DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
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“Here be Dragons”
The huge dragon stirred in his cave. He heard another approaching. He lifted up his scaly head and waited. The rustle of wings and the plodding of claws told him that another dragon was coming. He waited, still half-asleep. The smaller dragon stopped outside his cave.
‘Your Highness, you should know that the faeries have made an alliance with humans’.
‘WHAT! Those disgusting things, and that human vermin! What is this about! Tell me now, or I shall have your head!’
The smaller dragon swallowed and gulped.
‘Apparently, your Highness. They have made an alliance against the daemons. Also they are seeking an alliance with…with us’.
‘HOW DARE THEY! Who has done this! Answer me!’
‘Well, your Highness, there are two human children who seem to have a talisman, and they have persuaded the faeries to join them. I have their names, if you wish it. They are known as Simon and Annie, and they live in a city by the sea called Brighton and Hove. They have come to our attention before, as being involved in our dimension. What do you wish me to do, your Highness?’
The larger dragon thought for a moment. Then he said, ominously, ‘Send a dragon assassin to kill them. He can bring the talisman to me. I want that talisman, and he’d better do a proper job. Make the arrangements. NOW!’
‘Yes, your Highness, but how do you want them killed in their world?’
‘Toast ‘em’ replied the larger dragon with satisfaction. Then he turned on his side and went back to sleep.
It was a late September afternoon. Annie and Simon, back from school,
sat with cups of hot chocolate on the table before them, though they
were both still shivering in the colder autumnal weather. On the other
side of the table sat the Four Fingers, in overcoats and all wearing
a rather miserable expression. Sniffer, as usual lay sipping a bowl
of warm Guiness, looking even more of a filthy hearth-rug than usual.
Adrian, the seagull, was hopping from one foot to the other, indicating
that he had felt the change in the weather, as had the others. The
sky was overcast and cloudy, and the prevailing atmosphere was one
‘Can’t you just look them up in the phone book and ring their number?’ asked Simon, rather maliciously. ‘Or you could try ringing them on their mobile phones’.
‘Very funny’. said Index Finger, sharply. ‘ But what is worrying is that they have made no sign that any of our messages have even been received. Either they don’t want to communicate with us, or they are deliberately ignoring us. That is serious. We need them as allies’.
‘Why is it so important to have the dragons as allies?’ asked Annie. ‘After all, we’ve got Adrian and his seagulls in the air, and the Faeries with us. What is so important about having the dragons as well?’
‘Yeah, right’. said Adrian ‘Me and the boys can see off most things. We’re pretty good, even if I say so myself’.
Middle Finger sighed. ‘I don’t think you all quite understand. We are facing an invasion from the air. He looked directly at Adrian. ‘Have you ever encountered a flying daemon?’
Adrian shuffled uncomfortably. ‘Can’t say I have’. he muttered.
This time it was Third Finger that spoke. ‘We have. Believe us. A flying daemon would swipe you out of the air like a fly. And there will be hundreds of them, if not more. Do you really believe you will be a match for them? I think not. That is why we need the dragons’.
There was silence around the table.
A muffled grunt came from below them. It was Sniffer. ‘The Fingers are right. This is going to be one serious heavy battle, and one we can’t afford to lose. Without dragons, we ain’t going to survive. It’s as simple as that’. He put his head down and began to slurp at his Guiness.
‘But if they haven’t replied to us, what can we do?’ asked Annie hopelessly. ‘Who else can we turn to?’
‘No-one. said Little Finger sadly. ‘All we can do is hope they will at some point, communicate with us. And there is no guarantee that they will help us either. All we can do is wait and see’.
On that gloomy note the meeting ended.
The small dragon plodded his way back to his own cave. But his thoughts were turning over and over in his head. He snuffled as he walked, and small wisps of smoke came from his nostrils. This is not right, he thought. Why should two young human children die because his Highness, who I hate, should decide that? Suddenly he had an idea. His jaws opened and closed in delight. If his Highness wants an assassin, then I will find one. But it will be a very unsuitable assassin. That is the solution! He went back to his cave clamping his jaws in anticipation.
Simon and Annie sat at the kitchen table finishing off their supper, It was already becoming dark outside, and they were both worried about going out again, and what their mother would say. During the week, they had meetings with the four Fingers every day, and they had another one this evening. Their mother came into the kitchen, looking distracted, as usual.
‘Mum, Simon and I are just going out for a while. We won’t be long’.
‘Oh, all right. But don’t be late back. I’ve still got this lecture to do for the first-year students, and you know what the university’s like’.
