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Adventures Down the Hollow Tree

By EBWrites All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Part 1

The TV flickered as the hundreds of channels slid by, one after the other as Ben and Gigi tried to find something to watch.  “How much you wanna bet that Mom is going to come by in a minute telling us to go to the park and play?”  Ben asked Gigi with one eyebrow raised, trying to look quirky and mostly just looking like a geeky 13 year old.

 “That’s a stupid bet.  She’s also going to tell us to take our feet off the table.  And be quiet, maybe she can’t hear the TV.  There has to be something good on.”  Gigi had no more said those words than they could hear the sounds of their mom’s feet walking down hallway towards them.

“You know the rule: three hours total television for the week.  It’s a beautiful sunny day outside.   Why don’t the two of you go to the park and play? And please take your feet off the table.”  Ben and Gigi gave each other the look shared by siblings everywhere when dealing with their parents peculiarities because it wasn’t so much a question as a demand in the form of a question:  Mom was always sending them to the park.  Gigi got off the couch and grabbed her backpack.  If she was going to the park, she might as well see if there was anything interesting to sketch.  If they stayed right to the edge of sunset, interesting creatures sometimes came out to play to play in the shadows formed as the day slowly died away.

Ben and Gigi raced their bikes to the swings in the far corner of the park. Gigi loved to swing as high and as fast as she possibly could.  She stood on the swing, see-sawing her body back and forth to get the swing started.  Once she got a little bit of momentum going, she pumped the swing with her whole body to build up more speed and height.  Then she wrapped her arms around the swing chains, put her legs and feet straight out in front of and slowly slid down into the seat.  Gigi loved the feeling of air rushing around her. “Someday you’re going to fall out when you do that,” Ben yelled at her over the rushing sound the air made as he swung.  Gigi shrugged her shoulders in disdain.  Ben didn’t know how good it felt to be almost in flight.

Gigi climbed the ladder to the slide.  She looked out over the playground and the surrounding ball fields.  It was a balmy spring evening but getting dark.  There were still a few families out.  Ben and she would have to go home soon for dinner.  But right now, she wanted one more slide down the slide.
“Ben! Look over there. Those aren’t raccoons.  They’re dragons!”  Gigi slid down quickly, grabbed her backpack and went running over to the stand of trees. Ben followed her yelling, “If you get bit by a raccoon, Mom is going to blame me!”
He found Gigi playing with raccoons.  For a moment it seemed completely normal, then Ben’s brain reminded him that raccoons don’t play with bright yellow balls and even hidden behind drooping tree branches Ben saw that the game had rules.  Whenever he stared really hard at one of the raccoons chasing the ball, he saw what certainly looked like a dragoon, just like Gigi had described.   From his hiding place, Ben saw a much bigger raccoon arrive.  Something was wrong because raccoons never got this big, at least sixty pounds.

The smaller raccoons stopped playing to stare at this new raccoon.  Ben concentrated and a brown dragon shimmered into focus.  It was a disguise or magic or an illusion.  The large raccoon was talking, but all Ben heard was hissing and chirping. Gigi was protesting what this raccoon was saying, complaining it wasn’t fair.  Ben wondered what wasn’t fair. She stamped her foot with her hands on hips so it must be important. Before Ben could do anything to help, the larger raccoon picked Gigi up like she was a sack of rice, pointed at the other raccoons and all of them fled up the large tree and into the thick branches and leaves.  Ben scrambled after them but they were nowhere in sight.

They were gone.

Ben biked home as quickly as he could peddle.  He was in big trouble.  He ran into his building and he pushed the button for the elevator.  And waited.  He slammed open the apartment door, frantic to find his mother.   “Mom!  Mom!  The dragons have taken Gigi!”  Nadine walked in from the kitchen wiping her hands on a dish-towel.  “What are you talking about Ben?  Where’s Gigi?”
“We were playing at the park.  Gigi was at the top of the slide.  She said she saw some dragons over by the trees.  Gigi was talking to the big brown dragon.  The next thing I know, the dragon picks up Gigi and they run up the tree and they’re gone.”  Ben was panting, shaking with nerves. 
Nadine gripped Ben’s shoulders painfully tight, leaned down a little and looked him straight in the eye, “Let me be very clear: Gigi was taken at the park and didn’t come back with you?”  Her eyes were both crazy and icy cold at the same time.
“Yes.  By dragons”
Nadine grabbed her keys and cell phone and rushed for the elevator.  She ran down to the park, pulling Ben behind her with a strangle grip on his hand. He struggled to keep up with her. At the park, she started screaming Gigi’s name and looking for her everywhere.  Nadie called 911.
“What’s your emergency?” A woman’s voice crackled over the speaker phone sounding calm and professional. 
“My daughter was playing at the park.  She’s missing.  I’m at the park right now.  I don’t see her, her backpack, or her coat.  Please help.  My daughter is missing.”  Ben could see his mom’s hands shaking, her whole body trembling, her eyes darting to every corner of the park looking for her Gigi.

“We’ll have the police meet you at the park.  I have alerted them and they are on their way.  You will need to be able to provide them with a description of what she was wearing,” the 911 operator said.
“Yes, yes of course.  I just want my daughter to come home.”  Nadine ran around the park looking for Gigi on the playground, in the bathrooms, under the bushes. Nadine held tightly to Ben’s hand.  She was not going to lose two children today.  Anyplace a child could hide, no matter how small or how implausible. Nadine looked and then looked again.   She was frantic with worry, her skin taking on a pale, almost grey hue as Gigi was nowhere to be found. 

Ben managed to drag and maneuver his mother over to the trees. “Mom, this is the tree she went up and disappeared down. Or in.  Or under.”  Ben didn’t really know how to describe what happened to Gigi.  The tree looked terribly normal.  “I bet if we get a ladder or some rope, we could climb up the tree and take a look and see if we could find her.  I’m not sure the police can help get Gigi back from the dragons. Do the police even know about dragons?”
Nadine wasn’t listening to Ben right then.  She was racing across park to the police cars with lights flashing descended on the park. “I’m Officer Ramirez.  I’m here to help you find your daughter.  Has your husband been notified?”
“Yes Officer Ramirez.  I have. He’ll be here any minute now.”  Nadine was shifting her weight from foot to foot. Her normally straight brown hair seemed to be quivering and swirling. She didn’t want to answer questions; she wanted to find her daughter.
“Ma'am, tell me what happened?”
“On sunny afternoons like this, Gigi and Ben like to come to the park.  I never worried that much about them being here by themselves.  They’re 11 and 13, lots of neighbors and their children like to come here.  There are plenty of eyes to watch out for them.”  Nadiene’s eyes started to leak tears.

“What happened today?”  Office Ramirez voice was kind and sympathetic.  Ben liked his soothing presence.
“We live in that building over there on the 5th floor.  A few minutes before I called you, my son, Ben, came home and told me that Gigi had been kidnapped.  He has some fanciful story about dragons.  That is when I ran to the park to look for her and called 911.”  Nadine gave Ben a stern look, the look that said she knew he was lying about the dragons and Gigi.  Ben knew his mother was upset with him, but he wasn’t lying.  Not about something like this.
“We need you to go back home.  We need something that has Gigi’s scent on it so we can bring the dogs over.  We don’t want to disrupt the scent in the park any more than we have to.”  Nadine nodded her head.  

