Dealing with Dragons, стр. 34

"You!" he shouted when he saw Cimorene. "I might have known it would be you!" Flame shot from his mouth once more, but it was just as useless as it had been the first time.

Cimorene glanced up and saw one of the escort dragons spiraling down to see what was going on. "You might as well give up, Woraug," she said, hoping to distract the angry dragon long enough for help to arrive.

"You can't be King of the Dragons now."

"I'll tear you limb from limb!" Woraug raged. "Every last one of you!"

One arm shot out as he spoke, and shining silver claws snapped around the stone prince's waist.

Alianora screamed.

"Hurry up!" Cimorene shouted at the dragon in the sky.

The dragon heard and dove toward them, but he was not fast enough.

Woraug shoved the stone prince into his mouth and bit down hard. An instant later he howled in pain and spat out the prince and four teeth.

"What is all this?" said the escort dragon, landing carefully beside Woraug. The clearing was getting rather crowded.

"A plot to cheat on the test to see who the next King of the Dragons will be," Cimorene said. "Woraug was in it, and a lot of wizards."

"Are you all right?" Alianora asked the stone prince, who was just picking himself up. His stone was black in places from the dragon fire, but otherwise he seemed unhurt.

"More or less," the stone prince said. "But just look what that fire did to my clothes! And that dragon's put a chip in my sleeve. What am I supposed to do about that? It's not as if I can just change clothes when I get home, you know."

"That's ridiculous!" the escort dragon told Cimorene. "No dragon would cooperate with wizards. I don't see any wizards, either. I think you're making it up."

"Of course you don't see any wizards," Cimorene said, feeling very cross. "We melted them."

"Melted them?"

"where do you think those staffs came from?" Cimorene pointed at the wizards' staffs lying across the scattered brown puddles.

The dragon backed up a pace and sniffed experimentally.

"It's all quite true," Morwen said, poking her head out of the bushes.

"And we'll be more than happy to explain the whole thing to your new King as soon as you have one. Provided, of course, that you take that maniac away before he burns the whole Enchanted Forest to the ground."

She gestured at Woraug. "Cimorene, I really must insist on getting a copy of that fireproofing spell. It will clearly be worth every minute of the months of hunting it will take me to find some hens' teeth, and I may as well get started as soon as I can."

"who's that?" said the escort dragon. "Morwen? That does it! This is too much for me. I'm taking you all into custody until the trials are over and the King can sort it out. Come along."

"I assume that doesn't apply to me," Woraug rumbled. He winced as he spoke.

"It certainly does," the escort dragon said. "I said all, and I meant all. If I'd meant 'all the humans,' I'd have said 'all the humans,' or maybe 'some of you' or 'you over there' or 'all you non-dragons' on" "Nonsense!" Woraug interrupted. "Don't you know who I am?"

"You're the dragon who caused a ruckus just now for no reason I can see," the escort dragon replied. "And it's my duty and my job to take you into custody. When the trials are over, you can explain it to the King, and if I've done something wrong, well, I'll take what I have coming. And if I haven't, you'll take yours. And-" "All right, all right," Woraug said. "But I warn you, you'll regret this."

"That's as may be," the escort dragon said with dignity. "Right now, though, you're in custody along with the rest of these people, and you'd better not go snacking on any of them until things are sorted out. I saw what you did to the gray one."

"Did you?" said the stone prince. "Then what are you going to do about this chip in my sleeve?"

"Tell it to the King," the escort dragon advised. "Now, off we go, the lot of you."

Morwen came cautiously out of the bushes, brushing leaves from her already wet black robes. She stopped and peered at the escort dragon over the tops of her glasses. "This has not been a good day for anyone's clothes," she said severely. "I shall send the cleaning bill to your king."

"Whatever you want," the escort dragon said impatiently. "Come on."

Scowling furiously, Woraug marched off into the forest. The stone prince and Alianora followed, talking in low voices. Morwen paused to pick up the wizards' black rock and Cimorene's pebble, then went on after them.

Cimorene hesitated.

"Go on," said the escort dragon.

"I will, but I think you ought to know that another batch of wizards is supposed to show up soon," Cimorene said. "Zemenar said something about a second shift. I don't know what they can do without the stone they were using, but I'm sure they'll try something."

"Wizards always do," the escort dragon said with a sigh. He studied the wizards' staffs that were lying around the clearing with a melancholy air.

"All right, I'll send someone back to keep an eye on things as soon as we get to the ford. Whatever was going on here, there certainly were wizards in it, and that's enough for me."

"Good," said Cimorene. "And thank you." She smiled at the startled expression on the dragon's face and started after the others.

15

In Which the Dragons Crown a New King, and Cimorene Gets a New Job

The walk to the Ford of Whispering Snakes took longer than Cimorene expected. The trees of the Enchanted Forest grew close together in many places, forcing the dragons to take a zigzag path instead of heading straight up the bank of the river. Woraug, who was in the lead, seemed to be deliberately setting a slow pace. Cimorene was sure he was hoping that the second shift of wizards would arrive at the blackberry clearing before the dragons at the ford had been warned.

She had no idea what would happen then, but she doubted that it would be good. The escort dragon was not interested in Cimorene's worries, however, and he refused to speed things up, so the group ambled on.

As they approached the ford at last, they heard cheering ahead of them.

Woraug flinched visibly, and Alianora and the stone prince were startled out of their quiet conversation.

"What's that?" Alianora said.

"Sounds to me as if we have a new King," the escort said with great satisfaction. "That means I can get you lot off my hands right away.

What a relief! I thought I was going to be stuck with you for hours."

Alianora looked faintly indignant at this unflattering opinion. Morwen was merely amused. Woraug's wings sagged momentarily, but then he seemed to pull himself back together, and he continued on as confidently as ever. Cimorene's concern deepened. What if Woraug managed to convince the new King that they were all lying?

They reached the edge of the cheering crowd of dragons. "Who did it?" the escort dragon asked. "Who's the new King?"

"How should I know?" the other responded. "I can't see a thing from way out here."

"You'll find out soon enough," the escort dragon said. Then he raised his voice and shouted, "Make way! Coming through! Prisoners for the King! Make way!"

The crowd of dragons parted reluctantly, and the escort dragon herded the group forward, still shouting. They made their way through the cheering dragons until they reached the edge of the river. "Stand away!" shouted someone in the crowd. "Stand away for the King!"

The nearby dragons drew back, leaving Woraug, the escort dragon, and Cimorene and her friends standing by themselves on the trampled moss.

As the dragons moved away, Cimorene caught sight of Kazul, lying comfortably beside the river. "Kazul!" Cimorene cried, and ran forward.

"Are you all right?"

A mottled dragon standing beside Kazul shifted and flicked his tail angrily at Cimorene. "You should say 'Your Majesty,'" he said with a warning scowl.