‘It’s fine, Mum’, said Simon, grinning as he spoke. ‘We’ve just got to see a man about a dog’.
‘And your father’s complaining about not having finished his lecture on whatever it is. And don’t talk to strange men, either’.
No, we won’t, Mum’, they both replied, with their fingers crossed behind their backs.
Half an hour later, they sat at the same table on the seafront. Four figures tramped down the shingle towards them. They looked frightened and anxious. The four Fingers sat down opposite to Simon and and Annie. Little Finger cleared his throat.
‘There is something that you should know. The dragon king has sent an assassin to kill you. We only learnt of that this morning. He has a reputation of being cruel and evil, but even we did not think that he would do this. I am saying this to warn you. But it was not our doing, and I suggest that you stay inside and do not go out unless it is absolutely necessary’ Little Finger buried his face in his hands.
‘Why?’ cried Annie hotly. ‘We haven’t done anything to them! Why should they send out this…..what did you call it…….assassassin?’
‘Yes, why?’ Simon snapped. ‘You can’t even
make contact with them, and yet they send out a dragon to kill us?
That proves that they have received your message, and that’s
their answer? Well, in that case we don’t need them! Tell them
‘Oh, yes, Miss Know-it-all. You always know what to do, I don’t think’.
Annie looked at her brother. He was in a bad mood, and he was also frightened.
‘Simon’, she said gently, ‘you do trust me, don’t you?’
‘Oh, yes, like the lamb trusts a lion’.
Simon looked at his sister, and suddenly realised she was close to tears.
‘All right. Tell me what your plan is’. he said softly.
Annie swallowed, and looked at her brother gratefully. ‘I suggest that we actually set ourselves up for this ….assasssasssin, and we confront him, and find out what it is that the dragons will do. How else can we find out? Perhaps there are things that we don’t know about. But the only way is to meet a real dragon and see what is going on’. Annie was now growing in confidence. ‘If this dragon king is really evil, then surely there must be other dragons who hate him, and might be able to help us. We have to do this. Otherwise, they will never be there when we need them’. Annie sat back, unsure of whether her words had convinced anyone.
Index Finger spoke for the first time. ‘What Annie proposes is very dangerous. But it is also very sensible. How can we make contact with the dragons otherwise?’ He looked directly at Annie. ‘But you must be very careful. You might be going to your deaths’.
‘We’ll take that risk’. declared Annie, with rather more bravado than she felt. ‘Won’t we, Simon?’ turning to her brother. Simon looked at her, and then she felt a sense of panic. Would he or wouldn’t he? Then he grinned and nodded. Annie felt a sudden surge of relief. Without Simon, she felt, she would be lost. She suddenly leant over to Simon and gave him a big hug.
‘Gerroff! cried Simon. ‘Stop showing me up in front of our tough friends!’ Everybody laughed. What they did not know was that the dragon assassin was waiting for them as they spoke.
THE ASSASSIN STRIKES
They walked home together through the darkening streets of Brighton. There were only a few people around now: it was getting dark and most had come home for supper. The supermarkets had closed, and no-one was shopping any more for that day.
‘Did you mind, Simon, that I said we and not ‘I’ when we said we’d meet this assassassin, or whatever?
‘No’. Simon replied. He stopped and looked at her. ‘You are my sister, after all. We go together. Anyway, even though you did slap me, I still had to be there to keep you out of trouble. So there. And don’t dare try to hug in public. I’ve got my reputation to think of’.
‘You cheeky….’ But Annie had noticed that Simon was staring at something behind her, above in the sky.
‘What is it!’ she cried, suddenly alarmed.She looked down at the talisman on her finger. It was glowing brightly.
‘Don’t look now, but I think that we really are going to meet our assassin’. Simon said sharply. ‘ANNIE! LOOK OUT!’
Just in time, they ran to the safety of a shop window, as the litter bin they had been standing by burst into flames from a stream of fire! The dark swooping shape, its’ wings making a steady ‘thump-thump noise, circled and then came down at them again in a steady dive.
‘Annie, run, run like mad!’ yelled Simon.
They ran down London Road, the assassin close behind them. Annie was gasping with fear, the kind of fear that one only knows when something terrible is chasing you! They heard it roar behind them and the pile of plastic bags in front of a charity shop, only inches away, burst into flames.
‘Down here!’ panted Simon ‘Down this alley!’
They turned into a dark little alleyway between the shops, towards the end, and stopped gasping for breath. But the assassin had followed them. They could see its dark bulk, the folded wings moving slowly into the entrance of the alleyway and gradually inching it’s way along towards them. Simon pulled Annie, by the hand, further into the alley. They stopped for a moment, still gasping for breath. They could hear the rasping breath of the dragon, still close behind. Then they heard a loud grunt of surprise, and a loud thrashing sound, as if a big tail was slapping the ground repeatedly, which was indeed exactly what it was!
