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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis

High on a hilltop stood a castle. Its towers reached for the sky, poking through the clouds. Several towers with dark red roofs brought a majesty to the stone palace. In the castle lived King Irithda and his Queen. Guards stood at each entrance, protecting and defending the royals inside from unwanted guests.

A deep loch spread out its dark blue fingers, meandering around low lying hills. A village stood on the opposite side of the castle. Here lived merchants, shopkeepers, bakers, butchers and wine sellers. Each day they made the walk around the loch to the castle, where, if they were fortunate enough, would be allowed inside to sell their wares to the king's cooks and housekeepers. Many were turned away, forced to tread the dirt path back to the village and try to sell to the other villagers.

Joran, a botanist, lived in a small cottage between the village and the castle. He often bought bread, pastries, wine and meat from the merchants as they passed by. One misty morning, Joran went into the woods behind his cottage to gather mushrooms for the stew he was preparing. A small burlap bag tied around his waist carried his daily find. About to head back home, he spotted an egg. “How odd. This isn't a chicken's egg. It's far too big. Curious, very curious.” He picked up the egg and placed it in the burlap bag with the mushrooms. Humming a song as he walked the trail through the woods, Joran thought about the egg. “I could use it in my stew. I could hard boil it and eat it for a week.” All sorts of ideas went through his mind.

By the time he stepped into his cottage, he'd made his decision. “I'm going to crack it, see what's inside and if there's nothing, I'll fry it up for supper.” He put the egg down on the table and went in search of a hammer. “Here we are,” Joran said. “That egg is as big as a cat. I still can't imagine what sort of animal could possibly have laid it.” He often mumbled to himself, as though he was speaking to someone else.

With hammer in hand he hit the shell, expecting it to crack. Nothing happened. “Strong egg.” He hit it again.  After ten tries, he dropped the hammer on the table. “Useless egg. I've no need for it.” He took it outside and put it down next to his cabbage garden. “Let some poor unsuspecting fox come along and run off with it.” Joran closed the door behind him.

Later that night, Joran pulled the curtains back and looked outside. “It's still there.” He let the curtains drop and went to his laboratory. “I've got better things to do.” He stirred his potions and mixed a few liquids together in a test tube. Just as he was about to light a fire in the fireplace, he heard a noise. Tap, tap, tap. “What was that?” He listened again. Tap, tap, tap.

Overcome with curiosity, he opened his door. He allowed time for his eyes to adjust to the darkness of night. “The egg.” Standing over it, he noticed a few cracks in the shell. “Either it's about to hatch, or an animals got to it.” Something black and hard pushed its way out of a tiny hole. “What have we here? What sort of animal are you?”

Joran picked up the egg and took it closer to his door, so he could see it better. “Come on, little one. Push your way out of that egg.” A clawed foot burst through the shell. It was covered with purple scales. “I've never seen anything like that before.” Joran watched in fascination as the rest of the egg cracked open. “It''s a dragon.”

The tiny creature, the size of his forearm, sat in the dirt. Its leathery wings flew out to the side. Spikes rose from its back, traveling down to its pointed tail. It looked over at Joran and screeched softly.

Joran stood with his mouth agape. “What do I do with you? What if your mother is looking for you? I imagined she'd roast me alive.” The dragon waddled over to him. “But what if you're lost or the very last dragon in the kingdom? Heavens, I didn't even know dragons existed any longer. Come inside. I'll find you something to eat and you can sit in front of the fire and dry off.” He opened the door and the dragon followed him inside. “Would you like some beef stew? I bought this beef from Arthur, the butcher, earlier today.” Joran scooped a spoonful out and put it in a wooden bowl. “Eat up, young fellow.”

The dragon gorged himself with stew. “Whoa! Don't eat so fast. There's plenty more. You can eat stew, can't you? Well, never mind. Finish it up.” Joran refilled the bowl four times before the dragon turned his nose up.

“Go on then. Lie in front of the fire and rest. I'll have to come up with a name for you. I suppose I should call you something creative and medieval, like Cuthbert, or Osfrid, but I think I'm going to call you Stewart. That's a good name. Your first meal was stew. Do you like that name?”

The dragon turned to look at Joran and blew a tiny puff of smoke from his nostrils.

“I take it that was a yes. Very well, Stewart. Now, whatever am I going to do with you?”