“Yes of course.  Let me get you her favorite jacket when we get back to the house.”

“Ma’am, does your daughter carry a cell phone?”

“I’m sorry Officer Ramirez, she doesn’t”.  Nadine’s voice was tight and controlled.  Ben got the feeling that what his mother would really like to do was scream.
“It’s OK. When we get back to your apartment, I’m going to call social services.  I want them to speak with Ben, alone if that’s possible.”  Nadine nodded her head in agreement. Nadine re-tightened her grip on Ben’s hand and started back home, Officer Ramirez following closely behind. 
The social worker, Steven, looked around Ben’s room.  “This is a great room you have Ben.  Do you like Star Wars?.” He asked noticing the poster on the wall.

“Yeah, I’ve been saving my allowance money to buy the Millennium Falcon Lego kit.”  Ben was anxious.  Why was Steven talking to him when they should be climbing that tree to look for Gigi?  This seemed like a waste of time.

“When I was kid, I wanted a bunk bed in my room.  Do you have jumping competitions from the top bunk?” Steven asked. He sounded genuinely curious, not all like an adult trying to get him in trouble with his mom.

Ben fidgeted a few moments before answering.  The room had always felt so safe and comforting before suddenly seemed too small.  He was trying to be polite as he pushed books and clothes out of the way so there was enough clear space on the floor for them to walk around, Mom had asked them to clean it up earlier that day, like she did every day. “Yeah, but we aren’t supposed to, sometimes Gigi and I have jumping contest to see how far we can jump or if we can hit the solar system mobile and make the planets spin.  We get extra points if you make Earth hit Jupiter without hitting your head on the ceiling.  There are even extra points for having a good landing.  Or even better if we land really hard and make the light flickers. That annoys the neighbors below us when we do that though.”
“Who usually wins?”  Steven asked
“Gigi can make the planets spin in really neat combinations, but I’m better on the landings, most of the time it takes us both to make the lights flicker.”  Ben looked down as he dug his feet into the carpet.

Suddenly Steven was serious, “Ben do you want to tell me what happened at the park?”

“Gigi was kidnapped by dragons that looked kind of like raccoons.  They disappeared up the tree.”  Ben paused for a moment.  To even his own ears, the explanation sounded crazy, like he was lying.  Only he’d never been more honest and truthful in his entire life.  Steven moved games off of the only chair in the room, a straight hard wooden thing meant to encourage studying at the desk, which was overflowing with books, toys and clean laundry.  Ben did most of his homework at the dining room table, the chairs were more comfortable.
“Would you like a piece of paper and pen to write with?  Most adults when they talk to children are always writing things down.”
“That is very observant Ben, to notice that about adults.”  Steven took the notebook and the much chewed pencil that Ben offered him.
“I didn’t notice that.  Gigi told me.  She sees everything that goes on. She remembers it too and will tell you about it later.”
“Is this her notebook?”  Steven leafed through the pages.  There were many pictures of dragons and elves.  “Gigi likes to draw, doesn’t she?”
“She does.  She says those are the animals that she sees at the park.”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened again today, this time with more detail.”
“We went to the park.  It’s one of the few places Mom lets us go by ourselves, and only if we go together.  We were playing.   Gigi was on the really big twisty slide.  We knew that we had to go home soon but she looked over by the tree and saw them.”

“Who’s them?”  Ben noticed that Steven wasn’t writing anything down.
“She said they were young dragons.  But I just saw raccoons.  Gigi rushed down the slide and grabbed her stuff and ran.”  Ben paused for a moment, trying to bring up every last detail from the park. “I ran after her because I knew if she got bit by a raccoon Mom would blame me.  I’m watching her playing with the raccoons, except that they have a ball.  They are playing ‘monkey-in-the-middle’.  Raccoons don’t play with balls and they don’t play games.”  Ben took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, trying to stay calm.
“I was under some drooping tree branches.  When I stared at a raccoon really hard, it changed and became a dragon.  Just like Gigi said.  But then it was horrible.  A really big dragon showed up.   Gigi said something, but I couldn’t hear her.  It picked her up and carried her up the tree.  The little dragons followed the big dragon. Then it was quiet. Gigi was gone.”  Ben was taking big huge gulping breaths.  He didn’t realize that he was crying until he tasted tears on his lips.  He played with the carpet, pulling out the tuffs and shredding them a little bit at a time.  The carpet was in danger of developing a bald spot.
“This is all my fault, isn't it?”
“No it’s not.  The fault belongs squarely with the person who did this. Thank you for telling me this Ben.  I know this is difficult.  We’ll find your sister and bring her back safe and sound.”
“It’s my fault for not believing and teasing her about how the cats aren’t elves and the racoons aren’t dragons.”  Ben put out his hand for the notebook he had given Steven, who returned it. “She drew pictures of everything she saw, or at least the most interesting things.  They’re all right here.”  Ben started to slowly look through the drawings.
“Ben, is it okay to leave you in here while I go talk to your parents and Officer Ramirez?”

“Yes.  I think I want to be alone for a few minutes to look at Gigi’s drawings.  Maybe I’ll see a clue.  Something that will help us find her.”  
Steven left and Ben looked through the drawings.  He looked at the elves and dragons.  The same figures appeared in drawing after drawing.  He saw the same elf at least 6 times.  The same dragons were shown in different drawings.  Ben’s stomach churned.  Gigi had tried to tell him the truth but he hadn’t listened because everyone knew that there was no such thing as dragons or elves.  .  

Ben remembered an argument he had with Gigi.  One night after dinner, homework, and lights out,  Gigi snuck into Ben’s room to talk about what she had seen, “Ben, at the park today when we were looking at the kittens, what did you see?”
“Kittens.  What was I supposed to see?”
“They’re not kittens.  They were elves.  I guess they were pretty young, because I think I saw two grown-up elves standing by a tree.”
“When you see kittens you see elves?”  Ben sounded worried.  
“No, not like that.  Well, sometimes like that. The Clarkson’s have two new kittens.  When I hold them and play with them, they are just kittens.  But the ones at the park, they’re a little of both.  It’s hard to explain.  I see them as kittens out of the corner of my eyes but when I look at them, they’re elves.”
“But all I see are kittens!”
“Do you always believe your eyes?  Look at all those magic tricks you do for us.  Anyways, I know I’m supposed to see kittens.  I just don’t.”
“Go back to bed Gigi, I’m tired.” Gigi, frustrated, snuck back to her room.  

Ben went into his sister’s room.  There were now several more police officers in the apartment and two were looking through her things.

