by Scotti Cohn
Copyright Scotti Cohn
|copyright Christina Wald|
The dragon pulled back. "Ow!" he yelled.
Startled, Wordsworth didn't know what to do next. He stayed close to Klause as the two of them crept closer to the cave opening. The dragon was hopping back and forth from left foot to right, cradling one paw against his enormous green-scaled chest.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!"
|Preliminary sketch of Dash / copyright Christina Wald|
"Somebody bit me!" the dragon said. He had a sort of scratchy voice, nothing like the huge roar he had made earlier.
"Not me," Wordsworth answered.
"Me," said Klause.
"It hurts," said the dragon. He hung his head and sat down in the dirt. In that position, his stomach pooched out in a way that was almost comical. "I was not going to hurt you," he said. "I just wanted to look at you." He gazed at his injured paw. "But you bit me."
Wordsworth had not known dragons could talk. Maybe someone taught it, he thought, like Phrasia taught Klause.
As Klause stepped slowly out of the cave, Wordsworth followed, still holding his sword at the ready. The dragon didn’t seem quite as large as he had before and certainly not as fierce.
"Let me see," Wordsworth said.
The dragon held out his paw.
"It's doesn't look too bad," Wordsworth told him. "Wait a minute." He shrugged out of his knapsack and removed the little jar of healing ointment Phrasia had given him. "Here, this should help."
"Ow," said the dragon as Wordsworth dabbed a bit of the salve on his wound.
Suddenly Wordsworth remembered why he had been searching for the dragon in the first place. He made himself as tall as he could and tried to speak in a commanding tone. "What is your name, dragon?"
"My name is Dashburn Drak the Fifth," said the beast. "But I am also known as Dash."
That wasn't what Wordsworth had expected. For a moment he was speechless, but only for a moment. "Dash," he said firmly, "I demand that you return the third letter of the alphabet to the Kingdom of Atoz immediately or I... or we... or Klause will bite you again! Or stab you with his horns!"
Klause snorted. Dash blinked his yellow-gold eyes and yawned. Wordsworth took a few steps backward at the sight of his teeth.
"I didn't steal your letter," said Dash. "Why would I?"
Wordsworth thought for few seconds. "You're a dragon."
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I do not steal things."
Wordsworth's spirits sank. He had been so certain.
"However," said Dash, studying his wounded paw. "As it turns out, I know who stole the letter."
Dash nodded. He lifted his wings and flapped them slowly, creating a stiff breeze.
"Who? Tell me! Tell me!" Wordsworth exclaimed, jumping up and down.
"I won't name names," Dash said. "But his initials are M-U-D-D-L-E-T-O-N-G-U-E."
Wordsworth stopped jumping. "Huh?" he said. "Say that again, please."
"Those aren't initials," said Wordsworth. "That spells muddletongue! Are you saying a muddletongue took the letter?"
"Y-E-S," said the dragon.
Wordsworth didn't know much about muddletongues except that they were mean and wild and lived on the other side of the Forest of Spells. He didn't know if they were people or animals, but King Omicron always said it was best to leave them alone.
"But how would a muddletongue get up to the tower window, and how would it lift the letter when it's so heavy?"
Dash fanned his wings again, blowing Wordsworth's hair straight back. "Some of them fly," the dragon said. "And they are extremely strong. I have seen them looking in the tower windows many times, in the middle of the night."
"Oh!" said Wordsworth. He wondered if King Omicron knew that muddletongues were visiting the castle. "But why would they take a letter from the Royal Alphabet?"
The dragon stopped waving his wings. Wordsworth's hair fell forward into his face.
"I think they have a new queen. They've been shouting and leaping around that huge fire of theirs for days. I think the muddletongue who stole your letter may have given it to the queen as a gift."
"Kind of a strange gift, isn't it?" said Wordsworth.
"Not really," said Dash. "Muddletongues aren't all that smart, but they know that something kept hidden away in a tower must be important and valuable. They may not know why, but they know it just the same."
"I see. So they wanted something important and valuable to give the queen," said Wordsworth. He looked long and hard at the dragon. "You had better be telling the truth," he said. "Or--"
"I know, I know, or Klause will bite me again," said Dash.
Klause snorted. Wordsworth knew Dash wasn't afraid of the cavabok. The dragon could easily be lying, but Wordsworth couldn't do anything about it in any case.
"How did you learn to talk?" he asked.
"My mother taught me," said Dash. "Her father taught her, and his grandmother taught him."
"But how did it begin?"
"I believe your King Alpha taught a dragon to talk bak when humans and dragons were friendly toward one another," said Dash.
Wordsworth was surprised. How could dragons and humans be friends? He had never heard of such a thing.
"The king says dragons made a lot of trouble in the days of Queen Gamma," he said. "They destroyed houses and stole sheep. Sometimes they even killed people."
"Yes, I'm afraid that's true," said Dash. "I don't know who started the fighting, but the people of Atoz were at war with dragons for many long years. My grandmother was killed by a knight. Now I am the only dragon left."
Wordsworth couldn't help feeling a little sorry for him. He thought he saw a tear in one of Dash's yellow-gold eyes, but the dragon blinked, and it was gone.
"I have a favor to ask of you," Dash said then.
Wordsworth still wasn't ready to trust him. "What?" he asked suspiciously.