Doomsville Castle was a curious place. Technically it wasn’t a castle, just a very large house, but its grim looking appearance, perched on top of a large hill overlooking a small town in Kent, had led to this nickname. It was occupied by William Hardingham, a well-known dealer of antique clocks that he had gathered from his trips around the world, along with a number of acquaintances. A couple of times a year William had on a whim decided to throw a party. He would lurch down the hill to the local shops, raising eyebrows with his orders for pheasants, crates of wines and exotic vegetables. The parties were full of colour and noise as artists, travellers and musicians mingled amongst the somewhat shyer townsfolk, coaxing them out of their reserve and the children had a gleeful time playing in the jungle of the garden.
However, one day everything changed and the castle retreated snail-like, into its shell. Nobody quite knew what happened, but at one of his parties, William had suddenly erupted in blazing anger at Caspar, one of his most treasured friends. Caspar wrapped his dark cloak about him, bowed low and swept out, pausing only to give the carriage clock by the front door a tap as he went. It was at that point that all the clocks had stopped, at 3.43 p.m. which as William said, was just inconveniently too early to be teatime. Failing to make them work, he put them in the tower in a fit of temper, where they were now covered in dust. From that point on, he seemed to lose his zest for living. The townsfolk still passed the time of day with him, but behind his back there was much muttering about him having gone soft in the head.
Seven years later, twins Ellie and Christy Marsh were being driven down from London to stay with their great uncle. It was their summer holidays before they went to secondary school and they were supposed to be camping in France. However at the last minute their mother had been told to attend an important conference. She’d racked her brains trying to think where they could go. Their grandmother and aunt were sailing somewhere in remote Scottish waters and couldn’t be reached. She then remembered her uncle who she’d lost touch with and managed to track him down.
‘It’s a big place,’ she said, as they whizzed away from London past fields dotted with sheep. ‘But remember you’re guests, so you keep out of your great-uncle’s way, if that’s what he wants.’
‘Mum!’ they chorused indignantly, knowing all about behaving in other people’s houses.
‘Sorry,’ she smiled. ‘I’d forgotten what beautifully brought up children you are.’
‘How many rooms has it got?’ asked Christy, trying to visualise a house so much bigger than his.
‘I can’t really remember, it’s been so long. At least thirty, I should think, and there’s a tower as well. We kept meaning to visit again, but what with one thing and another, the time just flew by.’
Christy could never understand how grown-ups thought time moved quickly. Except for when playing football, he thought time went exceptionally slowly. He was so excited now about this mysterious house; he felt he could burst with wanting to be there. Room after room that no one went in.
‘Maybe it’s haunted’, he said.
‘It’s not, Mum, is it?’ asked Ellie anxiously.
‘I don’t think so, Ellie, your brother will just have to rely on his legendary imagination.’
* * *
The twins gazed up in awe at the faded grandeur of the ballroom.
‘It’s like a museum!’ exclaimed Christy.
‘Indeed, sometimes I feel like a mouldy old exhibit.’
It was the next day and William was giving them a tour of the house, casually tossing bits of information aside as he went.
‘Now this would protect you on a dark night, eh? Frighten them witless.’ William was brandishing a sword with a beautiful embossed handle. Christy took it, nearly staggering under the weight. If he had this, then Simon Eliot and his mates wouldn’t be able to poke fun at him any more. Ellie meanwhile, had found a belt with a dagger and was admiring herself in front of the narrow gilt mirror.
‘He was a vicious beastie,’ William mused as they looked at a crocodile skin pouch.
‘Did you kill it?’ they asked excitedly.
William looked at them, torn between honesty and a desire to show off.
‘Well, I was in the boat. Had to help hold him down. Some poor chap lost a finger or two. Right, I think you’ve seen the lot. Don’t know about you, but I feel a bit peckish.’
The tawny cat reposing on the armchair in front of the fire opened an eye as they came into the kitchen, yawned and jumped delicately down, hoping for a titbit.
‘Ah, Mr Butter Scotch, this morning’s tin of rabbit in jelly all dissolved in the regal stomach, has it?’
The cat’s weaving round ankles and thunderous purring suggested it had. Christy’s eyes were caught by the array of keys hanging over the fireplace. How many were there? William emerged triumphant from the larder, holding a large ham.
‘Just the thing’, he declared, cutting off a strip and dropping it in Butter Scotch’s bowl.
‘Let’s see who can make the biggest sandwich.’
