So because Fenworth is on the side of God, he lets Our Heroes just sort of wander around aimlessly… while being eaten alive by bugs. I think we’re supposed to like Fenworth, but he seems like kind of a dick.
Kale had no doubt she would sleep soundly if she could ignore the bugs.
“I’m sure I’ll sleep soundly while having blood drained by giant insects! I just have to not NOTICE them!”
Fortunately for Cabbage,
Spreading her cape out over the springy limbs, she settled down to eat her next meal wrapped by Granny Noon in the loose-woven cloth. The lettuce still crispy, the meat as fresh as when first cut, the sandwich satisfied her hunger.
Dar came over.
“Tired?” he asked.
“Yes,” admitted Kale.
He handed her a waxy bar. “Rub this on your face, hands, and ankles. It keeps the bugs away.”
Kale gratefully took the thick, sweet-smelling stick and scrubbed it over her exposed skin.
When she gave it back to Dar, she noticed his clothes.
The doneel wore green trousers that hung loosely on his short legs. Over a crisp white shirt, a long emerald jacket flowed to his knees.
“I don’t like to wear the same thing at night as I did all day. I don’t sleep well in dirty clothes.” He sat cross-legged beside Kale and fingered the material of her cape. “This didn’t tear when you fell through the cygnot flooring.”
“No, but my skirt has big holes in it.”
Dar’s ears perked up. “Give it to me, and I’ll mend it.”
Kale stared at him.
“Really,” Dar insisted. “I like to sew. Many in my family are tailors.”
“Is that what you would like to be?”
Dar shook his head. “No. Unfortunately, I was born with the wanderlust. It happens sometimes with doneels. If you have the spirit of adventure, it’s painful to have to stay in one place.”
“So that’s why you’re in Paladin’s service?”
“I’m an adjunct.”
“I don’t know what an adjunct is.”
“I am officially accompanying you and Leetu because the meech egg was stolen from the doneel region of Wittoom. I am not officially from The Hall.”
“Oh, I thought you were.”
“I know.” Dar looked over to where Leetu sat reading a book. She had a lightrock in her lap, and the glow lit both the pages of her book and her face. He picked a broad leaf from the floor and bent it back and forth in his hands. “Someday I hope to be accepted at The Hall as one of their warriors. But there is a prejudice against doneels. We are considered too fastidious. Our love of music is supposed to be at odds with a desire to fight for right.” He sighed and tossed the leaf away. “How silly!”
“I agree,” said Kale. “I’ve seen you fight against the grawligs, and you are a brave warrior.”
Dar winked at her and grinned. “But I do like to look nice.”
Kale smiled back. She leaned closer to whisper, “I like to look nice too.”
“Then give me your skirt, and I’ll fix it.”
Dar jumped up and turned his back.
Kale stood and untied the cord at her waist. When she removed the torn and stained skirt, the blouse Granny Noon had given her hung down to her knees like a nightshirt.
“Here,” she said.
Dar reached a hand back over his shoulder. Kale placed the skirt in his fingers and sat down as the doneel walked away. Dar’s skillful whistling drifted over his shoulder. Fiddlers had played the same elaborate tune at the River Away Tavern. The sound reminded her how far she had come in such a short time. Her old home seemed a different world to her now.
Will I ever get to my new home?
Reaching into a hollow in her cape, she pulled out her lightrock and one of the books Leetu had given her at Granny Noon’s. The Care and Feeding of Minor Dragons.
The first chapter described the different types of dragons, their nesting habits, and the expected hatching patterns. Kale identified her eggs as those of minor dragons. These creatures would hatch thirty-three days after they had “quickened.” To quicken a dragon egg, a warm-blooded creature must provide nurture. As Kale read, she realized she had done this with the first egg. By placing it in a pouch and hanging it next to her skin, near her heart, she had quickened the embryo inside.
Two weeks? With careful fingers, she touched the spot where her blouse bulged slightly from the egg pouch underneath.