‘It’s got stuck in the entrance!’ shouted Simon excitedly. ‘Quick! This way!’ They ran down a side passage that led off from the alleyway, and led out into the street. They turned left, and ran quickly back towards the narrow entrance. Sure enough, there was a large scaly rump and a long scaly tail thrashing about as the dragon tried to free itself from the narrow entrance, where it had jammed itself. They could hear muffled grunts and what might have been dragon curses from the other side.
‘There you are, Annie’. Simon grinned. ‘We’ve got our first contact with the dragons. I think we ought to have some polite communication with it, don’t you?’ He walked up to the dragon’s rear end, paused for a moment, and then gave it a mighty kick.
‘Don’t worry. This is what you call, what is it, diplomatic contact’.
Another kick. ‘OOOUUCCHH!’
‘That’s enough, Simon. We need to question it’.
‘Oh, so you want to interrogate now. Just when I was beginning to enjoy myself’.
‘Oh, all right. At least we’ve got a captive audience’.
Annie walked up to the dragon’s rear end, feeling rather ridiculous. I’ve never talked to a dragon’s bottom before, she thought.
‘Who are you, and why were you trying to kill us?’ she shouted.
They heard a groan, and then a muffled hoarse voice. ‘My name is Smiffin. I was ordered to kill you, but I’m afraid I’m not very good at it’.
‘Simon leant closer to the dragon’s rump. ‘Speak up, Mr dragon! We can’t hear you!’
‘Simon, stop it!’
‘Annie, does it occur to you that, in terms of polite diplomatic negociations, talking to a dragon’s arse isn’t altogether appropriate?’
‘You’re standing on my tail!’
‘Well, I never. So I am’. Simon said maliciously.
‘Perhaps you had better talk to me’. said a deep voice behind them. Simon and Annie froze, and then slowly turned around. They saw a large shape, with it’s wings tucked back, that made it look even larger. In the dim evening light. they saw a long, jawed head, with bright yellow eyes, that gleamed and flickered. Alongside it, a smaller, more sinuous shape shifted and moved. Simon and Annie, moved without realising it, back against the wall behind them. Then Simon pulled out his torch, and switched it on.
The dragon was very big, but also gave the impression of being very strong and sinewy. Annie instinctively felt that this was a powerful dragon, but one that had both strength and gentleness. Its’ long snout emitted short breaths of smoke, but the eyes on each side were clear and piercing. Annie felt that they were examining her, but with no hostility. Such eyes, she suddenly realised could be both fierce but kind. For some unknown reason, Annie immediately trusted this dragon.
‘My name is Dabar’. the dragon said, in the same deep voice. ‘I have come here because I understand you need our help, but also because I need yours. Also’, he looked directly at Annie’s hand ‘you are a bearer of a talisman’. Annie looked down at the ring. It was glowing gently, and Annie felt her confidence growing. The talisman, it seemed, approved of this dragon.
‘We all need your help’. The voice was lower, and sweeter
than that of Dabar. Simon, in surprise, turned his torch to reveal
the owner of the voice. Annie caught her breath. ‘My name is
Leila, and I am the mate of Dabar’.
She was the most beautiful dragon Annie had ever seen. She looked exactly like the illustrations of Chinese dragons that Annie knew from when she was younger, with a long slim body, her wings folded elegantly on her back. Her eyes were large and lustrous, and as she blinked, Annie noticed that she had long dark eyelashes. But her eyes were friendly and mischievous at the same time. As she opened her mouth to speak, Annie saw that her teeth were small and pointed, but still sharp. ‘We know who you are’. she said quietly. ‘My mate and I have come to take you back to our land for a short while’.
‘Why?’ stammered Simon, obviously fascinated. Annie glanced at him sharply.
‘Because I intend to depose his Highness’. said Dabar bitterly. ‘He is a lazy and cruel ruler. He is the one that ordered my cousin, Dabron, to send an assassin to execute you. Dabron felt this was wrong, so he sent the most inept dragon he could find, knowing that he would fail. Smiffim!’ he cried raising his voice to a roar. ‘How many times have I told you not to do things that you are simply not capable of?’
‘I know’. came a meek reply.
‘I need you to be there as humans and allies, because I cannot depose him without witnesses from another world. If he refuses, I will fight him. If you will help me, then I will gladly help you by becoming your ally in the battle. against the daemons. This I promise. I give you my word’. We need to go to the land of the dragons, now. But first, I must rescue poor Smiffim’.
