The Flame

The midnight air had begun to sag and drip on the ancient pitted stone walls. A rogue cockroach scurried, bouncing across the spear-chipped pockmarks, along the worn battlement, etched by shoes of metal and leather, just ahead of the dark night wraith. Gliding silently as a barn owl hunting for food over the scrubbed age-beaten grain fields, the dark shadow swooped and stopped, swooped and darted, stone shadow becoming warm body shadow crossing the battlements. The gibbous moon slowly waltzed with the last entrails of the evening’s storm that had done nothing but make noise and tease the drought-birthed famine-crazed farmers.

Her silk slippers danced in a long established and ritualistic pattern, as the night wraith traced a path that she did not have to see. Each step a note in a song long written in the blood that coursed through her veins, as she raced against time, and listened against a cry or shout of awareness. Her step pauses in midair, then as if her foot like a hound, were delicately sniffing the landing in the deep shadows of the stone piled wall; her outer three toes almost curled over the edge of a hole along the edge of the stone wall, used by the warriors for relief as they walk the perimeter. She moves her foot the critical few inches and continues on her path.

If she could see the moon as it slips between drapes of veiling clouds, she would see a curious red pall covering all but the uppermost tip of the horn. But she has no need to look, for the power tainting the moon surges through her blood like a storm in the high mountains: howling, wailing, screeching and cutting with the sharpness of a honed sword powered by the bloody sweat-stained muscles rippling from the war-soiled, beast leather jerkin.

A small pebble hit against harder stone. The night shadow froze, now melting into the colder corner of stone against stone. Her heart was playing the staccato rhythm of a frightened mouse as curved swords from the sky sought silent death; the rushing blood pulsed in her ears, and she strained to hear the low whistle she needed to finish her journey.

Crouching in the cold of the stone, the same old battle raged, as she knew that the new ways required her to be in her chamber awaiting her wifely duties to her liege and husband. The moon overhead beat in the darker depths of her soul and called her to a duty that was all but lost in the modern world of science and the new religion of men in dresses wielding power far beyond a broadsword or claymore. The fire in her blood demanded her presence on the ramparts at the mid hour of night as it had for millennia of her mothers before and one night would of her daughters as well.

The low whistle of a distant loon echoed through the outer rims of the castle keep, answered by several more in and about the walls. Slowly, she reached out with tarantula-like fingers, crawling and testing the section of wall as she searched for the one stone that was warm and vibrated with a life that though long dead, lived forever. The fingers, as her eyes, belied the vacant face that was no more seeing than if bound with leather and blinded by the tannin of torment from a life given to that which was not in the heart, but burned in the depth of a soul tied to an ancient belief and it’s practices; even ones that were self-destructive.

As she withdrew the sought-for stone from the wall, she began the long banished ritual that, before the night was out, would cause her tortured body and soul even more pain. The heat of the stone grew in her hands as energies matched and the harmonious chords called out to the others. Echoes surrounded her:  gritty scrapes of stone on sandstone pathways, fabric rustling against fabric. She acknowledged the pull that was inside of her and listened to the sounds of the gathering as they came like moths to a flame . . .

 

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Romney Lass

The summer desert sun still smoldered in the flesh of her face. The cheeks rubbed to a waxed patina by the searing desert winds. Lava like depths rolled and bubbled in the cauldrons of her eyes. The gold of her earring echoed the late evening sun, setting to end the torment of the sand turned broiler pan. And the photographer’s flashbulb once again flared about the unflinching woman. Her sight was miles and months away.

The day had been strewn with several stretches of sand without vegetation beating the mind with sameness upon endless sameness. The feet followed feet that were the same, foot in front of foot in front of foot. Crossing the stretch of desert had become a Sisyphistic challenge that was beyond the regimen finding the other side. If the mind could even think any more, it would think of anything other than what was happening.

Starting before sunrise, the small group gathered for the crossing. Very little talk was offered as each mentally prepared for the ordeal ahead. Seven miles of desert had sounded so minor in the safety of a cool adobe building just days before. The map had been so flat in its unassuming way. Nothing had alluded to the ordeal’s true nature as they had all agreed to the destination and the path of ascension.

She had stumbled and slid on the gravely side of the large barranca late in the morning, her smallest brother was on her mind. Early that week the policeman had shown up at their house asking about the boy. There had been some fighting at the school, that hadn’t stopped there. Later there had been a fight in an ally. Three boys had attacked a single boy. The three had various injuries ranging from a broken nose to a couple of broken ribs and a concussion. Her brother said he didn’t know anything about a fight, and he had no marks or injuries. The policeman said the others looked like someone well trained in boxing and street fighting had worked them over; and then he ask her brother if he still visited the boxing gym on 8th Street.

Their mother had been furious that a policeman had come to the house. To bring this kind of attention, this kind of shame was unmentionable. She had slammed doors, and rattled dishes; but it was the quiet voice she used, almost a whisper, and the calm that was the serene look of a deadly thunder cloud standing white and soft against the summer sky, and it’s potential to rain down deadly hail or wash away the sins of man in the sweep of a flash flood. That; was their mother at the height of her fuming and fulmination. Later at dinner she served the young boy’s favorite desert saying, ‘do not bring home scars that bring shame to the family, send them home on others’. Then she kissed the tops of the heads of the children and went to bed; the new job was killing her with the hardness of long days and heavy labor at the factory.

Shortly before high noon, the group had stopped to eat sparingly and drink water. The cliffs were less than a hundred yards away but the heat radiated from the morning baked walls and stirred the air in waves of ribbonfish movement. They would not be climbing these walls; nearly a mile more on the north face the crevices hide cool pathways to the top.

Two of the others were looking at the map of the north cliffs to find the route that would be the most expeditious for the group, yet be ascendable by all. The weakest link being the old man among them, but he reassured them that he could and had crawled up all the chimney piped crevices that were on the cliffs. So they had repacked and move off to the cooler north side.

The afternoon had been spent in a cool crevasse of the north side when the sun never shown nor warmed the rocks or blood of the Diamond backed vipers of this place. So the group had rested safely and without worry as the heat slipped by overhead. They had laid about among the strewn boulders and rocks, dozing in the stupor from the long mindless travel through the burnt wasteland as well as into a time of an older tradition that predated even the old man’s memory of stories that were passes in whispers from old lips to young ears generation after generation.

As a woman now of 18 years, she had been assuming more and more of the duties of running the household as their mother worked more and longer days. She dreamed of attending gay parties with frilly dresses and swell guys. In her mind she could hear dance music played by one of the big bands that were popular and the smooth glassiness of a large hardwood dance floor filled with whirling couples. But the whirling movements were of her hands with a sponge on the floor. And her dancing was with a beater and the rugs on a clothesline in the sun.

The ritual in the knife slice of the new moon had been long feared by the trio of girls. The pain was not something that would ever be talked about by any woman ever to walk the journey into womanhood of the clan. The five young men standing guard but only one that was guided by the only man would see or ever know what the ritual would take or what it would give from the heart of the old man’s small worn leather sack. Only the young girls and the lone young boy would share forever that night, that pain, that secret and continue the course of the clan for more generations to come. Only that thinnest of slices of a moon, would ever see all, and yet never reveal that nights bonding.

The photographer’s lens reflected the glasses of her pupils bearing the fruit of a hard summer. Her eyes slide to the door hiding behind the white light umbrella. The young man stood in the doorway, there to take her home. Her time of gracious reprieve from the stalled life force chained to the yoke of caring for her mother and siblings was drawing to a close; and like a good book, she wished it not to end. The bitter-sweet of that time blossomed in her mouth and settled like a bite of bitter pepper, full and laced with eye watering heat. The young man leaned too into the door-jam with a melted resolve of the time now lapsed and his duty to incarcerate the free bird once more.

The photographer muttering to himself and looking through the view finder for the two hundredth time, absently lit another cigarette and drew in a deep slow draw of smoke. Irritated that the time was at near to end, he let his breath out as a deep sigh and smoke swirling out as snakes from mouth and nostrils. “Something. . . something…. “ He mussed “something missing, missing, missing. A focal point…..” He stepped right then left, squatted and raised into the air on his toes….

“Here.” He said. “Hold this”, and handed her his cigarette.

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1st Ride

Editor’s Note: This was written a long time ago, for a very dear friend. She hadn’t heard it in a very long time . . . so, for her, and in memory of Mary Alice, peace on earth.

