"Clarissa," Amelia padded into the room. "Clarissa, wake up. Do you want to ride the horses?"
Clarissa blinked her eyes, getting used to the light. Somewhat rueful that she had been awaken, she replied, "Alright. Let's go ask Ma and Pa."
Finding their parents in the kitchen, they asked, "Ma, may we go for a horseback ride?"
Their mother frowned. "I don't feel comfortable when you go without your Pa. Remember that man disappeared three years ago? He went on a horseback ride to the woods and never returned."
"Exercise and fresh air never hurt anyone," Pa said. "Let them go."
Sighing, Ma said, "Oh, alright. Just promise you won't venture into those woods. Amelia, you've been very keen on doing just that lately."
Amelia grinned. "We won't go in the woods, right Clarissa?"
"Absolutely not," Clarissa promised.
Twenty minutes later found the girls flying free on their horses, hair dancing in the breeze, faces shining. Alternated between leisurely walks, bumpy trots, and rocking canters, Clarissa and Amelia rode in the fresh morning air.
Eventually the girls came to a halt along the forest line where they dismounted and unpacked their lunch. As they ate, Amelia eyed the forest cheekily.
"It wouldn't hurt to take a peek, would it?"
"Yes it would," said Clarissa firmly. "We promised we wouldn't, and we won't."
A strong breeze ruffled the horses' manes, making them paw the ground.
"Do you see clouds?" Clarissa asked, looking up. "I think a storm is brewing."
Wind blew stronger, knocking leaves off branches. Rain began to spatter down.
"How?" Amelia exclaimed. "There isn't a cloud in the sky!"
"Get on your horse," Clarissa ordered. "We should get back."
By now the wind was wild. The ground shook slightly as the girls mounted. Rain speckled the ground in uneven streaks. But the worst was the thunderclap - a tortured sounding roar in the distance. The terrified girls tried to control the horses, but they reared up and down and strained in the opposite direction.
"They want to go into the forest!" Yelled Amelia.
"Don't let them!" Clarissa answered, struggling with the reins.
The stronger the storm became, the harder the horses were to control. After a long struggle, Clarrisa called out to Amelia, "Loosen up on the reins and lay low in the saddle. We can't control them anymore!"
Amelia carried out the instructions. As soon as the horses felt the reins go slack, they plunged into the woods.
"We need shelter!" Clarissa shouted, venturing to lift her head. She was still from the uncomfortable position she was forced into. "Look for a big tree or boulder or something."
"Or a cave?"
"That'd be great, but it's not likely."
"But I just saw one a few minutes ago," Amelia said meekly.
"Back there," Amelia pointed, her head still low.
"We need to get there," Clarissa said, forcing her mare around. The wild animals ran whichever direction they could. Once they were looking east, the direction Amelia had pointed, they bolted.
Eventually they came upon the cave. Unable to lead the uncontrollable animals inside, the two girls ungracefully dismounted and dashed inside the cave.
The first thing that hit them was the light. There were wooden torches in metal spikes all along both walls, lit. Next they noticed the smooth interior. Flat slabs of rock had been placed on the ground as a floor, and the walls were scraped to a clean smoothness by something. Then they noticed near the back of the cave a dark figure.
"I think someone lives here," Amelia whispered.
"Hello!" A voice echoed around the cave. The girls froze.
"Please! Help!" The voice boomed again. Cautiously Clarissa moved forward with Amelia clinging to her hand.
Near the back of the cave there was a large, wooden cage. Sitting criss-cross on the floor was a man. The girls stared at him.
"Who are you?" Amelia asked.
The man smiled pleadingly up at them. "I'm Finn Tillman. You know me – I'm the one who disappeared three years ago."
"You're Finn Tillman? How did you get here?" Clarissa questioned.
"Same as you got here, I suppose" Finn replied, shrugging. "I went riding on a clear, blue day into the woods. Suddenly a storm struck up out of nowhere."
"That's exactly what happened to us!" Amelia exclaimed.
"Well, I'm sorry to say, it wasn't a storm at all," Finn said. "It was a dragon."
The girls' mouths fell open. "A... dragon?"