Later William declared he needed a nap in his armchair to digest, so Ellie and Christy made a den in the garden between two narrow trees by the wall of the shed.
‘Maybe we could sleep out in this?’ suggested Ellie.
Christy nodded distractedly. His eye was caught by the tower at one end of the house, rising up tall and thin, with a window at the top.
‘He never showed us that, did he?’ Ellie craned her head round to see.
‘Maybe he was too tired. He’s pretty old, after all. How old do you think he is?’ She sensed her great-uncle had deliberately not shown them the tower. Christy was not to be deterred.
‘Dunno. Ancient. I’m going to ask him about it.’
‘Let him have his sleep first.’
‘I know, idiot, I’ll ask him later.’
Ellie looked at her watch. ‘What time is it?’ she asked.
Christy looked at his. ‘3.43’.
‘That’s what I thought.’ She tapped it. ‘I looked at it ages ago and it said 3.20. I think it’s stuck.’
Christy examined his. ‘So’s mine. That’s weird.’
‘I didn’t notice any clocks in the house. Or that Uncle William wore a watch. Did you?’
Christy grinned. ‘Something else to ask him about.’
‘What time is it, Uncle?’ asked Christy innocently, as they sat outside later that evening.
‘Never bother with official markers,’ said William emphatically. He nodded to the sundial in the herb garden. ‘That does me.’
‘Not if it’s raining, though. Or at night.’
‘Indeed, oh literal one. Well, if it’s raining or night, I’m not much bothered about the time.’
‘But what about if you’re catching a train or…’ Christy began.
‘You’ve got watches haven’t you, if you’re so desperate to kow-tow to Old Father Time?’ demanded William, somewhat petulantly.
‘They’ve stopped working,‘ put in Ellie, ‘but it doesn’t matter’ she added quickly, seeing that the subject nettled William.
‘Stopped,’ said William. ‘Ah yes, I’d forgotten, it’s been so long…’ he tailed off, looking forlorn.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Christy.
‘Well, it must be something in the atmosphere,’ he said restoring his jauntiness. ‘Watches never seem to work here, so nobody bothers about them.’
Christy frowned. ‘That doesn’t make sense.’
William fixed him with a beady eye. ‘Few things in life do, dear boy, best to concentrate on the things that do.’
Later that night, they spoke to their mother on the phone. She was pleased to hear they were settling in.
‘Have you explored every inch?’ she asked Christy.
He thought of the tower. He’d mentioned it casually at dinner earlier to be met with the same frostiness as over the clocks.
‘Almost’, he said.
His mother heard the hesitation in his voice.
‘Remember not to go poking about in William’s private things.’
‘Yes, yes,’ he said, only half listening, as he always did when adults started nagging. After all, Uncle William hadn’t said the tower was private, had he?
* * *
‘I’m sure you’ll find plenty to occupy yourselves,’ said William a few days later. ‘Corners to explore’. He smiled at Christy as he spoke who immediately blushed.
They were at the gate with William. He was going off for the day to visit his friend Laura, who lived in a neighbouring town. ‘If we weren’t both so ancient I suppose you’d call her my girlfriend’, he’d wheezed. ‘We’re good companions, certainly.’
The taxi pulled up at the gate. ‘I’ll be back late’, said William. ‘Have fun.’
At last, thought Christy, as they returned to the house.
‘What are you going to do?’ he asked, airily.
‘Probably do some stuff in my room,’ Ellie said, after a pause. ‘What about you?’
Christy burst into the kitchen, causing Butter Scotch to jump up in excitement. Christy quickly put some biscuits in his bowl. He didn’t want him to start meowing and alert Ellie as to his whereabouts. He turned his attention to the keys, dismissing back door and drawer keys, before alighting on a large, slightly rusty one. That must surely be it. He pocketed it and ran to the tower, heart thumping. He placed the key carefully in the lock. It fitted!
‘Caught you’, said a voice behind him.
He whirled round. Ellie was watching him.
‘How did you know?’ he demanded.
‘I always know when you’re up to something, you put on this innocent look, it’s so obvious. I’ve seen you looking at the tower, I thought you’d try and get in sometime.’
‘You won’t tell, will you?’
‘No. But I’m coming with you. Make sure you don’t mess it up.’
‘OK’, sighed Christy, secretly quite relieved. If there were something strange up there, he’d rather not be alone.