1st Ride

Like a puppy snuffling into a pile of week old laundry, her nose was burrowed in between the beaver fur collar and the musty worn leather of his jacket. Her green eyes were shut against the wind and cold as she huddled closer to the tawny frame bundled against the winter night. The smells of burning fireplaces and freshly snowed evergreens, melded with the deep stew of the old worn leather, years of saddle-soap, mink-oil, and sun baked oil and road fumes. If she moved her nose a couple inches higher to his neck and hair, she knew that she would still breath deep the scents that went with his motorcycle.

He had ridden motorcycles since he was 12 years old. Perching on the back of his older brothers’ for rides bummed to school or just to go riding in the summer. At the earliest age allowed by his parents he had secured his very own. Through the years he had owned one kind of bike or another, always moving up and getting larger. Now after much hard work, and saving, it was a six years old 1965 Harley Davidson, salvaged from a police auction.

Over the many months of their dating he had patiently, while washing or polishing the machine in her parent’s driveway, explained to her the many features of the motorcycle. Why it was called a “74-inch”, what cubic displacement really meant, and what made a “Pan-Head” different from the neighbors Honda; other than sounding sooo different.

Removing the top of the motor, he had carefully cleaned all of the now exposed parts. Then guided her slim young fingers over the little moving pieces as he slowly turned the motor over by pushing the kick-starter by hand. With his other hand, gentle as a baby sparrow’s breath, flowing over the moving tappets, her fingers sandwiched between his, he identified each felt piece of machinery as it moved, and explaining its part in the success of the workings. She put the “Pan” on top of his head and crowned him Charlie Chaplin for the day; they wrestled and tickled all over the grass of the front yard. Then she carefully polished chrome as he quietly reassembled the engine so he could go home, across the valley.

The motor thumped gently in the night as they sat stopped at a light. Her hands pushed deeper into the pockets of his leather jacket. Reaching the bottom of the pockets she pulled back into his stomach and hugged him, flattening her body across his back. His shoulder blades flexed and slid, acknowledging the hug and its communication. The light winked green and the Harley chuffed and barked as the tableau slid away from the intersection, sinking into the inky night of the street; a warm bubble of humanity.

The bike had always sat, cold, in the driveway of her parent’s house. His tawny hair only blown about from the open window of her mother’s borrowed Rambler. It was fine with her parents  that they dated, he had become like one of the family, but she was not allowed to ride on the motorcycle. So they had always taken the car.

The seat had been shockingly cold when she had first sat down, and the throbbing of the motor was not what she had expected. It had never been so . . . intense, before when it had been only her hand, resting on the gas tank. Placing her feet safely on the buddy-pegs was a job first done by him grabbing her ankles and planting her feet. The excitement tingled inside her as she exchanged “be careful” and ‘we will’ with her parents standing in the front doorway. The unsteady wobble, as he backed out of the driveway, clamped her hands tighter in his pockets. Nerves, warring to call off the ride she had bargained for, and the fear of the unknown.

“A”’s and “B”’s were the price she had paid, for the ticket of tonight. Her 16th birthday, one month before had come and gone without so much as a candle on a cake at dinner; all given up without a whimper, for this one ride; a short mile and a half each way. A lifetime away from anything she had ever done. The cold December night rasped against her one exposed cheek, an experience never felt in her sheltered world, so she turned her head straight to expose both cheeks. The lone street light flashed off the chrome as the trio crossed Teller Road at quarter till midnight.

The parking lot was packed with people. With hushed greetings to friends, they all quietly moved toward the building. The lone motorcycle rumbled slowly across to a corner and stopped. Sliding the kickstand down, he turned the key to off. Motor and headlight burbled to silence as the night wrapped around the couple sitting on the bike.

As he moved to dismount, she squeezed him softly in restraint. “Shhh,” she whispered. In understanding, he relaxed as they both snuggled into the after-roar of silence; each bump of the ride being remembered. Each sound cataloged and preciously wrapped-up and stored away in the treasure throve of her memory; knowing, that the chance to savor the ride, would not be given on the ride home. For now the two sat silently, as the organ in the church started the Midnight Mass for the blind.

 

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Candy Cane Catch



The red and white missile careened out of control, wobbling from the weighted rudder that was aerodynamically unstable. What was a straight targeted trajectory was far from the deviated wanderings of the missile cut large loopy swaths in the sky as it progressed towards the target that had to continually compensate for the erratic tumbling, slides, and shifts in order to be hit perfectly.

The red wing flipped out then retracted completely as the targeting synapses adjusted to the growing range configurations of the inbound missile. The body rotated in a lazy split second roll that was immediately partially reverse, then rotated back to the original as the wings fully extended at a position of full stop, as the claw snapped out in the backwards roll, snatching the candy cane out of the mid-air.

“That’s 10,” Boomer exclaimed, as his brother high overhead folded into a fluttering death fall called the “defeated dragon”. Also known as “the one who had not caught one of the important candy canes” dropped by Skth, even farther above.

The points had been eight to nine, and Tink needed that very important drop as being the one player with the lesser score, placed him higher in the field of the drop and therefore first chance at the dropped candy cane missile. In his rush to snag a claw into the hook of the cane, he had created a shockwave of air that had spun the hook away from his extended claw, as he felt the smooth cellophane wrapper slide past his claw too fast to turn his claw into a grip and capture the treasure.

As Boomer raced around in a victory circle lap many feet above the pasture, Tink clenched his fist in mock outrage and vowed to ‘get you next year’. Merrily he was undershot by another kind of missile as an ice blue streak hunting stooped from high above, and looped under him as Skth rocketed down from above.

“Dear,” Q’Nt cozied up to the much larger black and red dragon and softly hummed, “could you please use your impressive voice to inform the children that the coco is ready.” The larger now nuzzled her neck and snuffled, as his mate giggled like a young dragonet. The pixie, Duff, giggled at their antics as she strolled the makeshift picnic table distributing small marshmallows into each of the mugs of hot chocolate.

H’n, now finished polishing his nose in his mate’s neck, stepped away as Q’Nt covered her one ear against the shrill blast she knew was coming and looked to Duff. Duff, seemingly ignoring the impending ear hurting noise went about her duty as the points of her ears calmly curled back into themselves and stuffed the opening as the large black and red dragon split the air with his shrill keeling cry that sounded like a whistle.

Four smaller dragons fell from the sky as if shot. At lower altitude, and threat of hard landings in the frozen pasture, they all leveled off into a flat pancake of dragon fleet formation in an all-out race to the traditional Christmas picnic goodies. An assortment of strange delicate tastiest bite-sized of pieces of different cultures and species that had become known as Q’Nt’s Celebration Picnic in the Pasture.

As the four smaller dragons rocketed by in an aerial tribute, Dvork, hunkered his wings to protect against any errant wind, delicately flamed the Japanese tempura batter to a golden brown while leaving the frozen tiny balls of mint tea ice cream still frozen in the center. Pu’s flame, after a secret night of eating a lot of sweet sugar cane, became syrupy sticky caramel glue that held the traditional puff pastry fish balls of northern Norway in a tree shaped stack half as tall as the large Sea Chameleon M’Ree as she set out piles of fresh baked fudge, brownies, and other chocolate finger or claw delights.

A warm gentle hand came to rest on M’Ree’s shoulder as a Navy Admiral gently leaned in to the large dragon whose cheek wings were now slowly turning as red as her glasses and red agate chain. “M’Ree, you temptress, there aren’t any dangerous calories in all that chocolate that I shouldn’t have, are there?” The officer asked as his left hand snuck a small Dragon Pop, as he continued to get closer and kissed her cheek where the small canard wing attached, and her most delicate sensitive area. The result was an immediate soar in her body temperature, a flustered mind and much redder cheeks. “Merry Christmas, M’Ree.”

As the larger blue dragon Q’Nt surveyed her private patch of the pasture. She smiled warmly as she looked about the many dragons that worked at Paw’s & Claw’s Atelier custom picture frame shop where her son Tink worked, as well as the human friend of her son Boomer, the pixie who had become everyone favorite friend, the three gnome Neffeler brothers who supplied her with forest grown herbs and greens. Here and there were an assortment of birds, fairies, a rodent or two and many other forest folk who over the past couple years had become friends and family through the extended friendships of her two sons. What had started many years before as only a few and almost all dragons had grown to many dozens of attendees representing a dozen or more species that she never thought she would ever even meet, much less consider family or at least close friends. She leaned against her mate and hummed quietly in content.

H’n placed his large upper arm over her shoulder and across her breast cage and pulled her closer in a hug, “It’s a grand celebration this year my dear; grand indeed.”