He padded over to where Smiffim was stuck in the alleyway entrance. He reached down, seized Smiffim’s tail in his jaws and pulled hard.
‘OWWWW’ yelled Smiffim and suddenly came out with a large ‘POP’ like a cork from a bottle. He sat down, looking rather miserable.
Annie suddenly felt sorry for him. ‘Cheer up, Smiffim. We don’t mind, even if you did try to kill us. But, Dabar, how do we get to your land? Is there a special way?’
‘Of course’. said Dabar, sounding surprised. ‘On my back. I will carry you there, now’.
‘What! Annie screamed. ‘I can’t do it! You know. Simon I’m always airsick! No’ I just can’t do it! No!’
‘Wow, that is really cool! shouted Simon ‘A dragon ride! That’s brilliant! And stop being such a wimp, Annie! This is great!’
‘For you it is’. Annie said miserably.
Leila silently moved forward, and them pressed her nose gently against Annie’s cheek. ‘Don’t be afraid, child. Dabar will look after you. It will be safe’. Annie felt her warm breath, which smelt of, she didn’t know, all the smells that she liked since she was a small child. ‘All right’. she said, drawing a deep breath. ‘Let’s go’.
Dabar nodded and padded out into the strangely deserted street.
‘Climb up my tail and then onto my back. Then we can go’. Simon climbed up first, already excited by this new adventure. Annie followed more slowly, and as she sat on Dabar’s broad back, she closed her eyes and clung onto Simon tightly. She heard the great ‘thunk-thunk’ of his wings, and felt his body rise and rise, and then surge forward. She kept her eyes closed for, well, she didn’t know how long. Then she opened them.
They were high above the clouds, moving steadily through a dark blue night, Dabar’s wings beating steadily on each side. They were sitting on Dabar’s back, and she was holding tightly, her arms around Simon’s waist. He was muttering excitedly, and then kept turning around to say something to her. But she couldn’t listen. She was looking around at the great blue bowl in which they were flying. She didn’t feel afraid any longer. She could feel the strength of Dabar’s body beneath her, and of his great wings. Peering ahead, she could just see a long slender shape with wings that also beat rhythmically. Up and down. Up and down. That must be Leila.
‘We are nearly there!’ shouted Dabar. ‘We will go down now’. They began a slow descent, plunging through the dense cloud, and down, down towards the ground below. Annie closed her eyes. When she opened them again. She looked around. They were in a large sandy space, surrounded on all sides by mountainous hills, in which there were numbers of large gaping black holes, which Annie guessed were caves. They stood in a flat arena, and she noticed, with a sudden stab of fear, they were also surrounded by dragons. They were all shapes and sizes, their wings folded back, their snouts issuing wisps of smoke. Their small yellow eyes were watchful and all of them were fastened on Dabar, and in particular, on Annie and Simon.
A smaller dragon came forward towards them. Annie suddenly noticed how alike he was to Dabar, though he was a lot smaller. Annie heard a noise behind them. She turned around. It was Leila, her tail swishing back and forth. She’s afraid, thought Annie, but she is also angry. What is going on here? This is part of a plan. She looked at Simon, who nodded. He had also felt the tension around them.
‘This is Dabron, my cousin’. said Dabar. Then to Dabron, ‘I have brought the ambassadors from humankind. Tell his Highness that they wish to speak with him’. Dabron nodded, his eyes gleaming. He turned and went towards the large cave directly opposite. He disappeared inside, and then reappeared a moment later. ‘His Highness is coming’. But Annie had heard the contempt in his voice. Dabar turned his great head to look at them. His right eye closed in what was obviously a …wink!
Annie suddenly knew what was going to happen, and the part that she and Simon were going to play. She looked at Simon, who nodded and gave her a wink, too. Good. He knew as well. They waited. The dragons were completely silent. They lay as still as statues. But Annie no longer felt any fear. Now full of confidence, she waited for the dragon king to emerge from his cave.
A large bulbous shape emerged from the cave. It slowly crawled towards them. As it got nearer, they could make out that it was indeed a dragon, nut a very fat one. Simon and Annie stood each side of the dragon Dabar, as the obese dragon slithered its way towards them. Then it stopped. Its small red eyes bulged with fury. ‘Who brought this human vermin here!’ it screamed. ‘Answer me!’
‘Your Highness’, said Dabar, calmly. ‘I have brought two ambassadors from humankind, who have come here to request your help in a forthcoming battle against the Daemons. They already have an alliance with the faeries, and wish to gain an alliance with us, against a common enemy’.