The door was slightly swollen and needed a couple of yanks to get it open. A musty smell floated out as they walked up a flight of narrow steps. At the top was another door, which opened quite easily. As their eyes adjusted to the gloom, their mouths fell open in amazement.
‘Here they all are’, breathed Ellie finally.
The room was crowded with clocks of all shapes and sizes: cuckoo clocks, a large grandfather clock, wall clocks, made of gold, wood, metal. Each clock was stuck at 3.43.
Their eyes were drawn to one with glistening gold and green sides, its hands ornately carved. As Christy picked it up, a bat whistled past and out of the window. He jumped in surprise, dropping the clock, which broke as it hit the floor.
‘Who has disturbed me from my blissful sleeping place!’ a ghostly voice called out. ‘Who dares to do such a foolhardy thing!’
Ellie whispered in Christy’s ear. “Let’s get out.’
They tiptoed over to the door, looking round nervously. ‘There’s no point doing that’, boomed the voice. ‘I’m invisible!’
‘Who are you?’ Ellie squeaked.
‘You wouldn’t believe me’.
‘Yes, we would’, she encouraged.
‘Very well,’ said the voice. ‘I’m a dragon’.
‘But they don’t exist’, said Christy, finding his tongue at last.
‘You see what I have to contend with’, huffed the voice. ‘You, small boy, have no concept of your planet’s history. Anything more complex than the latest childish game is completely baffling to you. Why, you probably think ‘myths’ as you call them, are all poppycock’.
‘How long have you been here?’ asked Christy
‘What century are we in now, child?’
‘The twenty-first, of course’ said Christy (objecting to being called a child). ‘Don’t you even know that? I thought everyone knew about the millennium.’
‘Sshhh!’ hissed Ellie, but too late.
‘What’s your name, boy?’ the voice demanded.
‘Easy, it’s… ‘, he reddened. ‘I can’t remember.’
‘Oh dear’, chuckled the dragon. ‘We seem to have forgotten’. He flexed his claws (naturally unseen by the pair). ‘Nice to know my abilities haven’t rusted. Nobody questions my intellect and escapes unharmed. Remember that, Christy.’
He gaped. ‘How do you know my name?’
‘Dragons know more than you could possibly imagine. As you will find out.’
‘Please let us see you’, implored Ellie.
‘You won’t run away screaming? I know what little girls are.’
Ellie bristled at being called little, but had learnt from her brother’s mistake. She shook her head hastily.
‘I suppose it might be feasible for a short while, just out of politeness’ sake.’
‘You won’t eat us though?’ she ventured in a small voice.
‘Certainly not’, said the dragon, in a voice as crisp as Uncle William’s. ‘Barbaric habit, falsely attributed to dragon-kind. Those books you read are full of hogwash.’
There was a rustle and then the dragon materialised before them.
They gasped in wonderment. His flanks were a gleaming gold, his paws green with delicate patterns. He stood, head aloft, waiting for praise. He was not disappointed.
‘Fantastic!’ they said, walking round examining him from every angle.
‘Why were you invisible before?’
‘One must always take precautions. Although I know you are not the enemy.’ He studied them carefully. ’Twins eh? It was written many years ago, that a boy child and girl child cleaved from the same seed would release the spell.’
‘That of Kasparin, a wicked sorcerer.’
‘Tell us!’ they clamoured.
The dragon sighed theatrically. ‘Are you sure you’re interested in an old relic like me?’
‘Please tell us’, said Christy. ‘I think you’re wicked, honest.’
‘He means very good’, said Ellie hastily, not wanting further trouble.
‘Times have indeed changed. Very well. Sit down and I will tell you my story. You haven’t got a tasty morsel about you, have you? A mouse, or frog perhaps.’
Ellie shuddered. ‘I’ve got some chocolate’.
The dragon devoured it in one gulp. ‘Mmm, most interesting.’
‘What’s your name?’ asked Christy.
‘Dragon Elders rarely give their names. It puts one in a vulnerable position.’
‘But we’re not the enemy, you said so…’ said Christy.
The dragon glanced at him sternly. ‘One can never tell who, or what, might be listening.’
‘We could call you Mr Dragon. Like at school’, suggested Ellie.
The dragon inclined his head. ‘Very suitable.’
‘A dragon is an unusual sight to you now, but it was not always so’, he began. ‘Once there were many of my brethren roaming this fair land. It means brother’, he added, noticing their puzzlement.
‘What happened to your bro- brethren?’ asked Ellie eagerly.
