"Oh no! All is lost. I'll never find it!" Harriet flopped to the ground, curled a scaly tail around her and plopped her head on outstretched legs. "I can't do anything right."
"What's the matter this time, Harriet? Did you forget your name again?" The giant squatted down next to Harriet and leaned against the cave opening. He grinned and patted her head.
Harriet sighed. "It's not funny, Marty. I've lost the sword again. What if Crunch comes back? Even you can't fight the Red Dragon without your sword."
Marty patted the scabbard on his waist. "Marty's got his sword." He chuckled and shook his head. "Does your mother know? She was really steamed the last time you lost it."
Harriet shook her head. "She's gone hunting and hasn't gotten back yet."
Marty stood up and lumbered around the cave, kicking up scrub and rolling over boulders. "Boy, Harriet, you're not the crispiest flake in the bowl, are you? This is at least the fifth time you've lost the blasted thing." He grinned again. "Marty never loses his. Marty never has to use it either. Marty thinks old Crunch is afraid of him."
"Crunch isn't afraid of anyone. He kills for fun. Last month he killed two of my neighbors and threw them into a pit on the other side of the forest."
"Maybe he just hates blue dragons. He doesn't seem to bother the yellows."
"Crunch hates everyone." Harriet got up and shook off the dust. "My mother said that ever since the White Lamb in Forever Kingdom beat him in a fair fight, he's taking it out on everyone." Harriet raised her head and sniffed into the wind. "Marty, do you smell anything unusual?"
"Nah, Marty don't smell nothing. Does it smell like food? Marty's hungry."
"Marty's always hungry." Harriet said. "That's all you do is eat."
"And sleep," Marty added. He scratched his head. "Marty doesn't see your sword anywhere, Harriet. Got any ideas?"
"I might have lost it in those bramble bushes. I was cutting down a toothpick earlier." Harriet lumbered over to the bushes and started to poke around at the edge of the clearing. After a few minutes, she plopped down and sighed. "It's not here. I'm going to be in big trouble this time."
"Think, Harriet. You had to drop it somewhere. It's just not going to disappear into thin air. Where else were you?"
Harriet looked at Marty and blushed. "Well, I sorta took a dip in the lake this morning and..."
"You went to the lake after your mother told you not to? You disobeyed your mother? Harriet!"
"Well, I sorta did, I guess."
"You guess! What do you mean you guess? Even Marty doesn't disobey his mother. Why, she'd throttle Marty to within a foot of his life. Have you ever seen her hands? They look like bass drums."
"But Marty, I was hot. Besides, tommorow's Saturday and I'd have to take a bath anyway. My mom always scrubs me with her little steel brush and it hurts, so I thought I'd just do it a day earlier-by myself."
"And what were you going to tell her tomorrow when she took you to the lake for your bath? That you already took one today?" Marty chuckled. "Boy, Harriet. I don't know about you."
Harriet grinned sheepishly. "I guess I never thought that far ahead."
"Now you lost your sword because you disobeyed. Unless we find it you're going to be punished for sure. Come on. Let's go."
"Where are we going?"
"To the lake. You probably left it on the bank when you went swimming. We can be down and back in less than an hour."
Marty stepped onto the path that led to the lake. It was narrow and full of rocks. Marty had to duck to avoid the brambles but even that didn't slow him down. Harriet ran to keep up. Ten minutes into their journey the path twisted away from the clearing and led deeper through the woods. It was a shortcut that led across the forest right to the edge of the lake. All the animals used it but Harriet never liked it. It was always dark and the strange sounds spooked her. Yes, it's true. Even blue dragons get scared.
Marty never slowed his pace but plunged into the darkness as if he were on his way to McDonalds for a Happy Meal. He grunted every time a branch slapped him in the face but merely snapped it in two and threw it into the thicket.
Harriet froze on the trail behind him and sniffed the air again. "Marty stop!" she whispered.
Marty didn't hear but kept on going.
"Marty!" Harriet said a little louder. "Stop!"
Marty stopped and waited for Harriet to catch up. She was panting and had to catch her breath before she could speak. "There's something in the woods up ahead. Can't you smell it?" Harriet whispered.
"Marty don't smell nothing. Maybe it's your breath blowing back into your face." He chuckled at his own joke.
"And the animals, Marty. Listen."
"Marty don't hear no animals."
"I know. That's what's strange. There's always animal sounds in the forest. There's nothing now but silence."
He turned his head towards the darkness. "Marty smell it now. It smells like the matches Marty's mother uses to start a cooking fire. Don't you recognize it?"
"No. I've never seen a match. My mom just blows on our food."
"It's probably someone just starting a campfire. After all, it is about lunch time." He rubbed his stomach. "Marty's hungry."
"What are we going to do, Marty? I wish I had my sword!"
"Here, Harriet. Use Marty's sword; he never uses it!" Marty tugged at his sword in the scabbard. He tugged again. He pulled. He smacked it on his knees. He jiggled it. "Something's wrong, Harriet. Marty's sword is stuck."
"Let me give it a little flame, Marty." Marty took the scabbard from around his waist and laid it on the path.
Harriet took a deep breath and aimed a spurt of fire at the sword. "Try it now, Marty. Hurry. That noise is getting louder."
Marty blew on the sword hilt and carefully picked it up. "Ow, hot!" He blew again and struggled to loosen the sword. It still didn't budge.
"Hurry, Marty. Do something!"
