“Fine. I’ll cook something.” Lysande unpacked the food. Melissa was just about to go searching for the spring where she had lost Reginald and Leander the last time when she heard Lysande screech. The cry set her teeth on edge. With one stride, she stood beside the cook utensils and snatched the pan. Another stride took her to Lysande. She swung the pan to smash the black something on Lysande’s head. At the last moment, she pulled the pan aside. The drive carried her forward and she stumbled against Lysande. They landed on the ground in a melee of arms, legs, mandibles and metal.
“Leander.” Melissa frowned. “Do you have to frighten us like that?”
The little spider clicked his mandibles and bowed his head. “Excuse me. I only wanted to scare you a little but I must have mistaken you for the other woman. You know that giant spiders can’t see particularly well.”
Melissa picked up Leander and stroked his soft fur. He was a bit bigger and a whole lot heavier than before. “Say, have you grown?”
“I have eaten well. There are many rats around here.” Leander pulled his legs under his abdomen and snuggled in Melissa’s arm. He felt like a fleecy basketball.
Melissa patted him. “I am so happy to see you again. I thought you had left long ago.”
“Well, someone has to pay attention. Since the dragon discovered us, he and Reginald overindulge.”
“Reginald is here, too?” Melissa dried a tear, set Leander down and turned to Lysande who stared at her open mouthed.
“Come, we’ll pack our things again. Leander will take us to the dragon.” She looked at the spider. “You do know the way, don’t you?”
Melissa rolled up her bed and helped Lysande pack the cooking utensils.
“We can go, Leander.” She shouldered the baggage. Lysande lit the lantern and reached for Melissa’s hand. Together, they followed the spider into the darkness.
“Are you sure that it won’t lead us into its family’s net?” Lysande whispered.
Melissa laughed. “He has saved me from his own mother.”
Lysande looked at Melissa with wide open eyes. “I cannot remember when I last heard of a witch with a giant spider as a familiar.”
“I am not a witch, and Leander isn’t my familiar? How did you get that idea?”
“You talk to him. My familiar is a white raven called Lukas. I can understand him, too.”
“A lot of animals can speak in this world.”
“You also spoke with the horses? I mean in a way they understood?”
“Sure.” Melissa blushed. The admiration in Lysande’s eyes made her feel uncomfortable. “I thought you understood them, too.”
“I can hardly believe that you can talk to all animals. Not even our greatest sorcerers talked to animals that weren’t their familiars without special spells. You must be a very powerful witch.”
“How often do I have to say that? I am no witch. Perhaps it is due to Korosadja.” For Melissa the subject was closed. Silently, they wandered through the dark. The lantern threw just enough light on the ground in front of them that they did not stumble.
Some time later, they entered the hall where the dragon lived. This time, it wasn’t as dark as on Melissa’s first visit. A big iron cauldron hung over the fire. The flames blazed brightly and made the numerous stalactites and stalagmites beside the dragon’s gold sparkle. The balcony on which Melissa had first met the dragon was the beginning of a glittering stone waterfall. A little mountain of fruit and vegetables was stacked at its foot. Directly beside it, the dragon argued with Reginald. The unicorn wore simple brown this time.
“We can cut the potatoes into fine slices and roast them with a lot of grease,” the dragon suggested.
“We call them crisps,” Melissa said. “They are delicious with salt or paprika.”
“Oh, the little human. Good to see you again. And you still have that old coat.” The dragon bent his head down to Melissa and blew into her face. It felt like a warm summer wind.
“Melissa.” Reginald jumped in the air with joy and trotted around Melissa in a circle. “When the dragon returned without you, I thought he had devoured you.”
“He even attacked him, the idiot.” Leander shook his head.