‘It’s a sad tale, my child. Many brutalities were carried out.’
‘You mean they were killed?’ Christy asked.
Mr Dragon nodded, tears pouring down his scaly cheeks and steaming as they dropped to the floor.
‘Don’t be so pushy!’ hissed Ellie angrily to her brother.
‘Hush child, he is naturally curious. It will not alter the facts. There was a time when dragons and man lived in harmony. We had knowledge, magical powers and wisdom; they had material goods and the knack of invention. They gave us gifts in return for our guardianship. Many was the time I sat in the King’s garden, dandling his children on my knee, amusing them by creating smoke shapes in the air or changing flowers to different colours. Matters continued peacefully for many years. Then the King fell ill. He was near to his death. His only son Branigan would succeed him, but he renounced his heritage and set off to see the world. ‘
‘See the world indeed!’ Mr Dragon snorted. ‘I could have flown him to see all the delights that were worth seeing in a matter of minutes. One of the gifts that Dragon Elders possessed was the ability to bend time entirely to our will, flitting about in centuries as easily as a child plays hopscotch. The night Branigan left on his travels, I had a dreadful sense of doom. I foresaw evil in an unaccustomed shape that would lead to our virtual extinction.’
He glanced at them. ‘You are wondering if I could not prevent these things coming to pass. Believe me I wished to, but meddling with Fate leads to greater destruction in the end.’
‘It was decided that the King’s daughter would take over his reign, a sweet young thing, but weak as a kitten. She was due to be married to a handsome successful merchant, who had settled in our lands a year previously, having sailed from far away. He would be the power behind the throne. An unaccustomed shape, you see. Who would have dreamed what lay ahead?
‘Kasparin was not the merchant he claimed he was, rather he was an evil sorcerer. He ordered his subjects to bring all their riches and finery for his castles. The generosity that had previously existed between people started to diminish as people learnt from their king’s example. Kasparin feared us dragons because he knew we had the power to overthrow him. We were no longer welcome in the towns so we went into hiding in the wilderness.’
We lived this way for some time, venturing out at night to gather food. Then one day the youngest of our company grew impatient with the constant warnings to stay hidden. He was a rash young devil, Anthrapar. He decided to fly over the city to see what was happening. When they captured him, they tortured him until he told all he knew…’
Mr Dragon tailed off, lost in contemplation.
‘Did they come after you?’ asked Ellie gently. ‘Indeed yes. They stormed our camp late one evening. It was a long and bloody night. Swords clashed with talons, spears with claws. When morning dawned, it was to a grisly sight. Dragons and men, united again in death, covered the ground.’
‘There were just seven dragons left, myself and Anthrapar included. How Kasparin gloated. As each dragon had fallen, it had added to his power. He thought we were entirely vanquished. In a moment of rash folly he banished us to a far distant land. Had he killed us there and then, I dread to think what would have happened.’
‘We were not sorry to go, although we were a battered group, ill at ease and downhearted. Anthrapar begged for his death as punishment for his actions, but it was out of the question. It was written at the beginning of time that seven dragons would always protect against evil. As long as we were alive, then Kasparin would not be able to achieve complete domination. He spent the rest of his life consumed with bitterness for his mistake, sending tribes out to try and extinguish us. A bleak time, I think it was called The Dark Ages by some. When he died, his legacy continued, the evil seed being reborn in a new body.’
‘ We decided many centuries back that we were safer if we separated. It was a sad night when the seven of us parted, but we had our duty to consider. We each hid within a clock, which was passed down from generation to generation. In this way we could keep a watchful eye on all that happened as the centuries passed. What a destructive creature man can be.’
‘So you were in that clock and us breaking it brought you to life?’ asked Ellie.
‘Indeed. What is the date today?’ he asked suddenly, startling them by the abrupt change of thought.
‘August 4th’, said Christy.
‘Yes,’ mused Mr Dragon. ‘Three thousand years exactly. The end of the reign of Kasparin is nigh. What time is it now?’
Ellie automatically looked at her watch. ‘Quarter to five.’ She and Christy looked at each other in astonishment. ‘Our watches are working again!’ she exclaimed.
‘Yes they would, now the spell is broken.’
‘Wait a minute,’ said Christy. ‘Are you saying Uncle William’s house is connected with all this Kasparin business. That he’s involved somehow?’
Mr Dragon nodded.
‘William’s not bad though, is he?’ asked Ellie nervously.
