Read The Storm Dragon Online

Authors: Paula Harrison

The Storm Dragon (2 page)

Sophy was so busy that afternoon that she didn’t have time to think about the golden songbird or look inside the little purple bag in her apron pocket. She swept the floor in the Throne Room, polished all the queen’s crowns and helped Cook to decorate a huge chocolate cake that would be served to Her Majesty at teatime.

After that, Sophy went to gather apples in the orchard. She worked quickly, picking all the ripe fruit on the lower branches and then fetching a ladder to reach the apples higher up.

She’d just filled a second basket when she heard shouting on the other side of the garden. The wind suddenly blew strongly, making the apple trees sway. Sophy’s ladder rocked too and she held on tight to keep her balance.

A purple shape zoomed overhead and a terrible screech sent a shiver down her back. The awful cry ended in a thump followed by the sound of cracking branches. Something had hit one of the apple trees!

Sophy quickly climbed down the ladder and hurried through the orchard. Broken branches lay on the ground not far away and leaves were floating to the floor. Setting down her basket, she went closer. Had a bird crashed into the tree? It must have been a pretty big one to cause so much damage – maybe a raven or an eagle. The poor thing could be badly hurt.

As she got nearer, she saw that half of the tree’s branches were snapped off and there was a long black mark across its trunk. Something
wriggled under one of the broken branches and a puff of grey dust drifted into the air.

Sophy spun round to call for help but a whimpering noise stopped her. That didn’t sound like a bird at all! Her heart began to race. Maybe that puff of grey wasn’t dust at all. Maybe it was smoke. An amazing thought popped into her head as she crept right up to the damaged tree.

Hardly daring to breathe, she crouched down and lifted up the broken branch. The creature hiding underneath was a purple colour. Its skin looked soft but it had bumpy ridges running down its back and along its tail. Another puff of smoke rose from its nostrils as it
coughed. Then it rolled over on to four clawed feet, shook its web-like wings and looked at Sophy with wide amber eyes.

Sophy knew what it was. She’d listened carefully to many tales about these magical creatures.

This was a dragon.

“Are you real?” Sophy whispered, reaching out to touch the creature.

The dragon gave a snort of alarm and jumped backwards. Its amber eyes narrowed, fixing on Sophy. A gust of wind rustled the leaves on the trees.

“It’s all right! I won’t hurt you,” Sophy said gently. The creature was smaller than she’d thought a dragon would be – a little shorter than the gardener’s dog. The roundness of its cute purple snout made it look a bit like a puppy.

The dragon crept towards her and sniffed her hand, swishing its long purple tail.

“That’s it – I won’t hurt you,” Sophy repeated.

The dragon came even closer, till she could feel its warm breath on her face. Then it gave her cheek a long slobbery lick and sat back on its haunches.

Sophy laughed and tried to wipe off the slobber. She glanced at the broken apple tree. “I guess you didn’t mean to land here. I wonder why you crashed.”

The little dragon sniffed the air and then tried to stretch out its webbed wings, but its left one wouldn’t straighten. It tried again, but the left wing dangled uselessly by its side. At last it gave up and a large tear rolled out of its eye and dripped on to the ground.

“You poor thing – you’re injured!” cried Sophy. “Does it really hurt?”

The little dragon sank to the ground, still crying. Sophy patted its bumpy back, wishing she knew what to do. The creature’s sobbing
was mixed with a dragonish growling – as if it was trying to talk to her. The wind rose again, bending the trees and sending leaves skittering along the ground.

“Oh dear! I wish I knew how to help you,” said Sophy. “It must have been horrible crashing like that.” A lump came to her throat. Kneeling down, she threw her arms around the creature and kissed its pointy ears.

The dragon stopped sobbing. When Sophy drew back she realised her apron pocket felt very warm. She reached inside for the little bag of stones she’d almost forgotten about. When she lifted it out, she knew at once that something strange was happening.

Fingers trembling, she opened the bag and poured the rough, grey stones on to the ground. One of them wasn’t grey any longer. It had turned a deep, glowing orange – the exact same colour as the dragon’s eyes.

Sophy picked it up and watched the stone grow brighter in the palm of her hand. It became hotter too – so hot she didn’t think she could hold it any more. Yet somehow she didn’t want to let go…

Crack!
The stone broke into two pieces.

The orange glow faded, until the two parts of the stone were grey and ordinary again. Except… Sophy looked closer. The stone was hollow. Inside each part was a tiny cave filled
with purple crystals. She gazed at the two pieces of rock in turn, studying the little forest of crystals inside. They glittered in the sunlight like hidden treasure.

“It’s really beautiful!” she said to herself.

“Pretty!” agreed the dragon.

Sophy’s mouth dropped open. “What did you say?”

“It’s pretty!” repeated the dragon, but then his eyes welled with tears again. “But my wing hurts.” He tried to flap his crooked wing.

Sophy took a moment to get her breath back. “You’re talking!” she gasped. “That’s amazing! I think this stone must be magic.”

The creature blinked and forgot to cry. “Well, it is
very
shiny!”

Sophy smiled.

“Maybe you see magic all the time but it’s never happened to me before! I’m Sophy.”

“So-fee!” said the dragon, trying out the name. Then he coughed and a little flame shot out of his mouth. “My name’s Cloudtwister, but everyone calls me Cloudy for short. I’m a storm dragon.”

