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Dragon Rider

I've seen one!" uttered the swarf, without raising his face from the floor. "I've seen one, Your Goldness!"

"Seen one what?" Bored, Nettelbrand scratched his chin.

Twigleg went over to the dwarf and bent down to him.

"You'd better get to the point instead of squashing your fat nose flat," he whispered. "My master has a truly terrible temper."

The dwarf scrambled up, looked nervously at Nettlebrand, and pointed a trembling finger at the wall behind him. "One of those," he breathed. "That's what I saw."

Nettlebrand turned around. There was a tapestry on the wall, a tapestry woven by human beings hundreds of years ago. Its colors were faded, but even in the darkness you could make out what it showed - knights hunting a silver dragon.
Nettlebrand suddenly sat up. His red eyes stared down at the dwarf. "You say you saw a silver dragon?" he asked. His voice boomed through the ancient vaults. "Where?"

"On our mountain," stammered the dwarf, straightening up. "He landed there this morning. With a brownie and a human. I flew straight here on the raven to tell you. Will you give me one of your scales now? One of your golden scales?"
"Quiet!" growled Nettlebrand. "I must think."

"But you promised!" cried the dwarf.

Twigleg pushed him aside. "Quiet, stupid!" he hissed.

"Haven'y you got any sense under that big hat of yours? You can count yourself lucky if he doesn't eat you. Climb back on the raven and get out here. It's probably just a big lizard you saw."

"No, it isn't!" cried the dwarf. "It's a dragon! His scales look as if they were make of moonlight and he's big, very big."

Nettlebrand looked at the tapestry. He stood there motionless. Then he turned.
"It'll be the worse for you if you're wrong!" he said in a deep voice. "I shall squash you like a cockroach if you've raised my hopes only to dash them again!"
The dwarf bowed his head.

"Armor-cleaner, come here," growled Nettlebrand. Twigleg jumped. "The new file, the file, yes, master!" he cried. "I'll fetch it at once. I'll hurry, I'll fly like the wind."

"Forget the file," spat Nettlebrand. "I have more important work for you to do. Get on the raven's back and fly to the mountain where this idiot came from. Find out what he saw. And if it's really a dragon, then find out why he's alone, where he comes from, and what the human and the brownie are doing with him. I want to know everything, you hear? Everything."

Twigleg nodded and ran over to the raven, who was still waiting patiently at the foot of the steps.

Disconcerted, the dwarf watched him go. "So what about me?" he asked. "How am I going to get back?"

Nettlebrand smiled. It was not a nice smile. "You're going to sharpen my claws while Twigleg is away. You're going to polish my armor and dust my spines, clean my teeth and pick the woodlice out of my scales. You're my new armor-cleaner! That's my reward for you good news."

The dwarf looked at him, horrified.

Nettlebrand licked his lips and grunted with satisfaction.

"I'll make haste, master," said Twigleg, mounting the raven. "I'll be back soon."
"Oh, no, you won't," said Nettlebrand crossly. "You'll send me news by water, understand? That's quicker than flying back and forth all the time."

"Water?" Twigleg made a face. "But it could be difficult to find water on the mountain, master!"

"Ask the dwarf where to look, beetle-brain," spat Nettlebrand, turning around. Treading heavily, he lumbered slowly over to examine the tapestry with its shimmering silver dragon. Thousands of threads had gone into its weaving. Nettlebrand stood very close to it.

"Perhaps they really are back," he murmured. "After so many long years. I knew they couldn't hide from me forever! From human beings, perhaps, but not from me."

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