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by Margo Fallis
Chapter 9

Xander heard a rooster crowing off in the distance. He opened his eyes and right away noticed Toast wasn’t lying next to him. He crawled out backwards from the bush. He could hear Wilpo burping in his sleep and could still smell the putrid stench of Vem’s feet. He crept off into the woods. “Toast! Toast!” He called to his friend.

“Here I am,” the plumtuggle shouted, jumping out from behind a tree.

“Toast, you scared me! What are you holding?”

“While you were sleeping, I paid a visit to Wilpo’s and Vem’s tent. I think we’ll be eating well this morning, but I suggest we leave quickly, before they wake up and see half of their food is missing.”

“Way to go, Toast!” Xander took some of the food from Toast’s arms and they hurried into the trees. “Which way to the Hills of Jasher?”

Toast looked at the rising sun and then turned in a circle. “That way,” she pointed.

“We’ll stop after we’ve walked a mile or two, when we’re far enough away from their camp,” Xander said about Vem and Wilpo.

The morning sun warmed the air. Birds chirped and the air was full of the sounds of dawn. “Can we stop now? I’m starving.” Toast dropped her armful of food on a patch of thick grass. Tiny white daisies with yellow centers nodded in the breeze. The first bees of the day left their hive, eager to gather pollen.

“This is a good enough place. Now, what did you get for us?” Xander opened the cloth Toast had wrapped around some of the food. “Wow! You got us yeast rings with icing sugar. I love those. What else is in here?” He rummaged through the rest of the things. “Dried hoona meat strips and brimsh nuts. I love brimsh nuts too.”

“Look at this. They packed a whole box of sweets. Lomen slices, anise ropes, chewy maragels with vanilla centers. I wonder where they got the vanilla. I heard that the only place left in the whole world that grows it is the Land of Spatternack,” Toast said, popping a lomen slice into her mouth. “This is very crunchy and sweet.”

“Traders. They come through the Land of Waterberry once or twice a year with their wagons filled with things from far away places. I have no idea where Vem or Wilpo got them, but I’m glad they did.” Xander put a maragel in his mouth. “Oh, that tastes good. What else do we have?”

Toast held up a bottle of coiberry juice, a bar of Gandfli chocolate full of chopped iggy nuts and bits of dried fruit. “We are going to have a delicious breakfast.” Toast giggled. She pulled the cork from the bottle and poured some of the juice into her mouth. “Delicious! It tastes like it’s been aged for 600 years. Try some.” She handed the bottle to Xander.

He poured a mouthful and gulped it down. “Good stuff.”

They ate until their bellies could hold no more. “I suppose we’d better get a move on if we want to be there by nightfall.” Toast’s round tummy jiggled as she walked. “We can take the rest of this food with us and have it at noon. There’s enough left for another good meal.”

Xander put everything into one bundle and tied it with a cloth. “I need to write in my book before we leave.  You don’t mind waiting a few minutes, do you?”

            “If I sit, then I’ll fall asleep, so I’ll just walk around for a while until you’re done,” Toast said.

            “Don’t wander off. I’ll only be a few minutes.” Xander scribbled in his journal, writing the events of the night before and that morning.

            Toast saw a bush covered with bright red berries. She went over to see what they were. “They don’t look like any berries I’ve seen before. I wonder if I’ll get sick if I eat one.” She reached to pick one from the bush. “On second thought, I am too full to eat anything else.” She rubbed her tummy. Something bumped into her foot. She looked down and saw something thick and blue. Feeling it with her toe, she rubbed the leathery object. She got a little braver and ran her fingers over it. “It’s warm and soft.” Bending over, she grabbed it with two hands and tried to pick it up.


            “Who said that?” Toast dropped it.

            “Leave my tail alone.”

            Toast walked around to the other side of the bush. There sat a baby dragon, blue from head to toe, with pearly white horns and a ridge of bright pink spikes down its back. “Who are you?” Toast saw tears puddle in the dragon’s eyes. “Why are you sitting in the middle of a bush?”

            “My name is Cinder.”  Tiny puffs of smoke blew out of its nostrils.

            “Cinder, are you a girl dragon or a boy dragon?”

            “I’m a girl dragon.”

            “What are you doing out here all by yourself?” Toast put her arm on the dragon’s shoulder. “You’re not very big. You’re not that much bigger than me!” Toast didn’t see any wings. “Can you fly? Where are your wings?”