“Did someone say food?” A deep rumbling voice boomed from the edge of the last of the forest as a large bear dressed in a festive Hawaiian shirt and red rubber clogs stepped out as an ice blue dragon flew overhead, and a man with slicked back white feathery hair and refined features dressed in all black followed.

“Guff, Twill and Macklin,” Q’Nt squealed in delight and clapped to see the last of the invited arrive.

“Happy Holidays, everyone,” Macklin cried with open arms, “and I do mean every last one.”

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Best “Christmas” Ever

Christmas was never a big thing with me. More often than not, wrapping hand-me-down boots, and mended socks just seemed somehow wrong; So getting old enough to be on my own made it a lot better. In Southern California, I could be found waxing my board late on Christmas Eve after closing the shop, having a quiet dinner with my Jewish boss and going home. Sleep till almost dawn and head for the surf…. and be quietly in my own space, with others, on the water.

But if I was to choose the best “Christmas”, it would have to be the year that I had blown the motor in my motorcycle so was taking the bus everywhere. I had stopped surfing, so there was nothing to be looking forward to . . .

About 8pm, I was riding the bus past the Greyhound station….. and saw a bus sitting in the bay that said Reno. I got off the metro bus and bought a ticket home to Bishop.

The folks lived about eleven miles north of town…. and I talked the driver into dropping me at the bottom of the hill. He was a little sad, because there was only one other person going on farther that Christmas Eve. As the diesel fumes hung in the 3am air, I looked across the valley at the Sierra Mountains, and especially Mt. Tom.

The stars don’t “wheel” overhead; they just hang like a breath caught in surprise. The crisp night was probably turning my lips blue, my ears red and causing my nose to run, but I don’t remember or care. The moon was just up for about two or three hours, and flooded the valley floor and snow blanketed mountains with the soft brilliance that only comes from a quarter moon.

The road’s gravel crunched in frozen protest to my boots as I walked up the hill, it’s less than a half mile, but I always made the hike last. The desert calm on a windless night in the frozen winter is a vision of ghostly sound. You know there should be movement, or the sound of a far-off truck, but the only sound is your heart beating and the lighter greys on the darker blacks as its all waiting for you to pass on into the rest of the night.

As I got to the midpoint of the driveway and near the back gate, I stopped and turned to just rest and stare at the snow folded in the valleys of the mountains. The knees of the ridges cutting dark jagged knife tracks down slopes I had hiked and climbed as a kid. Now, they were bedded with the soft white of silence and night.

Behind me, I could hear Yankee nosing open the gate and my left hand withdrew from the pocket of the P-coat and dropped to my waist and onto his massive head. Through his head I could feel the gentle uncontrolled wag of a hind end that had almost no tail to wag.

A semi-delicate hand slid down into my right coat pocket as my mother leaned into my shoulder.
Quietly she whispered, “I felt you coming.”

 

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Do We Really Need Scary Animals? Really?

This point came up about a year ago when Laura Reynolds and I started down the path that is leading us to our first book together; something that we hope will be repeated in many projects. She had asked me if I planned to have any evil or scary dragons in my books.  I had to think about it for a while . . . almost a full two seconds.

Every scary dragon or monster I have ever read or seen, I have hated. More often than not, I have asked myself, was it really necessary? Especially dragons; which is a poor beast that we have a fixation with as a society to paint them as evil, bad, or a best ugly, and have been doing so for the last many centuries.

Much to my horror and revulsion as a Masonic Brother, I have learned that supposedly both of the holy Saints John, are depicted as killers of the dragon. Makes me want to rend my chest and offer it to the closest passing dragon to dine on. Some pictures have the “Saintly” (?) Knights slaying something only slightly more than a large worm; yeah, that’s “manly”; other images it’s a Snake dragon such as in a Chinese New Year’s parade, and others as a true European “Right” Dragon.

Then there is the Japanese thing. Let’s get real here, Godzilla, really?  Sure, he looks kind of like a T-Rex, but isn’t he just a shabbily disguised dragon without wings. And then we have to make a fantasy animal of some giant hairy thing or a Sphinx Moth that sipped at the atomic radiation bar just a little too many times. Attention the Pacific Rim… If you can’t be nice, please just pick on yourselves instead. Leave the animal kingdoms out of it; please.

So as we were going along, merrily filling page after page with prose, purpose and pictures, an idea struck to come up with a nice little book of picture and a simple little story for the small children to enjoy in the fun and festival of wonderful dragons. So we kind of whomped together some 50 pages with a mmmm. . . . OK, not so great story line, but great pictures and sent it out to get some reactions.

That is why I know the story line sucked.  Think of a very large set of eyes, rolling……. Yeah; that bad.

But! And you knew there was one; Mateo Caso told his Grandma Mimi that he really loved the story (even though nothing really happened in it….) because all of the dragons were nice and there were no scary animals.

I’m with you on that Teo; GUB is on you with that all the way.

 

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Preview: The Very Littlest Dragon

The Very Littlest Dragon, is the novel (that’s looking for a publisher), that kind of started all of this stuff with Laura Reynolds and myself. Here is a peek. Don’t worry, this gives nothing away.

Prolog

The young blue-green dragon, with lavender highlights glowing on her cheek wings, rested serenely against her bonded mate H’n, a large “obsidian” dragon. It was the distinct crimson edge markings on each of his large scales and, in addition, the same red highlighting on his facial features, which the smaller blue dragon Q’Int had always found attractive. The two had married or bonded a few years before and were now relaxing as they watched over their cherished first clutch of eggs. Two eggs rested in the shallow heating bowl before them. As usual among dragons, the two eggs looked nothing alike. The much larger one was almost black in its deep red color and the smaller was, well, kind of plain tan beige with a strange greenish tinge to the shadow. But then, in their dragon world, nobody was worried about egg color or size; Q’Int had come from a medium sized egg, powder blue with red spots, and H’n had arrived in what could have been confused with an ostrich egg – large, white and covered with gritty bumps. So it was with parental patience and dragon curiosity that the couple observed the eggs as they wobbled and twitched with the usual birthing alarms.

BOOM! The top half of the larger egg exploded. The attending parents looked into the egg to see nothing but the darkened rim of the hole as if something had passed through so fast it had scorched the shell on the way out. As they stood there, scratching their heads, another sonic boom sounded and suddenly, floating between them, was a small (well maybe not so small) baby red dragon.

Their first son smiled and gently flapped or feathered his wings in the air as he skulled in place. All three smiled, and then the smaller reached out as high and far as his wings could reach, and with one great stroke, disappeared in a burst of speed and sound – BOOM!

“I suppose,” the father said, “that our new son should be named Boomer.” His eyebrow tendrils stood on end as he also made his eyes dramatically very wide open. “Although, a little quieter inside the house would be nice.” They both nodded their heads and wriggled their upper wings in mirth.

Just then, an almost not-there sound came from the smaller of the two eggs. “Tink, tink, tink.” The sound was cautious, delicate, and hesitant. The expecting parents stared at each other in curiosity. “Tink” came from the egg and then stopped. The father lightly tapped the egg with his one extended claw. “Tink, tink” the tip of his great shiny black claw sounded on the hard shell. “Tink, tink” the sound responded from inside. The feathery midnight black right eyebrow rose on the father’s face as he cocked his head to listen, and looked sideways at his spouse, as if to say, “What do you think about that?”

Q’Int mirrored his gaze with her own signature single raised eyebrow. That same lovely raised eyebrow that had first attracted her mate to introduce himself to her at that gathering so long ago. She smiled and wiggled her upper wings.
Suddenly there was a last “tink” and an ever so tiny hole appeared in the large end of the egg. The very smallest of claws, more like a tiny black thorn, poked out of the hole. The parents both blinked at how truly small it was, that tiny needle tip of a claw, extending out of the hole in the egg and probing about, as if testing the air.
A flash occurred, streaking its way over the top of the egg at the same time as a small clap of thunder like “Boom!” rocked the egg. The eyes of both parents opened wide as they gazed at the egg, now split by the sonic boom into two large cups. In the center stood the very smallest tiny little dragon, they had ever seen. It scrunched its ruddy greenish dirty moss colored face and sneezed. “Choo!”

The littlest son of theirs batted his eyes as if he did not believe he was out of the egg. Just as suddenly, his brother appeared (quietly) and nuzzled his neck and wings as if to say, “Come on, let’s fly and play.” And so they did. The larger red, and the tiny much much smaller mossy, er, um, well, muddy colored new dragons flew about the house as the parents watched and silently wondered what the future would hold for these two totally different dragons.

