Read The Storm Dragon Online

Authors: Paula Harrison

The Storm Dragon (3 page)

Sophy’s head was whirling as she hurried back into the castle. Maybe if she watched from a window upstairs, she’d be able to see when it was safe to rescue Cloudy. She hoped he wasn’t too lonely by himself!

“You’re running late, Sophy!” Mrs Ricker pounced on her as soon as she reached the kitchen. “Leave that fruit for Cook. You must come with me at once. Her Majesty has ordered a thorough clean of her chambers.” She handed Sophy a broom and duster.

Sophy had no choice but to follow her along the red-carpeted hallway that led past the Banquet Hall and up the grand staircase to the queen’s chamber.

“Everything must be spotless,” ordered the housekeeper.

As soon as she’d gone, Sophy started polishing and dusting. It wasn’t her favourite chore (that was mixing the icing for Cook’s delicious cakes) but she knew she could do it quickly. She finished dusting and swept the floor. Then she ran to the window, opened it and leaned out to see what was happening in the orchard.

Sir Fitzroy was standing in the statue garden with his arms folded. Guards swarmed around the fountains and the vegetable plot but the orchard was empty. Sophy’s heart lifted. If she could get back outside, she might be able to fetch Cloudy down from the tree and sneak him out of the castle gates.

Picking up her broom and duster, Sophy
rushed to the door and looked out. Drat! Mrs Ricker was right outside in the corridor dusting the picture frames. How was she going to get to the orchard without the housekeeper giving her a new list of chores?

Desperately, she looked out of the window again. A patch of trees swayed in the middle of the orchard. The wind was stirring their branches and fluttering their leaves. If Cloudy was making that happen, it might mean he was scared. Maybe he was too little to have learned to control his storm powers. She hoped the guards didn’t notice that it was only windy in one part of the garden!

Sophy opened the window wider and looked at the thick creeper growing up the castle wall. If she was brave she could climb right down it without Mrs Ricker seeing her. Was the creeper strong enough to hold her? Climbing on to the windowsill, she swung her leg out and tested its strength with her foot.

Yes, it seemed pretty sturdy.

She threw her broom and duster on to the grass. Then she climbed carefully down the creeper, choosing firm hand-and footholds all the way.

At the bottom, she brushed the dirt off her apron and hid the broom and duster behind a bush. Now all she had to do was fetch Cloudy.

She kept a lookout for Sir Fitzroy and the guards as she ran across to the trees.

The orchard was still empty and Sophy breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the stepladder.

“Cloudy, are you all right?” she whispered.

There was no reply.

Maybe Cloudy couldn’t understand her when the magical stone was hidden inside the little cloth bag. Delving into her apron pocket, she found the hollow rock with the beautiful crystals. Then she tried again.

“Cloudy, it’s me! I’m coming up the ladder.”

She climbed up and parted the branches, but the place where she’d left Cloudy was empty. Panicking, she reached higher into the tree, pushing leaves away from her face. But there was no baby dragon there at all.

Heart thumping, Sophy climbed down and scanned the orchard. Where was he? Had Sir Fitzroy found him and thrown him in a cage? No, that couldn’t be right. She could hear the guards calling to each other as they searched.

“Cloudy, where are you?” she hissed. “It’s me – Sophy.”

She ran up and down the rows of apple trees looking up into the branches. There was no cute purple face peering down at her and no breeze stirring the leaves.

Sophy looked around wildly. Cloudy couldn’t have just disappeared! The statue garden at one end of the orchard was full of guards. At the other end was the maze. She ran towards the maze, hoping that was the right guess.

Thick hedge walls closed around her. Sophy ran left and right, checking each corner to see if a little purple dragon was hiding there. The maze was enormous and the twisty turns seemed to go on forever. At last she reached the centre and ran straight into Tom, who was clipping the hedges.

“You’re in a hurry.” Tom put down his clippers and wiped his forehead. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing really,” said Sophy, scanning the place for Cloudy.