“Can we help you?”  Asked one of the officers whose name tag said he was Summers.
“No sir.  I’m just looking for my sister’s sketch pads, Officer Summers?”  Ben asked politely.  
“Do you know where they are?”  
“Yes sir.  They are on that bookshelf right there.”  Ben pointed at a bookshelf overflowing with books and toys.  “The ones I’m looking for are right there in the middle.”  Ben walked over and pulled out the three pads he was looking for.  Officer Summers looked though the drawings quickly.
“Sure—why not?” He shrugged his shoulders as his eyes continued to look around the room.
Ben thanked him and took the drawings back to his room.  Ben started looking through the sketch pads. There was one full page entirely elves. All the time she had been talking about elves and dragons and fairies, Ben had thought that she was just telling a story—he knew she had a good imagination. But maybe this wasn’t a good imagination, maybe she’d just been reporting what had been going on over the course of her day.  

Ben gathered up the sketch books to show the adults.  With this proof of what happened, they will have to listen.  He stood in the hallway, hidden in the shadows and listened to his home change.  The officers in Gigi’s room were noisy as they opened drawers.  The adults were trying to talk quietly, but couldn’t manage it. The apartment felt cramped with all these people in it.

“We’ve alerted the FBI because all kidnappings are federal crimes.  We expect people from the Bureau any minute now.  We have issued an Amber Alert for her as well.”  Officer Ramirez said.  Thomas and Nadine held each other’s hands tightly.

“Did Ben have anything useful to add?”  Thomas asked Stephen.  His dad sounded scared.
“Well, he’s obviously traumatized by what happened.  The story about dragons is pointing towards a dissociative event of some kind, a mental break from reality if you will.  I’m concerned. Based on what he said about ‘dragons’, we’re looking at a possible dragon design on either a car or a jacket.  Maybe he saw a tattoo.  When the FBI arrives, we may try to have him work with a sketch artist to get a more detailed idea of what he saw. This may also be a case where a good night’s sleep might help loosen memories.”  
“I’ve reached out to my contacts in the anti-gang unit asking if they know anything about a new gang with a dragon symbol,” Officer Ramirez said.

“You think this is gang related?” asked Thomas.
“It certainly wouldn’t be typical,” Officer Ramirez replied.  “One of the questions the FBI will ask is if you’ve seen anyone unusual hanging around lately, like in the lobby downstairs or at the park?”

“If they have, they haven’t mentioned it to us.”  Nadine replied.  “I always ask them what happened when they go to the park.  They’d have said I’m sure.  But maybe I’ve been asking the wrong questions all this time?  I keep expecting her to walk in the door with a funny story.”  

“Is there going to be a ransom call?”  Thomas asked.
“We don’t know.  The kidnapper might be waiting for you to notice she’s missing.  Based on the timeline we have so far, she has only been gone thirty minutes or so.  They may be driving her back to where they’ll keep her and phone from there.”  Officer Ramirez explained.  
“We’ll pay it,” Thomas said emphatically, “I want my daughter back.”
“The FBI will go into more detail on the next steps.  Right now, all we can do is wait.”
Ben realized the adults didn’t believe him.  He didn’t quite believe it himself.  But he knew if he didn’t do something, Gigi was going to be stuck with the dragons forever.  

He walked quietly back to his room.  If he was going to rescue Gigi, he needed to plan.  He pulled his big backpack from underneath his bed.  If he was going to get up that tree, he’d need rope.  But the rope was in the laundry room, in the big junk drawer that held all sorts of odds and ends.  How could he get to it without the adults noticing?
Looking around his room, Ben saw the green plastic laundry basket and realized he had the perfect excuse.  He loaded up the basket with his dirty laundry and carried it down the hall.  
“What are you doing, honey?” Nadine asked as he walked past.
“Laundry.”  Ben replied
“OK, honey,” Nadine replied in a distracted tone.
He walked into the laundry room and put the dirty laundry he had in the washing machine with the correct amount of soap and pushed the start button.   While the washer filled with water, he took the white cotton rope from the drawer.   He put that in the laundry basket and covered it with the load of clean laundry in the dryer. This time the adults didn’t even notice him as he walked back to his room.
Once there, he dumped the clean clothes on the floor, out of the way, and sat down on the bed with the rope.  He tied a knot in the rope every 6 inches and at one end he made a very sturdy slip-knot.  Ben looked around his room, went to his desk and rummaged through the large middle drawer, looking for other things to take. Ben shoved a flashlight and a pocket knife in his backpack and grabbed Gigi’s sketch books.  Ben walked into the bathroom and put together a basic first-aid kit.  Then he slipped into the kitchen and filled up two water bottles while getting some matches, energy bars, paper towels, dishwashing gloves and some extra batteries for the flashlight.  He walked by the closet and pulled out two towels and put everything in his backpack. 
He put on clean jeans, pulled from the laundry pile on the floor, along with a long sleeve shirt and selected a pair of comfortable shoes with rugged soles. Every Hardy Boys mystery he’d ever read taught him about the importance of solid footwear.
He got a piece of paper and pen and wrote:

Dear Mom and Dad,
I love you very much.  But Gigi was kidnapped by actual dragons not by anything like a gang.  Please look at her drawings.  I’ve gone to rescue her.  I should be back in the morning.
Love Ben
Ben put the note and the sketch pads he wasn’t taking on the center of his bed so they couldn’t miss it.  He grabbed his jacket from the floor and slid on the backpack.  He closed his bedroom extra quietly behind him and crept through the hallway and out the front door.


Gigi stared at the blue walls.  She’d been playing ball in the park with some young dragons and now she was here.  Mom and Dad were going to be so mad at her.  She had to figure out how to get home.
Gigi was in the biggest room she had ever seen.  The double doors were locked; she knew because she’d tried to open them.  The doors themselves were fifteen feet across.  Gigi counted started at one corner and counted step to get to the other side, 28, 29,30--the room was more than 30 feet long.  The ceiling was at least that high.  And the walls weren’t just blue.  They started as the darkest blue at the floor and turned lighter and lighter until they met the ceiling, the color was of a beautiful summer sky. Gigi didn’t see a light switch. Perhaps dragons could see in the dark.

In the middle of the room was a… something Gigi was unsure about.  She didn’t know if it furniture or art.  It was six obviously connected pieces.  Gigi walked around it.  The first and tallest piece was a large oval, about ten feet off the ground.  The second piece, about seven feet off the ground was a large rectangle.  The third part was another oval, even bigger this time--about fifteen feet around but only five feet off the ground.  The fourth and fifth  pieces were long skinny rectangles, about 2 feet off the floor.  Behind the largest piece was the sixth and final piece--a slightly skewed trapezoid about 5 feet off the ground.  All these elements were covered in a soft dark green cloth. Gigi opened up her backpack, looking for pen and paper.  Digging around among the school permission slips, old homeworks and a couple of rocks she found her tablet computer.  
Gigi took a few pictures of the structure. She didn’t see a bathroom.  Maybe this was some sort of a formal room?  Which meant that big structure in the middle was probably art?
The door opened and a large green dragon walked in.   Gigi stared at the dragon.  The dragon stared back at Gigi.  The dragon was at least twenty five feet long from snout to the base of the tail.  The dragon wasn’t just green.  It was all the colors of green at once.  The green wasn’t static on its scales, but moved from dark to light and back again across its body and wings and down its tail.  