His Highness glared and screamed in a loud voice, ‘I ordered this human vermin killed! Why was this not done! Do it now! Dabron!’
Annie knew it was time to play her part. She took a step forward, took a deep breath, and spoke in as loud a voice as she could. ‘Your Highness, we came to ask you to be our allies. Instead, you have insulted us, and offended us. Very much, in fact. We came here in good faith. Is this the way dragons behave? I think not!’ There was a low hiss of breath from the dragons around her.
Simon stood next to her to play his part. ‘We didn’t come here to be executed, you fat slug! Look at you! You can’t even get your belly off the ground! ‘And I don’t appreciate you sending an assassin after us, and that you’ve just threatened to kill us! I have a very low threshold of death, and I don’t appreciate it! Go and get lost, you slimy tub of lard!’
‘Don’t over-do it, Simon’, Annie whispered in his ear.
‘Well, I was just getting going’. muttered Simon.
Then Dabar spoke. ‘Am I to understand that you have sent an assassin against two human ambassadors? And have we all not heard that you threatened them with execution? That as ambassadors of goodwill, they have been threatened by being put to death? That has broken our sacred dragon oath that all who come to us for aid , by their own free will, will be received and listened to in a courteous way, and their case be judged by the opinion of all dragons. Your behaviour is no more or less than treason!’
There was another sharp hiss from the assembled dragons. The Highnesses’ jaw had dropped open. In fact, his whole body was now sagging even further onto the ground. ‘They…they are possible…spies…they might even be traitors!’ he gasped, wheezing as he did so. ‘Really?’ replied Dabar, in a hard voice. ‘Then you can prove it. I have faith in these ambassadors, and if you say otherwise, then I challenge you to mortal combat. Now!’
The fat dragon’s eyes bulged even further, but this time in terror. Annie could hear Leila’s tail hitting the ground in fury behind her. The dragons still sat, completely silent and unmoving. The fat dragon looked around desperately for support. But Annie could tell that there was none, from those sharp yellow eyes. The fat dragon swallowed and gulped, and said faintly, ‘I cannot fight you, Dabar. You would surely win. I will abdicate as dragon king’.
dragon spoke, this time loudly. ‘It
is time to have another dragon king! Will you accept Dabar? There
was a silence for a few seconds. Annie held her breath. Then every
dragon lifted up its head, and from their throats came great gouts
of flame that roared upwards into the sky, and hung there, glittering,
before returning in a vast shower of sparks.
‘Shut up, Simon It’s not over yet’.
Dabar spoke again, this time glaring directly at the fat dragon. ‘You have not abdicated. You have been deposed! Leave the land of the dragons. Now! You can take your riches and possessions with you, because we will have none of them. You are banished! Go from this land and never return, on pain of death! Now!’ The fat dragon slowly began to crawl away to his cave, but as he moved he turned and looked back at Dabar, and at Simon and Annie. Annie shivered. The look that he gave was of such malevolence. But Dabar took no notice.
‘That fat piece of shit is planning to do us some grief’. Simon said quietly in Annie’s ear.
‘I know,’ Annie replied, equally quietly. ‘But it depends what we can do about it’.
Dabar was speaking again. ‘The two ambassadors that you see before you have come to ask us to form an alliance with them against the daemons’. There was a sharp hiss from the assembled dragons. They have already formed an alliance with faeries’. Again another sharp hiss. ‘But, this time’, continued Dabar, ‘it is different. We have had our differences with the faeries, but, for once we can be united against a common enemy. I ask you to agree to be allies, with faeries, and with humankind, against this foe. And, this young human is the bearer of a talisman’. Another hiss.
‘WHAT DO YOU SAY?’
The dragons remained silent for what seemed many seconds. ‘I must say they’re quite democratic’, muttered Simon, ‘But they really take a long time to make up their minds. Just like governments, I suppose’. As he spoke, the dragons lifted up their heads, and, once again, great jets of fire streamed into the sky. ‘Simon!’ Annie shouted excitedly. ‘They’ve agreed!. They’re going to be our allies!’ She clapped her hands in delight. Simon clasped his hands behind his head and grinned, but there was a worry that was wriggling around inside him, though he simply didn’t know what it was.
The dragons began to move towards their caves. Dabar came towards them, with Leila gliding quietly alongside. ‘Thank you for your help’, he said. ‘I was afraid that you might not have understood’.
‘I think that we both guessed that you had to have a reason for deposing that rotten old piece of filth’. Simon smiled broadly. ‘How you lot put up with him for so long is beyond me, but at least you’ve got rid of him at last’.