‘No child, although he may have been subjected to those that were. His former friend who put the spell on the clocks. Evil in an unaccustomed shape. We have to gather my brethren to assist.’
‘Gather them from where?’ asked Ellie.
‘From when might be more apt. Let us hope none of them are delayed in time.’ He noticed their puzzlement. ‘I told you that dragons could manipulate time. When we went our separate ways, we thought it safer to be in different centuries. The same spot, you see, but divided by many years. As one of the Elders, I volunteered to go into the future. The unknown can be a temptation to meddle.’
‘But we’re not the future,’ protested Christy.
Mr Dragon smiled wryly. ‘It depends what point you start from. It was the future to us all those centuries ago. Once Kasparin died, the most dangerous part was over. However we had to remain close to the castle to protect it from Kasparin’s descendants. Which is why you found me here.’
‘This house is the original castle!’ exclaimed Ellie.
‘Naturally it’s changed somewhat, become somewhat smaller over the years. But in essence yes.’
‘How long have you been here?’ asked Christy
‘I arrived in 1978, as you term it. As you observed, I was in the clock. I was in pride of place in the entrance hall, keeping a watchful eye on all that passed. Your uncle did have some good parties, I can tell you. At night-time I would sometimes fly down to the beach to keep a lookout over the sea. Nobody saw me, or if they did, they thought I was a low-flying aeroplane. People are strikingly unobservant.’
‘You must have got lonely, keeping yourself hidden’ said Ellie
Mr Dragon smiled. ‘You are a thoughtful child. We must go to the beach later. It was our agreed meeting point. The spell will have been released for us all simultaneously.’
‘You mean, there’ll be six other dragons walking around’ said Christy.
‘Yes, and they may well not get a very welcome reception. People don’t understand dragons in the way that they did.’
‘No, they might put you in a zoo.’
‘Precisely,’ said Mr Dragon. ‘Your uncle had the good sense to put his clocks up here when they froze. Out of sight, out of mind, or almost. I cannot vouch for the intelligence of his predecessors. All the time that we were under the spell, we have been unable to see what has been happening. That is why I asked what century we were in, to know how much time had passed. It is seven years, so I know it is time for the final battle.’
‘People don’t fight like that any more’, objected Christy. ‘They’ve got bombs and nuclear weapons and stuff.’
‘I suspect it will take place in a way that we do not expect.’
‘What will happen after it?’ asked Ellie.
‘There will always be evil in the world. But the guardianship of the dragons will no longer be necessary. We will be able to retire to a far off land. But we cannot talk of the future while there is still danger in the present. It is now five o’clock. Go to the house and get some rest. At midnight come to your bedroom windows. I will come and collect you. You had best fetch the sword and dagger you were admiring the other day.’
He watched them walk towards the tower door.
‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘Good will win in the end.’
* * * * *
Christy sat at the bottom of Ellie’s bed. It was nearly midnight. They’d both been preoccupied since leaving the tower, too keyed up to sleep, neither daring to ask the other if they were frightened. Ellie looked down at the belt and dagger round her waist. The gold glinted in the light from the moon outside.
‘You don’t think we just imagined……’
There was a rustle at the window. Mr Dragon was hovering, his wings beating furiously to keep him in one spot.
‘Guess not,’ said Christy.
Soon their fears were temporarily forgotten, as they went whistling through the air on Mr Dragon’s back, marvelling at the scenery beneath them. He pointed a claw at a quarry beneath them.
‘That was where the first battle took place. Nothing ever grew there again.’
Before long, they arrived at the beach. It looked very different from when they’d come a few days ago with William. The jagged cliffs seemed to have eyes that followed them as they passed. It was tricky clambering over the rocks in the darkness. Ellie nearly lost her footing on a slippery piece of seaweed, then watched astonished as Mr Dragon bent his head to the spot.
‘This is not the time for silly jokes, Agatha.’
The seaweed gathered itself up in a dignified huff and retreated towards the water.
He smiled at the twins.
‘It’s a different world at night.’
They stopped beside a smooth piece of rock. Mr Dragon laid a claw on each of their shoulders.
‘You are feeling less frightened now. Tap this stone and imagine yourselves behind it.’
They did so and a crack appeared in it, big enough to slip through.
The inside of the cave blazed with light, making the twins’ eyes water. It wasn’t clear at first where the light was coming from, until they noticed Mr Dragon’s eyes gleaming brighter than any car headlights.