Chapter 1

Tink

Just as the cover of a book conceals the story within, there are many ways that the deeper truths can be obscured from knowledge or view. A forest of tall old trees, for instance, with reaching limbs and a verdant canopy hiding a cottage nestled in among the trunks and hostas. Its worn thatched roof that covers a space that is somehow, several times larger on the inside than the outside. Or the not so small office in that quaint bungalow cottage, the one that smells of age and comfort, from the many shelves of books that fill the walls, to the large well-worn leather swivel armchair to the large oak desk that is so old as to appear almost black. The fact that the desk’s top is almost clear of items may seem the most telling of mystery, but actually the story would begin with that lone coffee mug, the one with the thin crack running down its body just to the left of the handle, and just under the little dragon’s left wing.

As one of the youngest workers in the Paws & Claws Fine Picture Framing Atelier, Tink sat in his favorite spot with his arms folded along the porcelain rim. His chin rested on his wrist, and he found himself staring out of the office window with his wings limply draped around the rest of the large coffee cup that always sat on Guff the bear’s large business desk that overlooked the small approach patio facing the forest. One may think that Tink might be contemplating the fact that a full 90% of the store’s business came walking out of that forest, even though there was no visible path, trail, track or road; but that was the farthest thought in the small greenish brown dragon’s mind this warm late spring day.

Tink’s mind was filled with the word “why” and the addendums behind the “why” had grown. He now had the question of his abilities, or lack thereof, to add to his “Why?” pile of soul-searching questions which tormented him in his idle hours; or so it seemed most days. He knew he was known as the “all around guy”, which really meant he was the guy all around the shop doing the bits and pieces of work that were, well, small stuff; stuff that anyone could do if they were not all busy doing the “real” framing. This left Tink to scrape spilled glue, pick up trash, hold this, push that, fold those and roll these, how many of these do we have and where did those get put away wrong in what shelf or room or under, over, in or on top of? Tink was all around the shop doing the little things. Moreover, it was not exactly a little shop to be all around. In fact, somehow, it was eight times bigger on the inside than it was on the outside; which was very important when it came to the shop’s location. 

The morning work at the Paws & Claws Fine Picture Framing Atelier (“Atelier” is just a very fancy word for “workshop”  had been the usual helter skelter like any other Wednesday morning, except it just happened to be Tink’s 50th anniversary as a Picture Framer’s dragon, which, if anyone stops to think about it, could result in at least some cake, or chocolate or even chocolate cake and Café Mochas, if anybody thinks about it. Although the framer who directed most of the work was Guff the bear, it was his dragon workers who created the most amazingly special picture frames that made Paws & Claws so renowned.

The Atelier sat nestled in the edge of the very large, deep and sometimes even darker forest. The shop owner was the Master Picture Framer, Guff, who happened to be a very large grizzly bear with a penchant for custom Hawaiian shirts and bright red rubber clogs. Most of the dragons that worked for Guff had been with him well over a hundred years and each dragon possessed a few or several very special talents. Dragons made the very best picture framers because of the mass of skills that a framer needed to acquire. Many years of training were required, beginning with apprenticeships and then more years as a Journeyman or Fellow in the Craft, before their peers could consider them a Master. When there were several framers in a shop, many simply specialized in just a few skills, like most of the dragons at Paws & Claws.

The team of dragons was a remarkable cross of several different types of dragons. Skell, a Nordic dragon, sported very shiny black horns and an extra-large wingspan that was tipped with growths of iron diamonds that he used to cut or etch glass and mirrors as well as work metals as need be. His color usually matched the metal that he was working with and then sometimes when he was daydreaming about his youth flying in the fiords of the North, his wings could become almost transparent and his body scales would turn a shade of silver like a cloud or mirror; even though he swore there was no chameleon blood in his line.

Dvarkowalzitine, “Dvark,” commonly called simply “Dee,” for short, was the most common dragon in the atelier, and the most talented, for he was the Master Painter and artist of lines and embellishments. Born in the eastern slopes of the Russian Ural Mountains, Dee grew up at the knees of some of the most talented icon painters of his contemporary time. His mother, was also a duel breather like Dee, and could breathe temperature-controlled flames from her nose while blowing a chilling breath from her mouth, and had taught the skill to her son. She also used this talent on her garden’s bulbs to put them to sleep or warm the earth of her flowerbeds to force and unseasonable blooming – a talent Dvark seemingly missed acquiring or at least did not find of any use to him.

Aside from his skill with his flame and breath, he had diamond enhanced iron claws that he used to engrave anything, including steel, he more often used his controlled flame to etch glass or gold in many kinds of patterns he would design or think up or maybe see in a book that Flith the Archivist would have to research. This makes him the “go to” person for special patterns such as maybe the floral paisley in the running field of a picture frame that was popular during the early Renaissance in northern Italy or Tuscany, not the floral patterns of, say, the later periods. (The “field” is that wide stripe area running down the middle of a fancy picture frame.) The floral paisley just happened to be his favorite to do because as he always liked to say in his heavy Slavic accent, it made him think of his mother and her large flower garden back home, although no one could remember him ever taking a vacation or going to visit.

At the other end of special is Twill. Twill was the most unusual of all the dragons besides Tink; because instead of skin, like Tink, or scales, like the other dragons, Twill was covered with dove gray blue feathers made of glass. Not the hard glass of a window, but a soft and fluffy downy kind of glass like the spun glass of insulation. The feathers made entirely of hollow glass so thin that it is soft and pliable instead of brittle; unless of course made her mad, then all bets were off as to how hard her feathery shell became – glass, metal or diamond? Her eyes are the ice blue white of the inside of glaciers, except when she is angry, when they flamed to the raging red of a brilliant ruby or a warning sign; not something you would ever want turned in your direction. Her “flame,” if one can call it that, is a very transparent light blue like the blue where the sky touches the distant sea. There is no heat, but where it touches, a thin layer of glass will appear. By making several passes or staying in one place, she can “pool” or “pile” the glass into a shape that is as solid as any other glass, except it is unbreakable. It is called Dragon Glass and one of her favorite things to do is to build hollow shapes in the air that become Christmas tree ornaments. These are colorless and can be painted or just catch the light.

Much beyond that, Twill is a general mystery. Some think she was possibly French, which would account for the almost French blue color, but that was definitely not the other language that she was known to mutter to herself as she applied gold and silver leaf to frames, which was not her favorite job, and the language she used was not French.

No one would be so rude as to be nosey about her background. As for her age, one could merely hazard a guess. Even Chang could only say that she was at Paws & Claws when he arrived over 150 years ago from Mongolia.

Of all the special talents, Chang’s is the least obvious. His talent as a wood carver is amazing to watch just in itself, as he wields his chisels, saws, hammers and rasps, molding the wood to his will. The many tendrils of his face that surround the crossed blue and brown eyes are as prehensile as a monkey’s tail. So instead of the time wasted in looking for a wayward tool, or picking up and putting down tools, this wingless Snake dragon has his whole toolbox of tools floating at the ready about his face. His tendrils seem to anticipate his needs and will reach out and gather up the tools that he will be using next or even two or three steps into a process. His hands are thus always carving the wood and always with the next perfect tool for the job. As he carves, his powerful forearms, something most winged dragons do not have, bulge and ripple from the power applied to shape the wood. The reds and oranges of his large oversized scales seem to flow and ebb in intensity from dark to white-hot flame depending on his exertion and the power he is embedding into the work. But what is not seen and only occasionally overheard is when he talks to the wood. Chang’s true special dragon talent is two-fold:  first, his crossed eyes actually see in many different ways. He sees what the wood is doing. Second, with his ability to talk to the wood, Chang actually talks the wood into doing what he needs the wood to do. Sometimes, that does not always require the assist of a sharp tool, just a sharp mind and tongue.

Born in the mystical forests of the far east of the frozen lands of Mongolia, and the only hatchling to a gypsy wood-charming dragon, he had learned about asking the wood to shape while still barely as tall as his mother’s first knees. Chang was an outcast, even among his own people, because of his crossed eyes that seemed to hex the young dragon into running into doorways, or flying into buildings or trees. The young Snake dragon believed he was cursed. But a lucky happenstance of an accident and chance meeting of someone who recognized his eyes as being able to see on so many levels changed his life. Instead of confusion, his “disability” led him to see his calling and skill. As he became older, and some say as good at wood whispering as his mother, he was sent west into servitude, into the Black Forest of Nells to apprentice under a not so nice wood artist wolf named Pzztzill. Only after years of this long hard service did Guff the bear hear of this young dragon and offer to take the “good for nothing lazy worthless tramp of a dragon” off the wolf’s paws and parsimonious payroll. Since that day, a very long time ago, each morning as he walked through the door, upright on his massive hind legs and standing almost as tall as the bear, Chang would nod to Guff and say, “Thank you”.