‘Has the bearer of the talisman nothing to say to me?’ asked Dabar gently.
Annie looked down at the talisman. It was glowing brightly. ‘No’. she said. Except that the talisman is glad to see you as king. And I do, as well.’
‘Thank you. I would offer you some hospitality, but I fear that you will not like dragon food, and particularly when you have a journey home’. Dabar said gravely. Then he gave a low chuckle. ‘It was good to see that old, fat fool humbled. I will keep my promise to you. We will be allies in the battle that lies ahead. Now I will return you to your homes. But, before that, let me do this’.
He lifted his great head and rested it gently first on Annie’s hair, and then upon Simon’s. ‘You are now what we call dragon-friends. We will always regard you as those who have helped us, and we in return, will always help you. You are the first to have this honour, of your kind, because you were important in destroying a tyrant. For my part, I promise to rule my dragons well. I think you should know that. Now we must leave. It is my duty to return you safely’.
But first he turned and went to Leila. To Annie and Simon’s amazement, they looked at each other , face to face, and then very gently rubbed their nostrils against each other. ‘Do you think that was a dragon kiss?’ whispered Simon to Annie. ‘If it was, it was very lovely’. whispered Annie back. She felt strangely moved by the affection between the two dragons. She also saw the light in Leila’s large dark eyes.
‘Come, we must go’. said Dabar turning around. ‘Climb
up my tail, as before’. ‘Please wait!’ cried Annie
and ran over to where Leila was crouching. She put her arms around
Leila’s long neck. Leila gave a start of surprise, but then softened.
Her skin was not scaly, but smooth, soft and warm. ‘I hope we meet
again, Leila. I hope that you and Dabar will be happy together’.
Annie looked at Leila’s great dark eyes again and then climbed up Dabar’s back and sat down behind Simon. ‘Farewell, bearer of the talisman!’ called Leila. Then they were up in the air again, with Annie’s eyes closed tightly. When she opened them again, they were gliding through the night sky, with only clouds beneath. ‘Have dragons always flown?’ shouted Simon in the gentle wind that blew into their faces. ‘Always’. answered Dabar ‘Since we were a young race. We have always travelled in this wonderful space between heaven and earth, through cloud and storm. We, I think, were born for this’.
was no longer listening. He was looking intently above them. Then
he suddenly shouted ‘Dabar, bandits, twelve o’clock
‘Whoopee! Are we going to take evasive action?’
‘Yes, Simon, we are’.
Annie decided to open her eyes and look up. She saw three dark flapping shapes moving steadily closer, and above them. She groaned and buried her face in Simon’s back. ‘Hold on tightly!’ Dabar called and suddenly he swooped upwards in an arc, until they were upside –down, gripping hard. Dabar suddenly again turned himself the right way up, and then dived on the pursuing dragon in the centre of the three assassins. A fierce jet of flame poured out from his mouth and hit his would-be assassin. The dragon screamed and fell down through the clouds below, twisting and turning in a ball of fire.
‘Bandits left and right! Three o’clock! Simon yelled. Dabar did not bother to reply, but looked to right and left. The two remaining dragons were closing quickly on each side of them, and were clearly prepared to strike. Without warning, another dark shape came from behind the dragon on the left. An enormous gout of flame hit the dragon assassin, that fell screaming downwards. The small dark shape behind the assassin on the right crashed into it. Annie caught a glimpse of jaws snapping around the dragon’s neck, before both were spiralling down, locked in combat together. She closed her eyes in terror.
When she opened them again, and looked around, she saw two dragons on each side, though the smaller one was clearly injured. It was flapping slowly along, and Annie could see, as it drew closer, the long bleeding gash in its side. She recognised him. ‘It’s Smiffin!’ she cried. ‘Yes, and the other one is Dabron!’ shouted Simon over his shoulder. ‘I think they came to protect us!’ Dabar did not say anything, but simply continued to flap steadily on.
They gradually descended , down through the clouds, until they could finally see the ground below. ‘It’s Preston Park!’ shouted Simon again. ‘Near where we live!’ Annie closed her eyes again. She had never liked flying, and landing was always a torment for her. She felt a soft bump, and then everything was still. She opened her eyes. They were in Preston Park, deserted at this time, and only a hundred metres away from their house.
‘Welcome home’. said Dabar.
Annie, followed by Simon, slid down his tail. Then she rushed to a nearby bush and was immediately sick. She returned, looking pale. ‘You’ll have to forgive my sister’, said Simon to Dabar. ‘She’s weedy on fairground rides, and flying. Come on’, he shouted,’ We’ll go home for a nice big cheese and mushroom pizza, followed by treacle tart and custard!’ Annie coughed, gulped, and then ran back to the bush again. Then she returned, looking even more pale, and glared balefully at Simon.
