--Chapter Twenty-five: The March of Time
In five years and three seasons, a lot had changed in The Windmill Road. Because of increased woodland travel to the East, there were no longer any off seasons; business boomed year-round. The gnome-sized tables were Isa’s idea, and though they had just been implemented last year, they were already a huge success. Because business was better now, people were talking about adding to the town: more houses, a chapel, some shops... but all of this, at least so far, remained only talk.
Till and Essa had two children now, both boys. Essa gave up tavern work to raise them, but she still stopped by every once in a while. Till said that if ever The Windmill Road were to add more houses, he would certainly get one there; life on a farmhouse simply was not practical for someone who would never be a farmer. Roth offered to get the same carpenter who built Asmir’s house, and as far as Isa knew, negotiations were now underway.
Asmir and Isa were now engaged—they had been for a year—and all they had to do was find some more staff to handle the tavern while they would be away on honeymoon. Isa’s mother had grown sick the previous fortnight, and none of the healer monks who passed through the town could cure whatever was keeping her sick, though the general consensus said it was the flu, and it would supposedly wear off with enough rest and liquids. So Ewen remained in bed for most of the day, and while she seemed a little better as of late, she still looked far from her usual self. This left Harro, Isa, Till, and Jinn to do the work of what had once been a team of six people... and business showed no signs of letting up anytime soon. Asmir helped occasionally, but the stables needed the extra help just as much as did the tavern.
Isa still heard her share of interesting stories, but so many people told such similar accounts of their travels that by now she wondered if she had not heard them all... Familiar faces stopped by the tavern every now and then, Diamo not least among them. His accounts of what happened in the South were always worth listening to, since reality, Isa found, was often much more entertaining than what tall tales any of the local bards and minstrels would tell.
The imps had long since gone back home to their families in the mountains. Other imps took their place over the years, because somebody had to keep watch over the security cameras at all times. To Isa, though, it was as if the original pair never had left; imps had no naming system anyway, so she continued to address whichever ones were there at the time as One and Two.
Seasons come and gone reflected more of what was to be expected in the heartland. The last two winters were mild, but the current one, she was certain, would have more strength to it. This would mean more snow but also more wind. Isa would have to wait and see whether or not the trade-off were worth it.
Well, the first snow had come last night, so in her tradition, she spent the early morning hours at her and waited for the sunrise. This was a good coat of snow for a single night; she estimated it at three centimeters. The day was cold, and it would only get colder, but in a way, this made the tea and fire at the tavern all the more enjoyable. The weather system moved north by noon, revealing a sun too low in the sky and too far away to melt any of the white on the ground.
Isa and Jinn got through the morning rush and were alone in the tavern when the dragons arrived in the early afternoon...
Knock knock knock.
“Come in,” said Jinn loudly enough to be heard through the door. “We’re open.”
“Uh... Can’t,” said a voice outside. “We won’t fit.”
Isa left her spot wiping off the bar to answer the door.
Out of all of the questions Isa could have asked in this situation, the first one that came to her mind was, “Why do you have a donkey under your top hat?”
After that, the others came in rapid succession.
“Wait... Why are three of you wearing top hats? And why are you here? Aren’t dragons supposed to keep to the South? And why are there gnomes on your backs? And what’s with the singing?”
She took a deep breath to stop herself before she would go insane.
The red dragon said, “We have some gnome passengers here who need to use a latrine. Would you be so kind as to show them to one?”
“Yeah,” said the white one. “We’re giving them a ride to the woodlands. It’s part of our good diplomacy initiative, designed at spreading the news across Aren Country that we’re not really mean monsters and that the humans can stop trying to slay us.”
“The singing is part of the plan,” said the purple one. “And the reason I’m the only one without a hat is because it flew off when I did some flips back about three or four towns ago.”
“And the donkey came with the gnomes,” said the black one.
“Eee-haw,” said the donkey.
With a blank expression, Isa said, “There’s a restroom in here, but it’s for customers only.”
Gimble bounded off the dragon and ran for the restaurant door. “I’ll get some soup, then,” he said as he rushed straight past her to the restroom.
Isa called after him, “The new gnome-sized one is in back...”
“I know,” said a voice from the tavern. “I found it.”
Gimble’s parents went as well. Isa called Asmir over from the stables to take care of the donkey. Isa then went back to the four dragons to hear more of their story.
“So you’ve taken up barbershop?” she asked.
“You bet,” said White. “It’s happy music that brings people together, and that’s the point of our mission. Wanna hear an example?”
“Sure you do!” said Red. “Here’s one we call, ‘Looking About from Mt. Trestis.’”
The dragons rearranged themselves so that they stood next to each other in order from the lowest to highest voice: Purple, White, Black, Red.
“Oh one day I sat atop Mt. Trestis / And I looked about at what there was to see / And a fair maiden lady in the distance / Flew into my heart before she flew to me...
“With eyes that glistened green and gold she saw me / With pearly scales and wings she stole my heart / She flew up to Mt. Trestis just to greet me / And from then on, I knew we’d never part...”
Purple added in his bass, “We’d never paaaaaaart...”
Then the song ended.
Isa could not help but laugh. “Hey,” she said. “That actually wasn’t half bad! I didn’t know dragons could sing that well.”
By now, every single resident in town was out on the street to witness this spectacle.
“See?” said White. “It brings people together.”
Gimble walked out of the tavern just then and said, “Hey, did I miss anything?”
They stayed there all afternoon into the evening. The dragons performed several more songs, and when they needed a break, Isa was able to return the favor by telling the real story of Crispo and the human war. She soon found out that Crispo was a legend now in the South and that a motion picture (whatever that meant, Isa did not know) had just come out detailing the events with little accuracy but lots of drama. Isa’s version, though, seemed to the dragons to have both drama and a certain believability. It did not involve any destiny or prophecy... thus making for a little thing called suspense. Isa was worried for a second that the dragons might get so excited by the story that they would inadvertently shoot flames out when she got to the climax, but the dragons controlled themselves just fine.
When she finished, even the humans watching were spellbound. Isa would later explain her storytelling ability with a shrug and a wink to all those present.
“What can I say?” she asked. “I’ve heard enough stories to tell a good one from a bad one. I’m pretty sure my own won’t be all that bad...” She smiled.