So as Tink sat curled in Guff’s large coffee cup, he was scrutinizing the dull mossy mud-brown dirt color of the mottled nubby surface that was his skin. He did not even have any honest to gosh dragon scales. Not one that he had ever found; not even a pre-growth ridge where one would one day appear, he just had bumpy skin like a plucked turkey. Just plucked turkey skin – yeesh, he moaned inwardly.

The sunshine oozed through the leaded glass office windows, and fell like a warm mantle on his long neck and tiny wings. It felt almost as good as his mother’s biscuits tasted, fresh out of the oven and smeared with warm honey. Sometimes when the sunshine was just right, the windows were just dirty enough, and it was later in the day, Tink could almost swear his skin looked more bronze or gold than mossy mud-brown. And that was why he always liked to take his late afternoon break sitting curled in Guff’s mug on his desk by the window. He did not remember when he had started sitting in his boss’s coffee cup, or even why he had started. Had he asked permission? Had Guff stopped drinking coffee? Or was Guff just being polite?

Nevertheless, little Tink, so very little Tink remained to wonder why, at eighty-three years of age, had he still not found his “talent or special ability.” He had been asking this question for years, along with the old questions of, “Why am I so very small?” and “Why am I the color of mossy mud?” These questions made sense to Tink; but one that would make more sense would have been, “Why am I small enough to fit into my employer’s coffee cup, and why does he let me sit here instead of drinking coffee from it?”

And if Tink had been thinking that question at the same moment as Guff shuffled quietly past the office door, he might have sensed a small flash of a dark brown eye glance out of the side of a fuzzy face, and the very smallest hint of a knowing smile crinkling in the right corner of Guff’s mouth. Guff walked up to Twill who noticed the unusual touch of a faint smile in the corner of his mouth, and they looked back knowingly towards the office door. The large hulking softy rolled his eyes above his recent affectation of half glasses perched down his long ursine nose, and shrugged his huge shoulders causing the surfers and grass huts to roll on his Hawaiian shirt. Only the quick eyes of a dragon such as Twill noted that the surf had changed and one surfer had kicked out, where two others had wiped out and disappeared into the waves.

“If the boy frets much deeper, he’s going to crack the bottom out of my mug,” Guff worried softly as he handed Twill a couple of orders. “Maybe you can get him to help you with these orders for the next few days.” They looked over the sheets at the specifications on the different frames needed.

“I’ll need Dee to do some engraving on these six dedication frames. I’ll loan him Tink to hold the frames. Tink just loves hearing Dee’s stories for the nine millionth time.” They both chuckled quietly in their conspiratorial jest at Tink’s expense. But the truth be known, Tink never seemed to tire of listening to Dvark talk about his homeland and his mother’s garden and cooking. It was so exotic and different, and too, it drew out a side of the rough edged Russian that made him softer and more like a “lovable uncle.” Tink responded well to this side of Dvark, and Dvark let Tink know that he secretly liked to think of Tink as a favorite surrogate nephew. Over the past thirty years, the two had become a solid team that produced some exquisite examples of engraved and incised frames. “But first,” continued Twill, “I have a more important errand for Tink to take care of,” and I think the fresh air will do him some good, she thought to herself.

“Tink, dear,” Twill called, and the tiny brown green dragon floated eagerly in front of the matriarch of the shop’s work room. He fluttered with almost no movement of air as he skulled the space in a perfect hover. This talent he had learned from his much larger twin brother and none of the other dragons would admit their inability to master this maneuver. “For the tinctures on these areas of this series of frames we will need some grindings of jolat root, mixed with the skins of black walnuts. The jolat root will have to be brought in by your brother as I know we are completely out right now and at this time of the year it will have to come up from South America, preferably Brazil. The walnuts, however, are ours for the gathering over in the Nordal Valley on the west slope. I’ll draw you a map. Take a sack; I saw quiet a number of these gems lying about since they have recently started to fall.” She tilted her head and gave him the cold look of one eye under a cocked eyebrow with her soft feathers sticking stiffly straight up for a more dramatic fun look. “Be careful and only touch the skins with the tips of your claws, or they will stain your fingers for months and your mother will have my hide for a feather duster.”

Tink began to giggle at the thought of Twill’s beautiful blue glass feathers used by his mother for dusting, but stopped, as “the eye” suddenly got very close. “Are you still here?” she cackled in a mock Halloween witch’s voice. Then she was laughing at empty air as Tink raced to fetch a bag.

Twill turned and looked across the shop at the muddle of dragons’ wings and tails, hands and flames all gyrating in multiple colors and duties as picture frames were being made, painted or gold leafed, stained or tinctured and finished so that art could properly be housed and protected to be preserved on the walls of their patrons. She thought of the many dragons and one hedgehog that had come and gone during her almost 200 years working for the big bear in his magical atelier. She smiled at the family that was now a cohesive beating heart with the sole goal of beauty . . . until her quick eye spotted a practical joke in the making by a certain pair of young dragons. Other than the fact that one was blue and the other was green, they were “TWINS!” The retort was explosive as cannon fire and had the effect of everything freezing for a split second, then two small bodies streaking for cover.

“Now, if those two grandnephews would just grow up . . .” Twill thought as she slowly stalked the room proceeding to restore proper working decorum. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted Tink’s tiny body with a bag in tow disappearing out the window, without a map for direction. This meant that she would not see him until morning – clever little guy, she thought. Not that he was lazy, but she now knew that he was aware of the blackberry field that was ripe right now, and expected she would find his muzzle and hands stained not from the walnuts but a well-deserved gorging on blackberries. Maybe he will pick a bunch for his mother. A fresh baked pie would be nice, she thought, as her claws clamped down with a green ear in one and a blue in the other. “Boys, I have work for you. Lots of work to be exact,” and marched deeper into the rear of the shop with two drooping bodies, more like wet dish rags suspended from each hand, green in the right and blue in the left.

The large pear shape of the accountant M’Ree waddled by looking over her fire red glasses. Fudge, she thought (channeling something the twins were thinking), Oh yes, it’s been way too long since I made fudge. She exhaled a very deep dark chocolate with raspberry compote scented sigh, as the herd of sheep, which was what her enlarged lower body resembled in motion, picked up just a little more momentum with the thoughts of a chocolate reward now securely on the close horizon.

The front door opened, but nobody or nothing entered, the door simply stood open. Guff looked up expectantly and then finally quizzically. He slowly put down the frame samples he had been putting back in their proper places on the display wall. A good long session of choosing the right frame and matting had left the frame design counter cluttered from one end to the other. Now he simply handed the few samples in his hand to Twill and saying nothing, walked out the front door, which slowly glided behind him and closed.

Guff stood in the shadow of the overhang from the roof. The deep shadow usually supplied him with the deeper light in which to look a farther distance into the dark reaches of the forest, but today it would seem to be no advantage or even needed. Guff just listened as the light breeze whispered in through the pine trees, barely moving the tiny petals of the daisies in and among the hostas of the near forest. Rolling his eyes up into his head, his lids closed and his superb hearing became even more acute, more attuned and more sensitive to what was quietly happening under the hostas, between the daisies, and in the detritus of the forest floor. Guff was witnessing the start of a new life; one that he had been waiting for almost two hundred years now. The time was here, and he could not be more proud than if he was the parent.

She was coming; soon.



Chapter 2

An All Around Tink Day

“Dee! Tink!” the bear huffed his way back in the workshop. “We need an inscription incised into this frame.” So much for a stolen early morning break, thought Tink as he slowly climbed out of the coffee mug. His job would be to hold up the frame so Dvark could cut the engraved letters with his directed pencil sharp flame. Tink had been trying over the last year to breathe fire, but all he could muster up was a pungent smoke wafting from his nostrils that made him sneeze. So, for now, he just held the frames for Dvark and a few of the others; and Dvark would always say, “Da, you getting gooder at holding the frames, ten more years and we be a good trio:  me, you and frame.” He said this every time they worked together and every time he laughed. And every time Tink felt the weight of holding the frames for another ten years listening to Dvark’s grammar, which, now that he thought about it, had an amusing tendency to fluctuate back and forth between almost perfect English and a capriciously unconscious reverting to his Slavic roots.

