The ravens had come even closer.
"Just you wait!" cried Sorrel. "Here goes.A present from a brownie." She jumped up on the stone dragons head, put her arm back, aimed, and threw. First one stone, then the other.
Both hit their mark.
This time, however, they did not cling for long. The ravens shook the stones out of their feathers with a cry of fury and dive-bombed Sorrel.
"Help!" she cried, leaping down and landing in safety behind the stone dragon. "Oh, by death cap and yellow stainer, Ill get you for this, Twigleg!"
Firedrake bared his teeth and moved in front of the humans to protect them. The ravens shot through the air above the temple domeand suddenly began to tumble and fall.
"Theyre changing!" cried Guinevere, peering out from behind Firedrakes back. "Theyre changing shape! Look at that!"
They all saw it.
The birds hooked beaks were shrinking. Black wings turned into pincers, snapping frantically in the air. A small body wriggled inside each armored shell as the relentless force of gravity pulled them down to earth. They landed on one of the flights of crumbling steps, rolled down them, and disappeared into the thorny undergrowth at the foot of the hill.
"By slippery jack and yellow oyster!" whispered Sorrel. "The homunculus was right!" Dazed, she struggled to her feet.
"They turned into crabs!" Ben looked incredulously at the professor.
Barnabas Greenbloom nodded thoughtfully. "They were crabs all along," he said. "Before someone turned them into ravens. Interesting, really most interesting, dont you agree, Vita?"
"Yes, indeed," replied his wife, standing up with a sigh.
"What shall we do with them?" asked Sorrel, going to the top of the steps down which the enchanted ravens had tumbled. "Shall I catch them?"
"No need for that," said Zubeida. "All memory of their master will have vanished when the magic spell was broken. Theyve become perfectly normal crabs. Dragon-fire brings out the true nature of any creature, isnt that so, Firedrake?"
Firedrake had raised his head and was looking up at the blue sky. "Yes," he replied. "Yes, thats right. My parents told me so, long, long ago, but this is the first time Ive ever seen it happen. There are not so many enchanted creatures in the world these days."
Twiglegs hands were trembling so much that he hid them under his jacket.What would he turn into if dragon-fire fell on him? Sensing his gaze, the dragon looked at him. Twigleg quickly turned away. But Firedrake hadnt noticed how frightened the manikin was; he was too deep in thought.
"If those ravens were Nettlebrands spies," Firedrake said, "he must have cast a spell on them. A dragon who can turn a water creature into a bird of the air!" he mused, looking inquiringly at Zubeida.
The dracologist twisted one of her rings thoughtfully. "I know of no story that speaks of a dragon with such powers," she replied. "This is really very, very strange."
"Nettlebrand is a very strange being, anyway," said Professor Greenbloom. He leaned against a column. "Ive only told Vita and Zubeida this, but when he came after me in Egypt he crawled up out of a well. Out of water. Odd for a creature associated with fire, dont you think? Where does he really come from?"
They were all silent, baffled. "And do you know the strangest thing of all?" continued Barnabas Greenbloom. "Nettlebrand hasnt turned up here!" The others all looked at him in alarm.
"I mean, thats why I came myself!" said the professor. "The monster tracked me down to get his scale back, so I thought his next move would be to find Ben. I assumed he might attack Firedrake, too, because he likes to hunt other dragons. But he hasnt done any of that. Instead, hes getting his spies to eavesdrop on you. Hes having this village and Zubeida watched. Whats his plan?"
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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