Taylor scrambled to her feet to follow the mountain dragon. The sun was now very low in the sky, almost gone, and the air had grown chill. She rubbed her hands down her arms in an attempt to warm her goose-bumpy skin.
"Don't stop! Over here! This way!" The mountain dragon bounced up and down in the air like an angry tennis ball.
Taylor looked over to the side of the field where the mountain dragon was now flying in a zig-zag path towards a little wooden cottage that she had not previously noticed, nestled sedately against a protective stand of tall green trees. She hurried through the ticklish grass after the dragon. She stopped when she reached him to stare curiously at the tiny house. "Who lives here"
The mountain dragon landed on her shoulder with a plop. "Everett. We will stay with him through the long night in order to make our plans."
The low keening sound of the Fabula sliced through the air again, louder and closer now. The mountain dragon dug his claws into Taylor's skin. "Hurry. The sun has nearly gone."
Taylor ran toward the cottage. The mountain dragon gripped onto her shoulder painfully as she sprinted the remaining few yards to reach the door. She stood on the stone step, panting raggedly, and surveyed the house that lay in front of her. The door was low and made of dark panelled wood with ornate brass hinges. The cottage itself was sweet, with white-painted wooden walls and wide-silled windows. Large terracotta pots of blue and red flowers sat prettily on either side of the step. The brick chimney on the orange tiled roof puffed out clouds of smoke in a friendly, encouraging manner. "Is your friend Everett expecting us"
"Of course he is. Knock three times on the door. Hurry, girl. This is no time to dawdle."
Taylor raised her fist and tapped three times with her knuckles on the rough wooden door. Within seconds, the door swung open, but there was no one waiting on the other side. The mountain dragon flew from her shoulder and disappeared into the dim warmth of the little house. Taylor lifted a foot to follow him inside and was startled to hear a peevish voice speaking from the floor below. "Do be careful. I am not fond of being trodden on."
Taylor looked down to see a little goblin, no more than one and a half feet tall, standing by the door and gazing up at her. His face was as wrinkled as an old apple left too long in the sun, and his nose was flat and broad. Intelligent blue eyes surveyed her from beneath busy brown brows, and his long brown hair was worn in a ponytail which fell nearly to his heels. He was wearing earth-coloured pants and a top made of a green fabric, and his long feet were covered in a pair of shiny black boots. "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't see you there. You must be Everett" Taylor was not even sure how her mouth could make such an ordinary conversation at this most extraordinary of times.
"I am indeed." The goblin stepped backwards and made a broad sweeping motion with his arm. "I have been expecting you. Please, come inside."
As Taylor stepped forward, the last bright ray of sunlight dipped below the horizon and the very air seemed to hold its breath. Everett quickly slammed the door behind her and began to draw across a myriad of locks, sliding each one firmly into place in a practiced series of determined clicks and bangs. "The night has come," he muttered.
Taylor looked curiously around the interior of the cottage. Whitewashed walls met her interested gaze while dark wood rafters crossed the roof above her head. A cosy fire flamed cheerfully in a grate on one side of the room and Taylor could see a large black cauldron hung on a frame above the flames. She could smell the fragrant scent of chicken soup and her mouth watered. She turned around to see a little kitchen area, complete with a countertop, cupboards, and a large stove, at the other end of the cottage. A table was set against the wall, with two wooden chairs neatly facing each other and a welcoming, red-checked tablecloth spread in between. Two small bowls sat on the cloth, accompanied by drinking glasses and a silver spoon. A tiny thimble-sized bowl stood in the middle of the table.
Everett bustled efficiently past her, the top of his head parallel with her mid-thigh. "I must get the bread out of the oven before it burns. Please, do take a seat at the table."
Taylor dumbly pulled out a chair and sat down. The mountain dragon fluttered over to sit on the cloth in front of the tiny bowl as Everett arrived beside the table carrying a large plate of fresh bread. He reached above his head to put the plate on the table then turned away to get the cauldron from the fire.
Taylor watched, fascinated, as Everett busied himself with finding a pair of oven gloves before lifting the cauldron down from its hanging frame. He carried it carefully over to the table and stood on tiptoes to place it beside the plate of bread. He returned to the kitchen for a ladle, and then he finally joined Taylor and the mountain dragon at the table. Without hesitation, he climbed up into the normal-sized chair opposite Taylor, looking incongruously small against its normal-sized proportions, and beamed across the table at her, his face pink with exertion and pleasure.
"My name is Taylor." Taylor finally found her voice again.
Everett nodded. "Yes, I know." He picked up the silver spoon from beside his bowl and dipped it into the soup to scoop up a tiny amount of hot liquid, which he poured precisely into the mountain dragon's thimble-bowl. "There you are, Geodhun. Please, do start."
The mountain dragon inclined his head courteously. "Thank you, Everett."