The other two dragons had landed close by, breathing hard. Smiffin was gasping, and Annie could see the long gash again in his side. ‘Smiffin!’ she cried and ran to him. ‘Can I do anything for you?’ Smiffin shook his head and smiled. ‘No, ‘tis only a flesh wound’. ‘Well done, Smiffin’. said Dabar gravely. Are you able to fly back with us?’
‘For you, your Highness, I would fly with one wing only’.
Thank you, Smiffin. For your help, I appoint you to be one of my personal guardians’.
Smiffin looked delighted, and raised himself upright. ‘I shall be glad to serve you, your Highness’.
Dabar turned his head to look at Dabron. ‘Thank you, my cousin. It was gallant of you to protect me. You also shall be one of my personal guardians’.
Dabron bowed his head, and then said quietly, ‘ It was the lady Leila who asked us to accompany you. She was afraid for you, and for the human children also. She asked us to accompany you to ensure your safety. The fat slug’, he glanced slyly at Simon, ‘has fled and is unlikely to return. He knows his plans have failed’.
‘If he ever tries to return, kill him’. said Dabar, unemotionally. ‘He has been responsible for too many deaths already’. He turned again to Simon and Annie. ‘Farewell. I believe that we will meet again soon, but on a field of battle. We will be there. Leila, my mate, believes in you, and so do I. Let us hope that we will prevail against our common enemy. Dabron, look after our friend, Smiffin. He may need some help in returning’. Dabron nodded.
Simon and Annie stood and watched as the dragons spread their wings and glided up in the night sky, and then disappeared.
‘Quite recovered, then’ asked Simon, grinning.
‘You horrible, dirt-eating, nasty, disgusting, evil, vicious, foul, detestable, hopeless, stupid, insensitive, insolent little toad!’ You made me sick in front of a dragon-king! That is really insulting!’
‘Now hold on,’ Simon said mildly. I’m not bothered about the others, but I do object to being called a toad. I like toads. They’re nice and warm-blooded, and they are very wise. I take it that you’re not in a very good mood at the moment.’
‘I hate you! You’re naturally insect-repellent! I wish you weren’t my brother!
This time, Simon suddenly felt angry. He grabbed Annie by both her arms, and stared at her. ‘What made you say that? That’s cruel! After all we’ve been through, you dare say that to me!’ He pushed her away and began to walk down the road. Then he stopped and hesitated. He looked back at Annie. She was standing there, crying, her arms folded around her.
He walked back, and then put his arms around her. ‘Don’t cry, Annie. “it’s very hard and cruel for both of us. We never thought that it would lead us into something much bigger than we ever thought. We need each other, very much. We have to. But at least we have friends and allies. They are there. They need us as much as we need them’.
‘I’m sorry, Simon,’ sobbed Annie, ‘I should never have said that to you. Please forgive me’.
‘Simon hugged her harder. ‘There’s nothing to forgive. Annie, what is it? Is it the talisman?’
‘Yes’, whispered Annie. ‘ I just feel that I’m carrying so much responsibility. It’s weighing me down, and I don’t know whether I can cope with it. ‘I’m frightened, Simon, I’m so frightened. Please help me’.
Simon was looking down at the talisman on he finger. It was flashing on and off. ‘I think the talisman is giving you a message. He leant down and looked carefully at the talisman. His lips moved as he tried to decipher what the talisman was saying. ‘I’m getting better at this. And it’s repeating the message, because I didn’t follow it the first time. Just hold on. I’ll translate’.
‘Do…’I’ve got that….n..o..t’. OK, I’ve got that, too’. Simon tried to concentrate. ‘D…yes…A…yes …S….P….A….this is difficult ….yes…I…R…new sentence….I… again….W…I…again…L…and again…L…Oh, this is really difficult….P!….R…..O….T….E….C…..I’m getting good at this….T!….Oh, no. I think it’s …..Y…..O…I know that….U…..Great!’
‘Simon, please, for goodness’ sake, tell me what the message is! cried Annie impatiently. He looked at Annie, and saw the fear in her eyes. ‘It’s all right. Annie’. he said softly, ‘It says, “Do not despair. I will protect you.”’ Annie still looked miserable.
‘It means that there even worse things for us in the future, though. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have said that’.
Well, we’ll just have to face that when the time comes. It sounds like that isn’t to be too far off’. He looked down at his watch, and looked startled. ‘Annie, we’ve hardly been away! It’s still only nine o’clock! I wonder where we’ve been!
