The tomb looked very old. The stone dome resting on the columns was still well preserved, but there was some damage to the burial chamber underneath it, and here and there the walls had fallen in. Carvings of flowers and tendrils of leaves adorned the white stone.
When Firedrake came up the steps, the two ravens perched on the dome rose and flew away, cawing. But they stayed quite close, two black dots in the cloudless sky. The monkeys sitting on the top steps ran away, screeching, and climbed the trees at the foot of the hill. Firedrake stepped between the columns of the tomb, accompanied by Zubeida, and bent his neck low before the professors wife.
Vita Greenbloom returned his bow. She was almost as tall and thin as her husband, and her dark hair was turning gray. Smiling, she put her arms around her daughter and looked first at the dragon, then at Sorrel.
"How wonderful to see you all," she said. "And where is the dragon rider?"
"Here, my dear. This is Ben," said Barnabas Greenbloom, coming up the steps with him. "He was just asking me why this place is known as the tomb of the dragon rider. Would you like to tell him?"
"No, I think Zubeida should do that," replied Vita Greenbloom. Smiling at Ben, she sat down with him on the back of a stone dragon that stood guard outside the tomb. "The story of the dragon rider had almost been forgotten, you see," she told the boy quietly, "until Zubeida rediscovered it."
"Yes, thats right, but its a true story all the same." Zubeida glanced up at the sky. "We must keep an eye on those ravens," she murmured. "They werent at all scared of the cats. But now for the story." She stood leaning against the head of the stone dragon and looked at Ben. "Well, about three hundred years ago," she began, "a boy lived down there in the village, a boy no older than you. Every night when the moon was full, he sat on the beach and watched the dragons come down from the mountains to bathe in the moonlight. Then one night the boy jumped into the sea, swam out to the dragons, and climbed onto the back of one of them. The dragon didnt mind, and the boy sat there until it rose from the water and flew away with him. His family was very sad at first, but whenever the dragons came back so did the boy, year after year, until he was a grown man, and he lived to be so old that his hair turned white. Only then did he come back to visit his brothers and sisters in the village and see their children and grandchildren. But no sooner was he back than he fell ill, so ill that no one could help him. On a night when the dragon riders fever was particularly bad, a solitary dragon came down from the mountains, even though there was no moon. He settled outside the dragon riders hut and breathed gentle blue fire all over it. When morning came the dragon flew away again. But the dragon rider was cured, and he lived for many, many more yearsso many that there came a time when everyone lost count of them. And as long as he lived, enough rain fell on the village fields every year, and the fishermens nets were always full. When at last he died, the villagers built this tomb in honor of the dragon rider and the dragons. And once more, the night after his funeral, a solitary dragon came down from the mountains and breathed dragon-fire over these white walls. Since then, they say, any sick person who touches the stones of these walls will be cured, too. When the land is cold by night and people are freezing, they can find a warm place here, for the stones are always as warm as if the dragon-fire lived on in them."
"Is that really true?" asked Ben. "The part about the warm stones, I mean? Have you tried it out?"
Zubeida Ghalib smiled. "Of course," she said. "Its just as the story says."
Ben touched the ancient wall and put his hand inside one of the carved stone flowers. Then he looked at Firedrake.
From Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, Chapters 27 & 28, pages 275-295. Original copyright 2000 by Dressler Verlag. Original English translation copyright 2001 by Oliver Georg Latsch. First published in Germany as Drachenreiter by Cecile Dressler Verlag, 1997. This translation by Anthea Bell copyright 2004 by The Chicken House. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Chicken House. Published in the USA by Scholastic by arrangement with The Chicken House.
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