‘Impericus drusillus!’ boomed Mr Dragon, making them jump.
‘Avaricus gog!’ came the reply, as the light moved to reveal five other dragons. Mr Dragon rushed forward and embraced his brethren heartily. The steam rising indicated that a few tears were being shed. There was a babble of excited chatter which Ellie and Christy didn’t understand, but they guessed the dragons were catching up on their news.
Mr Dragon indicated towards them and spoke in English. ‘Allow me to present Christy and Ellie, conquerors of the spell of Kasparin.’
A silvery dragon came towards them, ‘We are much indebted to you. We are not Dragon Elders so are permitted to give our names. I am Silverius. And these are Lancola, Hesperin, Drimedi and Chollus.’
The dragons bowed towards them in turn, which made them blush at the formality. The last two, who were the youngest, also looked a bit bashful.
‘Is Anthrapar here yet?’ enquired Mr Dragon.
‘We were hoping he was with you’, replied Silverius anxiously.
Mr Dragon swept towards a wall of the cave, which glowed a dullish purple. He quickly drew a circle with his paw, muttering under his breath as he did. The surface of the circle became transparent as glass, revealing a small dragon sitting disconsolately in a cage.
‘Anthrapar!’ called Mr Dragon.
Anthrapar started and looked around distractedly, before slumping back. The glass thickened to rock again.
‘He cannot hear you clearly. The magic around him must be very strong’, said Hesperin.
‘I strongly suspect that Kasparin is nearby controlling him. He has more power than one dragon.’
‘But not more than seven. We’ll go there and show him!’ said Chollus excitedly, getting a disapproving frown from his mother Lancola.
‘I admire your fighting spirit’, said Mr Dragon dryly, ‘but we must proceed carefully. Fortunately we have added ammunition. Kasparin will not be expecting humans.’
‘We don’t know how to fight magicians!’ exclaimed Ellie in some alarm.
‘Just like a girl!’ said Christy scornfully. ‘Chollus is right, we could show him. We’ve got these anyway.’ He shook his sword.
‘Hush, all of you’, said Mr Dragon sternly. ‘Fighting leads to bloodshed, as we have discovered to our cost. The weapons are primarily intended to give you courage. We will defeat Kasparin by cunning. Come, all of you.’
He gestured to them to form a circle around him. ‘You had better close your eyes, it will be too bright for you,‘ he warned the twins.
They did so, feeling a great rush of cold air past their bodies and a howling in their ears. Even with eyelids tightly shut, they could see a kaleidoscope of colours, some they had never seen. Just as they were starting to get dizzy, the movement stopped. They opened their eyes cautiously and saw they were in a dim, damp room.
‘Where are we?’ whispered Chollus.
Mr Dragon looked about him. ‘I asked the Lord of Time to bring us to a safe place where we would be unnoticed until we wished otherwise. I imagine we are in one of the cellars of the castle.’
Ellie and Christy exchanged glances. That must mean they were in William’s house, but there would be nothing familiar.
‘What time is it, I mean, what century are we in?’ asked Christy.
Mr Dragon gave a wry smile. ‘I seem to recall you mocked me when I asked you the same question,’ he said lightly. He held one paw up and examined the scales. ‘Our bodies change colour with the centuries,’ he explained. ‘Hhmm, Goodness Gracious, dark amber, wouldn’t you say, Silverius?’
The dragons, having previously been a range of colours, were now all a dark gold. ‘We each adopted the colour of the century we went to when we took our separate paths, but now we’ve all reverted to our original state,’ Silverius explained to the twins.
Mr Dragon was still marvelling, ‘This is quite extraordinary, however. Who would have thought we would come back to the beginning, but of course most things come full circle.’
‘Beginning?’ asked Christy.
‘Yes, dear boy, the beginning of time.’
He flared his nostrils.
‘I smell Anthrapar’s scent, he must be nearby. We must proceed carefully.’
The group trotted silently down musty passageways, Mr Dragon pausing now and again to sniff the air. They noticed lightness at the end of the passage, which grew brighter, until they emerged blinking into daylight.
Christy and Ellie looked around wonderingly. They were in a garden, but what a garden! The trees and bushes glistened with gold and silver leaves; the flowers were a breathtaking array of colours with a scent so beautiful it brought tears to your eyes; little brooks burbled past, the water making the sweetest of sounds. Here and there scampered winged creatures with human faces. In the middle of the garden was the only ugly thing: a cage containing a small dragon surrounded by a grey mist. Every now and then, it raised its head, attracted by the sounds and smells of its surroundings, only to slump back down again, disconsolate.
