them. I don’t feel comfortable in here. We need to leave right…”

Something clanged and bumped against the wall at the back of the room. “What was that, Quirin?” Gretel jumped in fear.

“I’m not sure. Let’s go.”

“I agree with Quirin. They’re something strange going on in here.” Claring moved his torch from side to side. “Make the room light up, Quirin. I can’t see much with this torch.”

The wizard raised his hand. The room, instead of dark and shadowy, lit up like it was midday. “I’ve seen enough. Let’s get out of here.” Quirin scanned the huge room.

 When they turned to leave at least a dozen of the statues blocked their way. Each held a weapon in front of their helmeted and shielded bodies.

“Quirin, I’m scared. Where did those come from? How did they get there? Who moved them?” Gretel clung to his cape.

Marti and Claring stood in front of her to guard and protect her. “Let’s go the other way. There might be a back door,” Claring suggested, but when they turned to go the other direction, a line of stone warriors blocked their way again. “It looks like we’re surrounded. Stay close to me, Gretel.”

The sound of stone and twisted metal scraping together frightened her. She saw the warriors raise their axes, swords, and daggers. “They’re alive, Quirin. How can they be? They’re made of stone? Are they going to kill us?”

The group watched the warriors. They were indeed alive, though still stone. Their eyes shone with mustard yellow light, dim, but moving. “This will be Darmantha’s work. I’m certain of it. He must know where we are and what we’re trying to do,” Marti said.

“Darmantha can make statues come to life? What kind of a wizard is he?” Gretel shook with fear and ran into Marti’s arms.

“A very evil one, Gretel. I need time to think.” Quirin, grateful the warriors moved slowly, raised his wand. “Senobi Gardina Tooloona,” he shouted, waving it back and forth. A wall of fire grew around them, attempting to protect them from the warriors. He removed the light, so they could find protection. The flames provided enough.

“They can’t burn, Quirin. They’re made of stone!” Gretel’s fear grew when she saw the stone men moving through the fire like it wasn’t even there. “See, they’re still coming.”

“Try something else.” Claring shouted.

“Tibsi Ullana Farbitos!” This time a wind gathered and blew around them in a circle.

“It’s a tornado and we’re in its eye. Do you think that will keep them away from us?” Gretel tried to think of what to do. A rush of courage swept through her.  “Quirin, make me a piece of rope. I’ve got an idea.”

Quirin waved his wand and a long piece of wound rope appeared in Gretel’s hand.

“Thanks. Make it so that the wind won’t hurt us.”

Quirin nodded and waved his wand.

 “Is it done? Am I safe in the wind?”

Quirin nodded again.

“Good. Do something to get their attention. Run over there and make a lot of noise. When they come after you, I’ll run the other way.”

“Gretel, what are you thinking of doing?” Marti feared for her life.

“No Gretel, let one of us go.” Claring reached to stop her.

“I’m scared, but I can to do this. I’m the smallest. I have to do this. Stay here. I’ll be all right. You’ll see soon,” she said.

Quirin kept the wind howling and the three men moved to the other side of the room. They started shouting, making animal noises, like a wild herd of trumpeting elephants, a tribe of hungry lions, and laughing hyenas.

Gretel almost started to laugh. When she saw the warriors gravitate to where her friends stood, she ran the other direction. She took the rope and darted in front one of the rows of the warriors as they moved closer, draping the rope across their feet and legs. She then dashed behind the statues and did the same. Once she was sure all the warriors were standing inside the rope, she ran outside and wound the rope around and around the marble pillars. The rope went taught. Her first thought was to run back over the bridge to find Sindri, but then she realized there wasn’t enough time. She ran back to help the others. “Gretel, thank goodness you’re safe.”

Marti sighed with relief when he saw the girl.

 “I only can do one row of them, but at least we’ll get the ones blocking our way out. Make the tornado stronger so they can’t get us.”

“What did you do, Gretel?” Marti saw her smiling.

Gretel watched as Quirin did as she asked. The powerful noise of the wind nearly deafened them, but it stopped the statues from getting any closer. “Quirin, I need something to pull the rope really tight so they’ll trip and fall. I need ten huge elephants.”

“You’ve got them.” Quirin waved his wand and mumbling something.