“So you are the human who’s caused all this trouble.  I can’t remember the last time the dragons were in such an uproar.  You aren’t very big. I suppose you’re too small to eat.” Gigi squeaked.  The dragon smiled and Gigi sighed with relief at the teasing.

“My children downstairs would like to come up and play with you some more.  They think you’re a new toy.  I’m disappointed that the housekeeper, Kaedy, couldn’t even keep them away from the humans for a short while.  We go into the human world so rarely anymore.  Do you have anything to say for yourself?”  The dragon’s voice was light and high pitched but at the same time it rumbled through Gigi’s lungs.  The dragon was female.
‘No, Ma’am.”  Gigi whispered.
“A human of few words then.  A rarity.  I was born after The Leaving of course.  That was a sordid, scandalous business.  But like all scandals and dismays, it never seems to end.  I don’t know what we are going to do with you yet.  There is talk about calling a Races Council. what a bunch of bickering and complaining that will be.  As I said, all for a tiny human.  Humans are always trouble.  Whatever god or gods created you had a sick sense of humor.”  The dragon stared hard at Gigi. “Do you have a name, human girl child”
“Yes, Ma’am” Gigi whispered. 
“Well, what is it human girl child?”  The dragon sounded exasperated.
“Gigi, Ma’am,” Gigi whispered.
“Do you only speak in two word sentences Gigi?  And in a whisper?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Gigi whispered, a small grin on her face.  The dragon laughed at Gigi’s reply--a deep rolling sound that came from the bottom of the dragon’s lungs. 

“Well spoken Gigi.  Perhaps there is hope for the humans after all.  Come with me.  We’d best get you out of my mother-in-law’s room she can be particular about her space.   Would you like something to eat and drink?  Are you hungry?   Would you like to play with my children some more?”  
“Yes Ma,am.”  Gigi whispered.
“Yes to all of that?”  The dragon arched an eyebrow ridge at Gigi.  Gigi nodded.  “Well, let’s start getting you situated then.”  The dragon started walking out of the room. Gigi, with her coat and backpack, followed behind her long tail.   What do you call a dragon to her face?  
The house  was big by human standards.  There were five floors built around an open courtyard.  The broad steps they moved down were too far apart for Gigi to walk down smoothly so she more shuffled down them, but the green dragon had no such problems.  Gigi could see what looked like one door on each wall, so four rooms on each floor made twenty rooms total, maybe this was a big house even by dragon standards.  The walls and floors were made of a whitish stone.  The banisters were decorated with a fern like design some of the dark green paint was still on it, but age and use had worn most it way.  
“You have met my 2 children.  They are quite young still.  Only 100 years old.  They were with two of their friends in your world.  What would you like to eat Gigi?  What do you eat?”  The large green dragon was speaking to Gigi as they slowly walked down the steps.

“I’ll eat whatever you eat Ma’am.  I don’t want to be extra work.”  She remembered her mother’s words about always eating whatever was served when she was a guest at someone’s house.  It would be best to a very polite house guest where dragons are concerned.
“Well you can talk in sentences longer than two words!  I’m sure we can find something for you to eat.  You aren’t that big, you can't eat that much.  Come along Gigi.”


The park was dark now.  The street lamps cast long shadows through the trees.  A cool wind moved the leaves around and shook the limbs, without the other kids and their mothers, it was creepy.  Ben tried throwing the rope over the lowest branch of the tree. It wouldn’t go high enough.  He threw it again.  Again it fell short.  

“What are you doing?”  A deep male voice said behind him and Ben jumped half out of his skin.  He turned around to see the homeless man who lived at the park, watching him curiously.

“I’m trying to get this rope over the branch so I climb up the tree and rescue my sister.”   Honesty seemed like the best policy in this rather odd situation.
“You aren’t going to be able to that without a weight of some kind on the end.  Let me see what I’ve got in here.”  The homeless man started digging around in his shopping cart Ben never saw him without.  The man pulled out an old hand weight and to Ben’s puzzled look he explained, “Good for holding things down in a wind storm.”  The man took an end from Ben and made a quick, complicated knot around the hand weight and gave it back to him.  “Try it this time.”

 Ben took a moment to admire the knot.  “This is great.  Where’d you learn to make knots like this?”

"Military.  Now throw it over.”  Ben took a step back and heaved the hand weight up and over the branch.  His new friend walked over and picked up his weight, undid the knot and put it away.

“Thank you.  Umm, I know I’ve seen you here lots, but what is your name?”
“Larry.  They call me Larry.  Give me the other end.”  Ben gave him the other end of the rope.  Larry checked a bunch of the knots that Ben had already made.  He grunted his approval and then made another complicated knot.  Larry then wiggled the rope and suddenly Ben had a rope attached securely to the tree.  “That should be good to climb.  Good luck rescuing your sister.”

Ben was dumfounded. “Wait, you know why I want to climb this tree?”  

“Of course.  You’re going to rescue your sister from the dragons.”  

“You saw the dragons take my sister?” he asked adding: “My name is Ben.”

“I know your name.  And your sisters name.  I know everyone who comes to this park.  I live here.  Of course I saw the dragons take your sister.  I see everything that happens here.”

“Did you tell the police?”  Was this man the only adult who was going to back up Ben’s story?

“The police think I’m just as crazy as crazy as I really am.  I’ll tell them what I saw when they get around to asking me, probably tomorrow.”

“Why are you crazy?”

“Because I spent 27 years learning who I was.  Then in a land that is always hot, dry and dusty my world exploded and rocked my brain.  You know how when you break a vase, even when you glue it back together it isn’t quite the same?  Well I got glued back together, but I’m not the same.  Not yet.  I’m just hoping that it will take less than 27 years this time. Now are you going to talk to me or are you going to climb that tree and rescue your sister?”

“Climb the tree and rescue my sister.  Can I talk to you when I get back?”

“If you want, but your mama won’t like it.  She’s going to be very protective of the two of you. Now get going.”  Larry gave the rope one last good tug and stepped away.

Ben climbed the rope up to the branch about twelve feet off the ground.  Instead of seeing tree where the branch joined the tree, there was an empty, hollow space. Ben removed the flashlight from his backpack, with the extra light he could see that the opening went all the way down the length of the tree and lower still.
Ben leaned over the empty trunk and yelled his sister’s name.  All he heard was the echo of his own voice. He felt around in his pocket and pulled out a small gray rock. He dropped that into the tree and counted, “seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty” before he heard the very faint sounds of the rock hitting a bottom.
Ben took another long look at the opening, shining the flashlight carefully around the edge.  There, hidden  below his foot, was the first rung of a ladder.  Holding on tightly to the rope, he felt around with his foot.  Below the first rung was another one and one below that.  The first step would be nerve wracking.   Ben pulled the rope up from the ground and put it in his backpack.  He checked that his backpack was securely fastened and took a deep breath.
Ben twisted, so that he was half in the tree and half out.  He found the foot-hold  and put his foot on it.  If it will hold the dragon’s weight, it would hold his.  He grabbed the topmost rung with his hand and swung the rest of his body into the tree trunk, with the flashlight dangling by the wrist strap he started his long descent down into the tree.