That night Stewart slept curled up next to Joran. The nights after that were much the same and soon Stewart was eating ten bowls of stew each meal.

When the merchants from the village walked past on their way to the castle, Joran bought most of their wares; ten pounds of beef, a dozen carrots, three potatoes, and a loaf of bread every day.

Since he was a botanist, Joran knew hot to grow leeks, garlic and assorted vegetables. He knew where to find the mushrooms and always had cabbage from his garden to help tie him over when Stewart ate all the stew.

Two months later, Stewart was the same size as Joran. Three months after that he was double the size.

“It's getting harder to hide you, Stewart and we're now up to twenty-five bowls of stew each meal. I can't afford to feed you. I think it's time we went to find your mother and father.” Joran stroked the dragon's scales. “We'll leave in the morning.”

When the sun rose over the horizon, Joran and Stewart left the cottage and headed up the hills. They left the loch, castle and village behind them as they began their journey. “Now, where do you suppose other dragons live? Caves perhaps?” Joran glanced at Stewart, who nodded. “Caves it is then. To get to the caves, we'll have to go into the mountains. It'll be much colder there.”

At night, to help them stay warm, Stewart started a fire by blowing on the wood. Flames shot from his nostrils and soon they'd be able to cook and be protected from the cold. Stewart learned to catch rabbits and other woodland creatures. Jaron would skin them, clean them and roast them on the fire. His skills as a botanist helped. He found berries and nuts and mushrooms for them to nibble on.

After traveling a week, they came to the mountains. “Well, there they are, Stewart. Surely there will be caves up toward the peaks.”

Stewart followed behind Joran as they hiked up the mountainside. They came to the first cave. “Well, do you think I'll find a dragon in here?”

Stewart shrugged his shoulders.

Joran made his way into the cave. “It's rather dark in there,” he said a few minutes later when he came back out. “I need a torch.” He found a stick and wrapped some moss around the end of it. “Blow on this for me, Stewart.”

The dragon blew a puff of fire and lit the torch.

“Very well. This will help.” Joran went back into the cave. “Hello,” he called. “Are there any dragons in this cave?” He stood silently, listening. “No?”

Stewart was sitting on a large stone, waiting for Joran to come out. He looked up the mountainside and saw another cave. He flew up to the cave and disappeared inside.

Joran plodded out of the cave. “Well, Stewart, there's...” He looked around. “Stewart? Stewart? Where are you?” He went from stone to stone, searching behind them. “Now where did that dragon go? Stewart, this isn't funny.”

Joran waited all day and night, but Stewart didn't turn up. He had no choice but to head back to his cottage. The days passed slowly. Sad and lonely, he went into the woods to gather mushrooms. He put them in a bowl on the table.

Arthur, the butcher came by, loaded down with bags of beef. “Joran, I've got plenty for you today.” He knocked on the door. When Joran didn't answer, Arthur turned the doorknob. “Joran?”

The man sat at the table, tears running down his face. “I won't be needing the beef any longer, Arthur.”

Arthur didn't ask questions. He grabbed the bags of beef, tossed them over his shoulder and said, “I hope King Irithda's cooks will want this. I'm disappointed, Joran.” He turned and left.

The baker, wine seller, and others stopped by on their way to the castle. All were met with the same response, shut the door, and headed to the castle.

Joran tossed the mushrooms into the pot. He had some beef left and dropped it in, along with carrots and cabbage. The pot of stew bubbled away. “I wish Stewart was here to enjoy it with me.”

As he stirred away, he heard a noise coming from behind the cottage. He dropped the spoon into the pot and ran out back. There stood Stewart and two other dragons. One was purple like Stewart, and the other was black, and much larger.

“Stewart, these must be your mother and father.” Joran ran to the dragon and wrapped his arms around him. “I've made some stew. Would you like to come in and have some with me?”

Stewart and his parents followed Joran into the cottage. It was a tight fit, but he managed to find room for the three of them. With the ladle, he spooned up four bowls of stew. Stewart ate his, as did his mother and father.

From that day on the three dragons showed up every night for a bowl of stew. They didn't need ten bowls each. They didn't need twenty-five bowls each. They were happy to have one bowlful.

The merchants kept walking by and the king and queen sat on their thrones, none aware of Joran's nightly visitors with Stewart and his family.

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