“Tink, I think this time you hold it for a bit more angle so I can open up the cuts for a wider incising.” The smallest pencil-thin flame shot from Dvark’s nostrils as he blew a thin steady stream of cooling air from his mouth so the wood would not catch fire, or even turn a singed brown. Tink, for all his boredom, still marveled at the skill that it took to cut with the flame one hairbreadth in front of the cooling chilled breath. Many times Tink had watched the power of that breath as Dvark had blown on his tea in the summer to make it iced without ice cubes. Something Twill tried occasionally, but only succeeded in turning the tea to ice, or glass; but she was getting better.

“Dee,” Tink asked as the older dragon examined their work. “Why do you think I’m so small?”

A single whirling bronze eye slowly levitated until it peeked over the frame, as the matching eyebrow tendrils arched into question marks. (Another one of Dvark’s special talents that made him unique and a cause for his own amusement.) “And at the cusp of childhood, this bothers you why?” Dee’s eye whirled even faster and redder if that was possible then lowered back to examining the picture frame; Tink heard a soft humph followed by a low chuckle.

“It’s not just the size, but also the color,” the small dragon whined while muscling up against the back of the very large gold frame six times his size. He had become very adept at arching and curving his wings into “flying buttresses,” which was a little shocking to some dragons, and a very interesting curiosity to some of the older ones, as well as to Guff, since it required actually bending his bones. “I’m not even green.” The small mossy mud-colored dragon picked up the tip of his right wing and braced it out another inch and against a deep gouge in the bench top giving him even better leverage. “Even the Terror Twins are at least blue-green green,” Tink continued his whining complaint, more to himself than his mentor and fire carver on the other side of the frame. His small brown tail curled left across the workbench as he braced for the weight that he could feel was increasing as Dvark dug deeper with his flame, scooping out the curled leaves of the pattern in the frame.

A mumbled distracted voice on the other side of the frame muttered “Please to go tell Twill and Skell they are no good; and must become green to be so.” Tink, listening intently for critical instructions from the Master Framer, rolled his eyes at the comment as he also noticed the tip of Dvark’s tail begin to swish and twitch; a sure sign that Dee was having fun and laughing at him and his “silly” worries. Tink slumped inwardly in his resolve at the still unanswered questions. The two would work the rest of the early morning in the silence Dvark preferred.

While some of the dragon workers preferred to sip coffee and relax for the morning break, Tink relished his time sitting in Guff’s mug for the morning break because of the special light that usually did not quite make it into the forest until later. But then there were the special times like today that the time was shared with Guff at his desk, discussing topics other than the shop. A favorite subject of all dragons and this bear in particular was food, more specifically, the food that Tink’s mother loved to prepare. Especially her forays into the latest recipes for rice balls, rolls and fish balls, which were a staple in most dragon households.

“So if she washes the nettles in the lemon juice and spring water, it takes out the toxins?”

Tink nodded as he sipped some more coffee. “That is what she says. I don’t know if there is another secret too or not, but it sure does add a nice zip to the green roll with the brown rice.”

Guff, eyes rolled up and to the right, thought about what he knew of nettles and how tough they were to get out of bear fur, as well as what happens when they work their way to his skin and why there is a reason they call them ‘stinging’ nettles. “Hmm, sure will be nice to get a chance at biting back a nettle or two,” the big bear grinned with the right side of his mouth and winked at Tink as he sat on the bear’s large knee. “In fact, I happen to know a rather large patch in the east area of the forest and it would make me cry if it got used up.”

Tink and the big bear chuckled as they sipped the last of their coffee. Tink watched with the side-watching fovea (focal points in a dragon’s eye) of his left eye, as three of the surfers on the large wave near Guff’s shirt pocket could not handle the shaking of the bear; they wiped out and were consumed by the wave on his ubiquitous Hawaiian shirts. Tink did not know how the shirts did that, but he did find the shirts and the dramatic changes in their scenery to be a good indicator to the bear’s mental state. Although lately he had been mixing the shirts up a bit with some new patterned shirts with dragons on them and as if that was not enough, one shirt was of all the dragons that worked at the Paws & Claws Atelier. Tink thought about that shirt as he drifted back to work via dropping off his small coffee mug at the “Rocket Fuel Station” (coffee urn). There just seemed something wrong with a shirt that depicts the dragon workers doing the work that they were each doing at that moment, even when they do not always do the same thing. It was a nice shirt and all, just a little unnerving for Tink.

“Tink,” a plaintive call came from one of the back rooms. Pu, one of the Snake Dragons and the Fabric Master, had earlier dropped a comment that he would be fabric wrapping a large liner this morning. Not that he had specifically mentioned Tink’s name, but as sure as his skin was mud brown green, he knew that at one point this morning he would be ‘playing with Pu’, and getting all wrapped up in his work. Tink chuckled at his own little humor, as he loved the turn of a pun, not for serious humor but just for fun.

“Coming Pu,” Tink called as he popped over Jeeter’s head as he was winding his way through the main workroom with a hundred pound sack of ground talc stone called whiting, a staple in the creation of large gold ornate frames. Tink just did not think that the Paws & Claws used that much whiting. Every time he saw Jeeter, he had a large sack of whiting on his shoulder. Tink pictured Jeeter going home at night carrying a sack on his shoulder, which made Tink laugh just as he entered the Empire of Pu . . .

“Something about fabric you find funny?” a very serious Pu asked Tink as his nose radar tracked on the very small dragon hovering in the air.

“Nothing about fabric, Pu; I just was thinking about . . .” Tink felt that both of Pu’s forward hunting fovea were trained on him and that he was being evaluated as prey. Tactfully he attempted to shift the subject to Pu’s empire. “So, you had mentioned that there was a rather large liner that . . . HOLY CARP EARS!” he shouted as he spotted the 8” wide moulding on the liner that filled the wall upon which that it was leaning.

“You weren’t kidding about it being large!” Tink’s head whipped back and forth from Pu to the large liner, “Do you even have fabric wide enough for something like that?” he asked, looking askance to Pu for illumination.

Pu was looking at the liner but now re-focused on the small dragon slowly hovering closer as he sized up the liner frame. Tink looked again at Pu then started to look back at the frame but his brain finally stumbled on the deep furrowed brow and disgusted look on Pu’s face as well as the super dramatic flaring of the articulated nostrils. “Oh, yes,” he responded with chagrin, “of course you have fabric that will fit. What was I thinking?” He smacked his right palm to the jewel in his forehead.

“Good eye, junior dragon,” retorted Pu as he spun about on the ball of his left foot, stopping with a strategic slap down of his large, long and very prehensile tail. “The narrow measure is just 118-3/4” and the fabric is 120”, maybe.” Ever the mentor, or at least teacher, Pu now whipped about to face Tink and like a magician pulling a scarf from a hat, his left hand produced a collapsible measuring stick from his pocketed apron and began waving it about, using it now as a pointer on the various facets facing them in this project.

Tink wanted to roll his eyes, but knew better; even if Pu was looking away, he could never be sure he was not somehow being watched. Tink fully understood that after 50 years working at Paws & Claws Atelier, there were mirrors and fragments of mirrors, as well as eyes, everywhere. Especially when you least expected it.

“ . . . And so with the scoop pulling down much of the excess fabric, along each side there runs a half inch of un usable fabric that is called selvage, so, the fitting will be very . . .” Pu whipped around and turned his targeting on full focus and brought it to bear on the tiny mud green dragon. “Are you paying attention?”

Responding physically to “the look”, Tink backed off a bit as he responded by shaking his head as he reiterated the problem, “. . . so the fit is going to be very tight and tricky.” He finished with what he hoped was an ingratiating smile.

The silent look was held for almost the count of five, “Yes, well, go heat the rock box to about 200 degrees . . . oh, yes, sorry, I forgot. You have no flame.” Pu shot him a short look, putting Tink back in his place as he stepped to the door and asked Dee if he could come lend a hand. “And while you’re in here, could you help me place this magnificent liner up on these four work benches.”

It was rare that Tink felt totally useless, but in the case of such a large frame, the two large Snake dragons each standing a full five feet tall, but with tails and all were close to 125 pounds each, as well as very muscular and scary strong. Tink simply stood back and watched the ballet of moving a frame that was larger both of them together. On the way out, Dvark stepped over to the box made of soapstone and blew a flame into the box until he knew the heat in the stone was the desired temperature.

Tink, having performed this routine many times over the years, knew that the next step was to place four or five “mice” in the box so that they would heat up. The mice were nothing more than sewn cloth balls filled with rice or field corn. Tink placed a matching set on the cold or cool slate floor. The mice were used to “iron” down the fabric to the wood liner frame that Poul, the glue-blowing dragon, had blown down a day or two before with an adhesive that was special for fabric:  the application of the hot mice reactivated the adhesive, applying the cold mice from the floor set the adhesive.