"His name is Raamalooke, and he can get quite annoying at times."
"You know the dragon?" Clarissa asked, amazed. "Why hasn't he eaten you?"
"Why hasn't Raamalook eaten you is the question," Finn said. "Didn't you see him while he was making the storm?"
"No," Amelia answered, thoroughly excited. "How does he do that?"
"Well, it only works if it has rained the previous night. To make the wind, he simply stands firm to the ground and beats his wings, which also knocks rainwater around. He must have been nearby, since he isn't the largest dragon I've seen. He shakes the ground by stomping vigorously, and the thunder," – Finn paused and shuddered – "he makes the thunder by roaring into a hollow log. The log echoes the noise around the woods and somewhat muffles the roar, making it sound more like thunder."
"No wonder it sounded so unnatural," Clarissa said, shivering. "Anyway, back to my question. Why has the dragon kept you around?"
"Lucky for me," Finn replied, "when the dragon caught me, I kept my wits about me. I told him of a treasure that only I knew of. As you know, dragons have a love for treasure. Raamalooke was intrigued and demanded to know where it was. I told him it was only available during the light of a blue moon."
"The blue moon?" Clarissa said. "Isn't that supposed to happen next week?"
Finn became urgent. "Yes, which is why I need you to help me escape now."
"Why don't you just give him the treasure?" Amelia asked.
Finn smiled at her innocence. "I would if I could. You see, the treasure I'm talking about isn't gold. It's –." Finn stopped short. "How about we make a deal? If you help me out, I'll show you the pretty treasure, okay?"
"Oh please, we don't need to be bribed," Clarissa sniffed. "How can we get you out?"
Suddenly there was a large thump outside.
Finn paled. "Hide, quick!"
Clarissa grabbed Amelia's arm and the two dashed to the very back of the cave. They crouched in a corner, watching the entrance. When Raamalooke strode in, the two caught their breath.
Raamalooke wasn't a very large dragon, but he was a dragon nonetheless. From the ground to the top of his back he was roughly eight feet tall, and from his forearm to his back leg was twelve feet long. The girls stared at his black scales with red streaks and leathery wings folded at his side, all glimmering with fallen rainwater. His long thick tail swished back and forth as he walked on four thick limbs over to the cage. In his mouth he held a rather large rabbit.
The dragon placed his prey down and snaked his neck near the cage.
"I saw two little girls riding. I'm still looking for them."
"Interesting," Finn replied, seeming bored and annoyed.
"Also, in one week, the blue moon will be here," Raamalooke said expectantly. "You remember our deal, right?"
"Oh, the suspense," Finn said in the same bland mood.
Irritated with Finn's mood, Raamalooke shook his wings and turned around towards the entrance of the cave. Before his took off, he said, "I will find you, little girls!"
When the sound of Raamalooke's wingbeats could be heard no more, Clarissa and Amelia dashed back to the cave.
"Amazing," Finn said, shaking his head in disbelief. "He didn't smell you. It must have been the rabbit. The scents probably confused him."
Trembling from head to toe, Clarissa said again, "How do we get you out of here?"
Finn pointed to the ropes. "They hold the cage together, but I can't see them to get them untied. By the time I would get one part untangled, Raamalooke would come back and again secure it."
It took twenty minutes, since the ropes were thick and tight, but eventually the girls untied several knots. Between them, the three pried open the cage enough for Finn to slip out.
Finn shook Clarissa's and Amelia's hand and said, "I'm very much in your debt."
"Not yet, you aren't," Clarissa said, looking at the cave entrance. "How on earth are we going to get back with Raamalooke flying around out there?"
"I'll go first," Finn said. "You girls will have a tough time of it. If Raamalooke sees me, he'll just take me back to the cave. If he sees you two, I don't think you have much of a chance unless you know about a treasure. Just make no noise, move quickly, and I'm sure you'll be fine."
Before they could reply, Finn dashed out of the cave.
Clarissa crossed her arms. "Well, that's comforting. I don't even know what direction we're going!"
"Just follow, Finn," Amelia shrugged, sprinting out of the cave.
"Mister Tillman, that is," Clarissa said to herself before running out of the cave.