“Have you lost something?” asked Tom.

“Er, no, of course not.” Sophy knew she didn’t sound very convincing!

“You’re looking for that creature that crashed into the orchard, aren’t you?” said Tom. “They think it’s a dragon. I thought about joining in with the hunt too, but I reckon the silly monster flew off ages ago!”

“He’s not a silly monster!” Sophy blurted out. “I mean … he could be a really nice little dragon. Maybe he’s just a baby.”

Tom folded his arms, his freckled face curious. “You’ve seen him! Did you tell Sir Fitzroy?”

Sophy’s cheeks flushed. “No! And I’m not going to either! He wants to put Cloudy in a cage and that’s a horrible thing to do.”

Tom shook his head. “Sir Fitzroy is a powerful man. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of him!”

“I’m not scared of him!” Sophy said, although she was a little. She glanced at Tom. She found him a bit annoying sometimes but he was always kind to animals. She’d seen him look after the horses in the royal stable. If he agreed to help, it’d make finding Cloudy a whole lot easier. She took a deep breath. “I’m going to make sure Cloudy escapes. Do you want to help me?”

“Sure!” said Tom, grinning. “We can have our own dragon hunt. But why do you call him Cloudy? You say it as if you know it’s his real name.”

“Promise you won’t tell?” said Sophy, and Tom nodded. “I
do
know it’s his real name because he told me so. Something amazing happened today: I discovered a magical stone and now I can talk to a dragon!”

Sophy and Tom agreed to search different parts of the castle gardens and meet back at the maze. Sophy wasn’t sure Tom believed her about being able to talk to the dragon. She didn’t blame him really. She could hardly believe it herself!

It was tricky searching the garden with so many guards around. Sophy had to dodge behind statues and rose bushes so they didn’t see her. She searched hard but there was still no sign of Cloudy.

“Did you find him?” she asked anxiously,
when she met Tom in the maze an hour later.

Tom shook his head. “I did see strange marks in the vegetable plot though – almost like a dog’s paw prints but with claw scrapes too. I covered them over with earth before anyone else saw them.”

“Those must be Cloudy’s footprints!” said Sophy, excitedly. “Did you see anything else?”

“Some of the beetroots have been pulled out of the ground. It looked like they’d been eaten.”

Sophy thought for a moment. “Maybe Cloudy got hungry. Which way did the footprints go?”

“They were all mixed up so it was hard to tell.”

“Let’s start searching from there. Maybe we’ll find another clue.” Sophy dashed out of the maze towards the vegetable plot, but halfway across the garden she was stopped by a stern-looking Mrs Ricker.

“Sophy, where were you?” the housekeeper frowned. “I’ve been calling you for ages.”

“Oh! Um…” Sophy hoped Mrs Ricker wasn’t going to insist she explained what she’d been up to!

“There’s a terrible mess in the kitchen,” the housekeeper went on. “Cook left a window open. An animal must have climbed in and seen the chocolate cake that was meant for the queen’s tea. I think it was probably a squirrel. Anyway, the cake is quite ruined! You must come and clean it up
at once
.”

Suspicion dawned in Sophy’s mind.

“Yes, Mrs Ricker. Of course.” She cast a look at Tom before following the housekeeper into the kitchen.

Mrs Ricker went away, muttering about asking Cook to bake something else. Sophy hurried to the kitchen table. All the chocolate icing had been licked off the top of the cake and there was a large hole in the middle, as if something had
burrowed right into it. Sophy felt even more suspicious. “Cloudy?” she whispered softly. “Can you hear me?”

She thought she heard a rustling somewhere but there was no sign of the dragon behind the cupboard or under the table. Then she noticed a trail of chocolate-brown cake crumbs leading across the floor. She followed them to the door of the pantry – the little room where Cook kept her bags of flour, jars of jam and pots of spices.

Gently, Sophy opened the door and peered into the dark. “Cloudy?”

