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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part One - The Dragonslayers - Chapter 4

Gretel skipped down the dirt path leading from Marti’s cottage. “Do the dragons have names? I wish I could have helped name them. Can you remember all of them?”

            “Oh yes, all forty-four have names.” Marti smiled, thinking of each dragon and the fun time he and his parents had naming them. “We had a hard time picking them. Each dragon is unique and we wanted their names to match their personalities.”

            “What are their names?” Gretel watched a bluebird fly from one tree to another.

            “I don’t know if I can remember them all any more. Let’s see; the girl dragons are red, green and black. The red dragon’s names are Kayna, Lamorna, Idra, Samantha, Caja, and Beryan. Samantha’s a cuddler and very lovable, but Kayna’s quite feisty. Little Caja is curious and loves chocolate more than any of the others. I sneak her an extra piece when I can get away with it.”

            “That’s funny, Marti. You do know your dragons.” Gretel giggled and swatted at a bumblebee.

“The green dragons are Demelza, Ebrel, Wynee, Danez, Anata, Tanith and Tabitha. Danez is the youngest of all the dragons. Her egg was the last one to hatch, but she’s as smart and quick as any of them though. Anata has a bad temper. She was the first dragon to fly. She’s not too happy when the other dragons try to take her sausages. The black dragons are Martha, Melwyn, Tamsin, Zennor, Rosenwyn, Talwyn and Tegen. Martha loves flying through the hoops and Zennor likes to sneak up on other dragons and take their sausages when they’re not looking. Oh, I could tell you stories about some of the fights I’ve had to break up.” Marti smiled at the memories. “Especially between Zennor and Anata. Whew! That’s all twenty of the girl dragons. The most powerful of the girls is Rosenwyn; she was the firstborn girl. And Tamsin has an appetite worse than Heidi’s”

            “But dragons aren’t born. They’re hatched from eggs. You said so yourself.”  Crispin looked to Marti for an answer.

            “They are hatched. Firstborn is just a term I used for the first girl hatched.”

“Those are weird names.” Crispin ran to catch up with Gretel. “I’ve never heard of those names before. You made them up, didn’t you?”

“Those are real names. There are twenty-four boy dragons. The blue dragons are Jowan, Kenver, Mordecai, Devi, Servan, Sulion, Venec and Winog. Venec is the adventurous one. When he first hatched, he ran up the steps, out the door and into the cabin. He couldn’t fly yet, but he could run faster than a cheetah. The others were too afraid to follow. What a time we had catching that little rascal. Mother finally threw a blanket on top of him.” Marti’s eyes misted over from the memory. “Mordecai is very ticklish. If you even touch his feet, he rolls around and screeches with dragon laughs.”

            “What does a dragon laugh sound like?” Crispin tried to imagine.

“It’s a horrible noise, but you can’t help but laugh along with it. The brown ones are named Kenwyn, Kernick, Lanyon, Sezni, Breok, Cardew, Colenso and Curnow. Colenso hides all the time and once I couldn’t find him for three days.”

“Where was he?” Gretel turned to face Marti, but kept walking backward.

“He found some little hole in the cave wall and climbed inside. Unfortunately for him, he got his head stuck. I had to pry and pull and tug him out. Poor little fellow had bruises on him for a week. The purple ones are Diggory, Hendra, Jago, Morcun, Pedrek, Pedrog, Penrose and Trystan.  Hendra was the last male dragon to hatch and a little slower than the others, but he’ll catch up. The strongest and most powerful of the boy dragons is Jago. He was the firstborn, or the first hatchling of all the dragons. In fact, he and Rosenwyn hatched at the exact same moment, though he was a few seconds quicker. I could tell you all sorts of stories about the dragons, but don’t ask me to tell you their names again. I’m lucky to have remembered them this time. We’re getting near the village. Now, each of you take a few bags and when you see one, simply scoop it up into the bag and hold it tight at the top, or tie it in a knot so they can’t get out.”

            “I would have named the dragons much better names.” Crispin pointed at his chest.

“Oh? And what would you have named them, young man?” Marti rubbed Crispin’s hair affectionately.

            “I think I’d have named them Smokey, or Matches, or Puffy, or even Flame.”

            “Those are silly names, Crispin. They didn’t have matches back in those days.”  Gretel turned to Marti. “I like the names you gave them, Marti.”

            “Thank you, Gretel.” Marti smiled at her. “Smokey is a good name though.”