“A storm dragon?” Suddenly Sophy realised why it had become so windy in the orchard. “Are you doing that?” She pointed to the swirling leaves.

Cloudy nodded, pleased. “I’m still learning, though. I can only make little breezes!”

“Oh, so you’re a young dragon!” That must be why Cloudy was so small, Sophy realised. He was just a baby.

Cloudy pricked up his ears. “What’s that noise?”

There were voices not far away and the clanking of armour. Sophy remembered the shouting she’d heard just before the dragon crash-landed. “I think someone must have seen you fall into the trees and they’re coming to look for you.” She bit her lip. “Oh dear! I should tell you … not everyone likes dragons.”

Cloudy’s eyes widened in alarm and a sharp gust of wind buffeted round them. “My wing hurts and I can’t fly away. Help me, Sophy!”

The men’s voices were getting closer. Sophy tried to think quickly. “Don’t worry! I’ll find somewhere for you to hide until they’ve gone, but you have to stay really quiet. Can you do that?”

“Yes!” Cloudy’s purple tail swished eagerly. “Very quiet!”

Sophy put the hollow stone in her pocket and scanned the orchard. Where could she hide him? There was nothing here except apple trees. “I’m going to pick you up. Are you ready?”

She took hold of Cloudy and held him tight. It was like carrying a squishy puppy with wings. The dragon’s feet dangled below her waist and his breath felt warm on her cheek. She hoped he wouldn’t cough or sneeze. If he did, she might end up with scorched hair and that would be really hard to explain to Mrs Ricker!

Sophy carried him back to the tree where she’d been picking apples and carefully climbed the ladder. At the top, she pushed the leaves apart and squeezed Cloudy on to a branch. The little dragon perched in the crook where the branch joined the tree trunk, completely hidden by leaves.

“There you go! Try not to make a sound,” she whispered. “I’ll come back to get you when it’s safe.”

Climbing down, she gathered up the rest of
the stones and the bag, which she’d left on the ground. She put everything into her pocket, taking one more look at the two pieces of stone with their crystals before she hid them with the others.

Heavy footsteps sounded and three men marched through the trees. Sir Fitzroy, dressed in silver armour, arrived first with two guards following behind.

Sophy stifled a gasp. Why did it have to be him? Everyone knew Sir Fitzroy hated creatures with magic. Cook had told her that long ago, when the knight was a boy, a unicorn had injured him with its horn and he had detested magical animals ever since. Sophy couldn’t help thinking that an animal as lovely as a unicorn wouldn’t have hurt anyone without a very good reason!

“You there!” snapped Sir Fitzroy, looking down his long nose. “What are you doing?”

“I’m just picking apples, sir,” Sophy told him. “Cook wants them for a pie.”

“Then why are you standing a long way from your apple basket and right next to a damaged tree?” said Sir Fitzroy. “Tell me everything you’ve seen or you’ll be punished!”

Sophy swallowed. Sir Fitzroy was known as the meanest knight in Arramia and the way he glared at people made her shiver. She mustn’t be scared, she told herself. She’d promised Cloudy that she’d help him and nothing was going to stop her doing that.

“I didn’t see anything at all,” she said firmly. “I was over there picking apples and I heard a noise. Then I came down the ladder and saw that this tree was broken.”

Sir Fitzroy leaned forward, his eyebrows drawn low. “You mean to tell me that you were right here and you didn’t see the beast that caused this destruction?” He turned away before she could answer. “Honestly, girl! You need to learn to keep your eyes open.”

“Yes, sir.” Sophy took a long time going to fetch her basket of apples. She wanted to find out what Sir Fitzroy was up to.

One of the guards spoke. “If it really was a dragon, sir, won’t it have taken off by now?”

Sir Fitzroy turned red. “It
was
a dragon, you fool! I saw it in the sky and no one’s seen it fly away again which means it’s still here, somewhere in the castle grounds. It may have landed here on purpose to attack the queen.”

Sophy’s eyebrows flew upwards. She didn’t
think Cloudy could attack a tomato!

“I always knew the old king was too soft on these creatures,” the knight continued. “The beasts are a danger to the kingdom! Fortunately, the queen agrees with me. I shall find this horrible animal before it can do any more harm, and lock it up forever!”

Sophy felt a chill run through her. She couldn’t believe Sir Fitzroy could say such terrible things! One of the guards noticed her lingering so she had to pretend to be busy picking up the apples that she’d deliberately knocked out of the basket.

“There are lots of places the dragon might be hiding, sir,” a guard said. “There’s the courtyard, the fountains, the statue garden, the vegetable plot, the maze––”

“Get on with it then!” interrupted the knight. “Gather more men together and start hunting. I want that dragon found before sunset!”

A tiny rustle came from the tree where Cloudy
was hiding, but Sophy didn’t dare look up into the branches. Any glance might give the little dragon away. She needed to wait till there was no one around to fetch him down again. She hooked the apple basket over her arm and hurried out of the orchard, hoping that the men didn’t decide to search the trees.

Her heart sank as she thought of Sir Fitzroy’s plan to lock up the baby dragon. Poor Cloudy would never fly again and never get home to his dragon family. She felt for the stones in her apron pocket and held them tightly. Cloudy was only a baby dragon and he needed looking after. She would make sure he stayed safe and free!

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