by Scotti Cohn
Copyright Scotti Cohn
|copyright Christina Wald|
Riding along through the Forest of Spells, Wordsworth scarcely knew when day ended and night began. Tree branches hid most of the sky, and he could see neither sun nor moon. He heard an owl call: Hoot-hoot-hoo! Rustling noises came from the bushes—maybe a fox or a rabbit. Or a dragon? Wordsworth tried to push that thought out of his mind.
Klause's big ears flicked back and forth at each sound. Sometimes he bobbed his head up and down. Wordsworth lit one of the candles Phrasia had given him. Why did I tell her I knew how to fight dragons? he asked himself. As they climbed into the hills, the narrow path grew steeper and rockier, but the sure-footed, sturdy-legged cavabok put each hoof in place with confidence. In the middle of a small clearing, he stopped. Wordsworth saw the opening of a cave nearby.
"We'll stay here tonight," he said.
Klause bobbed his head. Wordsworth slid off the cavabok's back, being very careful not to drop his candle. After peering into the cave and listening for a minute, he decided it was safe to go in. The bread and cheese Phrasia had packed for him tasted good. He washed it down with water from the flask.
Covering himself with the blanket from Klause's back, Wordsworth lay down on the hard ground. It took him a long time to fall asleep, but once he did, he dreamed of poor Lord Reading waving his book in the air and crying, "A terrible rime has been ommitted!" Lines from Lord Reading's poem danced a crazy jig in Wordsworth's head: "...harming lass...herry tree...hirping rikets..."
The next thing he knew, he was squirming and thrashing, trying to get away. Something cold and wet was pressing against his neck. He felt hot air blowing into his ear.
"Hey!" yelled Wordsworth. His eyes popped open. All he could see was a very large, very close face—the brown-and-gray-speckled face of a cavabok. Wordsworth rolled away and sat up. "Did you have to do that?"
"Up," Klause said in a deep voice. His huge dark eyes gazed steadily at Wordsworth.
Wordsworth jumped to his feet. "How did you learn to talk?"
Klause's ears twitched. "Phrasia."
"Phrasia taught you? Wow! So what can you say?"
"Few words," Klause said.
"But do you understand what people say? Do you know what I'm saying?"
"Wow!" Wordsworth said again. "Well...okay...I think I'm going to eat something before we go."
Wordsworth ate more of the bread and cheese in his knapsack. Klause munched on grass at the edge of the clearing. Wordsworth couldn't help staring at him. It was hard to believe that an animal could talk. Even Starfire, the king's favorite horse, couldn't do that! After a long drink of water from his flask, Wordsworth climbed onto Klause's back.
"Let's go," he said. "We’ve got to find that dragon!"
There were two paths leading away from the clearing. Wordsworth had no idea which one to take. Before he could decide, Klause ambled down the path on the right as if he knew exactly where to go. Wordsworth didn't have any reason to argue with him.
As they plodded along, Wordsworth noticed that the trees weren't quite as dense as they had been before. Here and there a ray of sunshine cut through the gloom. But the Forest of Spells still wasn't a cheerful place. Birds twittered in a hushed sort of way, as if they were afraid to make too much noise.
Wordsworth knew he should be looking for signs of a dragon, but he had no idea what those signs would be. Bones scattered outside a cave? A terrible smell? Leaves with their edges burnt off? When they came to another clearing, Klause stopped. Wordsworth decided he had better explain himself.
"I'm a dragon fighter," he told the cavabok. "Not a dragon hunter. I don't really know where to look for a dragon."
Klause ambled across the clearing to a large bush, took a big bite of leaves, and tore them off the branch with a jerk of his neck.
"Not worry," the cavabok said when he had finished chewing. "Dragon finds you."
"What do you mean?" asked Wordsworth.
Before Klause could answer, a strong, cold wind began to blow. The birds stopped chirping. Wordsworth shivered. Leaves flew off the trees and swirled around his head. Klause looked around nervously. Thunder boomed and echoed through the hills. Overhead, branches cracked and broke with a loud snap!
Without warning, Klause galloped toward him. "Get on!" he ordered in his deep voice. Grabbing the cavabok's stubby mane, Wordsworth flung himself onto his back. Klause dashed into a cave just in time. Something heavy landed in the clearing where they had been standing. WOOMPH!
Wordsworth gasped. His mouth went dry. The falling object had bright green scales. It had wings. It had big spikes coming out of its head and huge, pointed teeth. Wordsworth remembered the pictures he had drawn of dragons. None of them looked as fierce as this one. He slid quietly off Klause's back. He raised his wooden sword, then realized how useless it would be against the dragon. Why hadn't he thought of that before?
The dragon sniffed the air and scratched in the dirt with long, sharp claws. Then it opened its mouth and let out a roar that shook the Forest of Spells right down to its roots. Wordsworth cried out in terror.
As the sound of the dragon's howl began to fade away, Wordsworth heard his own voice still yelling. He clamped his hand over his mouth and backed further into the cave, but it was too late. The dragon cocked its head and swung its long, serpent neck toward the opening. Its glittery yellow-gold eyes narrowed to slits.
Wordsworth scampered even farther into the cave. When he looked back at the opening, he felt like his heart was falling into the pit of his stomach. Klause stood perfectly still, as if frozen with fear. Wordsworth remembered what Phrasia had said: I'm not worried. I know you won't let anything hurt him.
The dragon reached into the cave, curving its huge talons around the cavabok's body.
"Noooo!" shouted Wordsworth. He charged forward, waving his sword. "Let go!" he shouted. He chopped at the dragon's fingers. The sword bounced off the tough skin, but Wordsworth kept hacking. "Let. Go. Of. Him!"