Gigi followed the dragon into the kitchen.  Over in one corner, she saw the brown dragon who’d brought her here turning some sort of meat on a spit.  There was a big table in the middle, where five smallish dragons of various colors, were sitting on stools, tails used as a counter-balance, playing a game with a ball.  Everyone fell quiet and stared at Gigi when they noticed her.  Gigi turned bright red and looked down at the dark grey stone floor beneath her feet.  She wished she were home.  The roasting meat smelled good and all of a sudden Gigi’s stomach rumbled loudly in the still and hushed kitchen.  Now the even the large green dragon turned around to look at her, lifting her eyebrow again.  “Quiet the noise from such a little body.  Maybe you’re going to eat more than I thought Gigi”  
“Yes, Ma,am.”  Gigi said.  She wasn’t sure how things could get more embarrassing unless she farted.
“Kaedy, please go back to working on making sure the meat doesn’t burn.  You know how much Karapu hates burnt meat. You have caused enough trouble today without wrecking dinner too.”  
“Mom, can we please take her outside to play?”  The small blue dragon asked.
“Please Mom.  We’ll be just right outside.  We promise not to wander too far,” implored the orange dragon.
“Yes, of course.  Go with them Gigi.  They will make sure that you’re back inside in time to eat.”  The large green dragon ushered Gigi forward and pointed at the large wooden door set into the far corner.  The small blue dragon who’d spoken earlier came around the table and grabbed her hand.  “Let’s go outside Gigi!  There is still some light left and we can play.”
Gigi followed all of the small dragons out the kitchen to a field that ran from the back of the house down to a pond of some kind.  Once outside, the small blue dragon who had grabbed Gigi’s hand backed up and tossed her the ball.  “My name is Nilu.  You are the first human I’ve ever seen.  Of course I’ve read about you in books.”
Gigi tossed the ball back to Nilu.  “It is nice to meet you Nilu.”
“Can I ask you a question?”  This came from a small green dragon who was staring at Gigi inquisitively. 
“Sure,” said Gigi.  “But first, what’s your name?”
“Oh, I’m Zelas. Do you have to eat gold to get that hair color?”  All the other dragons groaned at Zelas’s question.  The ball dropped from Nilu’s hands, forgotten, as the dragons walked closer to Gigi to hear her answer because they were curious too. 
“No.  I have blond hair.  It’s always been this color.  I’ve never eaten gold.”
“That’s good.  It would be a waste of perfectly good gold.  Not that your hair isn’t pretty.  What does it feel like?”
“Zelas!” said the small orange dragon, “Gigi is our guest. I am Dalan. You have met my sister, Nilu.  Zelas is our very rude friend.  Please forgive her; she is newly hatched and only 30 years old. She still says all these babyish things.  She hasn’t studied history yet so she doesn’t know about the times when humans and dragons lived together. The yellow dragon over there is Guiro.  He is very shy.  The purple dragon, he’s Limizi.  Welcome to our home.” Dalan sounded very formal.
“Thank you Dalan.  Zelas isn’t being rude.  She’s just asking questions.  Up until today, I’ve never had this long a conversation with a dragon.  Do dragons eat humans?”
The five young dragons laughed at her.  “Where’d you hear such a story?” asked Limizi.
“The stories say that dragons like to eat humans!   I just want to know if it’s true.”
“Do you see any humans around here to eat?” asked Guiro, trying to be cool but just as curious as the other dragons.
Nilu said, “Don’t worry Gigi, no one is going to eat you.  You’d be too small to be anything other than a snack.  In the history of the human and dragon years, there is no record of dragons ever eating humans.”
“That’s good.  I was afraid I was going to be dinner.”
“How do you get the curls into your hair?  Are you part sheep?”  Zelas asked, interrupting Dalan as he was about to ask another question.
Gigi laughed while Limizi told Zelas to stop being such a rude baby.  “No Zelas.  I’m not part sheep.  My hair just grows in curls.  Would you like to touch it?”  Gigi walked closer to Zelas so she could touch her hair.  
“It’s soft!  And when I pull on a curl it goes straight and then springs back into a curl.  And you have so much hair.  Are all humans like this?”  Zelas kept running her claws through Gigi’s hair.  
“Mostly.  Sometimes when humans get old, they lose their hair.” Gigi, no longer worried that she was going to be dinner, or a snack even, had a question of her own. “ Is it true that dragons breathe out fire?”  
“Breathe out fire?” Guiro asked.  “I wish!  That would be very useful when you need to light a fire.”
Gigi went on further with the myths and legends surrounding dragons, “I see wings on your back, so you can fly, right?”  
“We do learn to fly.” Nilu said, “But when we are older.  Limizi is just starting to learn.  Go ahead and show her, Limizi.”
Limizi backed up a few steps closer to the house.  He reared up on his hind legs and opened his wings fully and beat them back and forth a few times, warming them up.  He started running down the slope towards the pond.  He beat his wings and leaped off the ground, still beating his wings as hard and as fast as he could.  Limizi was eight feet off the ground and struggling to stay aloft.  He turned and started flying back to the group.  There were screams of panic from the remaining dragons.  “Gigi! Gigi!” -  “He doesn’t land well!’ - “Get out of the way Gigi!” -  “If you hit the house Mom will kill you”  - “Watch your head, Gigi.”

Coming towards Gigi on a very unstable flight path was Limizi.  Gigi quickly backed up towards the house, hoping to stay out of his way.  Limizi didn’t so much as land as hit the ground as if he were afraid of missing it, spinning around on one foot in a battle not to fall over.  Inertia is not the friend of a young dragon learning to fly and still learning to land.
“That was great, Limizi!”  Zelas said.  “You managed to land and not roll snout over tail.  Mom and Dad will be so proud of you!  That wasn’t at all like the last three times you landed.”  Zelas rushed up to her brother, very proud of him.  Limizi shook his wings out and a big grin settled over his face.  “Yeah, yeah I did, didn’t I?”  



Looking up the ladder, Ben could see the open sky and the top of the tree.  He could even make out the moon, hidden in its branches.  And then he hit the soil and after that the moon and sky disappeared from view.  Still the ladder kept going down and down.  How deep does this go? The ladder had been attached to the inside of the tree, but now was attached to a stone column.  
Ben reached out his foot and found the floor.  He was finally at the bottom.  Much to his surprise, Ben didn’t need the flashlight down here.  A thin, weak light gave him a sense of the space.  The floor was a dark blue stone, as were the many columns supporting the ceiling.  The space seemed to have the same dimensions as the park, but beyond all Ben could really see were shadows. The only thing he could hear was his own breathing.  If Gigi had been here, she wasn’t anymore.  Ben set off walking across the space.  He was looking for some sign, anything that would tell him which way the dragons had taken Gigi. All he saw were plain stone columns supporting a roof and moss on the floor.

