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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part Three - The Dragon's Hope - Chapter 41

Soft snores blew from Gretel’s mouth as the first signs of dawn appeared in the sky. She rolled onto her side and heard the distant rumbling. Sitting up and rubbing her eyes, she wondered if a storm headed her way. “Is that thunder?” She listened again and then looked into the morning sky. No lightning strikes streaked across the black heavens. “Doesn’t look like a storm, so what is that noise?” Thoughts poured into her mind. “What if it’s a lagupa?” She looked at the fire. Embers glowed and the heat warmed her chilled hands. Tossing a few more branches and sticks on top, the fire burst into life. “That should keep them away.” The noise grew louder and the ground started to shake. Some of the marble stones from the toppled houses vibrated, making the noise even more frightening. “What is it?” Sorting ideas in her head, she remembered the elephants. “That’s what it is! The elephants must be early risers and are out running around.”

A roaring noise rushed towards the bridge. Marti woke up. The shaking ground  knocked a nearby pillar over. “Earthquake!” He sat up and listened.

Quirin, who had fallen asleep on his turn to watch, woke up, along with Claring and Sindri. “What’s all that noise?” He forced himself to stand up.

Marti jumped up and stood next to her. “Gretel!” He ran for the bridge.

A wall of black water, at least one hundred feet in height rushed down the river towards the bridge. Gretel saw it and ran toward him. “Marti! Marti! Help me!”

“She’s not going to make it,” Sindri cried and ran for higher ground.

“Quirin, can’t you do something to help her?” Claring looked at the wizard.

Quirin raised his wand. The powerful floodwaters carried pieces of marble columns, huge chunks of pillars, and massive boulders as it raced for Gretel.

“Help me, Marti!” He heard her shouts and rushed toward the bridge.

 “No, Marti. There’s no time.” Claring ran after his son and pulled him out of harm’s way as the water and debris pounded into the bridge, carrying it away in pieces. “Come on, Quirin. There’s nothing you can do now. It happened too fast.”

Jago and Crispin flew just ahead of the water, dodging the tumbling debris. “There’s Gretel, on the bridge. The water is breaking it into large pieces. She’s going to die if we don’t get there fast.”

Jago moved his wings up and down, increasing his speed. The water came crashing into the bridge.

Gretel flew into the air.

Crispin learned over and grabbed her arm in mid-air.

“Don’t drop me,” she cried, feeling her wet arm slipping from his grasp.

 Using both hands, he held her, his nails digging into her skin.

 Jago veered to the right, carrying the two of them to the safety of the hillside.

Crispin lost his grip and she fell to the grass.

Jago’s dark scales hid him from Quirin and the others view. None saw the heroic rescue. The dragon landed nearby.

“Come on, Gretel. Climb back on,” Crispin said.

Gretel stood up and ran over to them.

He helped her climb up the dragon’s back.

The water rumbled past. “NO!” Marti cried in anguish. “She’s gone, washed away.” He fell to his knees and wept. The others sat with their heads hanging low, full of sorrow and despair. “I don’t think that flash flood happened by itself,” Marti sighed.

“You’re right. It’s more of Darmantha’s handiwork. How many of us will lose our lives before that evil man is stopped?” Claring pounded his fist into his thigh.

Quirin heard a noise and recognized the sound of flapping dragon wings. He looked up and saw Jago, with Crispin and Gretel holding onto his neck. “Look!”

Marti and the others looked up and saw the children.

The dragon landed. “Gretel!” Marti ran to her, caught her as she slipped from the dragon’s neck and held her in his arms, squeezing her tight. Claring and Sindri wrapped their arms around both Marti and Gretel. “You’re alive.” Marti put Gretel down.

“I’m soaking, but I’m alive because of Crispin and Jago.” She smiled at the boy and then noticed his appearance. “Crispin, why are you wearing Gordinth’s cloak. Did it shrink? When did you learn to fly on the back of a dragon?”

Quirin interrupted Crispin. “Tell me boy, what about Gordinth?”

He couldn’t hold the tears back. They rolled down his cheeks and he collapsed into Quirin’s arms.

“Sit down, Crispin and tell us what has happened.”

