Pumpkin Sue – A Dragonson Story
Part Two

By: Walter G. Esselman

Pavataro, realizing that he had been cruelly tricked by the woods, contemplates setting them on fire. But Pumpkin Sue, with her wooden body, backs up in fear.

That was enough to break through to the dragon. Pavataro saw Pumpkin Sue backing away carefully and realized what he had been threatening.

Quickly, he shoved his blistering rage down and took a more mild pose.

"But…but that would be bad. Really bad," said Pavataro in a contrite tone. "It's not just these stupid trees, that live in these stupid woods."

"Lots of animals. Lots," agreed Pumpkin Sue quickly. "And the woods go right up to some people's houses, which are wooden."

"Okay," said the dragon. "I…Thank you for finding me. Could you please take me back to the path?"

Pumpkin Sue took a moment to consider that, but then she nodded slowly. "Okay."

The trader cautiously circled the dragon. But he kept still and looked towards where the path should have been. The moment her long wooden finger touched his wing, he could see the path again.

"I can see it," said the dragon in relief.

"I'm just going to hold onto you until we get there," explained Pumpkin Sue.

Pavataro nodded. "Thank you."

They walked carefully until they reached the path. The moment Pavataro stepped onto it, he saw Gideon there, reading Dingenfloffin's book ‘Sacred Cats, And Other Myths Of The Raian Kingdom'.

"GIDEON!" snapped the dragon angrily, and Pumpkin Sue let go of him immediately and stepped back.

The boy looked up and smiled.

"There you are! I was starting to…," began Gideon as he put away his book.

"What're you doing being all dead?" demanded Pavataro.

"I…what?" asked Gideon.

Pumpkin Sue said urgently. "He doesn't know what you saw. He would have seen something different."

"What? Oh yeah," nodded Gideon in confusion. "I saw something attacking Brianna, so I figured it had to be some sort of hallucination."

"A hallusia–what?" demanded Pavataro with a growl.

"When you see something that isn't there," said Gideon patiently. "And since Brianna is back in Bon Su Pear—all safe—I figured it wasn't real."

"Is Brianna your girlfriend?" asked Pumpkin Sue, who was unable to resist being nosy.

"Um, well…," started Gideon with a bashful expression.

Pavataro looked at the boy. "‘Um' is not a word." Then the dragon turned to Pumpkin Sue. "Yes, it's his girlfriend."

"Oh. That's so sweet," grinned Pumpkin Sue soppily. "Apparently, these woods trick you by showing someone who's really important to you. I saw my Mom being killed before I got this amulet. That…was horrible."

Gideon looked at Pavataro. "Who did you see?"

"The Goddess Sumi," sniffed the dragon dismissively. "Can we go now?"

Pumpkin Sue smiled. "Sure sweetie. I was heading to the castle, so I'd be happy for the company." She walked a little ways back to her rickshaw with all her goods.

However, Pavataro was suddenly there. "Let me help."

The dragon easily pulled the cart.

Confused, Gideon followed both of them.

Pumpkin Sue took them a relatively short distance to the end of the path, which opened up into a giant clearing in the woods. There were scores of small wooden houses and businesses, some of which were indeed, right next to the woods. But sticking up in the center was a large tan castle that looked like it had a bit of a moss problem.

"Oy! Who goes there?" cried a voice at the guard's station. It was one of two large trolls.

Pumpkin Sue was authorized right away, but one of the two guards decided to escort the boys into the castle. Pavataro continued to pull the rickshaw.

Inside the castle, they took a short, shadowy path down to a throne room, which was wide with a low ceiling. Sitting at the far end was a thin man lounging on the throne. His crown was a tad askew.

"Coo–ee!" called out Pumpkin Sue to the king. "I've returned with some good stuff."

"Oh good! I thought you had forgotten about us," joked the king in a rough voice.

"Never," replied Pumpkin Sue cheerily as she walked down the length of the room to stand before the king. Gideon and Pavataro followed with her rickshaw cart.