Tink had learned many years before that a metal heat iron was only suitable for use with certain fabrics; many others take on a glazed look if an iron is used. Like the silk they would be applying this day that was too thin to have Poul flame down the frame with the glue. To try to lay the fabric on the wet adhesive would make for a nearly impossible task; better to wait and do the process dry with the mice. Today, Tink’s job would be to shuttle the mice back and forth into Pu’s hands as he slowly and perfectly applied the fabric to the frame. The term “Master” was not thrown around lightly when it comes to the application of fabric, but it perfectly described the Master, Pu.

Lunch would be late in coming, as once the process began of shuttling the mice about the fabric room, the workers could not be interrupted until the task was completed. Tink was fascinated listening to Pu’s unique form of communication, which consisted of squeaks through his nose, ticks from his tongue, and the clicking of his unsheathed claws. Especially upon examining his own claws, Tink found this most fascinating because he knew of no other dragon that had retractable claws like a cat.

Dvark stopped in several times to maintain the heat temperature, as well as marvel at the other Master, at work in his Empire. Dee, seemingly casual, would lean his dark form against the door-jamb, and with his forearms folded across his chest, watch intently as the yellow with red ridge trim Snake dragon wound from outside the frame to up on the tables and inside the frame, getting each and every thread straight as a laser line. His sheathed claws tugged and urged the fabric to form to the frame, and be the perfect fabric Pu knew it could be.

During the late morning, others would glance in for a moment to see the Master dance to such a large frame; Jeeter even came in quietly and gave the fabric a very close look, and when he felt Pu had stopped, looked up and said only, “Exquisite.” At which they both nodded, and returned to their respective jobs.

The lunch fish balls were gone, and the last of the sweet sauce licked from the inside of the little container, and now a small resonating thrumming was echoing from the mug on Guff’s desk. The large bear, fighting off a nap himself, was enjoying Tink’s company and the sunshine pouring through the wall of nine-lite Tudor windows all the while he was trying to catch up a little bit on some important personal paperwork and correspondence. As much as Twill chided him for not getting an email account, he felt that he could leave that for other generations. What little communication he needed or even wanted to do, he would do the same way he had been doing it for almost 200 years – pen, paper, and an envelope or other means.

Finally, the rhythmic rumblings of the Tink mug symphony were too much for the ursine inner beast and with the pen capped, the paper straightened, and all stowed in the proper drawers, the desk now cleared was ready for the best ursine use. The red rubber clogs raised off the floor, crossed on the corner of the desk, and Guff was sound asleep before the chair had reached its fully reclined position. The sunshine melted its way through the ancient wavy glass as the healing balm of  slumber salved the two beasts; the master and the . . . well, apprentice would be a misnomer, yet Journeyman would also not describe the small “all around guy” that filled the porcelain mug near the window.

“This looks to be grand, Jeeter,” Dvark offered as he examined the frame in his hands. “The panel was yellow bole over the gesso, was it not?” he asked as he examined the flat middle panel of the picture frame’s profile, to which Jeeter merely nodded.

As Dvark ran the back of his right index claw along the burnished gold leaf, he admired the workmanship, “Your burnishing of the gold is trackless and totally uniform, Jeeter. You have come a long way since I have come to work here.” They both quietly chuckled at the old joke between a pair of the oldest employees at the Paws & Claws. Jeeter had actually been in residence long before anyone else could imagine, but as anyone will tell you, he is not very talkative.

As Jeeter walked away, Tink, refreshed from his nap, once again looked and wondered about the two large scars running down the dragon’s back where wings should have been. This enigmatic dragon, who probably said less than twelve words on his most talkative days, was the one person Tink wished would tell him his story. Jeeter was a wingless “right” dragon with a flame red rudder on an otherwise all green body, except for the ubiquitous tan-yellow chest and belly plates. He moved like a wraith or a shadow, always restocking supplies just as you need them, and making gesso or composition castings for some of the frames, and yet, he never seemed to be talking with Twill or Guff over the jobs that need doing; he just went about his day.

“So my little Tink, what do you tink, Tink?” The older Russian dragon laughed at his own joke or pun, as he pointed at the frame on his workbench.

“It’s beautiful, Dee, but I thought you were going to etch a pattern into the panel.”

“I will.” The large blackish brown dragon smiled, “So, now it would seem it is time to awaken the educated beast of the wall.” He nodded his head dramatically backwards over his shoulder at the blank paneled wall. He stepped one foot toward the panels and reached out, knocked twice, then once, then three times. Turning his head, he winked at Tink, “Always the secret knock; always.” Flith had been known to ignor any other knock, thinking it was only something knocking against the wall.

They both turned as a tall but narrow section of the age-darkened clear pine, plate and rail paneled wall collapsed back into the wall itself, and an eerie yellowish light flickered from the now exposed opening. Like two nervous excited children on Christmas morning when it is still dark out but they just have to peek, the two dragons stretched their necks to peer around the corner to see if they could see any of the secret Fiefdom of Flith. Flith was the company’s archivist and researcher of historical information, so any frames that needed to be historically accurate were historically accurate.

Neither one of the two dragons had ever been in the library/archive/research room where Flith (for all intents and purposes) lived – he was rarely ever seen out and about in the shop. In fact, Tink had worked for Paws & Claws for over ten years before he realized that Flith might just work there; and another four or five years before he found out Flith’s name and what he did.

The light was a low yellowish light that glowed through what appeared to be many veils or sheer drapes hung almost en masse down a short hallway that ended in a bend so that nothing could be seen. The air had a smell of incense, barbequed spare ribs, roasted raisins, old leather, and burning candles. Both dragons caught the other with flared nostrils and half-closed eyes as they sucked up the air of mystery and the aroma of adventure.

Remembering why they were here, Dvark offered, “Flith?”

A pallid visage, almost a skeleton of a dragon’s head, popped around the corner, blinking many times. Flith presented the ultimate expression of the pure absent-minded professor. His black horns, uniformly miss-aligned ear wings (one up and the other sticking straight out like a cowlick), one eye open much wider then the other, and one wing up and folded tight with the other dragging draped on the floor added to  the wild effect. He looked as though he had just been startled awake, as he may very well have been. “Yes?”

He paused seeming to catalog who he was looking at or what they may want, as he stuck the two middle claws of his left hand into his mouth and sucked at the nails, thinking. “I’m sorry; is it June yet?” He blinked and then realizing he was sucking on his claws, withdrew them and hid the offending limb behind his head, which now made him look all the more like an errant child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Dvark’s shoulders sagged in disappointment. “Um, you were looking up the proper pattern for the panel on a Neoclassical French frame?”

“Classical?”

“Neo,” Dvark added, “French”. Tink watched Dvark’s eyes turn black as obsidian and hard as diamonds. This was not going well . . .

“Late 16th century, early 17th,” Dvark added pronouncing each syllable with a breath of air for punctuation.

Flith blinked as if seeing the two dragons for the first time. His head slightly bobbed up as if to see better, the ear wings realigned as the eyes trued even, and then his whole frame oozed around the corner and into the hall separating the draping. “Dvark?” he asked curiously, “Tink?”

“Yes.”

“Oh . . . oh happy day! I was just working on some patterns for you. “ He suddenly stood erect and a huge smile stretched from ear wing to ear wing. “Please, come in, come in,” as he waved them into the small and narrow space. He suddenly realized that he and Dvark could not occupy the same space, so he turned saying, “Well then, follow me,” and he led down the curious passageway in the wall and disappeared around the corner.

Dvark looked at Tink with big exaggerated eyes and rolled them as a comment to what just happened. Tink in response shrugging innocence, offered out his right hand toward the passage, as if to say “there is no way I’m going in there first.”

As they began separating the drapes in the few short steps down the passage, Tink could not help but think about a certain book he had read many long years ago called Alice in Wonderland. After 50 years, Tink and Dvark were discovering that the building had its own version of a rabbit hole, along with its own Mad Hatter. This was confirmed with three more of Dvark’s strides.

Tink turned the corner and immediately ran into the back of Dvark’s head, who did not notice. Tink recovered and climbed up on top of Dvark’s head, grabbing hold of the two long shining black horns. He pulled himself up to see and almost fell over backwards.