“It was Darmantha. He…he…he killed Gordinth.” Crispin told them of Gordinth’s death and the burial and how Gordinth had passed on his wizard’s wand and the sapphire amulet to him. “I found this cloak lying on my bed this morning. I’m sure Gordinth did that before he…he…died.”

“Darmantha’s killed one too many people. Crispin, take Sindri and Gretel back to Luba. I want no argument about it. Gretel, do as you’re told this time. They need you there, Sindri.” Quirin’s stern face showed he meant it. “It’s daylight now. The dragons will be getting hungry. Someone must be there with them. I’m sure Rosenwyn is concerned about Jago.”

“You’re right, Quirin. I’ll go with the children,” Sindri sighed. Goodbyes were said and then with saddened hearts, she, Gretel, and Crispin climbed on Jago’s back and he flew them back to Luba.

Jago touched down near what was left of Sindri’s hut.

 “What a mess. There’s nothing left of our village. Come on, Gretel. Let’s see if we can save some of our things.” They spent the next few hours rummaging through the rubble.

Crispin tossed the fallen pieces of walls into one pile while Sindri and Gretel tried to salvage the food and clothing. “I’m taking Jago back to the cave now,” he said. “Come on, Jago.”

“Just a minute. Why don’t I believe you? You’re not planning on leaving us, are you?” Gretel sensed he wasn’t being truthful. “Listen, I’m a wizard now. Gordinth taught me some magic. He passed his powers to me. I’m going to help Marti, Quirin and Claring and I’m taking Jago with me.” Crispin knew he had to tell the truth.

“Oh no you’re not, young man. You heard Quirin. He wants us to stay here and watch the dragons.” Sindri grabbed Crispin’s arm.

“I have to go. I’m a wizard. I’m a dragonkeeper. I’m not the same little boy I was two days ago. Gordinth wants me to do this. Along with his powers, he joined with me in spirit. I am going and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Gretel and Sindri realized there was nothing they could do. “Be careful, Crispin. You’ve seen what Darmantha’s capable of. Watch yourself.” Sindri gave him a hug.

“Be careful, Crispin. By the way, thanks for saving my life.” Gretel reached over and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you too, Jago.” She waved at the dragon.

An embarrassed Crispin blushed. “Please go to the cave and stay with Rosenwyn and the babies.  Their survival comes before mine, Quirins, or even yours. Please stay.”

“We’ll go to the cave. Don’t worry about us. Please, be careful.” Sindri slipped her arm around Gretel.

Crispin climbed on Jago’s back. “I learned a trick.” He shouted down to Gretel. “Watch this.” He pulled out his wand and said, “Bicto Zomani Xeler Uripa!”

“Where did Crispin go? Crispin, where are you? He just vanished, Sindri. Where is he?”

“Silly Gretel. I’m right here. Bicto Zomani Xeler!” Jago disappeared.

“Wow, Crispin. That’s cool. Where is Jago? Is he there still?”

“Yes, he’s here. We’re both here, but we’re invisible. Gordinth taught me. I am going to stay invisible and find the others. I told you not to worry. Both Jago and I will be back later. Take care of the dragons.”

The air stirred around Gretel and Sindri. They heard the flapping of Jago’s wings. “Goodbye, Crispin.” Gretel shouted and waved her arms. No one answered.

“Come with me, Gretel. There’s something we both need to do.” Sindri took Gretel’s hand and they walked into the woods. “Help me pick some of these flowers.” She leaned over and plucked one from its stem.

“They’re not brasti flowers, but they are still beautiful.” Gretel held the bouquet of pale lavender orchids with bright orange centers. “Smell them.” She pushed them closer to Sindri’s nose.

“They’re lovely flowers. They were Gordinth’s favorites. He used to come for walks down here and sit among them and sleep. I think it’s only appropriate that we put them on his grave. Are you ready?”

The two of them walked slowly toward Gordinth’s grave. Gretel knelt down near the headstone. She caressed the engraved writing with her fingertips and lay the flowers down in the mound of turned-over dirt. “Goodbye, Gordinth. I won’t forget you.” She wiped the tears from her eyes.

“You were a hero to me, Gordinth. You taught me many things. I’ll keep you in my heart always.” Sindri wept and stood with bowed head in honor of the great wizard.

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