"And did get apprentices?" asked the king.

Pumpkin Sue chuckled. "Not on my budget."

She stood aside for the boys, and Gideon stepped forward.

"Hello King Louder. Actually, we're here from the library at Bon Su Pear castle. My name is Gideon, and this is Pavataro. And your library book is overdue. We were sent to collect it."

"What book?" asked King Louder.

"‘Get That Moss Off Your Castle, Once And For All' by the Warlord Arrowbreaker," said Gideon.

"And you said the moss didn't bother you," teased Pumpkin Sue. The king looked bashful.

"I was just…curious, that's all," he shrugged, but he looked back at Gideon. "I'm not done."

"Um," started Gideon.

"Not a word," whispered Pavataro.

Gieon just glared at the dragon quickly, but then he immediately looked back at the king.

"Um, we're really supposed to bring it back," said Gideon. "Can you finish it tonight?"

"I'm busy," said the king airily.

Pavataro's eyes narrowed and he leaned his head towards the boy.

"Why don't we just come back some other time?" suggested Pavataro softly.

"The librarian said not to come back without it," hissed Gideon. "And he was really, really specific. You saw his face."

"Oh yeah," admitted Pavataro. "He was really mad at you."

"Both of us," hissed Gideon. "And if we don't show up with it, we're in deep…"

"I'm not sure I care," said Pavataro. "I just want to get out of these woods."

"The sooner we have the book…," started Gideon.

"Which I'm not finished with," sniffed the king.

Gideon turned towards the ruler. "Are you close to done?"

"I'm about halfway," said the king. "It should only take a week, or two, at this rate."

"A week?" gasped Gideon. "Um…actually…a whole week?"

The king looked at Pumpkin Sue's disappointed look.

"I guess you can stay here at the castle as my guests until I'm done," he sighed. "Just know that you can't go out into the woods at night."

Pavataro stilled.

"We appreciate the offer," said Gideon. "But we really can't stay here that long. We have to return to our studies in Bon Su Pear."

"Think of it as a vacation," smirked the king.

"Our teachers will not see it that way," explained Gideon with dread. "Really, really not see it that way. "

"I don't see how that's my problem," said the king.

Pumpkin Sue was about to get involved, when a man in chef's whites burst into the throne room.

"Your majesty!" cried the head chef in distress. "There's…" And he stopped, not believing his eyes.

"What?" demanded the king.

"There's…I'm sorry. But there's a dragon in the kitchen,"

"What?" cried the king, and he looked at Gideon, who looked behind himself. But there was no dragon there.

"Oh my," smirked Pumpkin Sue. "Looks like one of your guests has found a place to rest his poor, sleepy head at night."

King Louder squinted at Pumpkin Sue, but she just looked back innocently.

"Hurry!" babbled the cook. "I can't even move in there."

The cook disappeared and Gideon was hot on his heels. The king jumped up and ran to the door, while Pumpkin Sue sauntered after them at a leisurely pace.

At the stone doorway to the kitchen, the cook gestured helplessly inside.

"He came in without a word and just laid down," babbled the cook. "All Over!"

Gideon stepped aside and let the king and Pumpkin Sue look inside.

The kitchen was built with shelves and cabinets along the edges. But in the center was a large cauldron for cooking, with a flue right above it.

And curled up around the cauldron was a black and blue dragon, looking for all the world like he was sleeping. While Pavataro was only fifteen, even a dragon his age looked gigantic in that kitchen.

"What in the netherhells are you doing?" snapped the king.

But Pavataro did not move.

"You! Dragon!" demanded the king. "Answer me!"

Blinking, as if he had been fast asleep, Pavataro looked up. "Oh. Hello."

"What are you doing?" cried the king.

"You said that we were your guests," replied Pavataro. "So…I found a place to sleep."

The dragon settled down his head and closed his eyes.

"But…but you can't sleep here," said the king.