Gretel couldn’t hear him with all the noise, but knew what he’d done.

 Before Marti could stop her, she shouted, “I’ll be right back.” She disappeared, hidden in the blowing dust. She spotted the silhouettes of ten gray elephants with huge tusks standing near the entrance. “War elephants. Thanks, Quirin.” She took the rope and gave it to the elephant. Elephants, I know you can hear and understand me. I need you to grab this rope with your trunks and pull it as hard as you can. Hurry please.”

They understood and obeyed. The first elephant lifted his trunk and stretched the rope taut. The others wrapped their trunks around it and pulled.

Gretel said, “That’s it. Keep pulling. I’ve got to go back and help the others. Stay here until I come back.” She ran inside and saw the first row of warriors fall forward, crashing and breaking to pieces as they hit the floor. “Hurry, Quirin, Marti, and Claring! Hurry before the others start throwing their spears.” The wind died down. A few helmets rolled across the floor, landing near Gretel’s feet.

Marti ran between the broken pieces of marble, tripping on helmets and axes strewn across the floor. A sword, thrown by the other group of warriors in the back of the room, whizzed past his ear, nearly taking it off. Arrows flew towards them.

“Duck!” Claring shouted when an arrow hit the back of his shoe. Luckily it didn’t penetrate the sturdy leather. “Keep low and head for the door.

Amid a flurry of wooden, feather-veined arrows and flying weapons, they reached the safety of the elephants.

Gretel turned to see the soldiers moving toward them. “They’re still coming. These are war elephants, like in the days of Hannibal,” Gretel remembered her history. “They can charge them down and stomp on them!”

 With a flick of Quirin’s wand the trumpeting elephants dropped the rope and charged into the now quiet war room, stomping and smashing the statues to pieces. Ten minutes later they emerged, covered in white dust.

Gretel smiled. They looked like ghosts. Good elephants. Thank you.  The huge creatures lifted their trunks and blew the dust off their faces.

“Stay here.” Claring went inside and came out carrying a helmet. “Looks like the great warriors are now piles of marble dust, thanks to these beasts.”

Quirin said, “No, Claring, thanks to Gretel.”

Marti looked at the helmet. “How did all this happen? Statues coming to life? Elephants and tornadoes? Let me guess, Darmantha?”

Quirin sat down on one of the steps. “I’m afraid Darmantha’s been busy. Not only has he set this trap up for us, but he’s killed Gordinth.”
            “What? How do you know that?” Marti didn’t believe it.

“No!” Claring wept.

“Quirin? How did he kill Gordinth? How do you know?” Gretel didn’t want to believe it, but sensed it was true, as did Marti and Claring.

“I feel it. When a wizard dies, other wizards feel them leave their heart. We’re all connected, we wizards. We’re part of each other. I felt him. I also feel a new wizard entering my heart. I’m not sure who it is, but I think our Crispin and Gordinth have been busy during our absence.” Quirin hung his head.

Claring sat down next to him. “We’d better get those two baby dragons and head back to Luba and see for ourselves. If what you say is true, Crispin must be terrified.” He looked at Gretel and Marti. “Gretel needs sleep. Let’s leave in the morning. We should be at Darmantha’s hideout before nightfall tomorrow.”

They walked down the steps. “Wait! What about the elephants? You can’t leave them here!” Gretel rushed back up the steps.

“Actually, Gretel, they’re quite happy here. This island is just what they need. They can roam about freely and once we rid ourselves of Darmantha and his sidekicks, they can live in safety and peace forever,” Quirin said. “They have no more worries about battles and whips.”

Gretel watched the elephants blowing dust all over the place. Will you be all right?

Yes, Gretel. We will find happiness here. It’s a place where we can raise a family. The gentle gray giants made their way down the steps and disappeared into the darkness of the night forest.

“I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.” Gretel yawned. They crossed the bridge and came to her fire. It still burned. She threw a few more branches on it. “I’m sleeping here. Good night.” She lay down on her blanket. The others, sensing no danger, left her and went to join Sindri.

“She’ll sleep well, Marti. Don’t worry. I’ll keep a watch.” Quirin winked at Marti, who nodded and prepared his bed for the night under the stars.

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