‘I think we’ve been to the land of the dragons, and in another dimension’, said Annie, quietly. ‘I wonder when and where this battle with daemons will take place? That’s why I’m afraid. I just don’t know what is going to happen. That’s what is making me so frightened’.
Well, let’s go home and have some supper. I’m starving’.
‘Actually so am I, now. Simon, I’m really sorry about calling you all those names. I just blew up. It’s just…well…it’s just that I’m carrying this talisman. Sometimes I feel that it’s just a great weight on me, and I just don’t know whether I can carry it. Why me? Why not someone else who can stand it better?’
‘Because it’s chosen you, and therefore it trusts you as well. It just said that it will protect you, and I think that it will. Now, as a very special treat, we can link arms together – mind you, this is a very special treat – and go home, and arrange to meet the four fingers tomorrow, to tell them what’s happened. We’ll give the staff officers a debriefing. All right? I hope no-one sees us. I’ve my reputation to consider’.
‘ What reputation? But all right’. said Annie gratefully. So they linked arms and walked home.
BATTLE PLANS ARE DRAWN
For late September, it was a reasonably warm and sunny Sunday morning. Simon and Annie sat opposite the four fingers outside the usual restaurant on the Brighton seafront. Sniffer was lying on the ground as usual, slurping at his bowl of Guiness that the owner always provided for him. Adrian, the seagull. and his girl-friend, Gerry, together with his friend, Cassidy, the one with only one leg, and one eye, were perched at the end of the table. Both Annie and Simon had just finished telling everybody of their adventures with the dragons the night before. Groups of people, still in short summer dresses and shorts wandered along, enjoying the autumn sunshine. The sea, at low tide, lapped lazily at the bottom of the beach. Small wisps of cloud drifted gently in the blue sky.
‘So that’s how it ended’. said Simon.
Little Finger twisted his hands in delight. ‘But that is wonderful! A new dragon king and now they are our allies also. We all thank you so much!’
‘Yeah, so now we’ve done all the dangerous stuff, you staff officers can now start planning your battle. Not that you’ll be there, of course’. Simon snapped.
‘You seem to be under a misapprehension!’ snapped Index Finger. ‘We have done a very great deal to make sure that you met both the faeries and the dragons. We have worked behind the scenes, so to speak, to ensure your safety and the course of negociations’.
‘Oh, so now you’re the backroom boys, are you? Thanks a lot!’
‘Yeah’, snarled Adrian. ‘Just for once, I agree with this kiddie. You ain’t done nothing much except arrange meetings. What else have you been doing?’
Annie leant forward, her arms folded on the table and looked at each Finger in turn.
“Have you deliberately planned this battle?’
There was silence, broken only by the chatter of people and the odd cries of other seagulls above.
‘When we first met you’, Annie continued, relentlessly. ‘You told us that you enjoyed mystery. That was what the Brotherhood of the Hand was about. But you have not been honest with us, any of us. I think your purpose was far greater than that. You found out about a plot to undermine everything that we all believe in, and you used us to try to stop that’.
IS THAT THE TRUTH?’
Adrian flapped his wing threateningly. He glared at the four Fingers, who sat frozen in their seats. No-one moved.
‘Of course it is’. Everyone looked down at Sniffer. ‘This was a big game. They couldn’t tell you because they were afraid that you might not go along with it, and they didn’t know whether you were up to it or not. They couldn’t do it by themselves, so they recruited us to do all the stuff they couldn’t do. But I reckon they were doing the right thing, but they daren’t tell you in case you chickened out. But you didn’t. And I also reckon that, as we’ve stuck together so far, we might as well see it to the end. So, mates, there’s no point in blaming each other. Stay together, and we’ll all see it through’.
Little Finger spoke. ‘That is the truth. We are engaged in something far greater than ever we knew ourselves. That is why we have engaged ourselves in gathering information about our enemies. I know I speak for my brothers…’ he stopped short.
‘Brothers! That explains a lot’, Simon spoke quietly. ‘Why didn’t you tell us all this from the beginning?’
Third Finger spoke. ‘We are sorry, If we had known from the beginning, we would have told you. But we did not know how events would develop, nor could we foresee how they would happen. We cannot see the future: we can only plan for what might happen. We did not realise at first that you had a talisman, and that you, Annie, were a chosen bearer of the talisman. With it, we are far stronger than we had originally thought’. Annie looked down at the talisman. So did Simon. It was glowing brightly.They looked at each other, and then nodded.
‘We are going to see this through into the final battle’. said Annie firmly.
Frank Jackson (07/10/09)