            “What about Brimstone?” Crispin chuckled.

“Did you know that it takes several hundred years for dragons to grow to their adult size and they can live a thousand years?”

Gretel’s eyes widened. “1000 years? That’s a long time.”

“I have grown attached to these little dragons. You must help me get them back…all of them.” Marti rubbed his forehead.

“Still got that headache?” Crispin took Marti’s hand.

“It’s almost gone.” Marti cleared his throat with an embarrassed cough.

            “Where do you think they went?” Gretel looked at the mountains and pinnacles of rock. “Do you think they went up there? Maybe they know their mom’s and dad’s bones are up there.”

            “No, Gretel. I am sure they headed for Lachmund.” Marti let out a loud sigh.

            “You mean they can’t remember their moms or dads?” A sense of loss washed over Gretel.

“They don’t remember. Quirin brought them here when they were still eggs, over 120 years ago. A lot of time has passed. They never saw or knew their parents. You might say I’ve been their father for seventy years.”

“That’s sad about them being orphans. You sort of adopted them, didn’t you, Marti?” Marti nodded. “So, why do you think they went to the village?”

            “Because that’s where the food is. Baby dragons have only one thing on their Minds - eating.” Marti managed another smile.

            “I’ll bet they went to William’s Butcher Shop. He makes the best sausages in the village.” Talking of food made Crispin’s tummy rumble with hunger. “I’d love to be eating one of those sausages right now. I can hear them sizzling in butter with lots of chopped onions and mushrooms and I can even smell them too. I’d love to eat some right now, along with a pot of hot fondue and chunks of buttered bread with sweet raspberry jam. Yum.”

“You’re almost as bad as Heidi and the dragons. To the butcher shop it is then.” Marti led the way to town. The cobblestone streets weren’t too crowded. Most of the villagers were at work, or were busy at home preparing meals and taking care of the babies. “We’d better go around back.”

Peering into the dimly lit window, the Butcher Shop looked empty; at least they couldn’t hear anyone moving around in the back room. Marti opened the door a crack. It made a loud creak. He stuck his head inside and pulled it right back out. “Ugh! It smells horrible in there. I don’t like the smell of raw meat.”

 Gretel got a whiff and took a few steps backward, hesitating to go inside.

“I did see the dragons though. They’re not all here, but quite a few of them are.”  Marti didn’t see the butcher, so he stepped inside the shop. “Hold your noses. I’m warning you, it smells.”

Gretel and Crispin followed, with hands covering their mouths and noses.

            “This smells much worse than the cave.” Crispin counted the dragons. “There are sixteen of them, Marti. Look at them! They’re taking bites from all the sausages and rump roasts and even the veal chops.” Crispin’s mouth dropped open in disgust. “They’re making an awful mess.”

            “It does smell horrid in here. Look at the mess. There are pieces of bone, and fat, and raw meat, and blood everywhere. I think I’m going to be sick.” Gretel put her hand over her mouth. “Look at the dead cows and sheep and goats hanging on hooks.  I’ll never be a butcher, or marry one. I don’t know if I’ll ever eat meat again either.”

“Try not to look. Hold your breath. They must have come in through the open window over there.” Marti pointed. “Have each of you got your bags? Open one at a time.  Sneak up behind the dragon and put the bag over its head. Don’t forget to hold the top tightly once they are inside and then tie it up. Ready?” Marti looked at Crispin and Gretel.

            “Ready.” Gretel took a deep breath and showed Marti her bag.

            “I’m ready too.” Crispin held his wide open.

            Marti slipped a bag over two black dragons.

            The others saw him and the children. They flew around the hanging carcasses, screeching.

“Get them quickly!”

Crispin climbed onto the knife-scarred butcher-block countertop and dropped his bag on an unsuspecting purple dragon. “Got him!”

            Gretel saw a green dragon swinging back and forth on a huge slab of meat dangling from a silver hook. “I’ll get this one.” Forgetting her revulsion, she climbed onto another slab and swung to the left, tossing the bag over the dragon. “Got her!”

            The butcher, after hearing the commotion in the back room, came walking through the door. He stood like a giant, with meat cleaver in hand and a bloodstained apron over his clothes. “What on earth is going on here? Marti? Gretel? Crispin? Why are you in my back room and what are those?” Butcher William pointed to a red dragon. “Whatever they are, they’ve eaten all of my sausages and most of my veal chops. What a mess! I’m going to have to throw all this meat away now. It’s contaminated. I can’t sell any of this to my customers.” Sausage skins, pieces of fat and bone lay scattered across the cement floor.