Suddenly Ben heard a deep boom move through the cavern, followed by another and then another.    Anything that would make that noise would have to be big, very big and it suddenly occurred to Ben that there might be creatures down here who wouldn’t be happy to see him.  Ben backed up and away from direction the sound had come.  At least he hoped so: everything echoed down here.

He found himself standing between the cavern wall and one of the supporting pillars.  Fifteen feet from him, was a large troll, walking slowly—boom, boom, boom—across the cavern.  A second troll followed not far behind.  The trolls looked like they were made of rocks, which explained the sound

 Ben stared harder.  There was no way that rocks could be alive, even if they were trolls.  Then he considered that his sister had been kidnapped by dragons that same day, maybe rocks could move of their own will.   Ben realized that is wasn’t actual rock, but very clever camouflage.  “Huayan, do you smell like that?  It smells almost like a human.  What would a human be doing down here?”  The troll’s voice rumbled around and over to Ben.  
“I smell dragons too.  Any business that involves both humans and dragons is no business of ours.   Let’s keep going.  We have a long way to go.  I think there’s another patch of olivine that needs tending.”  With that the trolls continued on their way.  Ben took a deep breath relieved that the trolls were not interested in him.  But based on what they said, Gigi had been this way.  He was on the right track even if he didn’t know where the track was going.  
Suddenly, Ben felt a hand on his shoulder.  Every muscle in his body tensed.  Had the trolls just been a distraction for something else down here?  Something less than friendly?  Ben slowly turned around.  
He stared at an elf he recognized from Gigi’s drawings.  The elf held a finger to his lips and nodded toward the direction that the trolls had gone.  The elf motioned for Ben to follow.  Ben hesitated.  The elf grabbed Ben’s arm, gently pulling him along whispering in his ear, “Human, I know why you’re here.  But this isn’t the place for you.”   Ben quickly evaluated his options and realized that following the elf was the best and smartest thing he could do.  Besides, he had seen this elf in Gigi’s drawings.  He must be a friend.  
Ben followed the elf over to a corner of the wall.  There was a small door in the wall made of the same dark blue stone as the rest of the cavern.  Ben was sure that he would have missed it if he hadn’t been with the elf.  He had a sudden vision of wandering the cavern unable to find a way out and he was grateful that the elf had come for him. Ben followed as the elf opened the door and walked through.  
“Welcome to the land of the Elves,” the elf said to Ben.



“Gigi, it is a shame that humans can’t fly.  It must be so difficult to walk everywhere,” said Limizi  proud from his landing.
“Humans fly lots of places, Limizi.  We just had to invent a machine to do the actual flying, an airplane.  We take them to go on vacation to see my grandparents.”

“I don’t believe you.  You’re telling a story,” said Limizi, suddenly grumpy that his flight might not have been such a great thing.

“No.  Let me show you!”  Gigi ran to her backpack that she had left by the door. She pulled out two pieces of notebook paper and gave one to Limizi   All the dragons watched her intently.  “Throw that piece of paper as far as you can, Limizi.”

“Everyone knows that paper doesn’t go very far.” Limizi scoffed.
“Please just do it,” Gigi said.
Limizi threw the paper and it fluttered at his feet.  He picked it up and wadded the paper into a ball.  He threw it again and this time it went a little farther.  “I’m not sure what this proves other than you can’t throw paper very far.”
“Watch.”  Gigi quickly folded the other piece of paper into an airplane, which she gave to Limizi.  “Now throw it, but you don’t need to throw it very hard.”  
“It’s still a piece of paper. It won’t go any further than the other piece,” said Limizi.  The other dragons nodded in agreement.  
“Just throw it,” said Gigi, now slightly annoyed.
“If you insist, but just to be polite.”  Limizi threw the paper airplane.  Instead of landing at his feet, as he and all the other dragons expected, it went flying down the field and came to rest halfway to the pond.

The dragons were silent.  
“Wow, that flies nearly as far as you Limizi,” said Zelas.
“It lands better too,” said Guiro.  The dragons giggled.
“That must be a fluke.  Something like that isn’t possible.  I’m going to try it again.”  Limizi stamped off down the field to get the paper airplane.
“Don’t worry about him,” Nilu said to Gigi, “He’s just used to being right all the time.  I didn’t think that paper would go anywhere either.  Where’d you learn to make them?”

“My dad and I play with them all the time.  We go to the park and make different ones and have contests to see how far they would fly. “Remembering where she should be, suddenly Gigi had tears in her eyes.  She missed her parents.  She knew that they’d be worried and wondering what had happened to her.
“Could you please make me one?” asked Guiro.  

“Sure.  I can make one for everyone to play with.”  Gigi got more paper out of her notebook.  “You have to be kind of careful with them.  They can crunch on landings and then they don’t fly after that, or at least not as well.”
Limizi’s airplane came soaring back towards them.  “Did you see that?” Limizi shouted.  “It did a circle in the air.  I can’t wait till I’m a better flyer and I can try doing that.”  He ran back to the group, his earlier bad mood forgotten. “You’ve made one for everyone.”
Suddenly the large green dragon was at the door.  “I’m glad to see that everyone is having a good time.  Karupu just got back.  There’s going to be a dragon Council to determine what might be done with Gigi here.  Zelas and Limizi it is time for you to go home for dinner.  Guiro, you are welcome to stay, as always.
“Thank you, Berdea for the offer.  But if there’s a Council, I should get home to help,” said Guiro.  

Nilu and Dalan started walking into house for dinner, Gigi following along behind them when Berdea stopped her at the door.

“Gigi, it looks like you’ll be staying here, at least for tonight.  I’ve contacted the fairies for some clothes that might fit you.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”  Gigi looked up at Berdea, whose tail was twitching on the ground.

“My name is Berdea.  I realized that I didn’t tell you earlier, shock at your appearance made me forgot some manners.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you. Thank you for having me to dinner and to spend the night.”  Gigi still wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t be a good dragon snack. 

Berdea open and closed her mouth a couple of times, trying to come up with the right words to say finally settling on, ‘Let’s go eat dinner.  The rest will or will not sort itself out,” and she walked into the house.
“Gigi, you'll sit here for dinner tonight.  You are only slightly smaller than a newborn dragon, so the baby chair will work well for you.” Berdea pointed Gigi to an awkward looking bench seat at the end of the dining room table that was about four feet tall.  Gigi nervously walked over to her seat and vaulted ungracefully on to it.  “That is my husband, Karupu.”  Karupu was the large black dragon sitting across from Gigi at the table.  He was staring quite closely at Gigi “I think we will have to find a better way for you to get up on the bench for future meals.  That was undignified, even for a human,” said Berdea.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Gigi.  The dining room had a big wooden table with stools for the dragons to sit on.  There was a big empty fireplace along one wall for when the weather got cold.  Looking out through the windows, Gigi could see the pond and hills in the distance.  It felt like a home; just not hers.
“Mom, since Gigi is going to be staying with us, can we all go to the Council?” Nilu asked excitedly.