I found the egg and showed it to the village council. Then they had to think and talk and think some more and talk some more to decide what to do. That took three days. I traveled for twenty-seven days. I spent the night in the cave and traveled another day. And today is one more. Thirty-two!
Kale pulled the egg pouch from under her blouse and hastily opened the top. When she slipped the egg out into her hand, she saw a fine network of cracks covering the shell. The egg had once been alabaster white. Now it appeared bluish-gray even in the azure light from her rock. As she held the egg tenderly in her palm, she felt movement within.
“Oh. Oh!” she whispered, barely containing her excitement. She glanced around to see if the others had noticed what was happening.
Dar bent over his sewing; Leetu’s nose was in her book.
Should I show them? Kale looked back at the egg. No. This is between me and the dragon inside.
She held the egg close to her chest with one hand and picked up the book with the other. She needed to read more. What should she do when the shell cracked open? What should she feed the baby dragon? Should he be wrapped warmly or kept cool?
She read as long as she could keep her eyes open. Finally she tucked the egg back in its pouch, slipped the pouch securely beneath her blouse, and put the book and lightrock away. Even as she closed her eyes, she wondered about the baby dragon.
Will I be able to take care of it well enough? Did Wulder really decide I should be the one to raise the dragon? Is it a girl or a boy? What do you name a dragon? If Wulder gave me this responsibility, will He also tell me how to do a good job? When Mistress Meiger gave me a new task, she always made sure I knew how to do it. Surely Wulder is smarter than Mistress Meiger.
Sunbeams filtered through the dense branches above and made a dappled green light in the bower around the three travelers. Kale opened her eyes, touched the pouch beneath her blouse, and sat up. The egg was still whole, Dar and Leetu were awake, and Kale was starved. Beside her, the skirt lay folded neatly. She shook it out to put it on and discovered Dar had remodeled it with his needle. Now she had a pair of knickers.
He looked up at her call and grinned, the comical smile spreading from ear to ear. “Do you like them?”
“This is wonderful.” Kale stood as he turned back to his breakfast. She pulled the knickers on, then tucked in her blouse. Twirling around on the thickly woven branch floor beneath her feet, she laughed. “This will be so much easier to walk in.”
“Put on your boots,” ordered Leetu, but Kale saw the friendly smile on the emerlindian’s face. “Eat breakfast, sleepyhead. We have miles to go today.”
Kale sat down again and pulled on her soft leather boots, tucking the new pant legs into the tops. “Do we know where we’re going?” she asked.
“No,” admitted Leetu. “But I aim to waste no time getting there.”
Dar laughed. He had a bowl in his hand and spooned up what looked like porridge. Kale eyed his breakfast, and her stomach rumbled.
Again the cheerful doneel laughed. “There’s plenty for you, if Leetu will wait long enough for you to eat.”
Leetu had her bags packed. She sat down, rested her back against a trunk, and pulled out her book.
Kale smiled at Dar and winked. “I think I have time.”
She savored the warm pudding, which tasted of cinnamon and apples, while Dar heated water for washing in a kettle over the fire.
The doneel took the dishes when she finished eating. “I’ll go below with these and use swamp water to rinse off the worst of the leftovers.” He disappeared through a gap in the flooring.
Kale put on her cape and then took out the egg to have one last look before they began the day’s journey. As she cradled it, three sharp taps bumped against one palm. Then the dragon within lay quiet for a moment. The taps occurred on the other side of the egg next.
Just like the book said. He, or she, is twitching and turning. Maybe today the egg will hatch. She looked over to where Leetu still read. Maybe I should tell her. Suppose we ought to stay in one place to let the dragon rest instead of being jostled around all the time? She remembered the page that said dragons traveled well, but she couldn’t help but think of how fragile a chicken egg was. Of course, a dragon egg was more like a stone.
She ran her finger across the crackled surface of her egg and realized the shell felt more like leather now than rock. Out of the corner of her left eye, she saw movement. Dar had gone down to the marsh level on her right. Why would he be coming up a different way?