They were standing in an anteroom with a massive desk half buried in stacks of books, globes, charts, maps, an bird less golden bird cage with three small books and a plumb-bob inside (Tink didn’t want to know.). They stared in amazement at a stuffed wombat that looked like it was being used for an ottoman, and a huge stuffed (Tink thought) great horned owl stretched out in full flight, hanging from the ceiling, a large swivel chair, and in its own niche a large brass and silver hookah. Stretching back into the dark were floor to ceiling book shelves, making up a library that most small towns would vote bond issues upon. OK, maybe only kill or wreck mayhem over.

Standing next to the desk stood Flith with his tail arched up high, and a globe lantern suspended from the tip near the rudder. “Anyone for tea? I was just putting on a pot of orange pekoe with a hint of blackberry mint.” He offered, “Dee, Tink. It is very good you know.”

Dvark broke the spell and stepped one step forward, “Um, Flith, we really came for the pattern for the frame-” His head bobbed up about a half of a neck worth and his ear wings flared. “Blackberry mint? As in lower Siberia blackberry mint?”

Turning, Flith happily clapped his claws, “Of course from lower Siberia silly, the northern stuff is totally inedible you know.” Looking back over his shoulder, he looked for Tink who was now shamelessly hovering up and down in the stacks of book selves. “Tink, Tink, join us in tea?”

“No thank you,” returned the muted answer.

“Well,” started Flith, patting the cozy onto the steeping pot. “We’ll just let that steep as we go over these patterns.” Turning to the desk, he rolled out several schematics of patterns. “I wasn’t sure about the location you were focused on in France, as well as the Neoclassical stretching for almost thirty years, with the two schools of classic emphasis of Roman as well as the Greek to draw from, so I kind of made up some rough sketches of different areas and periods to go over . . .”

Dee had long since stopped listening and his eyes were jumping from one fovea to the other as he marveled at the detail and polychromatic play of the subtle  hues that Flith had penciled or inked into the patterns. He looked up with newfound admiration for the little known fellow worker that hid in the wall. “You drew and painted these?”

Timidly, with a soft draw of air, the archivist admitted, “yes.”

Astounded, Dvark asked, “When? I only asked you for the research a few weeks ago.” He leafed through dozens of pages containing many intricately drawn detail rich patterns, each one more exquisite than the one before.

“Oh,” Flith shrugged as he quietly poured the tea into eggshell cups that were almost clear in their thinness and translucent splendor. “Oh, here and there, I find time.” Setting down the pot and resettling the cozy he looked up and away at the ceiling, “some days, some nights. I don’t know. It all just gets done somehow.” Handing Dvark the cup and saucer he settled down in his chair. “Sorry I don’t have any honeyberry scones to offer you, but I ate the last one a day or so ago.” Closing his eyes, he sipped in the nectar of the tea.

“Dee!” Tink came shooting out of the back, coming to a hover inches from Dvark’s nose and teacup. The dark Russian dragon was also relishing his tea along with long lost memories from his youth. “Dee.”

One eye opened to examine that which was ruffling his smoothed countenance. The tiny mud green dragon floated patiently in midair doing that irritating hover thing with no visible movement of his wings that drove Dvark or Chang nuts because they could not figure out how he did it.

“Flith has a whole shelf of books about Celtic patterns,”  Tink bubbled, “with those ‘twisty-beasty’ things of rabbits and foxes and bears, oh my, they are so very . .  . very . . . well, just very.”

“Oh, you like Celtic patterns young Tink?” Flith slowly fought his way back to the present and injected himself into his realm of knowledge and experience. “You know, the Celtic knot as chiseled in stone, precedes the tying of the Gordian knot.” He leaned forward and the lantern still hanging from his tail appeared to glow brighter as his eyes also seemed to glow. “You know, the Romans had a set of interlacing knot patterns of their own . . .”

Outside of the wall, in a much different reality, Guff was looking for Tink. As he poked his head into the Empire of Fabric he noted that Pu was standing in the middle of the room and directing a modest sized greenish-blue dragon folding fabric in one side of the room, and a bluish-green twin rolling fabric in the other end of the storeroom. Guff smirked to see “The Twins”, Green and Blue, or in their proper dragon spelling, G’Rn and Blӧ, put to constructive work where there was no room for mischief.

“Yes sir?” Pu asked as he noticed Guff.

“Oh, I was looking for Tink.”

Pu simply pointed at the one wall not lined with shelves. The wall that was the backside of the matching wall in the great workroom; in theory, the other side of a 6” thick wall should be Dvark’s work bench area; but Guff knew better, and as he listened very carefully, he could hear a muted version of Flith lecturing on something in which he was well versed: history.

Smiling, Guff nodded to Pu, who returned the gesture, and walked back into the workroom. Scanning about, Guff realized that the end of the workday had come and gone, and most of the crew had “flown the coop” as it were.

Too big to squeeze through the mysterious passageway to invade Flith’s domain, as much as he really would love to sometime, he knew he needed to break up the education that he also knew could be captivating for many hours past the passing of daylight, as Flith had no track of any time or other concerns. Stepping to the passageway of the cloistered panel, he simply called out for Tink and Dee.

Tink was immediately to respond, and Dee was slower and more reluctant, as expected.

“Tink, if I could see you for a few minutes in my office,” Guff jerked his head, granting him permission to precede the bear, “and, Dee it’s after hours, so you can either return to the wall, or go home as you wish.” He looked at the old friend with a smile and an arched eyebrow. “It’s your choice.” Laughing, he left the pattern master to his own demons, as he guessed that Dvark, once into the den of Flith, would be drawn back in like a bee to a flower; and he was not very often wrong.

“Tink, my little buddy,” Guff sank down into his favorite chair. “We need to talk about what we can expect this year as the summer winds down.” He reached out instinctively for his coffee mug, but suddenly remembering Tink’s favorite resting place, he moved the mug in Tink’s direction.

“The end of summer, sir?”

Guff got up and rummaged about in the shelves a moment then excused himself, returning with a mug of steaming coffee. “Yes, the end of this summer.” He resumed his seat as Tink climbed into the empty mug on the desk.

“This is the year that the Fairy Princess will be revealed, and as we have quit a local community of affluent fairies in the area. In as much as they are always looking for ways to leverage their position, I expect that we may see an uptick in the fairy traffic as well as maybe the gnomes and some humans.” Guff scratched behind his left ear as he cocked his head and looked sideways at the ceiling.

“Fairy Princess?” Tink was confused but intrigued.

“Sure. I believe this is the year, and it’s always about the end of the summer or early fall sometime; I forget when exactly,” he sipped his coffee. “It’s not like it’s really often enough to really remember these things. After all, it’s been almost a hundred years since the last time.”

“Fairy Princess?” Tink was stuck on a concept or title . . .

The sonic boom rattled the windows and Guff heard a few of the smaller forest denizens cry out with tiny “eeps” and rustle for cover in the under forest, bushes and forest duff or detritus of rotting foliage. “Sounds like Boomer is in a hurry,” the bear laughed.

A streak appeared in the courtyard. “Tink!” The fire red and orange medium sized dragon hovered just outside the office windows, “Oh, hello Master Guff.”

“Good evening to you too, Boomer.” Laughing lightly, Guff acknowledged his smallest worker’s sibling and another dragon Guff considered as a friend. “What is on the agenda this fine spring evening boys?”

Tink looked to Guff, to Boomer and back to Guff.

Boomer answered instead, “We playing team drop-ball down in the pasture. Some of the other subsonic messengers and I, and I wanted to know if Tink is off and can be my partner?”

Guff smiled at the thought of how dragons play ball. A neutral dragon tosses a ball weighted in such a way as to cause it to erratically fall from the 10 or 12,000 feet, through 2 sets of players. Whichever is lowest on the score gets the higher flight “perch”, and if they miss the flittering ball, the next team gets a try as the ball continues to fall. Guff guessed it would be fun to watch if you could fly and actually see everything. He also guessed that was the reason it never caught on for national television broadcasts. Chuckling and waving his paw, he released the two dragons that disappeared into the waning afternoon.

Continuing to ponder the upcoming event and the resulting business ramifications the princess matter could evoke, he thought that he should maybe leave himself a note to talk it over with Tink, and if nothing more, Twill, as she would be the most affected.

Leaning back in his chair, he listened to the buzzing that was coming from the blooms just below the windows, as well as the many sounds and smells that wafted his way from the forest. His large head rolled lazily on the back of the chair as he looked out through the rippling glass windows. The eighteen dragons and one hedgehog on his shirt slowly faded and disappeared as the general color of the shirt shifted to the midnight blue of night. Guff’s eyes drooped shut as he slowly began to hum to himself.

Well, it’s not your grandmothers dragons story is it? So vat you tink?

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