“Yes, it will be instructive for you, Nilu, to start learning how a Council works, especially as you will be head of the wing someday,” said Berdea.
Gigi stared at the plain off-white earthenware plate in front of her, on it a big hunk of meat she didn’t recognize.  She looked quickly at the other dragons who were looking at her.  Karupu in a low rumbling voice said, “Gigi, in dragon houses, the guest always takes the first bite.”

“Oh,” said Gigi, “Where’s the silverware?”

“Silverware?”  We don’t use silverware.  Just go ahead and pick it up and eat it,” said Berdea.  Gigi found two good spots to grasp the meat so she wouldn’t get her hands dirty and started eating.  The meat was tasty.  As soon as she picked up her meat, the others began eating.

“What kind of meat is this?” Gigi asked.

“I think you call it venison,” said Karupu.  Gigi had never had venison before.  

“It’s delicious.  Thank you for dinner,” said Gigi.  What did Mom always say about eating over at someone’s house?  Always be polite.

“I’m glad you enjoy it,” said Berdea.

“What is the Dragon Council?” asked Gigi.  “Does this mean I’m going home after dinner?”

“It is where dragons meet to discuss events or to elect leaders as necessary.  You, Gigi, are most definitely an event,” said Karupu kindly.

“I’ve never been to a Council before.  What time does it start, Mom?”  Nilu was bubbling over with excitement at the thought of her first Consul.

“It starts at sundown. Eat up because we need to get going.” Berdea replied.

"Can Dad and Dalan come?” Nilu asked.
“Yes, they are specifically invited to this Council. And please stop talking and eat your dinner.” said Berdea.  Gigi had been eating her venison during this conversation and now she was thirsty.

“Berdea, Ma’am, is it possible for me to have something to drink?” she asked.

“Do humans usually drink during their meals?  What do they drink?” asked Nilu.

“Nilu, if you don’t stop talking and eat your dinner, you won’t get to go the Council.”  Nilu began eating as quickly as possible.  “If you choke you won’t be able to go either” said Berdea.  

“Kaedy,” Berdea called into the kitchen, “Please bring Gigi some clean water she can drink.”  Kaedy walked into the dining room carrying a pitcher and a small mug, which she put on the table next to Gigi. 

“Thank you for the water, Kaedy,” said Gigi as she drank her water.

“Have you eaten enough, Gigi?  We all heard your stomach rumble.”  Berdea kindly teased Gigi.
Yes Ma’am.”  Gigi flushed red with embarrassment. "Good. Karupu built you a necessary out back.  Why don’t you go use it and then we’ll be our way.  Kaedy will show you where it is.” Gigi did an undignified scramble off of her chair and went to find Kaedy and the bathroom.


Ben stood in a small clearing looking at a small cottage with a thick thatch roof and a fenced in yard with a few chickens.  There was a larger barn not far from it.  

“I’m in the land of the elves?” Ben asked.
“Yes. I’m Tarik, an elf.”
“I’m Ben. It’s very nice to meet you.  Thank you getting me out of the cavern.”

“It’s my pleasure to meet you, Ben.  We should get inside before it gets completely dark.  I need to get the chickens cooped up for the night.  Please, this way.”  Tarik started walking across clearing toward the house.
“Can I help you with the chickens?  I’m not sure what to do, but I can help.”  Ben said.
“You don’t have chickens?  Where do you get eggs?”  Tarik asked.

“From the supermarket.  Mom buys them.  Where do you get eggs?”  

“From the chickens,” Tarik replied with a grin.  He opened the gate and the chickens rushed to greet them.  Tarik fed the chickens from a pail on top of the fence post and walked over to the chicken coop, the chickens following the food.  Tarik scattered seed inside the coop and the chickens rushed in.  Tarik quickly closed the door behind them, safely locking them up for the night.  “That’ll keep the foxes out tonight.”  Tarik walked back across the yard and through the fence, closing it carefully.  Ben followed him into the cottage.

Ben couldn’t see much inside, felt along the wall near the door. “Tarik, where’s the light switch?”   

Tarik kneeled in front of the fireplace. “What’s a light switch?”
“It’s what you use to turn on the lights with,” Ben replied.
“Ah.” Tarik returned to working on the fire.  Ben dug around in the outer pocket of his backpack and pulled out his flashlight and gave it to Tarik.  “Maybe this will help.” said Ben
“What is it?” Tarik looked at it with interest.  “It looks like a long black metal tube.  How’s this supposed to help?”
“Press the button on the top,” said Ben.  Tarik did and the flashlight lit up.
“What’s this thing?” Tarik sounded distrustful and impressed all at the same time.
“A flashlight.  It’s like..” Ben floundered for how to describe a flashlight to someone who had never seen one. “It’s like a candle but without the heat and the flame.  You use it when it’s dark and there’s no electricity.  Sort of like now.”  
“Ah” said Tarik as he went back to working on the fire.  A few moments later, the fire crackled to life.  Even with the fire, the room was still mostly in shadow.  Ben could make out a table and some windows.   “Ben, let me show you where you’ll sleep.  We have a long day of training tomorrow.”

Tarik lit a candle, looked at Ben’s flashlight and a wry smile crossed his face.  Tarik started walking down the hall with Ben following.  “What’re we training for?” asked Ben.

“I’ll train you to be an elf.  There is a Council in two weeks where the races are deciding Gigi’s fate and to a lesser extent yours, Gigi will be represented by the dragons and you by the elves,” said Tarik.
"But I need to find Gigi and get her home tonight!  Our parents are worried sick since the dragons took her.  I need to figure out how to get her home!”  Ben’s voice was filled with nothing but worry and frustration at the delay.
“Ben, part of being an elf is learning that everything happens in its own time.  Right now, tonight for example, you can do nothing more than go to bed.  The dragon homes are miles from here through fairy territory at that.  It wouldn’t be safe.  I promise in the morning, I’ll explain more.”  Tarik opened up a door and ushered Ben in. “This’ll be your room while you’re here.  The bed is over there by the window.  I’ll leave you for the night.  I am at the other end of the hall if you need something in the night.”

“Thank you Tarik.  I’m sure I can manage. Are you sure we can’t start walking to Gigi tonight?”

“Goodnight Ben.  We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow.” Tarik closed the door behind him.  Ben turned the flashlight back on.  He saw the promised bed.  He took off his shoes and put the backpack down on the chair.  Well, the elves certainly had nightlife down pat, didn’t they?  Ben tossed and turned on the bed, thinking of Gigi and how to rescue her before slowly drifting off to sleep.


“Is everyone ready to go the Dragon Council?” Berdea stood in front of the house, on a wide stone landing pad as she waited for everyone.  
“How long’s the walk?” asked Gigi.
Berdea looked at Gigi for a long moment.  “Gigi, you’ve much to learn.  Fully grown dragons only walk very short distances.  We fly.”
“Oh, but I can’t fly.  Should I start walking and meet you there?”