‘Quick!’ hissed Mr Dragon. ‘Surround his cage and take paws. That way our magic is stronger.’
The eight of them hurried over. Mr Dragon was intoning a high pitched sound, which sounded harsh on the twins’ ears. He rose to a deafening level and the bars of the cage shattered, the mist swirling up into the air and disappearing.
Mr Dragon reached out his arms to the startled dragon. ‘Anthrapar!’ he cried, his voice cracking with emotion.
Anthrapar rushed forward into his arms, ‘Father, I thought I’d never see you again.’
Mr Dragon smiled at the twins over his son’s head. ‘I know, I didn’t tell you he was my son. When I wasn’t sure if I’d see him again, it was hard to bear.’
Christy looked away, consumed with longing. Their own father had died in a car accident when he and Ellie were little. Much as he loved his mother, he sometimes felt left out when she and his sister gassed away for hours on end. ‘His spirit is always with you’, said Mr Dragon gently to him, noticing his face.
‘Well, how cosy,’ came a grating voice behind them. ‘All together at last.’
A tall, grey man stood sneering at them, his face contorted with bitterness. A chill wind seemed to exude from his body and settle over the garden.
‘Kasparin’, said Mr Dragon coldly. ‘Glad to see you made my son so welcome.’
Kasparin snorted. ‘What did you expect; you wretched dragons have thwarted me at every turn.’
‘That’s what you deserve, why don’t you fight properly, instead of using all this magic stuff’, said Chollus excitedly. He looked fired up, ready to do battle.
Mr Dragon held up a paw warningly to him. ‘What is it that you want, Kasparin? A world of fear, without trust or friendship?’
‘I am tired,’ spat Kasparin. ‘Tired of seeing my plans dashed, tired of do-gooders, tired of life. If it were not for one thing, I would end it all right now…’
The words hung in the air. Kasparin paused and then continued.
‘I have no one to pass my knowledge onto. If I had an apprentice, a boy whom I could teach, then I might concede defeat.’
He looked around the group, then his eyes locked on Christy. ‘Well boy, what do you think?’
Christy felt a great coldness sweep over him. He did not seem able to tear his eyes away from the man’s face. He heard Ellie gasp in horror, Silverius bursting out, ‘that’s absurd, you can’t steal the boy from his life!’, but all the while he seemed to be drawn towards a darkness. Mr Dragon laid a reassuring claw on his shoulder and he felt safer.
‘Kasparin, that is quite some offer. Would you give us a moment to think about it?’ said Mr Dragon. Kasparin nodded and withdrew.
‘He can’t stay here with that horrible man!’ burst out Ellie.
Mr Dragon looked at her steadily, ‘Fear not’, he said in a low voice. ‘Christy will be protected. We must talk.’ He led Christy away from the rest of the group and talked to him, quickly and earnestly.
Ellie was in tears. ‘I trusted him, what does he think he’s doing! He’s making him like a sacrifice.’
Lancola drew Ellie close and comforted her. ‘Do not be alarmed, he would not put his life in danger. Christy is fulfilling what is written in the prophecy. I do not know what that is, but we must have faith.’
Christy was walking towards Kasparin. He spoke loudly to cover the tremble in his voice.
‘I will accept your offer. But I have to do something first.’
‘Very well, but be quick.’
Christy walked back to Mr Dragon, who drew a line in the air. A black slit appeared, Christy slipped through it and vanished.
Kasparin looked angry. ‘You never said he was going away from here.’
‘You never said that wasn’t permitted,’ retorted Mr Dragon.
‘But where has he gone?’
‘1995. To a party in his great-uncle’s house. There was some unfinished business I asked him to take care of for me.’
‘When is he coming back?’
‘We shall have to wait.’
Christy found himself in the garden of William’s house. It was a lovely summer’s afternoon and he was hidden in the shade of some bushes, giving him time to collect his thoughts, which whirred round his head.
‘Kasparin is at the height of his powers here’, Mr Dragon had explained to him some moments earlier. ‘Although we are safe together, I am unable to overthrow him. The man who was your great-uncle’s friend is the last incarnation of Kasparin. The powers have distilled through time so that he is almost entirely mortal. He hoped to pass on his last secrets to William. Freezing the clock used the remnants of his power. Once he has committed that act he is vulnerable.’
