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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part One - The Dragonslayers - Chapter 6

They ran up and down the streets of Lachmund with empty bags in hand, searching every alley and behind every trash can, but couldn’t find any of the other dragons. Marti scanned between each building, keeping a lookout for signs of the mysterious stranger. Loud screams echoed from the village bakery. “Oh no!” Marti guided the children in the direction of the commotion. When they arrived at the bright yellow painted building, they ran inside. A brown dragon sat inside a glass case, surrounded by cakes, pies, and fruit tartlets. Its busy mouth devoured a vanilla frosted peach torte.

Ingrid, the baker, stood with a rolling pin in hand, trying to find the courage to hit the dragon. Her white baker’s hat collapsed and hung over her reddened cheeks.

“Oh my. She’s angry.” Marti grabbed the dragon by the tail. It refused to let go of the torte, so he dropped it, torte and all, into a bag.

“That’s going to make a mess,” Gretel said.

            “What is that thing?” Ingrid dropped the rolling pin and straightened her baker's hat.

“It’s a Scottish midge. They grow them big up there in Scotland.” Marti gulped and then winked at Gretel and Crispin.

      The baker's face squinted in confusion. “A Scottish midge? Go on then. Take that giant midge, or whatever it is, out of my bakery. You owe me for the cherry-vanilla cakes, the peach torte and the almond toffee bars that thing ate.”

      Marti once again opened his wallet and dropped some money on the glass counter.

      Ingrid seemed happy with the compensation. “Take it away! Send it back to Scotland.”

            On the way to the cave, they took the back roads, going down vacant alleys.  Marti stopped, letting out a loud sigh. “Oh no! Not again!”

            Gretel and Crispin turned to look. A dragon, comfortably plopped on top of a table at a secluded outdoor café, was busy pouring a pot full of cold, thickening cheese fondue into his mouth. Another dangled from a red and white striped open umbrella hanging over the table. Its claws pawed a dish of leftover sauerkraut.

            “Grab them both before the waiter and customers see them,” Marti ordered Gretel and Crispin.

            “Gross! That sauerkraut has been sitting out for a long time. It stinks and look at the huge bluebottle flies on it.” Gretel nearly gagged.

“Just put the bags over them and let’s get out of here.”

Crispin caught the fondue-eating dragon. Putting up a good fight, it splattered cold blobs of cheese in his hair.

Gretel, reluctant to help after watching Crispin, picked up the other dragon under the arms, holding its legs outward. She dropped it in Marti's open bag, being careful not to get sauerkraut on her yellow and white gingham dress.

 “That leaves thirteen dragons. Let’s get these back, but first, we’d better stop for a few minutes at William’s Butcher Shop and pick up some more sausages. The others will be waking up soon and will be famished.” Marti left the children outside and went into the shop to make the purchase.

      Gretel watched Marti leave and looked over at Crispin. “Do you think we’ll ever find the others? We’ve searched the whole town and there doesn’t seem to be a sign of any more of them.” The dragons in the burlap bags started to wriggle and squirm. “This morning we were chasing dragonflies, now we’re chasing real dragons.”

            Crispin laughed. “We’d better find them. Wouldn’t it be horrible if the villagers found the dragons and tried to hurt them? They’re cute little things, even if they are covered with sticky icing, gooey, old, smelly sauerkraut and cold, lumpy, cheese fondue.” He wiped it out of his hair with his hands and then rubbed them clean on his pants.

Holding a large bundle of butcher-paper-wrapped sausages, Marti hurried towards Gretel and Crispin. “We’re drawing too much attention to ourselves. We must be more careful and move faster. There’s something strange going on here.”

            “What kind of strange, Marti?” Gretel glanced up at him.

“I’m not sure, but let’s hurry.” They followed him home in silence, giving each other side-glances. He led the way down into the cavern and opened the bags. Thirty-one excited dragons flew around the cave, zooming in and out of the hoops and soaring around stalactites and stalagmites.

            “They’re making a lot of noise.” Gretel put her hands over her ears. The dragon’s squealing and wing flapping deafened her. “Hurry and give them the sausages. That’ll shut them up.”

            Crispin spread the plump sausages out on the floor of the cavern, each wrapped in an opaque and rubbery lamb’s stomach lining and bulging with raw reddish-gray meat.  The dragons didn’t waste time eating. “Don’t they like their meat cooked, Marti? Why don’t they breathe fire? I thought all dragons breathed fire; then they could roast their own sausages.”

     “The dragons are too young right now. They won’t start breathing fire for another twenty years or so. I think they prefer raw meat over cooked, but I believe they’d eat just about anything nowadays.”

           “Wow. I thought they breathed fire when they were born. You mean they’ll be almost one hundred years old before they make fire? I’ve got a lot to learn about dragons. How do you know so much?” Crispin looked to Marti for an answer.

                                                #  #  #

Tired and weary from the day’s activities, Marti, Gretel, and Crispin found a ledge to sit and rest.

“My father told me all sorts of things about dragons. As I told you before, the only way to tell these dragons apart is that the female dragons have horns and are red, black and green. Male dragons can’t be those colors, nor can they have horns. In other kingdoms, male dragons have the horns and can be any color, as can the females, but our dragons are special.”

“What do you mean by special, Marti?” Gretel stood.

“Our dragon’s ancestors once lived for many centuries in a far off place called Tritem. They were a unique type, different from most other dragons. My father told me that another wizard, not Quirin, but one that lived long before him, took two dragons from Tritem to another place called Arbutel. They were the only two dragons left. A disease, or something like that, killed all the other dragons. Funny enough, those two eggs, once hatched, were named Jago and Rosenwyn, just like our babies. Come to think of it, I believe they were purple and black dragons too.”

            “Isn’t it strange that Jago and Rosenwyn are still missing? Do you think there is a connection between them and the old Jago and Rosenwyn?” Gretel was filled with curiosity.

            “I’ve never thought of it before because I have no way of knowing. Maybe there is. I’ve a feeling we will find out before this is all over with,” Marti said.

Caught up in their own thoughts, they sat in silence, finding great enjoyment watching the baby dragons at play. Idra, one of the red dragons, flew over to Marti and curled up on his lap. Her leathery wings collapsed against her body and she nuzzled him. He stroked her back. Tiny, rounded spikes poked up, making a ridge from her head to the tip of her tail.

Gretel gasped in surprise when Mordecai, a blue dragon, flew down and curled up next to her feet. He laid his head on her shoe. “Are you really ticklish, Mordecai?” Gretel leaned down and tickled the bottom of his feet. The dragon pulled them in and wouldn’t let her near them again. “I think you must be.” Gretel giggled.

            Crispin wondered why no dragon wanted to be near him, but soon Lamorna landed on his lap. “Her skin sparkles like a thousand rubies in the moonlight,” Crispin said. Petting behind her ears, it didn’t take long for Lamorna to fall asleep.

            Marti, Gretel and Crispin followed her lead.

                                    # # #

 After a short nap, Marti led them up the steps and back into the cottage.  ”I think you two had better run home and ask your mothers if you can come to my house for supper. We don’t want them worrying about you. Run along. If they’re not there, leave a note. While you’re gone, I’ll prepare something for us to eat before we go back out. Gretel, change your clothes. It’s far too cold for a dress.”

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