Marti held his bags at the top. The dragons squeaked and flew around inside, trying to escape. Wings, elbows and clawed feet poked the bag in different spots. Thinking quickly, Marti answered, “These are just some wild birds. They come from Africa. We’re trying to catch them all. I’m terribly sorry. Somehow they escaped from my cottage earlier today.”

            “We let them out, accidentally.” Crispin's lip pouted.

 Before the butcher asked another question, Marti said, “Here. This is for the meat they ruined.” Marti took out a large wad of money and handed it to William. “There’s enough here to hire someone to clean up the mess too. You really out to keep your window's shut.”

            He looked at the money and then at the dragons. “It’ll take me three days to re-stock my supply. There’s going to be a lot of angry customers, but this money will do nicely. Be sure and get all of those birds out of here as quickly as possible.” William went back out front to serve his customers, but stuck his head back in for a moment. “I can’t leave this place looking like this overnight. Don’t you dare leave without cleaning this mess up!”

“He kept your money, Marti. He’s making us clean it up and didn’t offer anything back. Where did you get all that cash?” Crispin had never seen so much before.

“I inherited it from my parents. I’m not exactly sure how they came upon all their wealth, but I’ve got much more than I know what to do with.” Marti told the children to keep trying to catch the dragons and opened the door to the front of the shop just enough to see the butcher. He stood with his back to Marti and another man stood next to William. Marti listened.

“Dragons?” The butcher sounded surprised. “Those weren’t dragons. They were birds from Africa. What’s all this nonsense about dragons? Everyone knows there’s no such thing.”

            Marti pulled the door shut and tiptoed back to the children. “We must hurry! Here, Gretel, you hold the bags. Crispin, help me sweep this mess up.”

Ten minutes later they left. Gretel and Crispin held onto their bags with two hands. Walking with several bags full of squirming, squealing dragons turned into a difficult task. Gretel dropped her bags twice and a dragon nearly escaped.

Marti, forced to grab one by the tail, dropped it back into her bag.

Another tried to bite Crispin, but he grabbed it and held its jaws together and pushed it back down inside. “I hope nobody sees us.”

Gretel thought about her mother and what she’d do if she knew her daughter was playing with dragons.

            “Come, children. We must get these ones back to the safety of the cave. We’ve still got twenty-eight left to find.”

                                                            *  *  *

            Back at the cave, they put the bags down on the stone floor. The dragons fought their way out and then flew into the comfort of the cave. After devouring all of the butcher’s sausages and meats, and with full bellies, they curled up around Zara’s legs and fell asleep.

            “It’s nearly lunchtime. Don’t you think you two should go home?” Marti showed concern for the children.

            “My mom went to visit Aunt Mathilde. She’s not really my aunt, but my mom makes me call her that. I don’t like her. She’s mean. She pinched my ears once when I picked up a piece of her cheese.” Gretel rubbed her ear, remembering the pain. “Mom said she won’t be back until supper time and besides that, she doesn’t care what I do; neither does my father.” Gretel shrugged her shoulders. A tear formed in her olive green eyes.

            “I don’t have to tell my mom either. She won’t even notice I’m not there. I’ve got ten brothers and sisters. She’s used to me being gone, but I’ll check in with her later,” said Crispin.

            “Very well then. You can have something to eat here. When you’re done, put some extra bread and cheese in your pockets in case you get hungry later on. I don’t know how long we’ll be. Wash your hands first though.” Marti helped the children cut thick slabs of cheese and spread butter on the slices of bread. After wrapping them in a cloth, they slipped them into their pockets and headed back to the village.

            “Where do you think we’ll find more dragons?” Gretel’s mind raced with possibilities.

            Crispin’s eyes bulged with thought. “I know where they’ll go next – to the Chocolatier’s Shop. Marti, you said you gave them chocolate. My parents never gave me chocolate. I’d have to save my allowance for a month just to get one piece.”

Marti said, “The Chocolatier’s Shop? Good idea, Crispin. I think that’s where we’ll head now and if you’re good, I’ll give you each a piece of chocolate when we get back home.” Both children smiled with anticipation. Marti led the children to the chocolate shop. “We’ll have to try to be quieter than we were at the butcher shop, if that’s possible.” 

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