            “I’m a baby dragon. I’m only a year old.” Cinder unfolded her wings. “See, I have wings. I can’t fly very fast or very high, but I can fly a little. That’s why I’m lost. Last night after Mama put me to bed in the cave, I did something naughty. I didn’t want to go to bed, so I got up and went out to look at the moon. I flew towards it and got lost.”

            “Is you’re mama looking for you?”

            “I don’t think she knows where I am. Can you help me find her?” The dragon stood up. Her long tail thumped on the ground.

            “I’ll have to ask my friend, Xander. Come with me.” Toast took Cinder’s hand. “You’ve got some sharp claws there, Cinder.”

            They walked hand in hand and found Xander putting his journal back in his pocket. “Toast? What is that?” Xander saw the dragon.

            “I found Cinder crying. She’s lost and wants us to help her find her mama,” said Toast.

            “But that’s a dragon baby. That means her mama is a big dragon. Dragon’s roast people and use our bones to pick their teeth,” Xander said.

            “My mama doesn’t roast people. She’s a nice dragon. We live in a big cave. If you take me home, my mama will be happy,” Cinder said.

            “But, Toast, I want to get to the Hills of Jeshar tonight. I want to find some more jewels. If we take Cinder home, we’ll not make it.” Xander wasn’t sure what to do.

            “I want to take Cinder home. If you want to go, then go without me. She’s lost and is afraid. She wants her mama. The jewels can wait.” Toast pulled Cinder along, heading across the meadow.

            “Wait for me! I’ll go with you. I guess it doesn’t matter if we get there tonight or tomorrow. We’ve still got almost two weeks to go,” Xander said, his face pouting.

            “Good. I’m glad you’re coming,” Toast said.

            “Me too.” Cinder slipped her other clawed hand into Xander’s.

            “I didn’t know dragons were blue,” Xander said.

            “Not all dragons are blue. I’m blue, but my mama, Firestorm, is red. My papa’s name is Lightning and he is purple. My big brother, Ember, is black,” the dragon said. They came to the edge of a field where the meadow stopped. “We can’t go in there,” Cinder said.

            “Why not?” Xander looked to the other side.

            “Because juckles live in there,” Cinder said.

            “Juckles? What are juckles?” Toast listened for unusual noises and movement.

            “My mama said never to go where the juckles are. I’ve never seen one and I don’t know what they are, I just know they live right there.” Cinder stepped back.

            “That must mean your cave is around here,” Xander said, smiling. He wanted to get Cinder back home so they could get to the Hills of Jeshar.

            “It’s over there, on the other side of the juckle holes.” Cinder pointed to the ground.

            “Juckles live in holes. What if we tiptoe around the holes, very quietly, and try not to disturb them; then we can take Cinder back to her mama.” Xander counted the holes. “I see 27 holes. I wonder if that means there are 27 juckles or just one or two that use all the holes.”

            Cinder shrugged her shoulders.

 “There’s only one way to find out,” Toast said. She took a step. The ground was covered with brownish-red dirt clods and black and white dotted stones. “Come on,” she whispered.

            “Cinder, don’t say a word. Follow Toast’s footprints.” Xander added, “and if you have to talk, whisper.”

            Cinder nodded and followed Toast. Xander counted the holes as they walked past. He tried to look in them, but all he saw was blackness. “We’ve passed 19 holes. So far, I’ve not heard or seen anything. Let’s hurry.” He whispered to Toast and Cinder. “We’re almost to the other side.”

            Xander was so busy counting holes that he wasn’t watching what he was doing and stepped on Cinder’s tail. “OUCH!” The dragon screamed at the top of her lungs.

            “Oh no!” Toast gulped.

The three of them stopped, hoping the juckles hadn’t heard. The ground shook in a gentle rumble and then large lemon yellow heads popped out of each of the holes. Each head had two bulging black eyes, a horn on top, and a long nose that dangled in front of a set of sharp teeth. Each juckle opened its mouth and roared.

Xander, Toast and Cinder put their hands over their ears. “Juckles!” Cinder shouted, grabbed onto Toast and ran.

Xander didn’t wait to follow.

Each juckle grew taller until their long necks were 20 feet above the ground.

“Run!” Xander darted across the field. The juckles bent their heads, trying to grab the dragon, plumtuggle, or boy in their mouths.

One of them got hold of Cinder’s tail. She screamed as the juckle lifted her into the air. “Help! Put me down, you stupid juckle! Help! Mama, help me!”

Toast and Xander stopped. They tried to jump up and grab the dragon’s hands. “I can’t reach you,” Xander said.