She turned her head and saw only a dark shadow across the leaves. It rippled some, much like the other patches of dark and light cast by the sun and branches above. A shiver of fear ran down her spine. The shadow moved toward her emerlindian friend.
“Leetu!” Kale screamed.
Leetu sprang to her feet, a long-bladed dagger in her hand. The shadow rose up and formed a hideous monster. Tall and massive, the black shape seemed to fill up the small bower. Now that it stood upright, Kale could see arms reaching toward Leetu, a bloblike head silently wagging back and forth. He stood on two thick legs. A thin tail disappeared through the leaf floor at the spot where the shadow had first appeared.
Still clutching the precious egg, Kale looked around for some kind of weapon. Dar’s sword lay in its scabbard across his packs. She leapt to grab it. For a few costly seconds, she struggled to release the blade from its sheath. When she turned with the sword in her hand, she saw that two more mordakleeps had oozed up through the floor and were taking shape around Leetu. The mordakleeps made no noise but plodded purposefully. Their grotesque mouths chomped, lips slapping against each other, teeth showing sharp and yellow. They looked eager to take a bite out of anything in their way.
Swinging the sword wildly before her, she charged the monsters attacking Leetu. Her blade cut through the nearest mordakleep. Black goo spurted, then splattered the front of her cape, her arms, and her boots. The liquid sizzled as it hit the moonbeam material and evaporated in a noxious fume. The globs of black drops pooled and skittered away like mercury.
The monster whirled around and clipped her chin with a backhanded swing of one of his massive arms. Kale flew backward and landed against a cygnot trunk. She gasped for breath and then shrieked again as she saw the mordakleep bend over and scoop up the egg she’d dropped from her hand.
Cold terror and then a sick emptiness seized her heart. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she stood to face the monster advancing toward her. Now she could see the features of his face, the gray hollows from which small red eyes glared, the wide mouth with a green tongue flicking over thin lips.
He silently lurched over the intertwined limbs, his great weight making the whole floor undulate like waves on an ocean. Clenching Dar’s sword around the hilt with both hands, Kale waited for the monster to lumber close enough for her to hit. She saw the flurry of activity beyond. Leetu battled three creatures. Two more mordakleeps emerged from the cygnot floor. Dar had reappeared to help in the fight. But Kale’s attention focused on the ugly mass of black slime menacing her.
“Dar, it has my egg!” she cried, and then the creature made a lunge for her throat. Instead of swinging the sword, she ducked and rolled to one side.
“Cut off its tail,” Dar yelled. He had a gleaming dagger in each hand and rushed the monsters attacking Leetu.
Kale tried to work her way around to its back, but the mordakleep, in spite of its size, twisted and turned cleverly. Dar stood behind a monster hovering over Leetu. He swung his dagger down in a wide arc and sliced off its long black tail. Without waiting to see the body of the creature dissolve into a puddle and drip through the leaf floor, he circled around and lopped off the tail of the next mordakleep.
Kale jumped and stabbed at the monster coming toward her, its hands poised to grab and tear her into pieces. More often her blade swiped thin air instead of the flesh of the mordakleep. At last the creature stumbled just as Kale fell to one side. Horrified, she found herself lying on the black beast’s slimy tail. With one whack, she severed the ropelike tail. She rolled away, gasping as the noxious smell rose from the dead creature.
Like the other monsters, this mordakleep disintegrated, once deprived of its tail. As the black form melted into a shadow and then seeped through the cygnot floor, it left behind the egg. Kale snatched it up, wiped the last drips of ooze from the shell, and held it against her chest.
Dar knelt beside her. She looked around and saw that all the monsters had gone. He rested a hand on her shoulder. Kale’s sobs almost prevented her from speaking.
“Did it k-kill the egg?” she asked. “Did it kill the b-baby dragon?”
“I don’t know,” Dar answered.
“Will Leetu know?” Kale again looked around the empty bower.
Dar squeezed Kale’s shoulder. “They took Leetu.”