“You and Nilu—where is that girl—will ride with me and Dalan will ride with Karupu,” replied Berdea.
“Berdea, ma’am, how am I going to hold on?” Gigi could hear the trepidation in her voice.
“You’ll ride in my pouch like a newborn dragon.  You’re about the size of one so it won’t be any trouble”.   Gigi just nodded.  No-one at home would ever believe that she had ridden in a dragon pouch.  Or that dragons had pouches—or that there even were dragons for that matter.  Nilu, Dalan and Karupu joined them on the landing pad.  Dalan hopped up onto Karupu’s back. “If you keep gathering wing strength like that, Dalan, it will be time for flying lessons soon,” said Berdea.

“Can I do a little flying on the way home?” Dalan asked hopefully. 

“It’ll depend on what your Dad says,” said Berdea.

“Dad, can I?”

“It depends on how busy the air is, wind currents, and how dark it is when we leave.  We’ll see,” said Karupu.

“Nilu, please help Gigi into my pouch.”  Across Berdea’s ribcage was an opening that Gigi hadn’t noticed earlier. “It’s fun to ride in the pouch. Baby dragons can get into the pouch without any help, but you don’t have claws so I’ll help you in.”  Nilu reached up and with her claws, opened the pouch.  Gigi gripped the edge of the pouch with her hands and with a quick hoist up from Nilu, fell into the pouch shoulders and back first.  A few wiggles and her head stuck out of the pouch with her hands tightly gripping the edge.

“Berdea, ma’am, is this comfortable for you?”

“Please straighten your body out and lie flat.”  Gigi quickly re-arranged herself so she was lying parallel to Berdea’s spine.  Gigi felt more secure in the pouch as it closed tightly around her.  “Very good Gigi.  Nilu, up with you and we will be off.”   Berdea walked to the edge of the landing pad—with a very steep drop on the other side, opened her wings and they were airborne.
Gigi watched the land below them. She saw other houses, plowed fields, cows and sheep.  Gigi didn’t see any roads or big highways.  Up ahead of them was a large stone structure. The structure was a series of interlocking tiers, like an amphitheater or stacked rice paddies. As they flew over it, Gigi saw the tiers were already filled with dragons of nearly every color.  Berdea landed on centermost tier as Karupu and Dalan settled down on a lower tier behind them.  “We have arrived Gigi, time for you to get out.”  But even with Nilu’s help, Gigi fell out of the pouch in an undignified splat rather than the graceful landing she had been hoping for.  Every single dragon was staring at her and whispering, a few were even laughing at her landing.  Gigi refused to be embarrassed and stared back at them.

“Nilu, please go join your father,” said Berdea.

“Mom, this is Dragon Council business and Gigi is ours.  Shouldn’t I be with you here, learning how things are done?” asked Nilu.  

“Nilu, what is this place?”  Gigi whispered to Nilu.

“The Troancan.  This is where the wing leaders meet, debate issues, pass new laws.  The head of every wing has a vote.”  Nilu explained.

“You may remain to help Gigi but you must be quiet” said Berdea.  She looked around the Troancan at the assembled dragon wings.  Under her silent gaze, the whispers and the titters died down and eventually stopped.
“Dragons!” Berdea called out in a voice louder than Gigi could imagine coming out of even an adult dragon, “We are here, as the sun sets and the night begins, to discuss the temporary fate of this Human Girl Child brought into our lands by one of our own.  Before we make any decision, the fairies and the dwarves have already invoked their rights to an All Races Council in two weeks to discuss their fate.  The fairies are especially nervous about having humans in these lands. Her brother has followed her and is currently with the elves”

Gigi gasped.  Ben was here.  And with the elves?  Berdea gave her a stern look and Gigi fell silent.  “The All Races Council will discuss the fate of these two human children only. Let me state that the Human Girl Child has expressed a strong desire to return home to her family. The brother is backed by the elves.  Will we back this Human Girl Child and take her as one us, or shall she go unsupported?”  Gigi listened intently to guess her fate from the whispers among the dragons in the tiers but failed. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a large blue dragon, take flight and then come gliding down to the stage.  The blue dragon landed gracefully next to Berdea.
“Copen” Berdea said in acknowledgement.

“Berdea,” the large blue dragon replied..

Addressing the tiers of dragons he said, “I, Copen will be a member of this Human Child’s wing.  I will train her.”  This announcement was met with shock.  Berdea remained silent.
“Copen, what are you doing? She can’t be head of your wing, she's human!” Shouted one of the dragons.
“My wing and line are without a female.  The law says that I am able to take on a female without a wing, if she’s willing and if she was born on Earth.  The law does not say that the head of a dragon wing is required to be a dragon,” said Copen.  The dragons started whispering among themselves.

“Are there any objections to having her take over as head of the wing?” Copen called out.  He was greeted by silence.  
Berdea turned asked in a normal voice, “Gigi, are you willing to stand for and with Copen as the head of the wing?”  
Gigi, shy before the assembled dragons leaned toward Berdea and whispered, “What does that mean?”
“It means,” said Berdea in a normal voice, “that you will be the head of the wing, responsible for what happens.”

“But we would be a very small wing,” Copen interrupted,”—only an old blue dragon and a human girl child.  We have assets.”  Gigi could see the hope in his eyes that she would say yes to what was being asked of her. Gigi cast a quick glance at Nilu, who kept nodding her head up and down.   “Say yes,” Nilu whispered.  
In a loud clear voice so that all the dragons could hear, Gigi found herself saying yes.  “I will stand for and with Copen as the head of the wing.”  Copen exhaled a deep breath in relief. 
“Is there anyone at this Council that objects?” Berdea called out.  Her question was met with silence.  “I declare this Council concluded.  Gigi will live with us.  If any you have business with the wing, please call on her at my home.”

Dragons started leaving, a few diving in close to get a good look at Gigi.  Nilu came to stand reassuringly by Gigi.  “A human as the head of a dragon wing,” Berdea shook her head back and forth a few times, “These are interesting times.”

“Nilu, what does it really mean to be head of the wing?”  Gigi asked.
“A wing is how dragons organize their families. A female dragon is always at the head.  Copen’s is the only dragon left in his wing, but he’s a male.  But now he has you.” said Nilu.
“I am honored Gigi that you have chosen to be the head of the wing.” said Copen formally.
“I am honored to be the head of the wing. I hope to serve you and the wing well” said Gigi with equal formality.  She wasn’t sure where the phrase came from, but it seemed appropriate.
“Well answered.” Berdea spoke, “Copen, we’ll see you first thing tomorrow morning for the start of Gigi’s lessons?”  

“Yes.  Right after breakfast,” replied Copen. 
“Nilu, please help Gigi into the pouch.  It’s time to go home.” Nilu once again fitted Gigi into the pouch.  As they flew home, Gigi watched Dalan take practice flights off Karupu’s back.  Dalan would flap his wings and glide a little and Karupu dipped a few feet below him to catch him.  

The world had gone dark.  Gigi stared out at unfamiliar constellations, warm in Berdea’s pouch, listening to the dragon’s heart beat, she fell asleep.


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