Christy moved towards the house. He knew what he had to do. Around he could see groups of people dancing, talking, laughing.
He entered the house and slipped into an alcove beside the mantelpiece that held the beautiful green clock. William, looking younger and vigorous, was having an argument with a tall man dressed in a dark, grey cloak.
‘Think of all that you could have’, urged the man. ‘We could become the most powerful men in the world.’
‘Never, Caspar’, snapped William. ‘It makes me ashamed to know you.’
Caspar bowed low. ‘Likewise, I thought I knew you better.’
He swept towards the door, tapping the clock, which read 3.43. Quickly Christy darted to the mantelpiece and grabbed the clock, holding it high above his head.
‘Hey, what are you doing?’ called William.
Caspar turned, fixing Christy with a steely stare. ‘Best put that down, young man.’
Christy felt himself freezing, drawn in once again by the man’s power.
‘Be careful’, Mr Dragon had said, ‘ he will try to hypnotise you. Be strong, try and visualise your father to give you courage.’
Christy thought of his father as he had last seen him. He felt stronger.
‘William’s right, you ought to be ashamed’; he called out as he hurled the clock to the floor.
The man lunged towards him, but staggered back as a blinding flash shot out from the shattered clock, revealing Mr Dragon looking his most ferocious. He sprang towards the man and shot a flame directly at him, burning him to a cinder within seconds.
William sank towards the ground in fright, hiding his head.
Mr Dragon turned to Christy, ‘Well done, lad. I’m proud of you.’
Christy looked at him mesmerised, seeing his father in the dragon’s face. The landscape around them swam out of focus and then settled. Christy looked round. He was back in the garden, Ellie rushed to hug him, behind her the anxious faces of the other dragons.
‘Where’s Kasparin?’ he asked.
Ellie pointed to where the cage had been. A patch of smoke was all that remained.
Mr Dragon smiled at the twins. ‘It is over, we can retire and you must go back to your real time. You may find things a little changed because the clocks didn’t freeze, so the last seven years have happened differently. Read the letter in your room, it will explain everything.’
‘I wish you didn’t have to go’, said Ellie mournfully.
‘It is for the best. One day we may meet again.’
‘Thank you for your help,’ said Anthrapar warmly.
‘Farewell,’ called the dragons.
As the dragons waved the light around them became blinding, so that the twins screwed up their eyes. When they opened them, they were in Christy’s room.
‘Look at all this stuff’, he said wonderingly.
‘It looks like you live here’, said Ellie.
She darted across the hallway to her room. Hers was the same, clothes, ornaments, books – certainly more than she’d brought for the two week holiday.
Christy appeared behind her, holding out a letter. They read it together.
You have lived here for six years. William’s business became very successful so he persuaded your mother to give up the job she hated to come and be his assistant. You also have a stepfather, John. He married your mother four years ago; Ellie was a bridesmaid. Do not be alarmed by the changes, you will not know any different soon.
We will always remember you.
P.S. Dragon Elders always name their son after them to carry on the tradition.’
‘So he was Anthrapar as well!’ exclaimed Ellie.
‘What are we supposed to do about this new dad?’ said Christy crossly.
A voice called from downstairs. ‘Twins, the party’s starting.’
‘Coming Mum!’ they chorused. They looked at each other, suddenly puzzled.
‘What were you saying about Dad?’ asked Ellie.
‘I can’t remember’, said Christy. He looked down at the paper in his hand. It was now blank. ‘What did this have on it?’
‘Probably one of Dad’s jokes,’ said Ellie.
They dashed downstairs, nearly colliding with Butter Scotch on the way. The hall was filling up as one of William’s legendary parties was underway.
‘There you are’, said their mother. ‘William’s got a surprise for you.’
Two packages sat on the table. ‘I know your birthday’s next week, but I couldn’t resist giving you these now.’
They opened them to find two small clocks, beautifully carved in delicate green and gold.
‘I know you were disappointed when that other one broke last month’, said William. ‘I really can’t remember what happened. Must have been a freak gust of wind. Anyway, now you’ve each got one for your rooms.’
They gazed at the lovely clocks, suddenly seeing Anthrapar smiling out from them. As they looked again the image faded. Just at that moment, their stepfather came into the room with a tray of drinks.
‘What are you all hiding in here for?’
‘John’s right!’ cried William. ‘It’s time to party!’