"Not with all these people shouting," commented Pavataro. "Besides, I can be of use, say if the fire under the cauldron goes out. Now, when's dinner."

Gideon glanced at Pumpkin Sue, who looked as if she were trying really hard not to laugh.

"I could get the guards," said the king.

Without opening his eyes, Pavataro shrugged. "I guess that will do. But I prefer razor deer." The dragon looked up at the cook curiously. "How do you prepare guards anyway? With lemon?"

"I…I…," started the cook.

"It's okay," said Pavataro. "You can just surprise me." He yawned with a lot of teeth.

"What…what does it want?" asked the cook.

"A book," said the king.

"Then it'll be gone?" asked the cook.

"HE and I will be gone right away," said Gideon.

"Then give it to them!" cried the cook, almost hysterically.

King Louder turned and squinted at Gideon.

Unfortunately for the king, the boy had been squinted at by 20 foot tall dragons, so the monarch of a tiny kingdom did not even register.

"Don't worry about me," said Gideon with a helpful voice. "I'll find my own corner to sleep in."

"NO!" snarled the king and he stalked off.

"Wait! Where're you going?" cried the cook and then ran after him.

Pumpkin Sue stepped up to Gideon.

"I nearly split my gourd," she grinned. "But I do need to step back when he returns. The King and I are almost friends, but a pumpkingirl should not push her luck too hard. But I won't be far, just in case."

"You think he might come back with guards?" asked Gideon, who unconsciously took a defensive stance.

"Probably not," said Pumpkin Sue. "But if I'm here, he's less likely to…act out."

The trader went a little further down the corridor to keep an eye on things.

Shortly, they heard grumbling getting closer. Gideon moved into the doorway, so that he could jump into the kitchen, in case there was a squad of guards. But then he realized that he and Pavataro would then be trapped in there too.

Before he could formulate a better plan, King Louder stalked around a corner, past Pumpkin Sue, and he was still trailing the cook. Thankfully, there were no guards behind them.

The king thrust out his hand, and Gideon almost flinched.

Then he saw the book in the ruler's hand.

Gently, the boy took the book, and immediately tucked it safely inside his coat.

"Thank you sir," said Gideon truthfully. Quickly, he looked at the dragon. "We're outta here."

However, Pavataro looked reluctant to move. "But I'm getting hungry."

"Pav!" hissed the boy.

Between the king and Gideon, Pumpkin Sue appeared.

"Oh! Did I tell you that I have this great beef jerky?" she said. "You should try it. And it's on sale right now."

"Beef?" asked Pavataro curiously.

After stopping by her cart to get the jerky, Pumpkin Sue led the boys outside, and away from the castle.

"I can't believe you," growled Gideon, once they were in the clear. "You were going to mess it all up."

"But I was hungry," said Pavataro, in between mouthfuls of jerky.

"Your stomach is dangerous," said Gideon.

"But it also helped us," replied Pavataro smugly. "Or, we'd have been stuck there forever. You saw him. He was in no hurry to finish that book."

"Still…," started Gideon.

"Okay," said Pumpkin Sue. "You should probably head out now."

"What about you?" asked Gideon. "Are you going to be okay?"

Pumpkin Sue grinned. "You fine fellows really are too sweet. But I'll be fine. Though I might just walk around the castle a little, to let him cool off. In fact, do you want me to walk you back through the woods, since I have the time?"

Stretching his head up, Pavataro looked at the tree line.

"Can you fly out of here?" asked the dragon.

"As long as you're going out," said Pumpkin Sue. "But to get back in, you'll have to walk."

Pavataro grabbed Gideon's calf.

"Wha…," began the boy.

The dragon launched himself into the air, yanking the boy up with him.

"Hey!" cried Gideon as they flew off. Upside down, he oriented himself and spotted Pumpkin Sue.

"Bye! Thanks for all your help!" called out the boy as he waved enthusiastically.

Pumpkin Sue tried to wave back, but it was hard because she was laughing so hard.

-

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