A snuffling sound came out of the gloom, followed by a sneeze. Sophy stepped back to avoid the burst of flame and the puff of smoke that followed. She wafted the smoke away with her hands and slipped into the pantry, closing the door behind her. “Cloudy, what’s wrong?”

“Oh, Sophy!” sniffled Cloudy. “I’ve been a very bad dragon.”

“You mean because you ate the chocolate cake?” Sophy searched around in the dark and found a tear-stained Cloudy huddled next to a sack of porridge oats. She knelt down and put
an arm round him. “Don’t worry about that. You’ve had a terrible day – hurting your wing and everything. No wonder you were hungry!”

Cloudy hiccuped. “It’s not just the cake! I was naughty to go flying by myself. My brother told me I should wait till I was bigger but I didn’t listen.”

A swirl of wind whisked around the pantry, rustling the bags of flour. Sophy patted Cloudy comfortingly, hoping to calm him down.

There was a quiet knock on the pantry door. “Sophy, it’s me – Tom.” The door opened and Tom’s face peered round. “Is the dragon here? Wow! Isn’t he small!”

Sophy hugged Cloudy, who was trying to hide behind her. “Don’t be scared. It’s only my friend, Tom. He won’t hurt you.”

Cloudy looked doubtfully at Tom, and then crept over to sniff his shoes. “What is the freckled boy saying?”

“Can’t you two understand each other?” Sophy handed Tom the hollow stone with the purple crystals inside. “Here! All the magic began when this stone broke into two pieces.”

Tom looked at it curiously. “Hello, Cloudy, I’m Tom. Can you understand what I’m saying?”

Cloudy wrinkled his little face and looked confused. It was clear that he didn’t understand at all. Sophy felt a fluttering inside. So the magical stone only worked for her. That was even more amazing!

“Are you trying to trick me?” Tom gave Sophy the stone back, frowning.

“No, I’m not – honestly!” she told him.

Tom still looked doubtful.

Sophy turned to the little dragon. “Look, there isn’t much time. Mrs Ricker could come back any minute. Cloudy, I’m taking you somewhere safe until I’ve thought of a plan to get you out of the castle. Wait here a second.”

Sophy dashed to the laundry room. She grabbed some of the sheets and clothes folded neatly on the side and stuffed them higgledy-piggledy into a large wicker laundry basket.
Then she hurried back to the pantry.

Tom went out to check the corridor. “There’s no one here,” he called back. “I’ll clean up the cake crumbs. Go quickly before someone sees you!”

“Thanks, Tom.” Sophy put down the basket and lifted up the clothes. “Hop in, Cloudy. You’ll be completely hidden in here.”

Cloudy climbed in and curled up, and Sophy arranged the sheets and clothes over the top of him. “Just try not to make any flames,” she added nervously.

“Yes, Sophy!” Cloudy’s voice was muffled by the sheets.

Sophy checked every bit of the dragon was covered. Then she picked up the basket. It felt much heavier but she could carry it quite easily. She left the kitchen and took the spiral staircase used by the servants. She met Mrs Ricker at the top of the steps and her heart sank.

“Oh, Sophy! I need to speak to you.” Mrs Ricker glanced at Sophy and then frowned at the laundry basket. “Keep out of the garden for a while. The guards are searching for some dreadful beast that’s invaded the grounds. They’re saying it could be a dragon.”

“Yes, Mrs Ricker.” Sophy tried to edge past. She could feel Cloudy wriggling in the bottom of the basket. The sheets on top of him started to quiver.

The housekeeper put a hand on Sophy’s arm. “Be very careful!” She lowered her voice. “This beast must have some deadly plan. The queen has given orders for it to be locked in the dungeons when it’s found.”

Sophy nodded, not trusting herself to speak. As soon as she turned the corner, she began to run, the basket bumping against her knees. She reached her bedroom and dashed inside, shutting the door behind her. Then she put the basket down on her woollen rug and pulled the sheets off Cloudy.

The little dragon had fallen fast asleep.

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