Clarissa joined Amelia shortly, both searching the forest for Finn and scanning the skies for Raamalooke. They agreed it would be a better idea to stay a little ways behind Finn, in case the dragon were to spot him.
"There's Finn," Amelia whispered. "C'mon!"
The girls dashed into the open for a split second before ducking under the cover of a bush or low pine tree. Ahead of them, Finn did the same.
"Where d'you suppose we are?" Amelia asked. "I don't recognize any of this."
"Considering that we weren't looking at any of this, I don't expect you to," Clarissa replied, recalling how low they were crouching in the saddle. "But Fi-But Mister Tillman seems to, so just keep following him."
"We were on the horses for at least a half hour before finding the cave," Amelia said dolefully. "We'll be on foot for longer before we get back. The dragon'll find us."
"Don't be so pessimistic," Clarissa said sharply. "Who knows, the horses may have been going in circles for a while. We may be less than a mile from home."
"I hope so," Amelia sniffed. "Look, there goes Finn."
Finn took a sharp left, putting them on a southward path. Clarissa tried to find the sun to confirm their direction, but the treetops were too thick.
"How does he know where to go?" Clarissa muttered doubtfully. "He's lived in a cave for three years. It can't be this fresh on his memory."
"Maybe he's a wizard," Amelia said slyly.
"Don't be ridiculous," Clarissa said realistically. "If he were a wizard, he would have escaped long ago, and I think at least one person in the village would have known."
"Shush," Amelia said. "Look-I know that grove of trees!"
"Me too," Clarissa replied slowly. "That one with the gnarled trunk...I think we may have passed here."
"We're probably so close to home!" Amelia said triumphantly. "Follow Finn!"
The two girls dashed towards a leafy bush, hiding under it, waiting for Finn to make his next move.
"Look, Clarissa!" Amelia said, pointing. "Fresh hoof-prints! We could just follow them back to home!"
Clarissa studied them, confirming that they lead towards the cave and are indeed their horses' prints. "We can follow them backwards! We should tell Finn-we might get home a lot faster."
The girls followed the prints, hoping Finn would see them moving away from him. He did and dashed towards them.
"What are you doing?" Finn said. "I know where I'm going."
"These are the prints we made coming in," Clarissa replied. "They'll take us out of this forest."
Finn glanced at the hoof-prints on the ground. "They may. If we're going too off track, I'll straighten us up."
With that, Finn disappeared into a bush ahead.
"It looks like the forest is thinning out," Clarissa observed. "I think we'll make it out soon."
"I know exactly where we are now," Amelia said happily. "Home is straight south-we'll be there in hardly ten minutes."
Before they knew it, Finn, Clarissa, and Amelia made their way out of the forest.
"We did it!" Amelia said joyfully. "We're home!"
"Now am I in your debt?" Finn asked.
"If you want," Clarissa shrugged.
"Then, next week I'll show you the treasure."
"But the dragon," Amelia said. "Won't he come looking for you?"
"He will," Finn replied grimly. "That's why tomorrow, I'm going to look for him and kill him."
Amelia's mouth opened. Clarissa looked at him with horror. "No! We'll train some soldiers! We'll gather an army!"
"That would take too long," Finn replied, shaking his head. "Besides, this is my score to settle. Come now, let's get you back home."
Finn shepherded the two glum girls back to their house. After asking around, avoiding raised eyebrows and suspicious looks, he found the village armory. He hid some armor and a broadsword in a corner before heading to the inn to get some sleep.
Before the sun had scaled earth, when the stars were fading into dusty brilliance and the moon looked east to keep watch for the sun on its ascent, Finn was awake. Sneaking through the village to the armory, he dressed in the armor, strapped on his sword, and snuck out of the village, unaware that one person was up with him.
By the time he reached the forest edge, the sun had crept to the horizon, where it rested, casting rays of warm, brilliant sunlight into Larynia. Taking a deep breath, Finn entered the woods.
After walking for about ten minutes, Finn was deep in the forest. "Raamalooke!" He shouted. "Where are you, you rotten-scaled-mangy-brained-oversized-chameleon!"