In one last desperate effort Marty grabbed the sword hilt in one hand and the scabbard in the other and twisted. SNAP! It broke in two. Marty held up the useless pieces in his hands. The noise in the forest ahead suddenly stopped. When it began again it seemed much closer.
Marty and Harriet had only enough time to duck into a thick cover of brambles and flatten themselves on the ground before a huge red dragon appeared on the exact spot they had just been. The dragon stood ten feet tall and was covered with thick scales that looked like metal plates of armor. His eyes were a sickly green and they seemed to search everywhere at once. Putrid gray smoke oozed from his nostrils and a forked tongue flicked in and out between two rows of razor-sharp teeth. The dragon sniffed the air and grunted. He moved a few steps closer to Marty and Harriet and sniffed again. The dragon stared into the thicket at the exact spot where they lay but didn't see them. Satisfied, Crunch stalked down the path, looking left and right into the forest as he went.
"Hurry, Harriet. Let's find your sword before Crunch comes back." Marty stepped back onto the path and headed again for the lake. Ten minutes later Harriet collapsed on the wet bank wheezing and gasping for air. She pointed to the other side of the lake and Marty hurried around looking for the sword. He let out a whoop and waved Harriet's sword in the air. "Marty found it, Harriet." He hurried back and gave the sword to her.
"Caw! Not safe. Not safe. Caw!" Harriet and Marty both looked in the direction of the voice. High in the upper branches of a tall oak perched a lone crow. "Caw! Crunch coming. Crunch coming. Caw!"
Harriet struggled to her feet and sniffed the air. "She's right. I can smell him, Marty. There's no place to hide this time. We're caught out in the open." Harriet drew her sword and gave Marty the scabbard. A loud crash quickly followed another. A boulder hissed through the air and just missed Harriet. She and Marty watched it roll harmlessly into the lake. When they turned back around Crunch stood in the clearing breathing fire. He roared and slammed his tail on the ground. The earth shook and the surface of the lake rippled.
Harriet gulped. She didn't feel very brave even with the sword. Marty stood behind her whimpering. "Marty's afraid," he whispered. "Marty wants Mama."
"Don't worry, Marty. It'll be O.K." Harriet didn't feel as brave as she sounded but knew, if Marty panicked and tried to run, Crunch would kill him. Harriet waved the sword in the air. "Go away, Crunch, and leave us alone. You have no power over the sword." Harriet took a step towards the Red Dragon and he backed up a step. He hissed and smoke seeped out of his snout and curled into the air.
Crunch bellowed and lunged towards Harriet but she stood her ground. Harriet held the sword up in both paws. Her heart pounded in her ears and her knees shook but she didn't back down. There was something in the sword that was pouring power into her as she held it up heavenward. The double-edged blade glinted in the sunlight and Crunch's eyes began to tear. Harriet waited for her chance to strike. When Crunch reached up a paw to wipe his eyes, she lunged with the sword and put a gash in Crunch's leg. A green thick liquid oozed out of the cut and turned the ground to slime as thick as mud.
Crunch bellowed with pain and Harriet lunged again. She slipped in the slime and landed face first at the Red Dragon's feet but held tightly to the sword. Crunch raised his foot to stomp Harriet but she rolled to the side and plunged the sword into the soft pad of Crunch's foot. More of the green ooze spurted out and covered Harriet with a green blanket of slime. She smelled like raw sewage. Marty backed away from her and held his nose.
Crunch bellowed again and hopped around on one foot. His thrashing tail knocked over trees and kicked up loose boulders at the edge of the forest.
"Caw! Crunch is hurt. Crunch is hurt. Caw!" The crow flew to a lower limb and danced from one branch to another. Soon other birds joined her. Animals peered skeptically from their coverings farther down the lake and slowly came out of hiding. They began cheering Harriet.
Harriet raised the sword again and took aim at Crunch's good foot but when Crunch saw the sword raised, he angrily turned and crashed back into the forest. "I'll be back, Harriet," he roared.
"My sword will be waiting, Crunch." Harriet shouted at the disappearing dragon.
Marty slapped Harriet affectionately on the back. "We did good, didn't we, Harriet."
Harriet laughed. "We sure did, Marty." All the animals gathered round to congratulate Harriet. Everyone tried to touch the blue dragon but Harriet made them stop. "It wasn't me," she said. "The power's in the sword." Harriet turned to Marty. "We better go, Marty, I want to get home before my mother gets back." They waved to the animals then bounded into the forest.
Twenty minutes later they broke through the clearing in front of Harriet's cave. Harriet's mother stood in the opening with her paws folded across her broad chest. Harriet recognized the look on her face. "Where have you been, young lady?"
"Marty's gotta go, Harriet. I think his mama's calling him." Marty disappeared around the cave and plunged into the forest.
"Well, Harriet, I'm waiting. And look at you! You're covered with green slime from head to foot." Harriet's mother sighed and shook her head. "Honestly, Harriet. What am I going to do with you?" She sniffed. "Is that awful smell coming from you? Stand right there. Don't take another step towards this cave. I'll be right back."
"Where you going, Mama?"
"I'm taking you to the lake for a bath. But first I want to get my steel brush-the big one."
Harriet sighed. When will I ever learn that disobedience doesn't pay? She looked at the dry slime that caked her body and wrinkled her nose. In fact, she thought, disobedience stinks.
Harriet heard the thicket rustle near the back of the cave. She looked up and saw Marty pop out his head. "Boy Harriet," he whispered, "you're not the crispiest flake in the bowl, are you?"
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