Dealing with Dragons, стр. 20

Then she ducked and reached for her sword.

She was almost too slow. The bird was on top of her, shrieking and slashing, before she had done more than grasp the hilt of her weapon.

But the sword seemed to leap out of the scabbard as soon as she touched it, and she swung clumsily as she rolled aside. She did not expect to do any damage, just to force the bird to back away a little, but she felt the sword connect and heard a wail of pain from the bird.

Thanking all her lucky stars individually and by name, Cimorene twisted and scrambled to her feet, sword ready.

There was nothing for her to guard against. The sword stroke had been more effective than she realized. The bird was dying. As she stared at it, it raised its head.

"You killed me?" the bird said incredulously. "But you're a maiden."

"Actually, she's a princess," Kazul's voice said from behind Cimorene.

"My princess, so you'd have been in even bigger trouble if you'd succeeded in carrying her off."

"I don't think I could have done it if I hadn't had a magic sword," said Cimorene, who was beginning to wish she hadn't. She had never hurt anyone before, and she didn't like it.

'Just my luck," the bird said disgustedly. "Oh, well, fair's fair.

You killed me, so you get my forfeit."

"You're not dead yet," Cimorene said. "If you'll let me near, I can try to stop the bleeding-" "Not a chance," the bird said. It was beginning to sound rather faint.

"Do you want the forfeit or don't you?"

"Take it," Kazul advised.

Cimorene said nothing, and after a moment the bird said, "All right, then. Under my left wing, you'll find three black feathers. If you drop one and wish to be somewhere else, you'll find yourself there in the twinkling of an eye. Any questions?"

"Can I take anyone else with me?" Cimorene asked, thinking that if the bird was so determined to give her the feathers, she might as well cooperate with it.

The bird looked at her with respect. "Will wonders never cease. For once a human with sense is getting the forfeit. Yes, you can take someone with you, as long as you're touching him. Same for objects; if you can carry it , you can take it with you. You get one trip per feather. That's all."

"But-" said Cimorene, and stopped. The bird's head had fallen back, and it was clearly quite dead.

"Don't feel too bad," Kazul said perceptively. "If it had succeeded in carrying you off, it would have fed you to its nestlings."

"Fed me to its nestlings?" Cimorene discovered that she had lost her sympathy for the dead bird. "What a horrid thing to do!" She hesitated.

"Won't the nestlings starve, now that the bird is dead?"

"No, one of the other birds will take over the chore of feeding them for a few weeks until they're big enough to catch their own food," Kazul said.

"Now, clean that sword and take your feathers, and let's get going. I want to have a look at that book of Morwen's."

Cimorene nodded and did as she was told. The three black feathers were right where the bird had said they would be, and she put them in her pocket with Morwen's book and the black pebble from the Caves of Fire and Night. She wiped the sword on the grass several times, then finished cleaning it with her handkerchief. When she finished, she left the handkerchief beside the dead bird and followed Kazul into the Caves of Fire and Night.


In Which Therandil Is a Dreadful Nuisance, and Cimorene Casts a Spell

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. Passing through the King's Cave seemed easier going in the opposite direction, and the impenetrable darkness only descended once. As soon as they arrived, Kazul took the book Morwen had lent them and curled herself around a rock just outside the mouth of the cave to study it while Cimorene made dinner. She pored over the book all evening, and Cimorene found it fascinating to watch the dragon delicately turning pages with her claws. Early the next day Kazul went off to consult with Roxim.

Cimorene was rather stiff from all the dragon-riding she had done the previous day, so she decided not to do any more cleaning. Instead, she spent the morning in Kazul's treasure room, sorting through likely looking bottles and jars for those that might possibly contain powdered hens' teeth. Remembering Kazul's advice, she started by setting aside all the bottles she could find that had lead stoppers. Since the light was not very good, she took the jars and bottles that looked as if they might be worth investigating and piled them in her apron, so as to carry them outside more easily.

She had nearly finished sorting when she heard a voice calling faintly in the distance.

"Bother!" she said. "I did hope they'd leave me alone a little longer."

She bundled the last five bottles into her apron without looking at them and, not forgetting to lock the door behind her, hurried out through the maze to see who was shouting for her this time.

It was Therandil.

"What are you doing here?" Cimorene said crossly. "I told you I wasn't going to be ready to be rescued for at least a month!"

"I was worried," Therandil said. "I heard that you'd broken a leg, but you look fine to me."

"Of course I haven't broken a leg," Cimorene said. "Where did you get that idea?"

"Some knight at the inn at the foot of the mountain," Therandil replied.

"He was up yesterday, talking to the princess he's trying to rescue, and he came back and warned everybody not to bother with the princess that was captured by the dragon Kazul. Well, I knew that was you, so I asked why, and he said his princess told him you'd broken your leg and wouldn't be able to walk for months."

Cimorene smiled slightly. Alianora had apparently gone through with her plan to tell Hallanna about Cimorene's "twisted ankle," and Hallanna had decided to improve the story a little in hopes of reducing the competition.

"Somebody must have gotten mixed up," Cimorene said gently. "You can stop worrying. I'm fine. Is that all you came for? These jars are getting heavy, and I've got work to do."

"Cimorene, we have to talk," Therandil said in a heavy, deep voice.

"Then we'll have to do it while I work," Cimorene declared. She turned on her heel and marched into the kitchen, full of annoyance. She had been feeling almost friendly toward Therandil-he had been worried about her, after all-until he said he wanted to talk. Cimorene was quite sure that what he wanted to talk about was rescuing her, and she was annoyed with him for being so stupidly stubborn and annoyed with herself for being annoyed when he was only trying to do the best he could.

Therandil followed her into the kitchen. "What's all that?" he asked as Cimorene put the apron full of jars on the kitchen table and began lining them up.

"Some things I'm checking for Kazul," Cimorene said. She picked up a small jar made of carved jade and pried the lid off. It was half full of green salve. Cimorene put the lid back on and set the jar aside.

"What was it you wanted to talk about?" she asked, reaching for another jar.

"You. Dragons. Us. That looks interesting. Can I help?"

"As long as you don't break anything," Cimorene said. "Some of these are very fragile." Maybe opening jars would make him forget about You.

Dragons. Us, for a while.

"I'll be very careful," Therandil assured her. "This one looks like metal. I'll start with that, shall I?" He picked up one of the larger jars, made of beaten copper with two handles. He frowned at the top, then reached for his dagger, and as he tilted the jar, Cimorene saw that the neck was stopped up with lead.

"Not that one!" she said quickly. She didn't remember picking out that particular jar. It must have been one of the last four or five that she'd scooped up when she heard Therandil calling.