A wind came blowing down from above. Xander and Toast looked up. There was a huge red dragon flying toward them.

 “Mama!” Cinder called to her.

When the juckles saw the dragon, they dropped back into their holes. Cinder fell to the ground, landing on top of Xander. Her mama swooped down and scooped all three of them up on her wing and then flew off. When she landed at the cave she dropped them. Xander and Toast ran and hid behind a tree.

“Mama!” Cinder hugged the red dragon. “Don’t be afraid of Mama. Toast, come out here. You too, Xander.” Xander and the plumtuggle stepped away from the tree. “They saved my life, Mama.” The red dragon went into the cave and came back out with something in her hand. Xander’s eyes bugged out when he saw that she held a ruby. “Mama says this is for you, as a reward for helping me.” Cinder puffed from her nostrils and then carried it over to the boy. “Mama says thanks.”

Xander looked at Firestorm. Her horns spiraled upwards from the top of her head. Her scales were as big as his hand and as shiny as the ruby. Her spikes jutted up from her back and at the end of her tail was a three-pronged spike. But what Xander noticed the most were her wings. They were red, like the rest of her body, but thin, opaque, yet strong. “Thank you, Firestorm. The ruby looks precious and rare.” He put it in his pocket with the other two stones.

They spent the rest of the afternoon at the cave with the dragons. Xander and Toast met Lightning and Ember. Cinder told them all about dragons and how they came to the Land of Waterberry. Xander watched the sky turn orange, red, and pink. “Cinder, would you ask your mama if she’d give us a ride to the Hills of Jeshar? I wanted to be there by night and there’s no way we can get there by then. Not now.”

Cinder giggled. “Mama won’t mind. Climb on her back.”

Firestorm nodded her approval.

Xander climbed up her leg to her knee and then pulled himself up onto her back, sitting at the bottom of her neck. “Hey! What about me? I can’t climb up like that.” Toast studied the dragon.

“I’ll help you,” Cinder said. “Get on my back.” She flapped her wings and flew Toast up, dropping her behind Xander. “There you go. I’m going to stay here with my Papa. Mama will take you safely. Thank you for saving me.”

Firestorm flapped each wing up and down and then soared into the sky. Xander wrapped his arms around her neck and Toast wrapped hers around Xander. They flew above the clouds and across the meadows. When Firestorm landed, Xander and Toast slid off. “We’re here. These are the Hills of Jeshar. Thanks, Firestorm.” Toast stroked her foot.

Xander waved as the huge dragon flew back to her cave. “Well, now what?”



Anise ropes – sweets that taste like licorice

Brimsh nuts – much like a pecan, meaty, tasty, oval shaped shell with black shell

Cinder – baby dragon, blue hide, pearly white horns, bright pink spikes down back, female, about the same size as Toast, one year old

Coiberry juice – juice made from the coiberry, a small maroon berry. After picked and smashed, it is put in wooden kegs and stored for up to 600 years before served as a drink.

Ember – Cinder’s older brother – black dragon

Firestorm – red dragon, mother of Cinders, horns spiral from top of head, scaly, spikes on back and at the end of her tail there is a 3-pronged spike. Has red, leathery, opaque wings

Gandfli chocolates – individually wrapped chocolates, each filled with smashed snockberries, brimsh nuts, or iggy nuts and made by the people of the village, Gandfli in the Land of Waterberry.

Hoona meat strips – type of jerky made from hoona, an animal with four large, muscular legs, a long neck, small head, thick hide used for making shoes and clothing. Eats bugs and small rodents, found in inland desert of Land of Waterberry

Iggy nuts – fleshy, soft nut, used mostly in chocolates. When crushed it can be spread on brow bread. Grows on flowering tree (white and yellow flowers). Nut has bright yellow shell.

Juckles – live near the dragon’s cave, lemon yellow heads, live in holes in ground, 2 bulging black eyes, horn on top of head, long nose, sharp teeth, roar, and necks are 20 feet long. Eat by catching things that fly by or walk past

Land of Spatternack – the only place in Land of Waterberry where vanilla grows

Lightning – Cinder’s father, purple dragon

Lomen slices – candied, crunchy sweets made from lomens, a fruit with a thick sky blue peel, tangy.

Maragels – chewy black toffee with vanilla centers, tastes sweet and made from thickened snockberry syrup

Yeast-rings – covered with icing sugar, donuts, sweet and usually eaten for breakfast

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