Finn paused and listened. The sound of leathery wings distastefully greeted his ears, along with an outraged roar from Raamalooke. The dragon landed mere yards away from Finn, splintering tree trunks as they swayed in the wind.
"You!" he snarled.
"I," Finn agreed calmly, drawing his sword.
"D'you know what I think?" Raamalooke growled. "There is no treasure! You made it up!"
"You could look at it that way," Finn replied slyly. "There's no treasure-not your kind anyway. You should have been more specific."
"Treasure is treasure, nothing more or less!" Raamalooke said, roaring with his hate of Finn.
"Wrong," Finn said, "Not all treasure is gold-there are more important things."
With a quick movement, Raamalooke lunged for Finn. Finn gripped his sword, waited for the last possible moment, and then dove aside, taking care to have his sword well away from himself. Raamalooke crashed through three trees before stopping. He craned his neck, searching for Finn, but Finn was already upon him. He slashed at the dragon's snout, searing through scales and drawing blood. With a roar of outrage, Raamalooke rammed Finn aside with his bleeding nose. Finn quickly regained balance as Raamalooke raised a clawed hand and swatted at him, but Finn ducked and slashed at the raised limb. Wounded again, Raamalooke fell back, snarling.
Breathing heavy, Finn prepared for another attack, but Raamalooke was too quick. Charging forward, he again clawed out at Finn. Finn's sword flew out of his hand and into the grass some several yards away. With the backside of his hand, Raamalooke knocked Finn aside. Finn flew backwards and landed hard into the trunk of a tree. Dizzy and weaponless, he watched helplessly as Raamalooke, sneering triumphantly.
"Now, to do what I should have done three years ago!"
Suddenly Raamalooke stopped short, orange eyes wide, mouth open. He made a horrible choking, gurgling noise, and began to stumble sideways. Finn watched him curiously before the dragon thumped to the ground.
Rising cautiously to his feet, Finn stared dumbstruck at Raamalooke.
"Hello, Finn!" someone called.
Finn's eyes darted towards the voice. From behind the fallen dragon's neck, someone picked herself off of the ground. She reached and extracted her sword from the back of Raamalook, where neck meets head. Finn gaped.
It was the shy, timid, proper, Clarissa Geneva.
It was one week since the death of Raamalooke the dragon. Finn Tillman was taking Amelia and Clarissa Geneva for a walk to the forest, now safe of anything harmful, for Finn confirmed that, no, there are no goblins in the forest! The two girls were carrying picnic baskets over their arms, for the sun was fading into the west, setting the clouds aflame.
"What are we doing here?" Amelia asked shyly.
"I told you I'd show you the treasure," Finn replied. "And I figured I'd make a picnic out of it."
When the three reached the forest line, they halted. They set up the dinner and ate as they watched the sun creep lower and lower, until it was out of sight
"How can you show us anything now?" Clarissa asked, puzzled. "The sun's gone."
"Precisely," Finn said. "Okay, into the forest,"
He led them to the grove of trees that had been used as a landmark by the girls. They waited, waited...
A patch of brilliant, blue moonlight crept through the tree leaves. Another ray followed, and another. Streams of light crisscrossed like some brilliant light show. Amelia and Clarissa gazed open mouthed at the wonderful sight. Moonlight stitched itself around the forest like a lady's embroidery masterpiece.
"Quite a treasure, eh?" Finn said, grinning.
"This is incredible!" Clarissa exclaimed. "I never knew moonlight could do this!"
"I learned that the light of the blue moon is stronger here than anywhere else. Of course, I'm not sure why, but it is. And this is the result."
Time went by fast as the trio gazed at the splendor of the moonlight. Before they had realized it, Amelia was dozing against a tree.
"Oops," Clarissa said. "I should have been paying more attention to her."
Finn lifted her up. "We should be getting back."
"Thank you, Finn," Clarissa smiled. "That was incredible. I'd prefer that experience to hundreds of gold coins."
"Aye, me too," Finn said. "It's a wonder what nature can do. Spiders weaving just like the ladies of the town, trees growing up like children... And of course this - this wonder that occurs once in a blue moon."